28 July 2019

Praying to Your God and Father in the Lord Jesus Christ

The Lord Jesus has given you a little catechesis on prayer this morning.  And it is good that He has done so.  There is nothing more fundamental to being a Christian than prayer.  It is a fundamental privilege that you have been given, as surely as you are baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  And it is a fundamental responsibility that you have as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.  For He has not simply taught you how to pray; He has also commanded you to do so — and He has promised that your Father in heaven hears and answers your prayer.

In your Baptism, you have been turned away from the devil, all his works and all his ways, to the Holy Triune God in whom you believe, in whom you trust, and to whom you pray.  And because you belong to Jesus, the merciful and great High Priest who always lives to make intercession for the saints of God, including you, so do you likewise intercede for your neighbors, for your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, and for the world around you, in holy faith and holy love.

You pray, praise, and give thanks to God in Christ.  For you know that He has done everything for you; that He gives you all good things, and that He will give you even more.  All things are yours in Christ Jesus, and the world can take none of that away from you.  So you pray and give thanks.

To pray in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ is to entrust yourself entirely to God the Father in the Person of His Son.  It is to bind yourself to Him, as He has bound Himself to you.  And to pray in the Name of Christ Jesus is likewise to bind yourself to all of His brothers and sisters, as well.

You belong to each other, as one household and family of God.  And so you pray for each other.  It is impossible to pray as a Christian without praying for the whole Christian Church in heaven and on earth.  You are not to pray only for yourself and your own immediate concerns and loved ones.  That is not how the Lord Jesus Christ has taught you to pray.  You pray to our Father.  You pray that He would forgive us our trespasses, and you pledge yourself to forgive your neighbor.

The Lord Jesus Christ has taught you how to pray, as John the Baptist taught his disciples.  He has done so, first of all, by revealing God the Father to you.  He has spoken the Word of His Father, and He has done the works that His Father has given Him to do.  Thus do you know and love the Lord your God in the Body of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.

He has also made you His disciple and anointed you with His Holy Spirit in your Baptism and by the ongoing Catechesis of His Word.  Thus do you follow after Him and learn from His example how to pray.  For Jesus Christ, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God, is praying all the time, as we find especially throughout St. Luke’s Holy Gospel.  Any time anything major is happening, Jesus is praying right there in the middle of it.  And here again today, it is while Jesus was praying, when He had finished, that His disciples came to Him and said, “Lord, teach us how to pray.”

In response to that request, He has given to His Church the very words with which to pray in His Name, so that you might call upon His God and Father as your own dear God and Father in Christ.  It isn’t complicated.  In fact, it could not be more simple.  Jesus teaches you so clearly and plainly: When you pray, say this,“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy Name. . . .”

My experience as a father and as a pastor has been that even the little children are able to learn this prayer, and that they gladly pray it.  Thy gladly join their voices with those of their families, with those of the Lord’s Church.  So do the baptized children of God pray with you and for you, in and with this prayer, as surely as you and the whole Church in heaven and on earth pray for them.

And the prayers of all His faithful are heard and answered for His sake.  Because Jesus has done far more than simply teach you about God, and give you the words to say, and set a good example for you.  He has done far more than all that, though already those good gifts are precious indeed.

His praying and His prayer are not only a good example for you.  Nor is it only the case that Jesus, your great High Priest, prays and intercedes for you, although He surely does.  But what is more, because He has united Himself to you in His Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection — and because He has united you to Himself in Holy Baptism — His prayer and His praying have become your prayer and your praying.  Indeed, Christ Jesus Himself, the Word-made-Flesh, is your Prayer.  As He is risen and ascended to God the Father in heaven, so do you and your prayer rise before God like sweet-smelling incense, as a pleasing and acceptable sacrifice, in the Body of Christ Jesus.

When Christ Jesus opens His mouth to pray — and He ever lives to make intercession for you, as surely as He is always praying in the Holy Gospel — so do you also pray in and with Him.  For He is the Head of His Body, the Church, and you are a member of His Church.  The prayer of Jesus is your prayer, which the Spirit prays in you and with you and through you, to the Father in heaven.  And as you open your mouth to pray according to His Word, it is Christ who speaks and is heard.

It is true that your sins would otherwise cry out to God in heaven against you, as did the sin of Cain when he murdered his brother Abel, and as the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah did.  But your Father in heaven does not listen to your sins.  He listens to your Savior.  He does not count your sins against you.  Instead, He grants you all good things by grace, all that you need and more.

Consider Father Abraham and his bold example of prayer.  He pushed pretty hard, and perhaps you have been amazed at God’s patience with him.  But Abraham did exactly right.  God loves to hear you call upon His Name and ask Him for good things.  He loves to hear you pray and intercede for others.  His patience was not tried by Abraham’s persistent prayer.  He delighted in the faith with which the Patriarch prayed.  And in response to his prayer and petition, God’s answer is Yes and Amen!  For the sake of just ten righteous people, God would spare those two wicked cities.

As it is, for now God spares the entire world, His whole creation, for the sake of the one Righteous Man, Christ Jesus, whose righteousness avails for you, so that you are not destroyed but forgiven.

You can pray to God, therefore, with the same boldness and confidence of Father Abraham, and all the more so in Christ Jesus.  For you are not simply a friend of God, but a beloved child, a son of God in Christ, by virtue of your Baptism in His Name, by His gracious Word of Adoption.  So has the Lord Jesus taught you and tenderly invited you to pray to His Father as your own Father, with the brazen persistence of a little son or daughter asking his or her dear father here on earth.

Now you are likely thinking about your earthly father.  And for some of you, at least, you may well be thinking of how hard it is to approach him, how hard it often is to get him to listen to you, and how hard it is to secure even a little of his time, attention, and affection.  How he more quickly loses his temper and punishes you than sits down to hear your hurts and fears, to forgive your sins.  There is no father on earth who is truly like your God and Father in heaven.  No, not even one.

Fathers on earth, Jesus says, are evil; for they are the fallen sons of father Adam.  But fathers are also called to repentance and faith in the forgiveness of their sins in the Cross and Resurrection of the new and better Adam, Jesus Christ.  Fathers live by grace alone, or they do not live at all.  So, then, you fathers, do not despair of your calling and station in life.  But where you have failed — as often as you fail — repent, and live by the grace of God and the forgiveness of your sins.

And all of you children of God, regardless of your age, know that your God and Father in Christ is the one true and perfect Father, by whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.  Come to Him in bold confidence, for He hears and answers your prayer in love.  He does not lose His temper; He forgives you all your sins.  Christ has made it so.  Your Father in heaven hears Jesus when you pray.  And as He raised Jesus from the dead, so does He raise you up from death to life.

He pours out His Spirit generously upon you through Jesus Christ, His Son, as in the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism, so also in His Word of the Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins.  So does the Spirit live and move and breathe in you, confessing the Word of Christ; and so does the Spirit also help you in your weakness, praying the Word of Christ within you.

It is by the Spirit of Christ Jesus, as a member of His Body, as a child of His God and Father, that you receive His Love and His forgiveness, which shall not fail or ever end.  And it is by His Spirit, as a member of His Body, and as a child of His Father, that you love and forgive your neighbor.

Do not underestimate the extent to which all of you belong to one another and are bound to each other in the one Body of Christ Jesus.  You are joined to each other as one household and family, as you are baptized in the Name of one Lord, anointed by one Holy Spirit, and children of one God and Father.  You belong to each other, like it or not, by the divine grace of one Holy Gospel.  You all eat of one Bread, which is the Body of Christ Jesus, and you all drink from the one Cup, which is the New Testament in His Blood.  You are one loaf and one vintage, one flesh and blood in Him.

So it is that your joys and your burdens are all together held in common.  If one of you rejoices, then all of you rejoice.  If one of you weeps and sorrows, then all of you weep and sorrow.

Your hopes and your hurts, your needs and your treasures, your time and your talents, as well as your trials and tribulations, none of these are yours alone.  They belong also to your neighbors.  And so do your neighbors belong to you, that you should bear and carry them in faith and love.

Such faith and love are taken up, first of all, in prayer.  It is of first importance that you call upon the Name of God together and for each other.  That you pray, praise, and give thanks for all men, for rulers and all those in authority, and for your brothers and sisters in Christ both near and far.

And as you pray, so are you to live, by faith in the Word and promises of God, in the righteousness and holiness of Christ.  Thus do the words that you pray in His Name become words of love to and for your neighbor.  And they become flesh in your actions of mercy and tangible gifts of charity.

It is of first importance that you should pray and live in this way.  But of yourself you do not know how to pray as you should.  Nor could you pray rightly at all, except as Christ Jesus teaches you.  Thus does He give to you His Word, His Spirit, and His Father, as surely as He gives Himself to you in the whole Ministry of His Gospel.  And thus are you able to pray by faith in His Name.

Fathers, do not despair of your vocation, but pray for your wives and children, and teach them how to pray.  If you would not give them a snake or a scorpion instead of the food they need for their bodies, then do not withhold what they need for the life everlasting of their bodies and their souls.

Fathers and mothers, teach your children how to pray by and with the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, that there might be at least ten righteous people in this place, and that the Lord might spare our homes and cities and bring them to repentance for the sake of those who call upon His Name.  If you do nothing else with your life on earth but teach your children how to pray and confess the Word of God, then you have done a precious and priceless thing indeed.  Such work is not in vain.

Teach your neighbors how to pray by the example of your own prayers and intercessions.  Pray for them.  Pray with them.  As you are baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus and catechized by and with His Word, so also pray and confess what you have heard and received.  Trust God, and call upon His Name, and love one another as the Lord your God loves you, and so pray for each other.

Do so with all the boldness and confidence of Christ Jesus, your Savior, who is risen from the dead as your Righteousness, Life, and Salvation.  For He is God’s Yes and Amen to all of your prayers.

Pray likewise in the sure and certain confidence of your Holy Baptism, no matter how long ago it may have been.  For your Holy Baptism, now and forever, is the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus for you.  Your Baptism also is God’s Yes and Amen to every prayer that you will pray as a Christian, until your Baptism is completed in death, and you cross the Jordan into Canaan, and taste the Milk and Honey of the Promised Land, and live there in the presence of your God and Father, in the company of your Savior, Christ Jesus, in the joy of His Holy Spirit, forever and ever.

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

07 July 2019

Receiving Christ and His Salvation in the Way of His Cross

The Kingdom of God has come near to you.  It is here, because Christ is here with you in His Word of the Gospel and in His flesh and blood, that you should have forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  He is here with you in His Church on earth, that you should be with Him where He is forever, in the Kingdom of His God and Father, seated with Him in the heavenly places.

He and His Kingdom draw near to you by the way of the Cross.  For it is by His Cross that Christ has conquered Satan and defeated death.  He has not come with the fierce power of almighty God, judging and condemning and destroying the world, but rather, He has come in peace to reconcile the world to God by taking the righteous wrath and judgment of the Law upon Himself, bearing it in His own Body, willingly suffering death, and shedding His holy and precious Blood, the very Blood of God Himself, in order to make Atonement for the sins of the whole world.

All this He has done by His Cross.  And so it is by and from and through and with His Cross that God’s Kingdom comes to you.  So do His messengers come bearing the Cross, even as He sends them in His Name before His face to every place where He Himself will go.  His Cross is what they preach, and His Cross is what they bear and suffer in both body and soul for His Name’s sake.

They are sent as lambs in the midst of wolves.  They are sent as living sacrifices, like unto the One who sends them, who is sent by the Father to lay down His body and life in Sacrifice on the Cross.  They suffer because the preach His Word and catechize His people, they baptize and absolve in His Name and stead, and they administer His Body and His Blood in remembrance of Him.

They are supported and sustained by nothing but the grace of God and the love of His people.  They are not to bring any supplies at all, but to rely on those who receive them in the Name of the Lord, trusting that He will sustain them through His Church.  They are to focus on the one task they are given, that of speaking the Gospel and bestowing peace through the forgiveness of sins.

They come in such poverty and meekness, preaching what the world perceives to be such a sad and meager message, that of the Cross and suffering.  And yet, for all that, the messengers of Christ are given to tread the serpents and scorpions of Satan under foot with the preaching of His Cross.

They heal diseases and cast out demons with the Word of the Lord.  For all things are made new by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus; and Satan is utterly defeated by the forgiveness of sins, which is what the servants of Christ Jesus preach in His Name and with His own authority.

With that Word of forgiveness there is also life and salvation.  Where sins are forgiven, death has no more claim on you.  Rather, as Christ has died for you and risen from the dust of the earth, His Spirit breathes in you through His Word of forgiveness, so that you are now truly alive in Him.

Because your sins are forgiven, the devil has no more power over you.  He cannot hang the fear of death over your head, not when you have already died with Christ and find your life now hidden with Christ in God.  And the devil cannot accuse you of anything.  Not to say that he doesn’t try!  You know that he does.  But all of his accusations are lies.  It is true that you have sinned in many and various ways, but all your sins have been removed, and God does not count them against you.

God raised Jesus from the dead, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s trespasses against them, but establishing in Christ Jesus the righteousness that is yours by faith in Him.  Thus does He grant you His true peace, comfort, and real joy, such as this world is unable to provide.

The world cannot give you peace, because the world cannot forgive your sins.  The world itself is fallen and subject to death, enmeshed and mired in its own sins.  In its false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice, the world conspires with Satan to lead you into temptation, on the one hand, and then to accuse you and destroy you on the other hand.

It is not in the world that you have peace and rest, confidence and hope, but in the Church of the Gospel, in the preaching of the Word of Christ, and in His Body and Blood.  It is in the Church, in the House of God where you are welcome, in the household and family of faith into which you have been baptized. That is where the Lord provides for both His preachers and His hearers, for those who are sent in His Name and for those who receive them in holy faith and holy love.

That is why and how it is that His Church, His true Jerusalem and free, is the glorious Mother of His children; that she nurses them at her bosom and feeds them with the pure Milk of God’s Word; that she is full to overflowing with the bountiful goodness of Christ Jesus; that streams of peace like rivers flow from the Lord through His Church to His children, who have peace and comfort and safety in His Holy Gospel like little babies in the arms of their dear, sweet mothers.

It is to establish His Church on earth, to provide and care for you in these ways, that Christ Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem, toward His Cross and Passion; and that He sends messengers before His face, in the way of His Cross, to every city and every place where He Himself goes.  He sends them to preach and proclaim, with His own Word and His own voice, the forgiveness of your sins.

And so do they come to you in His Name, even to this day and to this place, delivering the fruits of His Cross, whereby you are born again as a new creation in Christ Jesus, as He Himself is the Firstborn from the dead.  For His crucified and risen Body is the First fruits of the New Creation.  He has offered Himself on the Cross as a sweet-smelling Sacrifice; and He has risen and ascended to the Right Hand of God the Father, where He ever lives as your merciful and great High Priest.

All that He has accomplished and obtained for you is given to you in the preaching of this meager message by this servant of Christ Jesus, this meager messenger who has no authority or greatness but that of Christ and His Cross.  God forbid that any of us should boast in anything but that!  But here there is that Cross, by which you receive the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.

Even if you are dying; even if you are hurt; even if you are ashamed; even if you are terrified; even if no one else loves you; even if you are losing everything — your sins are forgiven; and you have life with God; and you are safe in Christ Jesus, here within His Church, because He is your Savior.

Here within His Church, within His House (which He has made your home), there is grace and every blessing.  Here is the Kingdom of God on earth; and it is here for you and your salvation.

It does come by the way of the Cross.  And those who receive these fruits and benefits of the Cross also bear that Cross and the Passion of Christ Jesus in their bodies and in their lives on earth.

So it is that you bear the Cross.  You received it in your Baptism, when the sign of the Cross was made upon your forehead and your heart, marking you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified.  You thus belong to a crucified God, and you have life by His Cross.  So do not be ashamed of the Gospel of His Cross, and do not be ashamed of the Cross that you bear and carry as His disciple.

You bear it, not as a curse, but as a blessing.  Not as a dead weight, but as that which raises you up with Christ Jesus.  Yes, it crucifies you.  Yes, it puts you to death.  Yes, it destroys the old Adam in you with all your lusts and desires of the flesh.  But no less so, the Cross also saves you, because the Cross of Christ has redeemed you, and in His Resurrection you are made brand new.

The Cross that crucifies you, puts you to death, and buries you, also grants you the forgiveness and life and salvation of Jesus, who by His Cross has atoned for the sins of the world and reconciled the whole world to God; who has crushed the devil’s head under His own bruised heal.

Because that Cross of Christ is yours by your Baptism in His Name, you also have the authority to tread Satan, his serpents and scorpions under your feet, to drive out demons and heal diseases, even in the midst of great affliction.  In the face of the devil’s accusations, in the face of the Law’s threats, and in the face of your experience in this perishing world, you can boldly say, “I am God’s own child.  I am forgiven.  My life is hidden with Christ in God.  There is nothing that anyone can do to me, for God is my Rescuer.  God is my Strength and my Shield, my Song, and my Salvation.”

When you boldly pray and confess that Word and promise of the Lord your God, the devil does not stand a chance.  Oh, he can rage at you, and God may even allow him to rob you of everything in this body and life on earth.  But God will not allow the devil to rob you of Christ Jesus, your Savior.  Nor will He allow the devil to snatch you out of His hands.

Not only that, but when you are too scared to confess what is true, when you are too fearful and ashamed to pray, when you are too weak and helpless even to cry out, “Kyrie, eleison!” — even then, the Holy Spirit helps you in your weakness and intercedes for you with groanings too deep for words.  And the Lord Jesus stands before your God and Father in heaven, pleading for you with His Blood, interceding for you with His own life; and He sets Himself between you and the devil.  Thus are you protected and preserved under the Cross in the hope and promise of the Resurrection.

The Cross of Christ, which has been laid upon you by His grace — the Cross that you bear in His Name by His grace; not by your own reason or strength, but by His grace through faith in His Word — that very Cross, though it is hard and heavy to bear and carry, though it puts you to death to yourself and your desires, to the world, and to your sins — it is the Cross that grants you peace, day by day throughout your life, with the forgiveness of your sins and the righteousness of Christ.  So it is that you do not perish and die forever, but you live and abide in Christ, body and soul.

That same peace and life which are yours in the Cross of Christ are for your neighbor, as well.  So are you able to tread down Satan, his serpents and scorpions, for the benefit of your neighbor: By forgiving your neighbor his trespasses against you in the faith and forgiveness of Christ Jesus, and by loving your neighbor, even when he or she does not love you and is not being very loveable.

Whether that peace is received or rejected, do not lose heart, do not grow weary of doing good, and do not give up the hope of Christ.  It is in Him that you have joy and gladness at all times and in all places, whatever your circumstances.  For His Love is stronger than even death and the grave.  And by the power of His own indestructible Life, He saves you from sin, Satan, death, and hell.

In the meantime, take to heart that your labor in the Gospel of Christ is never in vain.  Though you may succeed in nothing in your own perception or according to the standards of this perishing world, even so, to speak the truth of Christ, to bear His Cross in love, to live by faith, that is the very life of God which He has given to you, and it is yours.  Though you are nothing, the Cross of Christ and His Name which you bear are and do everything pertaining to life and godliness.

Be sure and certain of this: The Kingdom of God has drawn near to you.  Indeed, it is here for you now, in this Liturgy.  And your name has been written in the Kingdom of God with the very Blood of Christ, your Savior, by the stylus of His Cross, by the preaching of His Gospel — in the Light of the Revelation of the Glory of God in the Resurrection of the same Christ Jesus from the dead.

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