Sermons on the Our Father (Part 2)

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgiven and gladly do good to those who sin against us.

This petition has to do with our poor, miserable lives as sinner-saints. It is a prayer grounded in reality. We are the children of God, justified and holy in His sight as He gazes on us through crucified and risen Jesus. We are new creations in Christ Jesus through Baptism. Yet the old sinful nature remains, like a hulking wreck of a building awaiting its destruction. Though we have God’s name and His kingdom, though He exerts His will to save us and are fed in this life for the life to come with daily bread, nevertheless we daily stumble and sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment. The reflexes of our old selves are too strong. The habits of our heart turned from God are too ingrained. We sin in thought, word, and deed; by what we do and by what we fail to do.

That God doesn’t punish us, or anyone, is His gift of grace in Jesus. That Jesus Himself teaches us to pray for forgiveness is also God’s grace and gift.

Like every petition, this one is for our benefit, not God’s. God forgives even before we ask for forgiveness or even think of it. If God hadn’t already granted us the gift of faith and forgiveness, we would never be so bold as to ask to be forgiven. Without our prayer, out of His own goodness and mercy, God has sent His Son to die for all. He has given us the Gospel and the sacraments, which are nothing but pure forgiveness. He has given us the church and pastors to speak forgiveness of sins in His stead. All of this He does without our asking or invitation.

Just as we pray for daily bread, so we must pray for daily forgiveness. The Christian life is not one “once forgiven, always forgiven,” or “once saved, always saved,” but continually and daily saved and forgiven by grace through faith for Jesus’ sake. Were it not for this continual application of the death and resurrection of Christ to our lives, we would quickly be drawn into the muck and mire of our sinfulness, become self-absorbed with our guilt, and be drawn away from Christ and the Gospel. Our prayers would falter and our petitions would cease if we were not continually under the shelter of Christ’s forgiveness. Where our hearts are not right with God and our conscience is not quiet, we will be defensive toward God, fearful of Him. We will find ourselves praying according to the law, with our credentials, reminding God of all the good things we have done for Him lately and how obligated He is to help us. We will begin to pray like the pharisee who boasted how much better he was than other men, instead of like the tax collector, who couldn’t even lift his eyes toward heaven.

This petition flattens the field. We pray as fellow sinners for ourselves and our fellow sinners. Forgive us. This petition breaks our religious pride and keeps us humble beggars before God. Anyone who would boast in his or her goodness and look down on the wickedness of others must hear this petition. And anyone who prays this petition cannot look down on another, no matter how great that a sinner that person might be.

People who gripe over coffee or beer about their neighbors and make judgments concerning the miserable state of things in general are often themselves the most severe and judgmental. They resent having the law applied to themselves. They hate hearing sin-talk in church, applied to them. Outside the church, adjustments and accommodations can be made. Little pockets of pride can be carved out. Outside the church we can bemoan the breakdown of the family, the loss of morals and values in our culture, and the violence of our society without recognizing our own contribution to the breakdown of our families, our own inner immorality which may or may not manifest itself in outward action, and our own anger, prejudice and hatred.

But inside the church, sin must be taken absolutely seriously. In church sin is not a social condition, a disease, or the product of the past. Here you can’t simply grouse and complain about sin, vote it out of office, legislate it out of existence, or twelve step it under control. Sin must be killed, drowned in Baptism, nailed to the cross, dealt to death in the death of Jesus, before it damns you. Nailed to the cross of Jesus by faith, it is less easy to point the finger at Adolph Hitler or Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer or your neighbor. Here I must examine myself and see what my part I play in the collapse of the creation. Redemption, new creation, comes when I am forgiven for Jesus’ sake.

Forgiveness pours vertically from God to us, and then runs horizontally, from us to our neighbor. It is like the rain that showers down from the heavens and then runs along the channels of streams and creek beds. It is like a waterfall that gushes downward then turns into a river flowing and moving outward. God forgives, and His forgiveness propels His forgiven people to forgive. Our prayer for forgiveness and our forgiving others is offered in one, seamless, unbroken petition prayed in a single breath: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Forgiveness cannot be hoarded. It’s impossible to store for another day. It’s like the air we breath – inhaled and exhaled, but no holding your breath, at least not for every long. Forgiveness is made to flow, like the blood and water from Jesus’ side, from God to us and through us to those around us. Any blockage in the horizontal channel results in a back up in the vertical. Just as it is true that one cannot forgive without first being forgiven, it is also true that those who refuse to forgive others also refuse to be forgiven themselves and so shut off the flow of forgiveness from God “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Failure to forgive others as we have been forgiven is a contradiction of the cross of Jesus Christ. It is a contradiction in two ways. First, it contradicts Christ’s death once for all. If Christ died for all, then all are forgiven in Christ. And who are we to hold a grudge against one for whom Christ died? Second, unforgiveness on our part indicates that we do not fully grasp the size of the debt we have been forgiven by God. We imagine that we are “pretty good people” and measure out our forgiveness to other in proportion to the amount of forgiveness that we perceive we need.

Luther accurately translated this petition: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. There are many different words for sin in the Scripture. Sin is “missing the mark,” in the sense that it dehumanizes us. Sin is transgression, in the sense that we cross over and violate the boundaries and limits set by God. Sin is also a debt, an obligation of obedience that we owe God but cannot pay. The debt we have rung up is huge. We cannot pay it.

The word “debt” connects us to a parable that Jesus told concerning forgiveness. It comes on the heels of Peter’s attempt to pare down forgiveness to a more manageable size. Peter wanted to limit his forgiveness to a mere seven times. Jesus takes Peter’s puny pardon and multiplies to a heavenly seventy times seven. That’s how often we are to forgive others when they sin against us. And even that nowhere near approximates the size of the debt we have been forgiven by God.

Jesus told the story of a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. It turns out that one of his servants owed him millions of dollars. Out of sheer mercy, the king forgave the servant his debt and sent him on his way a free man. The servant in turn was owed a few dollars by a fellow servant. But the forgiven servant had his fellow servant thrown in debtor’s prison until the debt had been fully paid. When the king received word of this, he immediately summoned the servant he had forgiven and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And the king sent the servant to the jailors until the debt was paid.

We do the same. We minimize our debt to God. We maximize the debt of others to us. We want to get even. But Jesus warns, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” God has broken the vicious cycle of revenge. Grudges have no place with the free citizens of his kingdom. To not forgive another is to come under bondage, to renounce our own freedom. It is to return to the prison house of the law, keeping score on our spouses, our neighbors, the nations. If God has tossed away the tally sheets, why do we insist on hanging on to them? Unforgiveness diminishes our view and expectation of God’s forgiveness. It presumes that forgiveness is our work rather than God’s work. Stinginess on our part to forgive implies that God is stingy with His forgiveness, and ultimately we are robbed of comfort.

We must be very careful here. We do not pray, “Forgive us our debts because we have forgiven our debtors,” but “as we forgive our debtors.” Forgiving others is not the precondition for forgiveness or a credential for our prayer. “See how forgiving I am, O Lord.” Our forgiving others is the eagerly expected outcome and fruit of God’s forgiveness, but not the cause. God takes the initiative. He makes the first, bold, reckless move. He forgives us, unconditionally. Then we forgive one another, unconditionally. That is the radically new way of life for those who have been freed from their bondage to sin. We are free to forgive.

It changes our perspective. We see the size of our debt before God in the body of Jesus nailed to the cross. God made him sin for us, in our place. That is your debt hanging on the cross, paid for in the crucified flesh of Christ. The books have been reconciled. The debtor’s prison has been shut. The bankruptcy court has been adjourned. You are reconciled to God in Christ. Whatever stands between us and others is loose pocket change compared to what stood between God and us.

We acknowledge that when we exchange the peace of the Lord before receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. We are reconciled with God and with one another by the sacrificial Body and Blood of Jesus. No longer may we indulge in the luxury of nursing grudges. We must renounce every break of love, for Christ makes us one in His body. That was taken with tremendous seriousness in the ancient church. Not permitted at church altars were church members whose bishops had doctrinal debts. Within the congregation, quarreling members could not commune until they were first reconciled and absolved, for their quarreling contradicted the Body and the Blood of Christ.

St. Paul wrote to the Colossian congregation: Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Col. 3:12-13)

It seems like a tall order, this life of forgiveness. But remember that Jesus prays this petition to our Father along with us as our brother. He is the only One in the family who does not have to pray “Forgive me my sins.” He has no sin to forgive. The sin He bore to the cross and to His death was ours. His victory over sin and death He gives to us, delivered in Holy Baptism, in Holy Absolution, in the Lord’s Supper, in the reconciling Word in all its wonderful ways. We live the sacramental reality of that forgiveness, forgiving other out of the overflow of Jesus’ victory. But then it’s no longer we who forgive, but Christ in and through us who forgives.

Luther summarized this petition with a little prayer: Dear Father, I come to you praying for forgiveness, not because I can make satisfaction or merit anything by my works, but because you have given the promise and have set your seal to it, making it as certain as an absolution pronounced by yourself.

The flow of forgiveness has an undertow, a backflow of assurance and comfort to the forgiver. As we hear ourselves forgiving others, we are hearing the fruit of the forgiveness that God in Christ has given us. Our forgiveness is a comfort and assurance of God’s forgiveness. When a husband says to his wife, “I forgive you,” or a wife to her husband, or a parent to a child, or a child to a parent, whenever a Christian forgives another, that is the sound of God’s forgiveness at work, spilling over, having its forgiving and reconciling way with both the forgiver and the one forgiven. “I forgive you.” Did you hear that? Listen for it. That’s the sound of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Lead us not into temptation.

What does this mean? God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.

“The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.” Jesus could see the Tempter at work in His disciples. On the night when Jesus was betrayed to death, a time when their prayers should have been most intense and focused, with bellies full of the Passover, and more, His disciples slept while Jesus prayed. “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

Jesus knew that He was putting His disciples on the front lines with Him. They were sent into the world, behind the royal banner of His cross. They were sent to actively engage a world that hated God, that crucified God in the flesh, that would seek their death as well. They were sent to be “in the world but not of the world,” as Jesus Himself is. They were not cloistered away in a monastery or convent or hermetically sealed up their own little corner of the world. Jesus sent them out into the world as fully human creatures, filled with passions and emotions and loves and concerns. They would be tempted, and all the more because they were disciples of the Lord Jesus.

All the disciples had for their defense, and the very best they had, was this tiny petition: “Lead us not into temptation.” Jesus knows that though we have the entire forgiveness of our sins in His name, that we have His body and blood, that we have already been crucified, buried, and raised with Him in Baptism, nevertheless we still have our stubborn sinful flesh born of Adam hanging about our necks. We have the world, which pushes our buttons daily and drives us to anger and impatience. We have the devil, the Tempter and Evil One, the Father of all Lies and Death, who fires his flaming darts of deception into our hearts to cause us to despise and neglect God’s gifts of His Word, Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper and to seek false terms of peace with God. We are constantly surrounded on every side by temptation, both from without and from within. And so we must daily pray: “Lead us not into temptation.”

God tempts no one. Make no mistake about that. Temptation is not God’s doing. James writes, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death.” The triune God is not behind our temptations – the unholy trinity of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh are. And they will pursue and torment us to the grave. But God tempts no one.

God does permit temptation to come upon us, however. Make no mistake about that, either. The disciple’s prayer is not, “Our Father, give me a life of ease, free from worry and temptation, and please don’t ever let anything bad or painful happen to me.” That is not the kind of prayer that Christ who hung on a cross would teach His disciples to pray. Temptation is not removed from the life of the Christian. Instead it is amplified and accented. To be human is to be tempted. Christ is most fully human and He was most fully tempted of all men by the devil and by the world, but not by His flesh for His flesh was without sin. To be a Christian, to die and live in Christ by faith, is to be most fully human, and most fully tempted.

Temptation is both testing and seduction. It is the devil’s seduction to taste of forbidden fruit, to reach over the limit of God’s Word and to be “like God” experiencing good and evil apart from God. Yet the same temptation is also testing. God takes the devil’s attempt to seduce us and uses it to exercise and strengthen our faith in Christ. Just as a muscle needs to be stretched and strained in order to become hard and strong, so faith in Christ needs to be exercised in the daily temptations of this life, as we are continually tested to see whether we will act like the baptismally reborn children of God that we are, or go back to the way of our natural birth as children of Adam.

The strongest Christians are often sorely tempted. St. Paul warned the spiritually secure Corinthians, “Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” And then the apostle goes on to provide assurance in the midst of temptation. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

“Lead us not into temptation.” We are praying that God would guard and protect us from false identity, false meaning, false security. That He would bury our old Adam in the death of Jesus, that Jesus Christ would be our God and that we would look nowhere else for peace but to His wounds presented to us in the Word and the Sacrament, that He would be our shelter when everything around us is falling apart, that He would hide us in Christ as He hid Moses in the cleft of the rock.

We are praying that God would block every path and destroy every idol that leads to unbelief, shame, despair, and death. We are praying that God would give us the will and the strength to flee every temptation with the same terror as Joseph fleeing Potiphar’s seductive wife. We are praying that God would teach us to use His Word against temptation, as Jesus did in His one on one encounter with the devil in the wilderness. We are praying that God would keep us alert in prayer by His Holy Spirit, so that we would not succumb to the drowsiness of the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Like the first three petitions of the Our Father, this one too is dangerous. We are placing into jeopardy the very things that tempt and distract us – our property, possessions, honor, family, success, self-esteem. And we are demanding that God would free us from anything that would cause us to doubt His Word of life and forgiveness spoken to us through His Son, that He would send us into battle fully clothed with the whole armor of God, so that we may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

To feel temptation is quite a different thing from consenting and yielding to it. The drunkard may pray, “lead us not into temptation,” but if he prays it while walking through the doors of a bar, it is not a petition which he intends for God to take seriously. Likewise a thief planning his next theft. Or an adulterer planning an adultery. Or a Christian planning to skip church. We will all feel temptation at one time or another. Young people are tempted by the things of the flesh, by pleasure and play. Older people are tempted by power, prestige and possessions. Others are tempted in spiritual matters by grave doubts and feelings of unbelief and despair. But we cannot be harmed by the mere feeling of temptation, no matter how strong it may be, so long as we struggle against it with the Word of God and prayer, and desire to be rid of such feelings once and for all.

Our comfort in every temptation is that Christ was tempted for us, and it is Christ who is tempted in us, and it is Christ who prays this petition with us. He is our strength and our victory. He has conquered the Tempter for us by dying on the cross, and we need not, indeed must not, go it alone. This petition guards and protects us from trying to deal with temptation apart from Jesus. Were we to try and go it alone without Him, we would only make things worse. But Christ has conquered the Tempter for us, and in Christ we are more than conquerors, with this petition on our lips. “Lead us not into temptation.”

But deliver us from evil.

What does this mean? We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.

In the Greek, this petition reads, “Deliver us from the Evil One.” Evil is not an abstract concept. Evil is personified and personalized as the work of the Evil One, the devil, Satan, the prince of darkness masquerading as an angel of light. He is the source of all trouble and mischief in the world: poverty, shame, misery, tragedy, suicide, flood, fire, hunger, war, plague, pestilence, disease, death, damnation. He takes the good gifts of God and uses in a Lie against God that God is not true to His Word. He taught Adam and Eve the Lie. He seeks to teach us the same Lie. “For if God did not support us, we would not be safe from him for a single hour.”

To personify evil in the person of the Evil One is not to relinquish personal responsibility. We are accountable for our actions. We are never permitted to play the blame game before God and say, as Eve said, “the devil made me do it.” The devil is powerless to make anyone do anything. His sole power is in his seductive Lie that says, “You can do anything you want to do and get away with it. You can be like God, experience good and evil.” But the devil doesn’t make you do anything. He must be prayed against daily. “Deliver us from the Evil One and the evil that he brings.”

Deliver us from false religion and false living, that does not hallow your Name, O Lord. Deliver us from every rule that competes with your gracious rule. Deliver us from every will that wars against your good and gracious will. Deliver us from everything that keeps daily bread from our tables. Deliver us from the refusal of your forgiveness and the refusal to forgive. Deliver us from every form of temptation that would turn us from you. In summary, deliver us from the evil one.

This petition is prayed last, not first. First God’s name must be made holy among us, on our lips and in our lives. First, God’s kingdom must come among us with His Word and Spirit. First, God’s will to save us must be exerted over us. Only then may we pray, “Deliver us from evil.” We are not praying to avoid conflict with the Evil One, we are praying in the heat of the conflict, with the enemy firing upon us hot and heavy, that God would deliver us from the assaults of the evil one, up to our last hour and breath.

To pray “deliver us from evil,” is ultimately to pray for a blessed death and departure from this life, that we die confident in the Lord Jesus and not in ourselves, and that He graciously take us from this valley of sorrow called “this life” to Himself in heaven. It is to pray with the confidence of St. Paul, who, facing his certain death, wrote, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil and save me for his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18). To be delivered from the evil one is ultimately to die in the certainty of the resurrection of the dead in Christ Jesus.

In one sense, our deliverance from evil has already occurred in our Baptism. “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). In another sense, our Baptism has yet to be brought to its fulfillment in our death and resurrection. Now we have eternal life by faith. But we do not as yet have it by sight. And so when we pray, “deliver us from evil,” we are praying to possess by sight what we now possess by faith in Jesus Christ crucified for us.

“Our Father, deliver us from evil, both now and in the hour of our death.”

Amen.

What does this mean? This means that I should be certain that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven, and are heard by Him; for He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us. Amen, amen means “yes, yes, it shall be so.”

“Amen” is a Hebrew word that means, “it is certain, solid, sure. Yes, yes, it shall be so.” We can be certain that our Father has heard our prayer and will act on it in our best interests. Learning to pray means learning to say “amen.” “Amen” is faith talk. It is the confidence that God is faithful and true to His Word, and that He will hear this prayer not because of our own holiness or on account of the strength of our words, but because of His promise to hear through His Son Jesus. “For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. That is why we utter the Amen through Him, to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 1:20).

It is a subtle and sneaky delusion when people pray in such a tentative and meek way that they cannot boldly say “amen” at the end of the prayer. Does God really hear my prayer? Will He really answer it? I am only a poor, unworthy sinner. Why should He regard me and my prayer, with all my faults and failures? Though that may sound like humility, it is actually unbelief and pride. When we focus on ourselves and our sin instead of God’s promises in Christ, we are looking to our works and worthiness instead of Jesus’ blood and righteousness. “Amen” says, “I look not to myself and my broken life, but to Christ and His life broken for me. That’s how I dare stand before God as His child and say “amen.”

“You must always make the Amen strong,” Luther told Peter, his barber, “never doubting that God is surely listening to you with all grace and saying Yes to your prayer. Remember that you are not kneeling or standing there alone, but that all Christendom, all devout Christians are standing there with you and you with them in one unanimous, united prayer which God cannot ignore. And never leave off praying without having said or thought: There now, this prayer has been heard by God; this I know of a certainty. That is what ‘amen’ means.”

And so the prayer that Jesus teaches His disciples ends as boldly as it begins. It begins by addressing God as “our Father.” And it ends with a confident, “Amen. Yes. It shall be so.” How dare you be so bold as to say Amen? Jesus said so. And He died and rose for you so that you could say, “Amen.”

Sermons on the Our Father (Part 1)

Today the Church enters the forty-day season of Lent. Lent is a time of repentance, reflection, and renewal in preparation for the three holy days of Easter and for the seven weeks of the Easter season. It is a time in which we are called to subdue whatever gets in the way of faith toward God and fervent love for our neighbor. The ashes of Ash Wednesday are a reminder that, though eternal life is ours in Christ, we are nonetheless pressing onward to our death, just as Christ pressed on toward His Calvary. “Remember, O man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Lent is a time of discipline. We hate that word, as most children do. Remember that the word “discipline” is from the same root as the word “disciple.” Disciples are disciplined in living in the forgiveness of their sins. The three traditional disciplines of Lent are prayer, fasting, and works of charity. If you are not in the discipline of coming to church to receive the gifts of Christ every Wednesday, then Lent is a good time to begin. If you are not in the discipline of denying yourself of time, treasure, and talent for the benefit of others, Lent is a good time to begin. Wednesdays and Fridays were the traditional Christian fast days. Lent is also a season to give extra alms to the poor and the needy over and above your regular offerings. Don’t wait for a church program. Give to those whom the Lord has placed in your path.

Lent is time of the discipline catechesis. It was the final period of instruction for adult catechumens after their three years of instruction. During Lent they were instructed in the mysteries of the faith – the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Our Father, and the holy sacraments. And so out of that tradition, we will hear preaching on the catechism over the next six weeks of Lent.

The theme of our preaching during this season of Lent will be “Lord, teach us to pray.” Our catechetical focus will be the Our Father as it is taught in the Small Catechism.

Our Father who art in heaven.

What does this mean? With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.”

“Our Father.” How dare we speak to God that way? How dare we be so bold, so cheeky, so familiar, as to come into the presence of the holy Creator and King of the universe, the almighty and everlasting Lord and Judge, and say, “Daddy”? How dare we poor, miserable sinners come into the presence of our Creator-Redeemer God and say, “Daddy”?

No one ever dared pray to God that way before Jesus. “Lord our God, King of the universe….” That was how you began your prayers. That was how every pious Jew of Jesus’ day began his or her prayers, extolling God in His sovereign majesty and holiness. Someone once said that the Our Father is basically a Jewish prayer, and that it is. It’s a summary of the psalter. Any Jew could indeed pray it, if he dared. But who dares to say “our Father” to God? No Jew of Jesus’ day. That was too cozy, too close, too familiar.

With these words, “our Father, who art in heaven,” spoken through the mouth of eternal Son who hung on the cross for the world’s salvation, God issues a tender invitation. He invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children and to put our faith where our mouth is and call Him “Father.”

With these words, Jesus distinguishes the prayers of His disciples from the pious parades of the religious who love to pray in order to be seen by men in the congregation, in the market place, on the streetcorner. Prayer is personal, intimate table talk with the Father, not a billboard for religion.

With these words, Jesus distinguishes the prayers of His disciples from the prayers of the pagans, who in their “spirituality” heap up empty words and phrases in the hope that God will be impressed and hear them for their many words. Prayer is not mindless meditation or meaningless mantra. Prayer is words filled with meaning, words spoken confidently, boldly, directly, expectantly. “Few words and richness of meaning is Christian; many words and lack of meaning is pagan.” (Luther).

Jesus called God Father. “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.” He called God Father in the upper room on the night of His betrayal: “Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee.” He called God Father Gethesemane: “Abba, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” And as they nailed Him to the cross: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” And at His dying breath: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus prayed to the Father, in our place, on our behalf, for us and for the world.

Jesus taught His disciples to pray to His Father as “our Father.” How dare they? Jesus said so. Take it up with Him. He hung on a cross so that we may pray “our Father.” Jesus baptized us into His death and resurrection so that we may pray “our Father.” And Jesus prays with us. You say, “Our Father.” Not “my Father” or “your Father” but “our Father.” You don’t pray alone. Jesus prays in solidarity with us as our Brother. No one comes to the Father, except through Him. And no one prays to the Father except through Jesus in the Holy Spirit whom He sends, for it is the Spirit whom God has put into our hearts in Holy Baptism who cries out, “Abba, Father.”

The “Lord’s Prayer” is really the wrong name for this prayer that Jesus taught His disciples. Properly speaking, the Lord’s Prayer is that high priestly prayer which Jesus prayed in the upper room on the night He was betrayed, recorded in John chapter 17. That prayer only Jesus can pray for us. But the Our Father is a prayer to which Jesus invites our participation, to pray with Him as He prays with us to “our Father who is in heaven.”

To pray “our Father” is to pray as the baptized. In Baptism was where most of us first prayed “our Father” and the Church prayed with us. There you were conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of holy mother Church. There you were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but born of the water and Spirit into God’s family. There, you who were embraced in the death of Jesus were given permission to pray “our Father.” Baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus is God’s permission, His authorization, His invitation, for you to come to Him as a member of the family and to ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. God has obligated Himself to you as His child – to set down His newspaper, turn off the TV set, sit up straight in his leather chair, and to listen to you, as a dear father listens to His dear children.

There are three obstacles to our praying, “our Father.” The first is imagined; the second and third are real. The first obstacle to our praying “our Father” is Dr. Freud. It is the imposition of an image of fatherhood on God, as though God were a big, grandfatherly extension of our earthly fathers, with all their failings and shortcomings, dispensing Werther’s candies and a pat on the head. God is not a Father like our earthly fathers. He is our Father above and beyond our earthly fathers.

Jesus teaches us to pray to our Father who is in heaven. God is the absolutely greater Father from whom every picture of what is good in human fatherhood is drawn. God is not a concept of fatherhood that we can bend and shape to our own expectations of fatherhood. Nor is He Father-Mother, divine Parent, or what have you. God is our Father – our Maker, our Provider, our Protector – personal, approachable, addressable, revealed through His Son Jesus Christ.

The second obstacle to our praying “our Father” is our own lack of words. The Fall of Adam has not only left us deaf to God’s Word, it has also rendered us mute to prayer. Not only are our ears stuffed, our tongues are stuck. We do not know how to pray. Our vocabulary is lacking. Our tongues get tied. It is unnatural for us to pray. We resist the notion of prayer. We are lazy about prayer. We find it nearly impossible to set aside time and energy for prayer. Our deafness to God’s Word has struck us dumb. Our doubt of God’s Word has made us believe that God is deaf to our words.

Christ heals our mouths as well as our hearts and minds. He puts His words of prayer on our lips. Jesus has taken the guesswork out of prayer by providing us with the very words we need for prayer. No longer do we need to wonder: What words will we use? Will God hear? What is the proper form? Jesus says, “When you pray, say these words: Our Father who art in heaven.”

It is a princely prayer, not to be despised. I would not trade the Our Father for all the prayers that have ever been uttered in the churches, no matter how poetic or passionate they might be. If the Our Father were the only prayer we knew, we would have a lifetime of prayer and still not exhaust it. It should be prayed in the morning when you arise, at the table when you eat, and at night when you lie down for sleep as the children’s Catechism teaches us. No other prayer has the same assurance that it is pleasing to the Father. God loves to hear it, because His beloved Son taught it, and He delights to hear His children talk back to Him through His Son.

The third obstacle to our saying “our Father” is as real as our lack of words. It is the obstacle of our sin. We have no inalienable right to pray. But we have God’s Word – His command and His promise. God commands that we pray, that we call upon His name in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks. He has also promised to hear our prayers and to act on them. His command and promise apply whether we are good or bad, holy or unholy, saint or sinner, worthy or unworthy. Prayer is not based on our personal worthiness, but on the command and promise of God. A prayer offered through Jesus Christ is just as precious, holy, and pleasing to God whether it is offered by the holiest of saints or the chief of sinners.

Jesus teaches us to pray especially for forgiveness, so that our sins would not prevent us from saying “our Father.” And He has provided for the answer to that prayer by dying for our sins and establishing the means by which forgiveness comes to us in the Word of Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Supper. No baptized child of God dare say, “I cannot pray because I am sinful.” The Father says through His Son Jesus, “you are forgiven, you are holy.” And His Son Jesus says to us, “When you pray, say our Father.”

Finally, the invitation to pray “our Father,” is an invitation to be bold and confident in the presence of God. God’s favor toward us is not in doubt. We are not here to bribe God with our words. We know we are welcome. Christ died for us. We are baptized, forgiven, and fed in His Name. He invites us to rest in His presence and to speak with His Father boldly and confidently, as dear children ask their dear father.

Hallowed by thy name.

What does this mean? God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also.

The first priority of prayer that Jesus puts on the lips of His disciples is the holiness of His Father’s name. “Hallowed be thy name.” Luther commented that the word “hallow” is strange to the German ear. It is also strange to our ears. We know it from the word “halloween,” which is short for “all hallows eve,” all saints eve, the eve of all holy ones. What is holy is set apart, consecrated, reserved for sacred use in service of God. We’ve lost much of the sense of the holy. Modern churches are built increasingly along the lines of multi-use facilities. They are auditoriums into which an audience streams in shorts and bathing suits, slurping soft drinks, to see a performance on a stage. The church is no longer seen as holy space, a place set apart from the world, a place that is in the world but not of it. Today the church is interchangeable with the world and indistinguishable from it. And Christians are interchangeable with and indistinguishable from unbelievers.

What does it mean to pray, “Hallowed be thy name?” “God’s name is holy in itself,” for God is holy in Himself. He does not need our prayers to hallow His name. We need His name to hallow our prayers. What is at stake in this prayer is not the integrity of God’s name. Gold is gold worn by a prince or a prostitute. What is at stake is what happens with God’s name on our lips and in our lives. “We pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also.”

God’s name is the incarnation of His Gospel presence to save. It is the extension of His right hand of mercy reaching down to us, interfering with our lives, cleansing us from all sin and calling us to be His people. God’s Name locates and reveals God-for-us, where He may be found according to His mercy, seeking the lost, saving the damned, raising the dead. God may be everywhere, but He has not located His name everywhere. God may be everywhere, but He is not everywhere to save. A God who is everywhere is a God who is nowhere for you.

Where God locates His name, there He is present and mighty to deliver His people: In the burning bush before which Moses stood. In the tabernacle-tent in the wilderness. In the temple. In the flesh of Jesus Christ, who is the incarnation and the revelation of God’s name. In the Word and Sacraments around which He gathers a people. There God locates His name, there we may come into His presence, call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” says Jesus. There. Not everywhere, but there. Where two or three invoke the Name, according to the mandate and bidding of Jesus, there He promises to be present, giving out His gifts.

God’s Name is the greatest treasure and the most holy possession we have. Without it we would not be given to offer any prayer, sing any praise, render any thanks that is pleasing to God. Apart from God’s Name, all worship is idolatry, no matter how beautiful, moving, liturgical, historical, or sincere it might otherwise be. Without God’s name, there is no church, no holiness, no forgiveness of sins, no eternal life, no salvation. If God hadn’t given us His name, we would still be seeking and inventing gods of our own and perishing along with them.

God has given us His Name in Holy Baptism. Baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we are given to bear God’s name into the world, to be His baptized children. We belong to Him as people of His pasture and sheep of His hand. His name is etched indelibly on our foreheads and upon our hearts, our minds and our wills belong to Him. He has claimed the whole of us and as placed His mark of ownership upon us. We are His. His Name is ours. His Name is holy. We are holied by His name, and so we pray that God’s Name would be holy among us.

How is God’s name hallowed? God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father.

God’s name is kept holy by holy words and holy deeds, by what’s on our lips and in our lives, by right teaching and right actions. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy. The opposite of keeping God’s name holy is to profane his name, to render it a common thing, to drag it through the dirt, to sully God’s name and reputation by lies, deceit, blasphemy and slander from our lips and by evil and wickedness on our hands.

The worst profaning and dishonor to God’s name is false doctrine. To use the Scriptures to teach something other than Jesus Christ and Him crucified for sinners is to profane God’s name. To teach that we are not justified by Christ’s work alone, that we must have good works to be saved, that Christ’s body and blood are not truly eaten and drunk in the Lord’s Supper, that Baptism does not save us through the death of Christ, that pastors of the church do not have Christ’s authority to forgive sins, that we must make some kind of a decision to believe in order to be saved – all of this is to profane God’s holy name.

To fail to teach to true doctrine likewise profanes God’s name among us. When pastors do not warn their people of the dangers of false teaching, even at the risk of hurting someone’s feelings or making someone angry, God’s name is profaned among us. When parents leave it to their children to decide what they will believe when they grow up, instead of raising them in the fear and faith of the Lord, this profanes the name of God among us. When we do not test the spirits to see if they are from God by testing their preaching against the Holy Scriptures, the name of God is profaned among us.

The second profaning of God’s name occurs when we use God’s name to cover up falsehood or by swearing meaningless and trivial oaths, or by cursing and conjuring, and the like. This includes every effort to co-opt God’s name for our own purposes, whether to cover our lies, to practice faith healing and magic, or to boost ourselves and our reputations at the expense of God’s name and reputation. When we swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, “so help us God,” and don’t, God’s name is profaned among us.

The third profaning of God’s name is when Christians who bear God’s name as the baptized children of God live openly wicked and evil lives, when we who call ourselves “Christian,” who hear God’s Word of forgiveness, who are fed at Christ’s table, openly and proudly live as baptized adulterers, fornicators, drunkards, gluttons, slanderers, gossips, and liars. We should not deceive ourselves that this is saving, Christian faith. This is sham faith, and a mockery of God’s name among unbelievers, when the children of God behave as drunken swine.

Luther said, “Just as it is a shame and disgrace to an earthly father to have a bad, unruly child who antagonizes him in word and deed with the result that on his account the father suffers scorn and reproach, so God is dishonored if we who are called by his name and enjoy his manifold blessings fail to teach, speak, and live as godly and heavenly children with the result that he must hear us called no children of God but children of the devil.”

Jesus teaches us to pray daily, “Hallowed be thy name.” It is a prayer for God to interfere with our lives, to kill Adam in us and make us alive anew in the life of Jesus. It is a prayer for the Word of God to have its killing and making alive way with us, cleansing our lips and renewing our lives by the bloodied water of Baptism, the bloodied Word of Absolution, the body and the blood of the Lord’s Supper, so that it is no longer we who speak and act, but Christ who is in us who speaks and acts through us.

You see that it is a very dangerous thing to pray, “Hallowed be thy name.” It means death to Adam and life to Christ. It will turn your life upside-down, or more accurately, it will turn you inside-out, away from your self to live in Christ by faith and in those around you by love. In short God’s name is kept holy when sinners are forgiven in the name of Jesus, and when they speak and live as the forgiven children of God that they are. God’s name is holy. Baptized into the name of God, you are holy. This is what it means to pray, “Our Father, Hallowed be thy name.”

Thy kingdom come.

What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.

How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.

The second priority of prayer is God’s kingdom. And again, God’s kingdom needs no help from us and our prayers. The kingdom of God simply comes. We pray in this petition that the kingdom of God would come among us, that He would establish His protective and preserving lordship over us in our lives so that we might live under Him in his kingdom both now and forever.

Like the word “hallow,” the word “kingdom” also sounds strange to our ears. We don’t deal well with such medieval ideas as kings and kingdoms. We live in a culture where the self is sovereign, where the individual is king. We want government off our backs and out of our lives. We want the church off our backs and out of our lives too. And God. The crowds that clamored for Jesus’ crucifixion cried out, “We have no king but Caesar.” Today’s crowd shouts, “We have no king but ourselves.”

The truth is that everyone has a king and that there are only two kingdoms in which we live: either the kingdom of the devil or the kingdom of God. The kingdom of the devil is a kingdom of darkness. It is the kingdom of this world, a kingdom ruled by the Father of Lies and his Lie that we can be gods in place of God. It is a kingdom in which everyone serves themselves, where every appetite is indulged, where everyone is like God. It is a kingdom that is really no kingdom at all. It is built on a lie. It is anarchy and chaos. It’s end is death and destruction. The devil turns out to be no king at all. God is lord even of the devil. Hell is not the kingdom of the devil. Hell is the end and outcome of the devil’s kingdom. It is ruled over by God in His wrath.

The kingdom of God is the gracious rule of God established in the flesh of Christ enthroned on the wood of the cross for our salvation. It is the reign of Jesus as He lords His atoning death over sinners from the right hand of the Father. The kingdom of God is the exertion of God’s will to save sinners from His wrath by sending His Son into the world to redeem and deliver them from the power of the devil, to give them a new citizenship in His kingdom, to bring them to Himself and to rule over them as a gracious king of righteousness, life and salvation, over and against their sin, death, hell, and an evil conscience. The kingdom of God comes among us when God sends His Holy Spirit who works faith in our hearts by means of the proclaimed Word and who renews us in the forgiveness of sins so that we lead godly and forgiven lives now and forever.

God’s name and His kingdom go together. Where God has located His name, there He has staked the claim of His kingdom, there the eternal treasures of forgiveness, life, and salvation are being given out. Where the Spirit causes the saving death of Jesus to be proclaimed in the water, in the spoken word, in the bread and the wine, there God’s kingdom is made known for the sake of sinners. God’s kingdom is a kingdom of refugees, a place where sinners burdened and persecuted by the law can flee for protection like refugees fleeing from a hostile dictator, cling to the cross, and be sheltered by the wounds of Jesus.

This is a very large petition that Jesus teaches us to bring to our Father in heaven. It is much larger than we would dare to bring on our own. It dares us to open our empty arms wide to receive eternal and imperishable gifts. Jesus teaches us to pray for nothing less than the kingdom of God. Our problem is that we prefer to pray puny petitions for a crust of bread, for a child’s runny nose, for a malignancy or a bad marriage or crooked teeth. And while these surely are to be prayed for, they are not to be prayed for before we pray for the kingdom. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” says Jesus, and then He promises that “all these things, whatever these things may be that you need, will be given you as well.” If the Father has promised you the kingdom in His Son, will He not also see to it that you have all that you need to support this body and life?

God is not miserly with His mercy. Were a great and wealthy philanthropist to come to us and say, “Ask anything of me and I will donate it as a gift,” and all we asked for was a cup of beggar’s broth, he would be insulted and indignant. And so is God, when we despise His mercy and ask for anything less than His kingdom. We come into God’s presence seeking little blessings, and He says to us, “Here. Receive the kingdom I have prepared for you since the foundation of the world.”

What do we do with such riches?

We tell others. This large petition sets us on a bold course to lead large lives, to use the Word in the world to combat unbelief. We are praying for the well-being of the Church. We are praying for the conversion of our enemies and those who hate us. As free citizens of Christ’s kingdom we know what to do with our sin and guilt and death. We bury them in the death of Jesus and live by faith in His life. We acknowledge our sinfulness, confess our sins, receive Christ’s free forgiveness and live as the free children of God under the reign of His mercy. “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” We use Christ against our sin, against our guilt, against the Law, against our death. We teach others the same, and in so doing we become instruments by which the Holy Spirit draws all people to the Father through the Son in His Kingdom.

The kingdom of God has already come in the death and resurrection of Jesus. God has raised up His royal banner on the tree of the cross, jammed it in the earth and cried out “it is finished.” “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever.” All that remains is for the kingdom of God to be revealed on the Last Day, at the visible coming of Jesus. What is now hidden and heard, will be uncovered and seen. Now the kingdom of God comes in grace when the Spirit works faith in Christ crucified through the Word and Sacrament. On the Last Day the kingdom of God will come in glory, with the revelation of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead. It is toward that Day and in that confidence that Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father, Thy kingdom come.”

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

What does this mean? The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.

How is God’s will done? God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will.

God’s will is good and gracious. Of that we must be certain. God’s will is not left our own devices to discover. God reveals His good and gracious will in His Word. God’s will is revealed in the law. It is God’s will that we have no other gods, that use God’s name rightly, that we sanctify the holy day with His Word. It is God’s will that we honor and obey God’s authorities in home, state, and church, that we care for our neighbor’s body, that we are faithful in our marriages, that we respect our neighbor’s property and reputation, that we are content with the gifts God has given us. This is the good and gracious will of God for us.

It is God’s will that all people would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, which is Jesus Christ, who died to atone for the sins of the world and who lives that the world might have life believing in His name. It is God’s will that no one should perish, but that everyone be brought to repentance, that they be turned from their death to live in the life of Jesus Christ. The good and gracious will of God is a will to save from sin, from the power of the devil, from the accusation of the Law, from a troubled conscience, from death and damnation. This is the good and gracious will of God toward us.

Some agonize over what is God’s will for their lives. When I vicared in Tulsa I was constantly coming across people desperately searching to figure out what God’s will was for their lives. It isn’t complicated. We don’t need to wait for signs or voices or visions to know God’s will, or at least what we need to know of His will. God’s will is that we be forgiven our sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus by being baptized, by hearing absolution, by eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood, and that we lead godly lives as His free and forgiven children. This is the good and gracious will of God.

It is the good and gracious will of God that we be saved. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. It is not God’s will that anyone should wind up in hell, for hell is intended only for the devil and his demons. Calvinism is false and utterly anti-Christian when it teaches that it is God’s will that some should be saved and others damned. This is a devil’s doctrine.

Just as it is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to say that we can, by the exertion of our wills, decide to follow Jesus and so be saved, so it is just as contrary to the Gospel to say that God, by the exertion of his will, decides that some will not be saved. Let it ever be said clearly from this pulpit: That anyone who winds up in hell is there entirely against God’s will, in spite of God’s will, and in opposition to God’s will to save.

Salvation is entirely the working of the good and gracious will of God.
Damnation is entirely the working of the evil and corrupt will of man.

The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer. Imagine that! God doesn’t seek our permission before He acts. He doesn’t wait for our invitation and prayer, wondering whether we will let Him be God. He doesn’t check the public opinion polls to determine what His course of action will be. Where God causes His name to be hallowed, where He causes His kingdom to come, there His will is done, even without our prayer. What we are praying for is that His will is done in us and among us, on earth, as it is in heaven.

In heaven, that is, in the face-to-face presence of God, God’s will is unopposed. Who would dare? Who would want to oppose God’s will? But on earth, that is, where His presence is hidden, His will to save in Jesus Christ encounters opposition. The opposition comes in the form of an unholy trinity, the evil alliance of the devil, the fallen world, and our own sinful selves. These three resist and wage war against the good and gracious will of God. They seek to overthrow His kingdom. They blaspheme His name.

The devil is a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. He opposes and obstructs God’s name and His kingdom. He cannot bear to have anyone teach and believe rightly. He is pained when his lies and abominations are exposed. He hates when people have their sins forgiven for Jesus’ sake, when believers in Christ lead godly and forgiven lives to the praise and honor of God’s name.

The devil knows that he has willing allies in the world and our own sinful flesh. He knows the greedy, self-centered ruthlessness of a world hell-bent, and he recruits and marshals his volunteers with his ranting and raving. He is a clever devil – beautiful, seductive, coy, handsome, appealing. The grass on his side is always greener. The worship of his name is so much more appealing. He offers so much fun. He hides the consequences. He waves all sorts of treasures before our eyes: power, possessions, sex, money, fame, celebrity, popularity, pleasure. “All these I will give to you if you bow down and worship me.” The devil knows that our human flesh born of Adam and Eve is bent against God, that it wants so desperately to be “like God,” and to live for self. And so he stirs up in us doubt, despair, lust, greed, envy, covetousness, hopelessness, depression, and rage.

You have likely experienced it yourself. If you haven’t, you will. You know the struggle to believe God’s Word over and against your own experience and feelings. You know how it is to be at war within yourself – wanting to do the good and gracious will of God, doing instead the will of the devil, the world, and your own sinful self. This is especially true of experienced believers, whose has been refined in the crucible of life.

Where the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for our sins is preached, heard, believed, and bears fruit, there is going to be big trouble. “The blessed holy cross will not be far away.” As Fr. Luther put it in the Large Catechism: “Let nobody think that he will have peace; he must sacrifice all he has on earth – possessions, honor, house and home, wife and children, body and life.” It means that we must remain faithful, patiently suffer the loss of everything, even our lives (as we promised at our confirmation), and let go of everything that is taken from us all for the sake of our salvation.

And this is going to grieve the old sinful nature in us mightily. Old Adam and old Eve must die, and they don’t want to die. We must die to ourselves daily, so that Christ may be raised in us daily. And this is going to be painful. Where there is a death, there is going to be grief, with array of feelings and emotions. We may try to bargain with God, strike a deal with Him to short-cut our suffering. We may despair of God and his grace. We may feel forsaken by God, depressed and alone. We may feel guilt and shame. We may become angry with God and resentful toward Him for letting us suffer. We may even be tempted to turn away from God thinking that He has turned away from us. Anyone who imagines that to be Christian is to be happy and carefree has not yet learned to pray: “Thy will be done.”

“Thy will be done, dear Father, not my will, not the will of the devil or of our enemies, nor of those who would persecute and suppress thy holy Word or prevent thy kingdom from coming,” or anything that would get in the way of my salvation and the salvation of others.

“Thy will be done.” This is a bold, dangerous petition. It is an open invitation for trouble. Jesus prayed this way in Gethsemane on the night He was betrayed into death. “Father, if thou are willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thy will be done.” If Jesus, whose food it was to do the will of His Father, whose will was in perfect sinless alignment with that of His Father, if Jesus prays “not my will but thy will be done,” how much more must we pray this petition?

“Thy will be done, O Father in heaven – in our homes, our families, our marriages, our bedrooms. Thy will be done – in our work, our play, our worship. Thy will be done – in our sicknesses, suffering and service. Thy will be done – in our doubt, our despair, and in the hour of our death.

This is no whimpish sigh of resignation when we have come to the inevitable conclusion that we cannot have things our way. We’ve tried everything else, and now finally we are so broken down that all we can whimper is “thy will be done” into a lace handerkerchief accompanied by the soft organ playing of the funeral parlor. This is a bold declaration of war against everything that would get in the way our salvation. It is a demand that God get in the way of our damnation. That He interfere with our lives. This is a courageous cry of one who has been crucified with Christ in Holy Baptism, whose life is being interfered with by God. As Martin Marty put it: This petition “is to be shouted, not whimpered; announced, not whined; chanted, not tentatively breathed.”

This is a prayer for divine defense – that God would do our defensiveness to death in the death of His Son, so that He might defend us with the mighty sword of the Spirit, which is His Word.

Those of you who have been blessed to learn and use our adaptation of Luther’s little liturgy of individual confession have had joy of its first line: “Dear pastor, please hear my confession and declare that my sins are forgiven in order to fulfill God’s will.” Could that really be? Can it really be the fulfilling of God’s will that we confess our sinfulness in His presence and be freely forgiven in the name of His Son?

And the answer is “yes” and “amen.” This is the good and gracious will of God, that sinners bow before Him confessing their sins and receive the free gift of forgiveness. That is why He sent His Son to be born of a woman, to keep the law perfectly in our place, to suffer the punishments of the law perfectly as our substitute, to die and be damned for the sin of the world. That is why God gave us His holy Word, why He instituted the blessed sacraments: Baptism, Absolution, and the Holy Supper, why he calls and ordains pastors and authorizes them to speak forgiveness in His name with the promise that the forgiveness they speak is God’s own forgiveness. That is why God gathers congregations around the Word and the sacraments. It is so that His good and gracious will to save might also be done among us and with us and in us.

God does it all. He keeps us in His Word and faith. He keeps us in Christ. He defends us from everything that jeopardizes our life with Him. Left to our own, we would be utterly destroyed. In the end it is not we who pray this petition, but Christ who prays for us, in us, and with us. He alone can pray, “Thy will be done,” as He did on His way to Calvary. And it is through Him, with Him, and in Him that we pray, “Our Father, thy will be done.

Give us this day our daily bread.

What does this mean? God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

What is meant by daily bread? Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

The petition for daily bread stands in the center of the Our Father, the fourth of seven petition. It is a “hinge” petition, coming after our prayer for God’s name to be placed upon us, his kingdom to come among us and his will to be done with us, and flowing directly into petitions for forgiveness, protection from temptation, and deliverance from the evil one. “Give us this day our daily bread” is both central and fourth.

That it is central tells us that bread is not unimportant to our Father in heaven. “He knows what you need even before you ask Him.” It is of the essence of God’s fatherhood that He daily and richly provides for and protects that which He creates. His fatherly goodness and mercy compel Him to provide for His creatures.

That this petition for bread comes in fourth place also tells us something. It tells us that bread has its place in God’s order, and that place is not first. He preserves and protects life not simply because He created it, but in order to save it for eternity. He feeds the unbeliever so that the unbeliever might repent and believe. That is His will. Therefore, the disciple as one who trusts in God for every good gift, who knows God to be a good and gracious Father, is not to be anxious about food or drink or clothing. Such anxiety is the way of the unbeliever, who does not know God’s goodness.

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ Jesus warns His disciples against the anxiety of unbelief, the nervous liturgy that arises when our false gods have failed to provide for us. “For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” This is the agenda for prayer as Jesus teaches us to pray. To seek first God’s name on our lips and in our lives, God’s kingdom as He lords the death and resurrection of King Jesus over our sin, God’s will to save over and against the will of the devil, the world, and our flesh that will our destruction, and “all these things” – food, drink, clothing – will be yours as well. That is His promise.

Therefore no believer in God’s promise may say, “First I must get my bank account in order, first I must get my work in order, first I must put bread on my table, then I will come to the church to be fed by God.” That is the upside down way of the Gentiles. Unfaith. The Father who provides for the lilies, birds, and grass, which do not and cannot pray, will also provide for His foremost creature, whose lives are worth the blood of His Son shed on the cross. To think less of our Father in heaven is to be “men of little faith.”

God gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all wicked people. God does not need our urging to preserve what He has created. “He causes His rain to fall on the good and the wicked alike.” Your heathen neighbor’s lawn is just as green as yours. It might even be greener. Believer and unbeliever are not differentiated by daily bread. What differentiates the believer from the unbeliever is thanksgiving. “We pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize” that all these things are gifts from God, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving. Ten lepers were healed by Jesus. Nine went their way to the priest and to their lives. Only one had faith to turn around and say “thank you.” “For all this it is our responsibility, our grateful response, to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”

And so Jesus teaches us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Bread is the food of affliction; it is the food of fallen, sinful man. The word “bread” refers to the entire economy of work by which Adamic man must now be nourished in a world cursed by sin. In the Garden it was different. Man could freely eat of the fruit of the trees in the Garden. Fruits and nuts – embryonic life. Man fed off of life, not death. Nothing had to die to feed him. He was fed directly from God had grown. But by reaching out into the middle and across the boundary to take a food that was not given, man fell into death.

With the fall, food could no longer obtained directly from a fallen creation. Now food would come indirectly, through the working of cursed ground. The uncooperative soil had to be tilled. Cultivated crops had to be guarded against plants that were not food – thorns and thistles. “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread.” Bread means work. Grain had to be harvested, separated, milled, kneaded, and baked. Bread is basic – crushed grain and water, kneaded into loaves, baked in fire. We sweat. In the tilling and planting, n the harvesting and milling, in the kneading and baking. Our sweat is a sacramental sign of our sin and our death.

Adamic man is nourished and sustained by the hand of God through his work, and “if anyone doesn’t work, neither will he eat.” The generation of the sixties was not that far from the truth when they called money, “bread.” For those of you who don’t recall, if you “had no bread,” it meant you had no money, which meant you could not eat.

The Catechism calls “bread” everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body. That includes food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods. “Bread” is family life, family being the fundamental unit of man living in community. It includes devout husband or wife and devout children.

“Bread” is economic life. It represents the economic community in which every person has a role and place in bringing the produce of the ground to each and every member of the community. It includes devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government.

In order for there to be bread, the order of the creation must be maintained. And so the petition for bread is also a prayer for good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, etc.

Luther rightly says that out of this one petition, one might make a very long prayer, enumerating with many words all that things that this one word, “bread,” includes. “Give us this day our daily bread.” We pray that God would grant us food and clothing and shelter, that He would preserve our families from the evils of divorce, drugs, drunkenness, and disobedience; that He would cause our economy to prosper and give us productive labor for our hands.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” We pray for our rulers and authorities, whether they be of our particular political persuasion or not, it matter not, that through them God would grant us peace and protection. We pray for our communities, that sinners though we all are, we might learn to live in peace and concord and obedience so that our neighbors all might have their daily bread. There is no notion of the self-made, autonomous and independent individual. “No man is an island.” We pray it together, in community. “Give us this day our daily bread.”

We pray for protection against flood, drought, famine, fire, poison, pollution, pestilence, hail, and wind; against wicked and greedy employers who lay off their workers for profit, against lazy and complacent workers who do not sweat an honest day’s work for their daily bread, against anarchy and rebellion and violence and bloodshed.

We pray for the poor, those who through no fault of their own have been given to be given to by those who have more than a day’s worth of bread. We pray that the hearts of the rich among us would be opened wide, that those who barns are already filled with grain would not seek to build bigger barns and bank accounts to store their surplus, as did the rich fool, but would deposit their excess daily bread in the empty mouths of the poor and the hungry.

Jesus teaches us to pray for these things, even though our Father in heaven knows we need them, and provides them even to the most wicked of men. He teaches us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” so that we may realize that God is the Giver of every good gift, and that we have received everything from Him purely out of His fatherly goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in us. That’s why the Catechism teaches us to pray “give us this day our daily bread,” in the morning when we arise from sleep to attend to our work, at the family table, where we receive our daily bread with thanksgiving, and in the evening, when we lie down to rest from our labors. For when God withdraws His hand, nothing can prosper or last for even a brief second – not our work, our business, our fields, our crops, our coinage, our bank accounts, our families, our communities, our nation, our bread.

To not begin and end the day by praying, “give us this day our daily bread,” is to deal with the day as the Gentiles and the unbelievers. Such a day comes of little faith. I must confess, that though my calling as a pastor keeps me close to the Word and puts me under orders to pray, I do not pray for my daily bread daily. The greatest threat to daily bread is not famine or sedition or bad government or a bad economy. The greatest threat is our inherent unbelief – our attempt to live by bread alone, instead of by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

God’s ultimate bread turns out not to be daily bread, which is here today and is moldy tomorrow. It is not the manna that fell from heaven and fed Israel in the wilderness. It is not the miraculous multiplication of the loaves that Jesus did when He fed the four thousand and the five thousand. God’s ultimate Bread is Jesus Himself – Jesus, the Bread of Life, Jesus, the true and living Bread which came down from heaven, Jesus, the Bread of which a man may eat and never hunger and will live forever.

There has been much discussion and debate over the Greek word that gets translated into English as “daily” It’s not as clear-cut and simple as many imagine. The word can mean something like “sufficient for the day or the next day.” In other words, “Give us this day enough bread for today.” It can also mean that which has its origin in heaven, “super-substantial bread,” as Jerome translated it. Luther also preached that way in the earlier years prior to the catechisms. That means that the word “bread” may not only mean that daily crust of bread on our tables, but also Jesus Christ, the living Bread who sustains our life through death to eternal life.

In the Lord’s Supper, in which ordinary daily bread is pressed into service by the Word of Christ to be at one and the same time the extraordinary Bread of Christ’s Body. Here daily bread and the living Bread of Life are eaten together as one. Temporal food and eternal food. Today’s bread and tomorrow’s Bread are both together. The bread of affliction and the Bread of Him whose food it was to do the will of His Father in heaven are one, holy food, eaten with the mouth.

This is why the church prays the Our Father at the altar in the liturgy of Holy Communion. The altar is the dinner table of the baptized family of God, the church. There she is gathered to eat her supersubstantial Bread, the living Bread come down from heaven. “The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” And so the church prays: “Give us this living Bread from above. “Give us to eat our share in the blessed Sacrament, from which we may eat today and live forever.”

Only our tightly compartmentalized, 20th century mindset would make daily bread and sacramental bread into two entirely separate categories. In the view of the Scriptures, one word can embrace both the material and the spiritual realms, both earthly and heavenly things without confusion. That’s because “the Word became Flesh and made His dwelling among us”. God became man. Heaven came to earth in the flesh of Jesus Christ. Daily, earthy bread becomes living, heavenly, supersubstantial Bread by the Word of Christ in the Sacrament. Perhaps this is why the petition for “bread” is linked to the three which follow it: Bread, forgiveness, protection from temptation, and deliverance from evil – each flowing into the next and all of them together.

To attempt to live on one kind of bread without the other is not the way of faith. To have daily bread without Christ is crass, course materialism. To have Christ without daily bread is enthusiasm, bogus spirituality. Jesus gives Himself – His body crucified, His blood shed, “for you.” He offers Himself for the life of the world. And He offers Himself to you in the Supper for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. Jesus is true, living and life-giving Bread, daily bread in the ultimate sense.

And in the strength of that Bread, you do your daily work, whatever it is that God has given you to do, wherever it is He has given you to do it, and receive your daily bread with thanksgiving, praying, “Our Father, give us this day our daily bread.”

Transfiguration

Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

Then He let those words hang in the air for a week. No one dared ask Him about it. Six days later, He took Peter, James, and John up to a high mountain, apart from the others. A little retreat, a get away. Peter, James, and John were granted to see the unseeable, to look on Jesus in His divine glory, to see the kingdom of God come with power. What about the others? It doesn’t seem fair? Shouldn’t everyone get to see Jesus this way? No, just these three. He doesn’t treat them all the same. That isn’t the way of love.

Jesus doesn’t want everyone to see Him this way. Not yet. Soon you will . Soon everyone will, when Jesus shines like the sun and flashes like lightning in the sky. But not now. Now that isn’t good for us. We’d be toast. Jesus won’t use displays of power to persuade the world. Just a cross and a resurrection, the Word and the Spirit.

Jesus is transfigured before them. Metamorphosized. Morphed. Changed in His appearance. His clothing became intensely white, whiter than any bleach or soap could make them. He face shone like the sun, so bright it hurt your eyes to look at Him. What does this mean? Jesus’ divinity was shining in, with, and under His humanity. (I use that phrase intentionally.) Every cell glowing with the glory of God. God and man joined together as One. “God of God, Light of light, true God of true God, and also true Man.”

There is something for us to learn from this morphed Jesus on the mountain. He’s not a two-part Jesus – part man, part God. He’s not a hybrid. He’s fully God and fully Man. Where His humanity is, there also is His divinity, and vice versa. When Jesus came down from heaven, He didn’t cease to be the eternal Son of God. When He ascended to heaven, He didn’t cease to be fully human. When you encounter Jesus, it’s the God-man you encounter, fully divine, fully human, all together, whether you are speaking of Jesus in my heart, Jesus in the sacrament, Jesus in the mouth of the preacher. Always true God and true man together.

That’s what makes Jesus the unique mediator between God and man. He is the go-between, going between the Father and us. He touches God with His divinity; He touches you with His humanity. No one else can do this.

With Jesus appeared Moses and Elijah. Who else would you want to make a cameo appearance but Mr. Torah and Mr. Prophets, “the Law and the Prophets” who testifty and typify Jesus? They are there talking to Jesus. Luke tells us that they are talking about Jesus’ “exodus,” His death and resurrection. Who better to talk exodus than Moses?

How did Peter, James, and John know who Moses and Elijah were? There were no introductions, no adhesive name tags. “Hi, my name is Moses.” This mountain is a glimpse of the resurrection on the last day, when we all will rise and be seen in the glory of Jesus, and we will be known. Our names will be known. And we will know others, all who joined to Christ. Think about it. You’ll know people you’ve never known before in this life, and they’ll know you, that “whole company of heaven” who worships with us every Sunday. We’ll finally get to meet them.

This mountain is a picture of Mt. Zion, lifted up and glorious. The city of God. The Lord is on His holy mountain. Let the nations tremble, let the earth shake. Great is the Lord in Zion.

Peter has a bright idea. “It’s good we’re here, Rabbiu. Tell you what. Let’s put up three tents – you, Moses, and Elijah. What do you think?” A kind of religious Mt. Rushmore – Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Why keep the event to ourselves? We should enshrine it, make a holy site out of it. Bus loads of pilgrims could come and take pictures and stand on the very spot where Peter, James, and John stood. They could sell little vials of dirt that said, “Jesus stood here.” The soil might even look a little charred, just for effect.

We love the sort of religious stuff – shrines, holy sites, pilgrimages. Have you ever noticed that Christianity doesn’t really have holy sites like other religions? Oh, we have historic places, because this is an historic faith that actually takes place in history, but we don’t go on pilgrimages to get close to God. We don’t have sacred tombs, like that mosque they blew up in Iraq this week that was the tomb of a descendent of Mohammed. And there’s good reason for that. Christ is risen. His tomb has been empty since the Sunday He rose.

This business of shrines and holy places all runs in the way of religious works, how you draw close to God. In Luther’s day, they had collections of relics – bones of the saints, pieces of the cross, a lock of Mary’s hair. You earned points with God by staring at those things. It isn’t much different today. Weeping icons, visions of Mary or Jesus. But that’s not how God deals with us. He draws close to you by preaching His Word to you, by forgiving your sins, by giving you the Body and the Blood of your Savior. The pulpit and the altar are the holy places of Christianity, wherever the Word is preached and the Body and Blood of Jesus are being given out, that is the most holy place on earth for you.

Remember those old SAT tests where you had to pick out the thing that didn’t belong with the others? Now put on your thinking caps and try that little exercise here. Moses, Elijah, Jesus. Which one doesn’t belong with the other? Moses gave the Torah; Elijah was a prophet. They all did miracles; all spoke God’s word, all were holy men. But only one is God in the flesh who came to die and rise to save the world, and that one is Jesus.

At that very moment, God pulls the plug, and the transfiguration lights go out. A thick cloud swallows them up. No more talk about shrines, religious Mt. Rushmores, or tents. The Father reiterates what He said when Jesus was baptized: “This is my Son, whom I love.” The emphasis is on the “this.” He’s the one and only unique Son of God. Moses and his commandments can’t save you. He’ll reveal your sin and mirror your need for a savior, but he can’t save you. Elijah can’t save you; he can’t take you along in his chariot ride to heaven. He can only point to Jesus and get out of the way.

“Hear Him,” the Father’s voice says. Hearing is what goes on with your ears not your eyes. Faith comes by hearing, not looking. The transfiguration of Jesus was a piece of evidence, as Peter said when he wrote, “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty when He received honor and glory from God and we heard the voice of the Father.” But Peter doesn’t say, “Now you go off and have your little mountaintop vision too.” He says, “You have the prophetic word made more sure, and you will do well to pay attention to this as a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Hear Jesus’ words to you. He has the words that count. Words that are Spirit and life. Words of eternal life. The Word of Jesus, preached and heard, that’s your Zion, that’s your holy mountain where the Lord meets you face to face. That’s where the glory of God is revealed to you. Yes, the glory is hidden, cloud-covered, but it’s glory nonetheless. No “shine Jesus shine,” just words. Justifying words. Words that do justice to your sin. Words that justify the sinner. Jesus’ words. Hear them and trust them.

The three disciples looked around. “They saw no one but Jesus only.” Jesus the big “sola.” The Reformation spoke of “grace alone” (sola gratia). “Faith alone” (sola fide). “Scripture alone (sola Scriptura). It all comes down to Jesus alone. He alone is God in the flesh. He alone keeps the Law perfectly. He alone suffers for you, blees for you, dies for you, rises for you, reigns for you. He alone saves you and gives you life.

They saw no one but Jesus only. Not shining Jesus. Just ordinary, everyday, earthy Jesus. He told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until He rose from the dead. They wondered what rising from the dead meant. The would soon find out. And then the two mountains would come together: The Mount of Transfiguration and Mt. Calvary. The glory and the cross. Shining Jesus with Moses and Elijah; dead Jesus between anonymous two robbers. The same Jesus. The only Jesus who saves you.

You are being transfigured too. The apostle Paul said that to you in his epistle. You are being transfigured into the likeness of Jesus, “from glory to glory.” You say, “I don’t feel so glorious.” Of course you don’t. You’re a sinner. You can’t see the glory. Not yet. Your life in all its glory is hidden with God in Jesus. Only in Jesus are you glorious. In yourself, forget it. No glory there at all. Don’t even bother to look.

Look instead to Jesus. Crucified Jesus. Risen and reigning Jesus. Word and Supper Jesus. Absolving with hands laid on head Jesus. Jesus who touches your humanity with His humanity, with His words, His body, His blood, His baptismal water. And when you’ve been touched by Jesus, you have been touched by God

In the name of Jesus,
Amen.

You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

The crowd was huge, filling the little house to overflowing. Jesus was in town. The people flocked to hear him. All kinds of people – the curious, the devout, the skeptical, the religious. They were all there, packed into a little house, spilling out onto the street. And Jesus did what Jesus always does – He preached the Word.

Four men came to the house. They were carrying their paralyzed friend on a pallet, a kind of flat board with handles. No motorized wheelchairs back then. No handicapped access. No way to push through the crowd to Jesus. They decide to dig through the roof and lower the man on his pallet down with a rope to the feet of Jesus. Imagine being the owner of the house. Mark says that Jesus “came home.” Perhaps it was back to Peter’s mother-in-law. You invite Jesus to your home, next thing you know the whole town is in your living room and some strangers are digging a hole through your roof. It takes all the romance out of “house church,” doesn’t it?

Jesus is impressed. He sees their faith, their stop-at-nothing, determined trust in Him, that He could do something for their paralyzed friend. He does a surprising thing, an outrageous thing, something He hadn’t done before. He says to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” He absolves him.

Do you think that’s what the four friends had in mind when they carried their paralyzed buddy to Capernaum and dug through the roof and lowered their friend to Jesus? Is what what they had in mind? An absolution? “Your sins are forgiven?” No, they were thinking healing, miracle. They were expecting Jesus to lay His hands on their friend and say the healing word and their friend was going to walk home. Or perhaps climb up to the roof and help them fix the hole.

What did you expect when you came to this house today? A miracle perhaps? Answers to your problems? Peace in your life? Success? Happiness? What did you hear? What did Jesus say to you? “I forgive you all of your sins.” Scandalous, outrageous.

“Blasphemous!” say the religious types, the teachers of the Torah. Who does this Jesus think He is? God? Only God can talk like that. Only God can forgive sins.

Absolution is an outrage to our religious sensibilities. That’s why a lot of so-called “progressive churches” have stopped using it in their services. You don’t hear confession and absolution talk anymore. People say, “That’s no way to start a service. What a downer. Admit that your a sinner. And then some guy in a bathrobe says, ‘I forgive you all of your sins. What’s up with that?”

“Cheap grace” goes the religious protest. Forgiveness can’t be that easy. You have to earn it, right? Repent. Change. Promise to be good. What did the paralyzed man do? He did nothing. He was carried by others on a board, lowered to Jesus. St. Mark doesn’t record a word from the paralyzed man. Could he talk? No prayer, no confession, no promises. He wasn’t even there to be forgiven; he was there for Jesus to fix his legs.

That man is a perfect picture of each of us. Spiritually paralyzed, unable to move one little step in a Godward direction. We have to be brought to Jesus, as babies brought to Baptism. We are paralyzed in sin and death. There is nothing more paralyzing than death, is there? We can’t move. Sinful by nature, sinful in thought, word, and deed. Unable to free ourselves. Can you say to a paralyzed man, “You need to get yourself to a doctor, son?” No more can you say to a sinner, “You need to get yourself to Jesus. You need to give your heart to Jesus. You need to decide to follow Jesus.” Nonsense. The dead are paralyzed.

I have a little problem with the English translation in our liturgy that has me say, “Lift up your hearts,” and you reply, “We lift them up to the Lord.” Lots of lifting going. Lifting those hearts up to heaven. Feel the burn. Liturgical aerobics. The Latin simply said, Sursum corda. “Heart up.” And the people said, Habemus ad Dominum. “We have them to Lord.” No lifting. Just open, empty hearts waiting like the paralyzed man on his mat looking up into the eyes of Jesus.

“You were dead in sin.” Not kind of sick, dead. Not sort of limplng, paralyzed. Laid out. Dead. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in trespasses – it is by grace (gift, undeserved kindness) that you have been saved.” (Eph 2:1,4)

“Your sins are forgiven.” Literally, “your sins are loosed.” The chains have fallen off. The weight on your shoulders is lifted. Your sins are Jesus’ burden now. You can’t have them anymore. They’re His, and He died with them. Those are words of freedom and life. They lift you out of the paralysis of sin and death and set you on your feet. If all that Jesus had done for the paralyzed man that day was say, “Your sins are forgiven,” that would have been more than enough. Remember what the Catechism says: “Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” Everything you need is in those absolving words of Jesus.

Jesus knew the scandal of those words. He knew what people were whispering in the back rows of the crowd. He knew what those religious experts were muttering under their breath. “Who can forgive sin except God alone.”

Jesus addresses them. “Which is easier to say to a paralyzed man: “Your sins are forgiven,” or “Arise and take your pallet and go home”? So which is easier? You’d say, “Well, forgiveness because all you have to do is say words, right?” Oh yeah? Try it next time someone sins against you, and you pray the Our Father, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” To forgive isn’t easy. It cost Jesus His life on a cross, His blood shed for the sin of world. Absolution doesn’t come cheaply. It’s free to us, costly to Jesus. And so for that matter are the words, “Arise and walk.” Those words too cost Jesus His life, who bore our sicknesses and sin in His own body.

They are both for God alone to say. That’s right. And Jesus, standing in the middle of that crowded house with the hole in the roof, is God in human flesh, the Word Incarnate, whose words are Spirit and life. The God who said through the prophet Isaiah:

“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Is 43:25)

Jesus looks down at the paralyzed man lying there on his board and says, “I say to you, arise, take your mat, go to your house.” Jesus’ words do what they say and say what they do. The man arose and immediately (everything is “immediately” in Mark) he took his pallet and in full view of a whole house full of people walked out. And the people were astonished and glorified God. “We’ve never seen anything like this.”

If we could talk to that crowd, we might say, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” You think that was something? Watch when Jesus dies on a cross and rises from the dead three days later. That’s how the world will know for certain that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. He got up and walked out of His tomb three days after He died to pay for your sins.

In many ways this house is like that house where Jesus raised the paralytic. Perhaps not quite so crowded, though we can always hope. And we don’t have to cut through the roof to get to Jesus. He’s accessible to each of you in the water of Baptism, in the words of forgiveness, in the Supper of His Body and Blood, in the preached Word which has the authority of Jesus, the Son of God, who died and rose from the dead.

Nowhere else can you see water be a Baptism, a new birth, a washing of sin. Nowhere else can you see a man forgiving sin with the authority of Christ. Nowhere else can you eat bread that is the Body of Jesus and drink wine that is His blood. Nowhere else but in the church that is gathered by the Spirit, the congregation which is open to heaven.

It took four men to bring that paralyzed man to Jesus, to dig through the roof, to lower him on a rope. Four faithful men. Do you know what we call that? Evangelism. Mission work. Bringing the sin-paralyzed to Jesus, bringing them to the house where Jesus is. They won’t come on their own. They can’t. They’re paralyzed. They can’t come to Jesus. They have to be brought by those who have been given ears to hear, mouths to speak, legs to go, arms to carry. That’s the church scattered in mission, bringing the sin-paralyzed to Jesus so that they too might hear those loosing words, “Your sins are forgiven.”

What Jesus did for that paralyzed man, He does for you gathered here today. He forgives your sin. And on the Last Day, by that same Word and authority, He will raise you from your grave. You ain’t seen nothing yet. Now you must hear it, and believe it.

In the name of Jesus,
Amen

The Lord’s Supper – II

To eat and to drink with God is the highest form of fellowship that we can have. Table fellowship with God is the ultimate fellowship. It is to come into His presence with thanksgiving, to be welcomed at His table, to eat His food and drink His wine, to be guests in His house. People pay hundreds of thousands of dollars just to have a cup of coffee and a danish with the president or a round of golf with a high ranking congressman. But table fellowship with God is free, a gift of His grace, purchased with the blood of God’s Lamb, His Son Jesus poured out on the cross.

The Lord’s Supper is the Lamb’s High Feast. It is the Feast of feasts, a meal in which our Lord Himself is the cook, the servant, and the meal itself. His Body and His Blood, given under bread and wine. The Lamb of God roasted on the cross in the fire of God’s wrath against our sin and His burning love for sinners, here is our Food and Drink. He gives us His body and blood with His very words, spoken through His minister, “given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.” Christ is speaking to you, Christ is feeding you, Christ is your food. This is table fellowship with God in the most complete way. Never before had God so dined with His people as in this meal.

The Lord’s Supper is a feast that takes up and fulfills all the great feasts of the Old Testament. We remember Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and the seventy elders of Israel on Sinai, of whom the Scriptures say, “they behold God, and ate and drank.” And the annual passover meal of roasted lamb, bitter herbs, unleavened bread. The heavenly gifts of manna and quail in the wilderness. And the communion sacrifices at the tabernacle and temple in which a penitent ate of the sacrifice in the presence of the priest. And the miraculous meal of bread and water that took Elijah 40 days across the Sinai desert.

The Lord’s Supper takes up and fulfills all the new testament feasts as well. We recall Jesus’ feeding of the four thousand and on another occasion five thousand. And His love for eating and drinking with the tax collector and the Pharisee, the prostitutes and the religious. It seems that Jesus never turned down a dinner invitation, so that he quickly got the reputation as a “glutton and a drunkard” among those who notice such things. We recall the Emmaus road on the Day of Resurrection, when Jesus appeared to two of His disciples walking on the road. He preached a sermon to them from the Scriptures and revealed himself in the breaking of the bread.

For nearly two thousand years thereafter, the church has devoted herself to the preached Word and the Sacrament, to the apostle’s teaching and table fellowship. Sermon and Supper were so much the rhythm of the first day, the Day of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, that for over 1500 years it would have been unheard to have the Lord’s Day without a Lord’s Supper. Sermon and Supper were one whole thing, not to be divided. It was the radical reformation, not the Lutheran Reformation, that broke table fellowship with the Lord and made the ongoing feast of God into an occasional thing, three or at most four times a year, instead of the weekly gift that it had been since Pentecost.

This meal of Christ’s Body and Blood, given with His words, is His ongoing feast. It continues through the centuries. It will continue through the turn of a second millennium. Yet it remains one unchanging meal – one loaf and one cup. Oh, the outward forms may have changed a bit. We have little glasses, they had a cup. We have little stamped wafers of bread, they had a single flat loaf. And yet for all the outward differences, we still eat the same Lamb as did the Twelve on the night Jesus was betrayed. We drink the same Blood as they did. There is but one Christ, one Sacrifice, one Supper. That means that when we kneel at the altar, we are eating the very same meal as did St. Paul, Peter, John, Ignatius, Augustine, Ambrose, Athanasius, Cyprian, St. John Chrysostom, Luther, Melanchthon, Chemnitz, Gerhardt, Walther, Loehe, Reu, to name but a few of the countless crowd that have dined at the Lord’s Table and are now numbered among the whole company of heaven.

There are two great comforts in this. First, it is a comfort that so many have preceded us at this Supper of the Lord. They were sinners just as we are. They felt the grief and shame of what they had done. They wanted relief from the Law and assurance that Christ was with them to the end to raise them and give them eternal life. They found that comfort and assurance in the Sacrament and they have directed us there as well. We are in great company at this table.

Second, though many things may change, and changes seem to be coming almost daily in this computer-driven world, yet two things remain very much the same – our sin, and the Body and Blood of Christ that deliver the forgiveness of sins to us. We daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment from God. We do all sorts of things daily against God and our neighbor, and most of it passes off as “just another day at the office.” Words are said that shouldn’t be said. Deeds are done that shouldn’t be done. Thoughts and desires well up that deny God and His lordship over our lives. Our sinful nature within us continues to its will against God’s will. Our sin doesn’t change. We are the same sorts of sinners as those who lived in the first century at the time of Christ or those who lived at the time of Moses. Our sin is the same – the poison fruit of Adam’s rebellion that made us God’s competitors instead of His obedient creatures.

The solution to our sin is the same as it always has been – the Word made flesh nailed to the tree for our sins. Jesus Christ crucified and raised. He is the only solution to our sin. His Body broken for us is real Food, filled with life. His blood shed for us is real Drink, filled with forgiveness. His words make these things ours and deliver their saving benefits to faith, “for the words ‘for you’ require all hearts to believe.”

This ongoing meal of Christ is God’s answer to our Laodicean lukewarmedness. You will recall the church at Laodicea, one of the seven churches to which St. John addressed the Revelation as their bishop. Laodicea’s faith had grown lukewarm in her rich complacency, just like the water the came out of the city’s faucets. The congregation was neither refreshingly cold nor steaming hot, just lukewarm and lazy, fit for nothing but mouthwash. It was the way many of the churches have become, or the way many of us have become in our personal faith life. It is said that there are three kinds of churches today: high and crazy, broad and hazy, or low and lazy.

How to wake up a sleeping giant like Laodicea? Bang on the door and invite to the Supper, that’s how. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Jesus wants to have table fellowship with lukewarm Laodicea, to put a square meal into her, to energize her and bring her back to life again. He wants to eat with them, and He wants them to eat with Him. Table fellowship.

I believe that the Lord’s Supper is one of the three points to renewing and revitalizing the liturgical life of the church. Herman Sasse, the Lutheran historian and theologian, has pointed out that whenever the church takes seriously the Lord’s Supper, the church is renewed and grows. Sermon, supper, and prayer are the three pillars on which the liturgy of the Church born in Pentecost rested. Apostolic teaching, table fellowship in the Breaking of the Bread, and corporate prayer. Where these are going on, we can know with all assurance that the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church is present, that Christ is with her, and that the gifts of salvation are being given out, no matter how large or how small the number of believers that might be gathered there.

Before we conclude this sermon series on the sacraments, and our Lenten devotions, I would like to say a few words about personal preparation for this ongoing feast. This is not as much of an issue today as it was in Luther’s day. Then the people feared the Sacrament and tended to stay away from it, even though they came to church every Sunday to hear the Word. Today, many people come to the Sacrament without so much as a word of prayer, or even a thought about the seriousness of their sin or the greatness of the gifts they are about to receive.

The Small Catechism reminds us that “fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training.” This was spoken to a people who were preoccupied with fasting and outward discipline of the body. We are quite the opposite. One of my catechumens, when we came to this question in the catechism, asked in all seriousness, “What’s fasting?”

We live in a culture that knows feast without fast, that sees Holy Communion as a personal right rather than a corporate privilege, that individualizes everything and expects things to be “my way” or no way. We have come to the point in American Lutheranism where people simply expect to be communed in every congregation they attend, as if the Church were a franchise operation like McDonalds and the local congregation was nothing more than outlet of the parent company. Gone are the days when Lutherans came to their pastor for conversation and confession prior to communion. Gone too is the linkage between pastor and communicant, and so gone also is any semblance of church discipline. Today if a pastor suggests to an unrepentant member that it would be best if that person refrain from the Lord’s Supper, that person simply goes running off to another congregation in the area and is received without any questions. I say this to our shame.

We recognize that he or she is worthy and well-prepared who has faith in the words of Christ, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But the way in which we approach the Lord’s table wars against this faith. Casual communion undermines faith in these words of Christ. I propose that we who consider ourselves confessional Lutherans take the lead and set an example for the whole church in our communion practice. That means three things:

First, that we commune prayerfully and preparedly. That we take some time on Saturday night or early Sunday morning to meditate on the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Supper section in the catechism, and the Christian Questions and their Answers which Dr. Luther wrote for people desiring to receive the sacrament. If your health permits, you may try fasting prior to coming to church. Remind your belly that man does not live by bread alone, but by the true and living Bread, our Lord Jesus Christ. I offer this as a suggestion, not a rule. And if you do it, keep it to yourself and the Lord and do not judge others.

Second, commune congregationally. Too often these days people commune willy-nilly, here one Sunday, there another Sunday. What does it matter? It’s as though the church were Macdonalds and each congregation a local franchise. The words “congregation” and “communion” go together. We congregate to have communion; we commune by congregating. When children are told to eat dinner with the family, it means their family, not just any family. I’m not speaking about being out of town or on vacation or visiting friends or family. When we are guests in other congregations, that’s an important sign of our ultimate unity in Christ as members of Christ’s body. But the word “church” is nothing but an abstract concept without a local, real, flesh and blood gathering of sweaty, smelly, baptized sinner-saints. Your congregation. Every Christian ought to have one.

Third, commune confessing your sins. Spend some quality time with the ten commandments and their meanings. Consider your own life, who you are and what you’ve done. Make use of those Wednesday and Saturday hours for private confession at the church. I would love to add even more hours in the week for confession, even perhaps daily, as our Lutheran forefathers did it. Come to the Supper with broken hearts and bent knees and empty hands. Do not come proud and arrogant, but humble and hungry. Come knowing the depth of your sin; and even more so, the greatness of your Savior. Come, with empty hands and empty hearts, ready to receive.

I believe that the smaller churches can make a big difference today at this crucial hour in the church. We may not have the numbers that impress or the resources that influence. We may be barely a bump on synodical statistical surveys. But we can be leaders and examples of a true sacramental piety and devotion that revels in Christ made Flesh for us. I believe that through renewal in the sacraments, God will once again reform His church that is ever in need of reformation, and will reverse this godless trend of church growthism and every other methodism in our day that threatens to turn the church into Amway and the Gospel into a form of entertainment. We can be an example to the whole church. We can show people what it means to be confessing Christians who believe that we are justified by God’s free grace through faith for Christ’s sake by means of the means of grace, means by which God visibly and audibly reveals His grace in Jesus – Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Communion.

God has put mighty and powerful tools at our disposal in the sacraments, weapons against the forces of evil – the devil, the world, our sinful nature, potent medicines to combat this cancer of Adam within us. He has given us Baptism, the washing of regeneration and rebirth by the Holy Spirit. He has given us Absolution, the authorized and spoken words of forgiveness from Christ to us. And He has given us the Lord’s Supper – His ongoing feast for the life of the world. Forgiveness, life, and salvation delivered to our doorstep.

Imagine a rich philanthropist standing out on Hacienda and Newton, handing out hundred dollar bills and your friend comes to you and tells you about it. Imagine refusing to go because he you didn’t believe him. The money remains just as real and valuable whether you go to receive it, or stay in bed and ignore the offer. The gift of God’s grace in Christ crucified is the same whether you come to the church or stay at home. The only difference is whether you live in the wealth of faith or the poverty of unbelief.

The gifts are here. “In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” What more could we possibly need?

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Lord’s Supper – I

If Holy Baptism is our daily garment, the clothing we wear on our journey from the Red Sea of Baptism to the promised land of the Resurrection, then the Lord’s Supper our daily food. The new life that is born in Baptism, that is bathed daily in the Word of forgiveness, is also nourished by the Word and the Meal. Word and Sacrament, Sermon and Supper are the provisions of our pilgrimage as God’s people. We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Jesus is our daily food. Jesus is the bread of life. Eat of this bread and you will never go hungry. Believe in him and you will never thirst. Jesus is Living Bread come down from heaven as the manna did for Israel in the wilderness. Eat of this living, heavenly Manna, believing Jesus’ words, and you will have what what His words promise: life, eternal life.

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” (John 6:54-55)

When Jesus first spoke those words in the synagogue at Capernaum, the people were scandalized. What sort of nonsense was this? Eating flesh and drinking blood! The Jews were offended. People left Him and wouldn’t follow Him anymore. They thought He was crazy or a blasphemer. Even the disciples were deeply disturbed by Jesus’ words. What could the Teacher possibly mean?

And then came that fateful night, the night of the Passover, the night Jesus was to be betrayed into death. An upper room had been prepared. The unleavened bread baked. The Passover Lamb had been sacrificed and roasted. Jesus sat at the head of the table with His Twelve, His Israel, His family. He took the large piece of unleavened flat bread that signaled the opening of the Passover meal. He gave thanks to His Father for the gifts. He broke it and handed the pieces to His disciples. Thus far theirs had been a Passover like any another Passover, recalling God’s grace to Israel when He brought them out of slavery in Egypt to freedom through the blood of the lamb smeared on their doorposts.

Then Jesus spoke. He spoke at a moment that called for no speaking. There were no words for the distribution of the bread in the Passover liturgy. What Jesus said at that moment had never before been said at a Passover meal. “Take, eat. This is my body, which is for you.” And again, after the supper, Jesus took the third chalice of wine called the “thanksgiving or blessing cup,” gave thanks and then said something that had never before been said at a Passover meal, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Jesus was treating the Passover as though it were His own. It was. Jesus is the Lord. This is the Lord’s Passover.

With these words, Jesus put Himself into the Passover meal. With the bread, He gives His body as food – the body He received from His mother Mary. The body that was conceived in her through the Word spoken by the angel in the power of the Holy Spirit. The body that was wrapped in diapering cloths and laid in a manger. The body that was whipped and beaten, spit at and slapped. The body that was nailed to the cross, laid in the tomb, raised from the dead on the third day. “Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Of course it is. His words declare it to be so, and His words are true. His body Jesus gives as bread to eat. This bread, in His hand, and in the disciples mouths, is His body.

With the cup, He gives His blood. With the wine, He gives His blood as drink. This is the blood of God’s Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world. The cross is the doorpost of the world, and the blood of Jesus is the blood of the Passover Lamb. The medieval artists who depict a chalice at the foot of the cross and a stream of blood pouring into it from the wounded side of Jesus understood the force of Jesus’ words. The blood that was shed on Calvary’s cross is now our drink, our cup of thanksgiving, our eucharistic cup. “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?” Of course it is. Jesus’ words declare it to be so, and His words are true. His blood, Jesus gives as wine to drink. This wine, in the Lord’s chalice, and in the disciples’ mouths, is His blood.

To eat and drink is to incorporate and absorb all the blessings and benefits of food and drink. When we eat and drink, our bodies absorb all the vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats contained in the food. The energy of the sunshine, the nutrients of the soil, the blessings of the rain, all are incorporated by our bodies through the act of eating. When we eat bread, we release and incorporate the energies and nutrients of the wheat. When we drink wine, we release and incorporate the energies and nutrients of the grape.

To eat and drink the Passover, was to incorporate all the blessings and benefits of God’s grace in the exodus. By eating and drinking this meal, and hearing the story of the exodus, all the blessings of the first night were brought home to you. You couldn’t go back to Egypt on the night that Israel walked to freedom through the blood of the Lamb, but the benefits of the exodus were delivered to you through the Passover meal. By eating and drinking the Passover, you were united with all of Israel and participated in Israel’s life and freedom. You couldn’t go to the exodus, but the gifts of the exodus could come to you in the Passover.

In the same way, by eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper, you participate in the life and freedom of Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. He was offered up for our sins. Christ did His own exodus by being baptized, by suffering, dying and rising from the dead. His death and life He now gives as food and drink. His broken body is our living Bread. His poured out blood is our Wine. Where body and blood are separated, there is sacrifice. Christ was sacrificed once for all on the cross. We can’t go back to Calvary, but the blessings of Calvary can and do come to us. On the cross the forgiveness of sins was won for the entire world. There the Son of God gave His life for you. In the Supper, Jesus’ body and blood once offered on the cross for our sins, is now delivered and distributed to us as a Meal. Here the Son of God gives His life to you.

You have heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” It ordinarily is not true. People who eat carrots do not become carrots. People who eat pork, do not become pigs. People who eat chickens, do not become chickens. Ordinary, what you eat becomes what you are. The food you eat becomes bone and blood and muscle and skin.

But the food of the Lord’s Supper is a different kind of food entirely. It is extraordinary, heavenly, miraculous food. With this food, you really are “what you eat.” “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Cor. 10:17). We eat the body of Christ, we drink His blood, hearing His words “given and shed for you,” and we become what we eat – the body of Christ! There is no greater union that we can have with Christ and with one another as believers in Christ, than kneel together at His table and eat His Supper.

In His Supper, there is forgiveness, life, and salvation. These are what is released when we eat His body and drink His blood trusting in His words – the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation from sin and death. We seem always to be in search of the perfect food, the food that will cure our ills, the food that will give us energy and vitality and health. We run after the latest food kicks – oat bran and olive oil, to name but two. We pop vitamins and minerals, we down elixirs and potions, we shell out hard earned money for the latest diet fads, all in the hope of reversing the ravages of death at work in us, or at least stalling it for a while. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives us the very food we’ve been looking for. It is food for eternal life. The Large Catechism calls it, “a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body.” Christ puts His very body and blood into us. Think of what that means. It means that He goes with us, even to the grave, because He will never abandon His own body and blood.

It’s a strange thing, that people who would not think of skipping a meal, or neglecting their daily dosage of vitamin supplements, think nothing of going weeks, months, or even years at a time without eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ. Luther was amazed to find that when people no longer had to go the Lord’s Supper, they no longer did. He would be even more amazed today. We let foolish and trivial things stand between us and this life-giving food – the music, the length of the service, the style of worship, the building, personality conflicts. If I told you that this food could cure cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, AIDS, and whatever ails you, would it matter much to you if we served it on china with classical music or on paper plates with country? If you believed that this Supper delivered resurrection from the dead and eternal life, would you let anything get in the way of your eating and drinking?

I believe that many of the problems that we have in church life today are because we do not wholeheartedly believe our Lord when He says, “My body given for you; my blood shed for you.” Everything else simply pales by comparison. Think of what most people will put up for great food – long lines, bad parking, crowded seating, surly waiters, bad lighting, noisy conditions. But if the food is good, hey, it’s worth it, isn’t it? If we had as many excuses for not eating our daily food as we have for not eating the Lord’s Supper, we’d starve to death within a month.

We need to revive our appetite for the fruits of the cross, our hunger and thirst for righteousness that come to us in the Lord’s Supper. Luther noted three appetite stimulants for those who feel no hunger or thirst.

Examine yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror of the Ten Commandments. See how things are going within your heart. If you are indeed truly pure and upright, if you have no sin, if you feel no guilt and shame, if you have kept every point of God’s holy Law perfectly, then you don’t need to come to the Lord’s Supper. You also have no need for Christ, and He has no need for you. But if you see your sin and your brokenness, if death is smiling back at you in the mirror, if you are weighed down and heavy with guilt, if you are ashamed of the things you have done in public, where everyone sees, and in secret where no one but God sees, then by all means, go to the Supper for refreshment, as Jesus invites, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Second, look around you a bit. Check to see if you are still in the world. If you’re not sure, check with the neighbors. They’ll be able to tell you. If you are still in the world, then you are in a wilderness, a war zone. There will be no lack of sin and temptation all around you. Try to reflect the love of Christ into the world and see what happens. You will quickly discover that the prince of this world, the devil, is prowling about and raging. His time is short, and He knows it. You never know what misery and misfortune he can suddenly bring you. You never know from what side you will be attacked. You shouldn’t have to look far to see that the enemy is all around us as well as in us. Were it not for Christ, we wouldn’t be safe for a single moment. We need all the help and strength we can get. Only a fool goes into battle without eating.

Third, cling to the Scriptures. Luther says that if you truly do not feel any sin and do not see the evil around you in the world, which is most unlikely, then take your hand, stick it in your shirt and check to see if you are made of flesh. And if you find that you are made of flesh, then turn immediate to St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians where you can read that the works of the flesh are “adultery, immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, murder, drunkenness, carousing, etc.” St. Paul says, “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, there dwells no good thing.” And if the apostle can say that about himself, we dare not pretend to be any holier or better. It is something to be feared, when we no longer feel our sins or the pressures of the Law bearing down on our conscience. It means that we are so utterly dead in sin that we no longer hear God’s Word or fear His judgment. That gives us something to say to those who say, “I don’t feel a need to go to church.” As Luther put it, “The less you feel your sins and infirmities, the more reason you have to go to the Sacrament and seek a remedy.”

Examine yourself, look around you, cling to the Scriptures. Even more, recall the great price that the Son of God paid to make you His own, by giving His body and blood on the cross, and the words with which He gives these gifts to you – “Take, eat, this is my body given for you; take, drink, this is my blood shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” It is the Lord’s Passover. Amen.

Holy Absolution

Last week we heard about what Baptism means for daily life. Baptism is not just a once in a lifetime bath, but an ongoing dying and rising of the Christian. Daily the sinner dies in the death of Jesus. Daily the saint rises in the life of Jesus. Daily the washing and rebirthing work of Baptism is effected through the Word of God. Baptism is the beginning of a dying and rising that ends with our own death and our resurrection on the day of Jesus’ appearing.

This daily dying and rising brings us what is sometimes called the “third sacrament” – Holy Absolution. And such a poor and neglected one it is! It shouldn’t be so in a church that pledges her allegiance to the Lutheran Confessions which call absolution the “living voice” of the Gospel, and say that “it would be wicked to remove personal absolution” from our churches. Tell a fellow Lutheran that your church offers hours for personal confession twice a week and point out the confessional bench and I assure you that jaws will drop and eyebrows will rise. At a recent pastoral conference, one brother pastor of our district was heard to say with a sneer, “We all know that private confession is in the Confessions, but who does THAT any more?” Who indeed! The church that does not practice what the Lutheran Confessions preach is hardly entitled to be called a “Lutheran” church. If it was wicked to remove personal absolution in 1530, it is doubly wicked not to put it back where it was removed in 1997 – unless something has changed about our sin and Christ’s forgiveness.

Confession and absolution is the ongoing work of Baptism. It is a return to the water, a sprinkling with the Word of Baptism that first brought us life and cleansing. So basic is confession to the Christian life, that the Large Catechism simply says: “When I urge you to go to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian.” Christians confess their sins and are forgiven. Unbelievers deny their sins and have no use for forgiveness.

Bonhoeffer calls absolution without personal confession a form of “cheap grace,” a cross-less Christianity. It is the attempt to have repentance without shame, contrition without guilt. It is the equivalent of an out of court settlement – just pay the money admit no wrongdoing. God wants us at the bar of His justice. There is no back room bargaining with the Lord. There is only the Law and the Gospel, our sin and the death of Christ for our sin.

The gift of holy absolution consists of two parts. The first part is that we confess our sins. To confess means to “say the same words,” to say back what you have heard, the way a little child repeats what he has heard. We may feel badly about ourselves, have low self-esteem, feel guilty or depressed or isolated. The Law says to us, “You are a sinner.” That’s what is wrong with you. It’s not what you do, it’s who you are. We confess, “I am a sinner.” That is the only truth which a sinner can say. “I am a sinner.” Sinner means rebel, enemy of God, idolater, one who wants to overthrow God from His throne, one who fears, loves and trusts himself or herself instead of God. That is the truth about ourselves, and we must speak that truth before God.

The opposite of confession is denial. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive our selves and the truth is not in us.” When we deny our present sinfulness, we are kidding ourselves, and the truth is not at work in us. How often do we become irate if someone says to us, “You are sinning” or calls us a “sinner.”? Yet it’s the truth. That’s what we are. “If we say we have not sinned, we make (God) a liar; and his word is not in us.” The past counts too. The past and the present testify against us. We have sin, and we have sinned.

Confession puts the past and the present into concrete words. We may confess generally, such as we do in church every Sunday: “We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” We also confess specifically, those things that we know and trouble us the most. The Lutheran Reformers were not interested in the mathematics of “how many” sins to confess. Who can know all his errors? “Forgive my hidden faults”, prays the psalmist. There is no end to the lists one could make. By the same token, the Reformers were not satisfied with a generic confession, the kind that you, me, and 5 1/2 billion people could all say together. “I, a poor miserable sinner.” True enough, but what makes you say that?

General confession without specific confession runs the risk of simply bad-mouthing ourselves. That isn’t telling the truth, but covering over the truth with a lesser truth. Specific confession run amuck can become a perverse sort of pride, a personal pity party in which we brag about our weakness and run our dirty laundry out on the line for the whole neighborhood to see. Speaking the truth of our sin means neither kicking the corpse of our body of death, nor putting it on display.

Confession is directed in three ways – to God, to the neighbor, and to the pastor. A Christian always confesses to God, and can always confess to God directly, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer and in our own personal prayers. That is your privilege as a baptized child of God. People sometimes use this privilege as a dodge and an excuse. “I can confess directly to God; therefore, I don’t need to confess before another.” That isn’t humility, but pride. The very words and deeds we are ashamed to admit before a fellow sinner, we were not ashamed to say and do in full view of the Lord of heaven and earth.

Though we may confess to God directly, He always deals with us through the external Word, the Word outside of ourselves – through Baptism, through the Lord’s Supper, through the preached Word. The person who boasts confidently, “I can confess my sins to God directly, and therefore don’t need the church,” misses the basic point. It’s not our confession, but God’s forgiveness that matters. And God always deals with us through the incarnation of Jesus, through earthy, creaturely means such as water, bread, wine, words, in this case sound waves that emanate from mouths and go into ear holes.

A Christian also confesses to the neighbor, especially when he or she has sinned against the neighbor. Whenever we hurt and harm another, we need to confess it to that person, and forgive one another as God has forgiven us. We need to let Jesus get between us, or else our sins will push us apart. That is the double absolution for which we pray in the Our Father – that our Father in heaven would forgive us as we forgive others. Our problem is that we are out of practice. Our tongues are tied in knots. The language of confession sounds foreign to our ears because we don’t use it. Instead we harbor grudges and resentments. We nurse quarrels for years. We isolate and alienate each other. And this ought not be, especially in the Christian congregation which God instituted to be a place filled with forgiveness. The Christian has the call and command of Christ to go to the brother or sister who has sinned, to be like Nathan to David, rebuke the sin and restore the sinner.

Even the secular psychologists have caught on, at least in a small way. They are beginning to speak of “forgiveness therapy” – husbands and wives intentionally and specifically forgiving one another, parents and children confessing their sins against each other and absolving one another. Of all places, the church ought to be a laboratory where the conversation of confession is practiced and applied among the baptized children of God. But then again, “Who does that kind of thing anymore?”

Christians also confess to their pastor. There are several good reasons for doing this. First, he is ordained to hear confession. That’s what we put him there for. It is one of the tasks laid on a pastor at his ordination. Second, he is equipped by practice and training to help others sharpen and deepen their confession and to square them to the Word of God. Third, he is bound by solemn vow to secrecy, something that a close friends is not. For a pastor to break the seal of confession is grounds for dismissal.

Fourth, the pastor is a public, corporate person. He holds an office. The pastor does not speak for himself but for Christ and for the whole church. The pastor is a minister, a servant of the Word, a steward of God’s mysteries revealed in Christ. He is not there as superior, but as servant. He serves not “from above” but “from below.” He is there not to condemn but to forgive. He is under holy orders to forgive. A friend may forgive you simply to keep you as a friend. A family member may forgive you for no other reason than to keep peace in the family. Friends and family we have aplenty. Pastors, we have precious few. A pastor forgives by the divine order of the crucified, risen, and reigning Son of God, “in his stead and by his command.” He represents the person of Jesus, not his own person. Even if the pastor doesn’t like you, or even if you don’t like him, his forgiveness is Christ’s forgiveness, sure and certain, addressed to you. And that’s really all that matters.

That brings us to the second part, and more important part of confession, which is the absolution. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Absolution is spoken forgiveness, release, freedom. God releases the sinner from his or her sin; He puts our sin as “far as the east is from the west;” He buries it in the death of Jesus; He cleanses us with His holy, precious blood. He surrounds us with His innocent suffering and death.

God is faithful. He is trustworthy. He has promised to forgive. We can approach Him with confidence. He will not treat us as our sins deserve. “I forgive you,” God says to us, and who dares to contradict Him? To say, “No, it can’t be,” is to deny the cross of Christ. It’s the equivalent of saying, “Jesus did not die for me.”

God is also just. His justice demands a judgment, a verdict. God is just, and He justifies the sinner in Christ. He made Jesus into our sin. He judged Jesus guilty, and put on Him what we deserve. He condemned Jesus in our place. In Jesus, that is, baptized into His death and believing on His Name, God judges us innocent, righteous. God justifies the sinner in His Son.

“I absolve you. I forgive you.” This is no cheap, idle word. No “smile, be happy, God loves you,” saccharine sentimentality. This is a costly Word from God to you. It cost the Son of God his life. He sweat and suffered and bled and died so that this word might be spoken. It is a Word anchored in the past, nailed to the bloody cross of Golgotha, a Word that reaches into our present, into the here and now of our lives. It reaches into our ears and minds and hearts, a divine Word that says, “Christ Jesus died for you.” It is a word authorized and approved by the crucified and risen Son of God Himself, freshly risen from the dead with the wounds to prove it, who breathed His Spirit and words into His disciples and said, “The sins you forgive are forgiven; the sins you retain are retained.”

People are sometimes offended by the absolution. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” The unbelieving Pharisees asked that of Jesus. “How dare that guy speak as though he were God!” People should be offended. The absolution is as offensive as the Incarnation of the Son of God. It is as offensive as the God who wears diapers and sleeps in a manger, or the God who hangs naked and bleeding on a cross. Only God can forgive. That’s true. And God only forgives through His Son, who became man, who speaks through His Church and the Ministry He ordained to speak. It is the living voice of God that we hear when we hear the absolution. “So if there is a heart that feels its sin and desires consolation, it has here a sure refuge when it hears in God’s Word that through a man God looses and absolves him from his sins” (Large Catechism V.14)

Do we have to go to confession? Does a thirsty deer question whether he has to drink from a cold mountain stream? Does a hungry person ask whether he has to eat a free meal offered to him? Does one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness ask whether he has to hear a Word from Christ? Does a Christian ever ask whether he or she has to be forgiveness? Do we have to go to confession? Oh, you already know the answer. Of course you don’t have to go; God never forces anyone to be forgiven. You get to be forgiven; and always as a gift.

If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Holy Baptism – II

Last week we heard about what Baptism is. It is water that is comprehended in the mandate of Christ to make disciples; it is water combined with God’s Word, His promise to be present in Baptism and to save us through Baptism. We considered what gave Baptism its great power – the Word of God combined with the water. We recalled the blessings of Baptism. It is a washing of rebirth and renewal, the delivery of the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. In short, “Baptism saves.” We noted the necessity of faith, how saving faith trusts the promise of Christ attached to Baptism. To believe in Jesus as your Savior is to believe in the Baptism that now saves you through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Tonite we are going to consider what Baptism means for daily life. “What does such baptizing with water mean for daily life? The idea that Baptism is a daily thing may come initially as a surprise to some people. If we look at Baptism only as an outward symbol and ceremony, something we do to identify ourselves as Christians, or even something God does to identify us in the way of a sign or symbol, then we might logically conclude that Baptism is one time thing, something done once and then simply remembered with a certificate, much like graduations and anniversaries.

Yet many things done once have lasting effects. For example, marriage vows are exchanged once, but they have daily importance to those who are married. Marriage is living out the vows once made at your wedding. Ordination vows are spoken once, but they daily set the agenda for what a pastor is supposed to be doing. A contract is signed but once, but it is in effect for the life of that contract.

To be baptized is to have God speak to you and act on you. It is a decisive act of God. It is to become the object of God’s Word, a Word of both Law and Gospel. God has focused His attention on you in Baptism, you have been caught in the cross hairs of His Word. Baptism is not just a one time thing. It is a daily thing. Baptism is a daily garment, something we wear each and every day. In Baptism God has marked us with his seal of ownership, branded us as sheep of His pasture, covered the shame of our sin with Christ. In Baptism we wear Christ like a coat. The Christian life is a daily Baptism; and Baptism is the daily life of a Christian. It is a daily dying and rising. Just as we go to sleep each night and get up in the morning, we daily die to sin and arise to live in Christ through our Baptism. Daily dying and rising is the daily life of the baptized.

What exactly does this mean? And what exactly does this daily dying and rising look like? First the dying, then the rising.

Baptism is a daily dying in the death of Jesus. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” The apostle Paul writes this as though everyone would know this and agree wholeheartedly with it, right down to the smallest child. We were buried with Christ by baptism into His death. Baptism unites us with the death of Jesus.

Death is the necessary lot of a sinner. The wages of sin is death. The soul that sins must die. Sin and the sinner must be put to death. There is no way around it. We have an intuitive sense of that. That’s why we hate death and fear it so (unless we are in denial of it). We know deep down the consequences of our rebellion. We know that we must die. The person whose life is in shambles and who feels the stinging shame of his or her sin says, “I just want to die.” And God says to that person, “I can arrange that. Repent and be baptized.”

In the death of Jesus on the cross, God has given the world a death in which a sinner may die now and live forever. It is either die now in the death of Jesus and live forever in His life; or live now apart from the death of Jesus and die forever in your own death. There is no third option. Jesus died for sin and rose from the dead. “The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.” Baptism joins us to the death of Jesus. It nails us to His cross, buries us in His tomb. God has put our sin out of His sight. He has buried it in the death of His Son, hidden it in His wounds, sealed it up in His grave.

Baptismal death in the death of Jesus is a death in hope. “If we have been united with Jesus in a death like his, we shall also be united with him in a resurrection like his.” We know how our story ends. We know how the last chapter comes out for those who are joined to Christ. Christ has died. And we have died with Him. Christ has risen. And we will rise with Him. That means whatever may come our way in this life – whether poverty, disease, pain or persecutions – our present sufferings cannot compare with the glory that will be revealed in us. Whatever burden the cross of Christ may bring to us now, it does not compare with what we will be ours in the resurrection of the righteous.

Baptism means that by daily contrition the old Adam in us should be drowned and die together with all sin and evil desire. Baptism sets us in a struggle. Those who think that the baptized life is an easy life are kidding themselves. We have become the enemy of the devil, the world, and our own sinful natures. The devil roars and fumes against Baptism, and will stop at nothing to keep us away from it. The world hated Christ and crucified Him, and it will seek to crucify all who are joined with Christ. Our old, sinful nature despises this water combined with the Word. The old Adam is a good swimmer. He daily resists Baptism and refuses to be drowned by it. St. Paul says his works are plain: sexual immorality, impurity, lewdness, idolatry and witchcraft; hatred discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. We don’t have to wonder where all the evil in the world comes from. We know. It comes from deep within us, and needs to be drowned daily in the bath of Baptism.

Baptismal means freedom. We have been freed from the tyranny of sin. “For he who has died is freed from sin.” Sin no longer has lordship over us. Christ has lordship. He lords His death and resurrection over us so that sin cannot harm us. Once we were slaves to sin; now, in baptism, we are slaves to righteousness. That is true freedom. Once we offered our bodies to sin as instruments of evil; now we offer our baptized bodies to God as instruments of righteousness, living sacrifices holy and acceptable through Christ’s sacrifice. Once we could do nothing but sin. Now we are free not to sin.

Baptism initiates an on-going struggle. Though we are dead to sin, we still sin. We, who have been justified, reckoned righteous by the death of Jesus, must now continually reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. We do this by confessing our sins, acknowledging our sinfulness before God, seeking His mercy, imploring His grace. This is where I think we Lutherans have stumbled. We have forgotten this fourth part of Baptism. And as a result, we have neglected the so-called “3rd sacrament” of personal confession and absolution, which Luther points out is nothing else than a return to and an application of Baptism.

One of the great sadnesses of Lutheranism today, indeed of most of Christianity today, is that the baptized do not know how to use their Baptism rightly. We fret and fuss and wring our hands over our sins instead of going to our pastor, confessing them, burying them, and being forgiven of them. There are some who imagine that is “cheap grace.” Cheap grace is baptism without repentance; absolution without personal confession, Christ without a cross. I think one reason we are so easily seduced by the latest methodisms for solving our problems is that we don’t want the strong medicines that Christ prescribes for us. We would rather wring our hands and bend our knees; we would rather recite slogans like “just say no” instead of saying yes to our Baptisms. We would rather work on our “problems” and “issues” instead of dealing with the fact that we are the problem, and we need to die in Jesus so that Jesus might live in us.

By confessing our sins, we bury them in Baptism, we drown them in the flood that flowed from Jesus’ side. This is what St. Paul means when he says, “Reckon yourselves dead to sin.” Confess your sin. Disown it. Throw it away. Nail it to Jesus’ cross. Bury it in Jesus’ grave. In confession, we are setting Baptism to work for us, unleashing the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection in our lives. We cannot conquer sin. Christ alone conquers sin for us. He does it through the daily application of Baptism. This is what the apostle Paul means when he says, “Sin will have no dominion over you.” Once sin had dominion over you, causing you to fear God’s wrath, bringing shame and guilt and doubt and death. Now Christ has claimed dominion over you. He covers you with His blood, frees you with His forgiveness, lords His death and resurrection over you. Baptism gives you the permission to come into God’s presence and to confess your sin to Him, expecting Him to forgive you.

Baptism means life – new life in the life of Jesus. We no longer live. We died and were buried. Christ now lives within us. His life is our life. Our life is the resurrected life of Jesus. He is at work in and through us. We are “alive to God in Christ Jesus” it is only “in Christ Jesus” that we are alive to God. Apart from Him, we are dead. But joined to Him by Baptism, we live.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Branches receive their life from the vine to which they are joined. Sap flows through the vine into the branches, bringing life, leaves, buds, fruit. In Holy Baptism, the sap of the Spirit flows through Christ into us, producing in us the Spirit’s fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, self-control. That is the harvest of Baptism.

Baptism is a life-giving water. “…the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Baptism is our daily spring, our daily refreshment, God’s birthing, healing, cleansing bath that makes us alive in the life of the Lamb who was slain but lives.

Luther was right when he said that there is a lifetime of learning in Holy Baptism. There is also a lifetime of dying and rising in the water with Jesus, every day until the end of our days, and in the end, eternal life. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Holy Baptism – I

God’s Word concerning Baptism is from the third chapter of Titus:

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by men and hating one another; but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. The saying is sure. (Titus 3:3-8a)

What is Baptism? We need to know if we are going to use Baptism as God intended for it to be used. We need to know if we are going to teach others toward Baptism and out of their Baptism. What is it, this thing called Baptism? The Small Catechism gives as good a start as any. “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.” Baptism, then, is two thing, or three, depending on how you are counting them. It is water and God’s Word, and that Word is a Word of command and a word of promise. Water, command, promise, Baptism.

Baptism is not just plain water. This is true. But it is water. That we must acknowledge, and acknowledge first. No water, no Baptism. How much water, God didn’t say. Certainly enough water to get you wet. Water is the material substance of Baptism. God works through material means, through creaturely instruments.

Water is the creature of God over which the Holy Spirit hovered in the beginning when God created and ordered the heavens and the earth. By water and the Spirit all things were made. By means of water God judged the unbelieving world at the time of Noah, and through f the same water He saved Noah and his family in the ark. Through water, God made Himself an Israel. His people passed through the water on their exodus to freedom and life. By means of water, God cleansed Naaman, the Syrian army commander, of his leprosy and restored his skin to that of a young boy. Into water Jesus stepped to “fulfill all righteousness” in John’s baptism. Washing water became wedding wine at Cana in Galilee, the first of Jesus’ miracles. Water and blood issued forth from the spear-pierced side of Jesus on the cross. Jesus said, “Unless one is born of water and Spirit, He cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” He commanded that disciples be made by washing with water in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Water plays an important role in our lives. We all remember the impact of a drought. The crops fail, our lawns and gardens wither, man and beast suffer. We are all born in water, literally. And so it should not come as a surprise that our second, heavenly birth is also through water, in which we are conceived anew by the Holy Spirit and born from above by our heavenly mother, the Church. Water sustains life. Our bodies are over 75% water, and without water we ill quickly die. The 3rd century church father Tertullian likened Christians to little fish swimming about in the water with their big Fish Jesus. Take the Christian out of the living water of Baptism, and he or she will surely dry up and die of dehydration. Water cleanses. We wash our bodies and our clothes with water. Just think of life without baths or showers, and you will get an appreciation for the gift of water.

The apostle Paul calls Baptism “a washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is a washing of regeneration, rebirth, re-creation. It is a birthing, creating, life-giving water. It is a water through which we are born anew with a heavenly birth, not of the will of our flesh but of the will of God. Here the Spirit again hovers over the water, as He once did at the creation. Here God again speaks His creative Word. Something new takes place. We become new creatures in Baptism, born of the water and Spirit by the Word of God. “If anyone is in Christ (and “in Christ” means baptized for St. Paul), he is a new creation.” That’s why the baptistries of the early church had scenes from the Garden of Eden painted on the walls. That’s why candidates in the early church were baptized completely naked, even without jewelry. Baptism is Paradise restored through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The old has gone, the new has come. God and man are once again reconciled, at peace, at one, in harmony, as it was in the beginning, is now in the water of Baptism, and ever shall be.

Baptism is also a washing of renewal. It is not only a life-giving water, it is also a life-sustaining and cleansing water. This is living water, made alive by the Lord and Giver of Life, poured out on us through Jesus Christ our Savior, washing us from the leprous stain of our sin. The filth of our lies, our deceits, our adulteries, our lust, our anger, our prejudice, our greed, our gossip, all that proceeds out of hearts unbuckled from God is washed away in this flood of God’s grace. Our guilt and shame is dissolved and lifted from us. At His transfiguration, Jesus’ clothing shined brighter than any soap on earth could bleach them. In Baptism, our priestly vestments shine before God in heaven with the same heavenly brightness, brighter than any work of ours could bleach them.

We must not despise this water. It is fashionable in our materialistic day to despise material things when it comes to religion. We are a most material people when it comes to what we will eat, and what we will drink, and what we will wear. But when it comes from God, then it must be “spiritual,” non-material. That is the way of the Greek philosophers, particularly Plato. The old Adam is a good Platonist, dividing the spiritual and the material, sticking God in heaven and us on earth. But what God has joined together, we must not divide. Water, word, Spirit are all together in Baptism. Keep them all together. The water is the setting into which the precious jewel of God’s Word is set by the Holy Spirit. We must not tamper with it, lest by despising the setting, we lose the diamond; by despising the water, we lose the Word.

Baptism is water connected to the Word of Christ’s command. Jesus established Baptism. He commanded this water. It is His Baptism, not the Church’s, not ours. Christ commanded baptism when He said to His disciples, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” And He promised to be with His church in this baptizing and teaching. “Behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

The Church obeys the command of Christ when she baptizes and teaches. That’s what the Church and her Ministry are given to do. That’s how disciples of Jesus are made, and Jesus has given us no other way. There are no special gimmicks, no slick programs, no clever methodisms to replace baptism and catechesis. Everything that a congregation does, ought to orbit around these twin activities of baptizing and teaching. As the Church we need constantly to ask ourselves, how does this or that relate to baptizing and teaching? Are we teaching people into Baptism? Are we teaching people out of their Baptism? If we can’t make the connection, then the Church shouldn’t be doing it. Let some other institution take care of it. We have no mandate from the Lord except to make disciples of Jesus by baptizing and teaching.

This disciple-making command of Jesus connected to the water gives us confidence. Jesus is with us in this activity. He approves of it. He authorizes it. He promises to be with it and in it. Though we see a man’s hand pouring the water, it is nonetheless God’s hand. Though we hear a man’s voice speak the words, it is nonetheless God’s voice. Baptism is God’s Word and work, not our work. We are on the receiving end of the gifts. God is the Giver. When the world asks why we are baptizing, we need only answer, “The Lord commands it.” Why do we baptize our babies? The Lord commands it. Why do we insist that Baptism is necessary for salvation? The Lord commands it. It is His Baptism; we only work here.

This water connected with God’s command is also combined with God’s Word of Promise. Plain water couldn’t do what Baptism does. Not every washing can be called a washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit. Not every bath is a Baptism. What makes baptismal water a holy, life-giving, and cleansing water is the Word. Baptism is a washing of water with the Word. When a Christian says the word “Word,” He means first and foremost Jesus Christ, the Word Made Flesh. Baptism is a washing of water with Jesus, His perfect life and suffering, His death and resurrection. Jesus is the Source of this water, the fountain opened to the house of David (Zech. 13:1), the font of forgiveness, the Rock from which refreshing streams of water flowed to quench the hot thirst of our sin. The prophet Zechariah said, “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.” On the Friday we call Good, God opened the cleansing fountain with the thrust of a Roman sword. In our Baptism, we are cleansed in that fountain.

The Promise of God in Baptism makes the water bloody with the blood of God’s Son which cleanses us from all sin. The blood of Jesus is the detergent in the water, the cleansing agent into which our robes are plunged to make them white in the blood of the Lamb once for sinners slain. It is the Word that delivers the blood. It is the Word that makes baptismal water “a divine, heavenly, holy, blessed water,” for it is the Word that makes holy, and without the Word of God nothing can be called holy. With His Word, God puts Himself into Baptism. He stakes His honor, Name, power, and reputation on it. Jesus is there with us, in the water. The Spirit is there with us, hovering as a dove. The Father is there with us, saying, “This is my beloved child.” All of this He does through the Word which is joined to the water of Baptism.

To despise Baptism is to despise God and His Word. To make Baptism into some kind of symbolic ceremony, a pious little work for friends and family, a religious little thing to do to the baby when the aunts and uncles from out of town can make it, a good excuse for a family gathering, a “christening” or dedication to have the baby “done,” is to diminish and deny the power of God’s Promise. No one who believes that the Word of God is living and active, and that the Word became Flesh and made His dwelling among us, can with the same mouth and breath deny that the Word is living and active also in the water of Baptism.

What blessing and benefits are given with this water connected to God’s command and combined with God’s Word? “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this as the words and promises of God declare.” St. Paul in Titus chapter 3 says it in one word. Baptism saves. “He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” Through Baptism God saves us. Peter says the same thing, when he writes, “Baptism now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body [like an ordinary bath] but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Salvation means release, rescue, the removal the barriers and confines that hem us in. It is to be brought out of a cage into an open field, out of a narrow prison cell into a wide open place filled with light and air. Baptism gives us room to breath, to work, to pray, praise and give thanks, to serve others. “To be saved is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil, and to enter into the kingdom of Christ and live with Him forever.” Through the Red Sea, a people in bondage were set free. Through the “Red Sea” of Baptism, we are set free to be God’s people, to live under His lordship, to serve Him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Order is called out of chaos. Life is called out of death. Resurrection is called out of crucifixion. We, who are born in bondage to sin and death and cannot free ourselves no matter how hard we try and how much money we spend, are set free from our captivity by the death of Jesus applied to us.

When were you saved? St. Paul would say, “When you were baptized, washed with the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” In one sense, you could say that you were saved from before the foundations of the earth. But you weren’t there. In another sense, you could say that you were saved when Jesus died on the cross. But you weren’t there either. But you were there at your Baptism. And God was there for you to save you through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There Jesus was applied to you personally, by name. There His death became your death. His life became your life. His perfect righteousness became your perfect righteousness.

Baptism requires all hearts to believe. It is not enough that we have water poured on our heads. We must believe the Word of God’s Promise attached to Baptism. To receive the blessings and benefits requires faith. Baptism works the faith it requires. Sometimes God creates faith through His Word first, and then He bestows Baptism, as with an adult or an older child. Sometimes God gives Baptism first, and then creates faith. The order is God’s business. He alone raise the dead. And He does it when and where it pleases Him in those who hear the Gospel.

To believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior is to believe in the Baptism Christ has instituted to save you. Trust His Word on this: “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” Grant this Lord, to us all. Amen.

Holy Baptism – II

In Nomine Iesu

Last week we heard about what Baptism is. It is water that is comprehended in the mandate of Christ to make disciples; it is water combined with God’s Word, His promise to be present in Baptism and to save us through Baptism. We considered what gave Baptism its great power – the Word of God combined with the water. We recalled the blessings of Baptism. It is a washing of rebirth and renewal, the delivery of the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. In short, “Baptism saves.” We noted the necessity of faith, how saving faith trusts the promise of Christ attached to Baptism. To believe in Jesus as your Savior is to believe in the Baptism that now saves you through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Tonite we are going to consider what Baptism means for daily life. “What does such baptizing with water mean for daily life? The idea that Baptism is a daily thing may come initially as a surprise to some people. If we look at Baptism only as an outward symbol and ceremony, something we do to identify ourselves as Christians, or even something God does to identify us in the way of a sign or symbol, then we might logically conclude that Baptism is one time thing, something done once and then simply remembered with a certificate, much like graduations and anniversaries.

Yet many things done once have lasting effects. For example, marriage vows are exchanged once, but they have daily importance to those who are married. Marriage is living out the vows once made at your wedding. Ordination vows are spoken once, but they daily set the agenda for what a pastor is supposed to be doing. A contract is signed but once, but it is in effect for the life of that contract.

To be baptized is to have God speak to you and act on you. It is a decisive act of God. It is to become the object of God’s Word, a Word of both Law and Gospel. God has focused His attention on you in Baptism, you have been caught in the cross hairs of His Word. Baptism is not just a one time thing. It is a daily thing. Baptism is a daily garment, something we wear each and every day. In Baptism God has marked us with his seal of ownership, branded us as sheep of His pasture, covered the shame of our sin with Christ. In Baptism we wear Christ like a coat. The Christian life is a daily Baptism; and Baptism is the daily life of a Christian. It is a daily dying and rising. Just as we go to sleep each night and get up in the morning, we daily die to sin and arise to live in Christ through our Baptism. Daily dying and rising is the daily life of the baptized.

What exactly does this mean? And what exactly does this daily dying and rising look like? First the dying, then the rising.

Baptism is a daily dying in the death of Jesus. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” The apostle Paul writes this as though everyone would know this and agree wholeheartedly with it, right down to the smallest child. We were buried with Christ by baptism into His death. Baptism unites us with the death of Jesus.

Death is the necessary lot of a sinner. The wages of sin is death. The soul that sins must die. Sin and the sinner must be put to death. There is no way around it. We have an intuitive sense of that. That’s why we hate death and fear it so (unless we are in denial of it). We know deep down the consequences of our rebellion. We know that we must die. The person whose life is in shambles and who feels the stinging shame of his or her sin says, “I just want to die.” And God says to that person, “I can arrange that. Repent and be baptized.”

In the death of Jesus on the cross, God has given the world a death in which a sinner may die now and live forever. It is either die now in the death of Jesus and live forever in His life; or live now apart from the death of Jesus and die forever in your own death. There is no third option. Jesus died for sin and rose from the dead. “The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.” Baptism joins us to the death of Jesus. It nails us to His cross, buries us in His tomb. God has put our sin out of His sight. He has buried it in the death of His Son, hidden it in His wounds, sealed it up in His grave.

Baptismal death in the death of Jesus is a death in hope. “If we have been united with Jesus in a death like his, we shall also be united with him in a resurrection like his.” We know how our story ends. We know how the last chapter comes out for those who are joined to Christ. Christ has died. And we have died with Him. Christ has risen. And we will rise with Him. That means whatever may come our way in this life – whether poverty, disease, pain or persecutions – our present sufferings cannot compare with the glory that will be revealed in us. Whatever burden the cross of Christ may bring to us now, it does not compare with what we will be ours in the resurrection of the righteous.

Baptism means that by daily contrition the old Adam in us should be drowned and die together with all sin and evil desire. Baptism sets us in a struggle. Those who think that the baptized life is an easy life are kidding themselves. We have become the enemy of the devil, the world, and our own sinful natures. The devil roars and fumes against Baptism, and will stop at nothing to keep us away from it. The world hated Christ and crucified Him, and it will seek to crucify all who are joined with Christ. Our old, sinful nature despises this water combined with the Word. The old Adam is a good swimmer. He daily resists Baptism and refuses to be drowned by it. St. Paul says his works are plain: sexual immorality, impurity, lewdness, idolatry and witchcraft; hatred discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. We don’t have to wonder where all the evil in the world comes from. We know. It comes from deep within us, and needs to be drowned daily in the bath of Baptism.

Baptismal means freedom. We have been freed from the tyranny of sin. “For he who has died is freed from sin.” Sin no longer has lordship over us. Christ has lordship. He lords His death and resurrection over us so that sin cannot harm us. Once we were slaves to sin; now, in baptism, we are slaves to righteousness. That is true freedom. Once we offered our bodies to sin as instruments of evil; now we offer our baptized bodies to God as instruments of righteousness, living sacrifices holy and acceptable through Christ’s sacrifice. Once we could do nothing but sin. Now we are free not to sin.

Baptism initiates an on-going struggle. Though we are dead to sin, we still sin. We, who have been justified, reckoned righteous by the death of Jesus, must now continually reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. We do this by confessing our sins, acknowledging our sinfulness before God, seeking His mercy, imploring His grace. This is where I think we Lutherans have stumbled. We have forgotten this fourth part of Baptism. And as a result, we have neglected the so-called “3rd sacrament” of personal confession and absolution, which Luther points out is nothing else than a return to and an application of Baptism.

One of the great sadnesses of Lutheranism today, indeed of most of Christianity today, is that the baptized do not know how to use their Baptism rightly. We fret and fuss and wring our hands over our sins instead of going to our pastor, confessing them, burying them, and being forgiven of them. There are some who imagine that is “cheap grace.” Cheap grace is baptism without repentance; absolution without personal confession, Christ without a cross. I think one reason we are so easily seduced by the latest methodisms for solving our problems is that we don’t want the strong medicines that Christ prescribes for us. We would rather wring our hands and bend our knees; we would rather recite slogans like “just say no” instead of saying yes to our Baptisms. We would rather work on our “problems” and “issues” instead of dealing with the fact that we are the problem, and we need to die in Jesus so that Jesus might live in us.

By confessing our sins, we bury them in Baptism, we drown them in the flood that flowed from Jesus’ side. This is what St. Paul means when he says, “Reckon yourselves dead to sin.” Confess your sin. Disown it. Throw it away. Nail it to Jesus’ cross. Bury it in Jesus’ grave. In confession, we are setting Baptism to work for us, unleashing the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection in our lives. We cannot conquer sin. Christ alone conquers sin for us. He does it through the daily application of Baptism. This is what the apostle Paul means when he says, “Sin will have no dominion over you.” Once sin had dominion over you, causing you to fear God’s wrath, bringing shame and guilt and doubt and death. Now Christ has claimed dominion over you. He covers you with His blood, frees you with His forgiveness, lords His death and resurrection over you. Baptism gives you the permission to come into God’s presence and to confess your sin to Him, expecting Him to forgive you.

Baptism means life – new life in the life of Jesus. We no longer live. We died and were buried. Christ now lives within us. His life is our life. Our life is the resurrected life of Jesus. He is at work in and through us. We are “alive to God in Christ Jesus” it is only “in Christ Jesus” that we are alive to God. Apart from Him, we are dead. But joined to Him by Baptism, we live.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Branches receive their life from the vine to which they are joined. Sap flows through the vine into the branches, bringing life, leaves, buds, fruit. In Holy Baptism, the sap of the Spirit flows through Christ into us, producing in us the Spirit’s fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, self-control. That is the harvest of Baptism.

Baptism is a life-giving water. “…the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Baptism is our daily spring, our daily refreshment, God’s birthing, healing, cleansing bath that makes us alive in the life of the Lamb who was slain but lives.

Luther was right when he said that there is a lifetime of learning in Holy Baptism. There is also a lifetime of dying and rising in the water with Jesus, every day until the end of our days, and in the end, eternal life. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Holy Absolution

In Nomine Iesu

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

Last week we heard about what Baptism means for daily life. Baptism is not just a once in a lifetime bath, but an ongoing dying and rising of the Christian. Daily the sinner dies in the death of Jesus. Daily the saint rises in the life of Jesus. Daily the washing and rebirthing work of Baptism is effected through the Word of God. Baptism is the beginning of a dying and rising that ends with our own death and our resurrection on the day of Jesus’ appearing.

This daily dying and rising brings us what is sometimes called the “third sacrament” – Holy Absolution. And such a poor and neglected one it is! It shouldn’t be so in a church that pledges her allegiance to the Lutheran Confessions which call absolution the “living voice” of the Gospel, and say that “it would be wicked to remove personal absolution” from our churches. Tell a fellow Lutheran that your church offers hours for personal confession twice a week and point out the confessional bench and I assure you that jaws will drop and eyebrows will rise. At a recent pastoral conference, one brother pastor of our district was heard to say with a sneer, “We all know that private confession is in the Confessions, but who does THAT any more?” Who indeed! The church that does not practice what the Lutheran Confessions preach is hardly entitled to be called a “Lutheran” church. If it was wicked to remove personal absolution in 1530, it is doubly wicked not to put it back where it was removed in 1997 – unless something has changed about our sin and Christ’s forgiveness.

Confession and absolution is the ongoing work of Baptism. It is a return to the water, a sprinkling with the Word of Baptism that first brought us life and cleansing. So basic is confession to the Christian life, that the Large Catechism simply says: “When I urge you to go to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian.” Christians confess their sins and are forgiven. Unbelievers deny their sins and have no use for forgiveness.

Bonhoeffer calls absolution without personal confession a form of “cheap grace,” a cross-less Christianity. It is the attempt to have repentance without shame, contrition without guilt. It is the equivalent of an out of court settlement – just pay the money admit no wrongdoing. God wants us at the bar of His justice. There is no back room bargaining with the Lord. There is only the Law and the Gospel, our sin and the death of Christ for our sin.

The gift of holy absolution consists of two parts. The first part is that we confess our sins. To confess means to “say the same words,” to say back what you have heard, the way a little child repeats what he has heard. We may feel badly about ourselves, have low self-esteem, feel guilty or depressed or isolated. The Law says to us, “You are a sinner.” That’s what is wrong with you. It’s not what you do, it’s who you are. We confess, “I am a sinner.” That is the only truth which a sinner can say. “I am a sinner.” Sinner means rebel, enemy of God, idolater, one who wants to overthrow God from His throne, one who fears, loves and trusts himself or herself instead of God. That is the truth about ourselves, and we must speak that truth before God.

The opposite of confession is denial. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive our selves and the truth is not in us.” When we deny our present sinfulness, we are kidding ourselves, and the truth is not at work in us. How often do we become irate if someone says to us, “You are sinning” or calls us a “sinner.”? Yet it’s the truth. That’s what we are. “If we say we have not sinned, we make (God) a liar; and his word is not in us.” The past counts too. The past and the present testify against us. We have sin, and we have sinned.

Confession puts the past and the present into concrete words. We may confess generally, such as we do in church every Sunday: “We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” We also confess specifically, those things that we know and trouble us the most. The Lutheran Reformers were not interested in the mathematics of “how many” sins to confess. Who can know all his errors? “Forgive my hidden faults”, prays the psalmist. There is no end to the lists one could make. By the same token, the Reformers were not satisfied with a generic confession, the kind that you, me, and 5 1/2 billion people could all say together. “I, a poor miserable sinner.” True enough, but what makes you say that?

General confession without specific confession runs the risk of simply bad-mouthing ourselves. That isn’t telling the truth, but covering over the truth with a lesser truth. Specific confession run amuck can become a perverse sort of pride, a personal pity party in which we brag about our weakness and run our dirty laundry out on the line for the whole neighborhood to see. Speaking the truth of our sin means neither kicking the corpse of our body of death, nor putting it on display.

Confession is directed in three ways – to God, to the neighbor, and to the pastor. A Christian always confesses to God, and can always confess to God directly, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer and in our own personal prayers. That is your privilege as a baptized child of God. People sometimes use this privilege as a dodge and an excuse. “I can confess directly to God; therefore, I don’t need to confess before another.” That isn’t humility, but pride. The very words and deeds we are ashamed to admit before a fellow sinner, we were not ashamed to say and do in full view of the Lord of heaven and earth.

Though we may confess to God directly, He always deals with us through the external Word, the Word outside of ourselves – through Baptism, through the Lord’s Supper, through the preached Word. The person who boasts confidently, “I can confess my sins to God directly, and therefore don’t need the church,” misses the basic point. It’s not our confession, but God’s forgiveness that matters. And God always deals with us through the incarnation of Jesus, through earthy, creaturely means such as water, bread, wine, words, in this case sound waves that emanate from mouths and go into ear holes.

A Christian also confesses to the neighbor, especially when he or she has sinned against the neighbor. Whenever we hurt and harm another, we need to confess it to that person, and forgive one another as God has forgiven us. We need to let Jesus get between us, or else our sins will push us apart. That is the double absolution for which we pray in the Our Father – that our Father in heaven would forgive us as we forgive others. Our problem is that we are out of practice. Our tongues are tied in knots. The language of confession sounds foreign to our ears because we don’t use it. Instead we harbor grudges and resentments. We nurse quarrels for years. We isolate and alienate each other. And this ought not be, especially in the Christian congregation which God instituted to be a place filled with forgiveness. The Christian has the call and command of Christ to go to the brother or sister who has sinned, to be like Nathan to David, rebuke the sin and restore the sinner.

Even the secular psychologists have caught on, at least in a small way. They are beginning to speak of “forgiveness therapy” – husbands and wives intentionally and specifically forgiving one another, parents and children confessing their sins against each other and absolving one another. Of all places, the church ought to be a laboratory where the conversation of confession is practiced and applied among the baptized children of God. But then again, “Who does that kind of thing anymore?”

Christians also confess to their pastor. There are several good reasons for doing this. First, he is ordained to hear confession. That’s what we put him there for. It is one of the tasks laid on a pastor at his ordination. Second, he is equipped by practice and training to help others sharpen and deepen their confession and to square them to the Word of God. Third, he is bound by solemn vow to secrecy, something that a close friends is not. For a pastor to break the seal of confession is grounds for dismissal.

Fourth, the pastor is a public, corporate person. He holds an office. The pastor does not speak for himself but for Christ and for the whole church. The pastor is a minister, a servant of the Word, a steward of God’s mysteries revealed in Christ. He is not there as superior, but as servant. He serves not “from above” but “from below.” He is there not to condemn but to forgive. He is under holy orders to forgive. A friend may forgive you simply to keep you as a friend. A family member may forgive you for no other reason than to keep peace in the family. Friends and family we have aplenty. Pastors, we have precious few. A pastor forgives by the divine order of the crucified, risen, and reigning Son of God, “in his stead and by his command.” He represents the person of Jesus, not his own person. Even if the pastor doesn’t like you, or even if you don’t like him, his forgiveness is Christ’s forgiveness, sure and certain, addressed to you. And that’s really all that matters.

That brings us to the second part, and more important part of confession, which is the absolution. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Absolution is spoken forgiveness, release, freedom. God releases the sinner from his or her sin; He puts our sin as “far as the east is from the west;” He buries it in the death of Jesus; He cleanses us with His holy, precious blood. He surrounds us with His innocent suffering and death.

God is faithful. He is trustworthy. He has promised to forgive. We can approach Him with confidence. He will not treat us as our sins deserve. “I forgive you,” God says to us, and who dares to contradict Him? To say, “No, it can’t be,” is to deny the cross of Christ. It’s the equivalent of saying, “Jesus did not die for me.”

God is also just. His justice demands a judgment, a verdict. God is just, and He justifies the sinner in Christ. He made Jesus into our sin. He judged Jesus guilty, and put on Him what we deserve. He condemned Jesus in our place. In Jesus, that is, baptized into His death and believing on His Name, God judges us innocent, righteous. God justifies the sinner in His Son.

“I absolve you. I forgive you.” This is no cheap, idle word. No “smile, be happy, God loves you,” saccharine sentimentality. This is a costly Word from God to you. It cost the Son of God his life. He sweat and suffered and bled and died so that this word might be spoken. It is a Word anchored in the past, nailed to the bloody cross of Golgotha, a Word that reaches into our present, into the here and now of our lives. It reaches into our ears and minds and hearts, a divine Word that says, “Christ Jesus died for you.” It is a word authorized and approved by the crucified and risen Son of God Himself, freshly risen from the dead with the wounds to prove it, who breathed His Spirit and words into His disciples and said, “The sins you forgive are forgiven; the sins you retain are retained.”

People are sometimes offended by the absolution. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” The unbelieving Pharisees asked that of Jesus. “How dare that guy speak as though he were God!” People should be offended. The absolution is as offensive as the Incarnation of the Son of God. It is as offensive as the God who wears diapers and sleeps in a manger, or the God who hangs naked and bleeding on a cross. Only God can forgive. That’s true. And God only forgives through His Son, who became man, who speaks through His Church and the Ministry He ordained to speak. It is the living voice of God that we hear when we hear the absolution. “So if there is a heart that feels its sin and desires consolation, it has here a sure refuge when it hears in God’s Word that through a man God looses and absolves him from his sins” (Large Catechism V.14)

Do we have to go to confession? Does a thirsty deer question whether he has to drink from a cold mountain stream? Does a hungry person ask whether he has to eat a free meal offered to him? Does one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness ask whether he has to hear a Word from Christ? Does a Christian ever ask whether he or she has to be forgiveness? Do we have to go to confession? Oh, you already know the answer. Of course you don’t have to go; God never forces anyone to be forgiven. You get to be forgiven; and always as a gift.

If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

The Lord’s Supper – I

In Nomine Iesu

For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:7-8)

I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (1 Cor. 10:15-17)

If Holy Baptism is our daily garment, the clothing we wear on our journey from the Red Sea of Baptism to the promised land of the Resurrection, then the Lord’s Supper our daily food. The new life that is born in Baptism, that is bathed daily in the Word of forgiveness, is also nourished by the Word and the Meal. Word and Sacrament, Sermon and Supper are the provisions of our pilgrimage as God’s people. We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Jesus is our daily food. Jesus is the bread of life. Eat of this bread and you will never go hungry. Believe in him and you will never thirst. Jesus is Living Bread come down from heaven as the manna did for Israel in the wilderness. Eat of this living, heavenly Manna, believing Jesus’ words, and you will have what what His words promise: life, eternal life.

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” (John 6:54-55)

When Jesus first spoke those words in the synagogue at Capernaum, the people were scandalized. What sort of nonsense was this? Eating flesh and drinking blood! The Jews were offended. People left Him and wouldn’t follow Him anymore. They thought He was crazy or a blasphemer. Even the disciples were deeply disturbed by Jesus’ words. What could the Teacher possibly mean?

And then came that fateful night, the night of the Passover, the night Jesus was to be betrayed into death. An upper room had been prepared. The unleavened bread baked. The Passover Lamb had been sacrificed and roasted. Jesus sat at the head of the table with His Twelve, His Israel, His family. He took the large piece of unleavened flat bread that signaled the opening of the Passover meal. He gave thanks to His Father for the gifts. He broke it and handed the pieces to His disciples. Thus far theirs had been a Passover like any another Passover, recalling God’s grace to Israel when He brought them out of slavery in Egypt to freedom through the blood of the lamb smeared on their doorposts.

Then Jesus spoke. He spoke at a moment that called for no speaking. There were no words for the distribution of the bread in the Passover liturgy. What Jesus said at that moment had never before been said at a Passover meal. “Take, eat. This is my body, which is for you.” And again, after the supper, Jesus took the third chalice of wine called the “thanksgiving or blessing cup,” gave thanks and then said something that had never before been said at a Passover meal, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Jesus was treating the Passover as though it were His own. It was. Jesus is the Lord. This is the Lord’s Passover.

With these words, Jesus put Himself into the Passover meal. With the bread, He gives His body as food – the body He received from His mother Mary. The body that was conceived in her through the Word spoken by the angel in the power of the Holy Spirit. The body that was wrapped in diapering cloths and laid in a manger. The body that was whipped and beaten, spit at and slapped. The body that was nailed to the cross, laid in the tomb, raised from the dead on the third day. “Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Of course it is. His words declare it to be so, and His words are true. His body Jesus gives as bread to eat. This bread, in His hand, and in the disciples mouths, is His body.

With the cup, He gives His blood. With the wine, He gives His blood as drink. This is the blood of God’s Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world. The cross is the doorpost of the world, and the blood of Jesus is the blood of the Passover Lamb. The medieval artists who depict a chalice at the foot of the cross and a stream of blood pouring into it from the wounded side of Jesus understood the force of Jesus’ words. The blood that was shed on Calvary’s cross is now our drink, our cup of thanksgiving, our eucharistic cup. “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?” Of course it is. Jesus’ words declare it to be so, and His words are true. His blood, Jesus gives as wine to drink. This wine, in the Lord’s chalice, and in the disciples’ mouths, is His blood.

To eat and drink is to incorporate and absorb all the blessings and benefits of food and drink. When we eat and drink, our bodies absorb all the vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats contained in the food. The energy of the sunshine, the nutrients of the soil, the blessings of the rain, all are incorporated by our bodies through the act of eating. When we eat bread, we release and incorporate the energies and nutrients of the wheat. When we drink wine, we release and incorporate the energies and nutrients of the grape.

To eat and drink the Passover, was to incorporate all the blessings and benefits of God’s grace in the exodus. By eating and drinking this meal, and hearing the story of the exodus, all the blessings of the first night were brought home to you. You couldn’t go back to Egypt on the night that Israel walked to freedom through the blood of the Lamb, but the benefits of the exodus were delivered to you through the Passover meal. By eating and drinking the Passover, you were united with all of Israel and participated in Israel’s life and freedom. You couldn’t go to the exodus, but the gifts of the exodus could come to you in the Passover.

In the same way, by eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper, you participate in the life and freedom of Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. He was offered up for our sins. Christ did His own exodus by being baptized, by suffering, dying and rising from the dead. His death and life He now gives as food and drink. His broken body is our living Bread. His poured out blood is our Wine. Where body and blood are separated, there is sacrifice. Christ was sacrificed once for all on the cross. We can’t go back to Calvary, but the blessings of Calvary can and do come to us. On the cross the forgiveness of sins was won for the entire world. There the Son of God gave His life for you. In the Supper, Jesus’ body and blood once offered on the cross for our sins, is now delivered and distributed to us as a Meal. Here the Son of God gives His life to you.

You have heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” It ordinarily is not true. People who eat carrots do not become carrots. People who eat pork, do not become pigs. People who eat chickens, do not become chickens. Ordinary, what you eat becomes what you are. The food you eat becomes bone and blood and muscle and skin.

But the food of the Lord’s Supper is a different kind of food entirely. It is extraordinary, heavenly, miraculous food. With this food, you really are “what you eat.” “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Cor. 10:17). We eat the body of Christ, we drink His blood, hearing His words “given and shed for you,” and we become what we eat – the body of Christ! There is no greater union that we can have with Christ and with one another as believers in Christ, than kneel together at His table and eat His Supper.

In His Supper, there is forgiveness, life, and salvation. These are what is released when we eat His body and drink His blood trusting in His words – the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation from sin and death. We seem always to be in search of the perfect food, the food that will cure our ills, the food that will give us energy and vitality and health. We run after the latest food kicks – oat bran and olive oil, to name but two. We pop vitamins and minerals, we down elixirs and potions, we shell out hard earned money for the latest diet fads, all in the hope of reversing the ravages of death at work in us, or at least stalling it for a while. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives us the very food we’ve been looking for. It is food for eternal life. The Large Catechism calls it, “a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body.” Christ puts His very body and blood into us. Think of what that means. It means that He goes with us, even to the grave, because He will never abandon His own body and blood.

It’s a strange thing, that people who would not think of skipping a meal, or neglecting their daily dosage of vitamin supplements, think nothing of going weeks, months, or even years at a time without eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ. Luther was amazed to find that when people no longer had to go the Lord’s Supper, they no longer did. He would be even more amazed today. We let foolish and trivial things stand between us and this life-giving food – the music, the length of the service, the style of worship, the building, personality conflicts. If I told you that this food could cure cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, AIDS, and whatever ails you, would it matter much to you if we served it on china with classical music or on paper plates with country? If you believed that this Supper delivered resurrection from the dead and eternal life, would you let anything get in the way of your eating and drinking?

I believe that many of the problems that we have in church life today are because we do not wholeheartedly believe our Lord when He says, “My body given for you; my blood shed for you.” Everything else simply pales by comparison. Think of what most people will put up for great food – long lines, bad parking, crowded seating, surly waiters, bad lighting, noisy conditions. But if the food is good, hey, it’s worth it, isn’t it? If we had as many excuses for not eating our daily food as we have for not eating the Lord’s Supper, we’d starve to death within a month.

We need to revive our appetite for the fruits of the cross, our hunger and thirst for righteousness that come to us in the Lord’s Supper. Luther noted three appetite stimulants for those who feel no hunger or thirst.

Examine yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror of the Ten Commandments. See how things are going within your heart. If you are indeed truly pure and upright, if you have no sin, if you feel no guilt and shame, if you have kept every point of God’s holy Law perfectly, then you don’t need to come to the Lord’s Supper. You also have no need for Christ, and He has no need for you. But if you see your sin and your brokenness, if death is smiling back at you in the mirror, if you are weighed down and heavy with guilt, if you are ashamed of the things you have done in public, where everyone sees, and in secret where no one but God sees, then by all means, go to the Supper for refreshment, as Jesus invites, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Second, look around you a bit. Check to see if you are still in the world. If you’re not sure, check with the neighbors. They’ll be able to tell you. If you are still in the world, then you are in a wilderness, a war zone. There will be no lack of sin and temptation all around you. Try to reflect the love of Christ into the world and see what happens. You will quickly discover that the prince of this world, the devil, is prowling about and raging. His time is short, and He knows it. You never know what misery and misfortune he can suddenly bring you. You never know from what side you will be attacked. You shouldn’t have to look far to see that the enemy is all around us as well as in us. Were it not for Christ, we wouldn’t be safe for a single moment. We need all the help and strength we can get. Only a fool goes into battle without eating.

Third, cling to the Scriptures. Luther says that if you truly do not feel any sin and do not see the evil around you in the world, which is most unlikely, then take your hand, stick it in your shirt and check to see if you are made of flesh. And if you find that you are made of flesh, then turn immediate to St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians where you can read that the works of the flesh are “adultery, immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, murder, drunkenness, carousing, etc.” St. Paul says, “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, there dwells no good thing.” And if the apostle can say that about himself, we dare not pretend to be any holier or better. It is something to be feared, when we no longer feel our sins or the pressures of the Law bearing down on our conscience. It means that we are so utterly dead in sin that we no longer hear God’s Word or fear His judgment. That gives us something to say to those who say, “I don’t feel a need to go to church.” As Luther put it, “The less you feel your sins and infirmities, the more reason you have to go to the Sacrament and seek a remedy.”

Examine yourself, look around you, cling to the Scriptures. Even more, recall the great price that the Son of God paid to make you His own, by giving His body and blood on the cross, and the words with which He gives these gifts to you – “Take, eat, this is my body given for you; take, drink, this is my blood shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” It is the Lord’s Passover. Amen.

The Lord’s Supper – II

In Nomine Iesu

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the communion, which is the Breaking of the Bread, and the prayers. (Acts 2:42, own translation)

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Rev. 3:20)

To eat and to drink with God is the highest form of fellowship that we can have. Table fellowship with God is the ultimate fellowship. It is to come into His presence with thanksgiving, to be welcomed at His table, to eat His food and drink His wine, to be guests in His house. People pay hundreds of thousands of dollars just to have a cup of coffee and a danish with the president or a round of golf with a high ranking congressman. But table fellowship with God is free, a gift of His grace, purchased with the blood of God’s Lamb, His Son Jesus poured out on the cross.

The Lord’s Supper is the Lamb’s High Feast. It is the Feast of feasts, a meal in which our Lord Himself is the cook, the servant, and the meal itself. His Body and His Blood, given under bread and wine. The Lamb of God roasted on the cross in the fire of God’s wrath against our sin and His burning love for sinners, here is our Food and Drink. He gives us His body and blood with His very words, spoken through His minister, “given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.” Christ is speaking to you, Christ is feeding you, Christ is your food. This is table fellowship with God in the most complete way. Never before had God so dined with His people as in this meal.

The Lord’s Supper is a feast that takes up and fulfills all the great feasts of the Old Testament. We remember Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and the seventy elders of Israel on Sinai, of whom the Scriptures say, “they behold God, and ate and drank.” And the annual passover meal of roasted lamb, bitter herbs, unleavened bread. The heavenly gifts of manna and quail in the wilderness. And the communion sacrifices at the tabernacle and temple in which a penitent ate of the sacrifice in the presence of the priest. And the miraculous meal of bread and water that took Elijah 40 days across the Sinai desert.

The Lord’s Supper takes up and fulfills all the new testament feasts as well. We recall Jesus’ feeding of the four thousand and on another occasion five thousand. And His love for eating and drinking with the tax collector and the Pharisee, the prostitutes and the religious. It seems that Jesus never turned down a dinner invitation, so that he quickly got the reputation as a “glutton and a drunkard” among those who notice such things. We recall the Emmaus road on the Day of Resurrection, when Jesus appeared to two of His disciples walking on the road. He preached a sermon to them from the Scriptures and revealed himself in the breaking of the bread.

For nearly two thousand years thereafter, the church has devoted herself to the preached Word and the Sacrament, to the apostle’s teaching and table fellowship. Sermon and Supper were so much the rhythm of the first day, the Day of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, that for over 1500 years it would have been unheard to have the Lord’s Day without a Lord’s Supper. Sermon and Supper were one whole thing, not to be divided. It was the radical reformation, not the Lutheran Reformation, that broke table fellowship with the Lord and made the ongoing feast of God into an occasional thing, three or at most four times a year, instead

“Guilty!”

The court of Religion has found Him guilty of blasphemy. Now the court of Politics has its turn with Jesus. Religion says He is worthy of death, but only the state could do the killing. The Kings of kings stands before Pontius Pilate, an appointed governor of the Roman state.

“Are you the King of the Jews,” Pilate asks. The court of Religion asks, “Are you the Christ, the Messiah?” The court of Politics asks, “Are you the King?” Some thirty years ago, King Herod, the self-appointed “King of the Jews” tried to kill King Jesus. Now the true King of the Jews stands before Pilate, and the world awaits the answer.

“You’ve said so,” Jesus replies. He is a king but not in the way Pilate perceives it. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Here stands the Son of David, the promised successor to David’s throne. Royal blood flows through His veins. Yet the King is silent, refusing to credential Himself, refusing to justify His lordship before the court of Politics. He lets the charge stand as testimony. Pilate is deeply troubled, as he should be.

Pilate was a practical man, a shrewd politician who knew what it took to guard his appointed position. Keep the peace. He had a little custom with the Jews. Every year at Passover, he would release a prisoner of their choice. Here was an opportunity to wash his hands of the situation. He had in custody another man Barabbas, whose name means, “son of the Father.” Barabbas was a notorious prisoner, a political terrorist, someone who had organized an uprising and murdered people in the cause of Israel. Perhaps Barabbas even took on that name “son of the father” to reinforce his own messianic ambitions.

So which one will it be? Barabbas, the son of the father. Or Jesus the Christ, the son of God. A power messiah who is willing to kill for the cause? Or a merciful messiah, who would rather be killed than kill, who would lay down His life as a ransom for the many?

The choice is always before us too – the way of power and might or the way of weakness and the cross. We say we prefer the cross, and we bow before it. But our guns are locked and loaded. When push come to shove and our backs are against the wall, we choose the power option most every time. Which do you prefer when threatened? A prayer or a pistol? What sort of messiah would you choose? A power messiah who would flex some muscle in your favor or a crucified one whose power is perfected in weakness? You know the answer.

At the instigation of their own religious leaders the crowd votes for Barabbas. The majority is seldom right, especially when it comes to Jesus. The much prized system of Roman justice utterly crumbles. Mob justice rules the day. Pilate leaves the fate of Jesus in the hands of the crowd “What would you have me to do with Jesus the Christ?” “Crucify him.” they shout, and demand that an innocent man be executed.

The guilty one goes free, the innocent One goes to his death. It’s a picture of our salvation, played out on Pilate’s stage. The guilty one is freed; the innocent One is condemned to die. “Unfair,” you say. “A miscarriage of justice.” Yet, in the strange, backhanded way that is God’s way, this is divine justice. In His baptism, Jesus was treated like a sinner, immersed in John’s baptism of repentance. It was, to quote Jesus, “to fulfill all righteousness.” The cross too is “to fulfill all righteousness.” “God made Him (Jesus) to be sin for us, who knew no sin, so that in Him we might became the righteousness of God.” Jesus was baptized to His death.

On the Day of Atonement there were two goats. A “scapegoat” on whom was laid the sins of the people. He was let loose in the wilderness. The other goat was sacrificed, his blood poured out on the mercy seat of the ark. Life for life. Blood for blood. The unblemished lamb dies, the sinner goes free.

Luther called it the “sweet swap” or “happy exchange.” You and I are Barabbas, rebels in revolt against God, terrorists deserving to die. Deserving damnation. Yet Jesus the Son of God goes to the cross for us. He is innocent, without any sin, and yet with our sin He goes to put our sin to death in His death. He literally becomes our sin – our blasphemies, murders, lies, betrayals, adulteries, denials, thefts, slanders all are embodied in His own broken body. He becomes our sin, and we, in Him, become the righteousness of God.

Justice and mercy collide. God’s justice to sin is done to death; God’s mercy to sinners is shown. God is vindicated, and we are justified.

An entire battalion of soldiers takes custody of Jesus and mocked Him. They dress Him in royal purple and push a crown of thorns on His head. They salute Him in mock homage, speaking the truth in derision. “Hail, King of the Jews!” King is what He is. King of the Jews. King David’s royal son. King of kings and Lord of lords.

But what sort of King is this? His royal robes – borrowed. A beggar King. His crown – thorns, the sign of God’s curse on the earth. A cursed King. When He was only a little child, wise men from the east came and gave Him royal gifts and worshipped Him. Now there are no worshipers, only mockers. Instead of gold, incense, and myrrh there are insults, slaps,and spit. They lead the King to His throne – a cross.

Such a king this world has never known. Kings expect people to die for them. They command armies to carry out their orders to fight their holy wars. They talk of soldiers making the “supreme sacrifice” to die for the nation. But this King goes to battle alone, unarmed, undefended, silent, empty-handed. A cursed beggar King in a kingdom of beggars.

Behold your King. He’s not much to look at by the world’s measure of kings. Even our Presidents pack more royalty than Jesus. But this is the only King who can save you, the only one who has saved you by His death, the only one who will save you in the coming day of judgment. This is the King who will fight to the death for you, who will lead you through your death to eternal life. This is the King who drew you to Himself in His death and who will draw Himself to you in your death. “Trust not in princes, in mortal men who cannot save.” Trust not in Pontius Pilates and King Herods by whatever name or title they come. Don’t trust them for a moment. Trust King Jesus, who alone can save you.

We live in a day when Religious and Political institutions are crumbling. The idea of a king seems to foreign to our modern ears, so ridiculous in a world where it’s every man, woman, and child for themselves. Who needs a king when you can be king? But think again of this humble, silent, broken Man on the cross. Jesus the King the world didn’t ask for. Or want. And by His death and resurrection, you are given to live as kings under this King in His kingdom, and serve Him as priests in His eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

O Jesus, King most wonderful!
O Conqueror renowned!
O Source of peace ineffable,
In whom all joys are found.

(Lutheran Worship #274)