Saturday, February 25, 2017

Quiquagesima Sermon

Quinquagesima – February 25th and 26th, 2017 – Luke 18:31-43

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Our Gospel lesson is one of contrasts. On the one hand, you have the disciples, bold, brash, and just so sure they knew that following Christ would bring earthly power and glory. And thus, when Christ addresses them, tells them that He will suffer, they don’t get it. On the other hand, there is that blind, suffering beggar on the road to Jericho, and although he is blind, in Christ Jesus he sees nothing but the merciful Son of David who has come to have pity and aid the poor, feeble, and lost. It is a fascinating contrast – so let us examine it in detail, and then consider how it applies to us, especially as we approach the season of Lent.

“And taking the twelve, He said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem…’” Look, see, behold – pay attention, disciples, we are going up to Jerusalem. Our Lord is telling the disciples that the pinnacle, the focus, the thrust of what He has come to do is approaching – this is that “behold” word, this is that word announcing that something big and important is coming – and it’s going to happen in, where else but Jerusalem. The disciples should be keyed in, they should be intensely focused upon Christ’s words right now. But there is a problem. What does our Lord say is going to happen in Jerusalem? “…and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.” Is this anyone’s idea of a good time? No – and it didn’t seem like a good time to the disciples. Indeed, if we are going to be mocked and shamefully treated somewhere, don’t we just have a tendency to… avoid going? That’s the same type of thoughts the disciples had – that is foolish, that would be terrible. But did you note what Jesus said – “everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” This is something divine, this is something that these students of the Old Testament should have known was coming. If Christ is the Messiah, then Satan must bruise His heel – if Christ is the Messiah, then Isaiah 53 and the Man of Sorrows must happen, then Psalm 22 and its nastiness has to happen. And how bad must it get according to the prophets? “And after flogging Him, they will kill Him.” Jesus tells the disciples that He is going to die… that in just a short time He will be killed by the Gentiles, that the Romans will put Him to death. This is why He came, to suffer and die. And yet, Christ also tells them good news – “and on the third day He will rise.” Yes, according to the prophets the world will do its worst to the Messiah, but He will rise victoriously on the third day. This is what we will be seeing all this Lententide, seeing all this Easter.

But the Disciples, they don’t see. Not yet. “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” They don’t understand, not yet. They refuse to let these sorts of thoughts even cross their mind. They won’t understand until Easter, until they behold the Risen Christ, that’s when it all will sink in – but at this moment – it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t fit their expectations. You don’t follow a leader just to go watch Him die – you follow a leader you think is going to win, and win the way you want him to win. You follow a leader who will crush your enemies, who will bring earthly pomp and power and glory. And this tale of earthly defeat, earthly suffering, it simply makes no sense to them, it’s not what they want.

Now for the contrast. There is a blind beggar on the road to Jericho, a town Christ must pass through in order to reach Jerusalem. This is a man who knows suffering, who knows earthly defeat. He has no visions of power and glory because he has no vision at all. He is lowly, he is in the mire, he is downtrodden. And he hears a crowd going by, so he asks what’s up with the crowd – he knows what sort of traffic his road gets, and it’s too high today. “They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’” Christ is coming, and so this man knows what to do. “And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” He doesn’t cry for power, he doesn’t cry out seeking to have more stuff than his neighbor or the power to rule over them, to humiliate them… he simply wants mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, get me out of this terrible place I am stuck. And what happens? “And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent.” Oh, just be quiet you blind, worthless beggar! We don’t want you interrupting us – we’re here to watch this Jesus, surely He has come for the good people like us! They were in front, but they did not see. “But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” He continues his calls for mercy, he doesn’t let the disdain of the crowd dissuade him – he calls out for mercy to Christ.

And what happens? “And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to Him.” This is actually a wonderful teaching moment – Jesus stops right in front of those very people who admonished the beggar to be silent, and He tells them to bring the beggar up. That person you disdained … now serve him, bring him up to me, lead him so he knows where I am. “And when he came near, He asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me recover my sight.’” So Jesus asks this person what sort of mercy he is seeking. Lord, let me recover my sight. The Greek word there is “anablepso” – that I would see again. And here’s what’s beautiful about this – this man hopes for restoration, for things to be made right by Christ. There was another restoration word earlier in the text – the word for “rise again” is “anastesetai” – again rise. That “ana” at the beginning, it’s the Greek version of“re” – like “re” in resurrection, “re” in restoration. Jesus had told the Disciples there would be restoration, that He would rise again – it goes over their heads. But this blind man, he knows that the Son of David has come to restore fallen creation – the blind man knows the impact of the fall, knows his lack, the corruption of his eyes, and he longs for God to restore him, to make him see again. And God does. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” Recover, restoration – the Son of David does in part there for that blind man what He will do for all creation – fix it, make it right again. He pauses on His way to Jerusalem where His death and resurrection will pave the way for the restoration of all things, and He gives a little restoration, a little foretaste on the way. This blind man, his faith, faith in Jesus, has made him well, has “saved him” in the Greek. His eyes will be restored not just for the rest of his days on earth until he dies, but even when those eyes that now can see are closed by death, because of Christ Jesus, they will be opened again – the resurrection will recover everyone’s sight. I won’t need my contacts any more – Christ will fix it all. And this is what He is on His way to Jerusalem to do – to fix creation by taking up the wages of sin and paying it Himself with His own death, by bursting the bonds of death by rising on the third day.

So now, let us consider this passage and how it applies to us. Two options, two ways of viewing Christ are set before us. On the one hand, there is disdain of suffering, there is the desire that Jesus be our meal ticket, our buddy who gives us our best life now and earthly victory and glory. This is spiritual blindness. On the other hand, there is the knowledge of your own lack, of your own need, of your own wretchedness, and from that point of humility and repentance, then you can see who Christ Jesus is, the One who comes to restore fallen man, to give Him life again. Dear friends, there is a reason Lent is known as a penitential season, a reason why it’s a time where we focus on the gift of repentance. Satan wants us to focus on living big now, having worldly power and glory – he wants the cares of this life to rob us of the Word, as we heard last week. He wants us thinking like the disciples had been, where the idea of suffering and being restored and forgiven are far, far from us – where we view God as a guy who simply helps out us good people because we are smart enough to follow Him. That’s not the Christian faith. The Christian faith is this: while we were yet sinners, Christ Jesus died for us. That while there was nothing good in us, Christ Jesus shows us love by laying down His life for us, by rising for us, by forgiving us and giving us new life in Him. This is our hope – and as we enter Lent this Wednesday, that is what our focus will be. Repentance, being turned away from the desires of the flesh for power and glory, and being focused upon Christ for His mercy, for His love to us.

Therefore, I ask you my friends, what blinds you to Christ? What temptations lure you away from Him? Is it ego, where you like to think highly of yourself? Is it pride, where you hate to admit your failings? Is it bitterness, where you would rather focus on how you have been wronged than repent of your own sins? Is it greed, where your desire for the pleasures of this life shape how you see everything? Is it resentment, where jealousy of your neighbor hardens you? It probably is for you as it is for me all of these, and many others beside. We each have some that especially stand out in us. These temptations distract us, try to draw our eyes off of Christ. Fight against them, beat them down – and know this – that while you are weak and lowly, indeed, whether you like this fact or not, Christ Jesus has had mercy upon you, and in His great love for you and in His desire to restore you, to free you from sin and death, He has suffered and died for you, He has risen for you, He has washed you in water and the Word, and He gives you His own Body and Blood to forgive you again, to be the proof that just has He has died and risen so shall you. This is His love for you.

As St. Paul says in the Epistle – “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” In this life we will struggle against sin, sin will always try to dominate our view – will try to obscure Christ’s love for us – but the time is coming, dear friends, when we will see this clearly, when we see our Lord face to face. Until then, we struggle, we fight against our sin – not just for the sake of some egotistical self-improvement, but so that we might learn of our need for Christ, so that we might be better focused upon Him. Behold, your Lord goes forth to battle against Satan and forces of evil to win you salvation and restoration – all thanks be to God that His Son has come to win us our freedom. God grant to each of us a blessed Lent, that we might once again be given opportunity to see our Lord’s love for us again. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the world. Amen.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sexagesima Sunday

Sexagesima – Luke 8:4-15 – February 18th and 19th, 2017

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Today's Parable, what we normally call the Parable of the Sower, may very well be the first parable Jesus tells. Not only in Luke, but in Matthew and Mark as well, it starts a whole slew of parables, where Jesus starts speaking in figurative language, giving verbal object lessons. And people are routinely confused and have no idea what in the world Jesus is talking about. We even hear that in our text today – the disciples end up asking Jesus what the parable meant – they couldn't figure it out. So when we approach this parable, or in fact any parable, we ought to approach them humbly and make sure we are paying attention to what Jesus actually says, lest we springboard off of the parable into some wretched interpretation of our own devising – because I've heard some really horrible takes upon this parable. But, my friends, consider yourself fortunate, for the meaning of the parable is right in front of your face.

He said in a parable, “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew a hundredfold.” As He said these things, He called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” So we get the image – a sower sows, the seed falls in four different types of soils with four different results. So then, what does this mean?

Jesus gives an answer – “Now the parable is this: the seed is the Word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes the word away from their heart so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in times of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

Alright – so there's the parable and its meaning. Now what? Now what do we do with it? I have heard some wretched, terrible directions that folks have jumped off from this parable. I heard one preacher say, “Well, clearly this means that we need to focus our time spent on outreach in finding people who are good soil and make sure we focus our efforts there.” Well, there's a couple of problems with that, aren't there? First of all – in the parable, the seed goes everywhere. In fact, that's one of the things that is most wild about this parable on the start. The sower apparently doesn't know what he is doing. You wouldn't sow the thorn bed, or the rocky, un-tilled soil, and most certainly not the highway. Seed is too expensive for that. In fact, I'm always surprised that more farmers don't have a conniption-fit when they hear this parable thinking of the expense and waste that is going on. Second of all – how am I supposed to tell how someone is going to react to the Word of God? Am I God? Do I get to see into the hearts of man? If I were going to limit whom I spoke the Gospel to, well, I certainly wouldn't have spoken it to St. Paul. He was killing Christians – if anyone looked to be tied to the highway it would be Paul... and yet, Jesus in His wisdom comes to Paul on the highway to Damascus, asks why Paul is persecuting Him, and then soon Paul is an Apostle. Seems rather fruitful to me. We can't identify who is or isn't good soil.

So a lot of times, when dealing with this parable – we preachers will focus on how the Word of God should be spoken to all, proclaimed to all people, irregardless of whether or not we think they deserve to hear it. And this is an approach that is valid, that has merit. I've taken this approach before, and if someday I notice that y'all are being stingy with the Gospel, disdainful of your neighbor and hestitant to tell them of Christ Jesus and what He has done, I'll probably emphasize this idea a bit more in that sermon. But that's not the main point. The main point of this parable isn't how you need to get on out there and start telling people about Jesus. I mean, that's a good thing to do – but it's not the point. I mean, I know we call this the parable of the Sower, but did you notice something? Jesus, in His explanation, never talks about the sower, never says who the sower is. He never makes an emphasis on the act of sowing, either. In fact, just like last week, we mis-labelled the parable. The focus isn't the sower – listen to Jesus again. Now the parable is this: the seed is the Word of God. This is the parable of the Seed.

This isn't a parable about what you or I do. It is a parable about the Word of God and what the Word of God does. And here's where we can again miss the point slightly. So often when we hear “the Word of God” we jump to thinking about the Bible as a book, as an entity. And that's right, but there's a better, a fuller understanding of this idea – and it's one that is right in front of your face. It's one that has been sitting in front of you, and it sits in front of you almost half the year. Pastor Brown storytime – this week just wasn't a good week for writing for me. Last weekend was busy, so come Monday I was tired, I didn't have the same creative spring in my step. Didn't even get the sermon drafted until Wednesday (which normally makes me rather cranky). At any rate, Monday morning I'm in here prepping for pre-school chapel, thoughts about this sermon going around the back of my mind. And I looked at the pulpit. And I saw the parament, the cloth that hangs here. And you know what – it's the best explanation of this parable that I've ever seen. Right in the middle you've got a stylized Chi-Rho – which is an ancient symbol for Christ. It's the first two letters of Christ in Greek – yet this Chi-Rho is specifically shaped like the cross. And what is springing forth from Christ? Seed. And that seed hits the ground, and there's water and the Word, and then there's growing, fruitful grain.

When Jesus says “the Seed is the Word of God” you realize that Jesus is talking about Himself, right? That Jesus is the Word of God – the whole “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” thing from John? This parable is about Christ Jesus, the Word of God. And Christ comes into this world, and He spreads His love everywhere, for God so loved the world, all of it, even the folks who couldn't care less. That's what Christ does. And Christ Jesus says to you, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Does that remind you of a few weeks ago, up on the mount of Transfiguration, where the voice of the Father boomed from the cloud - “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased, listen to Him.” We're supposed to be listening to Jesus, paying attention to what He says, what He does – come let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, let us be determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified. Pay attention to Jesus!

So what in your life would try to make you stop paying attention to Jesus? Well, the Devil is out there, and Satan likes to just silence the Word, to stop any talk of Christ. “The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes the word away from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” That's one way – get treaded underfoot and battered and bruised in the world and just stop – I don't even want to hear it. Separated from the Word. Or there's what happens with the rocky soil. They hear the Word with joy, but “these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” No root, no water – and then there's times of testing, of just hardship, and folks can pack it up then. Jesus isn't my magical get out of jail free card, forget this. That was never the point, there was no root, no depth. Or there's the thorns - “as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” Too many things to do, so many blessings to use, so much money and wealth and all that – and there's no time for Church, there are other priorities – and they don't grow up, don't mature.

That's how Satan is going to attack you. Whether it's a bald faced attack, or trying to grind you down, or distract you. Over and over his playbook is to get you to ignore the Word, to ignore Jesus. So where does that leave you? As for that in the good soil, they are those who, HEARING the word, hold it fast – He who has ears to hear, let him hear. It is rough out there in the world. It is. It's a nasty, mean, spiteful place where we can get caught up and hung up in all sorts of things, especially when our impatient desires that want immediate satisfaction kick in and make us act the fools. Over and against that, we are given to hear Christ, to listen to Him, to hear again and again what He has done for us.

And here's the beautiful thing. Jesus never stops coming to you. Whatever your week was like – Christ Jesus who died for you still loves you, still has His forgiveness proclaimed in His House. The same love still get scattered all over the place, even if we've been a bit hard or rocky or thorny. Nope – over and over – Christ the Crucified is cast like seed from this pulpit, and we are watered in Baptism and fed in the Supper so that we might have strong roots and grow well and be prepared to stand in the face of this life – that from us would spring Christ and His love as well. Christ is always coming to you so that you would hear Him, receive His love, be comforted in the midst of your struggles with the world, and made to endure in Him. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Septuagesima Sunday

Septuagesima – February 11th and 12th, 2017 – Matthew 20

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
In our Gospel text we are presented two ways of viewing our relationship to God. There are two ways of understanding how we relate to God, each with drastically different results. Do we relate to God on the basis of our works or on the basis of His grace, freely given? Now – some of you may be thinking that I may have run myself into a bit of a sticky wicket with this introduction – because we know as good Lutherans at we are saved by Grace through faith – sola gratia... and yet, the Gospel text was laborers in the vineyard. Laborers. Workers. Um... okay, how in the wide wide world of sports is a story about workers really going to be about grace? Let's dig in and see, shall we?

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them out into his vineyard.” I don't know, Pastor – sounds like things are all about works. See, the Kingdom is like workers working in the vineyard. Not so fast, my friend! First of all, the Kingdom is like the master – if you want to understand things the master is the focus – but keep that in your pocket for later. But also, let's consider these laborers. This isn't the story of an industrious and plucky kid who applied for job after job and finally got one, then worked his way up from the mail room. These workers are dejected. Unemployed. The day dawns and they've got nothing to do. No means of income. Moreover, they are just workers. Unskilled labor. They'd be in a word desperate, desperate for anything. And up walks the master, and he sees them. They're not farmers, they probably don't know the first thing about tending grapes, which actually is a rather technical and specific sort of farm work. So they'd have to be shown the basics and kept watch over, here's how you harvest the grapes off without killing the plant. And yet, the master gives them a job, a job they probably aren't qualified for. And then, he makes them a great offer. A whole denarius. That is a good wage for a skilled worker. These are folks who would be thrilled to get minimum wage, who'd probably work for less; the master gives them Union standard. It's a good deal – they agree – the word in Greek for agree here is “symphony” - these workers are singing like birds because it's a great deal for them.

Our text continues. “And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, 'You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went. Going out about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same.” Now note this – the master isn't necessarily looking for more workers – he doesn't need more labor. The vineyard is taken care of – so he's off to the market to do his shopping or what have you, and he comes across some poor stiffs standing around starving, and out of great compassion, go on, you guys go to the vineyard and I'll pay you what's right. And they go – no contract, no dedicated amount – just glad to get anything. And same at the sixth hour and the ninth, he keeps giving more people jobs, jobs he doesn't need to give out. And the climax of this is the 11th hour – “And about the 11th hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.'” One hour left in the working day – and here's some more wretched folks. Hungry wretches. Eh, even you, even though you'll not even get a full hour in because it will take time to get to the vineyard, and then the foreman will have to find something for you to do – you guys head there too. He's giving everyone a job – this is no way to run a business! This is charity.

And the master's stupid, foolish business sense continues. “And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call up the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.' And when those hired about the 11th hour came, each of them received a denarius.” Do you see? This is utter gift. Alright – you've been here not even a full hour, here's a full day's pay. They don't deserve this; this is utter gift! Of course, that's the point. The Master is always about giving gifts, giving gifts freely, sight unseen. The Master sees folks in need, and he will use his vineyard not for his benefit and profit, but to take care of and provide for these people in need. What love! What generosity! What gift! Why, we all should sing hymns – symphonies should ring out at this love and generosity!

However – there's a change coming. Remember the laborers we first saw? As the Sun was rising, there they were, desperate, without any hope – and the master gives them hope and purpose and a job and a good wage – a cushy deal beyond their imaging. Well, as they come up to get their pay... “Now, when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.'” They grumbled. You've made us the same as these folks who came last! Well, let me ask the question. Aren't you the same? Aren't you both folks who woke up this morning unemployed without any idea of how you were going to put bread on the table? Aren't you both unskilled workers who don't have any leverage to bargain with? Aren't you both folks who were called happily into the vineyard, who went rejoicing? You ARE equal – and the master has treated you all equally.

But they aren't thinking about the master anymore. They aren't thinking about what he has said, what he has offered, what he has promised them. Nope, they are thinking about their works, what they've done. And so the master jumps in. “But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?'” You've got no grounds to complain! I've been above board with you, and in fact I've been generous to you. I've given you a good wage – you thought it was great earlier. “But we've born the heat of the day!” Yeah, well, you're equal to the other workers still, because it was really hot in the market place too, and unlike them, you knew that you'd be able to eat tonight. Might want to cut them some slack and be happy for them and happy for yourself, because you've done really well, far better than you had expected this morning. Take what is given, and rejoice.

So – how are you going to look at your day, oh laborer? Are you going to rejoice in the generosity of the master, are you going to enjoy and receive the gifts with thanksgiving, or are you going to grouse? Are you going to view things through a lens of “works” and think about what you deserve and get all angry and upset, forgetting the fact that you didn't deserve a single thing this morning when you walked into that marketplace? How it's going to be – grace or works?

How's it going to be, O Christian? Are you going to view your relationship to God on the basis of His grace or on the basis of your works? Your sinful flesh will stupidly, foolishly try to tell you it ought to be about works. Your pride and ego will focus on all that you've done, how much you've done – especially how much more you've done than that person over there – and man, doesn't God owe it to you, doesn't He just owe you blessings and you should never have any troubles... and then, you'll just be miserable and angry and upset and you'll grumble at God. And its stupid grumbling – because you know what your wages are, what you deserve? The wages of sin is death, buddy. You want that wage to be paid – then instead of focusing on some false, pollyanna tale of how much you've done for God, you sinner, you should probably cut out all the talk about works out and instead simply pause and think about all the good things that He gives you freely because of who He is.

That's what Jesus teaches us here – that all that we have is really a gift from God. And more than that, we should learn to view all this in terms of gift, rather than being tempted by our flesh to think of it in terms of what we've earned. Consider the prayer that Jesus taught us. We don't pray, “pay us our daily bread” - it is, “give us our daily bread.” It's gift. Even if you work for it, it's still gift, because your body, your talents, your abilities are all gifts from God. And they are good gifts to have – ask anyone who's getting up there in age or who's become disabled what a great gift the ability to work is. So there's no room for boasting – all the physical blessings in our lives are gifts, and gifts we didn't earn, gifts freely given by God. Likewise, we continue in the Lord's prayer, “forGIVE us our trespasses, as we forGIVE those who trespass against us.” Did you hear the “give” there? Forgiveness is always a gift – you can't earn forgiveness, if you've “earned” it's not forgiveness. Forgiveness is something that is given, freely. That's just part and parcel of the word. And Christ would have us see and learn that everything in our life is to be centered around the blessings He gives, the blessings of body and soul. Your stuff is gift, your sins are forgiven and you are gifted Christ's own righteousness – and likewise you give these gifts to your neighbor.

Everything centers around God's gifts. Will the day often be hard and harsh – filled with scorching heat? Sure – but you face those days not in doubt, not in fear as to whether or not God likes you, or if He is punishing you, or whether you've done enough to earn His love – nor with looking at your neighbor and grumbling about how easy he has it. No – you face this heat knowing that you've been drenched in the cooling waters of baptism, knowing that you are joined to Christ – that you are bound to Him for life everlasting, no matter what hardships come your way. You know where you daily bread is coming from – indeed Christ gives you the Bread of Eternal Life itself in His Supper. It's all gift to you – and when we see things this way, when His Word silences our sinful flesh, we then see the wondrous love that He freely gives to us. The Master calls us into His kingdom, not because of what we do for Him, but simply because He delights in giving good things to us. It really is all about His grace, not our works. And that is a thing of joy. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Transfiguration Sermon

Transfiguration – February 4th and 5th, 2017 -

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. 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 our 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 and what He does, by the fact that we have been Baptized into His Name and redeemed by His Blood shed upon the Cross. 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 basically stops believing or even just stops going to church . 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 lives and 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… I could listen to their conversation… nah, 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 Trinity, gathered around the Word of God, we heard from Exodus, written by Moses, we heard the Spirit Inspired words of Peter recorded for us in His epistle, we heard the Gospel of Christ Jesus – yet I’m willing to bet that every one of us has had our thoughts drift off this morning 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; I’ll let you in on a secret – when I mess up what I’m supposed to say or read, it’s normally because I’m worried about something else to come in the service. 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 utterly 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 are 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 thundered forth 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, worrying 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 +