Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; 2 Peter 1:2-11; Joel 2:12-19

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
When the cloud of glory and the primordial light of the Son of God faded, and Moses and Elijah rejoined the white-robed throng around the throne of God and the Lamb, then Peter, James, and John arose and beheld no one but Jesus only. That was the Transfiguration of our Lord which we celebrated together nearly four weeks ago. It was a foretaste of the Lord’s glory which was always with Him, though veiled, that they and we will enjoy with Him eternally in heaven when He returns and raises our dusty bodies from the dusty earth of which they were made. Our Lord granted His disciples this glimpse of His glory that they might have faith to persevere through what was about to happen in Jerusalem, when King Jesus would mount His throne, not in Herod’s palace, but upon Golgotha’s cross.
The days between the Transfiguration of our Lord and His crucifixion and death in Jerusalem were a kind of Lenten pilgrimage for His disciples. They, who were prone to desire and praise magnificent signs and shining glory were prepared to discover that God’s glory is not in the things that men count as glorious and praiseworthy, but in the humble and lowly things, the despicable things, and things that are not. The disciples’ Lenten pilgrimage was preparation for them in which they had opportunity to de-stone and weed the gardens of their hearts, to remove all the obstacles, all the idols they had raised up for themselves which obscured their faith and focus on Jesus, that they might fix their eyes upon Jesus only and behold the glory of God in action for them, laying down His life in death for His friends.
For you too, dear Christian, this Lenten pilgrimage serves the same holy purpose. This is an opportunity for you to reflect all the more upon those things, those people, those actions, those emotions that you have put your fear, love, and trust in above and before God. In many cases, these are things that are permissible and good in themselves, but you have allowed them to control you and to obscure your faith and focus on Jesus. Lent is an opportunity for you to be freed from these idols that you may serve Christ.
And truly, this is what the Lenten discipline of fasting is all about. Fasting means to willingly abstain from something that in itself is both permissible and good. In so doing you show both yourself and your Lord that you can take this earthly thing or leave it – you are not a slave to it, you don’t have to insist upon it. This is the right way for a Christian to live. We should use this world and its goods as if we didn’t need them. No created thing should control us. We should not permit ourselves to be bound or captive to anything. Nothing should be allowed to be more important to us than the Lord Himself.
A related Lenten discipline is almsgiving. By abstaining from certain things – at least for periods of times – we can give money and possibly time to serve Christ in a special way. It can be a good form of fasting to abstain from something and instead give the money to a special Lenten collection or to something else.
And yet another Lenten discipline is prayer. When you abstain and give alms, then most assuredly temptation will come. The devil will take advantage of your weakness just as he did with Jesus when He fasted and prayed in the wilderness for forty days. He will tempt you to place your fear, love, and trust in the worldly things that you have given up and take your eyes off of Jesus. He will tempt you to think that this is all for show or that it’s something that only superstitious, unenlightened people do. Therefore, pray. Pray all the more during Lent. Pray, not just alone, or with your family, but pray here with the body of Christ, the Church. Make use of the extra services in both Lent and Holy Week that you may resist the temptations of the devil and root out your idols.
But, whatever you do or don’t do, if you fast or not, give alms or not, attend extra services or not – whatever you do or don’t do, don’t do it to be seen by others and to win their praise. Others will see you, and that’s okay, but don’t do it to be seen. If you do, it’s not the doing that’s wrong, but it’s your heart that’s wrong. That is on objection that is often made concerning the imposition of ashes. If you’re going to wear the ashes, don’t wear them so that others will be impressed with your piety, but wear them because you know and confess that you are a sinner and that you merit only death and eternal damnation. Ashes should be a confession that you are dust, and that to dust you will return; You are Adam, and to Adam you will return. But, those ashes are also in the form of a cross, for Jesus, the Second Adam, has taken your sin upon Himself and has died your death that you may live. Indeed, you are Adam, and to Adam, that is, to Jesus, you will most surely return.
No one said it would be easy, least of all your God and Lord Jesus. His way to life and glory was through Golgotha’s cross. And, to you His disciple He has said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This is what you have been called to. You have been called to leave behind all the things that obscure your faith and focus on Jesus and follow Him. You have been called to deny your desire and praise for magnificent signs and shining glory and follow Jesus in humility and lowliness, not around suffering and death, but through these into life. Yet, like His disciples of old, your Lord provides you a foretaste of His glory to preserve your faith along the way. He gives you His resurrected and glorified body and blood to eat and to drink that He may commune in you and you in Him – that where He, your head, is, there you, His body, shall surely be.
Lent is an opportunity for you to take stock, once again, of what is true, what is lasting, and what is most needful. Your Lord teaches you to lay up your treasures in heaven, not on earth, for where your treasure is, there you heart will also be. And, your God calls to you, “Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”And, with the preacher to the Hebrews I, your pastor, exhort you, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” For, now we set our faces steadfast to go to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, where it will all be accomplished.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, February 23, 2020


Luke 18:31-43; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 1 Samuel 16:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
See, we are going up to Jerusalem.” When Jesus said “See” to His disciples, I like to think that He was calling them to see something that was right before them that they weren’t seeing; that is, Jesus was calling His disciples to see differently, to see with the eyes of faith. They were going up to Jerusalem where Jesus would be delivered over to the Romans who would mock Him, treat Him shamefully, and spit upon Him; they would flog Him and scourge Him before they crucified Him; He would die and be buried, and on the third day He would rise. Though all the Prophets had written about this, they didn’t understand what He was saying, they simply couldn’t see it, and, in truth, the meaning of Jesus’ words were being hidden from them.
In contrast to Jesus’ disciples, who could otherwise see perfectly well, there was a blind man begging along the road to Jericho. Mark tells us that the man’s name was Bartimaeus, which means “son of honor.” This “son of honor” was reduced to the humiliating act of begging for his livelihood because of his blindness. Nevertheless, blind Bartimaeus could see things that the seeing disciples and the crowds could not see; Bartimaeus could see with the eyes of faith. Hearing a commotion, Bartimaeus inquired what was happening. Someone from the crowd told him simply what his eyes could see, that Jesus from Nazareth was passing by. While that was certainly true, Jesus of Nazareth was simply His name and the town in which He lived. Any seeing person could say the same. Most likely this information was delivered with a taint of derision as well so that he might have said, “The carpenter’s son from backwater Nazareth is passing through. Nothing to see here; move along.” Upon hearing this news, however, blind Bartimaeus saw something the disciples and crowds did not see. Bartimaeus saw and confessed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Son of David, bringing mercy, forgiveness, healing, and life. He cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Now, understand, in both the Gospels of Luke and Mark, this event occurs after the Transfiguration of Our Lord where Jesus’ glory was revealed, along with Moses and Elijah, in the presence of no less than Peter, James, and John! And yet, blind Bartimaeus is rebuked and told to shut up. Though Bartimaeus was blind, though he couldn’t see, still he heard the word of the Prophets, the Word of the LORD concerning the Messiah, and he believed and knew that this Jesus from Nazareth was fulfilling prophecy, that He was merciful, willing, and able to heal. Therefore, he refused to be silenced and he cried out again, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Jesus stopped dead in His tracks. He commanded that the man be brought before Him. Jesus asked Bartimaeus directly, “What do you want me to do for you.” Bartimaeus answered, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” “Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight.”
“Your faith has made you well.” Now, don’t make the mistake that is too easy to make. Don’t think that faith is a work that you do that makes Jesus respond with healing, praise, blessing, or anything at all. Faith is not a work that you do, but faith is the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of the Lord (the Holy Scriptures) and through the Blessed Sacraments alone. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” – period. Blind Bartimaeus had faith. How was it that Bartimaeus had faith? Through hearing the Word of Christ. The disciples and the crowd had heard that same Word – and they had witnessed that Word being fulfilled; they had seen that Word in action – and yet they did not see what blind Bartimaeus could see; they did not believe what blind Bartimaeus believed. Jesus granted Bartimaeus his sight because he could already see with the eyes of faith; his physical sight was a blessing, a fruit, of the true gift of grace he possessed – faith. Though he was physically blind, Bartimaeus did not let his suffering keep him from believing. Indeed, his faith provided him all that he needed to live and persevere, even through his suffering and tribulation.
As He set His face to go to Jerusalem where He would suffer and die, Jesus called His disciples to see with the eyes of faith. Soon, they would see Jesus betrayed into the hands of sinful men by one of their own. Soon, they would see Jesus tried and convicted by both Jews and Gentiles, and betrayed again by Peter, even though Jesus had told him beforehand, and Peter swore that he would die for Him rather than betray Him. Soon, they would see Jesus mocked and ridiculed and spit upon, flogged and scourged, crucified, dead, and buried. Jesus was calling His disciples to see with the eyes of faith, trusting in the Word spoken by the Prophets, trusting in His Word, “and on the third day He will rise,” so that they would persevere through Jesus’ Passion, and so that they would persevere through their own suffering and tribulation as they take up their crosses and follow Him. But, at this stage, “they understood none of these things,” they did not believe, and “this saying was hidden from them.”
Similarly, the LORD called Samuel to see with the eyes of faith, to trust in His Word despite what he saw with his eyes. The LORD sent Samuel to the home of Jesse in Bethlehem to anoint one of his sons as king, the successor of Saul. However, Samuel was afraid of Saul, fearful that Saul would kill him. Nevertheless, Samuel trusted in the LORD and went as the LORD commanded him. Jesse presented his eldest, strongest, most kingly sons before Samuel, but the LORD had not chosen any of them. Finally, Jesse presented his young son David, whom he had never even considered because to the eyes he was young, soft, and unimpressive. But the LORD had chosen David to succeed Saul, despite what the eyes of men had seen, for the LORD looks upon the heart of a man and not the outward appearance.
Isaiah prophesied of Jesus, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Human eyes despised and rejected Jesus, considered Him to be nothing but an unimpressive man, but the eyes of faith beheld the LORD’s Messiah, our Savior, and trusted in Him.
Dearly beloved, we too are about to go with Jesus up to Jerusalem as we begin our Lenten pilgrimage with Him. The LORD calls you once again to see differently, to see with the eyes of Spirit-given faith. Such seeing will not only help you to worship your Lord rightly and to receive His gifts, but such seeing will also help you and encourage you that you should persevere through the trials and tribulations and sufferings that you and those you love suffer as you make your pilgrimage through this life into life that cannot die. The LORD calls you to see that He is with you, just as He has promised, in His Word proclaimed, and in His Word made visible, touchable, and testable – Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution, and in the Holy Supper of His body and blood. In these ways your LORD is with you and cares for you as you make your pilgrim way that you may not fail but reach your heavenly goal. And, as He blesses you, He also makes you a blessing, that through you more and more might see and believe and reach their heavenly goal with you. To God alone be all glory and praise.
In the + Name of Jesus.

Sunday, February 16, 2020


Luke 8:4-15; 2 Corinthians 11:19 – 12:9; Isaiah 55:10-13

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
You must notice the nonchalant, almost cavalier way your Lord speaks about preaching? He presents to you a sower who went out to sow his seed. And, as your Lord tells the story, the sower sowed his seed indiscriminately, the vast majority of it falling amongst rocks, thorns, and thistles, and a quarter of the seed even falling upon the hard, beat down path where it is trampled underfoot and is eaten by the birds. Further, as Jesus told this parable to the crowds who followed Him, He cried out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” He might as well have said, “Understand this, if you are able” or “Let the wise be wise, and the foolish foolish.”
Jesus’ point, of course, is that, while soil must be of a certain quality to produce fruit, so too men’s hearts must be of a certain quality in order to produce the fruit of love in good works in service of their neighbor. It is not enough that the seed merely make contact with soil, for, unless the seed can penetrate the soil, grow a strong root, and receive proper nourishment, light, and water it cannot, and it will not, produce fruit. Likewise, though all men have ears, and most hear sounds quite well, still most do not hear the Word of God and receive it as seed in good soil. Indeed, even men who are physically deaf and unable to hear are, nevertheless, able to hear the Word of God and receive it in faith and hold it fast in an honest and good heart, bearing fruit with patience.
But, this is precisely what Isaiah prophesied concerning the Word of God saying, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” As the rain and the snow fall upon the entirety of the earth indiscriminately, and not only upon the rich, tilled, and weeded soil of the fields, so does the Word of God go out into the world.
And, what is the result of this preaching? What is the result of such indiscriminate sowing of God’s Word? Is it not that the soil of men’s hearts is exposed for what it truly is, stony soil, thorn and thistle infested soil, rock-hard soil that cannot even receive the seed of the Word? For, you must understand that the failure to produce fruit does not rest with the seed, but with the soil. The seed of the Word of God is life-giving, creative, and powerful; it will accomplish that for which it was sent. But, what about the soil? What about the condition of men’s hearts? If the soil of the heart is good – that is, if it has been broken, de-stoned, and weeded through repentance and contrition over sins, then it will receive the seed of the Word of God and the seed will begin to do its work, producing fruit. But, if the soil of the heart is hard and impenetrable, filled through with stones, and infested with thorns and thistles, will not the good seed of God’s Word expose the soil of the heart for what it is? This is why Jesus says “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” God’s Word is either received in repentance and humility or it is rejected in unbelief. If it is received, that is due to God’s grace and the creative power of His Word. If it is rejected, then man’s heart remains what it already and truly is, hard and dead. We all have ears, but not all hear the Word of God. Faith comes by hearing, but hearing comes by the Word of God. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
For, surely you aware that there is no such thing as pre-tilled soil, but all soil is either hard, stony, or infested with weeds, thorns, and thistles. In order to sow seeds, with the hope of producing fruit, soil must be worked and broken, it must be tilled, de-stoned, and weeded. And, soil doesn’t till, de-stone, and weed itself, does it? But, the good seed of God’s Word has the power to break the hardened heart, to pluck out the stones, and to pull the weeds with the preaching of the Law that you might turn in repentance. And, when faith is created, it is nurtured and nourished, pruned and cultivated over time, by trial and tribulation, that it may grow and bear fruit in patience.
In another parable, that of the wheat and the tares, Jesus told His disciples that it was an enemy who had sown the tares in with the wheat. Indeed, from the moment the seed of God’s Word is sown in the hearts of men, the devil begins his attack. Satan snatches the Word away from hard hearts. The riches and pleasures of this life choke off faith. Shallow and emotional belief withers in time of temptation and trouble.
But, take heart, for Christ has borne this attack for you. Christ’s cross was planted in the hard and rocky soil of Golgotha. A crown of thorns was placed upon His head. Satan and His demons hellishly hounded and devoured Him. Yet, through His dying and rising again, He destroyed these enemies of yours. Jesus is Himself the Seed which fell to the ground and died in order that it might sprout forth to new life and produce much grain. He is the vine and you are His branches; baptized into Him, you remain in Him and He remains you, that you will bear much fruit.
And Jesus is the seed of the woman Eve, planted in the virgin soil of Mary’s womb. When the Word of God became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us, He took your flesh, through death, into life, crushing the serpent’s head, and rising again, the first fruits of those who die in Him, a hundredfold.
The Word of God is good seed. It is always efficacious. Whether it be preached to hardened, stony, or thorn infested hearts, or even good soil, it matters not, for the Word of God will not return to Him void, but it will accomplish that for which it was sent. It alone has the power to bring something out of nothing. It alone has the power to create and sustain faith. And it alone has the power to till hardened, stony, and thorn infested hearts and cause them to bear fruit, a harvest a hundredfold.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, February 9, 2020


Matthew 20:1-6; 1 Corinthians 9:24 – 10:5; Exodus 17:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The kingdom of heaven is not a noun, but it is a verb. When we hear or read the word kingdom in an English translation of the Scriptures, we typically think of a place or a thing, however, the word used here is not a place or a thing, but it is an action. Indeed, a more accurate translation of the kingdom of heaven would be the reigning of heaven. Thus, when Jesus begins His parables saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like…,” you should hear Him saying “The reigning of heaven is like [thus and thus]….” In today’s parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, the reigning of heaven “is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard” – the entirety of the parable is meant to communicate something about what the reigning of heaven is like.
The very first thing that you should take away from Jesus’ kingdom parable is that He is the actor in it; Jesus is the one reigning in and through His kingdom. Jesus begins the parable with a master hiring workers for his vineyard. Without the master there is no vineyard and no work. Moreover, those hired were not hired because they applied, or because they had certain skills or talents, but they were hired because the master went out and hired them. Though Jesus says that the master agreed with the laborers for the typical daily wage of a denarius, this is simply His master story-telling in action, for He concludes His parable with the master giving the same to all, not because of their labor or merits, but because of his grace saying, “I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.” It is clear that Jesus Himself is the master in this parable, even as He is the sower of the seed in the two agriculturally themed parables which precede it in Matthew chapter 13: The Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Weeds. Jesus is the sower and His Word the life and faith creating and bestowing seed; we are the more or less receptive soil. Jesus is the master “who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” We are those standing around idle and passive, unable to earn or merit anything but death. Thus, the reigning of heaven is undeserved, unmerited grace, completely and entirely the work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who has called us out of sinful idleness to fruitful service in His kingdom.
Indeed, this is how Luther understands and confesses the Second Petition of The Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” God’s kingdom comes,” Luther confesses, “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.” God’s kingdom, God’s reigning, comes to us – not the other way around; we do not come to it – and we receive God’s kingdom, God’s reigning, by bearing His fruits, when we “lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” There were no workers in the master’s vineyard prior to the master’s call, just as there was no fruitful soil until the sower sowed his seed. We all stand in sinful idleness, which is death, having no ability whatsoever to become fruitful or alive. We are Lazarus, dead in the tomb four days so that we stinketh. Were it not for the Word of the LORD calling us, and the Holy Spirit delivered through that Word creating faith in our hearts, we would remain the hard packed soil of the path, we would remain Lazarus’ stinking, rotting, decaying corpse decomposing in the tombs of our own making, the true wages we have earned, merited, and deserved for our works, the best of which, apart from grace, are no better than filthy rags. Oh how we value and idolize and worship the false god of equality, while there is truly only one thing that we are equal in: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; and the wages of our sin is always, and only, death.
Equality with those hired first in the day is what the workers hired last in the day received – they each received a denarius regardless of how long they worked. Cleverly, however, the master had the workers hired last paid first, and then those hired earlier in the day. Those hired last do not complain, but they receive their wage and go contentedly on their way, while those hired first “began to grumble 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’.” Here our Lord gets directly at the root of what causes us so much misery and suffering in our lives and in our world: Greed, jealousy, entitlement, which bear the fruits of resentment, hatred, and lack mercy, charity, and, worst of all, love. And, all of that is but the sin-sick and diseased-unto-death fruit of idolatry, a failure to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. All of this is endemic of your false delusion that you have anything that you can offer to God, anything of value that is truly yours of which you may boast or earn or merit or place your trust in.
What did Lazarus have to contribute to his resurrection? What did the soil have to contribute to its fruitfulness? What did unemployed, idle workers have that would earn them a denarius, let alone much less or anything at all? What did the heavens and earth contribute to their creation? Nothing! God creates ex nihilo, that is, out of nothing. Likewise the Holy Spirit creates faith in men’s hearts when and where He pleases through the goodly seed of the Word of God, which the Sower sows here and there equally, without discrimination, and causes to be fruitful when, and where He pleases. The vineyard is the Lord’s. The seed is the Lord’s. The fruit is the Lord’s. But, the good news is that you get to bear it, and that the Lord will credit you for it – which is something considerably different than insisting that you have earned it and merited it. That is to steal from God, an absurd and blasphemous notion, but one that you are tempted to do daily and often do willingly or unwillingly in sinful rebellion or ignorance.
Truly we are equal in the eyes of the LORD, but not because of our works or merit, or even because of our faith. Equally, we are hopeless sinners. Equally, we are forgiven in the blood of Jesus, who chooses to give to the last the same as the first. Do you begrudge the LORD His generosity? Is the LORD not allowed to do what He chooses with what belongs to Him? First or last – what concern is this of yours? It is the LORD who is the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End – and, frankly, everything in between. Take what belongs to you – not what you have earned, merited, and deserved, but what the LORD has freely and graciously given you at the cost of His Son – and go in His peace bearing His fruits, chief of which is love and its fruits: mercy, compassion, charity, kindness, forgiveness.
The kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of grace. The reigning of heaven is a reigning of grace. The workers thought that they were earning their wages, but in the end all received the same, without works or merit, by grace. The only thing that you earn or merit for your works is death: “The wages of sin is death.” Thanks be to God that He doesn’t give you what you deserve! Instead, the LORD gives the first and the last, all whom He calls to faith and fruitfulness in Jesus Christ, eternal life in His kingdom. Being in the LORD’s kingdom means bearing the LORD’s fruits in good times and in bad, in times of prosperity and in times of dearth, in times of joy and in times of sorrow. Think about it – Jesus is the vine and you are His branches. Branches only produce fruit because they remain connected to the vine; the life of the vine flows through them and makes the branches fruitful. The fruit you bear – your good works, love, mercy, etc. – are the LORD’s fruit, not your own, no more than you would say that the grapes are the fruit of the branch. No, grapes are universally called the fruit of the vine. Moreover, vines often have to endure and persevere through drought and flood, through disease and blight. If the vine suffers these things and endures, so do the vine’s branches. Nevertheless, the life of the vine continues to sustain and preserve the branches and make them fruitful.
“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.” So what. What is that between Me and you, thus saith the LORD? Let such thoughts be far from your hearts and minds and mouths. When you do think and speak them, repent. As we prayed in today’s Collect, we justly deserve the consequences of our sins, but we pray that we might be mercifully delivered by the LORD’s goodness to the glory of His Name. We are all runners in the same race and, if we finish, if we die in the grace of the LORD, we all receive the same prize, eternal life with our Holy Triune God in heaven. What an absurd and scandalous grace we enjoy and bask in! That is why it is all the more absurd and scandalous that you should judge others as less worthy than yourself, that you look down your nose at them and their misdeeds and consider yourself superior – you hypocrite! Rather, in this race, if you see your brother stumble, help him to get up and finish the race. You will not forfeit first prize. There is no first prize, or last prize, but there is only the perfect and holy life of Jesus for all who finish the race. Oh, the temptations to quit midway are enormous and relentless, but the LORD has provided this hospital, this Church for you to bind up your wounds when you are injured and sick, pouring on holy wine and oil and water in forgiveness, to strengthen your faith, and to equip you with His gifts that you may persevere, more than that, that you may help others to persevere. Indeed, we’re all in this together, for we, like those who have gone before us, are under the same cloud of the LORD’s glory, have passed through the same sea of Holy Baptism, eat the same spiritual food and drink the same spiritual drink. Yet, as the LORD was not pleased with most of them, even so the LORD will not be pleased by those who fail to produce His fruits, leading “godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”
The kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of grace. The reigning of heaven is a reigning of grace. Come, eat and drink deeply of the fruit of the True Vine Jesus Christ, our Spiritual Rock who is with us, and be renewed in His grace, cleansed from your sins, strengthened in your faith, and equipped and sent to be fruitful with His fruits. Let His life flow through you and make you fruitful, for He is your life, there is none other, and bear His fruits of love, mercy, grace, charity, compassion, and forgiveness and so enliven others to the glory of His Name.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord

Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Exodus 34:29-35

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
A biblical vision is not a dream per se. That is, a vision is not something that you have, but it is something that is given to you, by God, for you to see and to experience. Moreover, what is given to you to see and to experience is not something new, but it is something that was there all along with you, but you could not see it, either because of God’s will, because of your own sinful weakness and unbelief, or both.
Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration of Our Lord occurs six days after Peter’s confession of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” That was a great confession that Peter made, and Jesus praised it stating that it had been revealed to Peter by God. Jesus was, and had been, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, all along, though Peter and the disciples, and the crowds, had not been able to see or to experience that truth. Throughout this Epiphany season we have heard how Jesus began to manifest and to show forth outwardly who He was and what He had come to do in miracles and signs and teaching: Impressing the rabbis in the temple with His teaching; the events of His Holy Baptism; His first miracle, changing water into wine; the healing of Jewish leper and a Gentile centurion’s servant; and more. However, Peter was the first of Jesus’ disciples to put this all together and to see and confess that Jesus is the promised Messiah and Christ of God, even the very Son of God, and this confession came not from his own flesh and blood and reason, but this truth was revealed to Peter by God the Father. It was true all along, but Peter and the disciples could not see it or experience it, until God revealed this truth to them.
In the days following Peter’s confession, Jesus began to teach His disciples that He “must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Then Peter, who had made the great confession concerning Jesus, “took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you’.” But, just as his great confession was revealed by God, so Peter’s rebuke had a different inspiration. Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Then Jesus began to teach of the suffering His disciples must face as well saying, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
This is what transpired in the six days between Peter’s great confession and Jesus’ Transfiguration. Blessed by God to see and to confess Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God, Peter, nonetheless, refused to believe and accept that Jesus’ mission was to suffer and die for the sins of men, and be raised from death. Not only did Peter refuse to believe and accept this truth, but he actively sought to prevent Jesus from carrying it through. Understanding this helps us understand what Peter had in mind on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter was understandably impressed by the glory he was blessed to see as Jesus was transfigured on the mountaintop. We even have a name for such a feeling of elation and joy – A mountaintop experience. And, like ourselves when we experience such elation and joy, Peter wanted to preserve it. “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.” The word tent doesn’t capture the fullness of the what Peter had in mind. The word he used was the very same word that was used for the Tabernacle in the Old Testament. Peter wanted to stay up there on the mountaintop in glory. He wanted to enshrine that glorious moment and preserve it forever, just as he had embraced the glorious confession that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, but refused to believe and accept that Jesus had come to suffer and die for the sins of Adam and his children.
Once again Peter was rebuked, this time by the LORD Himself speaking from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” The LORD effectively cut Peter off in the middle of his misguided glory-loving elation, effectively saying, “Shut up! Listen to Jesus!” At the voice of God, Peter, James, and John all fell down as though dead, the proper and inevitable response of sinners in the presence of the glory of the LORD. Then, Jesus touched them and said to them, “Rise, and have no fear.” It was an absolution. Jesus blessed them and forgave them. “And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”
Remember, at the beginning of this homily I stated that a biblical vision is not the same as dreams we have when sleeping, but a vision is a special sight that we are given by grace to see something that has been there all along but hidden, under a veil, or that we were simply unable to see because of God’s will or our own sinful weakness and unbelief, or both. I truly believe that Moses and Elijah were still there, indeed angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven, for wherever Jesus is, there is paradise, there is heaven, but once again, the disciples were unable to see it, but they saw only Jesus. The blessing of Jesus’ transfiguration is that we are invited to see with the eyes of faith the glory of God in the person of Jesus, in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily. The disciples were permitted this glimpse of Jesus’ glory that their faith might be strengthened and that they might persevere through the dark days and events that were soon to follow, Jesus’ arrest, mocking, scourging, crucifixion, death, and burial, in the hope of the promise, on the third day He will rise.
It is no coincidence that The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord is positioned here, at the end of Epiphanytide, just before we enter into Lent and the remembrance of our Lord’s Passion. The Church would prepare us to face the suffering, humiliation, and death of Jesus, and to take up our own cross and follow Him in His way, by reminding us, but revealing to us, that He is with us all along the way, indeed, that all of the glory of heaven – saints, angels, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – are with us even now, even in our darkest moments as well as the joyous ones, even as we face death, that we should be encouraged, our faith strengthened, that we should persevere in hope, contentment, peace, and even joy.
Throughout our pilgrimage we are tempted to doubt and despair when we face difficulty, trial, tribulation, sickness, and death. However, our Lord has promised that we are not alone, that He is with us, indeed, that He will never leave us until all is fulfilled. Surely, His Spirit is with us wherever we are and wherever we go, just as He has promised, but His glorious presence is in His Church where we all gather together as one in His Word and Gifts in worship of our God who is with us. Our God is with us just as He has promised in His Word proclaimed, in the waters of Holy Baptism, in His absolution bestowed anew, and in His body and blood received by all who believe and trust in Him for forgiveness, life, and salvation. For those blessed with Spirit-given eyes that truly see and ears that truly hear, heaven has come down to earth, Jesus is present, with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. This is the Mount of Transfiguration. This is the Gate of Heaven. It is good, Lord, to be here. Yet, as we leave this Mount, Christ accompanies us on the plain.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.