Sermons

Archives - March 2019

That's Not Fair!

March 31, 2019
By Rev. David French

The Prodigal Son is one of the few parables easily understood by everyone who hears it, or is it? I mean, what if you’ve got the perspective or the casting all wrong? What if you thought, for example, that Jesus was speaking to the tax collectors and sinners who were drawing near to Him instead of the scribes and Pharisees who were grumbling against Him? That’s a big change of perspective, to be sure, but still no need to change our self-identification with the prodigal son. After all, we can all relate to his time of sinful exploits and wayward days. We’ve all been there and done that, to one degree or another. Besides, we can’t really be the scribes and the Pharisees because we, male or female, through our baptisms, have been mercifully and graciously restored to sonship just like the prodigal son. We might be tempted to think this story is about us, not to us! But, you know you’ve seen the older brother in yourself a time or two as well. So, how well do we really know this parable?

We all know how the Father behaved when His wayward son returned home. Dad runs out to meet him and embraces his wayward child treating him like royalty. He gives him the finest robe to wear. He puts a ring on his finger. He kills the fatted calf and throws a huge party. And all this because of love, or as we read, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

For the older brother, that was the last straw. You see, in that culture the fatted calf was only butchered for one of two reasons: 1) The king was coming to visit, or 2) The eldest son was getting married. No doubt he’s confused because he would have known if the king was coming, and he knows he’s not getting married. Then he gets the “good news.” “Your brother has returned home, and your Father has killed the fatted calf to celebrate, for he has been received back home safe and sound.”

So, the older son lets dad have it with both barrels. “Look at all that I’ve done for you over all these years. Look at how good I’ve been. I’ve never disobeyed you, and yet you’ve never even given me even a little goat so that my friends and I could celebrate. I mean, this son of yours comes home after wasting all your hard-earned money on prostitutes and you treat him like royalty!”

And there it is, the heart of his complaint: Dad, that’s not fair! I do this, that, and the other thing, and I don’t get the honor I think I deserve, and then you throw a party for one who certainly doesn’t deserve it! You honor the dishonorable! You treat the disgraceful like royalty!”

That’s why Jesus taught this parable specifically to the scribes and Pharisees. They, like the older brother, didn’t get it. They didn’t understand the Father’s mercy and love brought about by repentance and faith in God’s Promise. These teachers and experts in the Law, they talked a good game and put on a good show, but when it came down to it, their lives showed that they believed their works and their personal righteousness made them more deserving, more entitled to God’s gifts than others.

My friends, We’ve all been there—every one of us. We’ve all looked down our noses at those who don’t measure up to our standards, who don’t in our minds shine as brightly as we do. We’ve all had the thought, “I do more whatever than whoever.” We’ve all had the thought that God is surly more pleased with the doers than the don’t doers!” And while not always, that thought happens most when difficult moments come into our lives.

Now, of course we all know that works count for nothing. God provides you daily bread, not based on a system of merits for deeds, but based solely on His divine Fatherly goodness and love. And certainly, more important than daily bread and the needs of our earthly life, your salvation is not based on your deeds or misdeeds. You are saved by God’s grace alone; grace which He freely lavishes upon you, not because you deserve it or have earned it, but because of the all-atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Father’s only begotten Son. This gift of grace and eternal life isn’t just offered to us, but to all who are turned and hold in faith to Christ and His all-redeeming death and resurrection alone.

Again, we all know all this, and yet we sometimes seem to forget it. That’s why this parable is for us, not because we need reminding of our sinful prodigal ways, but because we need reminding of our sinful pride, our feeling entitled just like the elderly brother when he showed his Pharisaical ways as well. We all need to be reminded that God so loved the whole world that He gave His only begotten Son to die for the sins of all who fill it.

Now, I know that there are many other lessons we could glean from this parable. And, I hate to say it, but that is a “problem” with this parable. There are just so many directions you can go. I know that some of you have prodigal loved ones in your life. We all have those people who have wandered from the Church and not yet found their way back. Whether it’s out of prodigal foolishness or angry pride, or whether they feel that coming to church is just a low priority, it hurts, no matter what the reason. So often we look to a lesson like this for an answer to the question, “How do I get the wayward one in my life to turn around and come home?” And as much as I don’t like letting you down, there’s nothing you can do. You can pray and watch and patiently wait. In fact, I encourage you to do so. While God can turn them, even He won’t make them turn. The truth is, as long as life is going according to their plan, they won’t recognize their prodigal ways and will remain away.

As a pastor, I can tell you that little brings me more sorrow than having to sit back and watch as people I love behave like prodigal sons. But the other side of that coin is true as well, little brings me more joy than when I have a chance to speak the life-giving words of absolution to one who has returned after realizing the reality of their sin.

That’s really the reason for our gathering today. It’s a heavenly feast for prodigal sons, and I’m right here with you. That’s the point. Rather than point you to impossible things that you can’t do or promises you can’t keep, I simply point you to the feast in your midst. I point you to the reason to celebrate and give thanks to God. His Word is proclaimed; His sacraments administered. Our God and Lord comes to us at the font and feeds us at His table. So, you freely confess your sins knowing there is a greater truth. In Jesus, The debt of sin has been paid in full and you are forgiven.

On the altar of the cross, better than any fattened calf, the Lamb of God has been slain for the life of the world. He is the One who was raised on the third day and now lives and reigns for all eternity. Each time we gather at His table, we feast with this King of Kings as His baptized and restored children, confident of His Father’s love for us all.

In His Name, Amen

A God Exposed

March 27, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

How things have changed. Naked once meant “innocent, selfless, and perfect.” The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed, Moses records at the end of Genesis 2. Different from guilt, shame includes an unhealthy preoccupation with oneself. That Adam and his wife were unashamed though they were naked makes sense because they didn’t have that level of self-awareness that comes from sinful, selfish navel-gazing. But then, as soon as they sinned, their eyes were opened to a new reality. Sure, they knew good and evil, knowledge their Creator had withheld purely for their good. But now … they see that they are naked. Exposed. Vulnerable. And now, when their eyes incline toward themselves for the first time, they are ashamed. “Look at me,” Adam thinks. “Look at me,” his wife muses. But each is too preoccupied with him- or herself to notice the nakedness of the other. Sin does exactly that; it curves our gaze inward upon ourselves.

What could they do? Hide themselves, they hoped. Fig leaves hastily stitched together before their flight into the garden away from their Creator—that was their choice of garb. But fig leaves cannot hide sin. They cannot hide guilt. So, after God exposes the pair in their ashamed hiding, elicits their acknowledgment of sin (though not the confession or repentance thereof), and doles out the curses to the two and the serpent, He then upgrades their wardrobes from bloodless fig leaves … to garments made from skin. And so they learn quickly that God was not wrong in threatening death at the moment that they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But He mercifully stayed their executions by shedding the blood of whatever innocent animal He took the skin from to cover the sin and shame of the man and woman. Their nakedness would be covered at the cost of an even deeper nakedness, for what could be more exposed than an animal stripped of its skin? And so the first death, the first bloodshed, happened at the hands of the Creator Himself, to grant to these rebels the luxury of hiding their shame behind the innocence of another creature.

Though you’re not wont to admit it, this is the true nature of sin. You want to hide it behind pious-seeming fig leaves, but these won’t do. No matter what you do to delete your browsing history, you can’t hide your shame or obscure your guilt from the eyes of an all-knowing God. No matter how you try to couch your gossip in thinly veiled requests to “pray for her,” those words remain reputation-damaging slander against your neighbor and render you guilty before a Holy God. Even if you call it “just getting what’s rightfully yours,” it’s still greed. Excuses why you can’t make it to the week-after-week Sunday morning Divine Service don’t allow you to receive the gifts that God delivers there. And they can’t hide your sin. That everyone else does it is a flimsy fig leaf. Repent of these and all other fig-leaf attempts to hide your sin and trick yourself into thinking you’re blameless. Sin can only be covered with skin.

No one knows what that animal was in the garden from which the Creator peeled its innocent hide in order to hide the exposed and vulnerable parts of Adam and his wife. But, given the way in which immature ovine offspring are often selected to be sacrifices on Passover, in the tabernacle, in the temple, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that the first animal to die, flayed to stave off death for mankind, was a lamb.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, John the Baptist declares of Jesus. Behold, the fulfillment of every lamb with its throat slit to render it a sacrifice in the temple. Behold, the fulfillment of every Passover lamb roasted and completely consumed the night before God brought His people out of slavery. Behold, the Lamb who is not actually a lamb but a man. Behold God with skin.

Behold the Man scourged by the Roman soldiers with their evil flagrum, designed to shred the skin from the back of the whipped one, tearing away flesh so deep that the internal organs are nearly exposed. Behold the man on whose head the soldiers pressed the crown woven of thorns to ridicule Him as a madman with His belief in being King. Behold the Man on whom they drape a soldier’s dirty purple robe to intensify the jest. Behold the Man whom Pilate brought forth to say, “This is no king!” Here is God, with skin, clothed in the mockery of sinful men.

Behold the Man who, when He was nailed to the cross, was stripped naked; yes, contrary to pious paintings and portrayals, the Man was naked on the cross. Behold the Man whose clothes the soldiers divided amongst themselves. Behold the Man for whose seamless tunic the godless gambled. Behold the Man, God with skin, whose skin is shamefully exposed for all passersby to mock. Behold the naked God.

Behold the Man who will bear your sin and shame. Behold the Man who will suffer in your place. Behold the Man whose nakedness answers for Adam’s. Behold the Man … naked and unashamed, with nothing to hide, with no sin of His own to garb in raiment and rationalization. Behold the Man stripped bare … to bear your sins. All of them. The ones you try to hide and obscure, the ones you pretend are not there, the ones that cause you the greatest shame. All of them hang there on the cross with this Man, this God, Jesus, naked and flayed and dying … for you.

Behold the Man, stripped naked so He might clothe you in new skin. Behold the Man who will hide your sin with His own righteousness. Behold the Man who gives you Himself to wear. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Behold the Man in whose washing of Holy Baptism you are clothed in the incomparable perfection of His own righteousness. Wear His raiment. Wear Him. Your sin is gone, your shame removed, your guilt dissipated. Behold the Man who covers your sin with His own skin.

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

There, But For the Grace of God

March 24, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel text, specifically where Luke records Jesus’s words, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? … Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Skinned knees. Broken toys. Annoying traffic. Busted appliances. Budgetary battles. Loss of income. Disintegrating friendships. Broken marriages. Cancer diagnoses. Unexpected deaths. Unpleasant circumstances vex us all to one degree or another; it seems to be universal to the human condition. Just a brief perusal of the news networks (whichever one you prefer) reveals some of the devastating happenstances that befall humanity on a daily basis: a massacre in Christchurch, where 50 are slaughtered in cold blood. Unprecedented flooding in the Midwest, causing death and devastation. Violent protests in Venezuela, where the government refuses to hear the cries of their suffering and starving people. And in all these situations, these stories that flood into our homes through the television screen, there is often a question that creeps into our minds: “Who screwed this up? Who’s to blame here? Whose sin has brought God’s judgment upon these victims?”

As uncomfortable as it may be to hear that question verbalized, you know in your heart of hearts that this is something you’ve thought before. I know I have. Maybe you’ll recognize this question if it has a different victim: you. When something unfortunate happens to you for no apparent reason, you likely ask yourself, “What did I do to deserve this?”

This is precisely the mindset that Jesus is countering in our Gospel lesson. At some point as He is going about teaching, some people around Him ask for His thoughts regarding this handful of Galileans whom Pilate had put to death. Adding insult to injury, these people were killed as they were offering their sacrifices to God in the temple, thus mingling their own blood with that of their sacrifices. Certainly they didn’t deserve to die, especially in such a horrific and bitter way! So, what’s the deal, Jesus? Why did this horrific tragedy befall them? What sin did they commit to merit such a horrible end? Jesus doesn’t give this nonsense any credence. Instead, He replies, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

With such a powerful rebuke, He could have stopped there, but Jesus provides yet another, more daunting example: the tower of Siloam that fell upon and killed 18 unfortunates. What did they do to deserve such an end? Whose sin caused the stone to slip, the wind to blow, the tower to topple? Jesus deftly puts us in our proper place, as He tells those gathered around Him, “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Why did these people have to die? What did they do to deserve such horrific ends? For that matter, why did nearly 3,000 American citizens meet their Maker on September 11, 2001? Why did all those Christians in Africa and elsewhere in the world taste the bitterness of death at the hands of extremists this past week? Why do the people in North Korea languish under an oppressive tyrant, who throws Christians into concentration camps the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Holocaust? Why do bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it? … That’s not the right question to ask here.

Consider the words that we speak on a weekly basis: O Almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities, with which I have ever offended You, and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. Frankly, as hard as it may be to hear, this is what we deserve. It doesn’t matter the sin – whether you’re an adulterer, a mass murderer, a gossip, a coveter, or a liar, we all deserve every unpleasantry up to and including death. We deserve it, because we are sinners. Not because of any individual sin that we’ve committed, but because we are, by nature, sinful and unclean.

The question isn’t “Why do bad things happen to good people?” There are no good people; we are, all of us, sinners deserving of whatever punishment God sees fit. No, the question isn’t “Why do bad things happen to good people?” but rather, “Given that we’re bad people, why doesn’t God strike us down right now?” Speaking for myself, I know that I deserve to die under the tower of Siloam. I deserve to die at the hands of Pilate. I deserve to die in New Zealand and Ethiopia and Egypt. I deserve the tortures that were dispensed upon the faithful by the Soviet government; I deserve the worst that the North Koreans could throw at me today. I deserve it, because I’m a sinner. And so do you. So … why hasn’t God stricken us down yet?

The answer is simple: because of His love … His mercy … His grace. You may be familiar with the saying, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” That statement is truer than we may understand. When we see hundreds of workers suddenly laid off … there, but for the grace of God, go we. In witnessing a terrible auto wreck or a house fire … there, but for the grace of God, go we. When news comes of yet another mass shooting or stabbing or vehicular homicide … there, but for the grace of God, go we. There’s no individual sin that was the cause of these terrible happenstances, and to suggest otherwise is to place a terrible and undue burden upon the afflicted. Were it not for God’s grace, His favorable disposition toward us wretched sinners, we would all endure such suffering, and then some. We would all come under the hammer of His divine justice, and rightly so. We’d be beaten into the dust, meriting any and every affliction and suffering imaginable.

But thanks be to God that, according to His grace and mercy, He laid the hammer down, not upon us who deserve it, but upon His only-begotten Son. Because Jesus was beaten into the dust of death on our behalf, we know that we no longer stand under God’s righteous judgment. Because He died the horrific death that we deserve, we know that the price for our sin has been paid. When we were sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside His crown for our souls!

See, in His own suffering, in His own horrific and undeserved death on Calvary’s cross, the only good Man dealt with the root of all our suffering! Since He has dealt with sin, putting it to death in His own flesh, He has given us the promise that we will not endure the eternal condemnation that we deserve. Instead, He has promised that we will receive the crown of life when He raises us from the dead on the Last Day! Thanks be to God that we don’t get what we deserve – His wrath. Thanks be to God that we do get what we don’t deserve: His grace, forgiveness, and love.

It’s a fruitless endeavor to try and figure out the reason behind catastrophes whenever and wherever they occur; true, sometimes we bring disaster upon ourselves, but those are the naturally occurring consequences of our actions. The natural disasters, the unanticipated diseases, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time has nothing to do with any individual sin one commits; no, it’s simply a matter of living in a world that is broken, torn apart by sin. It’s just what happens. Instead of seeking the reasons, we simply drop to our knees in thanksgiving and repentance, knowing that it is only by God’s grace that He has spared us, every moment, up to this present one, because He loves us. He desires all to be saved, and wants to give us wretched sinners every opportunity to repent, to come to the saving truth of Christ Jesus and all He has done for us. Thus, in tragedy and calamity, in disasters natural and manmade, we simply repent, beating our chests and saying, “Kyrie eleison. Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner,” knowing that He is.

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

Tags: Luke 13:1-9

A God Beaten

March 20, 2019
By Rev. David French

You need a God you can punch. You really do. You might not think so. You probably think you’re more pious than that. And it’s probably not how you usually think about God. You think you need a God who will hold your hand as He walks with you and talks with you in some surreal garden in your mind. You think you need Him to lift you onto His shoulders as you’re walking along the beach together, leaving footprints in the sand. You think you need a God who is really, really, big. But you don’t. You actually need a God whose lip you can fatten with a well-placed right cross.

This is the human predicament. Since Adam’s rebellion in the garden, since he ran and hid himself at the sound of God walking in the garden, mankind has been alienated from God. Nothing had changed in God, of course. But everything had changed in Adam and all those born in his image. Adam wanted to be his own god, and so, he turned away from his Creator and the source of his life. You see only a dying Adam would flee from a perfect and Holy Creator.

Since that time, rebellion has been fallen man’s dilemma. Enmity with a holy God is all that sinners have. Sinners hate God. He is holy and they are not. His Law is an offense to their do-it-yourself divinity schemes. God calls His people to be holy just as He is holy. Jesus demanded perfect righteousness, just as the heavenly Father is righteous. No matter what you score on the self- righteousness assessment you take of yourself every morning, you simply are not only not as good as you think you are, you and I and all who are born of sin are simply not good.

The Law is absolute. The Commandments allow no wiggle room, not for a moment and not from the least part of the Law. The result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience was they were banished from the garden, alienated from God, and on their own.

No wonder people prefer a god of their own creation to the Holy God of Scripture, who demands that your holiness perfectly match His. We rather have a god whose son is a good-teacher, or a life-coach, or a model-CEO, or a moral-example, or a nice-guy, or a guru, he would be a perfect fit for your sinful nature. I mean that, let’s call him “Jesus”, wouldn’t have gotten struck in the face, verbally abused, crowned with thorns, whipped, beaten to a pulp, nailed to a cross, or killed. That “Jesus” would have found a god pleasing (that’s with a lower-case g) a god pleasing way to bring everyone together and guide them in working out their differences.

But that god can’t save you. He’s fake, a figment of your imagination. Adam didn’t need a god who encourages him to do better next time. He had eaten. He had disobeyed, rebelled. He is a sinner. And now he needs a God who can plead his case, who will take up his cause, who will bear his flesh and do in his place what he failed to do. He needs a holy God who will offer His holiness as a gift. He needs a God with human flesh who keeps the Law perfectly. He needs a God with a face that can be punched.

Unless He can bear your hatred, God can’t save you. Unless He can receive your blows, God can’t bear your sins. So behold God has become man. Jesus is the God you can punch and He has drawn near, not in wrath, but in mercy.

Behold the man who has come to seek fallen humanity. In Jesus, God walks in the midst of His creation again. And His desire is to draw all men out of their hiding, out of their sin and their shame and unto Himself. Behold, in Jesus God and man are one!

Now the Creator’s question: “Where are you, Adam?” has become “Why do you strike Me?” When asked about His teaching, Jesus answers, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.” And in response Annas commands one of the officers to strike Him in the face. Behold, this is your God and He has a face that can be struck, a back that can be scourged, and hands that can be tied as He is sent to Caiaphas.

Behold the God who allow Himself to be struck by the sinners He seeks to redeem. Behold the servant who will suffer in your place. Behold the One despised and rejected by men, the One who no one esteemed. Behold Him pierced for your transgressions, crushed for your iniquities.

Behold the man upon whom is the chastisement, the punishment that has brought you peace. Behold the wounds by which you are healed. Behold, this is the One who has borne your griefs and carried your sorrows. Behold the man who in your place was stricken, smitten and afflicted by His heavenly Father.

In His flesh, Jesus bears all of mankind’s sinful, rebellious hatred of God. He receives the blows the lashes, the mocking, the being forsaken by God that you and I deserve. All this He gladly suffers for you and for all.

You see His holiness is a gift He gives, not to those who deserve it, but to those who least deserve it. He has borne all of man’s hatred of God, and all the Father’s punishment for man’s rebellion, and He has answered for them with His face, His back, His life.

The solution to your hatred of God, to your desire to punch Him in the face, is not to clench your fists, bite your tongue, and hide what is inside of you. The solution is to confess, to speak in unison with the Law what you know to be true. Your flesh is sinful. It does not desire God. And then, even though you also would have raised a hand against Him, Jesus sends His under-shepherds, His pastors, those men called to pronounce His word of Absolution.

That is as you confess your sin, the pastor raises a hand, not to strike, but to comfort you as He pronounces the verdict of Easter morning: In the stead and by the command of the God-man who bore all your sins, I forgive you in the name of the Father an of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus turns the other cheek. God turns from wrath to mercy. Behold the man who would rather endure shameful abuse at the hands of sinners than allow sinners to have to answer for their own sins. Baptized into Him, you are made holy and whole through His gift of grace, a gift motivated by love, paid for with the blood of His Son, and freely offered to you again this day.

                                                      In His Name, Amen.

Priceless

March 17, 2019
By Rev. David French

Last week’s Gospel reading talked about how Jesus knew, from the beginning of His ministry, that His path led to Jerusalem.  It also revealed satan’s effort to tempt Jesus away from that path.  In today’s Gospel, some Pharisees come to Jesus and warn Him that Herod wants to kill Him.  Is it possible that satan used these Pharisees to tempt Jesus away from His path to the cross in Jerusalem?

Obviously, we can’t know what was in the hearts of these Pharisees.  They seem to have good intentions toward Jesus.  Is it possible that these Pharisees have a genuine desire to help Jesus, or is it just as possible that these Pharisees simply want Jesus to avoid their territory and they are using the Herod story as a convenient excuse to any trouble with Jesus coming to Jerusalem?  Both are possible.  We just don’t know.

What we do know is that whether the Pharisees had good or bad intentions, they were urging Jesus to abandon His mission.  Whether their intentions were good or ill, they were agents of temptation - temptation to abandon the way that led to the cross and to our salvation.

Jesus responds to these Pharisees in a way that made it clear that He was on a schedule; that He had an appointment with the cross and He would not miss that appointment.  Jesus would take time out from His travels to preach and teach, but at the end of each day, He would be a little bit closer to Jerusalem - a little bit closer to (offering Himself as payment for our sin) the cross.

We see that Jesus knew that Herod wouldn’t kill Him.  He knew that because of His office as prophet.  Not that as a prophet He knew the method and time of his death, but as He says, “no prophet can die outside Jerusalem.”  How strange that a city whose very name, Jerusalem, means “city of peace” would be known as the place where prophets die. 

Jesus expressed His great sorrow over the rebellious nature of His people saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”  Over and over and over again, God the Father had sent His messengers to Jerusalem only to have them die at the hands of the very people they were trying to save. 

Today’s Old Testament reading gives a good example of this violence toward the prophets in the ministry of Jeremiah.  He brought a word of law that they might repent, and they refused to believe that Jeremiah’s message was from God simply because it was something that they did not want to hear … again.

Do you really think people have changed over the centuries?  If I were to ask any one of you about the value of the forgiveness of sins, you would without hesitation tell me that it is priceless.  It’s worth infinitely more than any amount of wealth this world could ever produce.  It’s worth the life and death of God’s only begotten Son.  And that’s good, we know the right words, but do we really believe them?

The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write these words to the congregations in Rome: “[All] are justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24-24).  Then a little later, Paul writes: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).  So, God reveals through St. Paul that we are made one with Him by faith, and that faith comes by hearing the word of God.

If we all really believed that, I would expect our worship, Bible studies, and Sunday school attendance to be standing room only.  I’d expect people to be saying things like, “Pastor, we need more of the Word of God than just the little bit available on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings, or Monday and Thursday evenings, which we currently have.  I would expect people to wear me out asking for more time to gather together around the word of God.

But that hasn’t happened.  Think about it.  We all agree that forgiveness is priceless, that we receive forgiveness by faith, and that the Holy Spirit has promised to work faith in our hearts as we hear the word of God. Yet, there is room for more members in every class we offer.  I’m not saying you aren’t in God’s word at home on your own.  I know many of you are.  But still, you’d have to agree, there’s room for improvement.

Sadly, it’s in our nature to reject God.  It’s a result of Adam and Eve’s original sin, the sin that as the catechism teaches: “has left everyone without true fear and love of God, that is spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God.”  That’s the truth. We are all born into this world as enemies of God, hating His gifts.  That’s why the people of ancient Jerusalem killed the prophets and stoned those whom God sent to them.  That’s also the reason many members find it hard to get up to come church on any given Sunday morning.  That’s the reason we sometimes skip church and do some work around the house.  It’s the reason we all treat the priceless treasures of God like worthless pieces of junk.

Fortunately, God loved us even while we hated Him.  Remember, God so loved the world He sent His Son to save us.  Today’s lesson happened while Jesus was on His way to bring to completion God’s plan for our salvation.  He was reinforcing the blessing of the cross one last time as He made His way to Jerusalem where He would freely offer Himself as the payment for sin. 

That journey, however, does not end at the gates of Jerusalem.  Jesus would soon be arrested and put on trial.  He’ll carry our sins to the cross of Calvary, and with His blood He will bring to completion God’s plan of salvation for all mankind.

Jerusalem is also the location of the empty tomb.  It’s the place where Jesus’s friends laid His body after His death.  It’s the place where the angels proclaimed, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5)  Jerusalem is the place of Christ’s resurrection from the dead where He proves His gift of forgiveness and promise of eternal life are real and true.

To be sure, there are times that many of us have felt like joining Jesus in lamenting His children’s refusal to be gathered.  I mean, it’s easy to be discouraged by attendance at Divine Service, or Bible class or Sunday school, at what seems like a general apathy towards God’s Word.  And, it’s tempting to ask, “Don’t you understand the priceless nature of God's gifts?  Don’t you understand that God wants us to gather together for your protection?”

My friends, when we have these feelings, we need to stop and remember that we don’t make Christians.  That is the work of God the Holy Spirit alone.  What God does ask of His church is that we remain faithful to His Word, that we proclaim the forgiveness of sins and administer the sacraments according to His command, and that we go into the world teaching all the things that Jesus has taught us.  Why?  Because it’s through these Means of Grace that we both learn of and receive or nurture God’s gift of faith in the forgiveness of sins that was earned by Christ and is freely offered to you because of the love our God has for all.

In His Name, Amen.

A God Who Prays

March 13, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

That must’ve been a sight. I wonder if the Israelites in the wilderness protested at the elaborate details and the exorbitant expense of making such vestments for Aaron. Did they have to scuttle the plans until the voters could approve of the design and the expense? Did they put it out for bids to see if someone had a source of pure gold or blue dye that they might come in under budget and put the rest in an LCEF CD? “I don’t know why one priest needs to be dressed in something way more elaborate and costly than anything we buy or make for ourselves. Does Aaron think he’s better than we are?” “When my grandkids became priests in Egypt, they had to save up all their own money to purchase vestments; no congregation was buying those for them!” “I don’t see why we have to use all this gold; tin would look almost as nice for a tenth of the price!”

Nevertheless, when God commanded what sort of frock Aaron was to be dressed in as he was consecrated as the high priest, His orders were strangely particular. First the ephod, made of gold, with two gold shoulder pieces, each with an engraved onyx stone with six names of the sons of Israel on it, joined together with blue and scarlet yarns and fine linen. Second the breastpiece, matching the ephod, of gold, with blue and scarlet yarns and fine linens, with twelve different stones—most of which we just guess at when translating—set in gold settings, and two gold rings to attach it to the ephod. Then, the robe, all blue, with blue and purple and scarlet pomegranates on the hem, interspersed with golden bells. Next, the engraved gold plate attached with a blue cord to the front of Aaron’s turban. Finally, a cloak, the turban, and a sash of fine needlework. All these Aaron is to wear so that when he presides as high priest, he does not die. Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be Israelite high priests.

It’s hard to parse out the spiritual meaning of such apparel. Clothing is unavoidably physical. And yet, despite the beauty of those vestments, no matter how real the priesthood of Aaron and his sons, as well as the Levites, they were merely shadows of something more real, of a more permanent priesthood, of a High Priest whose service endures eternally. Aaron’s vestments, like a pastor’s vestments, are a sign of the beauty of the office he occupies, an office that does not truly belong to him, the one who merely stands in between God and His people. The vestments signify neither Aaron nor the pastor, but Christ. The office is beautiful because of Christ, no matter the grotesquerie and indecorousness of the men in the office.

Aaron is no longer the one to intercede between God and men. Nor am I. But behold the man! There is One to intercede, One who is a Priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek, the priestly King of righteousness. Behold the man who, though also God, intercedes for men before God. Behold – God who has become man and who, as a man, intercedes, prays for, us men.

Who wants an intercessor, a priest, a go-between, though? A go-between implies you are insufficient for the task of getting yourself to God. An intercessor implies that you cannot climb the ladder of heaven to plead your own case. That Jesus takes on human flesh to be an eternal Priest between men and God implies that you, on your own, are not good enough. You need someone else to take up your case.

Well, behold the man! Because, if you’re honest with yourself, you know that you’re not. Who seeks God as he ought to? Whose thoughts are undistracted in prayer? Whose contempt for (okay, call it hatred of) his brother does not interfere with the orientation of his prayer? Who loves God perfectly enough to be able to approach Him in prayer? Who keeps the Sabbath perfectly, hears the Word of God gladly and regularly? Who uses the name of God correctly, never letting slip an “Oh, my God” when things don’t go according to plan, and calls upon it regularly, as the catechism prescribes for prayer? Who? No one, least of all you. You are not good enough. I am not good enough, and we never will be. You are a sorry excuse for your own priest. So behold the man!

Jesus is the perfect High Priest. Sinful mankind cannot approach a holy God. We need someone to take our place, to plead our case. Behold the man! Jesus has taken your flesh. He will take up your cause before His heavenly Father. Behold the man! In Jesus, God has a voice that He can raise before the Father. He has hands He can fold in prayer. He has a head He can bow correctly and reverently. Behold the man who prays perfectly, and does so for you, for me. Behold the High Priest whose office, whose role, is to pray for you—for you, beloved. Behold the man who prays for you without ceasing.

Jesus has hands to raise in prayer, pierced though they be. He has eyes so that He can lift them up. He has lips that can shape syllables. He has vocal cords that can craft syllables His Father will hear. He is man so that He can intercede for men. And for what does He pray? For His disciples. For His Church. For you. Because sinners cannot approach a holy God, Jesus intercedes. Because rebellious man’s petitions will fall on deaf ears, the only obedient Son of God has taken flesh in order to pray for you, to give voice to your prayers, to pray for you.

Since you cannot keep yourself from sin, from idolatry, from rebellion, Jesus prays that the Father would keep you: that He would keep you in His name, which was put upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism; that He would keep you from the evil one, which we ask in the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus, as perfect God and man in one person prays for you. Behold the man who prays for you constantly before His heavenly Father.

So, in Jesus, who prays for you without end, you are no longer rebels against your heavenly Father. No longer sinful aliens. No longer unable to bend the Father’s ear with your petitions. You are in Jesus, and Jesus prays perfectly. Not because you pray regularly or correctly, but because you are in Jesus, your prayers are perfect. Because Jesus lifts up His pierced hands perfectly in prayer, so do you. Because Jesus lifts up His eyes perfectly in prayer, so do you. Because Jesus’s voice is perfectly attuned for prayer, so is yours. Because Jesus is the man who intercedes for the rest of mankind, as man, you have hope. You have a Lord who prays for you. You have a man who redeems the race of men. You have the God who became man for you. You have a Savior. You have the man on the cross. Behold the man, the Priest who bids you pray and who prays for you without ceasing.

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

Identity Theft

March 10, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation on this first weekend in the solemn season of Lent is our Gospel lesson, specifically where Luke records, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.” This quote is taken from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, a novel that’s over 125 years old at this point, and the line, spoken by one of the antagonists, the hedonistic Lord Henry, epitomizes what we usually think of as temptation. Often, we think of it as the desire to do something we know we ought not to do, usually because it is wrong or unwise or evil, but something we want to do nonetheless. Usually, we think of temptation as something we are tempted toward, an evil that our sinful flesh craves and desires. However, there is temptation of another sort: one that we see here in our Gospel text. It’s the temptation away from what is good.

In order to understand why we’re considering our text in this light, we need to look at the context of our Gospel lesson. See, immediately before out text is, surprisingly, not Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan River. Unlike Matthew and Mark, who both record Jesus’s baptism rolling right into His war in the wilderness, Luke takes a brief aside in his account right after Jesus’s baptism to introduce us to the Messiah’s heritage – going backwards. The evangelist starts with His earthly father, Joseph, and traces all the way back to the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God. And in His baptism in the Jordan, we hear the voice of God the Father booming, “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” Luke is emphasizing for us just Who Jesus is, what His identity is: the Son of God, the only One Who actually does the Father’s will perfectly. And that’s precisely what Satan wants to tempt Jesus away from. If you will, he wants to steal Jesus identity away from Him, just like he did with the first Adam.

Now, our text picks up after Luke’s genealogical aside, and he tells us that Jesus has been led out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He’s been out here for forty days, and He’s been fasting from food the entire time. Understandably, He’s hungry. And it is at this point that the devil launches his first assault.

“If you are the Son of God,” he says, “command this stone to become bread.” Food isn’t a bad thing. And You’re hungry, right? So, if You’re the Son of God, certainly the Father wouldn’t want You to be hungry, right? You’ve certainly got the right, the authority, the ability to do this. And it’s not like the Law commands fasting, so why do it in the first place? Why suffer needlessly, especially knowing the extreme suffering You could prospectively be experiencing soon? You don’t need this; just do it. Make these stones bread. Help Yourself out; You’re not doing Yourself any favors. Show us … if You really are the Son of God, as the heavenly Father has said.

Jesus isn’t taking the bait. He retorts back at the devil, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone,’” citing Deuteronomy. He turns aside this temptation by falling back upon the Word of God, the revealed will of the Father. And that’s the end of that temptation.

But the devil’s not deterred. In rather dramatic fashion, undoubtedly something incredible to behold, Luke tells us that the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to Him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If You, then, will worship me, it will all be Yours.” This is what You’re after, isn’t it, Jesus? To win all the nations to Yourself, to be the hope of the nations that the Father promised to Abraham so many years ago? Well, here they are. They are Yours for the taking. Take the easy route to redeem Your people; I know that’s what You want, right? To redeem Your people? Well, when they’re under Your authority, You can make them do whatever You want! The nations will be Yours! Make no mistake – right now, they belong to me, but I can give them to whomever I wish. And I wish to give them to You. All You gotta do… is worship me. It’s not that hard – just get down on Your knees, bow down, and give me the honor, the praise, the glory that You now give to Your Father. That’s all You gotta do, and the nations will be Yours! Think of it: no suffering, no cross, no death. It’ll all be Yours, without al that pain and sacrifice! See and worship me as God, and it’s all Yours.

Again, Jesus isn’t buying it. He simply answers, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’” There is no other god aside from YHWH, so to worship something (or someone) else as God is simply unthinkable for the Son of God. And that’s the end of that temptation.

The devil ain’t done yet, though. Luke tells us that the devil then took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “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.’” See, I know the Scriptures too, Jesus, and the Scriptures promise that it will be well with You. The Father has promised that He will protect You. If You’re the Son of God, He won’t allow You to crash into the pavement below! If You’re His Son, there’s no way He’d let that happen! But what are You here for, Jesus? Aren’t You here to attract a following, to gather disciples? What better way to gather them than with a glorious, divine display, showing us exactly Who You think You are? That’d really show us! That’d really show us exactly what the Father thinks of You, if, in fact, You are His Son!

To this final temptation, Jesus simply answers, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” It is that simple. And with that, Jesus’s identity is still intact. Unlike our first Parents, He did not fall for the devil’s deception and cunning. Thus, the devil slinks away, having lost the battle but thinking he might salvage this situation by waiting and watching until an opportune time, which will come about three years later … in that same holy city of Jerusalem.

Try as the devil might, he could not dissuade Jesus from being Who He was (and is): the Son of God. That means that He’s not going to choose a different way, an easier way to accomplish His mission. As the Son of God, He would do things according to the Father’s will ... even if the Father’s will included beatings, scourgings, mocking, spitting, bleeding, and dying. This was the reason why He was born: to open the kingdom of God to all who believe … by suffering and dying the death that we deserve. He lives out His life as the Son of God, obedient to the Father, to the point of death … even death on a cross. Unlike Adam, who sought to be like God at the behest of the devil, Jesus would not forsake His divine identity, in spite of the promptings of the devil.

Let’s face it: in considering these temptations that Jesus faced, we’re confronted with the reality that we would fail in miserable fashion at each and every one of these points. It really didn’t take much imagination for me to think of what the devil would have been thinking as he was trying to tempt Jesus. That’s because I’m a sinner, and I cave to temptation more often than I’d care to admit. And you do too. But Jesus did not. Even in His hunger, His victory against the temptations of the devil are so complete that the devil has to retreat until an opportune time. And here’s the best part: in the waters of Holy Baptism, Jesus has given you a new identity, one defined by His righteousness. In those blessed waters, as you entered into Jesus’s death along with Him, all your sin was washed away. Thanks to His obedience unto death on Calvary’s tree, you and I are declared to be righteous! That’s our identity now, even though we still sin. As sinners, we cave to temptation all too often. Thanks be to God that Jesus did not!

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

Tags: Luke 4:1-13

A God Who Hungers

March 06, 2019
By Rev. David French

“When you fast,” Jesus says, “do not be like the hypocrites.” When, not if, but when you fast. These words come from the Sermon on the Mount, and are considered by many to be some of Jesus’s good teachings. But once you read that sermon, you realize that Jesus is actually an unyielding taskmaster. Sure, the Beatitudes sound nice until He starts talking about the punishment for not doing them. Until He warns His disciples not to miss the mark by even the smallest dot.

In fact, to avoid any misunderstanding about the Law, Jesus launches into a six-fold intensification of the Law: “You have heard that it was said … but I say to you” - which leaves us somewhat surprised that anyone could be so un-loving with the Commandments. And those words lead to Jesus making it perfectly clear how well we need to obey the Commandments: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), which is followed by: “when you give to the needy … when you pray … when you fast.” Do not be like the hypocrites.

Prayer we can get behind, giving to the poor as well, at least in theory. But fasting is just odd. It seems too physical to have spiritual value. It’s too concerned with what you eat—or don’t eat—to be a real spiritual blessing. We’re a people who live in the glorious freedom of the Gospel, not tempted by the works righteous idea about fasting to earn God’s favor.

And yet, Jesus said “when you fast.” Fasting means abstaining, not just from sodas or candy for forty days, but from food altogether. That’s why fasting seems way too physical. What does bordering on starvation have to do with our spirituality or our Christian devotion?

“Behold the man!” said Pilate as soldiers trotted out before the jeering crowds a freshly flogged Jesus wearing a crown of thorns and a purple robe meant to induce pain and invite ridicule. Heeding this Word of God spoken by Pilot however is exactly what we’ll be doing throughout this year’s Lenten season.

In Jesus, God and man are one. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The One begotten of the Father from all eternity, our Savior, is the One born of the Virgin Mary. Behold the man! Just like you, He has skin and bones, blood vessels and lymph nodes, teeth and hair, heart and lungs, hands, feet, eyes, lips, tongue, and stomach. He eats, breathes, walks, talks, sleeps, prays, weeps, laughs, bleeds, dies, rises, ascends, sits, and He will one day come back to bring us to be with Him in our heavenly home. Behold the man, Jesus, your Brother.

Unlike you, however, He has no sin. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, His human nature is perfect, unspoiled by Adam’s rebellion. He was certainly tempted in every way, just as you are, yet He was without sin. His desires were never distorted into lust, greed, coveting, or idolatry. Like unblemished Adam at the close of the sixth day of creation, when God declared that all was “very good,” Jesus is as human as human can be, as human as He intends to make you and me in the Day of the resurrection of all the dead.

So why fasting? The Gospel for this coming Sunday places Jesus in the wilderness right after His Baptism, fasting for forty days, being tempted by the devil. This is not fasting the way most people think of it. This isn’t eating fish instead of meat or giving up some pet vice. For forty days, Jesus ate nothing.

But God not eating for forty days doesn’t sound like that big a deal. I mean, eating isn’t something God usually does. But, behold the man! The God who took on human flesh in the virgin’s womb is the infant at the breast of His mother filling His newborn stomach, the toddler whose parents introduced new foods to, the boy eating the Passover lamb with His extended family. The God-man who needs to eat in order to live. 

Lent, like fasting, is also oddly physical. But then, the disciplines of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are designed to guard you against the temptation of being too spiritual. The temptation is just about as old as creation itself. When satan tempted Adam and Eve with the spiritual desire to be like God, they ignored His physical prohibition against eating from that one tree in the middle of the garden. At that moment, our first parents set the pattern for the rest of us, who now, with our sinful nature, prefer the so-called spiritual over the physical when it comes to our relationship with God. But this isn’t new, once God settled the Israelites in the Promised Land, they quickly abandoned the very physical worship of Yahweh alone by means of the sacrifices offered only in the temple in Jerusalem for the more spiritual, less-precise worship of the Baals and the Asherah.

Nicodemus even cracks a joke about the insanity of true religion involving a rebirth. And the Sadducees, they concocted their ridiculous story about the woman who married one of seven brothers to prove that physical resurrection is impossible. All of that is an attempt to substitute safer, spiritual platitudes for the real physical, fleshly realities of Christianity. And it’s all sin. It all takes glory, no matter how little we may think it to be, away from Jesus and puts it on us.

Give up your self-perceived hyper-spiritual pretensions. God isn’t like that. The incarnation had been in part of His plan from before the time He spoke the first words of creation. Behold the man in whom the fullness of God dwells bodily. You, who have a body and the complete inability to use it as your Creator intended, can still have hope because Jesus fasted for you and for all.

He is the God who can eat, who needs to eat, so that He can abstain from eating, enduring the pains of hunger in order to deny His flesh what it desires – in your place. And that because you have inherited from Adam the sinful desire for the spiritual over the physical which opens the door for you to indulge the flesh with its evil desires. But God in the flesh, Jesus, is your substitute. He endured temptation and never sinned so that His spotless flesh and blood could be offered as the payment for all sin. Which means God gave His life for sinners like you and me.

So fast. Fast to discipline and chasten your flesh. Fast so that, as you learn to control your belly you will realize you can control other parts of your flesh as well … but never take your eyes off the cross. Remember that while much good can come from the discipline of fasting, our hope is still always and only in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, who fasted, prayed, and gave alms perfectly for you. Behold the man whose flesh and blood are our hope and salvation, for His flesh is real food that satisfies those who hunger and His blood is real drink that quenches the deepest thirst.

Here at His altar is the man who gives Himself for you to break your fast. Eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins, for the strengthening of your faith, and for the enabling and strengthening of your love for one another. Behold the man veiled in bread and wine who comes to bless you His precious child.

In His Name, Amen.

The View from the Top

March 03, 2019
By Rev. David French

Have you ever stood on the top of a mountain? Jan and I were on Pike’s Peak at about 14,000’ on a crystal-clear day. Not only are the sights and sounds amazing, but they seem to go on forever. There was a feeling of calm, at least for me, like I was above it all, just looking out to the horizon. It really was beautiful.

When God took Moses up on Mount Nebo, He said to him, “I have let you see it with your eyes,” and Moses was able to see more than his eyes had ever seen before because he was truly seeing what God was showing. And, make no mistake, Moses had already seen a lot. He, who was plucked out of the river and raised in the house of Pharaoh, led about two million Israelites out of Egypt. With nothing more than God’s promise, they eventually just got up and walked away from a life of captivity and slavery into a life of freedom.

While they celebrated their newfound freedom on the banks of the Red Sea with great joy, that spirit of celebration didn’t last long. They had a long hard journey in front of them, and after just three days, they started to grumble and complain. They quickly began to miss the comfort of their bondage.

There’s nothing to eat or drink. Why has the Lord brought us here? It would have been better for us to die in Egypt. No doubt, they had no idea what they were saying, but it sounds like: “It would be better for me to die in my bondage than to trust that God will keep His promise.” But God, whose mercy is not dependent on our wisdom, instead of saying, “Have it your way,” provides manna and water for them out of His love.

At the edge of the Sinai just three months into their journey, they find themselves at the foot of the mountains that form one of the dessert’s borders. It’s here that God speaks to Moses in front of the people so that the people will know for sure that Moses speaks for Him. It’s here that the decrees and laws are given by God, and it’s here that Moses climbs Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. But when Moses comes back down the mountain, well, you know the story. To be sure, as the leader of Israel for some forty years, Moses saw the people of God at their best and at their worst. He also saw that, because of His promise, God has never stopped loving them.

One of the most powerful things I see as a pastor is my view from behind the communion rail. I say that because what I see from there is not just people kneeling at a wooden rail, but I see people kneeling at a wooden rail that has been stained with the tears of God’s people, tears of both joy and sorrow.

I’ve looked into the eyes of people who had just received news of cancer for themselves or a loved one and felt my heart breaking within me. I’ve seen tears of hope on the faces of those who hear the words, “And now may this the true body and blood of our Lord be your source of strength and joy now and into eternity” when they have just learned that eternity was closer than they thought. I’ve seen the tears of people who have lost loved ones to death or divorce searching for some sense of peace and understanding. I’ve seen the tears of parents whose children haven’t always made the best decisions and the heartbreak that can bring.

I also see the good things. I see new mothers bringing their babies with them to communion and see joy in their eyes as I offer the blessing of God’s protection. I see couples holding hands as they share not only in that sacred meal but also the love they have for each other in Christ who is the very foundation of their relationship. I see the things you eagerly do out of love for your Lord and for others. I see the repentance and the trust and confidence in the word of forgiveness God speaks to you. What I see at this rail is the miracle of God’s grace freely offered to His children at their best and at their worst so that we might never forget the love He has for each of us and the promise He has spoken to you.

Long before Moses, God said to Abraham, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household, and go to the land I will show you”. While the Lord told Abraham that He would make him a father of many nations, still the Lord had to tell Abraham that over and over again. When the Lord called Moses to the top of Mount Nebo, He was reminding Moses of the promise He would fulfill in the lives of His people. God was assuring Moses that this was going to happen.

You see, our God is a God who keeps His promises. The promise of the Promised Land did not die with Moses. Joshua would continue to lead the people to the Promised Land. Through the Law and the Prophets, the people of God are today being led to the ultimate promise that is and was fulfilled when Jesus offered His blood on the cross for sinners like you and me. A promise confirmed on the day of His resurrection, a promise that will bring us at last to the eternal promised land, our heavenly home. The thing is, we are also a people who need to be reminded again and again of God’s love and promises.

We stand at the threshold of Lent and will soon come down off the mountain and walk through some of the dark and dreary days of our Lord. But, for today, the view from up here is one of Christ’s glorious splendor. The euphoria of seeing Christ’s glory was soon tempered by the words Jesus spoke to Peter, “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.”

But still, as we leave this place today we’ll be thinking about our Lord’s transfiguration. As you do, remember the miracle, but more importantly, remember His words.

The miracle of the transfiguration served a purpose that I believe all the recorded miracles of the Scriptures served: to strengthen the apostles; to build up those who, by God’s grace and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would lay the foundation of Christ church with the prophets. But, miracles don’t create faith in Jesus as our Savior. They certainly had a personal impact on those who received the blessing of them or witnessed them, but that was faith in the miracles themselves, not in Jesus as the Savior of mankind, as Holy Week will show. For them and for us, the miracles were intended to be signs that the prophets said would reveal to Israel her promised Messiah, the One they should listen to.

The truth of Jesus’s brilliant show of glory doesn’t make me believe that my sins have been paid for by His bleeding and dying. But, the Holy Spirit working through His Word and Sacraments has created a faith that indeed believes both in your heart and mine. There may be some greater truth about the miracle of the transfiguration, but in all honesty, at this point in my life I don’t see it. What I do see are the clear words, “Listen to Him.” When this was said, there was no doubt about who was being referred to. Moses, the man of the Law, was gone. Elijah, the prophet who entered heaven without death, was gone. As the voice spoke and the cloud lifted, what the disciples found was that their hope, like ours, is in Jesus Christ alone.

In His Name, Amen.

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