Monday, March 1, 2010

March 2010 Newsletter

From the Disk of the Pastor March 2010

Dear Friends in Christ,
This year, Lent encompasses the whole month of March. In the Middle Ages this was a time of great sacrifice. You couldn’t eat meat during Lent. People were told to fast. In fact, fasting was so extreme that special brews of beer, called boch beer were produced. These beers were heavier with more nutritional value so that those not eating wouldn’t pass out. In fact the restrictions were so severe that people began to develop the custom of having a great celebration just before Lent. They would party to excess before the time when the weren’t allowed to party. This would be the origins of Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the various Carnivals in the South American nations. The absurdity of this is that they would sin with wild debauchery before the time they were to spend confessing their sins. I guess they would know what to confess.

Luther, at the time of the Reformation preached against the extremes. Lent was good if it was used as time to rededicate one to the Word of God. But the radical fasting and such were presented as ungodly and work righteous.

So what should Lent be for us? A time to get more deeply into the Word. It should be a time of study and reflection. Confession should be a part of Lent. Confession should flow out of our study of the Word.

This view of Lent actually takes us back to the origins of the Lenten Season. The first annual festival celebrated by the early Church was Easter. They probably started celebrating this during the time of the Apostles - so between 60-80 A.D. It soon became the custom to baptize new converts on Easter. Around the year 400 A.D. there were so many converts that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher would baptize from sunset on Holy Saturday until Easter sunrise. That’s a lot of baptisms. In the weeks before, the catechumens would dedicate their entire day to the study of the Word in preparation for Baptism. This soon was established as the forty day season of Lent. When the Church became settled and there were few converts, Lent became a season for everyone to re-examine the Scriptures.

What are some practical things to do during Lent? Read through the Small and Large Catechisms. Examine some of our hymns. A good one to consider is a hymn we will use a number of times this Lenten Season - “O Love How Deep, How Broad, High.” (LSB 544) This is a Medieval hymn that made it’s first appearance among us in Lutheran Worship (1982). Select a portion of Scripture that is not familiar and read through it a couple times, so that it becomes familiar. If you wish to do deeper study, you can read through that volume of The Peoples Bible. This is a commentary series directed at lay people first produced by the Wisconsin Synod’s Northwestern Publishing House. They are available through both Northwestern and our own Concordia Publishing House.

Skipping meals and other pious exercises might be okay for some. In many cases they miss point. Lent should be a time of study and meditation. In this way we use the Word to prepare our hearts for the celebration of Christ’s victory over sin and death, for us.
Rev. Jody Walter
Psalm 119:104-105
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Sermon for February 27-28, 2010

The Second Sunday in Lent
February 27-28, 2010
Text: Jeremiah 26:8-15

Dear Friends in Christ,
One of the sad realities of today’s church is that people are more likely to know about the Robert Redford character Jeremiah Johnson than are likely to know about Jeremiah in the Bible. Sadly, in American Lutheranism, knowledge of the Old Testament is pretty limited. There is often a bit a familiarity with Genesis. And likewise with Exodus, though here it is often theology according to Charleton Heston rather than Bible. There are some significant differences, by the way. But after the account of the Exodus, the knowledge of our people is very hit and miss, and sometimes inaccurate. For example, how many of you know that God spoke the Ten Commandments from the top of Mount Sinai to all of Israel, before Moses ever went up the mountain or there were tablets stone? Look it up in Exodus and see that what I am saying is correct. Most people know a few of the names, but very little about what they actually did or why they are important. Nor do they know where these things fit together.

The last two of the major writing prophets were contemporaries. They were Jeremiah and Ezekial. It is possible that they never met each other. We know that they didn’t meet during the time when both were active as prophets. With the death of King Josiah in 609 B.C. Judah lost its independence. It became a vassal kingdom. What this means is that they still had their own king but he was rather like a governor serving under another more powerful king. At first they were under the control of the Egyptians. But in short order they came under the thumb of Babylon’s new king Nebucudnezzar. It was in about 597 that the first exiles were taken to Babylon. Jeremiah had been a prophet for some time, at this point. Ezekial would be among those first exiles. He would become a prophet in Babylon. Jeremiah would remain in Jerusalem.
Jeremiah’s ministry reached its climax during the reign the last king of Judah. When Pharaoh Necho took control of Jerusalem he made King Jehoiakim, son of Josiah, his vassal. Would rule from 609 until 597. His son Jehoiachin would surrender Jerusalem to Babylon. He was removed after a three month reign and taken to Babylon. There he would remain for the rest of life, forty or fifty years. Much of that time he was actually in the king’s court, rather than being imprisoned. Jehoiachin’s uncle, Zedekiah, the youngest son of Josiah, was made king in his place. He would rule about ten years. It is this period, from 597 B.C. through 586 B.C., that was the most active in Jeremiah’s ministry.

Jeremiah was a prophet of God’s wrath. He was there to explain events as they were
unfolding. He there to tell the people to accept God’s judgement. This was the way to survive. God’s judgement was that the temple would be destroyed. Many people in Jerusalem believed that God would never allow this. It didn’t make sense. Why would God destroy His own temple? Jeremiah compared the temple to Shilo. Shilo was final location of the tabernacle. The tabernacle was supposed to be periodically relocated from place to place in Israel. But soon, it was set up permanently in one place. That place was called Shilo. But because of the sins of the sons of the high priest Eli, the tabernacle was abandoned. And the whole town that had built up around it became a ghost town. For about a hundred years, the Old Testament liturgy was not fully celebrated, because there was no place for it. Only with the construction of the temple by Solomon was the sacrificial system fully restored. Now Solomon’s temple would also be destroyed. Why? Because of the sins of idolatry. Because the king and the people worshiped false gods. In fact they had set up a statue of the Canaanite god Baal in the temple.

The people of Judah were in violation of the First Commandment. The command literally is to have no other gods before the face of Yahweh. In other words, the First Commandment prohibits the mixing of the worship of the true God with worship of false gods. It is first and foremost, a liturgical command. Jeremiah was predicting the destruction of the temple because they were mixing their worship. God would not tolerate such a desecration of His house.

Jeremiah was also explaining the path of survival. The nation would survive. But only by the submission to God’s righteous judgement. Zedekiah would not submit. He revolted against Babylon. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 586 B.C. More people were carted off to Babylon in exile. Zedekiah himself was made to watch the execution of all his children and then his eyes were put out. He would end his days in a dungeon. Jeremiah was imprisoned by Zedekiah, but was released when the city fell. He was determined to end his days living among the ruins of Jerusalem. But even this was denied him. Jeremiah was kidnaped by a group of survivors and carted off to Egypt where he would die. Jeremiah’s life is perhaps the saddest of all the prophets.

What should we learn from Jeremiah? God does not tolerate sin. He does not wink at it. Particularly grievous to God is the sin of idolatry - the worship of false gods. And the worst form of this is the mixing of true worship with false worship. God would be more merciful to a Canaanite who worshiped Baal because he didn’t know better, than He would be toward a Judean who had the true worship of God and rejected it. At least the Canaanite didn’t mix the worship of Baal with the worship of Yahweh.

Jeremiah also teaches us that God does not abandon His people. He might punish them. But there is always a way to survive. That survival starts with repentance. It starts with the recognition that we have sinned. It includes submission to God’s judgements. If we are punished for our sins, we must see this as just and accept it. For the repentant any such judgements will always be temporary. There will be forgiveness and restoration. About sixty years after the temple was destroyed - seventy years after the first exiles were taken - Zerubabal and the High Priest Joshua oversaw the laying of the foundation of the second temple - the temple that would stand through the time of Christ. Babylon was a place of exile, but it was also a place of protection for the Jewish people. They survived and were restored. For us also. In Christ, in repentance, in forgiveness, we survive and are restored to God’s presence. We are again able to praise His name before His face. There may be a time of punishment. But for God’s people that punishment is not God’s final word. His final word is one of restoration. This too was part of the message that Jeremiah preached to the people of Judah.

Sermon for February 24, 2010

The Second Wednesday in Lent
February 24, 2010
Text: Psalm 91:9-16

Dear Friends in Christ,
“Bring out your dead, bring out your dead...” It’s a line that’s become something of a joke, but when it was in fact spoken, it was a grim business indeed. In late medieval cities during the frequent outbreaks of bubonic plague, men would go through the city each morning with carts, calling out, “bring out your dead”. They would do this because people were dropping dead so fast that there was nothing else they could do. The bodies had to be buried quickly. Could you imagine, in one of our small, north Wisconsin villages burying a dozen or more people a day? But this was reality for the people of western Europe in the Middle Ages. It’s terrible what happens to non Christian people. Wouldn’t it be better if they were Christians and God would then protect them from the plague. Oops, they were Christians, weren’t they? But doesn’t our text say that God will protects us from plagues? Or isn’t God powerful enough to counteract bad sanitation, rats and fleas?

So how do we understand these words of the Psalmist? We don’t even know who he was. Psalm 91 was written anonymously. We have to understand plague in divine terms. Let’s say for a moment, a man lived his life with faith in name only. Oh, he knew what God says, but he lived carelessly, he abided in his sin. Perhaps he didn’t want to give up his sins. But then he is struck with a terrible illness and he knows that he is about to die. The man turns to God. Perhaps he even seeks pastoral care. So was that a plague or a blessing? You see God does not look only at this life. God takes the long view. He looks to eternal life. So if it takes a terrible illness to bring a man to the point where he has saving faith, God sees the illness as a blessing. On the other hand, if a man has great wealth, power, good health, many friends and the like, he might well turn from God. In which case, great wealth was a curse.

In Scripture, many will point to Abraham, Job, and perhaps even Jacob as examples of people that God blessed with great wealth because they were faithful to God. But Solomon was also blessed with great wealth and Scripture makes it clear that for him, the wealth and power was a curse. It went to his head and he turned to false gods. So wealth, or good health, or any of these earthly things must not be seen as blessings in themselves. But rather as things through which God can bless us. The true blessing is faithfulness to God. To the extent that earthly blessings or curses contribute to our remaining faithful, they are true blessings indeed.

It has become fashionable for television preachers to preach was it called the prosperity to gospel. If you have enough faith God will bless you with wealth, a good spouse, children, prestige, and so forth. I guess I must not have enough faith, though I must admit I do have the good spouse part. Of course such preaching is nonsense. It is a twisting of Scripture. What did Christ say of the man born blind? He was born blind so that the glory of God might be revealed. So you see God’s view of blessings and curses is far different than ours.

So how should we look at Psalm 91. It is a description of God’s saving and protecting work. He does send His angels to guard us. He does protect us evil and keeps plagues from us. He does allow us to dwell in Him. But these are protections from sin, the devil, and even against our own sinful flesh. This is a hidden protection. Who knows, perhaps poor Lazarus would have been as hard hearted as the rich man in the parable, if he were rich. So Lazarus’ poverty could well have been God’s means of blessing him with faith. But we can be assured that we have God’s protection. He will protect His own. In the Gospel of John, Jesus calls Himself the “Good Shepherd” and He says that no one snatches His sheep from His hand. This is the protection that we are promised in the Psalm. Notice verse 14 where it connects God’s saving power with the knowing of His Name. Now here is where translations fail us. But if you are old enough, you might have a bit of a clue. What does it mean to know in the Biblical sense? To have sexual relations - you know how the old King James translation rendered the Hebrew - Jacob lay with his wife, and he knew her, and she conceived. To know, as this is used in the Bible, is more than mere head knowledge. It is to be intimate with, to trust in it, and so forth. So one know knows the Name of the Lord, is a believer, one who trusts in God. And those who trust in God will be protected from all those things that will cause them eternal harm.

Psalm 91 is a psalm of assurance. It reminds us that God does indeed protect us from danger. But God’s view of danger is different than ours. God may end our lives in a violent manner, such as a car accident. But God will preserve us safe in His kingdom. He gives us faith to believe and draw us closer to Him. It may not look like protection in an earthly sense. It may not look like a blessing in an earthly sense. But it is protection and blessing in an heavenly sense. All things considered, isn’t it better to be blessed eternally? Isn’t that what really counts?

Funeral Homily for Sam Johnson

Funeral of Sam Johnson
February 23, 2010
Text: Romans 6:1-5

Dear Friends in Christ,
What is a pastor, and why is there a pastor here, tonight? Many people think that pastors are these milktoast guys who know how to speak and get up and say nice things. That’s not it. A pastor is a servant of the Word of God and steward of God’s mysteries. Any place he comes, if he is faithful, he is there to speak God’s Word. That word includes both God’s law and God’s Gospel. And since, as it has been said, the Gospel is like a passing summer shower, I encourage you to pay close attention. This may be the only time in your life that you hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is especially true since I know many of you are not part of the Church.

Sam Johnson was part of the church, though he had not been active in recent years. I had privilege of instructing Sam in the Christian faith and Baptizing him. Sam was a sinner, as are all men. St. Paul tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. Sam struggled with one particular sin - the abuse of alcohol. We must not whitewash this. Coving up sin does no one any good. Sam’s struggles with alcohol did not make him worse than any other sinners. It only perhaps makes his sin more obvious. And we should be clear that alcohol is a good gift of God. In Psalm 104, for example we read that God made alcohol to gladden the heart of man. But as with all good gifts of God, alcohol is subject to horrible abuse. And it is also likely true that alcohol abuse contributed the health problems he experienced in these last years.

Sin is a violation of God’s law. God’s law, often is rather like the instructions on a hair dryer. You know: Do not run while immersed or something really bad will happen. God does not give us laws simply hold us under His thumb. They are for our good. But when Adam, the first man, fell into sin, all his descendants became sinners. We are born enemies of God. Sin is what sinners do.

God came into our world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ, that is the chosen one of God. He came into our world to die for our sins. He came restore our place before God. He did that by dying on the cross as payment for our sins, and rising again to life on Easter morning - April 5, 33 A.D.

God does not just do this and let it hang out there. He attaches us to these events. In Baptism we are joined with Christ’s death and resurrection. We call it the second birth of water and the Word. It is God’s formal adoption of us as His sons. The Christian life flows out of the waters of Baptism, where Christ applies all His gifts to us. Sam was a sinner, yes, as am I, as is everyone here. But Sam was also adopted as a son of God in Holy Baptism. As His adopted Sons, we then participate in the one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. We eat of that which was sacrificed - the body and blood of Christ in the forms of bread and wine. A week ago Friday night, I was summoned out to Sam’s house. I hadn’t heard, before that, how seriously ill he was. One of things Sam wanted that night was the Lord’s Supper. He wanted to again participate in Christ’s sacrifice for his sins. It was hard. Sam could hardly eat or drink. But that he managed.

Was Sam the ideal Christian? No. But then I’m not sure that there is such a thing. But Sam did understand that he had a Savior. And that Savior made Sam His child. Not every person will be in heaven. In fact the majority of those that ever lived or will live will end up in hell. But Sam I can say, though his faith appeared weak in earthly terms, is in heaven with his heavenly Father who adopted Him as His son through the blood of Jesus Christ. Death is both a warning and an invitation to the living. Sam is in heaven. Will you join him, or the legions of the lost. Those waters of baptism where Sam became God’s child are waiting for you as well.

Sermon for February 20-21, 2010

The First Sunday in Lent
February 20-21, 2010
Text: Luke 4:1-13

Dear Friends in Christ,
It has been known for some time that there was no such thing as global warming. The data did not support it. Nor is there any evidence that climate change is anything other than a natural cycle, which man cannot affect. In recent weeks we’ve had all sorts of scandals about scientists withholding data or altering data to make their case. But those that have actually looked at the available information have known that global warming was a farce for some time. It actually started when a couple climatologists couldn’t get a research grant. So they wrote up an absolutely panicked and hysterical hypothesis in order scare people into giving them money for research. It took on a life of its own from there. The old adage follow the money applies to global warming, just as it does many other earthly matters.

This is much like the matter before us this morning. Our text for today is perhaps the most persistently misunderstood and miss-applied portion of Scripture in recent LCMS preaching. Sadly Luther had understood this text correctly. The false understanding here comes from the last hundred years or so. The traditional way that this text has been preached is that Christ here gives us an example of how to fight off temptations. So we should follow Christ’s example and use the word of God to fight off the devil. First, that is law, law, law, with no hint of the Gospel. Second, it proposes an impossible thing. In Jude 9 we read: “But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’” What Jude is saying is that even the Archangel Michael would not do battle against Satan. He turned the battle over to Christ. Even the great archangel called upon Christ to fight in His stead. Luther echoes this sentiment in our sermon hymn. I should note that the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is the traditional sermon hymn for the First Sunday in Lent going back several centuries. Many of the older hymnals were arranged by the Sundays of the church year. So for example in the Norwegian Synod’s 1912 Lutheran Hymnary we find a “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” listed for the first Sunday in Lent. As I stated, Luther notes in this great hymn that we are not to fight the devil. Where does it say that? Well lets start with “The old evil foe now means deadly woe.” The first verse ends with the line “On earth is not his equal.” In other words there is no one on earth who can fight Satan. No sinful human being has that power. Luther continues: “With might of ours can naught be done.” Sometimes people today don’t understand poetic phrases. So what does that mean? We have no power against Satan. Luther continues: “Soon were our loss effected.” That means that we are quickly defeated when we go against the devil. Satan can immediately put our defeat into effect. In fact the devil doesn’t even have work very hard at it. Thus if I get up here and tell you to fight Satan as Christ did, I’m preaching you right into hell.

Luther, in our sermon hymn gives us the key to understanding our text in the very next line. “But for us fights the valiant One, Whom God Himself elected.” What does that mean? It means that God the Father loves us so much that He sent One to fight on our behalf. He could not send an angel. We’ve already established, from Scripture, that angels, on their own, do not have this power. God the Father sent God the Son to fight Satan on our behalf. And what does Luther say of Christ? “He holds the field forever.” Christ stands upon the battlefield as the victor. He has put Satan down under His power. In the ancient world, they had a great way of signifying this. The victorious king would stand in the middle of the battle field with his foot on the neck of the defeated king. Luther want us to think of Christ and Satan eternally in this pose. Christ stands with His foot on Satan’s neck, forever. Satan is defeated. He is crushed. His power is broken. Christ alone has broken it. Thus, even if “devils all the world should fill, they can harm us none.” Christ holds them all under foot.

Christ, in His temptation, is formally entering the battle. He is taking our temptation and defeating it in our place. This is part of Christ fulfilling the law in our place. He bears our temptation. It is also an important step in His humanity. Christ, to be fully human, had to face temptation as we do. Thus Scripture recounts His temptation in the wilderness. This binds Christ to us, as the writer to the Hebrews explains: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Christ understands our situation because He lived it. He faced the devil, but not only for Himself, but for us also. So that in His victory, we also triumph.

The Temptation of Christ points us forward to the cross. Here Christ would bring this battle to its conclusion. On the cross Christ would declare “It is finished!” The battle is over. Satan’s power is broken. Sin, which is the power Satan holds over us, is atoned.

Can we say anything here about the temptations that Satan hurls against us? Yes. We can say that they are powerless. They have no hold upon us. Christ has faced down that temptation in our place. Satan has been drained of all power. But wait a minute. Am I not still tempted? What does St Peter say? “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Lions are pack hunters. The young hunting lions will hide silently in the brush. The old, toothless lions will come from the other side and begin to roar loudly. The animals run from the sound, right into the mouths of the hunting lions. The devil is an old, toothless lion trying to convince us to run into the danger. He cannot harm us. He can only convince us to harm ourselves. Thus as Luther says: “One little word can fell him.” That word is “liar”. When we confront Satan with that word, we see him for what he really is - crushed and defeated by Christ. Satan lies because that’s all he has left. But even this is built upon the work of Christ. In calling Satan a liar we are not fighting Satan. We are simply calling up the reality of what Christ has done to him on our behalf.

It is popular today for people to think of themselves as fighting Satan. But we cannot fight him. We have no power to defeat Satan. But Christ reduces Satan to a toothless lion who has no power left but deception. This is the victory that Christ wins for us. That battle begins when Christ steps on the field to face Satan in the wilderness. It would culminate on the cross when Christ says, “It is finished.”

Sermon for February 17, 2010

January 17, 2010
Ash Wednesday
Text: Psalm 51:1-3,10-12

Dear Friends in Christ,
The Psalms are used in services. Many of us are very familiar with certain psalms. But how often do we really ponder them. The Psalms are the hymnal of the Old Testament. They range from couple verses in length to hundreds of verses. It is said that there is a psalm for every occasion, every mood, every need. So this year in Lent we are going to take a closer look at several of the Psalms. We will begin with selected verses of Psalm 51. Two of the sermons in our series will be drawn from this Psalm.

Psalm 51 was written by King David. It is a penitential psalm written after the Prophet Nathan had confronted David with his sins of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. This psalm is quoted extensively in the liturgy, particularly in Matins and Vespers. But it is also the basis for the post sermon canticle in the old Lutheran Common Service, which we still use in some of our congregations.

We start with these words: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love.” This is obviously a plea for mercy from God. Why? Because I’m a great guy and I deserve a break? No. The only break we deserve is the kind the mafia gives.
David here makes no claim that we deserve anything. God’s mercy is not connected to anything in us. What is it connected to? To God’s steadfast love. In other words, God’s mercy is connected to God. That is a key to the Christian faith. God’s mercy is about God. God shows us mercy not because of us, but in spite of us. God shows us mercy because of God. David here pleads for God’s mercy, knowing that he has it, because that is who God is.

David understood both God’s mercy and God’s wrath. David and Bathsheba had a son from their adulterous relationship who became ill. David put on sackcloth and ashes and laid prostrate on the ground in prayer. He begged that God would relent and not take the life of the child. The child died. This was a punishment that God exacted against David for his sin. Yet, in spite of this chastisement, David understood that God, in Christ, does have mercy and compassion upon His people. David understood that this was an earthly punishment that would have no bearing in heaven. God does not wink at sin. It is a very serious business. David’s fornication, adultery, and murder would have dire, ongoing, consequences for him. But, they were earthly consequences. God punished David, but also forgave him. David understood this.

David goes on to ask God to blot out his transgressions, to wash him and cleanse him. Why does David do this? Because David cannot wash himself - at least not in terms of sin. We are like an invalid person who must be cleaned in the same manner as an infant. We sin much and we sin daily. But we cannot get rid of it. And our sin stinks to high heaven - just like proverbial dead skunk sitting in the middle of the road. David understood just how serious sin is. But again in asking God to wash us, David is not begging an indifferent lord. He is asking this of the Lord God who has promised to cleanse us whiter than snow. So we are beggars before God. We bring nothing good, nothing of value to the table. We come soiled with our sins. And what does God do. He washes and cleanses us. He makes us whiter than snow. He makes a sweet smelling fragrance before Him. David understand this. He is begging God to do what God has promised to do, what is a reflection of His very nature.

David knows his sins. This is the thing that every Christian struggles with. In fact if we saw all our sins, we would go nuts. The fact we don’t see all our sins, is a gift of God’s grace. But we must see enough of them. Nor is it enough to say that we are sinners. We ought to look at the commandments and see the specific sins we have committed. We will never see them all, but it is important that see some of them, so that we understand our need for a savior. In fact maturity of faith is found in the recognition of our sins. As we become more mature in our faith, we will more fully see our sins.

David begs God to create in him a new heart and not withhold the Holy Spirit from him. David understands that faith is a creation of the Holy Spirit. He also understands that God’s grace is like a passing shower. At some point, if people continue to abide in their sins, God will give people over to their sins and they will be lost. This is a terrible fate. It reminds us of our need to fear God. And so David begs that the Holy Spirit would remain with us and that He would continue to create faith in our hearts, so that we can trust the promises of God.

In these verses of Psalm 51David says some very profound things. But he speaks as a believer that understands that God needs to recreate in the forgiveness of our sins. That indeed is our prayer for each one of us today - that God would indeed create is a new heart and a willing spirit. We pray that God would give us His heart and mind so that we might indeed see as He does. We know that such a heart can only come from the forgiveness of our sins.

Sermon for February 13, 2010

The Sunday of the Transfiguration
February 13, 2010
Text: Luke 9:28-36

Dear Friends in Christ,
It is a frequently heard statement: “I’m leaving.” During World War II, many men and women said that they were leaving and going to war. This is the basis for the Roger Whitaker song “Durham Town.” His father left their home in Durham Town, Kenya, then a British colony, to fight for the British. Many children tell their parents that they are leaving to go to college or to pursue employment. In the area where I grew up, there is virtually no one left between 50 and 60 years of age. They all moved away in the late 1970's to find work. People leave for many reasons. Some good and some bad. In the past, when someone left home, they often would never return. A young sailor, in trouble with the law, named John Paul left his home in Scotland and came to Virginia. There under the name John Jones, he carved out a new life, and a legend as the American naval hero, John Paul Jones. But he would never return to his native Scotland. After World War II, large numbers of European Jews left their homes to carve out a new home, a new dream, in a new nation called Israel. Often, leaving is a permanent thing.

Christ was leaving. He was about to have His “Exodus.” This is the word the Greek text uses. Christ was about to have His Exodus in Jerusalem. The word is deliberate. It is intended to connect Jesus leaving to the Israelites leaving Egypt. Jesus about to leave. He was discussing this plan with the prophets Moses and Elijah. These are the two greatest prophets of the Old Testament - Moses who spoke with God face to face and Elijah who slaughtered four hundred prophets of Baal after calling fire from heaven. These two men were summoned back to earth to speak with Christ about His Exodus from the earth. What were they saying about Christ leaving? I don’t know. All I know is the subject. For all I know, Moses and Elijah could have been telling Christ that they would have a cold one waiting for Him in heaven. If it was important that we know exactly what was said in their conversation, it would have been recorded.

Christ’s glory was tied up in His mission. He was not here to perform miracles. He did perform miracles to show the world who He is. You know, if someone can command the fish to fill a net, the wind and the waves to stop, feed five thousand people from seven loaves and two fish, turn water into wine, it sort of gets your attention. Christ here reveals His full glory to the disciples because now He is going to set His face toward Jerusalem. He would exit from Jerusalem. And in Christ’s exodus, His glory would be fully revealed. But here is where many people start getting puzzled. What do you mean, reveal His glory in Jerusalem? He died in Jerusalem. Exactly. Christ’s glory is most fully revealed in the cross. The symbol of the Christian faith is the cross of Christ. Why? Because this is where God revealed Himself to us. The cross, more than the Mount of Transfiguration, is where we see our God. And what do we see? We see a naked man, beaten, bloodied, nearly torn apart, humiliated, mocked and finally, after His death, also pierced. Christ on the cross is an ugly thing. Yet, this where Christ began His exodus. This is where He fulfilled His mission. This ugliness is what Christ wants us to gaze upon. For the glory of God is not found in His raw power, or in His mystery. The glory of God is to be found in the Sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God for the sin of the world.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Christ appears in His glory because this the beginning of the end. From there, Luke tells us a few verses after out text, He turned His face toward Jerusalem. His glory is revealed here to say to us, look out, the fire works are about to begin. Many people are really like the disciples, they want to dwell on the Mount of Transfiguration but they don’t want what comes next. They want the glory but not the gory. If we reinvent Christ in the way we want Him to be, we lose the most important thing. For in the death and resurrection of Christ, we have victory over sin and death. The Mount of Transfiguration does not save us. Mount Calvary does. This is why the fullest revelation of Christ’s glory is upon the cross. God’s glory is His service and sacrifice for man. This is why we must not dwell upon the Mount of Transfiguration. It is simply a sign to point us forward to the real thing.

To the world, the cross is a scandal. Why should God suffer and die? This simply cannot be true, the world would tell us. Have you ever wondered if there might not have been something deeper happening in the opposition to the movie The Passion. Of course there is. The world likes wise men and profound teachers. It does not like God intruding into our world. It cannot stand the thought of God actually doing something for us, like paying for our sins. The world, when confronted by the cross will do anything to ridicule it, to make it irrelevant, or to destroy it. The world doesn’t want to see an ugly, bloodied, suffering Christ because then it must ask who is responsible. The answer is that all humanity is equally responsible. In The Passion Mel Gibson had his own hand hold the nail as it is pounded into the hand of Christ. Why? Because, as he explained, Mel Gibson is responsible for the death of Christ. Indeed it is so, just as Jody Walter is responsible for the death of Christ. Just as each human being is responsible for the death of Christ. If we confront the cross, then we must say; “It is I, Lord.” The Jews don’t want to admit this, because they believe that they earn a place before God by fulfilling the law. The world doesn’t admit this because it doesn’t see the need for a savior from sin. Many, so called Christians, don’t want to admit this because the Mount of Transfiguration is a lot more fun than Mount Calvary. But we must leave the Mount of Transfiguration, turn our face toward Jerusalem and move with Christ to His cross. For only there is payment made for my sins and your sins. Only there does Christ complete His work and begin His Exodus.

It should be noted, that though Christ exits this world, He never does really leave it. In fact He is in truth more profoundly present on earth today than when He was preaching in Galilee. Christ’s words at the end of Matthew teach us this: “Lo, I Am with you always, even until the end of the age.” Christ left to be present. That does not make sense in human terms, but for Christ, it is so. He completed His Exodus from this world to be fully present in this world.

Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration gives to us a glimpse of the heavenly reality hidden within this Man. It is beautiful thing to behold. Like the disciples we are tempted to want to stay there forever. But the real glory is at hand. For at this time, Christ set His face toward Jerusalem and the fulfillment of His mission - to die on the cross for the sin of the world. Mount Calvary is the greater revelation of God’s glory. For there we see the perfect Lamb of God offered up for our sin. There, in Christ’s death, we see our life. That is glorious indeed. That is where Christ intends us to be focused - upon the cross, the true glory of God. Amen!