27 October 2019

Going Up to the Temple as the Children of God in Christ Jesus

Fathers, teach your children to pray, to worship the Lord, and to sacrifice themselves in faith toward Him, in love for each other and for their other neighbors in the world.  Do not wait to do it, but teach them to pray already while they are yet little babies — even in the womb and at their mother’s breast — by praying with them and for them.

Teach your children to worship the Lord their God by teaching them His Word, by speaking it to them, and by confessing it for them and with them.  And teach them by the example of your own worship of faith and love.  Go to church and take your children with you.  Do not hinder or prevent them, but indoctrinate them with God’s Word and the preaching of it.

Bring your children to the Lord Jesus, that He might touch them, heal them, and save them in the waters of Holy Baptism and with His own Body and Blood in the Holy Communion.  Then also teach them to pray in the remembrance of their Baptism and in the confession of Christ the Crucified, by teaching them to make the sign of the Cross, especially when they are afraid, but also when they rejoice in His rescue and give thanks for His great salvation.

Teach your children to sacrifice themselves in the faith and confidence of Christ Jesus and in love for their neighbors, also by the example of your own self-sacrifice.  Set aside your own wants, desires, and pleasures, in order to meet their needs and care for them.  Love their mother and lay down your life for her, day by day, as the Lord Jesus Christ loves His Bride and gives Himself freely for her.  So may your sons and daughters learn from you, not only what it means to be a godly husband or wife, a godly man or woman, but what it is to be a Christian, a member of Christ’s Church, and a child of His God and Father.

Teach your children humility by humbling yourself.  Teach them to master their sins by your own self-discipline and daily repentance.  Teach them to fall upon the mercies of God in Christ by confessing your sins and availing yourself of the Gospel in the Lord’s ways and means of grace and forgiveness, including His gift of Holy Absolution.  Let such confession and absolution shape and define your Christian faith and life, your piety and practice, not only within the life of the church but also in your home and in all of your relationships.

Wherever you have done wrong (and, yes, you have done wrong), acknowledge your faults, apologize, and make amends as you are able.  And where others have sinned against you, be ready and willing, eager and quick to forgive them — and gladly do good to them.

Where you have sinned against your children — by harshness or neglect, by impatience or inattentiveness, by unreasonable demands or unfair punishments, or by whatever faults of temper, words, or actions you have done — humble yourself under the Lord your God, apologize to your children, who are also His dear children, and seek their forgiveness.

Do not seek to justify or excuse yourself, but let Christ alone by your Savior and Redeemer.  And so love all your neighbors, big and small, both young and old, family, friends, and foes, the brilliant and the daft, the successful and pathetic, all for Jesus’ sake.  For they, too, shall be saved, not by any righteousness, merit, or worthiness of their own, but solely by the righteousness and mercy of Christ Jesus — the very same righteousness and mercy, of the same Lord Jesus Christ, by which alone you are justified and saved from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  That is the source of your own humility and confidence of repentant faith.

If you exalt yourself — if you trust in yourself and your own righteousness, as though you were a god — you will be humbled.  Pray that you are thus humbled before the Day of Judgment, when the time of repentance shall have passed.  Pray that the Lord in His mercy would humble you now, and each and every day of your life on earth, by His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins; and that He would exalt you in His peace, as He has done for Frederick and Simon by way of Baptism and the Catechesis of His Word.

These two young men have come up to the Temple to pray, not in any righteousness of their own, but in the righteousness of Christ, by grace through faith in His mercy and forgiveness.  Not in competition, at odds, or with any contempt for one another, but in the peace of the Lord, as brothers in Christ Jesus within the Household and Family of His God and Father.  As children of God, their entire life is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to His Name.

When you know and confess that your life is from God, that it depends entirely on Him, that He gives you life by His divine grace, and that He preserves your life, not only here in time but unto all eternity in both body and soul — all by one and the same divine grace in Christ Jesus — then you comprehend the real meaning of life, and thus you are able to live before God in peace and hope, in faith and love, in graceful confidence and joyful satisfaction.

When you don’t get it — when you have not been humbled unto repentance and faith in the mercies of God — when you exalt yourself and attempt to justify yourself — then you are hounded and driven by fear.  You have no peace or joy, no confidence or satisfaction.  Not really.  You strive to keep the Law according to its letter; or else you avoid it as much as you can while tending to yourself and your own personal ambitions.  But the Lord has no regard for your self-righteousness.  He takes no pleasure in your selfish works.  And He has no delight in your sacrifices when they are offered as a bribe or as a buyout for your sins.

The harder you try to appease the Lord your God or to pay Him off in an effort to get Him off your back, the worse your situation becomes. Your self-righteous pride, indignation, laziness, and greed continue to grow and get worse, until they threaten to swallow you up and consume you altogether.  Such things are the heart and soul of sin, which entices and allures you, and yet, all the while it is really killing and destroying you.

In the futile agitation of your own self-defeating efforts, you grow more and more restless and angry with God.  You suppose that He’s unfair.  He just doesn’t like you, or so it seems.  “It’s not your fault, right? You’re doing your bit.”  But, since you can’t get even with God, and you cannot possibly compete with Him, you turn your anger and enmity, your hatred and vengeance against your neighbor.  You give yourself over to envy and jealousy and bitter resentment, to the point that you lash out at your neighbor, perhaps even your nearest and dearest kin, with hurtful words, or schemes to rob and steal, or outright bodily injury.

Make no mistake, as a child of Adam such sin is always crouching at your door, and its desire is to have you.  Resist it, and master it by contrition, repentance, and self-discipline.  Hear and heed the Word of the Lord and honor His commandments.  Love your neighbor by helping him, and by doing no harm to him in word or deed.  Examine yourself honestly and confess your sins, that you might hear and receive the blessed Gospel of forgiveness.

Pray that God the Lord would have mercy upon you, that you might live by His grace and rest in His peace.  Trust Him to provide you with all that you need, for body and soul, for this life and the Life everlasting.  And so understand that your possessions, your abilities, your time and energy, your treasures and talents, and your whole body and life on earth are a sacred trust, a divine stewardship of God’s good gifts, which He has given to you for the sake of likewise loving and serving your neighbor in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

That is how you sacrifice your crops and herds, your goods and services, your body and life.  In faith toward God you love your neighbor with all that you are and have, because your life is entirely from the Lord, in Him, and with Him; and it is lived unto Him at all times.

You are your brother’s keeper, as surely as the Lord Himself is your Keeper, your Maker and Redeemer.  Frederick and Simon and all your fellow Christians belong to you, and you belong to them.  And all of your neighbors are given to be objects of your love, as you are loved by God.  So, if you are poured out as a drink offering for your neighbor, keep the faith and finish the course in peace, as the Lord Jesus pours out His Lifeblood for you.  Give your body as a living sacrifice, and feed and clothe, shelter, and protect your neighbor’s body, as the Lord Jesus Christ feeds you with His Body and His Blood, clothes you with His righteousness, and shelters and protects you by His grace within His holy Christian Church.

The same Lord Jesus Christ stands with you in all hardship and adversity, in all your trials and temptations.  He forgives you all your sins and failings, strengthens your faith and love, and guards and keeps your body and soul in Him; He thereby delivers you from every evil and brings you safely into His heavenly kingdom.  This He surely does, and so shall He crown you with His own righteousness, because He has humbled Himself unto death and given Himself for your salvation; wherefore God the Father has highly exalted Him and given Him the Name above every name.  In Him you also are exalted and named by God.

As Christ has died for you and risen from the dead for you, and as He ever lives to intercede for you before the Throne of God — as He, your merciful and great High Priest, has entered the Holy of Holies made without hands on your behalf with His most holy and precious Blood — so does He bring you home, justified by His grace through faith in His Gospel.

The Body of this dear Lord Jesus Christ is the Altar upon which you offer your sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.  Not that you should thereby atone for your sins, but that you rather give all thanks and praise to Him because He has atoned for all your sins, once and for all.

It is in Him, and through Him, and with Him, and by Him, that you and your children and your children’s children pray and worship and sacrifice.  So are you and yours received as a pleasing sacrifice and sweet-smelling incense by your dear God and Father in heaven.  He has regard for you, for your prayer and sacrifice, for Jesus’ sake.  He lifts you up in mercy and sustains you by His grace, even through death and the grave, unto the Life everlasting.

In order that you be kept safe in this Life and Salvation forever, the Lord has set His mark upon you, His sign of the Cross upon your forehead and your heart, on your body and your soul.  Though you are a sinner, deserving of nothing but the punishment of death and eternal damnation, yet, by this sign of the Cross the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh are served notice that you belong to Christ the Crucified, your Savior and Redeemer.  He shall not only avenge whatever wrong is done to you, but He also forgives the wrongs that you have done; and at the last He shall vindicate you forever in the resurrection of your body.

Even though you die, yet shall you live, forever and always.  Indeed, the Kingdom of God belongs to such as you, because you are His own beloved child in Christ Jesus.

Come up here, then, to this Temple of Christ Jesus.  Receive the holy Body with which He feeds you and the drink-offering of His own precious Blood.  And pray in the peace and confidence of His sure mercies and forgiveness.  Offer here the sacrifice of thanksgiving, take up the Cup of Salvation, and call on the Name of the Lord.  He hears and answers your prayers, dear child of God, because you are justified by the Lord, the righteous Judge.

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

26 October 2019

The Top Ten Guitarists of the Decade

This past week, Guitar World magazine polled its readers as to the “Guitarist of the Decade,” erroneously supposing that the current decade will end as of 31 December 2019. Although there will actually be another year before the end of this decade, the poll did get me to thinking about the most significant guitarists over the past nine years (and counting). And while I have no doubt that others would arrive at different conclusions, I’ve compiled my own list of the top ten guitarists of the decade. Aside from appreciating and enjoying what they’ve already contributed, I look forward to seeing what they’ll do yet in the tent year of the decade. 1. Joe Bonamassa 2. Mark Tremonti 3. Slash 4. George Lynch 5. Gus G 6. Michael Schenker 7. Joe Satriani 8. Tommy Emmanuel 9. Paul Gilbert 10. Jack White Note: This is not a “lifetime achievement” list, which I would approach rather differently. It is rather a list of the guitarists who, in my opinion, have contributed the most and had the most significant impact in the course of the current decade (so far).

20 October 2019

The One Who Prevails with God for Your Salvation

The Lord Jesus here teaches you to pray at all times and not lose heart.  That is really to summarize the first two Commandments.  For if you fear, love, and trust in God above all things, then you will not lose heart, but you will call upon His Name at all times with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.

It is necessary that you pray, because prayer is the very voice of faith.  There is really nothing more natural for a Christian than to pray in the faith of Christ Jesus.  As you breathe in the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, so do you exhale with the voice of prayer and call upon your Father in heaven.

And yet, the Readings this morning might actually seem a bit discouraging.  After all, Jacob has to wrestle with the Angel of the Lord all night long, before the Lord relents and finally blesses him.  And perhaps you have likewise felt yourself at times to be engaged in a similar wrestling match.

Then there is the judge in the Lord’s Parable, who neither fears God nor respects people, who does not want to help the poor widow who comes to him for legal help and protection.  He begrudgingly gives in, but only because she bothers him.  And although Jesus declares that God will speedily give justice to His elect, does it not often seem that your prayers and petitions fall on deaf ears and a hard heart, as though the Lord your God were not listening and did not even want to help you.

In the face of such discouragements, the prayer of faith in Christ confesses and clings to the Word and promise of God, even when it seems that God Himself were denying His Word and promise.  The prayer of faith echoes and insists upon what God has spoken, in spite of every contradiction.  It relies upon His Word and calls upon His Name, day and night, with persistent confidence.

So, then, if you have already prayed for days on end, and still God does not seem to hear or answer — if you have already wrestled through the long dark night into the early morning hours — if you have begged, and you have pleaded, and you have wept, and you have railed against the heavens, all seemingly to no avail — even then, do not lose heart, but continue to pray in faith and hope.

Such faith depends upon the Word of God in Christ.  You have no faith apart from the hearing of His Word.  And you have no true prayer apart from such faith in His Word.  You cannot call upon a God whom you do not know, and you cannot know Him except as He speaks to you in Christ.  It is His Word that teaches you to pray and actually opens your lips and your mouth to pray, praise, and give thanks at all times and in all places, in every circumstance and situation.  But do you?

Do you depend upon the Word of God?  Do you believe that it is true and so rely upon it?  Do you trust the Lord and what He says?  Do you stake your life upon it?  And do you pray accordingly?  Do you call upon the Lord throughout the day?  Do you pray and confess His Word when you first get up each morning and when you go to bed each night?  Do you pray in confidence and peace?

Are you like Jacob?  Do you wrestle through the night with the Lord and refuse to let Him go until He shall bless you, even though He wounds you in the process?  Are you like that poor, persistent widow, who swallows her pride and berates the judge until he gives her the justice she needs?

When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?  That is how He puts the question to you this morning.  But if it were up to you, if it depended on your resolve and willpower, on your faithfulness, persistence, and prayer, then the answer would surely be, “No.”  No faith at all.

And yet, when the Son of Man comes, He does find faith on the earth, because He first of all establishes such faith in Himself, in His own Body and Life, in His own Flesh and Blood.  For the Lord Jesus Christ is faithful and steadfast in all things, at all times, and in all places.  He proceeds and perseveres in love for His God and Father, and in love for you and all His neighbors on earth.  So does He establish in Himself the very faith that is necessary to your life and to your prayers.

His elect cry out to Him, day and night without ceasing, because He calls them to Himself by the Gospel, He enlightens them with His gifts, He sanctifies them by His Word and Holy Spirit, and He keeps them in the one true faith.  Day and night.  Waking, sleeping.  Good times, bad times.  He daily and richly forgives them all their sins, as He daily and richly forgives you all your sins.

He has come close to you, that is your hope.  He has drawn near to you as the true Man, in order to “wrestle” with you.  And He refuses to let you go until He shall bless you.  For He is the Israel indeed who strives with God and man, who binds God and man together in Himself, in His own Body of flesh and blood.  And He betroths the widow to Himself; and He marries her in holy love.  For He is her Husband who has died, and yet, behold, He lives!  So, He takes up her cause.  And He advocates for her, He pleads her case persistently in the face of all opposition and every foe.  What is more, as your own Advocate and Defender, He does the same for you, as well.

It is in His flesh and blood like yours — it is in your circumstances, in your condition, bearing the weight of your sin — that He persists in prayer, and He prevails.  He takes up your cause, and He brings it before the Father in heaven, and He wrestles with God on your behalf.  He does it all for you, because He has become your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.

Not only has He offered Himself, once-for-all, as the Sacrifice of Atonement for all of your sins, but in His Resurrection from the dead, in His Ascension to the Right Hand of the Father, He ever lives to make intercession for you before the Throne of God.  Even as He preaches and teaches the Word of God to you here, within His Church on earth, so is He always praying for you in heaven.  And as He feeds you with His Body and Blood here at His Altar, so are His Body and Blood also pleading and prevailing for you, as your Anchor behind the Veil, within the heavenly Holy Place.

You do not have to redeem yourself.  You do not have to pay for your own sins.  You do not have to appease the wrath of God.  You do not have to reconcile Him to yourself.  For in Christ He has already reconciled you to Himself.  In Christ Jesus, there is perfect Peace between God and man.

His Cross and Resurrection are your Redemption and your Righteousness in the presence of God.  And as He has returned to the Father in His Body of flesh and blood, by way of His Sacrifice upon the Cross and in His Resurrection and Ascension, so does He bring you to His God and Father in and with Himself, as a beloved and well-pleasing child of God, by virtue of your Holy Baptism.  Which is to say that He is not only your merciful and great High Priest, but He is your Prayer, the One who arises as sweet-smelling Incense on your behalf, that you should be acceptable to God.  The Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead is God the Father’s answer to your every prayer.

You know that Jesus is the Word of God who has become Flesh, that He is the One by whom the Father speaks to you.  And because He is your own High Priest, He is likewise the One by whom you speak to God the Father in heaven.  You are drawn into His prayer and intercession, as you are drawn into Christ Jesus Himself, by His persistent Ministry of the Gospel, by His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins.

As surely as Jacob prevailed because the Lord prevailed with Him and for Him, so do you persist and prevail in faith and prayer because the Lord Jesus persists and prevails for you by His Word.

Prayer begins with the Word of Christ, just as faith begins with the Word of Christ.  Faith comes by hearing, and so also prayer begins with hearing what God the Lord speaks to you by His Son.  So, for example, in the Catechism, you are taught to pray before meals by first of all hearing and confessing the Word and promise of the Lord from the Psalms: “The eyes of all wait upon Thee, O Lord, and Thou givest them their meat in due season; Thou openest Thine hand and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.”  His Word and promise thus become your prayer back to Him.

And so it is that you persist and prevail in prayer because the Lord Jesus persists and prevails in His preaching of the Gospel and the giving of His good gifts.  He persists in drawing near to you, in the flesh, in His means of grace.  He continues to come as the true Man who strives and wrestles with you, that you might lay hold of Him, and strive and wrestle with Him, by faith in His Word.

It is by the means of grace, which the Lord Jesus places into your ears, and into your mouth, and into your body, that you are able to pray at all times and not lose heart, but rather to persevere in the faith and hope and confidence of Christ Jesus Himself, crucified and risen from the dead.

Have you not wondered why it is that the Lord puts Jacob’s hip out of joint as He wrestles with him?  And the Scriptures make such a point of it, which does seem kind of strange, does it not?

The Lord is very deliberate and precise in what He does.  The hip or thigh, the very place where He touches Jacob, is the place where oaths are sworn, as when Abraham made his servant swear that he would find a wife for Isaac from among his own people.  It is also near the loins, and from the loins of Jacob would come the Christ, the promised Seed.  As the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, it is already in the loins of Abraham that Isaac and Jacob and the Christ sojourn in the Land.

And in the fulness of time, when the dear Lord Jesus Christ was cruelly nailed to the Cross, not a bone of Him was broken, to be sure, but His bones were put out of socket and out of joint.  You cannot nail a man’s feet to a piece of wood without doing serious harm to his joints and sockets.  It is rather like the violence of a hip replacement or knee replacement surgery, as some of you have gone through (and Herta this past week).  A body does not easily conform to the wood of a cross.

The Lord puts Jacob’s hip out of joint, and it becomes a remembrance and a sign for the people of Israel, because the Seed of Jacob, the Seed of Israel, the true Israel, would in due season have His hip put out of joint in His sacrifice upon the Cross.  And as He has done and suffered that for you and for all, so do His prayer and His preaching avail for you on earth as it is in heaven.  As surely as Christ has died and Christ is risen, so surely are your prayers heard and answered in His Name.

The heart and center of it all — of the High Priesthood of Christ and His Prayer and Intercession for you, which are yours by His grace and received in faith and with thanksgiving — the heart and center of it all is not to be found on some high distant mountain where you must travel.  It is not at the end of the rainbow, and it is not discovered or achieved by the labors of your own hands.  It is indeed right here, on this Altar, in the Body and Blood of the Son of God, Christ Jesus.

Here, more intimately and more surely than anywhere else, the one Man who prevailed with both God and man prevails for you.  And the same Body and the same Blood that have been offered to God once for all, as a Sacrifice of Atonement for the sins of the world, that same Body and Blood are given to you, into your body, so that you are bound together and knit with God in and by and with Christ Jesus.  And the same Blood that now appeals for you before God in heaven, the Blood of the New Covenant, the Blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is now also poured out for you here.

That is what it means when He says, “This Cup is the New Testament, or the New Covenant, in My Blood.”  It is the sacred Contract that He has signed and sealed with His own Lifeblood, by which you and God are bound together for good.  His Blood is both His prayer and His preaching.  It is how He lays hold of God and wrestles with Him and refuses to let go until you are blessed; and it is the means by which He lays hold of you and refuses to let go until you are blessed.

It is especially in this way, by this means, that the Lord your God does not forget His promises; He does not forget His people, and He does not forget you, no matter how forgotten you may feel.  No, the Lord remembers His Covenant, and He remembers His Israel; He remembers His Christ, and in Christ Jesus He remembers you.  And, remembering, He acts.  He forgives.  And He gives life.  That is His “Yes” and “Amen” to your prayers.  And that is His Life and Salvation for you.

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

13 October 2019

The Father Is Well Pleased to Give You His Kingdom in Christ

Said the robin to the sparrow, “I should really like to know why these anxious human beings rush about and worry so.”  Said the sparrow to the robin, “Friend, I think that it must be, that they have no heavenly Father such as cares for you and me.”

But of course, as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ does indeed care for the robins and sparrows, and even the young ravens which do cry, so much the more does He provide and care for all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, created in His own Image and Likeness for Life everlasting.  And all the more so, yet again, does He feed and clothe, shelter, and protect, in both body and soul, all those whom He has called and gathered to Himself by the Gospel, whom He has named with His Name, anointed with His Holy Spirit, and adopted as His children in Christ Jesus.

Do not worry, then, about your body and life in this world.  Be responsible and diligent in doing your duties, to be sure, but do not be anxious and afraid, and be not consumed with concerns, especially for things that are beyond your control and outside of your responsibilities.

It is one thing to maintain a godly concern for others, and to serve faithfully within your God-given calling and stations in life.  But to worry, to be anxious, is to presume that everything depends on you.  As though you were the one to feed the ravens and clothe the lilies.  As though you were the one to make the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the evil and the good.  As though you were capable of opening your hand to satisfy the wants and needs of every living thing.

Repent of your self-idolatry, and stop fretting and fussing about your temporal body and life, about your meals and your wardrobe.  There is far more to real life than food and clothing — that is, not the wealth and riches that you covet and the whole world chases after, but the forgiveness of your sins, the resurrection of your body, and the Life everlasting of your body and soul with the Lord.

Do not invest yourself in that which does not last, and do not stress yourself over that which cannot save you.  Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings, which contradict and compete with the Word of the Lord.  What your fathers and mothers in Christ heard, believed, confessed, and taught in this place remains true, as sure as Christ Himself is and remains the Truth forever.

When that same Lord Jesus Christ admonishes you not to worry, He is urging you to live by faith.  To set your heart upon God.  To fear, love, and trust in Him for all that you need in all that you do.  You are not to worry and fret with great anxiety, which is idolatrous and unfaithful.  Such worry and fear are a kind of self-righteousness which destroys both faith and love.  Rather, living in faith, you simply do what you are given to do, wherever God has put you in this world, whatever your place in life may be, whatever your office and stations.  There do your part to love and serve and help, not as though your life depended on it, but because your life is given to you by God.

This Word of your dear Lord Jesus does not simply bring your sins into the light.  It also calls you to repentance and faith — both of which are His work, not yours.  That is to say, He calls you away from yourself and your sins to your Father in heaven, to His grace and mercy and forgiveness, and to His gracious providence of all that you need for your body and soul, for now and forever.

He calls you to live as a carefree child in your Father’s home.  You know what that’s like.  Little children don’t worry about where their clean clothes or their next meal are going to come from; they simply trust and take for granted that Mom and Dad are going to provide whatever they need.  So it is for you, as well; and that is how you are to live, without stressing about your basic needs.

As God clothes the lilies entirely by His grace — more gloriously than Solomon adorned himself — so has the One greater than Solomon, the true Son of David, the true King of Peace, the true Temple of God, Christ Jesus, who accomplished your salvation by His Cross and Resurrection, also clothed you in His righteousness and glory in the waters of your Holy Baptism

Though you are like the grass which withers and fades, yet you are beloved of the Lord your God, who daily and richly provides you with all that you need.  Not only for this body and life, 125 years and counting, but for the Resurrection and the Life everlasting with Himself in body and soul.

Instead of seeking after temporal, perishable things, which is a waste of your life and a waste of your time and energy, Jesus teaches you to seek the Kingdom of His God and Father, in which you have life forever, and all good things are yours, all by His grace.

So, then, seek the Lord where He may be found; call upon Him while He is near — which is right here in His House, in the Breaking of the Bread — where He abides with you, reveals and gives Himself to you, makes known His salvation to you, and bestows His righteousness upon you.

Everyone who is thirsty, come here to the waters of Baptism, to the remembrance and ongoing significance of your Holy Baptism in the Name of the Lord.  Come, buy and eat, without money and without cost, the Bread and Wine (the Milk and Honey) of the Holy Communion.  Incline your ear and come to the Lord, and listen carefully to His Word and the preaching of it, that you may live by faith in His Gospel.  Delight yourself in the abundance of His House.

Here on earth, in this body and life, you do not have a lasting city.  Not even our churches and beloved congregations last forever, though they presently serve an eternal purpose.  But even so, we are seeking the City which is to come and will remain, whose Architect and Builder is God, the Lord.  And now that City is sought and found in the Ministry of the Gospel, within the Church on earth, having been established forever in the crucified and risen Body of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As that is where your heart and your treasure are found — in the heavenly places, at the right hand of the Throne of God, in Christ, yet given and poured out for you here in His Church — so invest yourself there by doing good and sharing with others, as the Lord does good and shares with you.

As the Lord preaches and teaches His Word to you, confess what He has spoken.  Pray, praise, give thanks, and sing His Word to the glory of His Holy Name and for the benefit of your neighbors, as also for the exercise and strengthening of your own faith and life in Christ Jesus.

And as the same Lord Jesus Christ visits you in peace, shelters and protects you within His House, adorns you with His righteousness and holiness, and feeds you at His Altar with His Body and His Blood, so visit and welcome your neighbors with mercy and compassion, cover the naked and feed the hungry, and persevere in the righteousness of Christ Jesus, in holy faith and holy love.

Instead of anxiety and worry, instead of scrambling to get and hording to keep, give generously, love courageously, and sacrifice boldly.  For when your heart is fixed upon God in Christ Jesus, who loves you and freely provides you with all that you need for now and forever, you are free to love and serve your neighbors here on earth in the hope and promise of the Resurrection.

So also, as a congregation, as all things are given to you freely in the Ministry of the Gospel, you are free to hand over what you have received from the Lord.  As you live by His Charity — by His grace alone — so do you live in charity for your neighbors on earth.

In faith toward God and with fervent love for one another, abide in the Lord’s House in the City of God, even now on earth as it is in heaven.  Follow the cloudy pillar of Holy Baptism.  Keep the testimony and ordinance of the New Testament in Christ’s Blood.  For the Lord is great in Zion, that is, within His Church.  Though He is high above all the nations, He comes near to you here.

The Kingdom of God is not something you can see or experience with your outward senses in this fallen world.  You hear it and know it, and you have it, by faith in the Word and promises of God: under the Cross, in apparent contradiction, in foolishness and weakness.  Sin and death continue in yourself and in your neighbors.  So it may seem as though God’s promises were null and void, or as though He had forgotten all about them.  Or, they may seem so impossible and contrary to fact that they simply couldn’t be true, as sometimes seemed to be the case with Father Abraham.

Consider what a little flock your congregation is, over against the big, bad world around you.  Many of your sister congregations are just as small.  And the entire Church on earth is under duress, under attack on all sides, outwardly outnumbered and outgunned, surrounded by hostility.

But in the face of it all, in the very midst of adversity, hardship, and persecution, you are called — and the entire Church is called upon — to fear, love, and trust in our God and Father in heaven: All for the sake of our one Lord, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead for our salvation.

He, too, has been small and frail and beleaguered, surrounded by His foes, crucified, put to death, and buried.  But His God and Father in heaven has given Him the Kingdom, the Resurrection and the Life, and all authority in heaven and on earth.  And these He gives to you.  For though His holy Apostles were also few in number, weak by all the standards of the world, a little flock of sheep in the midst of wolves, He sent them to preach His Word, to baptize and absolve in His Name, and to feed His lambs and sheep around the world with His Body given and His Blood poured out.  Though they were martyred for His Gospel and His Name, their labors were not in vain.  His holy Christian Church has survived and spread throughout the world, also here to you.  Do not think, because you are such a little flock, that your Shepherd has forgotten you.  Not once.  Not ever.

Though you have been fearful, He has been steadfast.  Though you have been anxious and worried about many things, He has been faithful in all things — on your behalf.  And He is still faithful.  For He remains always the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

Even when steeples are falling, the Church is preserved both by and for the Ministry of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, by and for the confession of His Holy Name.  Even in lowliness and littleness, the Lord is holy and great in the midst of His people, forgiving their sins and sanctifying them in body and soul for the Resurrection and the Life everlasting with Him.

The Word which goes forth from His mouth — in the preaching of the Holy Gospel — will not return to Him empty.  His Word is living and active; it does and gives exactly what it says.  It will accomplish what He desires.  It will succeed in the purpose for which He speaks it.  As indeed it has for these past 125 years, and as it continues to do and accomplish, right here in Rensselaer.

The Lord has made an everlasting Covenant with you.  It is sure and certain, steadfast, and true in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, given and poured out for you and for the many to eat and to drink in faith and with thanksgiving.

How blessed you are, dear children of God!  For here you abide in the House of your Father.  You need not worry about what you will eat and drink, nor about what you will wear.  For all that you need has been provided.  Your Father has sacrificed the Passover Lamb.  His Blood now marks your door.  Death shall not rob you of your life, and it shall not snatch you from this Sanctuary.

Here is your true fatherland, the country you’ve been waiting for.  Here is the City of your God, wherein you have found a home and family with Christ Jesus, the beloved and well-pleasing Son.  Here is the Altar from which you are given to eat what He sacrificed once-for-all upon the Cross.

As you are gathered here, a little flock around the Lamb of God who takes away your sins, who has such tender mercy and deep compassion for you, so are you granted His peace and hope and confidence and a Treasure in the heavens that does not fail or fade away forever.  Lift up your heart and mind to Him who loves you, to Jesus Christ, your Savior, who has risen from the dead and ever lives to make intercession for you before the Throne of God.  And through Him offer a sacrifice of praise to your Father in heaven, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His Name, now and forever.

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

06 October 2019

The Life of Discipleship

The life of discipleship is to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, the Crucified One, even unto death upon His Cross, and so to enter with Him into the Resurrection of His Body and the Life everlasting.  So, too, the life of discipleship within His Church on earth is the fellowship of forgiven sinners, gathered together by His grace in the faith of His Gospel, in love for Him and for each other.

Faith and Love.  As always, that is the sum and substance of the Christian life in Christ Jesus.  Faith and love govern your stewardship of money and stuff, as the Lord Jesus has catechized you over the past several weeks.  And it is faith and love that likewise govern your life in His Church.

In your life together as Christians — within your families; in relation to your classmates, comrades, or co-workers; and especially in your fellowship with one another as brothers and sisters of the one Lord, Jesus Christ, as sons and daughters of His one God and Father, sharing one Holy Baptism in His Name, one Holy Gospel, one Holy Communion, and the anointing of one Holy Spirit — faith and love find their center and their chief exercise in daily repentance and forgiveness of sins.

Repentance and Forgiveness.  These are your heartbeat and your respiration as a Christian disciple, baptized into Christ Jesus.  They pulse and breathe with the catechesis and confession of Christ, who was crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification.  That is how you live before God, by faith in His Word, in the righteousness and purity, innocence and blessedness of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And that is how you are to live in love for your neighbors in the world.

Let’s face it, though, that’s hard to do, because you are a sinner, and your neighbor is a sinner, too.  It is inevitable that you and your neighbor are going to stumble and fall in your relationship with each other, sometimes stumbling into each other and crashing, at other times falling away and drifting apart.  That’s not okay, but it’s still going to happen (and your flesh is inclined to let it).

Thank God for the recourse of the Fifth Petition, that is, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” whereby our Lord Jesus and our dear Father in heaven draw a line through the entire ledger and absolve all of our debts and trespasses and sins.  God knows you need that provision and daily recourse, and He daily and richly provides it through the Gospel.

Seven times a day, or seventy times seven, as the case may be, as often as you fall short and fail, the Lord calls you to repentance and to faith in His forgiveness of your sins.  Such long-suffering patience, compassion, and mercy flow in and with and from His great heart of love for you.  And that divine Love shall not fail, because it rests securely and forever in the Resurrection of Christ.

So that is how you are to love your neighbor, too, especially your brother or sister in Christ.  Seven times a day, or seventy times seven, as often as he or she trespasses against you, rebuke in love, readily forgive, and gladly do good.  Thus do you take up the Cross for your neighbor, as Christ the Lord has done for you and for all people.  That is how you are to live and love as His disciple.

By the same token, wherever you have sinned against your neighbor; wherever you have hurt instead of helped; wherever you have caused your brother or sister to stumble; and wherever you have harbored anger and refused to forgive — Repent.  Become entirely new.  Drown yourself in the deep blue sea of your Baptism into Christ.  Be crucified and buried with Him by your Baptism into His death.  Die to your sin, and put your old Adam to death by contrition and repentance.

What does that mean?  And what does that look like in practice?  Confess your faults, and make amends where you are able.  In humility be reconciled to your neighbor.  Heal the hurt that you have caused, and begin to help wherever you can.  Speak the truth in love.  Let go of your anger in the peace of Christ Jesus.  And forgive those who have hurt you.

It’s not as though sin were “no big deal,” and it’s not as though you could save yourself.  Indeed, sin is deadly and damnable, and you are not at all able to bring yourself to life.  But as Christ has sacrificed Himself upon the Cross, and as the same Lord Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, He has abolished death forever, and He has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.  He forgives you all your sins, and He saves you from death and hell for eternal Life with Himself.

Therefore, resist the devil and he will flee from you; he must, he has no choice, for he has been defeated once-for-all by the Cross.  But trust Christ Jesus and live, for He is most certainly true.

Do not grow weary of doing good.  Rather, persisting in patience, with steadfast faith in the Lord, love your neighbor and forgive his sins against you.  Not for the sake of any thanks or praise or benefit, but simply for the sake of Christ Jesus, because it is the good and right thing to do.

Do good, because it is your duty.  Such love is the fulfillment of the Law, which does no harm to the neighbor but covers his sins in mercy, carries his burdens with charity and compassion, and bears with him in peace.  That is your Lord’s command, and that is your neighbor’s need.

So live and love like that, and do not despair or lose heart.

It is hard, to be sure.  Honestly, it is impossible for your sinful mortal flesh — except Christ Jesus raise you up and recreate you in His own Image and Likeness.

Take a cue from the example of the Lord’s Apostles, then, and pray: “Lord, increase our faith!”  “We believe, but help, Thou, our unbelief!”

How else shall you be patient and forgive and do good, when you are so tempted, tried, and tested by a world of sinners, and you yourself are also sinful and unclean?

Is it not a real pain?  Is it not tedious and wearisome to put up with your neighbors, with all their faults and failings?  Well, be sure that goes both ways, as you also are descended from Adam and Eve.  And yet, for all of that, the dear Lord Jesus loves both you and all your neighbors.  He bears with you, He forgives you, and He helps you — again and again and again.

No matter how difficult your life may be; no matter how challenging your duties; no matter how heavy your burdens; no matter how long and hard your labors may be; no matter how much you sweat and bleed; and no matter how much you accomplish and achieve by your efforts, you won’t ever do more than what you ought to do.  You never will “overdo it” with faith or love.

Your Lord is not unreasonable or unfair in what He asks of you, but you shall never exceed what He has commanded.  You are an unworthy servant.  At best you have only done what is your duty.  But you have not done all that you should, whereas you have done what you should not.

Yet, the Lord Jesus is not only fair in His commands, but He Himself completes and fulfills, satisfies, and supersedes His whole Law for you.  How’s that for a gracious Master?  Not only is He reasonable in what He assigns, but He also does the entire job on your behalf!  That which you should do, He does for you.  And that which you ought to suffer, He suffers in your place.

As He commands you to love and serve and forgive and care for your neighbor, so much the more does He love and serve and forgive and care for you.

Does He not lay down His life for you in love?  Does He not gird Himself to serve you, to wash your dirty feet, to wait on you, to feed you with His Body and His Blood?  Does He not speak His Word of Holy Absolution, with no strings attached, and by it fully and freely forgive you all your sins?  And does He not daily and richly provide you with all that you need for both body and soul, for this life on earth, and for the Resurrection to eternal Life in heaven?

Surely He does all of this and more.  He reveals and gives Himself to you, with all His fruits and benefits, with all His grace, mercy, and peace, by His Ministry of the Gospel.  For He has not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His own Body and Life as a Ransom for many.  For you!

It is true that, as your Lord and Master, He commands you to work in love for your neighbors, to feed and clothe them with patient charity, even as you wait upon the Resurrection of the body and the Life everlasting.  In doing so unto even the least of these little ones of His, you do so unto your Lord Jesus.  But He Himself is already doing no less than all of this for you, all by His grace alone.

Who, then, is the greatest?  The one who reclines at the table and eats, or the one who stands and serves?  Is it not the one who reclines and eats?  Yet, the Lord Jesus is here with you as the One who girds Himself to serve you.  He invites you to recline at His Table, to eat and drink from His own hand, to feast upon His Body and His Blood, and so to be served by Him.  For His greatness is His mercy.  His almighty power and strength are in His gracious providence and loving service.

His Glory is the willing sacrifice of His Cross and His free and full salvation of sinners.

Be patient, therefore, as you bear His Cross, and as you love and serve your neighbors within your various stations in life, as a Christian disciple of Jesus.  Be sure that what you suffer in faith and love is neither pointless nor in vain.  Though you are surrounded and oppressed by the wicked, the Lord shall vindicate you at the proper time.  Though justice is frequently perverted in this world, your righteousness is sure and certain — not in yourself, but in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.  He is your Justification, and you live by faith in Him, by the grace of His Gospel.

Even when He rebukes you for your sins and calls you to repentance, He does so in love, in His mercy and compassion for you, in order to recall you to Himself through faith in His forgiveness.

It is certain that He is and remains always faithful.  And as He has called you to the holy calling of discipleship, as He has named you with His own Name and bound you to Himself, and as He has bound Himself to you, He shall not deny you.  He shall never leave you nor forsake you.  As He drowns you in the waters of your Baptism and puts you to death every day with all your sins and evil desires, so does He raise you up each day to newness of faith and life and love and peace.

Your faith and life are His good work and His free gift.  Return thanks for that grace of God, which He has granted you by the Gospel and delivered to you by the loving service of your parents and pastors and others.  Give thanks to God for those people through whom He serves you, and rejoice in the privilege that you are now also given to serve others in the same way — your children and grandchildren, as the Lord so provides, or whomever else the Lord may entrust to your care.

Even when your faith is weak and weary, a dimly burning wick, so small and struggling to survive, it is sustained by the Gospel of the Lord’s forgiveness, and in Him it receives and lays hold of the Atonement of His Cross and the righteousness of His Resurrection from the dead.  Such is the power of repentance and the authority of His forgiveness.  That is to say, all that Christ Jesus is, and everything that He has done for you and accomplished on your behalf, it is all now pressed into your hand and laid upon your heart and soul, your body, mind, and spirit, by His grace through the Gospel.  Thus, He is yours, and you are His, and He is with you always.  He is for you forever, and thus do you live, in and with Him, unto the Life everlasting.

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