Monday, February 27, 2017

Sermon for Transfiguration of our Lord: "Jesus Only"

+ Transfiguration of Our Lord – February 26th, 2017 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Exodus 24:8-18; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

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

Happy Transfiguration Sunday. Probably not a common greeting you’re used to hearing. Merry Christmas. Blessed Easter. Those are familiar. We know why those days are significant.

But what about Jesus’ transfiguration? Why is this event so important?

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; his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.

Ever tried looking at the sun? (And I highly recommend that you don’t). It was like that but the light was radiating from Jesus’s face. Think about that the next time you hear the benediction: “the Lord make his face shine upon you.”

The word is “metamorphasized”. Changed appearance. Transfigured. For a moment, the covering of humility is pulled back. Christ’s glory concealed is now revealed. The glory that once filled tabernacle and temple is now seen in the man Jesus. This isn’t Mighty Morphin’ Power Jesus or Transformer Jesus – though there is more than meets the eye. For the fullness of deity dwelt in him bodily, as Paul says. Jesus the man is there, but his divinity is revealed.

Epiphany is a season about revealing, making known, and manifesting who Jesus really is.
That’s exactly what Jesus is doing on the mountain.

Jesus’ Transfiguration reveals who he is and what he’s come to do.

Jesus’ transfiguration shines forth the glory of his divinity and death for you.

And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.

You have to appreciate the irony that the two men in the OT who wanted to see YHWH’s glory (and couldn’t but were both hidden in a cave to protect them from it) now get to see it radiating from the incarnate God-Man, Jesus. Now in Jesus, it’s safe to be in the presence of God’s glory. Now in Jesus you can see the face of God and live to tell about it.
It’s no coincidence that Moses and Elijah are there. Mr. Torah and Mr. Prophesy, standing talking with Jesus like old friends catching up. It’s a great sneak preview of the resurrection. But more than that, the words these two prophets spoke is fulfilled in Jesus. In many and various ways God spoke to his people of old by the prophets. But now in these Last Days He has spoken to us by His Son.

But Peter quickly disturbs the conversation: “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.”

Peter says what everyone else is thinking. We’ve all thought it before. “Wow! What a sight. Wish I could’ve been there.”

Be honest. We want the mountain. The experience. We prefer the glory to the cross. We prefer the power and the majesty of a Jesus who shines with unearthly glory than a beaten and bloodied Jesus who hangs dead and defeated. But here’s the rub: Only Jesus crucified saves you. Only Jesus crucified bears your sin. If all that Jesus ever did was appear shining on a mountain to three of His disciples, we’d still be dead in sin.

Thankfully, Before Peter could build his shrines, a thick cloud covered the mountain. The same cloud that covered Sinai and filled the tabernacle and temple. The pillar of cloud that guided Israel. The Father’s voice came from the cloud:“This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”

Epiphany ends as it began: with a voice from the heavens resounding: the Lord’s presence in the cloud, and Jesus standing in our place. We heard these words at Jesus’ baptism. Now as Epiphany gives way to Lent, we hear these words again: “Hear Him.”

You don’t need to go to the mountain. We don’t need to go find the glory of God. The mountain comes to you. God’s glory comes to you….in Jesus. Christ draws near, comes to you personally in the water of your Baptism, in the bread and wine of the Supper, in the spoken Word of forgiveness, wherever two or three gathered in His name. The Scriptures, the Font, the Altar – here’s your mountain. Here’s the place where Jesus meets you.

This is why Peter hangs all hope – not on the glorious vision - but on God’s word:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word…

Christ’s Word is that “something more sure”. In our life as stewards of God’s gifts at home and in this congregation, Christ’s word is our great treasure. In our life of speaking the Gospel with others, Christ’s word is a firm foundation. In our life of devotion and prayer, Christ’s word is our life. In all our daily vocations, Christ’s word leads and guides us, and reveals Jesus’ promises to us.
Jesus’ transfiguration reveals his glorious divinity and death for you.

And that’s the key. Without the cross we don’t understand Jesus’ person and work. Without the cross we have no idea how to live as Jesus’ disciple either. Peter sure didn’t…at least not until after the resurrection. 

Like Peter our fear is exposed. Fear is our denial of God’s promises in the first commandment, that he will be our God and we need no other. And people do strange things when they’re afraid. The disciples fell on their faces.

But what about us? When our relationships are strained, finances are tight, futures are uncertain…do we fear, love and trust in God above all things or do we panic, turn inward on ourselves and lean on someone or something else? It’s no different at church either. When giving goes down, when we don’t see as many visitors or new members coming as we hoped, when our friends constantly reject our invitations to church, do we fear, love, and trust in Christ’s word and sacraments to do what he says they will or do we panic, turn inward, and lean on other spiritual means of hope and comfort? The same light of Jesus’ transfiguration that revealed Peter’s foolishness also exposes the foolhardiness of our sin.

But look at how Jesus answers his disciples. “Arise. Get up. Stop fearing.” That’s death and resurrection language.

Arise. Stop fearing. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

The glory was gone. The cloud was gone. Moses and Elijah were gone. The splendor, the mountain-top moment…the divine revelation all of - gone. But not Jesus.

Moses and Elijah can’t save us. Jesu’s word opens heaven for you. Jesus’s word forgives your sin. Jesus’ word feeds and nourishes you along with his body and blood. Jesus’ word will raise you from the dead.

Arise. Do not fear. Jesus speak those same words after his resurrection, to the women as they leave the empty tomb of Jesus in grief and confusion. Arise. Have no fear.

That’s why Jesus charges his disciples, “Tell no one the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” Jesus’ transfiguration only makes sense after His death and resurrection.

Jesus’ Transfiguration reveals his divinity and his death…but also his resurrection.
We’ll see shining, glorious Jesus one day. He will come again in glory to raise us from the dead and give us eternal life. We’ll see Moses and Elijah and all the saints. And we won’t need any tents to preserve the moment, because the moment will be an eternity. And what a sight that will be.

But for now, the mountain of transfiguration gives way to the mountain of crucifixion. Alleluias give way to ashes. Shining Jesus gives way to crucified Jesus. Transfiguration Sunday gives way to Ash Wednesday. And in all this the Father is pleased with his Son, and through His Son Jesus, he is well pleased with you.

A blessed Transfiguration Sunday to each of you…

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

Sermon for Epiphany 6: "Shot to the Heart"

+ 6th Sunday after the Epiphany – February 12th, 2017 +
Series A: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

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

When we hear the account of Jesus’ baptism for us in the Jordan River or when he overcame Satan’s temptations in the wilderness on our behalf, it’s easy to give a full throated “Praise to you, O Christ” when the pastor announces: “this is the Gospel of our Lord.”

But some days, like today, it’s not so easy. “When Jesus says “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better to lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” it seems a little awkward when we say, “thanks be to God!”

And to be honest, when I looked at the Gospel reading for today I thought about preaching on the OT or Epistle reading. I even thought about making up a good excuse so Vicar Toma could preach on this text instead.

But isn’t that exactly how our sinful nature works. Avoid our sin at all costs. Make excuses. Shift the blame. In other words, to justify ourselves.

Jesus’ words are difficult to hear. Jesus doesn’t give us a spoon full of sugar to help the Law go down. Using three of the ten commandments – the 5th (you shall not commit murder), the 6th (you shall not commit adultery), and the 8th (you shall not bear false witness) – Jesus goes right for the heart of these commandments – our sinful heart.

The heart, in Scripture’s way of speaking, isn’t the romantic Valentine hearts, but the spiritual heart, our inmost being as the Psalms say. 

The problem with our sinful heart isn’t just that we do bad things, but that we are corrupted by Sin in every thought, word, and deed. It’s not just our eyes, hands or mouths that commit sin. As Jesus says, it’s a matter of the heart. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 

Jesus calls us to be pure of heart. But he doesn’t have us look at our own heart to find righteousness or purity. Jesus preaches the Law this way to drive us to despair of our sinful heart and find in him the righteousness, the purity, and the new heart that we need.

First, Jesus goes to the 5th Commandment.

5th Commandment: You shall not murder.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 

When we hear this commandment the little Pharisee within goes on the defense. “Oh, that’s easy. I’ve never strangled, stabbed, or shot anyone. My record is clean…not a fight since the playground back in the day. I’m a pretty good guy.”

“but I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

We may not be on the FBI’s most wanted list, but how perfect is your love for others? Have you been selfish, quarrelsome, or angry? Ever rolled your eyes at someone in a church meeting or muttered some kind of insult quietly or in your mind? Ever been angry with someone in your family or your family in Christ? Ever left a conversation thinking to yourself, that could’ve gone better, what a jerk I was? How about those grudges we like to cuddle like teddy bears? We may appear innocent before the eyes of the world, but in the court of God’s law, each of us is a convicted murderer.

Jesus is right, hell fire is what we deserve. But it’s not what we get. Instead, Jesus keeps the 5th commandment for you. Jesus became the murder in your place Barabbas the murderer was let go. Jesus suffers innocently for us and we go free.

Next, Jesus moves to the 6th commandment.

6th commandment: You shall not commit adultery.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in all we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.

 You’ve heard it said, “Do not commit adultery,”. And again, the expert Pharisee within objects. “Ah, ok. I’ve got that one covered too. I’m a faithful spouse. I come home on time. I take care of my family.”

 “But I say to you…“Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” 

Like Jesus said with the Pharisees and the crowds who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. There wasn’t a man or woman in the crowd at Jesus’ sermon on the Mount who hadn’t broken this commandment too. We’re no different. The 6th Commandment isn’t just about God’s gift of sex reserved for marriage. It’s not just physical affairs that break the 6th commandment, but also the affairs of our hearts. As the old song goes…just one look, that’s all it took. Guilty as charged. Each one of us.

Jesus is right. It would be better to cut out our wandering eyes and amputate our sinful hands if that could save us, but it won’t. So, Jesus kept the 6th commandment for you too. He gave his hands, feet, side, head, and whole body over to punishment and death to keep you from being thrown into hell. He put himself through hell on the cross so that you would never be cut off or thrown outside of his grace.

Lastly, Jesus goes to the 8th commandment.

8th commandment: You shall not bear false testimony against your neighbor.
What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

 Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’

It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking we’ve kept this commandment too. “Oh sure, I’ve told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

 “but I say to you.” Don’t swear at all – by heaven, by the earth, by the hairs of your head. Let what you say simply be yes or no, anything more than this comes from evil.
Jesus isn’t talking about all oaths here. There are plenty of good oaths you make: pastors and congregations make an oath in the ordination rite; husband and wife make an oath in their marriage vows; whenever you sign a document saying you are really who you say you are, you make an oath not to commit perjury, and so on. Jesus even testified under oath before Pilate that he is the Christ.

Jesus is preaching against the elaborate ranking of oaths that had been made up by the Pharisees that allowed them to (by their own determination of course) keep some oaths while others you could let slide. Once again, it’s a matter of the heart.

So, Jesus instructs us to simply let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no”. Words matter. What we say matters. Truth is, we’re all liars in our sinful hearts. We’re well-trained in the art of half-truths and alternate facts.

Thankfully, Jesus keeps this commandment for us too. Jesus bore the mockery of false witness and lies for you. Jesus took all our lies and false oaths to the cross with him and declared, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Jesus, the Truth of God in human flesh, became the liar for you, to fill you with his word of truth.

It’s true, Jesus calls us to have a pure heart. And the pure heart God requires, Jesus gives you. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Just as our physical heart is our most important organ, supplying blood to the body, so too, the blood of Christ shed on the cross supplies life to our spiritual heart. And the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. Jesus’ heart was pierced on the cross to give you a new, clean heart.

And Christ’s blood shed on the cross is the same blood you receive in Holy Communion that you may remain clean and pure in Jesus.

Christ’s blood gives you a righteousness that exceeds the Scribes and Pharisees.

Christ’s blood blots out every sin of ours – the big outward ones and the even bigger inward ones of the heart.

Christ’s blood has paid for every murder and harsh word, every affair and divorce and every look that was a little too long, every perjury, and promise we broke. Though our hearts are corrupt, Jesus declares you pure in heart.

And though our sinful heart continues to sin, our new heart loves our neighbor, honors our spouse, and treats others with honesty and integrity. Because, the same Holy Spirit that cleanses our heart from all sin continues to produce good works in us too.

And by the Holy Spirit, we can say, “thanks be to God” or “praise to you O Christ,” even when God’s Word is hard to understand. For the clean, pure, righteous heart God requires, he gives to each of us in Jesus.

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