March 2, 2019- Jesus in All His Glory- The Transfiguration- Luke 9:28-36

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Now about eight days after these sayings he (Jesus) 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)

The Transfiguration gives us a sort of preview as to what our post-resurrection life will look like. We see Jesus revealed in His glory and we see Him as the one foretold by Moses and Elijah and the other prophets.

Witnessing this event gave the disciples no choice but to make the connection as to the truth of who Jesus claimed to be.  They no longer had the option to question the veracity of Jesus’ claim to divinity. Jesus clearly was neither Moses nor Elijah, but the greater one they had both prophesied of.  They could not write Jesus off as a nice guy or a moral teacher.  All three Persons of the Trinity manifest here- the voice of God the Father, the dazzling appearance of the Son in the flesh, the breath in the cloud of the Holy Spirit.

As we as Jesus’ people prepare for the somber, penitent season of Lent, it is good to remember who Jesus really is.

Jesus is greater than the prophets, and is the one of whom Moses and Elijah spoke of.

Jesus is God in human flesh, fully God and fully man.

Jesus came down from heaven to take on and become our sin and to suffer the punishment we deserve for our sins in our place.

Martin Luther, in his Explanatory Notes on the Gospels makes it very clear what the Transfiguration accomplished:

Very much is contained in this history.

First, The resurrection of the dead and the future glory and brightness of our bodies are shown. For this was something very remarkable, that Christ was transfigured while yet in the mortal body, which was subject to suffering. What then shall it be, when mortality shall have been swallowed up, and nothing shall remain but immortality and glory?

Secondly, There is added the appearance of Moses and Elijah, who prove by their appearing that they had never really died, and that there is yet another life, besides the earthly life, from which they were transferred.

Thirdly, This appearance teaches us also that we should despise death, and look upon it merely as an emigration or a sleep. In short, this appearance proves that this life is nothing at all in comparison with the future life.

Fourthly, This appearance proves that sin is overcome. For it necessarily follows as an incontrovertible conclusion, that, where death is overcome, there sin is also overcome.

But he permitted those three mentioned apostles especially to see this appearance, in order to guard them against the coming offense of his cross and crucifixion. Yet he accomplished little thereby, for they all were offended with him. Yet this appearance had its advantage after the resurrection, and served to strengthen their faith in Christ, that he was the Son of the living God, and that his kingdom must be regarded in a spiritual sense.

The whole holy Trinity appears here to strengthen the believers; namely, Christ in his transfigured form, the Father in the voice, and the Holy Ghost in the bright cloud.

Moses and Elijah appear in order to testify that Jesus Christ is truly the promised Messiah, according to the law (i.e. Moses,) and the prophets, (i.e. Elijah.) Compare Romans 3:21-22, and on the meaning of this transfiguration 2 Corinthians 3:7.

 

Oh, death, where is thy sting? May we keep our eyes and hearts on this glorious vision of Jesus.

 

May 1, 2018- Consider the Lilies- Ecclesiastes 2:1-3, Exodus 16:4-5, Luke 12:22-34

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I (Solomon) said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 (ESV)

King Solomon, David’s son, the wisest man to have ever lived except for Jesus, had the opportunity to experience everything this world has to offer. Unlike most of us, he had riches, endless opportunities for pleasure, and anything a person’s heart could desire.  Solomon, however, did not find fulfillment in all the things and experiences that he had.

Solomon writes at the end of his life as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes, that pursuit of all of the riches and bounty of this world may seem exciting at first, but it ends up as vanity- a “chasing after wind.” The pursuits of pleasure, drunkenness and indulgence will also fail to fulfill us.  In some ways Solomon is speaking to us as a really good example of “what not to do.”  If anyone would have had the resources to buy his way happy, it would have been Solomon, but Solomon himself warns us that this simply is not possible.

When we derive our security and fulfillment from the possession of material things, more is never enough. We have no security and no fulfillment when we are constantly in fear of depletion or loss. The Ten Commandments warn us against worshiping things that aren’t God (Exodus 20:3-6) and against lusting after what other people have (Exodus 20:17.)  God knows we cannot find our fulfillment in the pursuit of stuff.

This isn’t to discount that we have very real concerns about how the bills are going to get paid and how everything that needs done is going to get done. God created us. God knows every one of our needs better than we do.  This is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” so that we would rely upon God day to day for what we need.  We see this example when the Israelites were wandering in the desert and God provided them daily manna:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.  On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” Exodus 16:4-5 (ESV)

God who rained bread from heaven for His people will provide for us today, each day. Jesus reassures us of God’s provision:

And he (Jesus) said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.  Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?  Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried.  For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.  Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Luke 12:22-34 (ESV)

God doesn’t need stuff. He does know what stuff we need every day, and what stuff those around us need as well.  As we pursue God and pray for His kingdom to come, maybe we need to look at stuff and our own livelihoods in a different way.

We trust that God will give us our daily bread. We don’t have to be anxious or afraid of not having enough, because everything we have comes from the hand of God. We pray not only for our daily bread, but also for the ability to share God’s abundance with those who are in need.

March 13, 2018 Falling and Standing…and Snakes- Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:13-15, 1 Corinthians 10:6-13

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They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. Numbers 21:4-9 (NIV)

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” John 3:13-15 (NIV)

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”  We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:6-13 (NIV)

Temptation and snakes are themes that run throughout the Bible. The serpent tempted Eve, and we know how that story goes.  Humankind has a sort of uneasy relationship with the reptilian world, but a sort of love-hate relationship with temptation.  We know we shouldn’t give in to certain things…but we do, whether it is something as trivial as scarfing down that hot fudge sundae we know we really don’t need, or constantly whining and complaining and being surly and unkind, or even something devastating  such as succumbing to desire for someone other than our spouse, or murdering someone. Even worse, we don’t actually have to do the deed to sin. We just have to want to do it in our minds and hearts, and that is sin. God sees our hearts and knows our motives no matter what our outward behavior might suggest.  All of us are guilty and law-breakers according to God’s Law.

Temptation is everywhere and no one is immune. All sins are disobedience to God. The only differences are that some sins are more tempting than others, and some sins have deeper temporal consequences depending on the damage that gets done to others and in the greater society.  What may be a temptation for one person is not a temptation at all for someone else, but we are all tempted and vulnerable to various and sundry forms of sin.  The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) are an excellent place for us to start to examine our hearts and see our sins revealed to us and put out in the open.

Temptation and sin are written into the human condition, snakes or no snakes. The apostle Paul makes it clear that we cannot live according to God’s will in our own power.  If we think we can live perfectly, upholding all Ten Commandments, all the time, we will fall flat on our faces.  We do fall flat on our faces, all the time.

We can only be made whole and healed of our sinful nature by looking to Jesus and confessing our sins. As the Israelites were bitten by the snakes- the bites that maimed and killed them were the consequences of their sins- God tells Moses to set up a bronze serpent.  Symbolically he is hanging up what has been made sin for them- so they may see their sins and have faith in God to look up, to confess their sins, and be healed of them. It was a free gift of mercy, a vision of Jesus.  It was God making a way for His people to be forgiven and healed of sin by faith even though they had earned the consequence of death by sinning against Him.

Jesus has been lifted up upon the Cross for us to look up to Him, to ask His forgiveness and be healed, to be forgiven, and to be made new. We look up knowing that He is our source of life.

Do we believe that Jesus has taken on our sins, no matter how bad we might think they are?

Do we believe He gives us what we need to resist temptation and live in a way that honors Him?

Do we trust that He purifies our hearts and motives and that He will make us more like Him?

Do we believe that on Calvary He became our sin, and in doing so, He put sin and death to death forever?

We can only stand and be justified (made good) before God because of Jesus. We can’t make ourselves good no matter how hard we try. Apart from Him we fall. The good news is that no matter how many times we fall, or how many times we overestimate our own abilities, because of Jesus we stand.  Because He was lifted up, because He put our sin to death, we stand in Him.

March 1, 2018 God is a Jealous God- Exodus 20:1-11

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Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. Exodus 20:1-11 (NRSV)

The first three of the Ten Commandments deal with our relationship with God. Four points stand out in these passages:

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol.

I the Lord your God am a jealous God.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.

Most of us are probably not into making golden calves, Baal worship, or sacrificing things to other assorted ancient demons. The bad news is we have modern idols to who we gladly sacrifice our attention and resources.  Do we indulge in anything to excess? Are there things that we put at a higher priority than God?

We all do this at times. Whether we put good things on a pedestal higher than they should be, or put good things in improper balance, or we indulge in things that just plain aren’t healthy for us and the greater community, we are all guilty of getting caught up in things. We make gods out of things that were never meant to be gods, things that have no intrinsic power.

God warns us about idolatry because He knows it’s not healthy for us. It’s easy to look at the Law as a buzz kill- ruining our fun so to speak- but in reality the Law serves two purposes. One is that the Law is a protective boundary.  When we chase idols we harm ourselves and others, and separate ourselves from God. The other purpose of the Law is to lead us to Jesus and show us our desperate need for Him.  None of us can completely obey the Law 100%.  Only Jesus was capable of living by the Law 100%.

The practical application of these first few Commandments is to underscore God is a jealous God. He made us for His good purpose and we belong to Him. He doesn’t want just a little bit of us on Sunday mornings- if we bother to drag ourselves out of bed and away from the TV for an hour or two to come to church to sing a few songs and (hopefully) pay attention to a 20 minute sermon.  He doesn’t just want a little bit of us when we are hurting and need comfort.  Yes, God does want us to come to church because we need each other as the Body of Christ, and we need Word and Sacrament to sustain us- but He wants us the rest of the time too.

He wants all of us, all of the time, even when we are running kicking and screaming from Him.

God has given us His name to call on Him- in praise and worship and thanks, to bless others, and in times of trouble. It is a privilege to be able to call upon Him, and a terrible insult to use His name as a curse.

Worship and prayer are regular spiritual disciplines that remind us that God is the One in charge.

Worship is not just going to church on Sunday- though Sunday worship at church with other believers and staying in community is important- so important that God commands to dedicate a day out of our week to worship. Worship is actively acknowledging that God is Who God says He is- the Creator, the I AM God of the universe.  The concept of worship actually covers a LOT of ground.  Thanking God for the gift of breath, for the beauty of creation, for the privilege of being able to come to Him anytime with anything, these are all part of worship.  Prayer is simply talking with God about anything.

Of course if we examine ourselves against the first three Commandments we discover we are not so hot at upholding our end of our relationship with God. We are all law breakers. We all fall short of God’s ideal for us.

Worship and prayer are regular spiritual disciplines that remind us that God is the One in charge.

Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk, wrote a short but insightful book called Practicing the Presence of God.  He models a way of living our daily lives in prayer and worship- in how we work and in how we serve others.

Everything we do should be an act of worship, and we should always walk with God in prayer. The Law reminds us that we fall short of that goal, but the Good News is that in our Baptism we put on Christ.  In Christ God does not see our imperfections, but only the sacrifice of His perfect Son.

 

 

October 24, 2017: The Office of the Keys: The Power of Intercession – 2 Chronicles 30:9, 17-20, Matthew 16:19, Luke 11:5-8

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For as you return to the Lord, your kindred and your children will find compassion with their captors, and return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.” 2 Chronicles 30:9 (NRSV)

For there were many in the assembly who had not sanctified themselves; therefore the Levites had to slaughter the Passover lamb for everyone who was not clean, to make it holy to the Lord.  For a multitude of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “The good Lord pardon all who set their hearts to seek God, the Lord the God of their ancestors, even though not in accordance with the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” The Lord heard Hezekiah, and healed the people. 2 Chronicles 30:17-20 (NRSV)

(Jesus, speaking to Simon Peter and a group of disciples): “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19 (NRSV)

And he (Jesus) said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’  And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’  I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” Luke 11:5-8 (NRSV)

The Office of the Keys– which is the authority of average believers to forgive others and intercede for others- is probably one of the least understood concepts in Lutheran theology, but it is a radical twist from the traditional teaching of the church of Luther’s day.  While the church hierarchy taught that forgiveness had to be earned- or bought- and that forgiveness could only be granted by an ordained priest, according to the Bible, Jesus taught that the authority to forgive and to pray for others (binding and loosing) belongs to every believer.

Jesus also taught that we have the authority in Him to go directly to Him in prayer concerning our own needs. We can and should pray for each other as well, but we are welcome and invited to approach Him with anything and everything.

In prayer, God has a dialogue with us- He changes our hearts and minds to be in agreement with His will.

The idea that Jesus followers have the authority (not just ordained clergy, but everyday garden variety believers) to intercede for others is not a new idea. In the Old Testament, the prophets (such as Moses) and sometimes the kings (such as Hezekiah) stepped in for the people and asked God for mercy on the people’s behalf.  Today Jesus has expanded that authority to everyone- a concept known as the Priesthood of Believers.

Jesus encourages us to step in for others in prayer. He tells us to be persistent and not give up when we pray.  He tells us we have the power to forgive others which is another reason why confession is good for the soul, as it allows others to pray for us and intercede on our behalf.

Sometimes in the confusion and hopelessness in this world we find it hard to pray. We don’t know who to pray for or what their needs might be. We wonder if God hears our prayers at times.  Yet intercessory prayer is one of the most powerful ways that every Jesus follower can work to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.

“You must learn to call on the Lord. Don’t sit all alone or lie on the couch, shaking your head and letting your thoughts torture you. Don’t worry about how to get out of your situation or brood about your terrible life, how miserable you feel, and what a bad person you are. Instead, say, “Get a grip on yourself, you lazy bum! Fall on your knees, and raise your hands and eyes toward heaven. Read a psalm. Say the Lord’s Prayer, and tearfully tell God what you need.” – Martin Luther from Faith Alone, A Daily Devotional

Prayer is for all Jesus followers at all times, in all things. We are encouraged to come to Him no matter what troubles our hearts and minds.  We are encouraged to pray for others because our persistence in prayer may be the difference between God-life or hopelessness and despair for them.

The other part of this is that prayer and coming before God is more about one’s heart and motive than about following the rules. Anyone who has read the Ten Commandments knows it’s not possible to Follow the Rules one hundred percent.  Following the rules doesn’t make us fit to come before God- the fact that Jesus told us to come to Him as we are, in our fallibility and humanity and to trust Him does.

Jesus, Who first interceded on our behalf, asks us to pray for others and to forgive the way He forgives us. We were put here on this earth for a reason, which just might include being the difference for someone else.

September 14, 2017 – Snakes, Sin and the Son of Man, John 3:13-17, Numbers 21:7-9

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No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:13-17 (NRSV)

 

The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. Numbers 21:7-9 (NRSV)

Humanity has a fascination with snakes. In some traditions snakes are seen as sacred, in others they are reviled as evil. The serpent is even portrayed as a catalyst to the Fall in the Genesis narrative, though it was Eve’s decision to allow the serpent to succeed in tempting her, and Adam’s decision to follow suit.  The cause of the Fall always comes back to humanity, and our attraction to sin.

Interestingly enough, God sends a plague of snakes to the Israelites as they are wandering in the desert and disobeying Him. In all three of these narratives, (Genesis, Numbers and John) the snakes are symbolic of our sins. Like with the snakes, the consequences of our sins will come around to bite us and bring us death. It’s not so much God’s decision to punish us, but in disobeying Him and going around the boundaries He has set for us, we bring the consequences upon ourselves.

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In Catholic iconography, there is a popular rendering of Mary, Jesus’ mother, standing on a serpent. The imagery here suggests that at Jesus’ conception the serpent (our sin) was trampled and defeated.  The implication is that in God choosing her to be being Jesus’ earthly mother, through her, God gave us the means to reverse the long-ago (bad) decision of Eve in the garden.

It is interesting that John makes the comparison of Jesus crucified on the Cross with the bronze serpent Moses held up. When those who were bitten by snakes looked up to Moses’ bronze serpent God healed them.  If we look up to Jesus, hung from a tree and weighed down with all our sin, we find healing, life and salvation.

Hopefully we all have memorized that iconic verse, John 3:16- For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.

He loved the world enough to put the burden of the whole world’s sin and failure on His shoulders.

How do we respond to the love of God in Christ, poured out on us in His Blood that flowed from the Cross?