Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Transfiguration of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, February 18, 2007, Luke 9:28-36

Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. (Luke 9:28-36, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today we’re remembering the Transfiguration of our Lord. The word “Transfiguration” means changed. On that mountain with Peter, James and John Jesus’ appearance changed right in front of them. What’s happening here is that some of God’s glory in Jesus is poking through to be seen. Although Peter didn’t understand what was going on at the time, he was so impressed by what he had saw that he wrote about it in his second epistle (2 Peter 1:16-21). There he calls it God’s majesty. When Jesus began to shine there on the mountain of the transfiguration Peter was basking in it. “Lord! It’s great to be here in your glory, with Moses and Elijah. Let’s make this last a while. Let’s just stay right here. Let’s build three tents. This is just what I’ve been looking for in you. Now we’ll really be able get things done. Now life is going to be good.” Luke tells us that Peter didn’t know what he was saying. Maybe Peter had visions in his mind of an end to the Roman occupation with the Roman Legions running from Jerusalem with their tails between their legs. Or maybe he was thinking about knocking the Pharisees, the “holier-than-thou” religious leaders of the day down to size. Or maybe he had visions of mountains of fish being carried to market from his fishing boat and the new house he would be able to build with all his new found profits. When Jesus was glowing on that mountain, when his clothing became dazzling white, Peter was looking at God the way we all want to see him.

That’s right, if you and I were standing on that mountain with Jesus… and Moses… and Elijah… we’d have said it something like this: “Now this is what I’m talking about! Jesus, this is more like it. Here’s the real stuff, the power, the dazzling white I need for life. Here’s a god that will make my best life now. Here’s a god who can heal me, fix my finances, straighten out my wife, make my husband a better lover and fill my life with driven purpose. Here’s a god who can teach my obnoxious neighbor a real lesson in humility. Here’s a god who I can use to make my life better.”

But just like Peter, we don’t know what we are talking about. Just like Peter when we think about our Lord Jesus in that way, we’ve got him all wrong. It’s easy to be that way, in fact, it’s impossible for sinful human beings not to be that way. We focus on the here and now. We focus on our needs. We focus on our wants and desires. But just like Peter on the mountain of Jesus’ transfiguration, we’ve got God all wrong. We don’t know what they are talking about.

Martin Luther wrote about this. He explained this way of thinking about Jesus in a very interesting and easy to remember way. First, understand that no matter who you are you are a theologian. We don’t all think of ourselves that way but it just means that everyone has a way of thinking about and talking about God. The word theology means simply “god-talk.” Dr. Luther said there were only two types of theologians: Theologians of Glory and Theologians of the Cross. Theologians of Glory use god to make life easier for themselves. They see god as a means to shape their world and change hard questions into easy ones. They see god as someone that you do good things for and then in response he does good things for you. Live the right kind of life and god will reward you with wealth, health and happiness; pray real hard and god will take away cancer; tell god how great he is in song and he’ll respond with good feelings of peace and happiness; put enough money in the collection plate and god will keep your checkbook in the black; follow these ten biblical principals on marriage and god will bless your relationships with pure joy. The truth is that every human religion in the world works this way. Appease the gods and they’ll reward you. It’s a theology of glory, and it says that I’m the center of attention. If I’m happy and healthy and wealthy then god is pleased with me and the world is a good place to live. God is just a way to shape my world and make it happen for me. That’s god not as he is found in scriptures, but a god invented out of human imagination. One pastor I know calls this a theology of self glory.

And, if you’re honest you’ll admit that much of the time that’s that’s the god you want too. God, make my life easy, take away trouble and suffering from my life. God, give me good things for my life. You and Peter (and me too!) are all, in our sinful nature, theologians of [self] glory. Our lives are filled every day with thoughts that put us first. That is the way with all religions; they focus on human beings and what human beings can do to get god on their side. Well that is all religions except Christianity. In our faith, Jesus God’s only beloved Son, does it all. He reconciles us with God without us doing anything for him. Jesus tells us what that’s all about. In fact, it is really what this text wants us to understand. It starts out Now about eight days after these sayings… What sayings? Well you just turn back a page in the bible and read what Jesus said.

And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:21-27, ESV)

When Jesus says, deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me he’s discussing what it means to be a Theologian of the Cross. It’s not something we do to appease God, like other religions but something that God has already done for us. That’s exactly what Jesus and Moses and Elijah are talking about up on that mountain. St. Luke says,

And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

It’s that word departure. They are talking about Jesus death in Jerusalem. They are talking about the cross. Actually, I don’t really picture Moses and Elijah saying much in the conversation. I picture Jesus saying something like, “OK boys, this is how it’s going to go down. I’m going to Jerusalem to suffer under Pontius Pilate, be crucified, dead and buried. I’ll descend into hell. On the third day I’ll rise again from the dead and then ascend into heaven and sit at the right hand of God, the Father.” And then the voice in the cloud booms out, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”

God’s glory isn’t seen in the success of those who claim to be doing his will on earth. Instead, God’s glory is seen most clearly when we are looking at a dead Jesus on the cross. There’s God willing to kill his only son for the sake of sinful human beings who think first about themselves. There’s God willing to suffer the agony of eternal punishment for the sake of people who want easy lives instead of what is best for them. There’s God willing to bleed not out of selfish motive but giving everything he is for you and me. There is no contradiction between the shining Jesus on one mountain and the bleeding and dying Jesus on another. They are one and the same. That’s God’s love shining through. That’s God’s real glory being shown in a way that we can see, in a way that we can really understand. Jesus said it like this Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. (John 15:13, ESV) Well, that’s not very glorious according to the way people think, but that’s God’s glory shining through. That’s not very glorious according to our thinking. That’s not very glorious according to the world’s way of thinking. But that’s how we can know that the God we worship is the true God. He’s the only one who shows love in this way, by forgiving our sins through his own suffering and death in our place.

The theologian of the cross sees God’s glory in the cross of Jesus Christ, but that’s not all. Christians (aka Theologians of the Cross), see the cross of Jesus Christ in their own suffering. One thing I’ve learned in my very short time of being a Pastor: you and I see Jesus most clearly not when things are going well, but when life is hard, when pain is present and when death is very near. Jesus said that we should take up our cross and follow him. He’s not really talking about everyday suffering; he’s talking about suffering for the sake of the cross. You know, having other Christians questions our practice of closed communion and tell us we are unloving because we tell them that Jesus says they can’t commune at our altar. You know, pointing to Jesus suffering and death on the cross when others only want to look at how Jesus “makes my life better.” You know, insisting that Jesus and the cross are at the very center of our faith and worship every single week instead of some feel good program like 10 steps to financial freedom. That’s the cross Jesus is talking about. But he means too that when we hurt, when life presses in on us from all sides, when we are threatened with illness and loneliness and separation, when we see our own weakness, that’s when we see most clearly that we are lost without Jesus, that is when we cling to the only thing that we know can save us, Jesus our Savior. And when suffering and trouble come, Jesus doesn’t tell us to buck up and tough it out, he tells us to look for him; he promises to be with us right in the middle of our suffering.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. The Jesus whose glory shines out on the mount of Transfiguration went to the cross for you. There in his bleeding and dying he suffered sins punishment for you. That too is a showing of God’s glory. When he rose again from death, which he also did for you, he showed God’s glory once again. And he is coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead. And the amazing thing is that that story of God’s glory in Jesus is your story, too. You are connected to all that Jesus did. We saw it right here this morning. Jesus and Lodin connected by water and the Word. God’s promise that the glory he showed in Jesus will be reflected in Lodin. Let’s say it like this: Today God’s glory shines in Lodin as he was given the name of Jesus. All through his life weather it is long or short, God’s glory will show in the suffering he goes through. That’s because God has promised to be with him through it all and because the punishment for his sin was washed off of him and on to his Savior Jesus, none of his suffering is because God is angry with him but only to draw Lodin closer to Jesus. Someday in the future when Jesus comes in glory, Lodin will rise from death and receive a new glorious body. And that’s what it means for you, too. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Feb 4, 2007, Luke 5:1-11

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. (Lk 5:1-11, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” I wonder, really, what brought Peter to this point? I mean, I wonder what it is that makes a strong fisherman, whose nickname by the way, is “Rock”, I wonder what makes a man like that kneel among a mountain of fish in a sinking boat, and shout in fear, “Get out of here our I’ll die!” So, you get the full impact of what I’m asking I want you to place this scene in your mind. Peter is a workingman, very strong from dragging waterlogged fishnets out of the water. His skin is dark and leathery from a lifetime of water reflected sunburn. His hair is long, bushy and sun bleached. His eyes are dark and penetrating. Here is a guy who probably gets what he wants, when he wants it. You might even imagine that if he were around today he’d have tattoos on his biceps. Here’s a guy who has worked hard all his life to achieve all that he has achieved, a self starter, a businessman who is very self confident. He’s a family man, used to making a living the hard way, blood and sweat. That’s the man that St. Luke would have us believe is kneeling at Jesus knees, pleading to be left alone. And so, I’ll ask the question again. What makes a man like that do a thing like that?

[Maybe we should back up a bit, and see what else is going on here. This isn’t the first time we hear about Simon in Luke’s Gospel. In fact, only a few verses earlier Jesus does another miracle, and He does it in Simon’s in his house.

"And [Jesus]arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them." (Lk 4:38-39, ESV)

This miracle didn’t drive Simon to his knees before Jesus, and it involved a relative. In fact, Luke says nothing about the reaction of Simon on that occasion at all. So, what is it in the boat that changed Simon’s attitude?]

“Well, isn’t it obvious?” You say. Just look at that load of fish they hauled in. Simon said himself that they had worked all night and caught nothing. A few moments with Jesus on the lake and they’re full to capacity and sinking, and not just one boat but two. There is nothing that will humble a man faster than to be a better fisherman than he is. Just ask any angler’s wife who’s had a good day of fishing at the expense of her husband. And everything Jesus tells them to do defies all fishing logic. No one fishes in the heat of the midday sun in deep water and expects to catch anything, especially in the kind of nets they were using. Those nets caught fish that swim near the surface of the water to feed. But, Jesus did in minutes what Simon and his partners couldn’t ever do. And the thing I want you to see here is exactly how Jesus does this miracle (it is beyond a doubt, just that a miraculous catch of fish!) And when [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” There in His makeshift pulpit when the teaching was done, Jesus gives a word to Simon and the other fisherman. And it’s a curious word. It’s a word that doesn’t make fishing sense. “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

Here already you may notice that Simon seems to be acting out of character. He doesn’t say, “are you crazy! We’ll never catch anything out there at this time of day!” Instead, he reacts to the word of Jesus doing exactly what Jesus says. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” He makes it clear that what he’s doing makes no sense, but Jesus words have their effect on him, and he does it anyway. “And when they had done this…” Luke tells us, as soon as they did what Jesus said, the nets were full to overflowing, and not just overflowing but to the point of tearing apart. The question to ask, the question that must have entered Simon’s mind, is “How is it that all these fish have come to this unlikely place at the altogether wrong time to these nets?” And the answer is; because Jesus spoke the words and the miracle happened. Simon was confronted with the reality that what Jesus had spoken to him wasn’t a command, “Put out the nets for a catch,” but what Jesus had spoken was a promise. “Put out the nets and you will catch fish.” When the work was done, when all the fish were in the boat, and water was slipping over the hull, threatening to plunge them all into the water, Simon turned to the source of miracle. He fell at the feet of the One whose spoken word could do exactly what it promised. Simon Peter, the man that is called “Rock,” melted at power of the
Word of God.

In fact, that is exactly what this text is all about, the power of the Word of God. Look again at the first sentence. “The crowd was pressing in on [Jesus] to hear the word of God.” Notice also, that Jesus gets into Peter’s boat. In reality, he has a front row seat to Jesus Words. God’s Word spoken from the lips of Jesus struck Peter’s heart. When Jesus says, “put out your nets.” Peter responds. Jesus words were at work in Peter before he responded to Jesus. But even though, it’s easy to see the Word of God at work in calling the fish into the fisherman’s nets, because that’s a visible miracle, after all it nearly sunk the boats. But the important work of God’s Word wasn’t on the fish. The same miracle of God working through his Word that was shown to the eyes of Peter was at work invisibly as Jesus taught the people from the boat. God’s Word was there, melting hardened hearts of stone, convicting sinful people of their sin, removing mountains of doubt, creating and strengthening faith. We see it in Peter’s words, “Master, at your word I will do it.” And we see it when Peter confesses his sins, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

What Peter was confronted with was the fact that the God who’s Word created the universe, the God who controlled all nature, was seated in that fishing boat with him. The spoken Word of God showed him all of his sinfulness and he knew what he deserved. It’s evident the same reaction we see Isaiah’s words from the Old Testament reading for today. “Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips! I’m a dead man.” Peter and Isaiah were afraid of the awesome power they saw; the power of God that should have left them dead.

What did Peter see? What did he hear? What does God’s Word say to you? God’s Word often convicts us of our sin. That must be what happened to Peter. He heard Jesus preaching backed up by a miracle and he new he was in trouble. What do you hear when God’s Word says to you, “You shall not commit adultery”? Do you hear the “you” as you or do you hear the “you” as someone else. Do you say, “at least I’ve never done that sin”? Do you hear Jesus says that adultery is a sin done in the heart first? Do you imagine that yours is free from it? Try to tell yourself that tonight when while your watching the Bud Bowl commercials, or when you wish the camera angle were just a little different when then cheerleaders are filling the screen.

How about “you shall not kill”? Are you very sure you’ve never done that? Maybe there’s no bodies buried in your back yard and no bloody knives in your dresser drawer. But Jesus says that this to is a sin in the heart. Tell yourself you are free from this sin when that negative comment about your neighbor, your ex-husband, or your ex-pastor, or even your worst enemy slips from your lips. Jesus tells you that any thought word or deed that diminishes your neighbor in any way is breaking this command. These are just the easy commandments to use, but we could go through all ten and it would be the same.

“I can’t help it!” you protest. And there you are right. You can’t help it. That’s because Jesus is right. Sin is imbedded in the heart. There’s a part of you, a sinful nature that never wants to follow God’s Word in any way or at any time. You can’t stop sinning. You can’t help it. You can’t stand in the presence of a holy and perfect God who demands perfection in every detail. He says that if you do, you are dead. That’s what Peter saw and heard. That’s what Isaiah saw and heard. The God who spoke to and commanded the fishes in the sea sees right into your heart. And when he finds what you know is there he says, “The soul that sins shall die.” God’s Word is the same weather spoken from a boat on the shores of the sea of Galilee, or in this pulpit, is powerful. It cuts us open like a sword, and displays our sinful nature. That Word causes us to speak to God like Peter. “Lord go away I’m a sinful man. I’ve sinned against you in thought, word and deed…”

Ah, but the most powerful words in this reading today aren’t Peter’s confession of sin. It’s not Jesus words of condemnation. It is Jesus words of comfort and forgiveness. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus says instead of striking Peter dead on the spot, instead of dropping him in the deepest part of the lake. Jesus doesn’t punish. He doesn’t leave Peter in his sin and fear.

Peter knew whey he should be afraid, because God, himself, in the flesh, was standing with him in a boat full of fish on the Sea of Galilee. What he’d have to learn later on is why he didn’t have to be afraid. Really, it was the very same reason. God, himself, in the flesh, was standing with him in a boat full of fish on the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus the man at whose knees he fell face down was God who had come not to destroy him, but to destroy the sin he harbored in his heart. We talked about that sin, didn’t we. It’s the same as ours. It’s the same that we can’t get rid of . Jesus, Our Lord, takes ours away, too. One of our hymns says,

Nothing of my own I bring,

simply to the cross I cling.

That’s where Jesus destroyed our sin and Peter’s. He put it to death in his body. The pain of pierced hands and feet; the suffering of suffocation; and most important of all the loneliness of being left there to suffer and die by God the Father.

Peter said, “Leave me!” But Jesus didn’t leave even though it meant the cross. He instead was left alone to bear all of God’s anger and wrath over sin, all the punishment God had to give. Jesus suffered the punishment of eternal hell for the whole world on the cross. Empty crosses are fine. They show us where this all happened. But when Christians see a cross with Jesus body on it we see our sin being destroyed and we see our Savior, saving us.

Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will be catching men.” Peter left everything and followed Jesus. Its Peter’s response to God’s saving Word. It’s our response to. We leave this place after having received the Word of God, spoken into our ears, and placed into our mouths with bread and wine, and poured on our heads in Holy Baptism, and take that Word to where we live and work every day. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “Now do this.” He says “you will do this.” That’s God’s Word working again, His powerful Word bringing about exactly what He says it will do. So it happens sometimes even when we don’t know it. That’s just the way God’s Word works. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.