Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sermon -- Transfiguration (March 2, 2014)

This sermon was preached at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church of Northfield Township (Ann Arbor), Michigan.
2 PETER 1:16-21

In the name + of Jesus.

     From time to time, everyone wonders if God loves him.  Even Christians wonder if God loves them, because Christians also suffer hardship, pain, loneliness, and sorrow.  When you feel like you’ve been robbed of blessings or when you feel like you’ve been abandoned, Satan starts to worm his way into your heart.  He gets you to ask some probing questions.  If God is the giver of every good and perfect gift, and if I have been robbed of blessings, does that mean that God has failed me?  If God promises that he works everything for the good of those who love him, and if I am hurting as I am, does that mean that God’s promises are unreliable?  If everyone else is neglecting me, does that mean God has turned his back on me too?  Perhaps I have been mistaken all these years.  Perhaps God is not love after all.  There is no doubt: Satan will lead you to despair if you listen to him.
     But the question, “How do I know that God really loves me?” is not without an answer.  Epiphany season highlights that the one who loves you truly, completely, and perfectly is God.  Jesus reveals that he is the true God who has come in the flesh.  He has come to those who are hurting and suffering.  He comes to those filled with grief and shame.  He comes to those who are filled with fear and dread.  And he comes to help.  More than that, he comes to save.  Take a close look at Jesus, because here you have divine revelation. 
     St. Peter reflected on one of the most vivid revelations that Jesus had given.  After telling his disciples that he would be going to Jerusalem to suffer, be killed, and rise from the dead, Jesus took Peter, James, and John to a mountain top in the northern extremes of Israel.  There he was transfigured before them. (Mark 9:2)  The appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.  …Moses and Elijah appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.  They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:29-31)  A bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.  Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5) 
     It was not a dream, or a vision, or fantasy.  Here we have divine revelation.  Jesus was revealed as true God by the appearance of his face and clothing, by the company of prophets who had joined him, by the words of the prophets who had foretold him in the Scriptures, by the words of the prophets who were conversing with him on the mountain right then and there, and ultimately by the testimony of God the Father himself!  “This is my Son!”  This man is God.  This God is your Savior.  “Listen to him!”  For, here we have divine revelation.
     While faith is content to listen, the sinful heart is not.  We want to see the divine majesty.  Like Peter, we would like to set up shrines where we could dwell in such glory.  Let’s bask in the glow of divine radiance.  Let’s stay on the mountain where all things are good and right and holy.  Let’s stay where the blessings are always obvious, where the joy is not interrupted by sorrow, and where God looks like God.
     This vision of glory is what the sinful heart craves.  The problem is that sinners think that they can dwell in it.  King David asks: LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?  Who may live on your holy hill?  David answers his own question.  Let’s see if we qualify.  He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his oath even when it hurts….” (Psalm 15:1-4)  
     At the sight and sound of divine glory, Peter, James, and John fell facedown to the ground, terrified. (Matthew 17:6)  You would not have fared any better.  As much as you might want to see the divine glory, you cannot stand before it.  You would be destroyed by it; for you are not righteous.  You have not kept your tongue from slander.  You have not kept your heart from evil.  You have not despised the wicked; you have envied them and copied their ways.  And when it has hurt to obey the Lord, you opted for the easy way and preferred sin to righteousness.  Repent, for that which is sinful cannot dwell with him who is holy.  He who is covered in shame cannot stay where all is glorious. 
     For this reason, Peter, James, and John did not stay on the sacred mountain.  No sinner can dwell in that glory.  Jesus did not remain on that sacred mountain, either.  For, he did not come to establish glory that we can enjoy for a moment.  He came down to prepare us for glory that will endure forever.
     Therefore, St. Peter does not tell us to look for radiant, divine glory that we can see and feel.  Though he had witnessed it with his eyes, he tells us to witness it with our ears.  He reiterates what he had heard from the heavenly Father: “Listen to him!”  For, we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place…. (2 Peter 1:19)  We do not merely have promises; we have fulfillment.  Jesus does not talk about forgiveness is terms of “I might” and “You may be,” but “I do” and “You are.”  If you want to know whether or not God loves you, “Listen to him!”  “You will do well to pay attention to (him).”  For, here we have divine revelation.
     He who was revealed as divine came down from that mountain.  Jesus walked away from a moment of glory to secure eternal glory for you.  He put aside radiant glory to receive dirty shame.  He had never cast a slur, even against his enemies; yet he was crucified as a man of unclean lips.  He spoke only truth, but was numbered among the liars.  His walk was blameless, yet he went to the cross with felons.  He was innocent; yet, he died for your sins.  He was crushed for your iniquities.  By his shame, he purchased you for glory.  By his death, he won you for eternal life.
     Here we have divine revelation—God’s love revealed at the cross.  Through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, you are reconciled to God.  Through his blood, you are cleansed and blameless and pure.  No sinner can dwell in glory.  Therefore, Jesus has made you saints through your baptism.  And he continues to cleanse you with his blood in the Lord’s Supper.  Therefore, as surely as you are able to stand before him in this sanctuary, you will also dwell in his everlasting sanctuary.  You will live in his presence without fear and without end. 
     Here we have divine revelation.  It was all foretold by Moses and Elijah and the prophets.  God had revealed his divine love through them.  St. Peter reminds you: “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20,21)  God had promised that he would come and deliver you from your sins.  And God kept his oath, even when it hurt.  Even when it meant death.  Even when it meant the pains of hell.
      You do well to pay attention to all that Jesus Christ has to say and to all that Jesus Christ has done.  For, here we have divine revelation—God’s Son, God’s Word, God’s mercy, God’s love, God’s forgiveness, and God’s salvation.  Here is where you learn and know and trust that God does, indeed, love you no matter what anything or anyone else suggests.  From this altar, you repeatedly receive the testament of God’s love and the pledge of his forgiveness.  So take to heart and cling to this divine revelation.  Jesus Christ is God who lived and died for you.  Jesus Christ is God who lives and reigns for you.  Jesus Christ is God who will bring you to live and reign with him forever.

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

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