Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sermon -- Lenten Vespers (March 20, 2013)

Go to full-size imageEXODUS 39:32-33 / JOHN 1:14
Our Great High Priest Is “Tented” Among Us.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The letter to the Hebrews begins with these words: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets…” (Hebrews 1:1)  God appeared in many ways.  The Lord appeared to Moses in a bush that was engulfed in fire but was not consumed by it.  The Lord appeared to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai in thunder, lightning, and a thick, black cloud.  The angel of the LORD appeared to Joshua before his battle at Jericho and to Manoah and his wife to announce the coming of their son, Samson.  In each instance, the Lord’s glory was veiled.  In each instance, men were terrified in his presence.  Moses hid his face. The Israelites and Manoah were convinced they were going to die.  Joshua fell prostrate in reverence and fear.  The Lord dwells in unapproachable glory.  No one can stand before him.  So, when the Lord does choose to reveal himself, he hides himself behind physical forms—whether in clouds, or in fire, or as an angel.
     Likewise, when the Lord chose to dwell among the Israelites, the Lord did not come blazing in his glory.  When the Lord revealed himself, he hid behind physical things.  He commanded Moses and the Israelites to build a tabernacle.  It was there that the Lord would put his name.  It was there that the Lord would proclaim atonement and declare mercy.  It was there that the Lord would dwell with his people.
     Regarding the tabernacle and all its vessels, the Bible says, They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.  For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.’” (Hebrews 8:5)  The Lord had given Moses tremendous detail for the construction of his tabernacle.  And the people of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses; so they did.  (Exodus 39:32)  The Lord may use humble things, but the Lord does not do anything on the cheap.  His purposes are always calculated.  All his rites and ceremonies—and even his architecture—teach.  Therefore, the tabernacle and all of its vessels and articles were built to point Israel to the Messiah who would fulfill its usage, its sacrifices, and even its very construction. 
     The Lord had instructed them, You shall also make curtains of goats' hair for a tent over the tabernacle…” (Exodus 26:7)  When the Israelites entered the larger tent, they stood in a large courtyard which surrounded the Tent of Meeting.  The Tent of Meeting, where the Lord dwelt, was blanketed by a black covering of goats’ hair.  Even though the Lord chose to dwell in the tabernacle the Israelites built, the tabernacle itself was not magnificent or beautiful.  It was humble in appearance.  Some might even say it was unsightly.  This, however, is where God dwelt with his people.
     Our Great High Priest is Jesus Christ.  St. John wrote, “The Word became flesh and dwelt (more literally, “tented”) among us…. (John 1:14)  As the tabernacle was the tent in which God dwelt with his people, so Jesus is the ‘tent’ in which God dwelt with his people.  His tent was flesh.  And as it was in the wilderness, so it was with Jesus.  He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. (Isaiah 53:2)  He was humble and weak in his appearance.  And just as the glorious, golden, beautiful vessels remained hidden inside the humble tent, so also hidden in Jesus’ flesh is the glory and fullness of God.  This is how our Great High Priest was “tented” among us. 
     Though God hid himself in the flesh, he did not hide or deny who he was.  Jesus confessed freely that he is the Christ, the fulfiller of the Old Testament, the Son of God, and the “I AM.”  The Pharisees heard it, and they understood it.  But they rejected this Great High Priest and became instruments in making him the sacrifice appointed.
     The Pharisees were not the only ones offended by Jesus.  We, too, would rather see our God wrapped in a prettier package.  At Christmas, we like him because he is cute.  But the point is not that God is cute; the point is that God is humble, frail flesh.  At Mt. Calvary, our God is weak.  He receives insults and beatings.  He is a worm and not a man.  He suffers and bleeds and dies.  We do not like a God who is weak.  We want a different God.
     We want the burning bush.  We want the thunder and lightning.  We want the God who opens up the earth and swallows his enemies.  We would prefer a Jesus whose jaw breaks the fingers of those who punch him and whose wrists and feet repel the nails.  We want the God who strikes the wicked with plagues.  We want the God who radiates divine glory and blazes forth in holy power.  And we want it because we believe that we would not be blasted by his holiness. 
     We fancy ourselves as his equals.  Unlike Joshua, we think we can hold our own and stand before him.  But like Manoah, you should fear him.  Like Moses, you do try to hide who you really are.  Like the Israelites, you should fear death.  Though the earth will not swallow you alive, the earth will take you when you die.  For you are sinners.  And if you do not fear God’s holy wrath, it is because you do not feel your sins.  Repent.
    You cannot make God what you want him to be.  That god does not exist.  God is who reveals himself to be.  You are not God’s equal, so God made himself your equal.  And when God revealed himself, he hid behind physical things.  In the Old Testament, he was hidden in the tabernacle.  But in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son (Hebrews 1:2), who became flesh and dwelt among us…. (John 1:14)  Jesus Christ is God in the flesh.
In the flesh so that a man would suffer and die and receive all of the punishment of sin;
     God so that his death would count for all mankind. 
In the flesh so that you do not need to be terrified in his presence;
     God so that his word is not mere sympathy but divine mercy and forgiveness. 
In the flesh so that he is our brother;
     God so that, like your brother, you have a place in God’s family. 
Jesus, our Great High Priest, “tented” among us.  He is our true tabernacle, where God has come to dwell with his people, to provide the sacrifice which atones for sin, and to bestow mercy upon you.
     To this day, the Lord hides behind physical things.  He does not come in bare glory and holiness to give you his gifts.  He comes to you through the words of a frail and flawed minister.  He comes to you through the waters of baptism.  His body and blood are given to you in bread and wine.  Here, the Lord reveals his mercy and delivers his forgiveness to you.  This is how the Lord “tents” among us today.
     Soon, you will see him in his glory.  You will not need to hide your face or flee in terror.  You will be set free from sin and death once and for all.  You will be made holy and pure in body and soul, heart and mind.  You will set aside your earthly tent and the Lord will transform your body into a holy and glorious body.  The Lord who was made flesh and tented among us will deliver you to dwell in eternal dwellings in heaven.  And you will hear a loud voice from the heavenly throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more….” (Revelation 21:3-4)

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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