26 May 2019

To Worship the Father in the Word and Spirit

When God the Father opens His mouth to speak to you by His Son, His Word is not impotent or empty, nor does it return to Him fruitless and void.  His Word is the Seed, the Sunshine and Rain, by which He brings forth an abundant harvest to the glory of His Holy Name.

It is by His Word to you that He bears you up and brings you to Himself in peace and love, that you may live with Him and have true joy in His presence, both now and forever.

It is in this way that you come to the Father in Christ Jesus and worship Him in Spirit and Truth, as He has first come to you.  The true and only God has come to you in Christ, the incarnate Son, the divine Word made Flesh, who has borne your sins in His Body and sacrificed Himself for you.

This Word of God, the only-begotten Son, has come from the Father to live and abide with you here, to be with you in this world of tribulation.  And make no mistake, His life and experience here in the flesh have been no sham or clever charade, but He has truly suffered your tribulation, and He has died your death on His Cross.  What is more, in doing so, He has been abandoned by His friends, and He has borne God the Father’s righteous wrath and judgment against your sins.

And yet, even then, in His death upon the Cross, in His suffering the curse and consequence of sin, He is not alone, because the Father is with Him.  He experiences the fierce forsakenness of God, as He prays from the Psalter in His Passion, because He bears the full condemnation of the Law.  But that is not all!  For His Father is with Him, not only to crush Him with the Law and put Him to grief for the sins of the world, but also with the promise of redemption and rescue from death.

The Lord Jesus knows from the Scriptures, from the oath that God swore to Abraham, from the Covenant that He made with Israel, from the preaching of the Prophets and the Psalms of David, that His God and Father will not abandon His soul to Hades or permit His flesh to suffer decay, but will raise Him up in righteousness and holiness, in innocence and blessedness.  Therefore, He trusts and believes and relies upon His Father.  He calls upon His Name in the confidence that He will hear and answer.  In such holy faith, He worships the Father with His whole Body and Life, by His sacrificial death and by the pouring out of His own Blood upon the Altar of His Cross.

It is by this death of His that He, the Word-made-Flesh, tells you plainly of the Father.  For it is in the loving Self-Sacrifice of His Body and Blood upon the Cross that the very heart of God has been fully opened to you and made known to you.  And it is precisely in this way, as the Lamb who is slain, that Christ Jesus, the beloved Son in the Flesh, is the Temple and the Lamp of the City of God.  It is in His Body of flesh and blood, given and poured out for you, that God draws near and dwells with you, that He reveals and gives Himself to you, and that He draws you to Himself.

So it is that God the Lord is with you in midst of the great tribulation of this world — by and with the Cross of Christ, and by and with the fruits of His Cross, that is, by the Word of His Cross and with the Holy Sacraments of His Cross.  And so it is, too, by these same means of grace, that you come to God the Father in, with, and through the flesh and blood of Christ the Crucified.

The fact is that grace and every blessing, the Life of God, the Lord Himself, and the fullness of joy are all found in Christ Jesus, and only in Him.  For He is “God-with-us,” Immanuel, as you know.  Just so, He is also the true and perfect Man: He is Man-with-God, and God is with Him.  Which is really to say that a right relationship with God — for anyone — is found only in this Man, Christ Jesus, the Son of Mary.  If you want to know how to get right with God, it is in Christ that you are.

It is in your love for Christ Jesus that you find God the Father — and that you are found in Him — that you are with Him, and at home with Him, as a beloved child.  Whereas, to be scattered from Christ Jesus is to go your own way, to go to your own home, wherever you wander — wherever you make your own bed and have to lie in it — instead of going to the Father in and with Christ.

There is frequently such failure in yourself, such retreating into fear, such scattering from Jesus, as also in the case of the disciples then.  But take courage!  Not that you will somehow overcome by your own strength and willpower, but because He has prevailed for you, and He has overcome the world with all its toil and troubles, the devil with all of his temptations and torment, and the frailties of your own flesh with all its sin and death.  The Lord Jesus Christ has done it for you.

For Christ was not alone in His suffering and death.  He was with the Father in faith, and the Father was with Him in love.  Even in His forsakenness, bearing the sins of the world and suffering for them, God remains His Father — and the Father is His true and only God — who will deliver Him from out of death and the grave and bring Him safely back from the battle waged against Him.

So it is that Christ returns to the Father by the way of His Cross: First of all, as the Sacrifice of Atonement, offered up to the Father for the sins of the world.  Then also, as the perfection of that Sacrifice, in His Resurrection from the dead and His Ascension to the Right Hand of the Father.

Thus are you now drawn to Him, and to the Father in Him, by the Holy Spirit, through His Cross.  For He has engaged the battle and conquered in the fight in order to become your Champion, to save you from your enemies, to snatch you out of the jaws of defeat into His own great Victory.

As He has been crucified, put to death, and buried — planted as a Seed into the ground — so has He emerged and risen from the ground; and His Cross has become the new and better Tree of Life, His crucified Body bearing good fruits after His own kind.  By the Word and Spirit of His Cross, you are planted with Him, and grafted into Him, to grow and live in Him: watered from His side, warmed by the sunshine of His Gospel, and well nourished by His holy flesh and precious blood.

You love Him, thus, because He first loves you; and He continues to love you now and always.

It is with such divine and tender affection that He woos you to Himself through His Word of the Gospel and draws you to Himself by the Spirit, that you should find your life and your self in Him.

It is in Him — in Jesus Christ the Crucified — in His flesh and blood, and in His Name, therefore, that you also go to the Father and are gladly received by Him.  That you are lifted up from death to life in the glory of His Gospel, to the glory of His Holy Name.  For as the Father is glorified in Christ Jesus, so is Christ glorified in you; and the Father glorifies Himself in you through Christ.

In this way, like Christ Jesus, you worship God the Father in Spirit and in Truth.  That is to say, you worship the Father by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of the incarnate Son.

You worship the one true God in Christ, as Lydia did, first of all by listening to His Word and the preaching of it: Not as a good work of your own doing, but as a gift of His grace, as the Holy Spirit lays Christ upon your heart and calls you to the Father in Him by the preaching of the Gospel.

It is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins that puts you to death and raises you to newness of life.  That is what causes the Light of Christ to shine within your heart, so that, not you, but the darkness is scattered before Him.  The same preaching brings you to the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism, as it did for Lydia and her household in Philippi, and as it has recently done for Fredrick Bliese, Violet Rodriguez, Ruth Osbun, and Benedict Harrison.

As the Lord continues to baptize disciples into the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, you are not re-baptized, but you do remember your Holy Baptism and return to it each day: in which your name has been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and His Name has been written upon you, inscribed upon your forehead and your heart, upon your body and soul, by the stylus of His Cross.

Signed and sealed by the Spirit of Christ Jesus — as a Christian disciple, baptized and catechized in His Name — you worship God the Father in Spirit and in Truth by eating and drinking the Body and Blood of His Son, our dear Lord Jesus Christ, in repentant faith and with thanksgiving to God.

In this faith and love, by this Word and Holy Spirit, you belong to Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, and you belong to God the Father in Him.  You bear His Name as a beloved and well-pleasing child.  And so it is that you worship Him by praying to Him as your own dear God and Father.

Such prayer is the very voice of faith in Christ, in whom you cast yourself and your burdens upon the Father in heaven.  For by your Baptism into Christ Jesus, and by your eating and drinking of His Body and Blood, you enter the Holy of Holies and stand in the presence of God in Christ.  Thus are you bold to pray before that Throne of Grace with the Word of the Lord upon your lips.

As He has opened your ears and your heart to hear and believe His Word, so has He opened your lips and your mouth to pray.  And He Himself opens His ears and His heart to hear and answer your prayer in love.  Do not doubt that He is your true Father, and that you are His own dear child.

He delights to receive your petitions and requests, and He will surely give you all good things — He will give you nothing less than Himself and His Spirit — through Jesus Christ, His Son, who has been crucified for your sins and raised for your justification.  So shall you also be raised.

That is the bottom line: The Lord your God will rescue and vindicate you from all harm and danger.  Indeed, He will deliver you from death and the grave.  He will raise you up from death to life, because He has laid all your sins on Christ, and He has forgiven them all.  He has set things right between Himself and you in the raising of that same Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.

By this Holy Gospel — by this powerful and living Word of forgiveness; by this sure and certain promise of the Resurrection and the Life everlasting; by this incarnate Word who tabernacles with you in the wilderness of sin and death — by this Gospel of Christ, the Father fills you with His Spirit and sustains you in the midst of the great tribulation.  And so shall He raise you up in Life.

He will never let the righteous fall.  And as a child of God, you are righteous in Christ Jesus.  Your Father will not let you fall.  That is your peace and joy, even now, and your courage in Christ, even as you are confronted by the frailties and failures of your mortal flesh and blood.  Your Father will not let you fall, but He will daily raise you up through His forgiveness of all your sins.

To be raised up by Him is also to worship Him in your pilgrimage of faith, here and now on earth.  Until, finally and forever, your worship of the Lord your God — of the Father in His Son by His Holy Spirit — shall culminate and continue in the Resurrection of your body to the Life everlasting of your body and soul in Paradise.  For the Father glorifies His Name in you by raising you up.

Already the down payment is being given to you in the Divine Service, from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day, week after week throughout the year, and also here and now on this new day of His grace and salvation: In the preaching of the Gospel of Christ, which is the Lamp by which you see and know the one true God and believe in Him.  And in the Holy Communion of Christ’s true Body and true Blood.  For He is the Temple of God, also here on earth in His Holy Christian Church, as He is in heaven forever.  Here on His Altar is the Lamb upon His Throne, given and poured out for you.

As you feast upon Him here, so shall you enter the Holy City, New Jerusalem, which has come down from heaven to you in Christ Jesus, in which there will no longer be any trouble or fear, nor any night, nor desert heat, nor winter cold, but everlasting perfect Day, and peace and joy forever.

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

19 May 2019

For Now You Sing, Not by Sight, But by Faith in His Word

Christ is risen indeed.  (Alleluia!)  And if Christ is risen, you also shall rise.  For He is the Alpha and the Omega, He is the Beginning and the End.  He is the First, and He is the Last, the One who remains forever.  He has become the Firstborn of many brethren, and you are among them.

He is the Firstborn from the dead.  And in His crucified and risen Body, His saints also are raised — even now, by faith, and hereafter forever in the Resurrection of the body unto Life everlasting.

Where you are, Jesus is also.  And where He is, there you shall follow after.  But you have grief for now because, for a little while, you cannot see the Lord Jesus Christ.  You do not perceive Him.  You do not feel Him.  You do not experience His Resurrection in your day-to-day life on earth.

You do not see Him for a little while, and so you weep, and you mourn, and you grieve, while the world laughs at you, and mocks you, and rejoices over you at your expense.

You have such grief for now, for this little while, because you do not see Jesus.  But then again, after a little while, you will see Him, and your heart will rejoice, and your joy will never end.

He speaks here of His Cross and Resurrection.  But He speaks of these, not only historically, but theologically and pastorally; not only for His disciples there and then, but for you here and now.

He speaks of His Cross and Resurrection, not only with reference to those days when He was led to His Passion and crucified under Pontius Pilate, when He was dead and buried, and when He then arose from the dead according to the Scriptures.  Everything else depends on those events, but He speaks here of the way His Cross also forms and shapes His Church on earth.  And He speaks of the way He comes to you and deals with you by the ways and means of His Cross, even now — that is to say, by ways and means that you cannot perceive with your eyes, but only by faith in His Gospel, by the gracious working of His Holy Spirit through the Word He preaches into your ears.

It is not what your eyes see, nor what your flesh senses, nor what your emotions feel in the world, but the preaching of the Word of Christ, that reveals to you where He is, and conveys to you His gracious forgiveness and life from the Sacrifice of His Cross and His Resurrection from the dead.

You do not see Jesus as He is, because He comes now in that glorious Cloud, His means of grace, hidden within the womb of His Church in such simple and ordinary means.  You do not see Him for a little while, because He reveals and gives Himself to you in the Breaking of the Bread.  And having given you that revelation of His grace and His glory in the Sacrament of the Altar, He is for now hidden from your sight.  You know Him only by the Word He speaks.  Thus do you behold Him by faith in the Breaking of the Bread, in the Holy Communion, and in His Body, the Church.

You do not yet see Him as He is, and you do not see Him in your neighbor, either.  You do not see Him in His many brethren with which you are surrounded.  In them you see frailty and weakness.  In them you still see sin and death.  You see and perceive their irritability, their laziness and greed; and it is a challenge not to focus on those flaws, because for now you do not see Jesus in them.

And yet, you hear His Word declare that these also are His little ones, these baptized brothers and sisters who are so dear to Him, for whom He has given His body and life and shed His own blood.  You hear Him say that, as you love them, you love Him; in serving them, you serve Him.  You hear His command that, just as He forgives you, so are you to forgive your neighbors their trespasses against you.  Though you see none of this, you see your neighbors by faith in the Word of Christ.

You do not see Him in yourself, either.  You hear the Word of God in Christ Jesus, that you are a beloved and well-pleasing child of the Father in heaven.  You hear the Word of Christ declare that you are a member of His Body and Bride, the Church, and that He will never leave you nor forsake you.  You hear that He rejoices over you in love; that He delights in you and cherishes you.  And you hear His promise, that He does not seek to harm you but to give you all good things.

But for all of that, you do not see Him or perceive Him in yourself.  In yourself, in your flesh, in your body and life, you find nothing else but sin and death and all manner of evil.  In yourself you experience hurt and pain, disappointment, scars, and regrets.  In yourself you see all that is lacking.  You do not perceive yourself as a child of God, but as a wretched sinner and a dying mortal.  You do not appear good looking but disgraceful; neither loved nor lovable, but forsaken and forgotten.

But Christ Jesus speaks to you concerning both His Cross and His Resurrection.  And by His grace, by the power of His Holy Spirit, you rejoice, give thanks, and sing of both.  You sing and give thanks even for His Cross and Passion, knowing that His voluntary Sacrifice is His Victory, and that His Resurrection is the outcome of what He has purchased and won for you by His innocent suffering and death, by His holy and precious Blood.  Although for now you cannot see Him, you sing and rejoice in both the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ Jesus, because His Word is true — and because His Spirit helps you in your weakness, that you might pray and sing in holy faith.

These Mysteries of God are great indeed.  They are hidden from your eyes, and they confound your old Adam with all your sinful hungers and perverted passions.  It seems more than strange that by His Cross He raises you up, and that He brings you through suffering and death into His Glory.

But it is most certainly true.  And so it is that, by His grace, by His Word and Holy Spirit, you sing.  For it is by His Cross that He makes all things new: First of all in His own Body, crucified and risen from the dead; but so also, now, in your body and life, baptized into His dying and rising.  Thus are you a member of His Body and Bride, and a beloved child of His own God and Father.

It is by and from His Cross that He adorns His Church with His own righteousness and holiness, as a Bride made ready for her Husband.  By the Word of His Cross He pours out the Holy Spirit on Jews and Gentiles alike, cleansing them by His grace and sanctifying them in body and soul.

The animals and the people that St. Peter saw were unclean, but God declared them to be clean and holy by His Word.  So also for you.  As God has declared you to be clean, do not regard yourself as unholy.  As God has declared your neighbor to be clean, do not regard your neighbor as unholy.  But rather, with the eyes of faith, see in yourself and in your neighbor that which Christ sees and that which Christ says: That you are dressed beautifully, and that you are a gorgeous Bride, and that you have such a Husband who is so happy with you and so eager to receive you to Himself.

It is by the way and the means of the Cross, by His Word of the Cross, that He begets children of God also through you and through His Church on earth.  By His Cross and Passion, by that painful labor and delivery, He brings forth sons and daughters for the Father, and fruits of righteousness, of love and joy and peace and gladness.  And it is by His Cross and Passion that He conforms you to His own Image, that you might abide in the Image of God.  For it is by His Cross that He works in you the repentance which leads to life.  And it is by His Cross that you live as a child of God.

Such are the fruits of His Cross, the good fruits of Christ Himself, which the Holy Spirit discloses to you, bestows upon you, and produces in you by the preaching of the Gospel, by that forgiveness which comes to you from the Body of Christ the Crucified — which is poured out into His Font and Chalice — which is preached into your ears — which is fed into your mouth and your body — which is surely yours, as Christ presses it into your hand and gently declares, “This is for you.”

It matters not what you have been or done.  It matters not what others have done or said to you.  It matters not what you see or perceive in yourself, far less what the world perceives in you.

What does matter is what Christ Jesus says and does and gives to you.  For His Cross, which is His Victory over death and the grave — His Cross, which has atoned for the sins of the world — His Cross, which reconciles the world to God — His Cross also bears fruit after its own kind in you.

So it is that, in a little while, you also see Jesus in yourself, in the fruits that He produces in you as a branch of His Tree.  In the righteousness that He causes to be at work in you through His Holy Spirit.  In the comfort of your heart, and in the comfort that you give to others.  In that compassion which He has for you, which you in turn have for your neighbors who are hurting and afraid.

It is by the Cross that He begets children, and so also through your speaking of His Gospel.  If you are a father or mother and you teach your little children the things of Christ, know what a glorious good work that is.  And if you have failed in that responsibility, do not despair but repent now, and rejoice that in a little while you will see the Lord Jesus.  If you have not done what you should, begin to do so.  Bear the fruits that Christ produces and brings forth in you by His Word and Holy Spirit.  Rejoice in His Cross.  Rejoice also in His Resurrection and His Life.  For these are yours.

If you have no children of your own, you may yet speak the Gospel to your parents — whereby the child becomes a parent and gives birth to the children of God through the comfort and confession of the Gospel.  So it is when you forgive your father and mother where they have sinned against you, and when you are patient with them and honor them, as Christ has commanded for His sake.

Or if you speak the Gospel to your brother or your sister, whether he or she is younger or older, the Gospel that you speak is that of Christ Jesus.  And by that speaking the Spirit discloses Christ Jesus to your brother and sister and grants them joy and gladness in the salvation of the Lord.

If you have no family at all, you are yet given to speak the Word of the Gospel to your neighbor.  And if you are cut off from everyone, still you may confess the Gospel before your God and Father in heaven.  And you can sing with and for His Church, even when all else and all others are silent.

Rejoice, give thanks, and sing.  For that is one of the fruits of the Cross: To sing of the Atonement, to sing of the Resurrection of Jesus, to sing of His Gospel, and by your singing to confess and pray twice over.  You sing the New Song of the Lamb by virtue of His Cross and Resurrection.  You sing the New Song of the New Heavens and the New Earth.  You sing the New Song of the New Jerusalem, which is the Song of Christ Jesus.  For having become His, and He being yours, what you speak and sing is the Word of Christ.  And though you cannot see Him, yet you love Him.  And though you cannot see Him, yet the Song that you sing is true, and it is full of the Holy Spirit.

Consider St. Paul’s Epistles to the Church at Ephesus and Colossae.  He urges you to comfort one another — and to give the Holy Spirit to each other! — by the singing of Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs.  That is the singing of Christ Jesus, whereby He is heard upon your lips.

For a little while you do not see Him, not in Himself, nor in your neighbor, nor in yourself.  And yet, your life in Him is as sure and true and certain as Christ Himself, crucified and risen from the dead for you.  For now you have grief, but your grief shall be turned into joy, and your joy shall not be taken away from you.  It shall not.  You shall never be snatched out of the Lord’s hand.

It is through trials and tribulations that you enter the Kingdom of God.  It is through the narrow passage of the Cross that you are conceived and born of Christ and His Church.  And so it is by the Word and Spirit of His Holy Cross and Passion that you in turn beget other children of God.

But for the joy of Christ, for the Glory of His Resurrection, and for the Peace and Comfort of His forgiveness of all of your sins, you forget the grief, and you leave the pain behind.  Not as though you were already done, but knowing that your life is in Christ; that He is yours; that where you are, He is also; and where He is, there you shall be, both now and forever.  For He is the First, and He is the Last, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega, and He has made you His own.

What He sees, already now in you, is a beloved child of His God and Father and a member of His own beautiful Bride, in whom His heart rejoices and is glad, and over whom He sings in love.

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

12 May 2019

Christ Jesus Tells You Plainly that He Is Your Good Shepherd

“Tell us plainly, if you are the Christ!”  It is not an uncommon question in the Holy Gospels.  The disciples ask Jesus much the same thing on Maundy Thursday.  And Caiaphas, the High Priest, puts this question to Jesus and demands with a solemn oath by the living God that He must tell them plainly, if He is the Christ, the Son of God.

The group that poses the question on the occasion before us this morning has already surrounded Him.  It is a hostile question, soon to be followed by the picking up of stones to throw at Him, to bruise Him, to put Him to death.  His death is coming, but this is not that Hour; it will come according to His time, according to the good and gracious will of God.  No one takes His life from Him.  He will lay it down willingly, and He will take it up again.  All of this He does for His sheep.

Often as not, though, it is His sheep who are asking Him, requesting of Him, and even demanding of Him, “Tell us plainly, if you are the Christ!”  It is essentially the question that St. John the Baptist puts to Jesus while languishing in Herod’s prison awaiting his death.  “Tell us, are you the coming One, or not?  Should we look for someone else?”  Tell us plainly, if you are the Christ.

It is more or less the question of St. Paul the Apostle, as well, when he three times prays fervently that God the Lord would remove his thorn in the flesh.  But of course, God’s response to St. Paul is a No: “My grace is sufficient for you.  My power is made perfect in weakness.”

You also ask of Jesus, that He should tell you plainly, if He is the Christ.  To be sure, you confess Him to be the Christ.  You confess His holy Name.  You confess His Creed.  You know that He died, you know that He rose, and you know that He’s coming again.  But, “tell us plainly, Jesus!”

You’d prefer to see it a little more clearly in your life.  You want to see and feel and experience that Jesus is the Christ, that He is your Savior, that He is your Good Shepherd and you His sheep.  You want to hear it, see it, and feel it plainly, instead of the hidden “glory” of the Cross.  Truth be told, you’d really like a whole lot less of the Cross and a whole lot more of the Resurrection.

Meanwhile, there is plenty in the world around you that is painfully clear and obvious.  You can hardly glance at a screen without learning of some new tragedy or outright act of terrorism.  Week after week, it’s one thing after another.  Burning buildings, crashing airplanes, mass shootings, and wicked abuse and neglect within families.  All of that seems far too plain and obvious.

The sins of your neighbor against you, they are plain and obvious.  And sometimes, when the Law has done its work, your own sins are plain and obvious, and your guilt weighs upon you, and your anxiety keeps you awake at night.  The bills are obvious.  The repairs that are needed are obvious.  Your health, and your children’s health, and your parents’ health, all of that is plain and obvious.

And you would long for Jesus to be at least as obvious as all of that bad stuff; that He should let you know and tell you plainly, that He is with you, that He is your Savior and Good Shepherd.

The thing is, though, that He has told you.  And He continues to let you know, to make Himself known to you.  He reveals and gives Himself to you.  And He reveals the Father to you in Himself.  He makes clear to you the good and gracious will of God, both by His Word and by His works — as He has done for Benedict this morning, and for you, as well, in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism: Here is repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins, the dying of the Cross, and the rising of the Resurrection, all tangible, sure, and certain in the washing of the water with His Word and Spirit.

To begin with, the Lord your God has made His Law plain and clear to you, especially in the Ten Commandments, but so also in your vocations and stations in life.  He sets your neighbor right there alongside of you, that you should love him and serve him.  The Law is ultimately plain and simple: Love God, and love your neighbor, for love is the fulfillment of the Law.  So, then, do it.

Honor your father and mother.  Don’t simply begrudgingly obey them when you’re little and you have no choice.  Relationships change and develop over time, as you and your parents grow older, but you never do outgrow the Fourth Commandment.  It may not be easy, but it is plain enough.

Each and all of the Commandments address your place in life and your relationships in some way or another, and the Lord has surely explained what that requires of you in clear and simple words.  So, too, His servant, Dr. Luther, has taught the Commandments plainly in the Small Catechism.  Again, there is no lack of clarity in regards to the Law of the Lord and what it means for you in this body and life.  There may well be times when parents, pastors, or teachers can be of help to you in clarifying your duties in particular cases.  But most of the time it is not so much that you do not know what you should be doing, but that it is difficult, painful, and unpleasant to carry out.

In any event, the Lord has made plain His Word in the Ten Commandments.  Why do you not keep them?  He has even left you a perfect example in His own perfect life of faith and love, even unto death, that you should follow after Him and walk in His footsteps, just as He has lived and walked on His way of the Cross.  His sheep hear His voice and follow Him.  Why do you not follow Him?  Why do you not trust your Father in heaven?  Why do you not love your neighbor as yourself?

The same Lord Jesus has also spoken the Gospel plainly to you, His forgiveness of all your sins.  For He has taken them all away.  And He offers you His own Life.  Why do you not believe Him?  Why do you worry and fret about where you stand before the Lord?  He has given Himself for you.  He has redeemed you from the curse of sin and death by His own Holy Cross and Passion, by the shedding of His holy and precious Blood.  Why do you not fear, love, and trust in Him?  Why do you question and accuse Him?  Why do you doubt?  Why are you so afraid so much of the time?

You do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, because you do not listen to His voice.  You do not hear and heed His Word and take it to heart.  You do not follow after Him in this body and life.

And as you do not listen to His voice, as you do not avail yourself of His preaching, as you do not follow in His steps, you are no sheep of His.  That is the hard Word of Jesus this morning.  If you do not listen to His voice, if you do not fear, love, and trust in Him, then you are not His sheep.

Those are hard Words.  But Jesus speaks them in order to call you to repentance, to call you back to Himself.  Do not be unbelieving, but believe.  Listen to your Shepherd’s voice.  Hear and heed what He says to you.  He is the Good Shepherd.  His sheep hear His voice and follow Him.

Even in His preaching of the Law, He is already speaking to you in love, according to His mercy, by His grace alone.  He does not write you off and give up on you.  For all the times that you have not listened, in His faithfulness He keeps on preaching, that you might live by faith in His Word.

So it is that you are His dear sheep, and you do follow after Him in faith and love, but only as you are hearing the Word He preaches.  Not only once upon a time or for a few years way back when, but throughout your life on earth, even unto death.  For you, as for Benedict, to be a sheep of the Good Shepherd is to be a disciple of Christ Jesus, which is to live and abide in the significance of your Holy Baptism, being catechized in the keeping of all that Christ has entrusted to His Church.

Holy Baptism is a profound gift of God, it is His good work and gracious blessing.  But it is not a one-shot deal that you leave behind you in the past, nor an insurance policy that sets your free to live a reckless and self-centered life.  It is rather the new birth of the Word and Holy Spirit, by which you have become a child of God and a sheep of His pasture, that you should live and abide with Him in Christ Jesus, nourished on the green grass of His Word and the preaching of it.

That is why the good and gracious will of God includes (and requires) that He would keep you steadfast in His Word and faith throughout this body and life, lest you depart from Him and die.

Do you long to know Him better, to know Him as your Shepherd?  Do you long to hear it plainly?  Listen to His voice.  Give attention to His gifts.  For He knows you in love, and that comes first.

He knows your sins and your weaknesses.  He knows your frailties and your failures.  And yet, He chooses to know you according to His grace and tender mercy.  He chooses to know you through His forgiveness of all your sins.  He chooses to know you in His righteousness, by grace.  And in His knowing you, He teaches you to know Him, to love Him, and to follow Him as your Shepherd.

Do you pray to Him?  Do you talk to Him?  That is good and right.  Indeed, you should pray even more faithfully and frequently than you do.  Your days and nights, your weeks and months and years should all be punctuated with prayer.  St. Paul says that you should “pray without ceasing.”  And your Lord Himself teaches you “to pray at all times and not lose heart.”  So do it.

Pray, praise, and give thanks in the confidence that your prayers are joined to those of Christ and the Spirit, who intercede for you in love; and they are heard and answered by the Father in heaven.

But your prayer — the true Christian prayer of faith — begins not with your speaking but with His.  His sheep listen before they speak.  For it is by His Word that you are taught to pray and confess, even as you are thereby taught to know Him.  Lay hold of Him by giving attention to His Word.

His Law truly exposes and condemns your sin and unbelief, but His Gospel truly forgives your sins and thereby calls you to faith and to newness of life in Christ.  You are able to lay hold of Christ Jesus in His Word because He lays hold of you there.  That is how He takes you by the hand.  That is how He lays you across His shoulders.  And that is how He brings you home again, rejoicing.

Everything depends upon Him.  And because He is true and faithful, all is sure and certain in Him.  He does and accomplishes everything, for you and for all people, by the preaching of His Word.  The One who promises is faithful, and He will do it.  As He has done so in the past, and as He shall do in your future, as well, so is He doing even now, all by His Word and the preaching of it.

Consider how it is for little Benedict this morning.  He has not baptized himself, nor could he even bring himself to be baptized.  He must rely upon his Lord, upon his parents and his pastor, and upon the congregation, to carry him and care for him, and even to pray and speak his confession for him.  And mark this well, that you stand before the Lord in no other way than Benedict does.

Consider, too, the Holy Gospel at hand.  Consider what your Good Shepherd has done for you by His pure divine grace — willingly and voluntarily — in love and mercy and compassion.

The Word — who was in the beginning with God, who is God, through whom all things are made — He has become flesh, and He tabernacles with you, in order to spread His tabernacle over you.  He has come to you and dwells with you here in love, the incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus.  He has come down from heaven to seek and to save His little lost sheep — to seek and to save you.

So has He also laid down His life for you and all His lambs and sheep.  And He has taken it up from death and the grave, that He should raise you up in His own bodily Resurrection from the dead, that you also should have life in Him.  He has called you by His own Name, and you are His.  He has washed you with the water and His Word.  He has cleansed you of all of your sins; He heals you of all of your iniquities.  He leads you to His Table, and here He feeds you from His hand.

These are His good works, which testify of Him and tell you plainly that He is the Christ, that He is your Savior and Good Shepherd forever.  For so does He take you into His strong hand, and He shall never let you go.  So does He know you and love you, care for you and shelter you, feed you and provide for you.  And thus do you live and abide with Him in the House of the Lord forever.

Look, He has spread His Table before you.  And though your enemies may surround you on all sides with big rocks in their hands, they shall not be able to hurt you or snatch you from Christ.  For your Shepherd is with you, and His Cup overflows with your forgiveness, life, and salvation.

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

11 May 2019

The Ministry of the Word of Christ

As He called and gathered the disciples to Himself, to follow Him on His journey from the waters of His Baptism to His Holy Cross and Passion in Jerusalem, so does He appear to them and reveal and give Himself to them in His Resurrection from the dead.  Not only for their own faith and life and salvation in Him, body and soul, but that He should also send them as ministers of His Word, that His fulfillment of the Old Testament should be written down and preached to all the nations, even to the ends of the earth and to the close of the age.  That you also, here and now, should hear and believe the Word of Christ Jesus, in order that, believing, you should have life in His Name.

As God the Father intended from before the foundation of the world, His Son, Christ Jesus, has perfectly fulfilled the Holy Scriptures by His becoming flesh, by the ministry of His preaching and miracles, by His Sacrifice upon the Cross, and by His bodily Resurrection from the dead on the third day.  This work of God in Christ is what the whole Bible is really all about.

So, too, by the preaching and teaching of the Holy Scriptures, by the Ministry of His Word and Sacrament — as also here and henceforth in the words and works of His servant, Pastor Gadbaw — Christ Himself is actively present within the life of His Church on earth, and He is powerful to save all those who hear and receive Him in the preaching of His Holy Gospel.

The Lord is merciful to all who call upon Him in truth, that is, by faith in His Word; for it is by His Word that you know His Name, that you know the Father and receive the Spirit in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, and that you fear, love, and trust in the Holy Trinity by divine grace and mercy.

And yet, for all of that, life within the world and in your own skin is a daily challenge.  It is a troubled world, challenging and difficult, chaotic and discouraging.  Everyone is dying, everything is perishing.  Suffering and sorrow, anger, hatred, and violence are pervasive on all sides.

The Cross looms large over a fallen and perishing world, and it cannot be understood rightly apart from the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus.  But there are so many voices, so many words, and so many competing agendas, all of which threaten to drown out the preaching of His Gospel.

In the face of terrorist attacks on a daily basis and Christians being martyred all around the globe, the Lord’s Church appears to be powerless, subject to the capricious whims of this sinful world.  Certainly, there is open and growing hostility toward the Lord’s Word of Truth.

Even within the life of the Church, there are doubts and fears and difficult times.  You are tempted  to second guess or reject your pastors, to control them, or simply to ignore them; all because your sinful heart and mind refuse to recognize the Lord Jesus Christ in His Ministry of the Gospel.

Examine yourself.  Allow the Word of God to have its way with you.  And consider how it is with your heart and mind, with your spirit, soul, and body.  Are you at peace with God in your thoughts, words, and deeds?  Are you confident of His forgiveness and salvation?

Do you live as though the Cross and Resurrection of Christ made any difference in your life?  Do you lie down and go to sleep each night in the faith and comfort of the Cross?  And do you wake up each morning in the joy of the Resurrection?  Or do you drag yourself off to bed, exhausted by another day, with a mind full of worries and fear?  And do you get back out of bed to face another day with something more like grim determination than cheerful hope and expectation?

If you would know and love the Lord Jesus and abide with Him in Peace by faith in His mercy, then remain here in His City, in the midst of His Jerusalem, that is to say, within His Church on earth.  For here you are clothed by His Father with the Holy Spirit through His Word of the Gospel.

It is by the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection that He comforts you and lifts you up from your doubts and fears to hope and joy and gladness in Him.  That is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins in His Name, that you should believe and trust in Him, and live in Him by faith, with peace in your heart through the hope and promise of His Resurrection.

Such repentance, faith, and life with God are accomplished in your body and life by the preaching of the Cross and Resurrection, because it is by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus that He has accomplished everything for you.  His dying and rising are your repentance, faith, and life.

So, then, because the Lord your God loves you and does not want you to perish forever in the darkness of your sin, despair, and unbelief, He sends His servants to proclaim Christ Jesus to you.  And just so, Pastor Gadbaw is sent by the Lord to preach to you here at Trinity, to comfort and sustain you in the Word and faith of the Lord Jesus Christ.

You receive and embrace the Lord Jesus in this preaching, not by your own reason, wisdom, or strength, but only because the Lord in mercy opens your ears, your heart and mind, to understand the Scriptures.  And to understand the Scriptures is to understand Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.  For the whole Bible is the Book of Christ, and He is the One who opens that Book to you.  Not to make you smart, but to make you alive, and to make you His own.

The preaching of His Cross does crucify you.  It puts you to death and buries you with Him.  But at the same time, His Word of the Cross also removes all of your sins and raises you up with Him.

And Christ Jesus preaches this Word to you in flesh and blood like your own.  For He was not only crucified in the flesh, and not only did He shed His precious blood for you upon the Cross, but He is also risen from the dead forever in His own Body of flesh and blood.  He has known the curse of your sin and death, He has suffered your blood, sweat, and tears in His Body, that you might receive and know His Life and His Salvation in your own body of flesh and blood forevermore.

On your own, you are blind and lost and frightened.  Only Jesus can open your eyes to His Gospel of peace and forgiveness and eternal life.  First He must show you how real your sin is, and how desperate is your situation and your need for a Savior.  And then He must lead you to recognize Him as your Savior and to know the glory of His Cross as the fulfillment of the Holy Scriptures.

That is how He works to save you.  By His Word of the Gospel, proclaimed in His Name, your sins are freely and fully forgiven.  And by that Word of Holy Absolution, you are rescued from your fear of death, from your uncertainty and superstitions, and brought into the confidence of faith.  You are taught by His grace to trust and rely upon Him, and to receive all good things from Him.

He is here with you in His Church, and He addresses Himself to you.  He speaks from His great heart of love to your own heart and mind, to your body, soul, and spirit.  In the midst of your pain and confusion and difficulty, He’s here talking to you.  And by His Word to you, He removes your burdens; He grants to you the peace and hope that are found in His Resurrection from the dead.

From within His Church and Ministry on earth, His Cross and Resurrection are preached to all the nations — unto repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins, unto life and salvation in His Name — until you are gathered to Him in glory in the Resurrection of all flesh on the Day of Judgment, when you shall be clothed with Power from on high, glorious in body and soul, like unto Christ.

His Word does and gives what it says, just as the Holy Scriptures of St. Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets preached Christ in days of old and were perfectly fulfilled with His coming in the flesh.  The preaching of the apostolic witness of His Cross and Resurrection truly delivers the goods.

Just as Jesus was present in a bodily and personal way for His disciples, so is He present for you in the life of His Church, in the preaching and administration of His Holy Gospel.  That is what it’s all about.  Christianity is not a disembodied “spirituality,” or a superstitious “ghost story.”  It lives and abides in the flesh-and-blood real presence of the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth.

That is what it meant for the Twelve to be sent as witnesses of the Cross and Resurrection.  And that is what it means for Pastor Gadbaw to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins “in the Name of Jesus.”  For when the called and ordained servants of the Word of Christ thereby deal with you in His Name, in accordance with His divine command, it is your dear Lord Jesus Christ Himself who is thereby caring for you, granting you His Peace and His forgiveness of your sins.

And for you, Brother Gadbaw, as from and in your Baptism, in your vocation as a child of God, so also from your ordination to the Office of the Holy Ministry, and now in your Divine Call to Trinity, in your station as a servant of the Word of Christ Jesus, the Promise of the Father rests and remains upon you and accompanies you in all that He sends you to do and say in His Name.

It is not an easy work that you are given to do.  Humanly speaking it is often a thankless task, and you may not be able to see or perceive that you are doing any good or making any difference.

The preaching of repentance is not fun for the preacher or the hearer.  It crucifies and puts to death the sinful heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit.  But it accompanies and aims at the preaching and bestowal of the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins in the Name of stead of Christ Jesus.  And it is by that Word that all the people of God, pastors and laity alike, live and abide in Him by His grace.

The Word that you are called and sent to preach is the Word of Christ, crucified and risen from the dead.  It is for the nations, but it is proclaimed from within the Church, on earth as it is in heaven.  It is to and from the Church, the City of God, His true Jerusalem, that you preach — to and from the Font, to and from the Altar, the Breaking of the Bread, wherein the Lord Christ is with you.

And as the Lord has bestowed His Spirit upon Pastor Gadbaw, and as He continues to sustain him in the Office to which He has called and ordained him, so does He bestow the same Holy Spirit, the Promise of His Father, upon all of you through this Office and Ministry of His Holy Gospel.

He causes His Word to be preached to you here in this place, in this city, that you may know Him and receive Him in the Breaking of the Bread, and that you may know and love the Gifts Christ freely gives you by and with His Word.  So that, hearing and receiving, trusting and believing, you may abide in Him, and be purified in Him through His forgiveness, and raised up to newness of life in Him, both body and soul, in perfect health and strength, at peace with God forevermore.

Rejoice, therefore, give thanks, and sing.  Even from the waste places of Jerusalem, the City of the Cross — under duress; in the midst of destruction; assaulted by the devil, all his works and all his ways; tempted to despair — sing for joy and praise the Lord, confess and call upon His Name in the sure and certain hope and promise of the Resurrection, which is yours in Christ Jesus.  For the One who calls you is faithful, and He will surely continue to fulfill all that He has spoken and promised, to the praise of His glorious grace, for the life and salvation of His beloved children.

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