23 June 2019

God's Own Child, Baptized into Christ

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has adopted you to be His own dear child by way of water, Word, and Spirit.  So it is that He has taught you to pray to Him as your own dear Father.  And so it is that you receive all good things from His hand, all that you need to support this body and life, and even more, the forgiveness of all your sins and the gift of eternal life and salvation.

Your God and Father in Christ Jesus gives you this life in both body and soul.  He has named you with His own Name, and He has made you a member of His own household and family, the Holy Christian Church.  He has come to you in Christ, that you might live and abide with Him forever.

Christ the Lord has come to you in the midst of this foreign territory, in order to bring you home to His Father.  By way of the water — in the Boat of His Church — He has drawn near.  He has found you in Gentile territory, among the pagans.  Even among the tombs, He has come to you.

You did not ask for Him, but He has sought you out.  You did not seek Him, but He has allowed you to find Him, and He has found you.  All day long, from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, He spreads out His hands to you.  He comes to you, and He beckons you to Himself.

He forgives you all your sins with the authority of His Gospel.  For He has died, and He is risen.  He has atoned for all your sins.  And as He was baptized, so has He baptized you, and all your sins and death are washed away.  Not just once upon a time, but so long as you live and abide in the waters of your Baptism, you live and abide in Christ, and day by day your sins are washed away.

Why, then, do you go about like a wild man?  Why are you so frantic?  Why are you driven into madness — by things that are forgiven, by things that people do to you, and by things outside of your control but not outside of your Father’s keeping?  Why is it that you are so out of your mind, even though you have been given the mind and Spirit of Christ Jesus?  Why do you remove the garments with which your Father has dressed you and go about naked and unclothed?  Why is it that you live among the dead, and dwell among the tombs, and make your residence in graveyards, instead of dwelling in the House of the Lord where He has made a place for you?

It’s easy to tell that the man in this Gospel is crazy.  Insane.  Stark raving mad, and stark raving naked.  He hasn’t worn clothes for a very long time.  He doesn’t live in a home.  He makes his bed in the tombs.  A walking dead man.  A crazy man, possessed by many demons, and afraid of Jesus.

But he is not so different than you are.  For you have your own demons, visible and invisible.  You do wear clothes, but how often do you feel yourself naked and exposed before God and before your neighbors?  How often has it seemed as though a scarlet letter were written on your forehead, as though people could just look at you and see those things that you are so ashamed of?

You may not live in a graveyard.  Indeed, you probably have a very nice home.  It may even be paid for, remodeled and decorated, safe and secure with adequate locks and a security system, and a manicured lawn, and a place for your children or grandchildren to play, on a nice street in a good neighborhood.  But if you put your trust in those things — all of which are perishing — then you also live among the tombs, and you reside in the vain monuments of this dead and dying world.

Such good things on earth are the good gifts of your God and Father.  But they are His gifts, and they cannot take His place.  You dare not worship them as gods.  They are part of the life that God your Father gives you, but they are not your life.  Your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions.  And your true home is not of this world.  It is the Church, on earth as in heaven.  The Lord’s House, that is your place — where you belong — where your Father keeps you safe.

You may not be possessed.  If the Holy Spirit has come to dwell in your heart by the Gospel and laid Christ upon your heart through the Gospel, then you are not possessed by demons.  But do not suppose that the devil has given up and left you alone.  He’s foolish enough, and ferocious enough, and hateful enough, and murderous enough, to continue attacking you throughout your life on earth.  He speaks sometimes with fury, at other times with sweetness.  He tempts you to sin, and then stands first in line to accuse you.  And as the devil with his demons did with that poor man in this Gospel, he would drive you into the desert — away from the water, and away from Jesus.

Now, the Law would do its good work in you, as God so wills.  It would serve as a tutor leading you to Christ, as St. Paul has written.  And understand that a tutor is not simply someone who helps you with your homework, and goes over the lesson with you, and helps you to prepare for a test.  A tutor in the ancient world was much more involved than that.  The tutor would take you from your father’s house to the school where your father enrolled you.  He would make sure you sat at your desk and stayed for the lesson, and then bring you home at night.  He would discipline you as necessary with the authority of your father, in order to keep you on task.  He would not so much teach you himself, but he would make sure that you went to school and listened to your teacher.

God’s Law is such a tutor.  It curbs you, and it guides you in the direction you should go.  It threatens you with a big stick, in order to force and compel you to that which you need, which your Father would have you hear and receive.  It commands you to love your neighbor, in order to love and protect your neighbor; and it commands your neighbor to love and protect you.  But the Law also commands you to look to God, to look to Him for all good things, to listen to His Word, to call upon His Name, to pray, praise, and give thanks, to rest from your labors, and to be served by Christ.  The Law cannot achieve any of these things for you, but it points you to the One who does.  The Law cannot forgive your sins, but it drives you to the One who does forgive your sins.

The Law cannot bring you home, though it aims to restrain you from running further and further away.  For this reason, it has bound you, and yet you have broken its bonds.  It would chain you to the Lord and His Word for your own safety and well being, but you have broken the shackles.

So it is that Christ the Lord has come to set things right.  And He is ferocious against your enemies.  He is your dread Champion in fighting the devil.  The Lord Himself has entered the fray, not only to stand at your side and assist you, but to take the lead, to bring down Goliath, to slay the dragon.  By the cleansing Word of His Gospel, He sets you free from the unclean spirits that haunt you.

The Lord Jesus speaks, and it is so, for all authority is His.  The demons hate Him, but they must listen to Him.  They beg Him to go away, but they know they cannot force Him.  They would go into the pigs, but they need His permission to do so.  They are not in charge.  And they are not the boss of you, either.  Not anymore.  For this stronger Man has come, and He binds the strong man who has held you captive.  And those chains with which He binds the devil will not be broken.

So, then, the Lord Jesus comes in love to save you.  But what if you are still afraid of Him?

What if you are terrified, because you do not want to be found out?  You do not want everyone to look at you and see that you are so naked.  You would rather crawl back into the tombs and hide yourself away, and welcome even death, than to meet the One who comes to save you from death.

What if you are trapped by your addictions?  What if you are driven by temptations that constantly lead you back into the same old sins over and over again?  What hope is there for you, if instead of swimming like a little fish in the waters of your Baptism, you wallow around like a swine in the muck and the mud and the mire?  Immoral.  Trashy.  Living for money.  Neglecting your vocations while chasing your passions.  Cursing your neighbors.  At enmity with your bothers and sisters, refusing to forgive them, and refusing to acknowledge or apologize for your own wrongdoing.

What if you are so driven by your desire for things which God has not given you, that you do not even attend to those things which He has entrusted to your care and stewardship?

What if your demons drive you away from the waters of your Baptism, so that you willingly wander into the territory of the devil and the night of sin and death?  Be warned that such a path and such pursuits will eventually drive faith and the Holy Spirit altogether out of your heart and soul, out of your body and life, and lead you finally into the abyss with the devil and his demons.

The Lord Jesus has come to save you.  But what if you run away from Him?  What if, instead of praying, you simply beg Him to leave and go away, because you are so afraid and so ashamed?

Even then, He would use the Law as your tutor, to bring you to the school of His Church, to the lesson of His Gospel, to the Life-giving Breath of His Holy Spirit in the forgiveness of your sins.

Consider what it means that He permits the demons to go into those pigs.  Why does He do that?  Why does He give the demons permission to do anything?  Why does He not send them straight to the abyss right away?

Beloved of the Lord, it is for the sake of His mercy and for your salvation that He does this strange thing.  For even the demons, death, and the devil must serve His purpose.  He permits the demons to afflict even you, whom He loves, so that by this means He would drive you back to the water.

If you live an unclean life, then do not be surprised that demons haunt you, and that the Law of the Lord pursues you.  But even then, understand that the Lord is at work, that He would drive you to the font: to be baptized, if you have not been, or to remember and return to the significance of your Holy Baptism.  He would drown and destroy the old Adam in you, with all your sinful lusts and desires.  He would put you to death.  To that extent, you are right in fearing that He has come to kill you.  For His Word is fierce, and among your enemies are your own sinful nature, your fallen flesh and idolatrous heart, your unclean spirit, and your own dark thoughts and feelings, which lie to you and deceive you.  He would put all of that to death, drowned in the water like those pigs.

But remember that He has made Himself unclean with your sins and death.  Remember that He also has gone into the pigsty to rescue the Prodigal Son.  Remember that He has become sin, and the curse, and guilt, and death, all in order to redeem you, and to justify you with His Righteousness.  Remember that He also has been baptized, and by His Baptism into death He has made of those waters, not only a death-dealing flood, but a gracious water of Life.  For out of that tomb He has risen, and out of that tomb He raises you up with Himself to the Life everlasting in body and soul.

The Lord kills in order to make alive.  The devil promises life in order to kill, but Jesus comes to kill and make alive.  And He has been the first in line to die and rise again — for you and for all!

When He would permit even demons to torment you, He has not lost control, nor has He given up on you.  He does not turn His face from you in anger.  All day long He stretches out His hand to a rebellious people: All. Day. Long.  And at night He does not sleep, so that you may rest in peace.

Return, therefore, to the waters of your Baptism.  Find again that right mind which is yours in Christ Jesus, so that you may think the things of God and not of sinful man.  Dwell upon such good things as these: Though your sins are many, they are forgiven.  Though you have sinned and gone astray, your Good Shepherd has brought you home, and He rejoices over you in love.  Though you have not loved the Lord as you should, and you have not loved your neighbor as yourself, your Father loves you still.  And though you have not prayed as you ought, He speaks to you in peace.  He clothes and covers you in Christ, His Son, so that you are not found naked and unclothed.

Your sins are all forgiven.  Though you have been sinful and unclean, you are not a pig.  You are a child of God.  You are God’s own child, I gladly say it.  You are baptized into Christ.  And He who has named you — the Father who loves you — He shelters and protects you.  Though you have made your home among the dead, and dug your own grave, and made your bed in the dirt, your Father brings you into His House and Home, and here He feeds you at the Table of His Son.

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

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