31 March 2019

A Son of the Father by the Grace of God in Christ

There are all sorts of ways in which you may find yourself estranged and at odds with your family, colleagues and associates, and various other neighbors: Unresolved disagreements, unreconciled hurts and offenses, or the gradual chilling of hearts and minds that have turned away from mutual cares and concerns to other interests and pursuits.  So too, there are numerous ways in which you estrange and distance yourself from the Father in heaven, though He does not turn away from you.

There may be wild and loose living and flagrant vices of the sort that everyone knows are wrong, and there are ways in which you do pursue those paths, even if only in your imagination.  But there is also presumptuous pride and self-righteous indignation, covetous envy, and bitter resentment of brothers and sisters and other neighbors, whereby you find fault with your Father and harden your heart against Him and His household and family, despite His grace and mercy toward you.

When you are estranged and at odds with your God and Father in heaven, then you are also at odds and out of sorts with your neighbors on earth.  And by the same token, when you harden yourself against your neighbor, be it family, friend, or foe, you poison your relationship with your Father, as well.  Faith and love both suffer and die when you refuse to live by the grace of God.

When you insist upon your own self-righteousness, and when you invest yourself in selfishness, then you squander the gifts and blessings, talents and resources that God the Lord has entrusted to your stewardship and faithful use.  You squander them in reckless spending on yourself; and you squander them by clinging to what you possess and withholding the love and service that you owe to your brothers and sisters.  While you are well fed, your neighbor goes hungry.  While your home is maintained, expanded, and beautified, the Lord’s House deteriorates and falls apart.  While you look after yourself, shore up your bank accounts, invest in your children’s future, and take your extravagant vacations, others go wanting, others go hungry, others go without your love.

But attitudes and actions have consequences; and for all of these sins against the Lord your God and against the neighbors He has given you, there are various pigsties in which you find yourself.  As troubling and tragic as that may seem, it is a greater mercy of your God and Father to bring you to that point than if He were to leave you to the lusts of your flesh and the hardness of your heart.  It is often in the pigsty that you finally begin to remember who you really are, whose child you are, whose Name you bear; and with that stirring of repentance, you begin to remember your Father.

In the meantime there is brokenness and division within your family and your other relationships.  Either you and those you are given to love go your separate ways, or you coexist without any care and concern for each other.  You likewise distance yourself from the household and family of God.  You hold your neighbors in contempt, whether out of arrogance or covetousness.  And the upshot is that you do not have peace and security in your life, but anxiety, anger, sadness, and fear.

Not always, but often enough, your financial difficulties are likewise a consequence of the way you have invested God’s gifts in yourself, supposing that you are the author and giver of life, and so rejecting the hand of the Lord who feeds and clothes and shelters your body and life on earth.

In many such ways, you have cut yourself off and wandered away from your Father’s house.  You have wandered far and wide from His hearth and home.  You have turned your back on His great heart of love and pursued a life for yourself — a life that cannot succeed or prosper but must finally end in death.  In many such ways, you are the prodigal son, whether you realize it or not!

The older son is a prodigal son, as well, though he does not realize it and would not admit it.  Both of these brothers are in the same sad shape.  They have both departed from their Father, one in a distant country, one still living at home, but they are not so different from each other, not really, not at all.  They see themselves and each other very differently, but their life is very much alike.

The Father’s eye is upon both of His sons.  His heart is opened in love and generosity toward both of them alike.  So has He given them everything, and He pours Himself out for them.  He does it out of love, as an exercise of His pure grace and mercy, though neither of His sons recognize that.  They both presume to be His sons by right.  And they both presume that they must earn His love, a place in His house, and whatever else they would have from Him, by working for it.  Thus, they spurn His love, twist their hearts away, and estrange themselves from their Father.  In selfishness they seek to gain His favor by the righteousness of their own works and efforts.  It doesn’t work.

Neither of these brothers is a son by right.  They are sons by the grace of their Father, as are you and all of your fellow Christians.  For you are all sons of God by the Word and Spirit, Baptism, and faith of Christ Jesus, and by no other way or means than that.  So it is for Ruth Eleanor, for you, and for both the elder and the younger son in this Parable.  But they were not grasping that.

The older son boasts of all the years that he has slaved away and never done anything wrong.  He lives in his Father’s house, but he does not see the grace and blessing with which he has always been surrounded.  He views it as a prison.  He sees his work and labor not as love but as slavery.  He imagines that his Father has been unfair to him, that He has withheld good things from him.

The older son would have a goat, not to celebrate the Passover with his Father and his family, but to throw a party with his friends.  He does not want to be there any more than his younger brother did before.  He only figures that, by working hard and putting in his time, he will finally get what he wants.  He is selfish and self-righteous.  He is greedy, resentful, and hateful, and his sins are just as bad and just as harmful, if not worse, than his brother’s loose living in that far away country.

Both of these brothers have it wrong.  The younger son, when he comes to his senses and realizes how much worse his life has gotten, makes a plan to bargain and barter with his Father.  “I’m no longer worthy to be called your son,” he asserts (as though he ever could be).  “But let me work for you and earn my keep.  Let me be your servant.”  So does he propose to get himself back home.

Your own heart is much the same in its strategies and propositions, when you begin to recognize your sins and failings.  You’re gonna try and work twice as hard.  You’re gonna do better.  You’re very, very sorry, and so you’re gonna get back in the ring and get it right this time.  You’re gonna show your Dad that you’re not the loser or the lost cause you have seemed to be.  You’re gonna roll up your sleeves, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, carry your weight, and earn your keep.

But it doesn’t work that way.  You can only be a son of God by grace, through faith in the Gospel, and not by any works of your own.  You receive the inheritance of the Father and a place in His household and family, not by working for it, but only by receiving it, according to His love.

As things stand at the conclusion of the Parable, it is the older son who is left standing outside of the Father’s house.  His heart is bitter and resentful.  He is angry at his Father, angry at his brother, and angry at the world.  So he will not come inside.  He does not repent, and he is not reconciled to his Father or his family, because he rejects his Father’s grace for both his brother and himself.

Do not make the same mistake.  Do not cut yourself off from the Father who loves you, who would welcome you into His House by grace.  Repent of your sins, and be reconciled to God in Christ.

That is not to negotiate deals or contracts with the Lord your God.  You are not reconciled to your Father by redefining yourself as an indentured servant and working to pay off your dues.  Your place is that of a child in the household and family of God, which cannot be earned or achieved — no more than Ruth Eleanor could have earned or achieved her own birth, given herself life, or brought herself into existence.  It is rather the Author and Perfecter of faith who has opened up the way of repentance and reconciliation to you and to all the sons and daughters of man.

Christ Jesus alone is the Son of God by nature and by right, who has never neglected a command of His Father.  And having become the true Man after God’s own heart, that only-begotten and well-pleasing Son “squanders” His Father’s wealth on publicans and prostitutes, and on sinners like you.  In love and mercy, this One who knew no sin became Sin, bore the Curse, and suffered your Death and Damnation, in order that you might become the righteousness of God in Him.

It is this incarnate Son of God who has journeyed from His Father in heaven to the far country of your sin and death, who has descended into the muck and the mire of your pigsty, unto His Cross and Passion.  Thus has He taken your place to be His own, that He might bring you back to His place, back to His House and Home, back to His Father in heaven.  As by His sacrificial death He has made Atonement for your sins, so by His Resurrection and Ascension has He reconciled you to His God and Father, raising you up from death and the grave to Life everlasting in Himself.

It is by your Baptism into Christ that His God and Father is now your God and Father.  And it is in Christ Jesus that the Father’s eye is ever upon you, so that He sees you while you are yet a long way off and far away from home.  It is in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, that the Father’s heart and home, His arms, and His embrace are flung wide open to you in tender love.

It is in Christ Jesus that the Father has compassion upon you.  That is not just a sentiment or a warm fuzzy feeling in His heart, but the active exercise of His divine grace and mercy in the flesh and blood of the only-begotten Son.  That is to say, it is in Christ Jesus that the Father goes running out to meet His prodigal son, to embrace him and gather him home to Himself rejoicing.

The true significance of this point can too easily escape us in this modern day and age.  Patriarchs simply did not go running down the street!  From the standpoint of the world and its culture, this was disgraceful and embarrassing.  But so does this gracious Father shame Himself in order to bear and cover His son’s disgrace and shame.  He rushes out to meet him and to bring him home with joy and honor.  And so does He come to you by His Word and bring you home in repentant faith.

He does not lecture, scold, or chastise you.  He hears your confession of sin, and immediately He is all about forgiveness.  He covers you and clothes you with the best robe, which is the Robe of Christ and His perfect Righteousness, such as that which Ruth and all the baptized wear by the grace of God through faith in His Gospel.  He brings you back into town, and He brings you back into His House with His arm around you.  He permits no one else to accuse you, for He does not accuse you.  There is no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus, but only reconciliation and peace.

Your Father celebrates your resurrection and your life in Christ with the Fatted Calf.  He offers the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and He shares the fellowship of that sacrifice with the entire household and family.  He does not remember your sins or hold them against you.  He rejoices only that you are not dead but alive, that you are His very own, and that He has gotten you back.

It is a return to your Holy Baptism.  That is where you became His son, because that is where you were united with Christ Jesus, named with His Name, and anointed with His Holy Spirit.  So it is to that new birth of water and the Word that He returns you by repentance and forgiveness of sins.  He cannot and will not deny Himself.  He remains your Father, even when you distance yourself.

By the preaching of His Word, He goes out to you, gently pleads with you, and calls you back to Himself.  With His Word of forgiveness He clothes you again and again in the righteousness and holiness of Christ Jesus.  He puts a ring on your finger because He has given you His Kingdom.  The inheritance of heaven, it is yours.  Everything the Father has, it is yours, entirely by grace.

He welcomes you into the House.  He seats you at His Table.  He does not put you in the servants’ quarters, He gives you the place of honor; though you do not deserve it, it is His desire to do so.  Here He feeds you with the Body and Blood of the true Fatted Calf, the One who was sacrificed for your transgressions and raised for your justification.  He is your repentance and reconciliation, given and poured out for you.  He is your Strength and your Song, because He is your Salvation.  Wherever you have gone, whatever you have done, whatever you have been, this is your Father’s Home.  It is your house and home in Christ Jesus.  Welcome back!  How can we not celebrate?

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

29 March 2019

From the Jordan Up to Jerusalem in Christ Jesus

Here now is the new and greater Joshua, who leads the Israel of God through the Jordan River into Canaan, who brings down the walls of Jericho and defeats the enemies of God’s people.

He is not the son of Nun but the promised Son of David, the true King of Israel, the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed.  Anointed by the Spirit in His crossing of the Jordan through Holy Baptism, He is the great High Priest who remains forever, who ever lives to make intercession for you and all.

More than that, He is the Ark of the New Covenant, and as the final great High Priest He offers His own Body of flesh and blood as the Sacrifice of Atonement once for all.  There is therefore no condemnation for you, because He has been handed over to death bearing all of your sins, and on the Third Day He has risen again.  In Him, God the Father has also raised you from death to life.

So it is that all is forgiven, and death has thus been defeated.  For this same Lord Jesus Christ is not only your Priest and your King, but He is the Prophet who has fulfilled and accomplished all the words of the Prophets by His Cross and Passion and His Resurrection from the dead.

Of course, all of that is easy enough for you to grasp and comprehend if you are thinking about the historical facts, the Bible stories, the life and times of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  But when it comes to following Jesus up to Jerusalem and actually bearing the Cross after Him, then you are likely just as blind to what it all means as the disciples were back then.

Even the Twelve were oblivious to what was really going on.  It was hidden from them, and they could not understand the Cross of Christ — not until after the fact, when it was all said and done.

Now, it is true that you know the Cross of Christ in the light of His Resurrection.  And yet, you are no different and no better than those disciples were when it comes to the Cross in your own life.

How are you mocked and mistreated, spit upon, scourged, and put to death?  It’s one thing to suffer for your own mistakes and failings, and to consider that you are getting what you deserve for your sins.  But how do you deal with the Cross that you bear and suffer because of your faithfulness?

What about those times when even your own family and friends criticize and ridicule you for doing what is good and right, for doing what you are called and given to do?

And what about the infirmities in your mortal flesh and blood, which can render you so powerless and helpless, and over which you have little or no control?

Do not kid yourself, supposing you can just rise above it all and ride the storm out by yourself.

But do consider the irony in the Holy Gospel before us, that a blind man knows and understands the Lord Jesus, and sees Him by faith, in a way the disciples could not perceive or comprehend.

That blind man, much like yourself, had nothing but the Word of Christ to cling to and rely upon.  And that is good and right, exactly as it should be, that is, by faith in His Word, and not by sight.

Do not listen to the voices in your head or in the world around you, which tell you to sit down and shut up.  No, but just as Christ is risen from the dead, you also rise, and come to Him at His Word.  For He is coming to you in mercy, and He is calling for you.  Therefore, call upon His Name in confidence, and keep on crying out to Him for mercy.  For He hears and answers your prayers.

He does have mercy upon you, and He helps you.  By His Cross, He bears your pain.  And in His Resurrection, He raises you up to life and health and strength forever, in both body and soul.

Follow Him up to His Jerusalem, to His Church on earth as it is in heaven, and to His Holy Altar, and there receive what is handed over and given to you for your salvation.  Taste and see that He is good, and know for sure that He guards and keeps you forever in body and soul, for this life and for the Life everlasting, according to His tender mercies and His steadfast loving-kindness.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

27 March 2019

As He Has Taught You to Pray and Promised to Hear You

We pray in this way to our Father in heaven — we call upon the Name of the Lord with such bold confidence and intimacy — because our Lord Jesus has so taught us and commanded us to pray, and He has promised that His own God and Father hears and answers such prayers in His Name.

As the Lord your God has created you for life with Himself forever, for fellowship and communion with Himself — as He has brought you into being and sustains your body and life by and through and with His Word — and as He reveals and gives Himself to you by His Word and Holy Spirit — so does He invite you to pray and call upon His Name in accordance with His Word, by echoing back to Him what He has said to you, and by confessing and actively relying on His promises.

To pray is part and parcel of the life for which the Lord your God has created you.  But to pray to God as your Father does not come naturally to you as a poor, miserable sinner.  Indeed, your sins hinder and prevent you from praying, and they undermine whatever you do attempt to pray.  If God did not act to rectify your situation by atoning for your sins, forgiving your transgressions, and reconciling you to Himself, then you would neither know how nor be able to pray rightly and call upon His Name, and He would neither listen to nor heed your prayers, petitions, and requests.

The fact that you are able to pray, and that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ does hear and answer your prayers, is entirely by His divine grace and blessing.  Not only has He created you by His Word, but He also speaks to you His sweet Word of the Gospel.  And through that Gospel He daily and richly forgives you all your sins and thereby reconciles you to Himself.  He calls and welcomes you to Himself, and He tenderly invites you to call upon His Name for all that you need.

All of this He has done for you and given to you in the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, your Savior and Redeemer.  That very Son of God who took your frail flesh and blood to be His own, who bore all your sins and sorrows in His Body to the Cross, has thus become your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.  He is the all-sufficient Sacrifice for all your sins.  He is the Mercy Seat, the Ark of the Covenant, through whom you come to God in confidence and peace.

It is in and through Christ Jesus, the Lord’s Anointed, that God the Father gives to you His Holy Spirit.  And though you do not know how to pray as you should, the Holy Spirit helps you in your weakness.  He teaches you how to pray through the Word of God in Christ.  And what is more, He prays with you, He prays in you, and He prays and intercedes for you, even when you cannot.

It is by Christ, by His Word and Holy Spirit, that you are brought to His God and Father as your own dear God and Father in Him.  Not as a supplicant before your Sovereign, nor as a slave before your Master, in fear of punishment, but as a beloved son or daughter coming to your own Dad.

Like a little boy or girl, you are invited to climb up into His lap, to sit upon His knee, to throw your arms around His neck, to hide yourself in His strong embrace, and there to find safety and peace.

All of this, again, is in and through Christ Jesus, the Son of God.  It is in Him, and for His sake, that God is your Father and you are His dear child.  For you are a son of God in Christ by virtue of your Baptism in His Name, by your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection from the dead.

In the waters of your Holy Baptism, all of your sins have been washed away, and you have been united with Christ Jesus, bound to Him in such a way that the wicked foe and all his horde cannot separate you from the Lord who loves you and gave Himself for you.  It is in Christ Jesus that the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon you generously by the grace of God through His Gospel, as He has named you with His Name and adopted you as His beloved and well-pleasing child by the washing of water with His Word.  Thus are you able to call upon Him as your Father, for so He is.

To pray, then, as one of the baptized into Christ Jesus, you pray also as a member of His Body, the Church.  It is not possible to be a Christian, nor to pray to God, apart from that fellowship of the Body of Christ.  Even when you hide yourself in your closet to pray, you nevertheless pray with Christ and with all those who belong to Christ.  And when you are gathered together with His Church, you pray together with His Church of all times and places, in heaven and on earth, because you are all one Body in one Lord Jesus Christ.  You are brothers and sisters, because you have one and the same Father in Christ.  You belong to one another, because you are fellow members of the one household and family of God.  So you are bound to each other, whether you like it or not.

When you pray, “Our Father,” and “Forgive us our trespasses,” you pray for all the children of your dear Father in heaven, wherever they might be.  So, too, wherever in the world the children of God are praying this Prayer that our Lord Jesus Christ has taught us, they are all praying for you.

I can attest from experience that even on the other side of the globe there are faithful Christians who daily pray, “Our Father who art in heaven.”  I know that Deaconess Rhein can testify to that same fact, even as her work on hymnal projects for the Church around the world has served and supported Christian prayer in various orders of service, in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

The Our Father has been translated into numerous languages; it is prayed and confessed in a vast variety of tongues.  But from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down, from east to west and shore to shore, it remains one and the same Prayer, voiced in one Spirit.  For there is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; there is one God and Father of all who are baptized into Christ Jesus.

The sun never sets upon the Church of our one Lord Jesus Christ, for all around the world His Christians are praying every day as He has taught them to pray.  And by their praying they solicit the Father through His Son, our merciful and great High Priest, to guard and protect His people in body and soul, to forgive the sins of all believers, to call those who do not believe to repentance, faith, and Holy Baptism, and finally to raise the children of God from death to Life everlasting.

Because you pray in Christ Jesus, who has died for the forgiveness of your sins, and not for your sins only but for the sins of the entire world — and because you pray in communion with all of your brothers and sisters in Christ — the forgiveness of sins is of vital importance.  Indeed, the forgiveness that you need, and your forgiveness of those who sin against you, is fundamental to your faith and life in Christ, and fundamental to all your prayers and petitions.  Your relationship with your God and Father in Christ is closely connected to your relationship with others, especially your fellow Christians; and that entire family fellowship depends upon the forgiveness of sins.

Our Lord Jesus Christ reiterates this point along with teaching us to pray, “Our Father in heaven.”  If you forgive your brother his trespasses against you, so will your Father in heaven forgive you.  But if you refuse to forgive your brother, so will your Father refuse to forgive your trespasses.

Absolutely everything depends upon the forgiveness of sins.  For without the forgiveness of sins there is no Christian Church, and there is no life or salvation, not for you, and not for anyone else.

Dr. Luther has it exactly right when he teaches you in the Small Catechism that all of your other Petitions hinge and depend upon the Fifth Petition.  For you are worthy of none of those things for which you pray, nor have you deserved them.  God must give them all to you by His grace alone.  For you daily sin much, and you surely deserve nothing else and nothing less than punishment.  Yet, in His mercy, for the sake of His Son, your Father freely and fully forgives you all your sins.  And so, for your part, for Jesus’ sake, you gladly forgive and do good to those who sin against you.

With the forgiveness of sins everything else is already answered.  In Christ Jesus, your Savior from sin, God’s answer is always “Yes” and “Amen!”  For He who did not spare His own dear Son but gave Him up for you, also gives you all good things in and with Him, both for this body and life and for the Life everlasting.  His Resurrection from the dead is God’s Answer to all your prayers, His resounding “Yes and Amen” to all that you need and ask, and the Guarantee of all His mercies.

When you pray the Our Father, you pray with bold confidence because you know these Petitions are pleasing to your Father in heaven.  They are already His good Word to you before they become your words and prayer to Him.  They are the Words that open your lips to show forth His praise by praying to Him rightly and by confessing your faith in Him who is your Lord and your God.

It is not so much that you bring these Words to Him, as it is that He brings you to Himself by these Words.  For it is by the Word of God in Christ Jesus — especially by His Word of the Gospel, by His Word of forgiveness — that the faith in your heart proceeds from your mouth in this Prayer.  You pray that He would give you everything you need.  That His Kingdom would come to you.  That His Name would be hallowed in your body and life.  That His will be done for you and your salvation, against the wicked will of the devil, the world, and your flesh.  That your body be fed and clothed.  That you and your family be sheltered and kept in peace.  That your job and life in this world be secure.  And when your life on earth must end, that you be taken to your dear Father in heaven, body and soul, forever and ever, in and with and through your Savior, Jesus Christ.

There is no need that is not covered by the Our Father.  So you should never feel that you are at a loss for words when it comes to prayer.  When your family and loved ones, neighbors and friends ask you to pray for them, you can pray with your own words from the heart, of course, as a son or daughter to your Dad.  But do not neglect to pray this Prayer, which sets before God everything in heaven and on earth, all the needs of man, of His Church, and of all the people in your life.

In this Prayer the needs of your body as well as your soul are all covered.  And in Christ Jesus, as I have said, God’s answer is always “Yes.”  In fact, even before you call upon Him, He is already answering your prayer in Christ Jesus.  He does all of these things according to His promise, even without your prayers.  And yet, He invites you to pray, as well.  He teaches you to pray, and He commands you to pray — not as a matter of the Law, as though He would not act without your prompting, but as a sure and certain promise of His grace and mercy toward you in Christ Jesus.  To pray, therefore, is to honor His Word, to glorify His Name, and to exercise your faith in Him.

Solomon, in his youth, loved the Lord and walked in the ways of his father David.  But he did not yet know how to pray; he did not yet know the wisdom of true and right worship according to the Word and promise of God.  He did not yet know how to call on the Name of the Lord.  But when he asked for wisdom and discernment, he went back to Jerusalem, where the Lord had promised that His Name and His Glory would dwell.  And from that point forward, Solomon stood before the Altar of the Lord, before the Ark of the Covenant, and there he prayed in true wisdom.

So also, in the Words of the Our Father, you are brought to stand before the Lord your God in and with Christ Jesus, to pray to your Father in heaven in and with Christ Jesus.  And for Christ Jesus’ sake, your prayer is answered, as surely as He is risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, and ever lives to pray and intercede for you before the Throne of God as your merciful High Priest.

Now, in faith, in the freedom of the Gospel, you are certainly welcome to pour out your heart before your Father in heaven.  You can climb up into His lap, as I said.  You can simply pray that most basic prayer of faith, that cry for help, “Kyrie, eleison!”  “Lord, have mercy!”  You can open up your mouth and lay bare before the Lord who loves you all of your hurts and doubts and fears and sorrows, all of your needs, and all of your wants, trusting Him to care for you and provide for you in love.  And He hears and answers those cries of your heart, those prayers, for Jesus’ sake.

But again, do not neglect this Prayer, the Our Father, the Lord’s Prayer, which is one of the most precious gifts that your Lord has given you.  For these Words of His teach your heart, your mind, your lips and tongue to pray.  So that, even when your heart is not in it, when it is too distracted, too sad, or too burdened to pray as you should, the Word of God supports and sustains you.  It is the Word of God that opens your lips, and He answers that Word of prayer with His Word of mercy in Christ, crucified and risen from the dead: “Amen, Amen!”  That is, “Yes, Yes,” it shall be so!

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

25 March 2019

The New Creation of Man in the Image and Likeness of God

Your life depends entirely upon the Lord God Almighty, the Maker and Preserver of the heavens and the earth and of all that is in them.  He is your Creator, and He is the One who sustains you in His mercy.  He daily and richly provides you with all that you need for this body and life on earth.

For all that, in spite of all that, your sin has separated you from God.  Not only the sin that you have inherited from your parents, all the way back to Adam and Eve, but the sin that you have yourself committed in thought, word, and deed throughout your life.  Your sin has set you upon a downward spiral of death and damnation, from which you cannot set yourself free.  It has turned your heart and mind away from God and cut you off from the life with Him for which you have been created.  And there is nothing you can do about it.  You cannot sustain your body and life or save yourself.

As you get older, you begin to feel it, even if you would rather deny it.  The pain in your muscles, in your bones, and in your body cannot be denied.  As a teenager you may have thought you would live forever, but the older you get, the more aware and fearful you become of your mortality and coming death.  For the fact is that you are dying.  From the moment you were born, indeed, from the first moment of your conception, you have been returning to the dust.  And you cannot stop it.

But the Lord your God, who created the heavens and the earth in divine and holy love, who created the Man and Woman in His Image and Likeness, who brought you into existence and breathed life into your body and soul, He has taken every initiative to save you from your sin and death by His divine grace.  He takes action on your behalf.  He moves to save you, prompted solely by His love for you, because He Himself is Love.  He accomplishes your salvation for you from start to finish.

What that entails, first of all, is that He has obtained the forgiveness of all your sins.  He has dealt with them and taken them away, making Atonement for them at His own expense.  Furthermore, His great salvation entails calling you back to Himself in repentance, and restoring you to Himself in faith and love.  He woos you to Himself and joins you to Himself forever.  It is for this union and fellowship that He has created you, that you should live in and with Him forever.

It is this divine, eternal life and salvation that the Lord has begun to accomplish and set into motion with the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary, that daughter of David in the city of Nazareth.  As the Angel speaks the Word of God into St. Mary’s ears, she receives into her womb the very Son of God, and He receives a Body for Himself from her flesh and blood.

So it is that, by His Word and Holy Spirit, the Lord God Almighty brings about a New Creation, this time not starting from scratch, not out of nothing (ex nihilo), but from St. Mary’s womb, from her own flesh and blood, which she herself received from Adam and Eve and so shares with all of us children of man.  In her womb the one true God becomes true Man, a Human Being, a Person of the same flesh and blood — just like you in every way, save only without any sins of His own.

In Him, therefore, God and Man are perfectly united and permanently joined together.  In the Child conceived and born of St. Mary, in the Person of the incarnate Son of God, our Savior Jesus Christ — already as a tiny little Fetus in His Mother’s womb — God and Man have become one.

So it is in the one Lord, Jesus Christ, that your life and fellowship with God are forever to be found.

For your part, however, your sin would still separate you from God and prevent you from coming to Him, prevent you from finding your life in Him, and prevent you from abiding in communion with Him.  The fellowship of God and Man is perfectly established and permanent in Christ Jesus, the Son of God and Mary’s Son.  But the brokenness of the fall yet remains in your mortal flesh, in your sinful heart, mind, body, and soul.  That breach must be remedied and repaired, and you must be recreated and renewed in the Image and Likeness of God, if you are to live in Him.

To that end, the Son of God has not only become the true and perfect Man, but He was born under the Law in order to redeem those who were under the Law; and He subjected Himself, His flesh and blood, to the curse and consequences of sin and death, not by compulsion but in love.  Thus did He become and offer Himself as the Sacrifice of Atonement for the sins of the whole world, in order to reconcile the whole world of lost sinners to His God and Father.  He received a Body for Himself, in order to offer His Body into death.  There is Blood running through His veins already in His Mother’s womb, that He might shed that Blood for you and all upon the Cross of Calvary.

It is there on the Cross, by His innocent suffering and death, and by His holy and precious Blood,  that He redeems you for Himself, for life with God in the righteousness of His Resurrection from the dead.  He has both suffered and repaired the brokenness of the fall into sin in His own Body.

All of this He has done for you, and for all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, because He has done so in human flesh and blood like your own, that which He received from His Mother Mary.  This isn’t science fiction!  Women have no other sort of babies than real human babies, as you once were.  That is what your Mama bore, and that is what your Lord became, who offered Himself on the Cross, bearing in His Body all of your sins, all of your iniquities and transgressions, all of your frailties, failings, weaknesses, and shame.  He has borne them all and dealt with every one of them.

It is by and from His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead, by the Ministry of His Word, that He now calls you to repentance, to die and rise with Him as a new creation, reconciled to God by grace through faith in His free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  That is the great salvation which He bestows upon you by His grace alone.  For His Word of the Gospel sounds forth from the Cross to the ends of the earth — even here and now to you — calling you to faith, calling you to life, calling you out of the darkness of your sin and death into the marvelous Light of His Love.

The truth is that, by and through the Ministry of His Gospel, He approaches you with a salutation much like the Word with which He greeted the Blessed Virgin Mary in Nazareth.  He has sent His angel (His messenger) to you, to announce His gracious favor upon you, to speak Himself into your ears, into your heart, mind, soul, and spirit, and to give His own flesh and blood into your body.

By this Word of His Gospel, by this preaching of Christ and His forgiveness, the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and the Power of the Most High overshadows you, to bring forth faith in your heart, to give you new life in Christ, and to recreate you in Him who is the Image and Likeness of God.

So it is, in all that transpires within this Holy Gospel, that St. Mary is set before you as an example of faith — a beautiful example of faith by the grace of God — and as a living icon of the Church, the Bride of Christ and the Mother of all the children of God.  For as St. Mary conceived and gave birth to the Son of God, so does the Church give birth to sons of God in Christ by the same Word and Spirit of God, by the preaching and catechesis of His Word unto repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins, and by the Sacrament of Holy Baptism in His Name.  It is by these ways and means that you also have been conceived and born again as a son of God in Christ Jesus, the Lord.

And in this holy Christian Church, in the Sacrament of the Altar, as again this evening in this very Feast, you are fed with the same flesh and blood of St. Mary’s holy Child, the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, who thereby comes to make His dwelling in you, in your mortal body.

This Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High — who has become the Son of His father Jacob, the Son of His father David, the Son of His blessed Mother, St. Mary — He comes to you as the true God and the true Man, to reign over you forever and ever in love and mercy, grace and peace.

But how can this be?  How can it possibly be true?

There is so much in your life, both within and without, in the world around you, and in your own day-to-day life, which seems to contradict and deny this Word of the Gospel, so that it makes no sense at all.  Above all, your sins and the stark fact of your mortality threaten to undermine your life with God in Christ.  All of your senses, your reason and experience scream that you are still dying, that you are still a sinner, a child of the dust, and that God must surely be angry with you, or else there is no God at all.  That is what your intellect and intuition argue and insist.

And of yourself, to be sure, there would be no hope.  For without God, nothing is possible.

But His Word is not only true, it is powerful; it does and gives exactly what He says.  His Word and promises to you are as sure and certain, as solid and real as the Lord Jesus Christ, who is Himself the very Word of God made Flesh for you and your salvation, who has been crucified for your sins, who is risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever as your righteousness and holiness in the presence of His God and Father.  His Word and His Work are established for you in His Body.

The New Creation in Christ Jesus is not “out of nothing.”  For the Lord in His mercy has not done away with the sons and daughters of man and started over, but He has redeemed His good creation from the inside-out, in and with His own humanity, which He received for Himself from St. Mary.  So, it is not “out of nothing.”  But it is no less majestic and mysterious.  For His Word still does all things and makes it so.  His Word establishes what is.  You are who and what He says you are: God’s own child, baptized into Christ Jesus, adopted by His Father, anointed by His Holy Spirit.

It is not what you do, but what He does, that determines your identity and righteousness.  It is not what you think or feel or experience, but what He says, that establishes your life and salvation and your place in the household and family of God.  It is His Word that has recreated you in the Image and Likeness of God in Christ Jesus.  It is His Word that has given you the new birth of water and the Spirit in your Holy Baptism.  It is His Word that feeds your flesh and blood with His, though what your senses see and smell and taste is only the bread and wine.  It is His Word that sustains your body and life in this world, and His Word that daily and richly forgives you all of your sins.

Against all odds and all expectations, in the face of human knowledge and modern know-how, and contrary to all the threats and assaults of sin, death, the devil, and hell, the Lord Himself is with you.  He loves you, and His favor rests upon you, so that you might rest in His grace, mercy, and peace by faith in His Gospel.  He speaks, and it is so!  Your sins are all forgiven.  You shall not die but live in Him, both body and soul, now and forever.  Even so, let it be to you according to His Word!

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

24 March 2019

The Repentance and Righteousness of Christ for You

The Lord in His mercy, for the sake of His holy Love, has created you for life with Himself, and He has planted you as a tree in the midst of His Garden to bear good fruits to the glory of His Name and for the benefit of your neighbor.  That is the point and purpose of your existence, that is, to live and thrive by His grace, and so to bring forth fruits after His own kind within your proper place.

Not only that, but as you are baptized in His Name, born again of water and the Spirit, you are not an isolated tree, but you are planted in the Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts.  Your life is found and rooted within the Body of Christ, His Holy Church, and your neighbors are not only those in the world around you but especially those who belong to the household of faith, the family of God.  The Church and Ministry of Christ define the character and content of the fruit you are to bear.

So, what good are you doing?  What good fruits are you producing in the Vineyard of the Lord?

Do not respond with a catalogue of all your good intentions, hard work, and contributions.  Don’t start a tally of credits and debits, assets and liabilities, as though to demonstrate that you’re in the black with the Lord your God.  And do not compare yourself to what you can see in your neighbor, as though to measure yourself by that standard, and as though you and your neighbor were given the same talents and responsibilities.  Whatever in your body and life is not devoted to the glory of the Lord and the good of your neighbor is fruit that you have failed to produce.  And that, not according to your own assessment and evaluation, but by the standard of the Word of God.

You are not your own, and whatever you may possess is not your own to do with as you like.  All that you are and have are a sacred trust and stewardship of the Lord’s own creation, which He puts into your hands — as He has planted you within His Vineyard — in order to bring forth abundant fruits.  It is not a matter of your charity, but His.  You are not your own.  You are created by God, to begin with, and you are bought with a price, that of the precious Blood of Christ.  You are His workmanship, created for good works that God prepared beforehand that you should walk in them.

The Lord has revealed and bestowed upon you the fruits of His Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, and Self-control.  As a tree of His own planting, these are the fruits that you are to bear and bring forth in kind.  Where, then, are those good fruits in your life?  And where have they been lacking, or altogether absent, in relation to the Lord and your neighbor?

Repent.  For thus says the Lord, “Unless you repent, you shall perish.”  Repent of your lack of love, your sour disposition, and your animosity.  Repent of your impatience, meanness, harshness, and unfaithfulness.  Repent of your short temper and irritability, and of your reckless, undisciplined life.  Repent of all that you have been doing wrong, and of all that you have not been doing as you ought.  No excuses.  It is neither too early nor too late to cease your wickedness and live rightly.

Again, do not compare and compete with your neighbor, as though he and his life were the measure of yours.  Do not contrast your works to his, nor his suffering to yours, as though to evaluate how you are doing and where you rank.  Your outward behavior is not the starting point, in any case.  Nor is it ever sufficient (at all) apart from the righteousness of faith and love in your heart before the Lord your God.  Outside of faith and love, even your best and greatest efforts are all fruitless.

As for your neighbor’s suffering and hardship, that is a call for you to repent of your own sins — and not a cause for you to sit in judgment of your neighbor, lest you yourself be judged by God.  Have you not learned from the example of Job, and from the poor example of his friends, that he suffered so greatly, not on account of his sins, but because he was accounted righteous by the Lord.

There’s no point arguing the matter.  The Lord’s own judgment is clear, that all have sinned and fallen far short of His glory.  There is no distinction between you and your neighbor, not before the Lord your God.  There are no exceptions.  There is no one who is righteous by works of the Law.  There is no one who does not deserve to be condemned and punished for his sins, now and forever.  But the Lord in His mercy is patient and long-suffering, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  He does not desire that anyone should perish in his sins, but that all should repent and live.

Repent, therefore, and do not die but live.  Whatever you may suffer in your own body and life, and whatever suffering you may encounter in your neighbor’s life and in the world around you, hear and heed the Lord’s call to repentance.  Live according to His Word in the righteousness of faith.

The trouble is that achieving such repentance is not within your power to accomplish for yourself.  You cannot simply turn your life around and make it right.  You cannot raise yourself from death to life, which is what true repentance really entails.  You cannot heal yourself or become productive by trying harder to do better.  Trying isn’t good enough, and doing better is not sufficient.  Your own self-righteousness does not avail before God.  Your outward semblance of righteousness, in and of itself, is filth.  It may look good on the outside, but on the inside it stinks of sin and death.  There is nothing in you, that is, in your mortal flesh, that avails before God.  All of your own efforts and striving accomplish nothing.  On your own, you’re wasting the soil in which you’re planted.

Do not blame the Lord your God!  He has done for you and for His Vineyard everything that could be done.  He has given His Word and caused it to be preached in your ears.  He has sent teachers to catechize you.  He has placed you within His Church.  He has set your neighbor right in front of you with needs to be addressed, and He has given you the means to address those needs in love.  He has given you an office and station in life, with its own particular duties and responsibilities.  So, there is no ambiguity as to what you ought to be doing.  And yet, you do not do it.

The Lord looks for figs from His fig tree, He looks for grapes from His Vineyard, of course.  But all that He finds in you are weeds and thorns and thistles.  Maybe on occasion you manage to produce some pretty flowers or clusters of leaves, which look impressive but do not feed anyone.  Such things are not fruits, they are not the good works that God requires and seeks from His people.

There is no righteousness in you that will ever be able to save you.  You simply are not capable of achieving that.  And so, as it stands, you deserve to be cut down and thrown into the fire to perish.

What you need is a remedy that is more than simply rehabilitation or a self-improvement program.  Not to become your best self now, but to be undone and made brand new as something altogether different than what you have been.  The preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins is not a strategy for making yourself better.  It is a far different and superior Word and remedy than that.

As the Lord alone is righteous and holy, and there is no righteousness or holiness except in Him, there is no might of man that could save you.  And yet, the Lord in His love desires that you should be saved, that you should not perish but live.  In His own righteousness and holiness, therefore, He has come down from heaven to be your righteousness and holiness by grace alone — by His grace, His divine charity — which you receive through faith in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen for you.

That same Lord Jesus Christ has produced the fruits of faith and love, perfectly and sufficiently, on your behalf and in your stead.  He alone has done, for you and for all, what the entire Vineyard did not and could not do apart from Him.  And the works He has done are credited to your account.

But that is not all He has done.  For it remains that, unless you repent, you will perish.  There must yet be the putting to death of your sin, for evil cannot dwell with God.  If you would abide in the House of the Lord, there must be the new life of faith and love.  You must be turned around and away from your relentless pursuit of sin and death — turned away from your wickedness — to the way of righteousness in the fear, love, and trust of God, and in sacrificial love for your neighbor.

Such repentance and righteousness do not emerge and arise from within yourself.  They are from the Lord in the greatness of His mercy.  This, too, Christ Jesus has done and accomplished by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead.  By His innocent suffering and death, He has opened up the way of repentance for you, so that by your Holy Baptism in His Name you are crucified, put to death, and buried with Him, dead to yourself, to your sins, and to the world and its wickedness.  And in His bodily Resurrection and Ascension to the right hand of the Father — in human flesh and blood like your own, with the very Body in which He has borne your sins and suffered your death — He has opened up the way of real life to you and to all the sons and daughters of Adam.

His dying and rising have established the way of repentance and righteousness, the way of faith and love, which have becomes yours by the catechesis of His Word and Holy Spirit, and so also by the washing of the water with His Word and Spirit.  He has made the way straight before you, and He leads you in His righteousness — which is yours by His grace through faith in His Gospel — so that you enter with Him into the House of His God and Father in peace, as a member of His Body.

He is the one truly righteous Galilean, whose Blood was shed under Pontius Pilate as the atoning Sacrifice for the sins of the world.  As the atoning Sacrifice for all of your sins.  He has reconciled you to the one true God in His own Body, crucified and risen, in order to bring you to His God and Father in and with Himself, in His Body, ascended to the right hand of the Father in glory.

So here, in the Word and Flesh of Christ, is where your repentance is found.  The towering inferno of God’s righteous wrath and judgment has fallen upon Him, upon the beloved Son, the well-pleasing One.  And so have the righteous wrath and judgment of God been quieted toward you.

It is by the stripes that Christ Jesus has received that you are healed.  For He has perished in your place, and He has given His place to you.  He has been cut down and thrown into the fire because of your unfaithfulness and failure to bear good fruits, in order to secure your place in the Vineyard of the Lord by way of His good fruits of faithfulness and steadfast love for God and man.  He gives it all to you by His grace.  So your life and health and strength are secure, your righteousness and holiness and salvation are secure, because they are established for you in His Body and Life.

Because His death has atoned for all your sins, and because His death has conquered death and the power that it held over you, so is your life now found and lived in His Resurrection from the dead.  His Resurrection is God the Father’s vindication of the Son’s innocent suffering and death, which He undertook and bore and offered in holy faith and holy love, as the fulfillment of His Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of the sins of the world.  His Resurrection from the dead is the Lord’s declaration of the Victory of His Cross, which is for you, and is given to you in your Baptism.

It is by the Cross that you are cultivated and nurtured in the waters of your Holy Baptism, in the preaching of the Law and the Gospel, in Confession and Absolution in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and in the ongoing catechesis of His Word.  It is by these ways and means of His grace and tender mercy toward you, that the dear Lord Jesus calls you and brings you, day by day and week after week, into repentance and faith, so that you do not perish but have everlasting life in and with Him.

Likewise, it is with the blessed good Fruits of His Cross and Passion that you are fertilized and fed, especially in the Holy Communion, in the Body and Blood of your Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, given and poured out for you.  Fed not for death but for eternal life in both body and soul.

It is by the fruitful and life-giving Tree of His Cross that you are rescued from the fires of Gehenna and delivered from death and the devil through the forgiveness of all of your sins.  That is always the most essential thing in this poor life of labor.  And it is yours, freely given to be freely received.

Here, too, the outward appearances will deceive you, and comparisons will mislead you.  And the foolishness of the world, which it calls wisdom, will lie to you.  But the scandalous Cross of your Lord Jesus Christ and the divine foolishness of His Gospel are the true power and wisdom of God, by which He saves you from yourself, from your sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.  These scandalous Words and works of Christ do forgive you all your sins, set you free from their tyranny over your body and life, and protect you from the eternal death and judgment of hell.  For His sake, you are not cut down and thrown into the fire.  And in Christ Jesus you shall not perish, because you live with God in Him, already here in time by faith, and hereafter in eternity forever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

20 March 2019

To Speak the Truth of God, as You Are Spoken To

Words are inherently powerful, for God Himself is Verbal.  Indeed, the Son of God is the personal Word of God the Father from eternity, and it is by and through the speaking of that divine Word that all things in heaven and on earth are created and sustained.  That same Word of God in the Flesh is the very Image and Likeness of God in whom you are created, and for whom you exist.

The Lord your God does all things by and through His Word.  The Father speaks the Son as the full gift and revelation of Himself, and with that speaking of His Son the Father breathes and bestows the living and life-giving Holy Spirit into His good creation.  That is who God is, and that is how He works, from all eternity within Himself, and from the beginning of all time and space.

So has the Lord created you by His Word.  He gives you life by His Word, and He sustains your body and life by His Word.  More than that, He reveals and gives Himself to you by the speaking of His Word.  For all that, the words that you speak and use are likewise powerful.  They have the potential to serve and sustain life.  But so do they also have the potential to damage and destroy.

You know the significance of words, although you often speak without considering the impact or consequences of what you say to others.  You know the energizing comfort and healing balm of kind and supportive words, and you know the sting and shame of insults and accusations.  You know that words, be they true or false, can make all the difference; they can make or break a life.

All of this is true within the context of this world, in this body and life on earth, and in all of your personal relationships.  From infancy, even from the womb, to your death bed and final breaths, words constitute and define your connections and interactions with family, friends, and neighbors of all kinds.  And words are no less vitally important and necessary to your spiritual life and well-being.  Your relationship with God, your righteousness before Him, and your life within His Holy Church, the Body and Bride of Christ Jesus, all depend upon the hearing and speaking of words.

Not just any words will do, nor simply words that happen to be true, but the right words rightly spoken, the right words at the right time.  You are capable of speaking such words, because you are created in the Image and Likeness of God, the Word-made-Flesh.  But such words and such speaking do not originate from within yourself, far less from within your fallen flesh.  They come to you from the Creator, the Author and Giver of Life, who speaks to you by Christ, the Son.

Do not presume to know or understand the Word of the Lord by your own reason, wisdom, or instinct.  And do not suppose that your zeal and passionate enthusiasm will carry the day and see you through.  Apart from the knowledge of Christ and His righteousness everything will crash and burn and come to ruin.  But such knowledge is bestowed solely by His Word and Holy Spirit, by the preaching and hearing of His Word, by the faith and confession of the Word of Christ Jesus.

The Word that you are given by your Father to confess — the Word by which you call upon His Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving — is the Word of Christ, the Word-made-Flesh who has drawn near to you.  It is the Word that is preached to you by the grace of God in this place, from this pulpit, week by week throughout the year.  It is the Word that you fathers and mothers are given to speak in turn to your children, to pray with and for your children, in order to teach your children what is good and right and true, and to catechize them in the way of life and salvation.

It is not only the little children or the confirmands who need to be catechized (and are catechized), but you also are catechized by the preaching and teaching of the Word of the Lord throughout your Christian life.  It is by that ongoing catechesis of His Word that you are and live as His disciple, as you are given His Word and taught by His Spirit to keep His Word at all times and in all places, that is, to believe and trust His promises, and to live according to all that He has commanded you.

You are catechized to and from the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism, and daily by His Word He returns you to the content and significance of that one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.  The Creed is basic and fundamental to this ongoing catechesis.  Not only as an ancient and beautiful summary of the Church’s faith and confession of the Holy Triune God and His great salvation in Christ Jesus, but also because it is so deeply rooted and embedded in Holy Baptism.  The Creed originated in the most basic baptismal rites, confessing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in whose Name you are baptized, and the Life that is from that one true God alone.

The heart and center of both the Creed and Holy Baptism is the Word-made-Flesh, crucified and risen from the dead.  He is the One who preaches to you and catechizes you by His preaching, even as He Himself is the Word who is preached to you by His called and ordained servants.  It is not simply the once-upon-a-time of His life and ministry, His teaching and miracles, His dying and rising, though the history is solid and true, factual and real.  But the preaching and teaching here and now, to and from the Font, to and from the Altar, convey to you the Lord Christ Himself in the present tense, along with all the fruits and benefits of His Cross and Resurrection from the dead.

Consequently, because your crucified and risen Lord Jesus is actively present in the catechesis of His Word, it calls you and brings you daily to repentance and faith.  It puts you to death by the Law and raises you to newness of life by the Gospel.  It thereby also teaches you and trains you in the way of confession and absolution, not only with your pastor according to his office as a minister of Christ Jesus, but so also within your home and family and with all of your neighbors.  It is by His Word that you examine yourself and acknowledge your sins, and by His Word that you fear, love, and trust in Him, hope in His mercy, and actively rely upon the promise of His Resurrection.

It is easy to be afraid as the Word of the Lord has its way with you, as it exposes your sins and calls you to be honest with yourself, with God, and with your neighbors.  It is a scary thing to say out loud what you would prefer to keep hidden in the dark, the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of which you are ashamed.  The Law of God not only threatens but actually does put you to death for your sins, it crucifies and buries you in the dust.  He has the authority to condemn you forever.

Even so, do not be afraid.  Fear the Lord your God, to be sure.  But do not be afraid of Him; that is to say, do not cower in terror of Him.  Rather, repent of your sins in the confidence of His grace.  Confess your sins in the certainty of His forgiveness.  For His Word has revealed His mercy and opened His great heart of love to you in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, who has been given into death for your sins, and who is risen from the dead and lives forever as your Righteousness and Holiness, your Innocence and Blessedness.  He is true God in the flesh, the Author and Giver of Life, who has all authority in heaven and on earth, not only to condemn you for your sins, but to forgive you all your sins, to raise you from the dead, and to save you for eternal life with Himself.

As God the Father has spoken to you by His Son, so by His Spirit and with His Church you confess “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”  That is the sure and certain hope and the promise by which you find the courage to face up to the fact of your own sin and to brave the assaults and accusations of the devil, the world, and your own flesh against you.

It is not your own word that you speak, it is not your own work that you perform, but it is the Word and work of God that you cling to and confess by faith in Christ Jesus.  To “confess,” as you do in the Creed and in your Christian life, is to “speak together” and to “say the same thing.”  With the Creed, in particular, you speak together with and say the same thing as the Holy Christian Church of all times and in all places.  But so do you also speak together with and say the same thing as the Lord your God.  You echo back to Him and say to the world what He has said to you.

You speak as the Lord has spoken to you, because His Word alone is sure and certain and true.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of God in Christ will never pass away.  The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.  It is that very Word which is preached to you, which opens your lips to show forth His praise in the confession of His Name.

Thus, you confess what is true concerning yourself according to the Word of the Lord, the Law and the Gospel; that you are a sinner in need of forgiveness and salvation, and that you are redeemed by Christ the Crucified, baptized and absolved in His Name, and fed from His hand at His Table.

And you confess what is true concerning God according to the Self-revelation of His Word; that He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, that He has become Flesh and tabernacles with you in His Church, that He daily and richly forgives your sins and cleanses you of all unrighteousness, and that He shall raise you from the dead in glory at the last, as surely as Christ Himself is risen.

It is by such confession of His Word that you offer right sacrifices, the fruit of lips that praise His Name in the Spirit and the Truth.  So, too, by the confession of His Word you exercise fear, love, and trust in the Lord; you strengthen and sustain your faith in Christ; you serve and support your neighbor with that which matters most; and you catechize your family and friends in the true faith.

That is why you keep His Word in your ears and before your eyes; you bind His Word to your body and soul, within your head, and upon your heart; and you speak His Word daily to your children.

Do not be afraid of what anyone else might think or say or do in response to your confession.  But fear the Lord your God, with whom there is forgiveness, and so confess His Word no matter how unpopular it may be.  For His Word is Spirit and Truth, and it is by His Word alone that you have life in body and soul, here and now and forever hereafter.  But to deny and contradict His Word is to cut yourself off from His Life and His Salvation, and thus to condemn yourself in unbelief.

Bear in mind, again, that words are inherently powerful.  They not only express what is already in your heart and mind, but they shape and strengthen your thoughts and feelings, either in the Truth or in falsehood.  Even those private conversations that you have in the dark or in your own head have a way of taking over your whole outlook and perspective, your thinking, and your actions.  Therefore, do not allow your sin to control and direct your speaking, but remain silent, and do not speak at all, until you have first of all listened to the Lord, that you might then speak His Word.

Do not rattle on with your own vain words, nor spew forth the lies that proceed from out of your own sinful heart and head.  Do not echo what is evil, nor persist in hypocrisy, but rehearse what the Lord has spoken, and let your life demonstrate the love of God that you profess with your lips.

Do not be anxious or afraid, and do not wonder and worry about how or what you are to speak.  The Lord Himself teaches you to confess and pray, and the Holy Spirit gives you the very words to say.  Not by some sort of strange osmosis, nor by any mysterious download from the clouds, but by the preaching and teaching of Christ Jesus, by the daily catechesis of His Word and prayer — at home within your family and here within the House of God — from infancy, even to the grave.

That Word of the Lord is living and active, it does what it says, and it gives what it promises.  As it opens up your ears to hear, so does it open your heart to believe and your mouth to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Thus are you justified by faith in His Word, and so do you call upon His Name according to the promise of His mercy, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

That Word of Christ is very near to you.  It is in your ears right now, and by His grace it is in your heart and on your lips, as well.  He’s by your side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit!  And with His Word He guards and keeps your body and soul in His grace and loving-kindness.  He causes you to live and abide in safety, and to lie down and sleep in peace.  For you are more valuable to Him than many sparrows, and you are not forgotten but remembered before God.

Has He not redeemed you by His mighty arm and outstretched hand?  Not with gold or silver, but with His own holy and precious blood, with His innocent suffering and death; that you might be His very own, and live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him without fear in righteousness and holiness forever.  So has He brought you in by the way of His Cross and Resurrection in the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  And so does He bestow upon you by His Word and with His Word-made-Flesh in all the testimonies, statutes, and judgments which He speaks to you, which you by His grace and Spirit confess in the presence of His God and Father.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

17 March 2019

Under the Shadow of His Wings

Self-preservation makes sense.  It is reasonable and understandable.  If you are threatened, of course you will defend yourself.  You’ll fight back, or you’ll run away and hide and live to fight another day.  Self-preservation is also acceptable under the law.  If you hurt or even kill someone in self-defense, you are not persecuted but protected by the law; you have not committed a crime.

So self-preservation is in accordance with the law.  But it is not the way of Christ the Crucified.  It is not the way that He proceeds.  He is not masochistic or suicidal, but He does go knowingly and willingly to His death.  He not only puts Himself in harm’s way, as police officers and soldiers do in their stations.  He does not simply take a risk, counting the cost and considering the odds.  He places Himself in harm’s way by deliberately offering Himself as the Sacrifice for sinners.

The dear Lord Jesus Christ does not defend Himself.  He neither fights nor flees from the battle.  When He is reviled, He does not revile in return, but He continues to entrust Himself, His body and soul, His life and His death, into the hands of His God and Father.  So He turns the other cheek to those who strike Him, even to the point of handing Himself over to the Cross and laying down His life in love for them.  In the midst of His great anguish, He prays for those who sin against Him.

It is for this purpose that He has come.  He pours out His innocent Blood for you and for all, for this city and all its inhabitants, to atone for the sins of the world and reconcile the world to God.

This way of the Cross is the pattern and example of Christ and His Gospel — for His ministers, and for all of His disciples, that is, for all His Christians.  It is the way that you are called to live.

You receive and bear the Cross, although it puts you to death, and you follow in the way of the Cross, because it is paradoxically the way of life in Christ.  Not self-preservation, but self-sacrifice.  Not selfishness, but selfless loving service.  You lose yourself in love for others, friend and foe, because your life is found in Christ the Crucified.  If you perish, you perish.  That was Esther’s attitude in the Old Testament, and that was the motto of Wilhelm Löhe’s deaconess house.  If you perish, you perish.  So be it.  That is every Christian’s attitude and motto.  Come what may, it does not matter.  For Christ has died, and Christ is risen, and even though you die, yet shall you live.

You live because you are forgiven all your sins by the atoning death of Christ and by His sacrificial Blood, which He has shed for you.  Your neighbor, too, is forgiven by the bloody death of Christ.

So this belongs to the Cross you are to bear: To forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you.  To bear his burdens gladly and patiently, in love.  To suffer his insults and persecutions without becoming defensive, and without striking back with your words or your fists.  To love him who hurts you, to pray for him who persecutes you, and even to lay down your life for your enemies.

With all of that, what have you lost if you die in the process of living and loving in this way of the Cross?  Nothing!  Your citizenship, your house and home, your city, and your fatherland, all of these abide in heaven, where your life is safely and securely hidden with Christ in God.  You live here on earth, for a little while, as a sojourner, as a pilgrim on your way back home.  You journey today and tomorrow, and maybe another, maybe not.  But you are perfected by your Baptism into the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  And as you die with Him, so do you live with Him.

It is precisely by His Cross that Christ Jesus has not only atoned for your sins, redeemed you from death and the devil forever, and reconciled you to His God and Father in heaven, but by His Cross He has also accomplished a new and better Exodus for you.  That is to say, the Cross of Christ is your passage through death into life.  It is the way of repentance, of faith, and of new life in Him.

If you would live, therefore, take up the Cross of Christ and follow after Him to Jerusalem in holy faith and holy love.  Find your place in the Temple of His Church, in the midst of the City of God, on earth as it is in heaven, centered in the Lamb upon His Throne, crucified and risen from the dead, given and poured out for you and your salvation.  Living as He lives, bearing good fruits like those of His life-giving Tree of the Cross, pour yourself out in love for your neighbors, even to the point of perishing, within the vocations to which your Lord has called you in this body and life.

To be sure, there are plenty of people who do not follow this pattern and example of Christ, but who live and walk as enemies of His Cross.  And be warned, that is the inclination of your own fallen flesh, as well.  Your instinct is to forsake the Cross, to fight or to flee, to protect yourself.

There are those who sneer at the Lord Jesus Christ, you know that.  Those who despise and ridicule His Church and religion.  Those who mock and blaspheme His Cross and His Gospel and all the signs and symbols of Christianity.  Those who laugh and make fun of the rites and ceremonies of the Lord’s Liturgy in Word and Sacrament.  It is easy enough to identify those obvious enemies.

But the far worse enemies of the Cross of Christ — though they sometimes masquerade as friends and allies of the Lord — are those who are driven by selfish self-preservation; who preserve their own lives at the expense of others; who shed innocent blood for their own benefit and advantage, for crass profits, or simply for comfort and convenience, all in the name of choice and freedom.

It is not only those who murder infants in the womb (or after birth) who do such things.  You also have blood on your own hands when you ignore your neighbor in his need and withhold the help you could provide, or when you hurt and harm your neighbor in his body and life with your hateful words and actions against him.  In all such ways as these, you also have murdered your neighbor.

There are likewise those who take their stand as enemies of the Cross of Christ by holding bitter grudges and seeking revenge, by refusing to forgive their neighbor for whom the Savior has given Himself into death.  There are some who use even the means of grace, the Church and Ministry, the Temple and Priesthood, as means of self-preservation, self-promotion, and self-righteousness.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I warn you in His Name and for His sake not to walk according to such selfishness.  It is the very opposite of faith and love.  It is not only sinful, it is self-destructive.

That is the great irony and paradox of life as it actually is, and not as the world perceives it to be.  The one who seeks to save his life will lose it.  The one who sets himself against the Cross, in order to protect and preserve his own skin, perishes not only here in time but hereafter in eternity.

To make a god out of this world and the things of this world is futile, for you will inevitably perish along with such gods.  To be driven about to and fro by your belly and its rumbling appetites is to perish along with the food that you crave and consume.  That is reason enough to consider fasting for the discipline of your flesh.  But to glory in your earthly life will bring you finally into shame.

Remember Shiloh (in the Book of First Samuel), where Eli and his sons once abused their priestly office and the Lord’s House.  They stole the sacrificial meat in their gluttony.  And they attempted to use the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh Sabaoth as a weapon of war, for their own purposes, for their own self-defense and safety — as though the Lord were tame and safe!  It did not work.  They were put to shame in death, and the house of Eli was removed from the high priestly office.

Remember Jerusalem, as well, the City of the great King, where the Lord God Almighty caused His Name and His Glory to dwell in the midst of His people by His grace.  And yet, the people hid behind the sacrifices as though they were some kind of protection money paid to a mafia crime boss, and they hid out in the Temple as though it were a den of thieves, daring God to discipline them, stoning His Prophets and killing those He sent to them.  God brought that City into the dust.

There were some notable exceptions, as you know, but most of the people in Jerusalem failed to recognize the Lord’s visitation in the Person of Christ Jesus.  Whatever good they thought of Him, they failed to receive Him as their God, their Savior, and their Lord.  There were some who plotted against Him, who sought to trap and destroy Him, and who finally conspired to crucify Him — though none of this was possible apart from His own willingness to lay down His life in love for them and all the people.  But nobody understood His Cross and Passion, not even His disciples until afterwards.  Neither do you, except by His grace, by the catechesis of His Word and Spirit.

The God’s honest truth is that He comes to you and to all — He comes in the Flesh from His God and Father in heaven — with one single-minded purpose, one goal and desire, that is, to save you and gather you to Himself in love.  He would make of you a child of His Father.  He would nestle you to Himself, close to His heart, under His wings of mercy.  He would shelter you, protect you, feed and comfort you.  He comes to do so by the way of His Cross, though you would not have it.

He comes to you in spite of your sins, solely for the sake of His love.  He bears your reproach — not only the reproach that you suffer, but that which you inflict upon your neighbors and against the Lord your God.  He bears your reviling in patience and in peace.  He willingly bears and suffers all your sins and your death in His Body, and He thereby takes away your sin and death forever.

In this way — by coming to you in love, forgiving you, and saving you — by His self-giving and self-sacrificing service, even unto death — by and from His Cross, by the ways and the means of His Cross and Passion — He reveals and gives Himself to you, the one true God in the Flesh, that you might know Him as He truly is, and love Him, and so receive Him to yourself in holy faith.

Blessed is He, therefore, who comes to you now in the Name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!

This one Lord Jesus Christ is the true Passover Lamb whose innocent Blood now marks the door of His House, wherein He has called you to live and abide with Him.  If you consider this House of His, cornerstoned upon His Cross, it seems a desolate and deserted place.  Still, it has been left for you in mercy.  And in this House you live, not by self-preservation, but by the grace of God.

It is here within His House that you behold Him as He is, the incarnate God, your Savior and Lord.  In the Gospel of His Cross, by which He forgives you.  In His self-sacrificing love for you, even unto death.  In His holy Body given for you, and in His holy, precious Blood poured out for you.

Behold the Lamb of God, who has taken upon Himself the sins of the whole world, who takes away all of your sins.  Consider His strong arms stretched out in love to gather you to Himself and to shelter you in His mercy.  And fix your eyes on Jesus here at His Altar by hearing and heeding His Voice as He speaks to you now: “Take, eat. Drink of it, all of you.”  He is for you, He forgives you, He saves you, and He gives you life in both your body and your soul, both now and forever.

Little bird that you are, little chick, little raven or sparrow, this House of God is where you find your nesting place, here under the Lord’s Altar, here under the shadow of His wings.  For this is the Pattern of Christ, which is the Image of God.  This is the way of His Cross, which is the way of real life.  This is your Savior from heaven, who is given and poured out for you here on earth, that you might share His Glory in the Resurrection of your body to the life everlasting.  So this is the House of the Lord, and this is the City of God.  And here by His grace you shall abide forever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

15 March 2019

Living and Abiding in the House of God

Even before you have called, the Lord has answered you in love, and God the Father has given you the Spirit of His Son.  In truth, He has poured out the Holy Spirit generously upon you, in and through Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, by the washing of the water with His Word.

He has surely cast out all your demons by His forgiveness of all your sins.  He has redeemed and sanctified you by the Blood of Christ; cleansed your spirit, soul, and body with the Gospel in His means of grace; given you His holy Name and adopted you as His own dear child and heir.

Not only that, but having rescued you from the devil’s clutches and kingdom, the Lord your God, your own dear Father in Christ Jesus, has brought you into the Kingdom of His grace, mercy, and peace, into His home, into His own household and family, and He has seated you at His Table.

Here the Father feeds you with His Son, who is your Spiritual Food, your Meat and Drink indeed.

Will you, then, live within your Father’s House, or will you be scattered?  Having been cleansed of your iniquity and justified by the grace of God in Christ, will you now turn away from His Word and return to your wicked ways, thus going from the bad that you were to seven times worse?

It is when you dwell in the waterless places, that is, away from your Baptism into Christ, that your restless heart, soul, mind, and spirit become the devil’s resting place and playground once again.

Therefore, do not become complacent, but maintain constant vigilance.  For freedom Christ has set you free, but do not abuse your freedom by giving yourself over to sin and its consequences.

If your heart is divided against the Lord your God, so that you do not live with Him but in the devil’s domain — which is to be found, not only in the likes of voodoo and black magic, but as much or more in cases of enmity, hardness of heart, and persistence in unrepentant sins of any sort — if that is the house in which you live, then you shall not stand or abide in the Lord’s House.

But now, instead, hear the Word of Christ and take it to heart.  Trust that His Word of the Gospel is Spirit and Truth, and that His Word is for you, unto repentance and faith, life and salvation.

Daily repent of your sins, and return to the Lord your God, who loves you and does not want you to die or perish.  He does not want to let you go, but to give you His own Life.  Why, then, should you not live?  Not by your own reason or strength, and not by your own good works, efforts, or achievements, but by the Love of God in Christ, who in His weakness is stronger than the devil.

He has redeemed you and rescued you, and with Him there is mercy and forgiveness.  His House stands here for you.  Make yourself at home.  Recline at His Table and rest.  Eat, drink, and live!

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

13 March 2019

The Love of God in Christ Is the Fulfillment of the Law

If you want to know God — not only about Him, but God Himself — then hear, O Israel, what the Lord your God speaks to you.  Listen to what He says.  Hear His Word.  That is your real life, that is what is good and true.  For God reveals and gives Himself to you by the Word that He speaks.

If you would live with God, therefore, hear and heed what He says, and remember all that He has done.  For He is the Author and Giver of life, and in love He has created you for life with Himself.  So it is that He also reveals Himself to you in love, that you may know Him, and believe and trust in Him, and love Him.  Not for His benefit, but for your sake, that you should not die but live.

Before you were ever conceived in your mother’s womb, the Lord your God loved you and desired to give you life.  Consider, too, the Exodus that He has accomplished for you, how with His mighty arm and His outstretched hand He has brought you out of Egypt.  Likewise consider the Covenant that He has made with you, the Blood by which He has bound Himself to you, and you to Him, atoning for your sins, cleansing you of all unrighteousness, and calling you to be His very own.

The Exodus that He has made for you — not only for those who came before you, but the Exodus that He has made for you — is by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, who took your sins upon Himself, bore them in His Body, laid down His life for you in love, and took it up again by faith in His Father.  So has He opened up the Life everlasting to you in body and soul.  And so are you baptized into Him, you are washed and cleansed in His Name, you are given His Holy Spirit.

He has sealed His Covenant with you, as well, by feeding you with His own Body and giving you to drink of His own Blood.  “This is My Blood of the New Covenant,” He says, echoing the words of Moses at Mt. Sinai, but fulfilling them in Himself, and so bestowing the Life of God upon you.

So does God the Father speak to you by His Son.  This is the sort of God He is, One who gives Himself to you in love.  Who is Love.  You do well by living according to His Word, by heeding His commands, by living as He has directed — by faith in His promises.  If you would do right, if you would do well, listen to what He says, and obey the Lord your God.  He has made you His own dear child, a son of God in Christ.  You, therefore, shall be perfect, as your Father is perfect.

In what does this divine perfection consist?  It is love, which is the fulfillment of the Law.  In love for God you are to love your neighbor as yourself.  That is the Royal Law, the Law of your King.

This is your perfection.  This is what your life with God is to be like.  That you love your neighbor, as you are loved by God.  You are to love the Lord your God because He first loves you, and He is your greatest Good, your Life, and your Salvation.  And you are to love your neighbor because you have become like God, recreated in His Image and Likeness — in Christ, the incarnate Son.

You are to love your neighbors, each and all of your neighbors, for the sake of Christ Jesus, as the Lord your God loves you in Christ Jesus.  It is in mercy that He has forgiven you all your sins, reconciled you to Himself, and graciously adopted you to be His own dear child in Christ Jesus.  So, then, you are to be merciful, as your Father in heaven is merciful.  The one who is not merciful shall be judged as a transgressor of the Law.  But you are to forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you, in the same way that your Father in heaven freely and fully forgives you all your sins.

In the Kingdom of God, it is not fairness nor the justice of punishment but forgiveness that reigns.  Forgiveness of sins gets to the very heart of the Law, because it is an exercise of love and mercy.  Of course, if the Law were kept perfectly in love, there would be no need for forgiveness.  But as you relate to your neighbor, you find that your neighbor sins against you in many ways, and you find that you likewise sin against your neighbor in many ways.  And in all of these sins between yourself and your neighbor, you sin against heaven and before God.  The Law brings that to light.  It tells you what love is to look like, and so it shows that your life does not always look like that.

In many and various ways, day after day, you fall short in your love, and you sin against even your own family and friends.  And as you move beyond those most basic vocations and stations in life, you make comparisons, distinctions, and judgments regarding your other neighbors in the world, showing partiality to those more to your liking, to those who are more like you, and to those more likely to return your favors and advance your agendas.  But such favoritism is contrary to the Law.

You have a special attachment and responsibility to your own husband or wife, and to your own children, of course.  But aside from such vocations, one neighbor is to be to you as another.  And you are to love your neighbor.  You are to be kind and do good even to those who are at enmity with you.  You know that Jesus says so.  You are not to turn away from your enemy in his need but in love you are to help him as you can, as opportunity permits.  And if he slaps you, turn the other cheek.  If he takes your coat, then give him the shirt off your back.  How hard it is to love like that!

The Lord teaches you that, even in your anger, you are not to sin against your neighbor.  So what shall you do with your anger?  What shall you do when you’ve been hurt?  How do you offer right sacrifices, as the Psalmist calls you to do?  Do not offer anything to God apart from reconciliation with your neighbor.  If you come into the presence of the Lord your God and presume to offer Him anything while at odds with your neighbor, then you take the Name of the Lord your God in vain.  Then you are trying to purchase His favor, while you continue to live contrary to His will.

If you would offer to God right sacrifices, then sacrifice your pride, and sacrifice your ego, and sacrifice your hurt feelings.  Sacrifice your bitterness, and forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you.  Sacrifice yourself and your selfishness, in order to love and serve your neighbor.  Sacrifice your lust for revenge, and seek instead to be reconciled to your neighbor in peace.

Do not presume to come into the presence of God and claim that you love Him while you persist in hating, hurting, and harboring resentment and ill will against your neighbor.
Demonstrate and exercise your love for God by loving each and all of your neighbors, as the Lord your God loves you, and show no partiality among them.  For the Lord makes no distinction.  The Lord is merciful to all who call upon His Name.  But how and why, then, is He a “jealous” God?

The Lord is not jealous in the way that you envy your neighbors and covet whatever God has given to them.  The Lord is not jealous of who you are, what you have, or what you do, for He is the One who has created you, given you life, and entrusted to your stewardship all that you possess.

The Lord is jealous, not in selfishness, but in love for you and all His people.  He is jealous as a Husband for His own Wife, as a Father for His own Children.  He would not have you enticed or forced away from Him, seduced or stolen away from Him, by any other god.  For He alone is your Life and your Salvation, and He wants you to live and not to die.  He jealously guards and keeps you close to Himself, not as though to derive His life from you, but so that you might live in Him.

What, then?  The Law of the Lord is not unjust but righteous.  The love that it requires is good and right, holy and wise.  And as it thus confronts your sins, your lack of love, and all your covetous desires and selfishness, the Law shuts you up and silences all of your excuses and rationalizations.  Along with that, it actually makes your sins that much worse!  Not because the Law is evil, but because its holiness and righteousness stir up and exacerbate the wickedness of your sinful heart.

The Law will not enable or allow you to make yourself better, to turn your life around, or to set things right with God.  The Law rather reveals how helpless and hopeless you are.  It aggravates your sinful heart, mind, and spirit, because it requires that you be altogether different than you are.  As it commands you to love, you are all the more embittered against both God and your neighbor.

In truth, the entire world is guilty before Him, for all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve have fallen under the condemnation of the Law.  And you are no exception, no matter how hard you try.  Even when your outward behavior is at its very best, your sinful heart and fallen flesh remain at odds with the Lord and His Law.  You do not love as He has created you and called you to love.

But Christ Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God the Father, and He alone has lived as the true Son of God in the flesh.  So, if you would know God — not only about Him, but Him — hear the Word of Christ, and know that He has come not to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them.

He speaks of a righteousness exceeding that of the scribes and pharisees.  But that is not a new and better set of rules and regulations, which you might keep and fulfill with a bit of effort and a little luck.  It is the righteousness which He obtains for you and bestows upon you in holy faith and love.

This one Lord Jesus Christ approaches the Altar of His Cross and offers Himself as the good and right Sacrifice by which He reconciles the whole world to God.  For He unites both God and Man in His Body.  The wall of hostility, the accusations and judgments of God’s holy Ten Commands, and all the punishments of the Law, all of these are finally satisfied, resolved, and removed in Him.

It is in Christ that you know the Love of God.  Not abstractly, but very personally.  Not intangibly, but in the very substance of His own Flesh and Blood.  He is not far away from you, but He draws near to you.  In Him you know mercy, not merely as an example, but as God’s grace toward you.  He knows your sins better than you do, and yet He does not hold them against you.  He rather forgives you all of your sins at His own expense, and He credits you with His own righteousness.

It is in Christ Jesus — by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead — that you have Peace with God and the perfect Sabbath Rest for your body, soul, and spirit that God always intended.

It is one of the saddest ironies in all of salvation history that the Sabbath Commandment has been received and regarded as one of the greatest and most difficult burdens of all.  Where God intends to give His people rest, you resent His grace and the gifts of His mercy as a demand upon your time (or what you regard as your time), as an inconvenience to your plans and aspirations in life.  The Lord calls you and invites you to rest yourself in Him and to rejoice in the Liturgy of His Gospel, and you wearily respond, “Do I have to?”  So much for loving the Lord above all other gods.

And yet, as a determined Father, as a patient and persistent Parent, as a loving and long-suffering Husband, the Lord your God continues to call you Home, back to Himself in Peace, to enter into the Sabbath Rest that remains for you and all His people in Christ Jesus.  For all the ways that you have refused to hear and heed His Word, resisted and disobeyed His Law, and taken His Name in vain, the Lord Jesus has laid down His life and taken it up again, that you should live in Him.

In yourself, in your fallen flesh and sinful heart, there is enmity and conflict, animosity and hurt, so much bitterness, and so many regrets.  Things have not been right between you and God, nor between you and your neighbors.  And as a consequence, you have been cut off, isolated, lonely, and alone with all your sins and griefs and sorrows.  Or so it has seemed to you, and so it has felt.

But you are not alone.  For Christ has come to you in mercy, and He is here with you in the midst of the wilderness under the Cross.  He comes not to punish you for your sins, as you deserve, but to set you free from your sins and from the power of death.  He comes, not as your enemy, but in order to befriend you, though you have been at enmity with Him.  He comes in peace to love you.

He brings you into fellowship with God.  For He has baptized you in His Name and poured out His Spirit upon you.  His God and Father is now your God and Father in Him.  His Church is now your House and Home, on earth as it is in heaven.  His people are your family.  As He feeds you with His Body and gives you to drink of His Blood, you are bound together with all who are His own.

As Christ has offered Himself for you on the Cross, so does He offer Himself to you in His Church.  So does He love you, and so do you learn from Him to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself.  Such love is the fulfillment of the Law, which is yours in Christ by the gift of His Gospel, as He daily and richly forgives you all your sins in His grace, mercy, and peace.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.