22 September 2019

The Riches of the Rich Man Are Here Freely Given to You

Jesus has been teaching you what it means to be His disciple, that you must relinquish your own possessions, let go of all your earthly ties, and lay down even your own life.  He calls you to take up His Cross and follow Him, that you should live and die with Him, and thus become like Him.

So He has been teaching you what He is like, what sort of Man He is, and what sort of Lord and Master He is, God in the Flesh.  He is the Man who receives sinners and eats with them.  He is the Shepherd who risks ninety-nine sheep to rescue one.  He is the One who prizes repentance over righteousness, who came into the world to save sinners and rejoices to do so in His love for them.

He is the Rich Man who, for your sake, made Himself poor, and who gave Himself as the Ransom for you and all the sons and daughters of man; so that you, by His poverty, might become rich.

This is a different sort of wealth than silver and gold, which perish, and a different sort of elegance than pearls and expensive clothing, which wear out and decay — if they don’t get lost or stolen.  The wealth and riches of Christ Jesus are imperishable and inexhaustible, and they are also traded, given, and received by a very different economy than the dollars and cents of this fallen world.

But do not imagine that gets you off the hook where your money and possessions are concerned.  If you would be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ and live in His Kingdom, then His economics pertain to all your goods and services, to all your words and actions, to all that you are and have.  And if you are not trustworthy in that which is the least, then how shall you be trusted with the true riches of righteousness, life, and salvation?

The way in which you handle your stuff and deal with your neighbors in the world is as indication of where your heart is fixed and where your treasure is found.  And when all is said and done, there can only be one treasure in your heart and life, only one lord and master, and only one god.

So, whom do you worship and obey?  Whom do you love?  You already know that you are to fear, love, and trust in the Holy Triune God above all things, and that you must have no other gods before Him or beside Him.  You are to worship Him alone, the Lord your God, and serve Him only.

But if you would know where your heart and mind really are, before whom they bow, and what they serve, consider how you spend your time and your money.  What do you do with your body and life on earth, and what would you do if you were given the chance and could get away with it?

Think of how you do your job, go about your chores, tend your home, or apply yourself to learning.  Why do you do what you do in the way you do it?  What is it that drives you?  What prompts you to do your best, and what leads you to slack off?  Do you work for yourself, or for others?  Do you live before God in righteousness and purity, or do you seek to justify yourself in the eyes of men?

Consider and discern the measure and criteria by which you evaluate yourself and your neighbor, and by which you compare yourself to your neighbors and compete with them — or by which you care for your neighbors with charity and compassion.

The Lord knows your heart, regardless of your outward actions.  And He would have you know your heart, as well, and repent of whatever is not faith and love, according to His Word.

The Lord knows when you trample the needy instead of providing for their needs.  He knows when you overlook the poor or take advantage of them instead of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, and visiting the sick or imprisoned.  He knows when the alms in your hand are given as a token, for the sake of appearances, and not as a real sacrifice of mercy.

He knows when the hands you lift or fold in prayer are otherwise being used to hurt instead of help or heal, and whether they are engaged in holiness and righteousness or robbery and scandal.

He knows when the lips with which you call upon His Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving are otherwise used to argue and dispute, to curse, swear, lie, and deceive — or to confess your sins and apologize for them, and to speak gentle forgiveness to those who have sinned against you.

The Lord knows your sins of thought, word, and deed, your wasting of His gifts, the squandering of your stewardship, and the accusations of the Law against you.

So, then, because He loves you and desires to save you, to bring you to the knowledge of the truth, He calls you to repentance.  He calls you to examine your heart and mind, your words and actions, and to give an account of your stewardship.  He calls you by the Cross to be crucified with Him, that you should be raised up with Him to newness of life and welcomed into His Father’s House.

What, then, does such repentance look like?  What does it entail?  Where you have wasted your Lord’s good gifts — which are really His things entrusted to your stewardship or management — how should you be using them instead?  What does your Lord Jesus say and teach you to do?

The economics of Christ Jesus are utterly foreign to the wisdom of this world and detestable to those who love money and worship wealth.  In the same way, what is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.  Such is the way of the Cross, the great reversal of Christ the Crucified.

He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, who grants life to sinners at His own expense, at the cost of His own Blood.  His management is mercy, the administration of His Holy Gospel.  The real coin of His realm is neither silver nor gold; it is the forgiveness of sins.

Wasting His possessions does not mean reckless spending or extravagant giving, but the opposite.  You waste His possessions when you horde them and hide them, keep them, and multiply them.  By the same token, you manage your stewardship shrewdly, rightly, and wisely, when you give His gifts away and forgive His debtors freely, trusting His providential mercy and loving His people.

That is what He means when He teaches you to make friends for yourself with worldly wealth.  That is to use what He has entrusted to your stewardship to love and care for your neighbor.  Not as a bribe — and not as though to buy your way into heaven, which would not work in any case — but in the way of repentance and faith.  Worldly wealth will not last forever, no matter how you might save it or spend it, keep it, or give it away.  It cannot justify or save you.  But the Lord Jesus is your Savior and your God, whatever your treasures and talents may be, and however many.

Therefore, by faith in Christ Jesus, use whatever you do have in this body and life to befriend and love your neighbor, as the Lord has befriended you in His great love and mercy and compassion.

Greater love has no man than this one Lord, Jesus Christ, who lays down His life for His friends; who actually makes friends out of His enemies through the forgiveness and reconciliation of His Cross and Resurrection.  In Him the Truth is revealed in the mercies of God, and righteousness and peace kiss each other.  For He has poured Himself out and made Himself nothing, undertaking the absolute poverty of His death upon the Cross, in order to bestow the true riches of His divine Life and His eternal Kingdom upon poor, miserable sinners, such as yourself.

And in His Resurrection from the dead, His Father welcomes you — along with Him — into His eternal dwellings.  As He bore all your sins and griefs and sorrows in His own Body to the Cross, so does Christ Jesus now bear you in His risen and glorified Body to God the Father in heaven.

It was for this great salvation that St. Paul was appointed a herald and Apostle, for the testimony of the Lord’s Redemption in its proper time.  What Christ Jesus accomplished and obtained by the Sacrifice of His Body and Life, He now administers within His Church on earth by the preaching of the Gospel, by the teaching of the true faith, and by the stewardship of His Divine Mysteries.

So also, to this day and in this place, the same Lord Jesus Christ has called and sent His servants  to be heralds of His Cross, ministers of His Gospel, stewards of His Mysteries, and shepherds of His little lambs and sheep.  That is what pastors are, and so that is what pastors do in faith toward God and in love for Christ’s Holy Church.  Your pastors do not simply tell you about the love of God; they love you with the love of God, and God Himself loves you in and through your pastors.

Just as you are entrusted with the stewardship of your office and station and whatever you possess for the benefit of others, so are your pastors entrusted with a stewardship of God’s grace for you.

It is required of such stewards that they be faithful in their stewardship of the Mysteries of God, for they are men under authority.  The authority they are granted by their Master, by virtue of their Office, is the authority of Christ to forgive the sins of those who repent, and thus to save sinners.

When a pastor is tempted to waste his Master’s possessions by withholding the Gospel, hiding and hoarding the gifts, and neglecting the means of grace — when he is tempted to justify himself in the eyes of men, instead of serving in the fear of God — the Lord in His mercy calls His servant to repentance, befriending him by His grace, teaching him mercy, and forgiving him all his sins.

It is with that same measure of the Gospel that your pastors likewise care for you in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus, your Savior and Good Shepherd.

Which is precisely how it is that you are Jesus’ little lamb.  For so does your Good Shepherd love you and provide for you, call you to Himself, and guide you through death into life everlasting.

When your pastors preach to you, it is the Voice of your Good Shepherd that you hear — and you know and recognize His voice and follow Him by grace through faith in His forgiveness of sins.

When your pastors preach repentance, by preaching the Law and the Gospel, they return you to the significance of your Holy Baptism.  You die and rise with Christ Jesus, so that you are cleansed and sanctified and made brand new.  For the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus are not simply true, but they are true for you.  Not just “once upon a time,” but once for all, and here and now for you.

The Lord does not forget what He has done for you, but He remembers you in mercy, day by day, night by night, week after week, and year after year, even to the close of the age.

And, as He remembers you in mercy, so are you given to remember Him.  For when your pastors administer the Holy Communion and give you the Body of Christ to eat and pour out the Blood of Christ for you to drink, all the fruits and benefits of Christ and His Cross are yours.

Thus your Shepherd gently guides you, knows your needs, and well provides you.  He feeds you in the green pastures of His Word and nourishes you with Holy Absolution.  He leads you beside the quiet waters of your Baptism, which wash away your sins and quench your deepest thirst.

And here before you is the Table He prepares for you, even in the face of sin and death; for this Man still receives sinners and eats with them.  What a lavish Feast He provides and serves, Himself the Host, the Waiter, and the Meal.  The Choicest Meat and the Finest Wine are given and poured out for you here.  His Chalice overflows with the abundance of His grace, mercy, and peace, His free and full forgiveness of sins, His Life and His Salvation, in the New Testament of His Blood.

These are the riches of the Rich Man, which He and His servants are accused of wasting because they are given and poured out so freely and so generously.  So be it.  That is the sort of Man He is, the one true God in flesh and blood like your own.  That is the sort of Lord and Master He is, who gives and forgives by His divine grace.  And it is enough for His servants to be like their Master.

Pray, then, for your pastors and for all the ministers of the Lord’s Holy Gospel, that they should be found faithful in their Office and Vocation, and that His Church should thus be served in peace and safety, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting in the Body of Christ Jesus.

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

15 September 2019

The Love of the Good Shepherd

It is a trustworthy saying, that Christ Jesus has come down from heaven to seek and to save the lost, that He might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who believe in Him, by grace, unto eternal life.  He has come, and He still comes, to call not the righteous but sinners — to repentance, to faith, and to Life with God the Father in Him.  That is why He is here today.

He has come to save you.  To save you from your sins, to save you from death and the grave, to save you from the devil who hates you, and to save you from the hell and damnation you deserve by your sins.  He has come, and He still comes, to save you by His perfect life on your behalf, by His innocent suffering and death in your stead, and by and with His holy and precious Blood, shed for your redemption on the Cross and poured out for you to drink here at His Altar.

He comes to save you by the preaching of the Gospel, which begins and continues throughout this life with His forgiving of all your sins, that you should have Life in and with Him forevermore.

Draw near to Him, and listen to the preaching of His Word and promise.  Draw near to hear and receive this Gospel, this forgiveness of all your sins, because your life really does depend on it.

Do not approach Him with any presumption of any righteousness or worthiness in you.  There is no righteousness of yours that avails before God in heaven.  There is no righteousness in you by which you can approach your Lord and Savior.  In you there is only sin and death, until Christ calls you and gathers you to Himself in love.  Draw near to Him in humility, therefore.  But do draw near to Him — in the confidence of His grace — that He may exalt you in mercy, in due season, by His Cross and in His Resurrection and Ascension, as a member of His Body, the Church.

And as you draw near to Him in such faith, do not despise any of your neighbors whom the Lord Jesus likewise calls and draws near to Himself with His Word of mercy.  Rejoice, rather, in the recovery of the lost — even as you yourself are rescued by the grace of this Good Shepherd.

Do not simply “tolerate” your fellow sinners, whom Christ Jesus has called and receives unto Himself.  Rather, rejoice with all of heaven, rejoice with the Lord God Almighty and with all the holy angels, in these fellow sinners of yours who are likewise called and brought to the great Good Shepherd of the flock, who restores them in His mercy, even as He restores you in His mercy.

He loves them, truly and sincerely, according to His divine grace and compassion.  He loves those very people whom you find so hard to tolerate, no less than He loves you.  He loves all of His lambs and sheep, wherever they may be, whatever they are up to.  He continues to love and care for them when they wander away, and so it is that He goes out to find them.  He loves them, and He seeks them out to save them at the cost of His own life, because they are precious to Him.

As a sheep of the Good Shepherd, yourself, you also are to love your neighbors in the world, even the least, the last, and the lost.  You are to love them as the Lord Jesus loves them, to seek them out and call them back when they wander away, and to rejoice over them with glad thanksgiving when they are brought home to be here with you in the household and family of God.

Love your neighbor as Christ Jesus loves your neighbor.  And to think and speak of it concretely and practically, love your neighbor as you love your own dear family, and desire life for each and all of them.  For your Lord would have them be your family, the children of one God and Father.

Trust and believe that the Lord God Almighty loves your neighbors.  That is more than enough reason for you to love them.  Take it to heart that He loves them, one and all, with His divine love, your family and your friends, your foes, and every last one of your neighbors, both near and far.

He loves your enemies; not because of their enmity and sins against you, but solely for the sake of His divine grace and mercy toward all the sons and daughters of Adam, created in His Image for Life with Him.  He loves your enemies, even though you often fail to love them.  He loves your enemies — even as He loves you and forgives you all of your sins by His grace, by His Gospel.

He also loves your children.  He really does.  He loves and cares for them, even when they wander astray and get themselves lost and in trouble.  Indeed, He loves your children more and better than even you do.  More faithfully, more consistently, more profoundly, more deeply, more purely and unselfishly.  He loves them with His own Self, which is more than you could ever ask or imagine.

He has this love for them.  And He has this love for you, as well.  Not because you are trying so hard and doing so well, but in spite of the fact that you are falling short of all that you should be and do.  He loves you because you are His own, created to live by His grace through faith in His Word, to receive His good gifts with thanksgiving, and to abide with Him in body and soul forever.

Repent of your despair and desperation (as though there were no hope, as though the Lord were not your Savior).  Repent of your anger and accusations against Him (as though He did not care).

Repent, too, of your favoritism and your divided heart, by which you love some of your neighbors and despise others, and by which you resent some of those whom the Lord calls near to Himself.

And repent of your prideful self-righteousness, by which you presume to know better than God.

Trust Him, and not yourself.  Fear, love, and trust in the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and do not rely on your own understanding.  Honor and rely upon His Word.  For heaven and earth will pass away, but His Word will not; it stands fast and remains forever.  It alone is true, even when everyone else is lying, and even when your own heart, mind, and spirit are lying to you.

Trust and rely upon the Word of Christ, your Lord.  He is your Good Shepherd, and He loves you.

It is for the sake of His own divine and holy love that He is always seeking you out and calling you back to Himself.  It is thus for the sake of His Love that He preaches His Law to you, in order to expose your sins and call you on them.  And it is for the sake of His love that He calls you to repentance and faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.  All for the sake of His grace and mercy.

He has such solicitous love for all of His lambs and sheep, for each and every one of them, even though there is not one of them who is righteous.  No, not even one.

He is the Savior of sinners.  And so He seeks them out, and He calls them and receives them to Himself.  It is in fact true that this Man eats with sinners.  Indeed, He feeds them with Himself, with His own Body and Blood.  Not only does He welcome them into Table fellowship with Him, but He enters into a divine and holy fellowship with them.  For He has become like them, and He has borne their sins in His Body to the Cross, that He should redeem them in body and soul, and that all the sons and daughters of Adam should become the sons and daughters of God in Him.

You see, not only has He given His Body and Life for you and all He sheep, to atone for all your sins; but He has also taken it up again, that He would raise you with Himself through forgiveness.  That is how He deigns to deal with you: through forgiveness.  Not according to any righteousness of your own, but according to His own righteousness of mercy.

That is how He saves you from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  He forgives you all your sins.  He does not count your sins against you, He does not hold them against you, but He saves you from your sins.  He sets you free from their bondage and from their deadly consequences by His grace.

And as He has died for you and risen from the dead, and as He lives and reigns to all eternity, He is not far away from any one of you.  For He is the Good Shepherd.  He truly is the Shepherd of His sheep, and so it is that He actively shepherds them.  He is their own Pastor.  He is your Pastor.

He guides you and guards you by His Word.  And He is thereby always leading you back to those clear and quiet waters of your Baptism — where He put His Name on you and made you His own, and whereby He continues to serve and sustain you as His own through His forgiveness of sins.

He eats with you.  Yes, He feeds you here at His own Table in His own House, with His own holy Body and His holy, precious Blood, because He loves you.  He forgives your sins, and He gives you His divine, eternal Life.  He rejoices over you in His divine and holy Love, forever and ever!

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

08 September 2019

The Way of Life Is Set Before You in Christ

Jesus has this large crowd of people following Him.  Which seems like a good thing, right?  Yet, He turns around and confronts them and lays it on the line.  He puts it in their face.  He tells them what it means to be His disciple, what it will cost and require.  Not just to follow Him and learn from Him, but to live with Him as He lives — and to die with Him as He dies — in faith and love.

To be His disciple means that you must give up all of your own “possessions.”  They aren’t really yours to begin with, but the Lord’s, in any case, and He would have you relinquish any claim to them in order to put them to use to the glory of His Name and for the benefit of your neighbors.  Whatever you hold in your hand, you possess only by the grace or charity of God, and only so long as He determines.  You “give those things up” by not relying on them, but by using them rightly according to His Word.  That’s not the wisdom of politics or economics but of the Lord Jesus.

To be His disciple, He asserts, means that you must “hate” your family, your father and mother, your husband or wife, your children and your siblings, all in deference to Him.  Yes, indeed, you must hate even your own life — not in the way of depression or despair, but in deference to Him.  It’s not a matter of emotions or feelings, but of priorities and commitments, choices and decisions, and your actual behavior.  All that you think and say and do is subject to one Lord, Jesus Christ.

And He calls you to carry your own cross.  That is the one thing you may possess.  In fact, if you would be His disciple, you must take up the Cross and follow after Christ Jesus, to be crucified, put to death, and buried with Him, bearing His reproach, and bereft of everything else on earth.

So, then, count the cost.  Consider what it requires of you to be a disciple of Christ Jesus.  Consider what it means to be a Christian, to be anointed with the Spirit of Christ and bound to Him in life and death.  Consider what it will mean for you and your family, and what will happen to you, and what will become of you and all your stuff, if you hold fast to Him who suffers and dies for you.

Are you strong enough to be His disciple?  To give up everything?  To suffer all, even death, rather than give up your allegiance to and your reliance on this one Lord, the incarnate Son of God?

He sets before you these two ways — more different than night and day — as different as heaven and hell.  He sets before you the way of life and every blessing and the way of death and all evil.

The way of life is to fear, love, and trust in God by faith in the Word of Christ.  That is not simply a means to some end.  Far less is it a work of yours to achieve or accomplish your own salvation.  To fear, love, and trust in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is your life, your length of days, and your salvation, now and forever.  Whereas to worship any others gods than Him is the way of death.  Not only because they are nothing, but because turning away from God the Lord is death.

So the choice seems pretty obvious and easy, doesn’t it?  It really is a matter of life and death, and why should you die, when the Lord has created you for Life with Himself in both body and soul?

But confronted by the choice at hand, you find that your fallen and perishing flesh is unable to follow the Way of Life.  Your rebellious heart, mind, spirit, and will are too set upon your false gods and dumb idols, despite the raw fact that none of them are able to give you life or save you.  You pursue them with an insatiable hunger that consumes you from the inside-out and kills you.

It is for you as it was for the Sons of Israel, when the Lord had brought them out of Egypt by His mighty arm and outstretched hand, and yet they wandered forty years in the wilderness because of their disobedience and disbelief, their idolatry, and their constant complaining and grumbling.

It was such a clear and simple choice set before them, as well.  Fear the Lord your God, and live by faith in His Word and promise.  Obey His Commandments.  Walk according to His ways.  Hold fast to Him, who brought you out of bondage, who became your God by grace, who has fed and clothed you all these years.  Just stick with Him, and life and health and every good will be yours.

The Lord thus laid His blessing upon them and set His blessing before them unto life.  And yet, time and time again, they chose the curse instead of the blessing, sin instead of righteousness, and death instead of life.  Throughout the Book of Judges, and really throughout the history of Israel, they disobeyed the Lord their God.  They despised His Word and worshiped the Baals and Asherim of Canaan.  They wanted to be like the nations around them — and so they were in many ways — although the Lord, the One true God, had called them to be His own uniquely special people.

In the Name of the Lord, Joshua (that great Old Testament Jesus) brought them through the Jordan River into the Land that God had promised, a good land flowing with milk and honey and all good things, where everything was handed to them by the grace of God.  He fought and won their battles for them, He established them in their own place, and He caused His Name and His Glory to dwell in their midst, not for judgment, but for mercy and for life.  But they would not heed His Word.

And it is the same with you.  The Lord Jesus Himself (the new and greater Joshua) has brought you through the waters of the Jordan into this good Land of His Church, in which forgiveness, life, and salvation are yours by His grace. In mercy He clothes you and feeds you in both body and soul.  But you do not live and walk according to His Word.  You do not worship Him alone, but you give your heart to other people and to things, and you actively pursue the way of death instead of life.

It is by and because of your sin that you are subject to death and pursue it to your own detriment and disadvantage.  That is the heritage and legacy of Adam, your father.  You are conceived and born in sin, and in your native sinfulness you are not able to choose life over death.

There is only one Man who is righteous, the Son of God who was also conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who for your sake became flesh and blood, and bore your sins in His own Body on the Cross, and sacrificed Himself for your salvation.  He alone is righteous.  He alone has built and completed the tower, according to the divine plan and foreknowledge of God.  And He alone has likewise fought the war and won the victory — against seemingly impossible odds.

He entrusted Himself entirely to His God and Father, and He gave Himself completely for you and all His neighbors.  He gave up all of His possessions and laid down His own Body and Life.  In holy faith and holy love for God and Man, He perfectly fulfilled the Law.  And so does He pour out His grace for you and all people, all the sons and daughters of Adam, subject to sin and death.

So there is this great irony and paradox about discipleship and the Way of Life.  It is the way of the Cross.  The Tree of Death is the Tree of Life.  So it is by the death of the Cross that you live with God, now and forever.  Not by any strength, abilities, or efforts of your own, but by dying to yourself, to your sins, and to the world, and rising from death to life in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Not by your peeps or your possessions, but by your Baptism into the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus.

And it is by the daily death and resurrection of repentance, the ongoing significance of your Holy Baptism.  For having already crossed the Jordan with Christ Jesus, you now live with Him in the good Land that God has given you, right here, within His Church (on earth as it is in heaven).

And, yes, what that looks like, and what that feels like, is “hating” your own family and even your own life in the world, in deference to your one Lord, Jesus Christ, and relinquishing all of your “possessions,” all your false gods and idols, whatever they may be, to live by faith in Him alone.

It is true, that discipleship of Christ and His Cross can very well put you at odds with your family and friends.  It really can.  It can be far worse than awkward and uncomfortable.  It can estrange parents from their children, put siblings at odds with each other, and divide even husband and wife at the very heart and center of life.  For no one and nothing may take precedence over Christ.

But this same discipleship that divides families also makes a brand new family and a fellowship of faith out of strangers, subordinates, and slaves.  So it is that Philemon and his runaway slave, Onesimus, were brothers, not only with each other, but with St. Paul and the Lord Jesus Christ.

That discipleship also makes you a member of God’s family and a participant in the fellowship of the Holy Triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The Lord has made you part of His family by the grace of His Gospel, His forgiveness of sins.  The Father has only one begotten Son, but you, by your Baptism, are an adopted son of God in Christ Jesus.  And all the children of God are your own brothers and sisters, your family, because you have one God and Father in Christ.

Your Father invites you into this family and this fellowship of His Church, and He sets this blessing of faith and life before you.  It is a “choice,” and not by compulsion, because He does not (and He will not) force you or coerce you to fear, love, and trust in Him.  He does not rape or rob you, or bind you, or drug you.  He does not kidnap you.  He does not take you against your will.  He does not force Himself upon you.  He calls you and invites you, and He woos you, by the Word of His Gospel.  And He sets before you this choice of life or death, the blessing or the curse, good or evil.  And this, too, is by His mercy and His patient, steadfast loving-kindness.

Of course, the fact remains that, of yourself, you could not make the right choice.  You could not make the right choice — to live the life of God — because that choice means the crucifixion of your sinful self, and it means the death of yourself to the sinful world, in which you find yourself so very much at home for the time being.  And even the perfect example of your dear Lord Jesus Christ would not enable you to follow His lead and make it on your own.  You would continue on a downward cycle of disobedience and self-destruction, just like Israel in the days of the Judges.

Christ be praised that He has built the tower for you, and He has won the battle for you.  You are not asked to foot the bill.  You are not asked to build the tower.  You are not asked to win the war.  The Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, He has done it for you.  His Cross and Passion, His Death, and His Resurrection are given to you as your repentance, your faith, and your life.

It is all given to you, and it is wrought in you, by His Word and by His work, by the preaching and catechesis of Christ, and by the Jordan waters of your Holy Baptism — waters you have already crossed with Him, but to which you are daily returned by repentance and faith in His Word.

The Lord thus crushes your self-righteousness with His Law, with His commands and prohibitions, His threats and punishments.  To whatever extent you supposes that you are doing fine, and getting along okay, and managing on your own, He crushes you, and pulverizes you, and scatters you as dust in the wind.  He crucifies and buries your old Adam by the preaching of repentance.

But with that same preaching of repentance — by the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection — like the greatest of Lovers, He woos you backs you to Himself with His free and full forgiveness of all your sins, and He gently, persistently, patiently, and kindly calls you to His Way of Life.

Your dear Lord Jesus Christ raises you up with Himself, from the dust of the ground where He also made His own bed.  He raises you up with Himself in His Victory, and He bears you in His Body into the Resurrection and eternal Life.  For He has already paid the cost of discipleship for you.

So, if you would count the cost, you can do it with one hand, on one finger.  It is hung before your eyes in His sacrificial death upon the Cross, in the voluntary shedding of His holy and precious Blood for your Atonement and Redemption, for your Righteousness and Salvation.

And it is from that tower of His Holy Cross that He calls you to feast upon the spoils of His battle.  For it is to His disciples that He gives His Body to eat and pours out His Blood to drink.  And so it is to you that He gives His Body and His Blood, that you should not die but live forever.

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

01 September 2019

Faith & Love in the Sabbath Rest of Christ

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”

It was not lawful for King Herod to have his brother’s wife, as we have heard from St. John the Baptist this past week.  Nor is it lawful for you to pursue your own ambitions to the neglect of God and at your neighbor’s expense.  But, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

With this question the Lord Jesus aims at something deeper than whether it is against the rules or defensible by way of some loophole or legal technicality.  It’s not about what He may excuse or get away with.  He is rather concerned with what the Sabbath actually means and signifies.

What is “lawful” is what the Lord intends: His good and acceptable will, which centers in divine grace and His desire to give Life to those whom He has created and calls to Himself.  Behind and beyond what He commands and prohibits is the saving work of God Himself, who calls you out of slavery into freedom; who declares that He is your God, and that you are His own dear child.

The fulfillment of the Law — and of the Sabbath Commandment in particular — is realized in the Life that God gives to you through Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son, which you receive by His grace through faith in His Gospel, and which you then live in love for your neighbors round about.  That is the true worship of the Lord, the one true God, as Dr. Luther describes and discusses in one of his sermons on this Holy Gospel: To hear and heed the preaching of God’s Word in faith and with thanksgiving, and to live according to His Word within your own office and station.

So, then, to heal and give life, to rescue from a well, to feed the hungry, or to welcome the stranger and the outcast (as we have been hearing recently in Bible class, concerning Abraham and Lot) — to visit the sick and imprisoned, to clothe the naked, and to forgive sins — that is more than simply “okay” on the Sabbath.  It is the Sabbath that remains for the people of God in Christ, our Savior.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the Lawful One, who not only keeps the Sabbath Day perfectly but brings it to completion for you and for all people.  By His labor of love, He gives you peace and rest.  And this He does by faith in His Father.  For He receives all things from God, and He gives it all to His neighbor.  That is how the Sabbath is rightly kept, and in Him it has been established eternally.

He humbles Himself in the confidence that His Father will exalt Him.  For He knows Himself to be the beloved Son, according to the Word and promise of His Baptism; and He knows Himself, also, to be the Ox that pulls the plow, who will become the whole burnt offering for the people.  So He trusts that His God and Father will pull Him up out of the well and give Him Sabbath Rest.

It is this righteousness of faith in His Father which He exercises and manifests in love for you and all His neighbors.  He takes the last place for Himself, in order to exalt and serve His companions.

Not for His own advantage or benefit does Jesus do any of this, but in order to honor you, to give you life and peace and rest.  He needs nothing, anyway, since all that belongs to His Father is His.  Nor could anyone give anything to Him.  But He gives everything He has to care for everyone else.

He’s not attempting to curry favor from God or man.  Rather, it is with faith in His Father that He favors you with loving kindness.  His coming in the flesh, His compassion for sinners, His going to the Cross, His suffering, and His sacrificial death — none of these are a pretense or a strategy for Self-advancement.  There is no hidden agenda here, no false humility, and no charade.  It is no act of passive aggression.  It is divine Love and the Self-sacrifice of pure divine mercy for you.

But that is difficult to comprehend, and it is hard for you to understand and take to heart, because it is so very different from the way your sinful heart and mind are wired.  Your words and actions are so often a case of promoting and protecting yourself.  Much of what you do is not lawful, even when you follow the rules to the letter, and even at your best, because you are driven by pride and a desire for praise, or you are paralyzed by despair and a fear of criticism, instead of being guided and governed by the fear of the Lord, by faith in His Word, and by love for God and your neighbor.

Repent of your sins, and do better.  When you are invited to a feast, enter and receive whatever you are given in humility and with gratitude, and leave it to your host to provide for your needs and to honor you according to the charity and generosity of his heart, mind, and will.  And when you are the host, invite the poor and needy, the crippled, lame, and blind, who are not able to repay you.  Not that you should lord it over your guests or treat them with contempt, as though you were superior, but knowing that whatever you have is from the Lord, and trusting that He will reward you according to His mercy and His grace in the resurrection of the righteous to life everlasting.  That is to live in the fear and faith of God, in genuine love for God and man, and not for yourself.

Although you have not lived in such faith and love, and although you have not humbled yourself, trusted the Lord, or cared for your neighbor as you ought, the Lord Jesus Christ has not come to condemn you, but to save you from yourself and all your demons and diseases, from all of your enemies, and from the death and destruction your sins deserve.  To that end, He comes and takes hold of you and treats you with tender affection.  He heals you and frees you from your infirmities of body and soul.  He pulls you out of the hole you’ve fallen into, and He raises you up on high in the presence of His God and Father, in His own righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

Whereas the crippled, the lame, and the blind were not permitted to enter the Temple in the Old Testament, Christ Jesus calls them in mercy and draws them to Himself in love, to live and abide as members of His Body.  He welcomes and embraces them to Himself.  Not only that, but He also bears all their infirmities and weaknesses, their poverty and sorrows, their sickness, sin, and death, within His own Body of flesh and blood, in order to cleanse them, to heal them, and to release them from those burdens, and to bring them, in and with Himself, to His God and Father in heaven.

In order to rescue the ill-treated, He has suffered Himself to be ill-treated in a Body just like yours.  In order to release the prisoners from the bondage of sin, death, and the power of the devil, He has allowed Himself to be arrested, falsely accused, convicted and condemned, punished, and even put to death.  So has He empathized with you and with all the children of man, in order to exercise His great compassion for you, to sacrifice Himself and shed His Blood for your salvation.  Nor does He neglect to show hospitality to you, although you have been estranged and at enmity with Him.

Behold, this is what He has done for you.  He has come to share your place and your predicament, in order to give you His place of honor at the Table.  From His Baptism to His Crucifixion, He has humbled Himself unto death, in order to exalt you in His bodily Resurrection and Ascension.

He has become flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood — and He tabernacles with you here in the midst of this mortal coil on earth, under the curse and consequences of sin — in order to establish and obtain for you a permanent place and a home in the City of God, forever and ever.

So it is that your own place in the household and family of God the Father — your place of peace and perfect rest — is nothing else and nothing less than the Body of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, given and poured out for you and for the many here at His Altar.  His Feast is freely given to be freely received, with no strings attached, no contingencies, and no expectation of favors to be returned.  You have nothing to give but thanks and praise to the glory of His Name.  For He is your gracious Host, your Butler, Chef, and Waiter, and your Meat and Drink indeed.  He feeds you from His own hand, with His own Body and Blood, all for the sake of His own Love.

You cannot repay Him.  You are not able to do so, and He needs nothing from you.  But that is to the point.  He receives everything from His Father, and He gives it all to you by His grace alone.

Even the reward that He receives in His Resurrection and Ascension is, for Christ Jesus, already and forever His own rightful place at the Right Hand of the Father.  But for us it is the exalting of our human nature — flesh and blood — in His risen and glorified Body.  And that is your true Sabbath Rest, your rescue from sin, your resurrection from death, and your righteousness forever.  Thus do you have peace and rest, even while you are working hard to do your job, to carry out your duties and responsibilities, and to serve your neighbors in the world.  More than that, it is because you truly rest and reside in the Body of Christ Jesus that you are able to labor in love for others.

It is the Glory of God to conceal this great Salvation under the Cross of Christ; and it is the Glory of your King, the same Lord Jesus Christ, to reveal this great Mystery by the Word of His Gospel.

He is the beloved Son, to whom the Father has given the place of honor at the Feast; and now He honors you with that very same honor, inviting you to join Him, to take your place beside Him, to recline at His Table, and to be fed by His hand.  Here He sanctifies you with His sacrificial Blood and feeds you from His Altar with His own sacrificial Flesh.  In the presence of God and all of creation, He says to you: “Dear Friend, come up higher.  Here is the place I have prepared for you, the reward of the Righteous, which I give to you.  Come, enter into My Rest, and be at Peace.”

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