Sunday, February 24, 2013

LSB St. Matthias Day Sermon - Matthew 11:25-30

February 24, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“At that time Jesus declared…‘All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’”

Matthias is called as an apostle. That is the Church’s focus on February 24, the date set apart to celebrate and commemorate the Twelfth Apostle of Jesus. For most of you, the record of Matthias’ selection is quite familiar; you hear it every Easter Season. You heard the details again this morning: Jesus ascends to the Father; Peter stands up in the midst of the followers of Jesus and says that there is a vacancy, a hole created because Judas forfeited his place through his treacherous betrayal of Jesus; there are supposed to be Twelve, not Eleven apostles, so a replacement needs to be found.

The record of Matthias’ selection includes the manner by which he was chosen: “And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two You have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” With that, the apostolic band is back up to twelve. All is restored to how Jesus had desired it to be.

Several things can be learned from this event: the symbolic value of the Number 12; the nature of the Scriptures as spoken of in Peter’s statements—that the Holy Spirit spoke through David and that what happened to Judas was foretold; when lots are to be used in decision making. But today the focus should be on the reason for Matthias’ selection as an apostle. What was Matthias’ role? What was he to become by being added to the number of the apostles? Peter’s declaration about the need to have a replacement for Judas spells this out: “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when He was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection.” 

Another witness to Jesus’ resurrection was needed. Another man who had seen what Jesus had done and heard what Jesus had said from the time that He stepped into the Jordan River and was declared to be the Beloved Son of God the Father to the time when Jesus ascended to His Father was to be given the job of being an apostle—an authorized sent one to bear witness. That is why Matthias was selected. But why was this witnessing to be done? So that Jesus’ words and works would be made known to the world, just as Jesus willed it.

The reason for Matthias’ selection is not only found in the account of his being chosen. It is actually disclosed in the statements of Jesus that you heard today. Jesus speaks concerning His identity and His purpose: “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” Jesus states that He has entrusted with things by His Father; His role is to reveal them to whom He chooses. But this is not just some sort of esoteric knowledge or trivia to fill people’s minds. No, what is to be revealed brings relief to people.

This is seen in the words of Jesus that follows His statement about His identity and purpose. Jesus gives an invitation: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” It is a summons for all who are troubled, all who are burdened, all who are weighed down despite all the work that they have performed. Jesus calls them to Himself, calls them to take what He has to offer—the way of life that He brought from His Father and manifested to the world through His words and works.

Jesus speaks of people who labor and are heavy laden, those who have restless souls. He describes those who are troubled. What troubles them? Guilt borne, as they know well their faults and how they have harmed others by their actions. Misery of knowing their failures and their inability to change circumstance. Suffering endured when injured by the acts of others. Restlessness of trying to find a purpose in this world. Frustration from trying all the fads, all the prescribed methods of helping oneself, but never reaching the goal of improvement. Grief from the tragedies and loss that death brings. These and more burden hearts and souls. It isn’t that people hadn’t tried to find a remedy—they had labored, carrying around their heavy loads. So Jesus calls out to them: “Come to Me. I will give you the relief that you’ve sought. I will cancel your debt and remove your guilt. I will give you a purpose for your life. I will bring you to an end that will surpass all the goals that you’ve set. I will give this to you because I bear all that is burdening you.”

Jesus makes a promise in that invitation: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” It is a summons that comes with a pledge. That promise and pledge are rooted in what He does. Jesus makes the promise because of His identity and purpose—what He was in the world to do. Everything that Jesus had done from the time of His Baptism in the Jordan to His ascension into heaven makes His guarantee possible. It is the outcome of His being the Suffering Servant of the Lord.

What you will hear again on Good Friday concerning Jesus makes His promise valid: “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. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” These words describe what Jesus endured. He has taken the yoke of the load that wears down your souls and put it on His shoulders. In its place, He has given you the yoke of His way of life, just as Isaiah prophesied: “Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the Righteous One, My Servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities.” This is what the humility of Jesus had brought about; the result of it is seen in His being exalted in resurrection.

And this actually brings us back to the reason for Matthias’ selection. Not that Matthias was the Suffering Servant. No, he was chosen to bear witness to what Jesus, the Suffering Servant, accomplished. He would proclaim what Jesus had said and what Jesus had done. Like the other Eleven—Peter and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew, James and Thaddeus, and Simon—Matthias would be a witness to the words and works of Jesus that culminated in His dying and rising again. That is how Jesus brings rest for souls. The yoke of Jesus would be placed on those who heard His invitation spoken through the apostle’s mouth.

That activity continues today, nearly two thousand years after Matthias’ selection as an apostle. Jesus’ invitation is still spoken. You heard Him call out to you: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” The living voice of Jesus summons you again. His invitation is given because He knows what you are burdened with. Jesus knows, because He witnessed it in this world. But even more than that—Jesus knows, because He has borne it. That’s part of His being the Substitute for you. His call is given to you because of His promise: “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at My word.”

So Jesus gives you the invitation: “Are you burdened by guilt? Take My righteousness and clothe yourself in it. Are you miserable because of your failures? Take My joy that came from finishing the course, enduring the shame of the cross for you. Do you suffer from being wronged by others? Take My healing that comes from suffering in your place. Are you restless, looking for something established that doesn’t change? Take My words that disclose the Father’s eternal will for you. Are you frustrated by never finding something that will improve you? Take My deliverance from this body of death. Do you grieve because of death? Take My resurrection and life, I will raise you up at the last day.”

Jesus’ invitation comes to you each time that you hear His words and listen to the account of His works. This is what the apostolic witness—the witness of what Jesus did from His baptism to His ascension—brings to you. These things may be hidden from those whom others may consider wise and understanding. But they have been revealed to little children, those to whom Jesus has chosen to disclose them—to a group of twelve made up of fishermen, tax collectors, even a political revolutionary; to groups of common folk; to slaves and freemen; to merchants and tradesmen; to eloquent teachers and aristocrats.

The earthly distinctions don’t matter. All who are humble and contrite in spirit, those who trembled at the Lord’s words are looked favorably upon. That group includes you. Jesus’ words and works draw sinners to Himself. So take Jesus’ yoke upon you, learn from Him, find the rest that He has for your souls. It’s what the Father graciously desires for you and what the Son reveals and what the Spirit brings to your knowledge. This is why Jesus has appointed the witnesses of His resurrection, why His words and works have been made known to you.

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

Sunday, February 17, 2013

LSB Lent 1C Sermon - Luke 4:1-13

February 17, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty day, being tempted by the devil…. And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from [Jesus] until an opportune time.”

“One little word can fell him.” Such thought was in the mind of Satan when he appeared in the wilderness to confront Jesus. One little word—a word that would follow temptation, enticement, and ensnarement—was all it took before. One little word was the weapon of choice to bring down the man whom the Lord formed from the ground. Sure, a couple of phrases were used to get his companion, the woman, to eat of the tree’s fruit: “Did God really say…? You will surely not die.” But then she gave it to the man, saying: “Eat.” And that was it. The man ate what the Lord had prohibited. Death came because of it.

So it went through the centuries, one little word bringing down man after man: “Doubt. Lie. Steal. Curse. Swear. Covet. Cheat. Lust. Deceive. Rape. Kill.” The little words flowed out of the Slanderer’s mouth. They were heard and followed. The acts were done that felled each man. For every word that came from Satan’s mouth was vile and poisonous. They were commands to self-destruct, to perform deeds that brought wrath and death to the actor. But each individual would actually do them. Victim after countless victim was added to the tally.

Satan’s encounter with Jesus was meant to go the same way. Another man, another descendant from Eve was present. The quarry was there in the wilderness. This One had even walked into the venue where the Deceiver had great advantage. He had traveled away from the others, away from the supposed safety in numbers. The Slanderer had brought down herds of this Man’s ancestors in the wilderness before. It would be a simple matter with the Liar having a single target this time, just as it was in the beginning.

“One little word can fell him.” That was the formula for victory. Several phrases were used: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread…. To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has all been delivered to me, and I will give it to whom I will…. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” But they led up to the simple commands, the little words spoken into Jesus’ ears: “Doubt. Worship. Test.”

The devil’s expectation was that the little words would work. But this time, there was a problem. This time, the result that had been achieved through the generations did not come. The time-tested method did not achieve its goal. Against this Man, the little words were not effective. Why did it not work? Why did the little words not fell this One?

The answer to those questions is found in the actions that Jesus does when the Satan’s little words were heard. The instructions to commit acts that would transgress the Lord’s will were answered with statements that defiantly declare that will. In the face of temptation, enticement, and ensnarement, Jesus responds with announcement and affirmation of the Lord’s righteous ways, the way of life that He will follow.

“Doubt,” the Slanderer commands: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” But Jesus responds with the statement of trust in the provision that His Father gives to Him: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” “Worship,” the Deceiver commands: “If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” But Jesus responds with the statement of true and exclusive devotion to His Father: “It is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’” “Test,” the Liar commands: “Throw yourself down from here.” But Jesus responds with the statement of abiding by the ways that His Father has set out, not pushing the boundaries: “It is said: ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

The tables are turned, and Satan recognizes this: “When the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from [Jesus] until an opportune time.” The formula of victory had been reversed. “One little word can fell him.” But with Jesus’ actions, the one who was being felled by the word was not the Man standing as Satan’s prey. Instead, Satan had become the victim. He was being felled by the words proceeding from Jesus’ mouth. The slander, deceit, and lies of the devil were countered by the praise, honesty, and truth that Jesus spoke. Not falling as a victim of Satan, Jesus returns from that wilderness to take up His role as the Messiah, the One who brings deliverance by crushing the serpent’s head.

Jesus does as the psalm prophesied: “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.” That trampling of Satan begins in the wilderness. But it does not stop there. It continues throughout Jesus’ life, as He encounters the results of Satan’s slander, deceit, and lies. Jesus sees all who had been felled by the devil’s little words, and He does something about it. That is what you heard in part during the Epiphany Season. Jesus’ first preaching reveals His work: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The words that flow from the mouth of Jesus—His exorcizing of the evil spirits, His rebuke of illnesses, His command that makes the leper clean, His preaching of righteousness, His calls to follow Him, His speaking forgiveness—they all counter the effects of Satan’s handiwork.

And then the big event occurs: the felling of Satan happens when the Sinless One offers Himself to atone for all the times when man obeyed the little words that led to their sins. This is where the judgment against the slander, deceit, and lies is rendered. The serpent that overcame by the tree of the garden is likewise by the tree of the cross overcome. Salvation is given through the mighty hand and outstretched arm of Jesus—not just in the great deeds of terror, the signs and wonders performed by Him, but also in His loving arms that were stretched out to embrace the world in His death.

But these events have not been kept secret. Jesus’ actions have not been printed on the pages of history book, left on a hidden shelf never to be seen again. No, His acts that engaged and defeated Satan have become the Church’s proclamation, the Church’s word. It is what you have been given to hear. Your confession of it is made, even as you come to offer to the Lord the first fruits of your harvest or work. You gather and remember the act of salvation that Jesus performed for you; even as you eat and drink here, you proclaim Jesus’ death for you. The record of what Jesus has done for you is the word that is put in your mouth and in your heart. That’s what Paul means when he writes: “’The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” This word is given to you to believe and confess. It is a word given for you to speak.

There are times and places when you will need to speak it, especially in the venue where Jesus found Himself. Though Satan could not defeat Jesus, he still attempts to fell all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. The method has of attack has not changed. It still is the use of little words that follow temptation, enticement, and ensnarement: “Doubt. Lie. Steal. Curse. Swear. Covet. Cheat. Lust. Deceive. Rape. Kill.” Those little words and more are spoken in your hearing. Even now, the devil still wants people to despair, to have false gods, to test the Lord. But he also knows the truth: “One little word can fell him.” That word of faith—the confession that Jesus is Lord and the belief that God raised Him from the dead—is the word that does so.

When the devil leads you into temptation, then the word of faith that speaks of Jesus’ lordship must be spoken. That word calls on Him for aid: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” That word of faith that confesses Jesus’ death and resurrection is the deathblow for Satan. He cannot bear to hear it, because it reveals the truth about him and about you: “I am not your slave; Jesus has redeemed and delivered me. I am not ignorant of your deceptions; Jesus has exposed what you are. I am not bound to follow your will; Jesus has given me the will to follow the righteous ways of life. I am not left to be a victim; Jesus has overcome you and has given me a share of the spoils.” That effect of Jesus’ work for you is what the word of faith makes known.

Because Jesus has felled Satan and has made you His people, you have a Lord who is powerful, who offers you protection. This is why you could say the words this morning: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” This is why you could call Him a “trusty shield and weapon”. What Jesus provides for you stands true—not just in the times of leisure and ease, of joy and celebration, but also in the midst of your trials and tribulations, your times of testing and temptation. It turns you from being cowering victims to being the victors, the ones who could defiantly say:

Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill;
They shall not overpower us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none.
He’s judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.

That word of faith is once again in your mouth and in your heart today: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Ensure it stays there by diligently hearing it proclaimed and regularly making it part of your speech. For this is the formula for victory given to you: “One little word can fell him.”

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

Thursday, February 14, 2013

LSB Ash Wednesday Sermon - Joel 2:12-19

February 13, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.

The Prophet Joel sends out the divine invitation, carrying the call to repentance that the Lord gave. And the people respond to this message. In similar way, we have heard the Lord’s message. Months in advance, we set aside this evening to take up the divine invitation and act upon it. For we have come to the first day in Lent, this Ash Wednesday, what some of our forefathers called Fastenzeit, the “time of fasting”.

What Joel calls the people of Israel to do, we also fulfill. We are the Lord’s chosen people—a nation of many ethnicities, as we have been selected from every tribe, race, and language, seeing the Light of grace, truth, salvation, and life that Jesus shines on those who dwelt in the shadow of death. We have “blown the trumpet in Zion”—even if it was the paper trumpets of newsletters and postcards. “The solemn assembly has been called,” so we have gathered. And in moments, we will pray: “Good Lord, deliver us. Spare us, good Lord.”

But why do we do so? Or perhaps we should ask: Why does the Lord give us this invitation? The preface to our service gave the rationale from our end. As we heard in the Introduction to Lent: “From ancient times the season of Lent has been kept as a time of special devotion, self-denial, and humble repentance born of a faithful heart that dwells confidently on His Word and draws from it life and hope.

The promise of an answer motivates our actions this evening and throughout the next six weeks of Lent. Like all things we deliberately do as the Church, our Lenten disciplines and observances are done expecting to receive something from the Lord. We must be clear on this point. We do not do things expecting to receive something in exchange for our efforts. Never in these 40 days do we take our acts of penitence or self-denial and put them in the hand of God and say we have made down payment for our salvation. These actions are not tokens or tickets that we redeem and take home the Carnival gift of eternal life.

However, what we do is in answer to the Lord’s invitation. He bids us welcome. He instructs us to particular actions. Jesus, the Incarnate Lord, says that goodness and benefit is found at the end of them: “Take My word of promise and powerful Name; attach them to water; apply it to an individual, and they will be made a disciple, a beloved child of My Father. Take My word of promise; confer it to a man who is called, and he will speak My absolution to sinners. Take My word of promise; attach it to bread and wine; give them to My disciples to eat and drink in remembrance of Me, and they will receive forgiveness, life, and salvation.”

Tonight is no different. Another invitation is given to us. It’s what the prophet Joel gave: “’Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the Lord, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.” The Lord gives us the sequence: “Recognize My righteous law. Repent of what you have done contrary to it. Return to Me and to My ways. Receive the forgiveness of sins, because I am gracious and merciful.” That is what we are doing right now. It’s what all of us do individually as followers of Jesus, but what we set apart this night to do together in a corporate and deliberate way.

We’ve already begun answering this invitation in our opening hymn, the opening collect, the readings, praying verses from Psalm 51 together. All this is done in recognition of the Lord’s righteousness and our lack thereof. We have admitted our guilt. We have indicated a desire to return to the way of life, the path laid out by Jesus for us to follow. And in a moment, we will pray the Litany that cries out for the Lord’s mercy, receive ashes as a sign of our mortality and penitence, and receive the absolution that Jesus provides for His people. In sequence this is done in response to the invitation that we have been given.

We must keep in mind that all of this is an act of faith. What we do is not empty ritual. It isn’t just a maintaining of tradition. Though what we do may appear mysterious and even impressive to outsiders, that thought should hardly enter the mind. Our worship this Ash Wednesday or any day is not meant to entertain or to provide mystery and awe. Ritual, tradition, mystery, and awe certainly have their place in what we do. But the true heart of the matter is the divine promise that we believe. We act because we believe the promises that have been attached to these actions.

That same foundation caused the people of Israel to act upon the prophet’s words. They heard the Lord’s spokesman declare the Lord’s words. Through him, the Lord says: “I am gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; I relent from disaster.” The gracious and merciful Lord invites the people: Return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” His people heard those words and trusted them. They believed them and banked on them. That belief drove them to act on what the Lord said.

And so it is for us. We hear the same promise; we receive the same invitation. Christ speaks to us: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So we act. We come here to where the Lord has made heavenly treasures available for us. We gather together to hear His words of life and to receive forgiveness and redemption. Christ’s words are trusted; our faith drives our actions. We are willing to stake our claim of eternal salvation on them.

This is what we have heard and why we act. We act in this “favorable time,” as St. Paul called it. The invitation to reconciliation has been given. The Lord has promised mercy and forgiveness to us sinners. So heed your Savior’s words, the call that has gone out to you, His people. Join in the prayer: “Spare Your people, O Lord.” He promises to hear that prayer and to answer it in the affirmative: “I am gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; I relent from disaster.”

So the Lord speaks about Himself and what He will be for you, His repentant people. You can believe it and bank on it this night, during this solemn assembly and this time of fasting, for your forgiveness. But you can also rely on it tomorrow, the next day, and even years from now for your salvation and everlasting life. Such is the promise He makes to you, to you who bear His Name.

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

Sunday, February 10, 2013

LSB Tranfiguration of Our Lord [C] Sermon - Luke 9:28-36

February 10, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Now about eight days after these sayings [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.”

The events from Christmas through Epiphanytide have led up to this day, to this mountaintop experience in Galilee. It has been a long trek from Bethlehem to here. It may not seem like it, since we mark thirty years of Jesus’ life in about three months. But consider what had taken place, even in the short snippets of Jesus’ life that you have heard since the Nativity of Our Lord was celebrated on December 25.

You have heard how Jesus was born and laid in a manger. It was there, since no room was found in the inn. But what did such birth show? The humble origins of Jesus. That was confirmed with the appearance of Jesus in Jerusalem’s Temple at His Presentation. The requirements of the Law were done for Him, but what was the sacrifice offered? A pair of turtledoves—the prescribed sacrifice for those of low means. But then the humility began to be turned around: the Magi come bearing their gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh and they fall down worshiping the Infant Jesus. Then the movement was to hearing of Jesus’ adulthood. He is baptized; at that baptism Jesus is identified as the Beloved Son of God, the One well-pleasing to His Father. His preaching in Nazareth confirmed that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him. And you heard how Jesus began to perform miracles: changing water to wine, casting out demons and healing the sick.

Everything is on an upward track, a climb up the proverbial mountain. And what did you hear take place today? The revelation of Jesus glory is made: “Now about eight days after these sayings [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.” Jesus’ true identity is on display for three of His disciples to see. They witness a change in Jesus’ form. Gone are the humble trappings of the world. No more shabby clothes. No more dinginess from Galilee’s dirt roads. No more signs of hard life. Instead, there is the dazzling, majestic, divine appearance.

And what else was told concerning this mountaintop experience? It didn’t stop with just a transfiguration. No, there was even the appearance of people who were enjoying the life of the world to come: “And behold, two men were talking with [Jesus], Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory….” Not only does Jesus have His divine glory on display, He has an audience who had shown up in similar appearance. This is it! It all led up to this. This is the Messiah that all had been waiting to see. What more could Peter and John and James or anyone else want? How could this glory be topped?

But there is something that doesn’t seem to fit during this Transfiguration Event. In the midst of all these glorious happenings, there is a detail thrown in that doesn’t belong. All is moving upward, higher and higher. But the audience that Jesus has with Moses and Elijah puts forward something that moves everything downward again: “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.” Do you catch that detail? Moses and Elijah’s conversation with Jesus brings up a subject that is not glorious. They talk about Jesus’ departure, His “exodus”.

What is this departure that Moses and Elijah speak of? It’s more than the gates that lead to airplanes taking off from Harrisburg International to Atlanta or Chicago. It’s a way of speaking about what none of us really want to. This departure is a euphemistic way of talking about death. In fact, some of our English translations [NKJV, HCSB] put it right out there, rendering this as Moses and Elijah spoke about Jesus’ decease or His death. That’s the subject matter that these two men appearing in glory discuss with Jesus whose face is glowing and clothes are dazzling white. In the midst of all this glory is discussed the inglorious.

But why must this be brought up? Because this is part of Jesus’ true identity. It is an essential aspect of His life, of His role as the Messiah. The subject matter that Moses and Elijah bring up is what the Law and the Prophets had foretold concerning the Promised One whom the Lord would send. It had actually all led up to this—not the mountaintop Transfiguration Event, but the appearance of the Messiah who would suffer and die on a different mountain in order to bring salvation to all who were suffering and dying.

This fate had not been kept secret. And it wasn’t something that Jesus only first learned about after He climbed up the mountain and had Moses and Elijah talk to Him. No, it was made clear by Jesus Himself. Note how the Gospel Reading began: “Now about eight days after these sayings [Jesus] took with Him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.” What sayings is the Gospel Writer referring to? The sayings that Jesus had given to the Twelve: “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…. If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me…. 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.” The sayings reveal the prophesied purpose of the Messiah, what He would do and what His followers would also share in.

That is why Peter’s suggestion about making three tents for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus to dwell in on the mountain is of no purpose. This is also why God the Father appears on the mountainside to confirm again Jesus’ identity: “As [Peter] 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.” Jesus’ identity is made clear: He is the Messiah, the One whom the Lord had chosen; He is the Son of God the Father. So Jesus must be listened to and heeded, especially when He discloses what He will do to fulfill the prophetic statements made about the bringing of salvation to you.

As you hear the details of what took place at Jesus’ transfiguration, you begin to understand fully who your Redeemer is and how He has brought redemption to you. The Church Year calendar turns today. And the change from Epiphanytide to Lent brings with it a change in what you will hear concerning Jesus. Not that you hear of a different Jesus. No, it is that the same Jesus whom you heard being honored by the Magi, being anointed by the Holy Spirit, turning water into wine, preaching and casting out demons will also undergo rejection by people who will not heed His calls to repentance, who hate His seeking out the lost, and who will not accept the testimony concerning His identity. But that is how it must be. It all leads up to this—that the Son of Man suffers many things, dies, but also rises on the third day.

Since this is what Jesus does, you can find salvation in Him. Because this is what Jesus does, you can speak of the glory that He possesses. It is not something that Jesus has for a few hours on a mountainside in Galilee. No, it is what He possesses eternally. It is His as He was faithful in all things, even in the events that led to His humiliation and rejection for your benefit. That is why you were also given the instruction concerning Jesus: “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house.” And what should be considered about Jesus? That He did what the Father told Him to do. That He performed all the actions that had been prophesied about Him. That He did suffer and die and rise again, as had been foretold.

And so you are to heed the command that God the Father gave about Jesus: “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” Listen to Jesus as He speaks about who He is. Listen to Jesus as He speaks about what He has done. Listen to Jesus as He discloses where the good things that He has earned for you are located—in the font, from the pulpit, on the altar. Listen to Jesus as He calls you to follow Him. Listen to Jesus as He shows you the way of discipleship, including the taking up your cross and following Him when no one else seems interested in doing so. Listen to Jesus as He reveals the blessed end that will be yours because He didn’t stay on the mountain basking in glory but hung in humiliation. Listen to Jesus as He rises from the dead and speaks His peace to you.

Why listen to Him? Because God the Father says so. Because of the promise that is attached to that command. Because of what Moses and Elijah prophesied about Him. Because of who Jesus is: “Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are His house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” That confidence and hope are found in what Jesus has done, in what His life led up to—the humility of coming down and suffering and dying turned to the glory of life and resurrection and ascension.

What Jesus experienced is not just something that He did for Himself. It is what Jesus has done for you, so that your path leads to the same end, so that you may witness what Peter and John and James saw, so that you may be raised and found in glory in Jesus’ presence, so that you will be able to fulfill the command: “Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at His holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy!” That is what Jesus’ life as the Son of God and the Father’s Chosen One all leads up to. Listen to Him and receive it.

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

Monday, February 4, 2013

LSB Epiphany 4C Sermon - Luke 4:31-44

February 3, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And [Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And He was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at His teaching, for His word possessed authority.”

It’s the Sabbath, and Jesus shows up in the synagogue. You may have heard the Gospel Reading begin and wondered why it was being read. Didn’t we hear this last Sunday? Jesus goes into a synagogue on the Sabbath because it was His custom. He reads the Scriptures there and teaches the people. They won’t like it because they think Jesus is just some sort of impostor or pretender. He’s a Galilean, just like them. What does He know about the Scriptures? And how do they even speak about Him? That’s what you heard took place in Nazareth.

But as you heard what took place in Capernaum—another city of Galilee—there was a notably different reaction. Jesus speaks, and the people listen. They hear what He has to say. But they also receive His teaching, recognizing that it carries something that the other speakers in their synagogue did not have. They note that Jesus is wielding a power, an authority: “[Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And He was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at His teaching, for His word possessed authority.”

This is what the people in Nazareth would not acknowledge. When Jesus spoke there, the people showed amazement at what He said. But their amazement was not a positive reaction to what Jesus said. They would not accept Jesus as being anything more than Joseph’s son. The claim that Isaiah had prophesied about Him and what He would do was dismissed. The Nazarenes wanted to push Jesus off a cliff because of what He said. But when the people of Capernaum hear that message from Jesus, they receive it as something precious to possess.

The authority that Jesus carries is shown further in another action that takes place in the Capernaum synagogue. You heard of the presence of someone who doesn’t really belong: “In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Ha! What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God.’” The demon stands as a challenger to Jesus’ authority. It is a usurper who has taken what does not rightfully belong to it. Jesus demonstrates His authority through what He says: “But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent and come out of him!’ And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm.”

What is shown in this action? That Jesus holds power over all spiritual things. This Man from Nazareth bears authority even over the realm of the invisible beings. And He exercises that authority for the benefit of people, so that they may be under His rightful rule and not enslaved by what does not recognize that order. Jesus gives the command, and the demon must comply with it. He speaks, and it must obey. And the people notice this about Jesus’ speech: “They were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is this word? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!’ And reports about Him went out into every place in the surrounding region.” The people of Capernaum recognize that Jesus’ words had authority. Jesus’ authority comes from His identity. It is what He bears as the Incarnate Lord. And He bears it with a purpose. He has come to exercise His authority, to bring His rule into this world where there is all sorts of opposition to it. That is His agenda. It is revealed in His actions: preaching with authority, casting out demons, healing the ill and infirm. This is what Jesus declares to the people at the end of the Gospel Reading: “The people sought Him and came to Him, and would have kept Him from leaving them, but He said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.’ And He was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.”

What Jesus speaks is authoritative. His words carry all His power and ability as the Holy One of God. He is sent to speak them. But those words accomplish two different results. The words of the Incarnate Lord accomplish the same things as the words that the Lord gave His prophets to speak. Recall what you heard concerning the call of Jeremiah to be a prophet. The Lord gives Jeremiah the authority to speak for Him: “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” And the Lord gives Jeremiah the words to speak: “Then the Lord put out His hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.’”

The Lord’s statement concerning His words and His authorizing of Jeremiah to speak them show the two different actions that are accomplished. The Lord’s words will pluck up and break down, destroy and overthrow. This happens as His authority is exercised in judgment, as His words of conviction and condemnation are spoken. It took place in Nazareth when Jesus spoke against the people who were rejecting Him, comparing them to their ancestors who rejected Elijah and Elisha. It also happens in Capernaum, as Jesus rebukes the demon in the man and rebukes the fever in Simon’s mother-in-law, expelling them both.

But such authoritative speech is not frozen in time. It is heard in this place where the Lord’s people gather. The Lord speaks conviction and condemnation here. His authoritative words are spoken by people sent to preach them. Those words carry the divine ability and power. They pluck up and break down, destroy and overthrow. What are the targets of such words? The unrighteous acts that you have done, all the sins that you have committed. But there is more than just the listing of the wrong actions you have performed. The Lord addresses your unrighteous character. The exposition of that was found in the apostle’s words to the Corinthians. Take the things that he says concerning love and find the opposite: impatience and meanness; envy and boasting; arrogance and rudeness; insistence on your own way or no way; irritability and resentfulness; joy at wrongdoing. Those are the descriptions of what is not right in your lives. They testify to what is wrong even in the life of this assembly of believers gathered together. The Lord’s words spoken against them begin to tear them down.

However, the reaction to that can be like what took place in Nazareth. Wrath boils up. You don’t want to hear it. You take offense at the one who dares to speak them. But those words of truth must still be spoken and received. The plucking up and breaking down, the destroying and overthrowing must take place. You must hear the rebuke that comes from Jesus’ mouth and from those He has authorized to speak is given. You must experience it. Why? Because that rebuke casts out what is unclean and points out what is harmful. It is not to bring you to total destruction; it is actually to cleanse and purify you, so that you may live. The kingdom of God is coming here, as Jesus says.

“[T]he good news of the kingdom of God” must also be spoken. That authoritative word of Jesus must also be spoken. It brings benefit to you through building and planting. What type of building and planting? The giving of a new life, the creation of a new will, a restoration of a status that you were meant to have. This is what “the good news of the kingdom of God” is all about. The good news is that Jesus has come and done what is necessary to place you under His rule. He has come and rebuked what is evil and destructive. He has come and atoned for all the wrongdoing that you have committed. He has come and driven a stake in the heart of the Usurper, the one who desires to be your tyrant. He has come and endured affliction in your place. He has come and swallowed up the den of death with His life. Jesus has come and shown you the Lord’s favor.

This is “the good news of the kingdom of God” that is preached in this assembly. Jesus does not only come with words of conviction and condemnation. He also speaks words of pledge and promise. That is what builds and plants. His words reconcile and forgive; they create and sustain. Such words are astonishing: the divine became human; God died and rose for you; the Lord’s power and authority are found in this place. But those words are heard with your ears, and you recognize the authority behind them. You recognize how they show the salvation meant for you. And when that happens, there is a clamoring for what they bring. You want Jesus and His authority present among you. The desire for divine characteristics is created in you: to be patient and kind; to avoid envy and boastfulness, arrogance or rudeness; to insist on following the Lord’s way; to be cheerful and content; to find joy in virtue and righteousness. You know this is not how you naturally are; it is what the Lord builds and plants in you.

Not only do you want it for yourself; you desire its presence to bring the same life and gifts to others. The recognition of Jesus’ authority found here causes the same reaction shown in Capernaum: “Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to Him, and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them.” The people of Capernaum received the truth about Jesus and His authority. So they brought all sorts of individuals to Him, so that these could also benefit from what they had heard. That is the action found among you, when you receive the truth about Jesus and His authority and as you receive and hear the truth of His words that cut down and build up. What you have experienced is the Lord’s favor that Jesus displays. You want others to have the same forgiveness, life, and salvation that Jesus’ divine and authoritative word of pledge and promise distributes wherever it is preached.

This is what Jesus’ appearance in the Capernaum synagogue reveals. He bears authority to rebuke what is sinful and destructive. But He also bears authority to speak the words that build up and plant. You are part of the kingdom of God that He ushers in. You have the salvation He brings. Recognizing Him as the source of it, you now make Jesus the subject of what comes from your mouth—your prayers and praises: “Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; You have given the command to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress…. My mouth is filled with Your praise, and with Your glory all the day.” So it is for you who believe the truth about Jesus’ authority, as you welcome and receive Him.

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