Sunday, February 13, 2011

Transfiguration Sermon

Transfiguration Sunday – February 13th, 2011

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
We can be so busy. It seems as though we always have something to do, somewhere to go, full calendars, schedules packed. And snow days don’t make that any easier – it just means more intense work when things get cleared off. In fact, it seems as though work dominates our life, our identity. When you meet someone, you generally get asked, “So, what do you do?” We define ourselves by action. Now, this isn’t a completely bad thing – work is good, being productive is good. As Christians we are called to show love to our neighbor, and that means doing things for our neighbor. We have been given the various vocations in our life by God – so indeed, going and working is a good thing… but what we must remember is that it is not the only thing, or even the most important thing. Our life, our existence, when it boils down to it, isn’t defined by our work, by what we do. We are defined by Christ Jesus, by the fact that we have been Baptized into His Name and redeemed by His Blood. What truly shapes you and me is the fact that we are those who have received salvation from Christ through the gift of faith which He gave and worked in us through His Word.

We can forget this. And when I say “we”, I’m not talking about the crass person who just stops going to church, who even basically stops believing. No, I am referring to us here today – we who would be diligent and sincere Christians, who would be faithful – we can let our desire for busyness overshadow the simple reception of God’s gifts that truly shapes and defines our faith. We get an example of this trap in our Gospel lesson. “And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him.” This is what we call the transfiguration – where the figure, the appearance of Christ Jesus is transformed – where the Light of the World begins to shine forth with His own light. What this is, dear friends, is a picture of the life of the world to come. What are things going to be like for eternity? Well, Christ Jesus, shining forth perfection from His own Body, and the people of God gathered around Him and His Word. We see a picture of salvation, of eternal life – this is Jesus revealing Himself as God almighty, perfect and holy – the Savior whom Moses and Elijah and all the patriarchs and prophets foretold, the God whom they worship. Really awesome and profound stuff.

And Peter understands that this is a wondrous thing – “Lord, it is good that we are here.” Great observation – it is good, it is a wondrous thing – to see the glory of the Lord be revealed – this is what every pious Jew in the world had been waiting to see. Peter’s words here even inspire hymns – Tis good Lord to be here – great hymn! But, there is a problem. Peter doesn’t just stop there, Peter isn’t content simply to be there, to behold Christ in His glory, to listen to Jesus and Moses and Elijah chatting back and forth. Nope, like so many of us, Peter starts worrying about getting to work. “If You wish, I will make three tents here, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Peter doesn’t want to just sit and listen, Peter wants to get to work. And what Peter suggests is very reasonable – they were around Sukkoth – the festival of booths where the Children of Israel would basically go camp out in order to remember their time in the wilderness – so Peter asks a very reasonable thing – shall I fix up a couple of tents so Moses and Elijah can observe this festival with us? There’s only one problem – by offering to work, by wanting to snap to it and get to work, what would Peter miss? Oh, yeah Jesus, You are shining forth in glory, and Moses and Elijah are there with you… um, how about I go over there and pitch a few tents. Jesus, Moses, Elijah… oh, I’ll go get some work done. When Christ Jesus is talking, when Moses and the Prophets are there speaking to and about Christ, that’s not the time to go get the chores done!

But the point here is not that Peter is lousy, but we are so much better. We’re just as bad. Here we are, gathered together in Zion, gathered around the Word of God, we heard from Exodus, written by Moses, we hear the Spirit Inspired words of Peter recorded for us in His epistle, we hear the Gospel of Christ Jesus – yet I’m willing to bet that every one of us has had our thoughts drift off onto worrying about getting something or other done. And this isn’t Pastor Brown picking on you either, I’ll catch myself at least a dozen times a service worrying about what comes next, do I have this or that set up. We can get so focused on doing stuff that simply coming here, being here, simply hearing the Word of God can be so hard for us. Americans are a hyper-active people, we value hard work, that is what we train ourselves to do… and sadly, we don’t really train ourselves to be simple hearers of the Word, not as much.

Well, Peter doesn’t get to build his tents. “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.’” The Father cuts Peter off. It’s not about putting up a tent, Peter. It’s not about what you are going to do for Jesus – it’s about Jesus and what He does for you. Jesus is the One who pleases the Father by living the perfect life, by going to the Cross, by wining salvation for all mankind. Likewise, dear friends, whenever we want the focus in Church to shift on to what we do, how wonderful we are – we need to pause and listen to Christ, listen to His Word, hear what He has to say to us.

Now, hearing the voice of the Father utter freaks out the disciples. “When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.” And you would be too. Why? Because as much as we like to hide behind our works, as much as we like to tell ourselves that we are good people and focus on all the nice things we do… not all of our works are good. In fact, when it boils down to it, none of them are, not really. All tainted with sin. We are sinners through and through, and everything, even the nicest, most wonderful thing you’ve ever done – tainted with sin. Not one of us is perfect, not one of us is righteous – Peter, James, and John know that. And there is the voice of the Father, there is the presence of God Almighty – and sinners in the presence of God die. Get blotted out. Bad things. And so they hit the deck – and you know what, if the voice of the Father suddenly started echoing out in here, we all would be hitting the deck too. Sinners do not stand brashly in the presence of God almighty.

We do not stand, but there is One who stands for us. “But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’” Beautiful, absolutely beautiful and profound. Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, the One whom pleases the Father comes to you, and He touches you, He joins Himself to you in the Waters of Baptism, gives Himself to You in His Holy Supper and says to you, “Rise, have no fear.” This is forgiveness talk. This is last day, the trumpet of God sounding forth and the Lord calling us forth from our graves saying, “Rise, have no fear” sort of talk. Of our own strength, we cannot stand before the Father… and so the Father says listen to Jesus. And what does Jesus say, what do we hear our Lord proclaim to us – the same thing we always hear from Him whenever we stop running around like chickens with our heads cut off, worried about getting this or that done. We hear Christ say, “You are forgiven. I have done it all for you, I have even faced down death, and I have risen. Now, you too rise, you too live, you too have life everlasting that the world and death and sin cannot take away from you.”

“And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” The Christian life isn’t defined by what you do, by what you give. Do you do things – well, sure, of course, Christ Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, we’re gonna end up bearing good fruit. When its time to work, let us strive to work well. But that’s not the heart, that’s not the center, that’s not what defines you as a Christian. Rather this – Christ Jesus comes to you through His Word, physically touches you in Baptism, in His Supper, calls you away from sin, away from vain delight in your own action, and fixes your eyes upon Himself, so that you might pause, that you might be still and know the Lord, Christ Jesus; that you might know and see that because of Him your sin is forgiven, that because of Him Hell and death are overthrown and have no more hold upon you, that because of Him and His righteousness you are rescued from Satan. This is what He does to you in your life through His Word, this is what He makes you to see and understand and remember once again whenever He pulls you away from the troubles and burdens and busyness of the world here in His Church. And here He always speaks to you, for you are His beloved for whom He died and rose again – Your sin is forgiven, rise and have no fear. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

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