Saturday, January 20, 2018

Transfiguration Sermon

Transfiguration – January 20th and 21st, 2018 – Matthew 17:1-9

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
And so today we reach the pinnacle, the peak of Epiphany, there on the mount of Transfiguration. We talk about Jesus revealing His Glory – it shines forth today. We speak of Christ being the Light of the World; He glows today. We are at a hinge in the Church Year – after this we will begin our travels towards Lent and then to Calvary, and so the Transfiguration works as a time to focus us, to set us, to fix our eyes upon Jesus so we know what it is that we will be seeing in the weeks to come. Let’s consider the text.

“And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” First of all, we have the note that this is happening “after six days” – well, what happened six days earlier? In chapter 16 you have Peter’s bold confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And after that Jesus that He is, and that He has come to be killed but raised on the third day. And of course, Peter rebukes Jesus, Jesus says, “Get behind Me, Satan!” And then Christ tells His disciples that whoever would follow Him must deny himself and take up his cross. So what we had just seen in the Gospel was an episode where it was shown that Christ has come to suffer and die for sinful man, sinful man who continually thinks he knows better than God. Peter says “Oh, you are God” and then turns around and starts telling Jesus not to do things. That is what happened six days before. We are going to be talking about God and His efforts, His struggles against sin.

However, there is more going on in this simple sentence – but to get it, we need to think in terms of the Old Testament. If I say “sixth day” to you, and you are thinking about the Old Testament, that’s the creation of man. The idea of the sixth day always focuses on man’s creation, man’s fall, and the promise of restoration. Moreover, we see them go up on a Mountain. For a moment, just think about how many Mountains from the Scriptures you know – Mount Sinai, Mount Zion, Mount Ararat. Even the word “Armageddon” is just a way of saying “Har Meggido” – or Mount Meddigo in Aramaic. God does things on mountains. God gives Moses the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai. When God talks to a despondent Elijah, it is on a mountain. And because of this, the next verses really shouldn’t be any surprise.

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.” And there, Christ Jesus is transfigured – there you could say that He drops His guard a bit, and His innate, divine glory shines forth and through Him – He glows – the grime and dust from His clothes are overpowered with the radiance of His glory – it is an awesome thing. And not only that - Moses and Elijah are there – the two top preachers, the two top prophets of the Old Testament are there. It is hard to explain just how fine, how sharp a point this event is – everything in the Old Testament is funneling right to here and this moment, all coalescing and coming together. It is as if every bit of the Scriptures is there just ready to burst forth in fulfillment, and what happens? And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” There, at the culmination of everything - Peter starts talking. Peter offers to start working. Now, what he offers is very kind – it was probably around the festival of booths, the holiday when the Children of Israel would basically camp out for a few days to remember the sojourn in the wilderness. And there’s Peter saying, “I’ll go set up the tents for everyone, if they want to stay.” It’s a fine, nice thing – but think about the timing. There is Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah – and He’s brought you along, He’s invited you to listen in, and what do you do? You interrupt and offer to go off and do something else. The text had said, “Behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah” – and then there’s Peter, offering to do anything but beholding. It would be like one of you standing up right now and saying, “Um, Pastor, you like coffee, let me go make you a fresh pot of coffee” right in the middle of the sermon. Nice sentiment, but terrible timing.

This sort of provides an example of a problem that we ourselves face – the pressure to always be busy, be about doing something. What we forget is that God knows that we are busy, that we have plenty on our plates – and so in His wisdom He has called us to time of rest, times to hear His Word. Human beings have always been ready to run themselves back into the dust from whence God made us. He had to tell the children of Israel, “Take a day off and rest and hear My Word, it’s good for you.” Peter here shows the same thing – instead of being ready to hear and listen, he’s ready to be working. Same thing with Mary and Martha. And thus so often with us Christians. This is not to say that we aren’t to be about striving after good works and loving our neighbor – but what defines you, what makes you a Christian? Not your works, but receiving Christ Jesus and His forgiveness, hearing His Word. It’s Christ Jesus coming to you that gives and grows faith, that makes you who you are in Him. And lest you think I’m just pontificating, “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.” Even before Peter is done presenting his plan, the Father’s voice cuts him off and says, “Look at Jesus, listen to Him!” Peter, you were brought up on the mountain not to do, but to behold, to listen, to hear and to learn.

Likewise, dear friends, even as we go about doing many things, here in our congregation, in our homes, in our communities, at school, at our jobs – even as we go about all these things, we are summoned by God to His house, so that we might hear Christ Jesus. And in actuality, as the weeks roll by into Lent and towards Easter, what we will be going on here is nothing but what the Father has instructed – listening to Jesus. We will behold His actions, we will hear His teaching, we will see Him do what He came down from heaven to do – to take on Satan and sin and death and defeat them for us.

We need Jesus. We need His righteousness, His holiness, His perfection, His sacrifice. That truth is demonstrated in our Gospel as well – “When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.” When the Father speaks, the disciples hit the dirt. Again, this is something we can skip by, we can forget. We cannot stand on our own before God – we cannot saunter up to God and say, “Here I am, look at all the wonderful things I have done, I have served you so well – now give me stuff.” It doesn’t work that way – we are sinful, and sinners who stand by themselves on their own merits before God, sinners who try to invent their own brand of holiness, sinners who try to do religious stuff on their own terms – they die. And as for Peter – Peter at that moment probably thinks that he is going to die. He had just interrupted a Divine Service, and if you did that – you died. We, of ourselves are not holy and righteous, all our works amount to nothing, and if left to our own there would be nothing for us but to be terrified of God.

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” The only way to stand before the Father is to be bound, is to be tied to His Son, Christ Jesus our Lord. See what happens in the text – James doesn’t poke up his head to see if the coast is clear, John doesn’t just pop and say, “Well, thank goodness that’s over with.” They are terrified, they know the impact, the consequence of their sin, and they are scared out of their mind. Before they do anything – Christ comes to them, He touches them, He lifts them up, and they see only Him. Those verses right there are a depiction of your life as a Christian. You were lost in sin, condemned to nothing but eternal damnation – and then Christ Jesus came to you and He touched you. And I don’t mean this in just some figurative “oh, how touching” sort of sense. Jesus walked up to those disciples, and True God become True Man physically touched them – a real incarnate Lord comes to the disciples. Likewise, that same Incarnate Lord has come to you and He has touched you. He has touched you by water and the Word – He touched you as the waters of Holy Baptism were poured upon your head, He said to you, “You are baptized, your sin is forgiven, and indeed, you are now bound to Me, now part of My Body, part of My Church.” He comes to you physically in the Supper – He places His own Body, His own Blood upon your tongue – and why? So that He can say to you, “Rise, and have no fear.” That’s a word of forgiveness – that’s “go now, depart in peace.” That’s let us go forth in the peace of the Lord. His Word continues to be spoken to you, heard by you, even now, even this day.

Everything in our lives, our existence as Christians, is centered in and flows from Christ – for He Himself comes to us, gives us His Holiness, His righteousness, His forgiveness, His life – and when we are in Him, when we receive Him, we are strengthened, we are renewed, we are prepared to endure all the trials and temptations of this world, for He has already fought them down, He has already crushed Satan under foot, and in Him, we have the victory. And it is important for us to always behold this, to always see Christ, to always hear what He has done for us – because Satan does desire our fall, the old serpent desires us to fall away. Let us fix our eyes upon Christ – let us give heed to what He has done for us, let our focus be upon Him, let us rest securely in Him – because that is when we are able to rise and go through those doors in peace, in trust, in confidence in Christ, knowing that He is the Righteous One, the Lamb of God come down to earth to win us salvation and redemption. We will hear His victory proclaimed anew in these months to come, and we will be strengthened by Him. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Epiphany 2 Sermon

Epiphany 2 – January 13th and 14th, 2017 – John 2:1-11

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
During His earthly ministry, Christ Jesus our Lord does many great and wonderful miracles. He heals the sick, He makes the blind to see and the deaf to hear. He casts out demons. He even, on occasion, raises the dead. And here we are in today’s Gospel – the Wedding at Cana, our Lord’s first miracle! What mighty wonder will He do – will it be something wild and wondrous – will Jesus start things off with a bang – a mighty healing maybe? And then we hear what He does. He changes water to wine. Is that it? Really? For the first miracle – just making wine? We can almost be dismissive of this miracle – it doesn’t seem as lofty or as noble as the other miracles to us today. In fact for some of my Baptist cousins this miracle is a down right embarrassment. “Jesus making more wine, how scandalous! It must have just been grape juice and not wine.” Dear friends, there are many good reasons why John records this first miracle for us – and that is what we are going to look at today – the importance of this miracle and what it reveals to us about Christ.

We know the story, but let’s review. Jesus and His disciples are at a wedding – and it’s probably the wedding of one of Jesus’ relative. We can say that because Mary seems to be in the know – she knows when the party has run out of wine very quickly – a fact that only people helping with the party would know. And Mary wants Jesus to act – and eventually Jesus does – but only in a quiet way. He tells the servants to fill some jars with water and then take them to the master of the feast – and lo and behold, the water has become wine. There’s not a lot of fan fair, Jesus doesn’t boast to the crowds about this – in fact, really only the servants and also His disciples, who would have been following Him around, know what He has done. And the master of the feast is confused – for this wine is good wine – tasty and strong – the stuff you start off the feast with. This is the miracle at the wedding in Cana.

So, why? Why this miracle, why this way? Let’s start at the end, because there John explains what this miracle is. This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. The key phrase for the moment is that Jesus manifested, made present and revealed, His glory. Whereas we might diminish this miracle, where as we today might not think much of it – John says that this one manifested Christ’s glory. John can say this because John knew the Old Testament much better than we do. Think on our Old Testament lesson – Amos 9. “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen” – one day in the future the Son of David shall come. For years Israel will be without her king – but the Messiah will come. And what will it be like when the Messiah comes? “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.” This is actually a common way in the Old Testament of describing what things will be like when the Messiah comes. When the Messiah comes, things will be right again – and even the earth will overflow in its bounty. There will be so much wheat that we won’t have time to harvest it all before we have to plant again, there will be so many grapes that people won’t even have time to plant new vines. And there will be wine enough for everyone – because when the Messiah comes that will be a glorious time and the party and the celebration will not stop. We will not run out, we will not lack.

And so, the disciples see Jesus, this Teacher they’ve been following, the One they’ve heard is the Messiah. And what do they see? Here He is, at a party. And it’s an earthly party. Things are running out. The poor couple couldn’t provide enough for their guests – it would be just another reminder of poverty, of things in this world not working rightly. But, Jesus is there. And very quietly, what happens? Suddenly, there is no lack – and in this little town in the hill country of Galilee there is an overabundance of sweet wine, wine beyond comprehension. Whereas we today might shrug off this miracle – for the disciples nothing could be more wondrous. Prophets might heal, prophets might cast out demons – a prophet like Elijah might even raise the dead. But the Messiah is the One who brings about the over abundance of goodness. We acknowledge that it is God who makes the rain to fall and the crops to grow – and the disciples see that this Jesus is the One who does that – that He is the God who provides. And it is wondrous, it manifests, it reveals His glory completely clearly – it is a uniquely God-like thing that Christ does.

And this miracle also shows us quite a bit about how Jesus will operate, what kind of God He is, what kind of Savior He will be. First, this miracle shows us that Christ Jesus our Lord is full of Goodness. Sometimes we can have this image of Jesus as a stern, disapproving fellow – an angry judge just waiting to smack you down, scouring your life to find the slightest flaw and then lambaste you for it. Of all Christians, we as Lutherans should know that this is not how Jesus wants to operate. One of the things which spurred on the Reformation was Luther’s reaction to constantly being told that Jesus was an angry judge, a Divine Bogey-man who was going to come back and smite him. But look at the wedding in Cana. What is our Lord doing? Simply serving others – simply seeking to see that happiness and joy and laughter and celebration continue on. God does not want you miserable – He doesn’t want you to sin – but our God has created us with bodies that can enjoy many good things, and enjoy them rightly. Now, as sinners we end up abusing these delights - but part of what Christ does in conquering sin is restoring to us right use of these blessings. Jesus is full of goodness – and He wants your life, your existence to be good and full of joy and happiness where you delight in His blessings. He is the God who made all things good – and He will restore them and make them good again. The heavenly party, the eternal celebration will never lack any good thing, and we will enjoy it in all goodness with Christ.

Now, this is instructive for us. When we look at our lives, we should strive to enjoy the blessings that God has given us without abusing them and falling into sin. There is a balance, and falling off on either side is bad. We here know that falling into gross sin is bad. You don’t need me wagging a finger to know that you shouldn’t go out and have affairs or rob people or lie or gossip. That’s how we normally tend to think of sin – the big, naughty things. However, we ought to remember that the joys and blessings in our lives are gifts from God to us – specifically for us to rightly use and enjoy. When we become dour, when we refuse to let joy into our lives, when we refuse to acknowledge the blessings God gives us – that’s sin just as much. That’s going against what God desires. God does not bless you so you can be miserly and miserable. So, consider the blessings that Christ has given you in this life, both great and small, and then with thanks and rejoicing use them with a good conscience and a clean heart. God provides goodness for you.

A second thing to note about this miracle is that Jesus is content to act rather than self-promote. Jesus sees what needs to be done – more wine is needed. Simple fact, they need more wine – and Jesus quietly, without a lot of flash, without drawing attention to Himself – provides more wine. Simple. Jesus isn’t trying to garner praise and attention – rather He has a simple and straightforward desire to serve. Jesus doesn’t tell the bride and groom what He doing – He doesn’t even tell His mother Mary who had asked Him to do something – He simply goes and acts – He serves and then lets His service stand. Christ’s focus is not on seeking His own glory but upon showing love.

Likewise, O Christian, this ought to describe how you act in your own life. As Christians we are called upon to show love, to act, to serve others. Do that. When it is time for you to show love, show your love and don’t spare time worrying about how to gain honor and prestige for yourself. And don’t worry what people think of you. Now, this is easier said than done. All too often when we do something – that little voice inside our head starts wondering about what thanks we will get, or we can think about how nice it will be when people recognize how good we are. This is horribly dangerous to a Christian. Why? Showing love is something that looks outward, looks towards the neighbor. If you are worried about the neighbor’s response towards you, you have stopped caring about the neighbor and rather shifted the focus to yourself. You’ve stopped acting, you’ve stopped doing – and suddenly you are waiting for praise, like a dog with it’s tail wagging and tongue lolling out waiting to be petted. And what’s worse is when we don’t get the thanks we think we deserve – well, see if I help him again. We stop acting, we stop showing love. Avoid worrying what people think or what people will say, avoid worrying what you’ll get out of it. Your Lord calls you to show love – focus your time and effort on thinking of how you can best show that love.

So, why all this focus on service today, on an epiphany day, on a day we are focusing upon Jesus manifesting His glory? There was an interesting note in our text: The master of the feast didn't know where the wine came from, “though the servants who had drawn the water knew.” The servants got it. The servants understood and saw the service that Jesus provided for that feast. The master, the groom – they didn't see it. But the servants did. Likewise, my friends, when you start to see things, to think about things in terms of service, in terms of showing love – well, yes, you will see plenty of places where you could show love better. But more importantly, you will also start to see and notice the ways in which Christ Jesus, the greatest Servant of all, comes to serve you. You will notice the love that He gives you, the worldly blessings He hands to you so that you would be able to hand them to others. We are but stewards of His creation. Everything is His; we simply use it for the good of those He has given us to love. You'll also see and notice more just how rich and deep the forgiveness is that He has won for you upon the Cross – how ready and apt He is to forgive your sins. All very quietly, without much fuss – I forgive you all your sins, I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – a bit of water giving eternal life and an invitation to the eternal feast. Take and eat, take and drink, for I wish you to be with me for all eternity. Why? Because that's who Jesus is – the great and loving God who wishes joy and celebration to last throughout all eternity – and He provides for you now as you prepare for eternal life, and He forgives you so that you would enter there. He serves you and fills you with His abundance now, even until you are called into the heavenly feast of the Lamb that will have no end. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen.