Sunday, February 23, 2020

Matthew 17:1-9; The Transfiguration of Our Lord; February 23, 2020;


Matthew 17:1-9; The Transfiguration of Our Lord; February 23, 2020;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 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.” 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.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 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. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” (Mt 17:1-9, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Isn’t this nice, the bright white color here at the front of church. Rather reminds you of Easter does it not.  But, it’s not Easter.  In fact, this Wednesday is Ash Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday starts the season of the church year we call Lent.  At our Ash Wednesday service, you can receive ashes on your forehead.  Those ashes set the mood for all of the next 40 days.  When you get that little black cross, you will hear the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  It’s to help us to remember that because of sin, death is in our future.  That in turn reminds us how much we need a Savior.  We call that having a penitent or repentant attitude; looking at ourselves and seeing sin, then looking at Jesus and seeing Him as Savior.  Lent is a penitential season.  That is why we leave flowers out of the sanctuary, drape the altar in dark colors, and skip singing alleluias.  We might rather skip the somber tones, but it is good way to keep in mind who we are and what we really need.
Ah, but all that is a few days away, right now the altar is white, we’re singing bright songs and looking at Jesus shining as bright as the sun.  Today is the day we talk about the Transfiguration of Jesus.  It is good to be here, just as the hymn said.  It is good to be here where everything is bright and shiny, and there is not any of that dark talk about our sin and death and punishment. 
That is kind of what Peter thought, too.  He saw Jesus standing there with his cloths glowing and his face beaming like the sun.  He saw Moses and Elijah with him (how he knew it was them, we will never really know).  And even though he was frightened, it was too good to let go, he wanted it to last forever.  Let us just stay here forever, he must have thought.  It came out in the words, “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.”
And yet, it isn’t all bad to dwell here for a little while either.  Jesus did not scold Peter.  After all Peter and the other disciples saw Jesus in a way they had not seen him before.  That is, they saw the divine nature of Jesus shining out.  What I mean is, that here on the holy mountain (2 Pet 1:16-18) we see that Jesus is really and completely God.  His face shines like the sun.  It is an internal light, not a reflected light.  It is a part of who he is; not something he gets from somewhere else.  It is like the pictures of God that are painted for us in the Old Testament and Revelation.  In the OT; Daniel speaks about the “Ancient of Days” whose clothing was white as snow and the hair of his head as pure wool.  (Dan 7:9) St. John saw a similar view of God in Revelation. (Revelation 1:12-16)
We should make sure we understand Jesus as much as we can.  Jesus is not God in a human suit.  It isn’t that he is a man with God deep inside.  Jesus is God and man together, completely God and completely man.  On the mountain of Transfiguration Jesus is not pulling back his clothes like Superman to reveal a great big “S” on his chest.  What we see is Jesus as he is.  St. Paul describes him like this: 
For in [Jesus Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  (Col 1:19-20, ESV)
For the sake of what he had come to do, Jesus did not fully reveal his whole self.  He humbled himself and chose to appear as a man, a servant, holding back the divine nature.
The 16th Century Theologian Martin Chemnitz said it like this: 
He humbled Himself and willed, not only to bear the substance of our nature but also in it to be similar to men in the infirmities with which we are burdened because of sin (even though He could have been immune to all of them as penalties for sin; because where there is no guilt, there no punishment is required), and He was found in fashion as a man, that is, subject to the emotions, deeds, and actions of a complete human life, not exempt as someone who is beyond the lot of the others, but as any other man taken at random from among men.       Chemnitz, M., & Preus, J. A. O. (1999, c1989). Loci theologici (electronic ed.). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
If he had not done so, brave Roman soldiers would have run in terror, Pharisees would have bowed in obedience without argument, and Pilate would have never assumed authority to put him to death.
There were other times, too, when we see Jesus choosing to let his divine nature to come to light.  He turned water into wine (John 2:1-11).  He healed the deaf, blind and sick (Mark 7:31-37, Matt 20:29-34, Matt 8:14-15).  He cast out demons (Matt 9:32-33) and raised the dead to life again (Matt 9:18-19, 23-25).
Here on the mountain we see Jesus as he is; God and man together.  God in human flesh come to earth to save human beings from their sins.  And not only that but we see the ultimate end, Jesus will go to the cross and die, but that cross is victory for him, not defeat.  As Jesus stands on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, we see His resurrection. 
Now, we shouldn’t think that because Jesus is God that the cross was nothing.  Don’t forget we said that Jesus isn’t only God; he is fully and completely human.  He is God born in humble human flesh, as we celebrated a few short weeks ago.  All that affects human beings affected Jesus, because he is fully human.  As we heard a moment ago, he was subject to the emotions, deeds, and actions of a complete human life.  That includes pain, suffering, and even death.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Php 2:5-8, ESV)
That obedience isn’t just talking about doing the right thing, it’s also talking about being completely human, suffering and dying, as a human would suffer and die.  If you doubt the reality of Jesus suffering all you must do is spend some time reading the accounts of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before he was arrested.  It’s a far cry from the Mount of the Transfiguration:
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. (Mt 26:36-45, ESV)
It’s the same cast of characters, except Jesus is suffering and the disciples are sleeping.  Later on, on the cross for three hours, Jesus bore the pain of death (and more) and we see why it’s so important to know that Jesus is God and man.  All human beings, except Jesus, deserve God’s anger and punishment for their sin.  That’s you and me, that our sons and daughters, our grandparents and great-great-grandparents, in fact, every person who has ever live and will ever live.  That’s a lot of sin, a lot of punishment, a lot of suffering.  We deserve the suffering of hell.  But it’s the suffering and death of Jesus, true God and true man, Jesus, the Son of God, that is set in the balance against it all.  His death is enough to cover it.  His suffering is enough to cover it.  Not only did he suffer a physical death but also, he suffered the spiritual consequences of our sin.  On the cross and in his death, Jesus suffered torment of hell.  God, the Father, abandoned him to death.  Jesus suffering in our place was enough; we don’t have to suffer the punishment of hell anymore.
And that brings us right back to the Mountain where Jesus is shining like the sun.  The story of Jesus doesn’t end with suffering, death and punishment on the cross.  The transfiguration is like a little glimpse of the resurrection.  The victory of the cross is shown when life returned to Jesus body in the tomb.  It is no longer necessary for Jesus to hold back his divine nature.  From then on, he is just as he was described on the mountain; Jesus in all his glory; Jesus God and man in one person, still fully God and fully human; Jesus the one who conquered sin and death and hell.
And so, where does that leave us, as we stand here at The Mountain of the Transfiguration, with forty days of Lent, forty days of a penitential attitude ahead?  Well, depending on Jesus, I hope.  Just think, the same Jesus that stood on that mountain shining like the sun, suffered the darkness of death, and rose again to shine like the sun.  The big thing to remember is that he did it for you.  You know how difficult life is.  You know how death chases you around.  You know how your sin makes your life miserable.  You know that no matter how hard you try, nothing you do is going to change it.  That shining Jesus is the answer to it all.  His life, death and resurrection change it all for you.  Your sin is forgiven.  That means that you can set it aside and go on with your life.  Your death won’t end in hell’s punishment; it ends in a resurrection like Jesus and in life forever with him.  That’s why the dark colors and somber tones only temporarily cover up the joy that is coming at Easter.  That’s the attitude that Transfiguration sets in place for Lent.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 9, 2020;


1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 9, 2020;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. ” (1 Corinthians 2:1–16, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It is difficult for a pastor to talk about Christian maturity.  The problem, for a pastor, is this: many of you will think you are spiritually mature.  Your first thoughts on this topic are to think that you’ve obtained some spiritual level higher than your brothers and sisters in Christ.  You’ll think you’ve put away certain sins evidenced by the fact that you no longer struggle with them.  You joyfully participate in the activities of the church, give your fair share to the budget, say good things about your pastor, and pray through the whole prayer list in the bulletin.  You’ve weathered the storms of church politics, pastors with problems, and a long vacancy.  You look at the blessings of your church, life, family, work, security as proof that you’ve been blessed by God because you are spiritual, because you have stood firm, because you have run the race and won.  Obviously those who struggle to give anything to the church with joy haven’t reached that level of maturity.  Obviously those who struggle with sexual temptation haven’t reached that level of spiritual maturity.  Obviously, those who… how does the saying go? “I don’t smoke, drink or chew and I don’t date girls who do.”  If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a million times.  “Before I came to the Lord, I insert your favorite sin here, but now I don’t even have the desire to insert your favorite sin.”  It just all sounds vaguely familiar. 
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. ” (Luke 18:10–11, ESV)
You see, the Pharisee thought he was spiritually mature.  He’d conquered all those sins.  The tax collector hadn’t.  Obviously, he was spiritually lacking, immature.  Maybe if he just worked a little bit harder, attended church on a more regular basis, dropped just a bit more in the collection plate, sat closer to the front of the church, worked on the youth board, maybe then God would clear all those sins out of his life. 
You see, that’s the problem with talking about spiritual maturity.  Whenever we, sinful human beings, begin to think about growing up in the faith we naturally turn to ourselves.  We look to what we must do to make it all happen.  And then we boast in our accomplishments and congratulate ourselves on our spiritual maturity.
Paul calls this the “spirit of the world.”  And it had invaded the church at Corinth.  There were divisions in the church.  Some claimed to be more mature because they followed Paul or Apollos.   Some thought that they were spiritually mature so they could do whatever they wanted (one man even married his father’s wife!).  Paul’s letter to them points out these errors in thinking.  He doesn’t go easy on them either, calling for excommunication for open unrepentant sin.  It is chilling, “Hand this one over to Satan.” (5:5) he says.  For a Christian to live according to the “spirit of the world” is a very dangerous place to be.  For a Christian to live in unrepentant sin is to be on the path to denying Jesus Christ.  Our own confessions say, But those who walk according to the flesh [Galatians 5:19–21] retain neither faith nor righteousness. [1]
Paul’s warning comes from a firm hand, as does my pastoral warning to you.  Beware of your sin, beware of your pride, and beware of your natural tendency to put others in their place while ignoring the log in your own eye.  There is only one thing that can be done with a sinner.  He must die.  Shall I say it even stronger?  There is only one thing that can be done with a sinner.  He must suffer hell’s punishment.  So beware of your sin, Christian.  It can only lead you to one place, eternal separation from the Holy God.
Now, dear Christian, I would be neglecting my job as your pastor, if on the heels of that strong law I would direct you to yourself as a solution.  “Try harder!”  “Do these ten biblical principal and you’ll remove temptation to sin.”  “Read your bible every day and God will make you strong enough to overcome.”  “You can be victorious if you pray everyday.”  “Of all the things Jesus talked about he talked most about money.  The bible tells you more about managing your money than anything else!”  These are actually more of the same.  These are reflections of the wisdom of the world creeping to the church.  In fact, if I preached these kinds of sermons you’d soon be nodding your head in agreement.  “Yea, that’s what I need some practical stuff to make a difference in my life.”  But that’s not Paul’s solution to the problems of spiritual immaturity in the Corinthian church.  What does he say?  
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (2:1)
In fact, this is exactly what St. Paul calls spiritual maturity.  It is seeing the foolishness of the cross of Jesus as the solution over and against the wisdom of the world.  Not our doing anything.  Not our working out our own way out of sin.  But clinging to the cross, to Jesus and Jesus Christ crucified as our solution for sin.  Spiritual maturity is here at the font, here at the altar, here in the pew when Jesus’ forgiveness from the cross is poured out on you and spoken into your ears.  The two most important words you will ever hear in this church are “for you.”  This is the Spirit of God at work against the spirit of the world. 
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (2:12)
So what are the things freely given?  The forgiveness of sins won by Jesus on the cross, life and salvation.  For as the Catechism says, For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.[2]
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ” (Galatians 2:20, ESV)
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. ” (Galatians 6:14, ESV)
So there it is spiritual maturity as defined by God’s Word.  It is not my victory over sin; my improving life.  It’s not my best life now or my pursuing the purpose God give me in my heart.  It is not thinking that there is something I can do to deal with my own sin.  It is seeing that my sin is over my head.  It is seeing the absolute danger of my sin and fearing the eternal consequences of it.  It is also seeing that God has done what it necessary to remove it.  It is seeing Jesus Christ bleeding and dying on the cross as the only answer.  It is clinging, in faith, to Jesus as my savior and boasting in Jesus Christ crucified for me.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.



[1] Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions. 2005 (Edited by Paul Timothy McCain) (135). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
[2] Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions. 2005 (Edited by Paul Timothy McCain) (343). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Luke 2:29-32; The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 2, 2020;


Luke 2:29-32; The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 2, 2020;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
29“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation 31that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32 (ESV)
(From “Emmanuel, God With Us)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
When my family was all at home, we were sitting in the living room enjoying a video. The wind was howling outside and the snow blowing against the window sounded like sand. Just as the credits began to roll, there was a flicker in the lights… then another, and finally the lights went out completely… and it was dark. Not just a little dark either, I mean really dark. Fortunately, the lights were only out a few minutes and they flickered back to life again. After a few other threats, they stayed on for the remainder of the night. You know, there is just something people don’t like about the dark. That’s why night-lights were invented. That’s why the hall light burns out long before the lights in the kid’s rooms. That’s why horror movies are always set at night.
But there is also something we like about the darkness. In the dark, we can’t be seen. We can be quiet and alone. And if you’ve been in the dark for a while you don’t want the light. Think about turning that bedside lamp on first thing in the morning. The alarm has dragged you from sleep, but your still warm and comfortable. Suddenly the light clicks on and you shield your eyes from its invasion. It almost hurts until you become once again accustomed.
For a long time, the whole human race was very much in darkness. People didn’t really know where they were. We didn’t know why. And many people tried to figure out the reasons, but no one found it. Some of the time we were afraid, in the dark, but sometimes we were very comfortable. Then a light did come into our darkness. It shown so brightly that none of the darkness was left at all.
Why is it that there is so much suffering in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is it that so many people wander around their whole lives wondering who they are? What am I supposed to do with my life? Why do people die, especially my close loved ones? Why do I have to die? Life is full of questions like this. Maybe we’ve come to expect them. Maybe we’ve become comfortable with them. But it seems that in a good and perfect world we would have questions like that to ask. Something’s not right, something is wrong in the world.
Well, the world is in darkness. It’s like a shadow that covers over everything. Just like all darkness it makes it hard to see what’s real. And even though we know there is something wrong we can’t see what it is. Like sitting in a darkened room, you can’t see what’s around you. During one of those strong snowstorms the power went out several times. When you’re in the parsonage at night and the power goes out, it’s very dark. There isn’t much to do, even with a flashlight. And you know what it’s like to drive the roads at dark, knowing that lurking in the darkness just outside your headlights are dear waiting to dart out in front of you. It’s dangerous driving.
God’s Word tells us about the darkness in the world. It’s called sin. Sin is a blindness that has affected all people. It ‘got dark’ when Adam and Eve decided that they wanted the ‘knowledge’ to judge good and evil on their own. They thought that that knowledge would let them see more clearly. But, it blinded them to God and His desire for their lives. They separated themselves from God by saying that they wanted to be their own judge of right and wrong. But that’s something that only God can really say, and that separation has been a real part of every human life ever since.
We sing right hymns here in the middle of our darkness. Jesus Christ has come into our dark world and He has brought true light. God has always been about bringing light. Remember God’s first words in the bible? Let there be light! Through Jesus God has spoken those words again. Let there be light! Let people see. Let them see that disease and suffering and death are not the way the world is supposed to be. Let them see that things are not right. Go, my beloved Son, and be the light that takes their darkness away.
One of the worst things about darkness it that it hides those we love from us. You know what its like to try to find someone in a crowd; and if the crowd is in a dark room its even harder. Darkness separates from people. In darkness we are alone, stumbling around looking for a friend, a mate, or just someone to talk to. Sin, the real darkness in the world, has made it much harder to find each other.
It’s because of sin that we can’t see each other clearly. We can physically see other people. But we don’t know what they are thinking. We don’t know what people really want from us. How many of you had a crush on someone when you were young? It’s called a crush because is pushes everything else out of your mind. You spend endless hours trying to find answers to your questions of: Does she feel the same? Does he really like me? But primarily the most important thing about a crush, the thing you spend the most energy on is keeping it secret. You don’t want to rush out and speak your feelings, because you don’t want to be foolish. So, you keep your secret in the dark. And really all our relationships are like that. We spend a great deal of time and effort trying to discover what people mean when they say certain things. We argue over the smallest thing because of a simple misunderstanding. Marriages end because the spouses don’t ‘understand’ each other anymore. Without God, without Jesus Christ, people are disconnected from one another, hiding alone, living in darkness.
When the light shinse in our darkness, we are not alone anymore, we can find each other again. When we are at one with God, through Jesus, He binds our hearts together as one. Jesus brings light to the troubling questions of life: Who am I? What should I be doing?
Who are we? We are God’s precious creation, loved by Him dearly. He shows us the great extent of His love by sending His only son to die and be separated from Him instead of you and me. He sends His Son into our dark world to shed light on you and show you that you are His. God made you His very own child in baptism. That’s where God snatched you out of darkness into His wonderful light.
Where are we going? We are going to be in the light forever. That is the light of Christ. We are on our way to city where there will never be any darkness. And right now, you have a great purpose. You are a light in the dark world. You are a light pointing to Jesus Christ; showing people that their darkness can have an end.
It’s not always easy to see the light. Our lives are full of dark moments that we’d rather not have to live in. But God shines the light of Jesus on your life through His Word and Sacraments. Through these things, He keeps you focused on the true light of the world.
You have been placed in the light through faith in Jesus Christ. He is coming again, and when He does, all that is dark, evil, and sinful will pass away forever. And we will join with all those who have faith in Him, past, present and future, one in the light of Jesus Christ. Amen. Come Lord Jesus, Come! Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.