Sermons

Archives - February 2020

Eyes on Jesus: Misjudging Eyes

February 26, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

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

The text for our meditation comes from our Gospel text, where Mark records Jesus’s words, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

My apologies if, when I was distributing the ashes, some of it landed on your nose or, even worse, by your eyes. Can you imagine getting these ashes in your eyes? If it happened, you wouldn’t be able to see clearly – I think there’s a sermon illustration in that. Truth is, our inborn sinfulness is like ashes to our spiritual vision: we look at what is good and distort its purpose, or we look upon what is beautiful and misjudge its value.

It’s what we do as sinners, and we see it readily throughout Scripture. In Matthew 6, Jesus says, “When you give to the needy ….” He is assuming that Christians will do this, and since He would never want us to do something evil, then giving to the needy must be a good thing to do. But sinners misjudge the purpose of such good deeds. Further, He criticizes the hypocrites in the synagogues and in the streets for conspicuously giving to the needy in order to be praised by others. Likewise, they prayed long-winded prayers and made a show of fasting in order to be seen by others. In being praised by others, they receive their desired reward: to be held in high esteem by others. This is an entirely self-serving and godless approach to good works, because it pays no thought to our Father in heaven.

Our old Adam misjudges. Sin’s deep delusion is that good works must be done in order to merit eternal life. That is the worst misjudgment we can make. Which is why Ash Wednesday is a much-needed reality-check, convicting us through Scripture and hymnody and liturgy of our utter wretchedness and desperate need for God’s forgiveness. What we need most isn’t to give to the needy or do any other good work. We need the Lamb of God to take away our sins. That’s what Ash Wednesday is about, and tonight’s reading from Mark’s gospel account takes us to Him when he begins, “It was now two days before the Passover. . . . And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest Him by stealth and kill Him.”

The Passover and Passion were just a few days away. Jesus knew this and had repeatedly told His disciples that His death was drawing near. But unlike Jesus, the guests at Simon’s dinner party didn’t have their mind on the cross when an uninvited woman barged in, broke open a jar of perfume, and dumped it on Jesus’s head. Alabaster flasks weren’t cheap and could be reused, but she clumsily smashes it open and renders it useless for the future. And I don’t picture her slowly and gently pouring it on Jesus’s head but drenching him, leaving Him blinking to squeeze out the drops falling into His eyes.

Then there’s the value of the ointment. If it really could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, it would have been roughly a year’s wages for a day laborer. At the modest wage of $12.50 an hour that you can get at most fast food restaurants, three hundred days’ wages convert to $30,000. That’s what the guests at Simon’s dinner were saying among themselves, outraged at the woman’s wastefulness, indignant that so many would go hungry because of her impulsiveness. “What’s wrong with you, woman? Are you out of your mind? You should have sold that perfume and given the money to the poor!” But they had misjudging eyes.

Jesus, however, always sees clearly. He comes to the woman’s defense and tells her critics to back off. Jesus recognizes her clumsy, unceremonious, impulsive action as a beautiful work, as preparation for the most beautiful, noble, good deed in human history: His suffering, death, and burial. It is good to give to the needy, to do good to the poor. But when the incarnate Son of God is sitting at your dinner table preparing to suffer and die for the sin of the world in a couple of days and then be hastily entombed without proper anointing at His burial, then three hundred denarii worth of ointment is no waste but is rightly devoted to His service.

What the dinner guests could not see was the sheer uniqueness, the tremendous weight of the moment they were witnessing. For God’s Anointed, the Messiah, was soon to give His life as a ransom for the masses, to be the once-for-all Passover Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This moment was anything but business as usual, even in moral terms.

And, in Holy Baptism, you have been washed in the blood of that Lamb, anointed with the Holy Spirit to sanctify you and make you pleasing to the Father. The beautiful robe of Christ’s righteousness has become yours, so that you need no longer fear eternal damnation in hell. The power of sin, death, and Satan has been shattered like that broken alabaster flask, and you have been liberated from the realm of darkness to live forever in the Kingdom of Life! For the rest of your earthly lives, you’re free to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself!

That’s what the unnamed woman was doing, and her motivation has to have been faith in Jesus and love for Him, since Jesus solemnly states, “Truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” She was an integral part of the gospel story being fulfilled, and the Gospel is always about forgiveness of sins being received by faith.

Now you may have noticed that Mark does not name who this woman was. I think this was deliberate, because at that moment, she was not the point—Jesus and His salvific work were. Her anonymity also teaches us about how to approach good works. “She has done what she could,” Jesus says. She simply lived out her vocation, and on that day, she was called to do the beautiful work of anointing Jesus beforehand for His burial. She did not do it to be praised or seen by others, nor was she seeking a reward, but she had eyes only for Jesus.

You also are called to do what you can in your various vocations, in whatever situation the Lord puts you each day. You are set free from the enslaving misjudgment that you should do good works either to be praised by men or to be justified by God. In Christ, you receive temporal and eternal rewards that you could never earn, by grace alone. That takes all the pressure off and places you under His easy yoke and light burden. So on this Ash Wednesday, and every day, repent and believe the Gospel. And then rejoice that you have been judged forgiven and righteous in the eyes of the One who judges justly!

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

Tags: Mark 14:1-9

With Cheerful Courage

February 23, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

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

The text for our meditation for this Quinquagesima weekend comes from our Old Testament text, where Isaiah speaks YHWH’s Word, Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”  Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

It’s been a difficult couple of months. Death, disease, and uncertainty have all visited our little corner of the world, and it’s made life significantly more difficult for many of us. A common sentiment I’ve heard over the past few days has been, “When it rains, it pours,” and my reply is simply, “Yup.” Because it has been a difficult, trying few months that we have been going through as a family here at St. James. That’s the reality we’ve been dealing with here, but we’ve also been facing long-standing issues here, as well. It’s no secret that we’ve been struggling with church attendance. Our school house is only little over half full. Our board membership, while extremely dedicated and selfless, is small – the Board of Stewardship, for example, is completely vacant.

We’ve been struggling, my friends, and we’re not the only ones. Across our synod, even across denominational lines, the Church has been struggling. Some have been rocked by scandal after scandal. Some have given themselves over to the ways of the world – and are, consequently, hemorrhaging membership. Some church bodies – especially in Africa, Asia, and South America – have to deal with the everyday reality of persecution and martyrdom. St. James specifically, and the Church at large, has had a difficult go of things recently, and as we all know, people can only take so much before they break – which, frankly, is why our Old Testament text is so vital.

What do we see in this chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy? Something wonderful. Hear those words again: Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. Beautiful imagery, wonderful promises … but these are not things that we see.

Arthritis still makes hands weak and knees feeble; even artificial joints aren’t eternal. Anxiety is at an all-time high, with numerous sources to blame. Injustice still thrives throughout the world, especially for God’s people. The blind are still blind, the deaf are still deaf, the lame and paralyzed are still thus, the mute are still silent and the dead remain in their caskets and vaults and urns. The wilderness is still wild, the deserts are still bone-dry. So … why are these words from Isaiah so absolutely vital during a time when it’s difficult being the Church of Christ Jesus? Faith.

I don’t say that as some pious platitude; I say that as the reality. What is faith? It’s a word we throw around rather loosely, but what is it actually? The Preacher to the Hebrews reminds them in his letter that … faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. The nature of faith in Christ Jesus is trusting in the promises that God has given to us through Him, in spite of, and sometimes in clear contradiction to, things that we see. A perfect example was seen earlier today/yesterday, as we laid our brother Russ Shoemaker to rest. To human eyes, death is death, and all we see is a lifeless body lying before us; but faith trusts the promise that Jesus gave to Martha in the wake of Lazarus’s death: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Human eyes cannot see that, but eyes of faith do. Why? Because of who our faith is centered on: Jesus Christ.

Because He died in our place, bearing our sins and the penalty those sins deserved, we have the promise that our sins are forgiven, fully atoned for, even if we don’t see it. Because He rose from the dead, conquering sin, death and the devil, we have the promise that we, too, will be raised from the dead to live with Him for all eternity when He returns. Because Jesus ascended to heaven and is currently living and reigning over all creation from the Father’s right hand, we have the promise that He has prepared a place for those who trust His promises. We cannot presently, physically see how these things can be, but with the eyes of faith, we trust that they are, and that they will be. Faith in Jesus knows fully that what Isaiah saw will come to pass. Weak hands and feeble knees will be strengthened. The anxious will be strong and fearless. The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will leap, the mute will sing, and the dead will rise in Christ.

Our issues, the difficulties and trials that we’ve been facing as St. James specifically and the Church at-large, are nothing to sneeze at. They are real, raw, and painful, and we don’t have any promise that the burden will be lifted or that easier times will come. What we do have … are eyes of faith, which trust the promises that God has given us in Christ Jesus. Because of that, we can face it all, and nothing will take those promises away from us. In spite of what our human eyes see and the hardships we face, I can confidently say to all of you, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”

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

Farmer in a Box

February 16, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

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

The text for our meditation this Sexagesima weekend comes from our Gospel text, where Luke records Jesus’s words, “A sower went out to sow his seed.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Is this parable disquieting to you? I know it’s very well known, a popular parable in Christian circles, but does is make you a bit uncomfortable? You might have heard this idea before, hearing it preached as if we should be uncomfortable with the fact that the farmer is so reckless in his spreading of seed. That is fair; if the amount of seed is spread evenly between the four types of soil, the farmer is looking at about 75% waste, and I’m no farmer, but that sure sounds like poor practice, reckless farming. Usually such sermons conclude that while we may be uncomfortable, it’s actually a good thing that the farmer is so reckless in his practice. It’s not that this is wrong – in fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve preached this text this way before. However, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I think that the reason why we might squirm at this parable is because it demonstrates how little control we have in life.

Think about it. The farmer goes out and scatters the seed, carelessly, with little regard for where the seed drops. Some falls right on the path – think hard, impacted earth that the seed has virtually no chance of penetrating. Some falls on rocks, and while it may sprout, it has no root system to support it, and those plants wither quickly. Some falls on soil that is infested with weeds, and those weeds compete with the intended crop for water, nutrients, and sunlight, and are eventually choked out. But some falls on good, nutrient-rich soil – fertile, tilled earthed in which the seed can grow and thrive into a healthy, fruitful plant.

And we need not wonder about what the different elements of the parable represent. Thanks to Jesus’s explanation in our text, we know. He tells us, “The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

Did you hear anything about watering? How about making the sun to shine? Anything in there about keeping away pests and disease and blight? Did you hear a single syllable about the farmer making that seed grow? Nope. That’s all conspicuously absent. We Christians are the farmers, and our call is to spread the Word of God, both Law and Gospel, as widely and recklessly as possible, but we can no more cause that seed to grow than the sun to shine or the rain to fall. And that’s exceedingly frustrating.

It’s frustrating because, like me, you’ve got loved ones – family, close friends – who do not share our faith. There are those whom we dearly love and care for, that we desperately want to be believers, so that they can receive the same gifts of God that we do week in and week out, but more importantly, so that we will be with them in the life of the world to come, in the presence of our God and Lord for all eternity. We’ve witnessed to them, brought them to church, ensured they’ve heard the Word of hope that is Jesus Christ, the world’s only Redeemer … and still, they aren’t there yet.

Don’t you just wish you could … force that person to believe? Don’t you just wish that you could make God make them believe? I know I do. Well intentioned as that is, when you think about it, it’s really rather prideful, and I say that because what we are trying to do, even if we don’t realize it, is to put God in a box, to set parameters on Him, and make Him do what we want Him to do.

But then, that shouldn’t come as any surprise, because that’s what Man has always done. Ever since Adam’s failure and fall into sin, our will, our desires have not been in line with God’s. Where He wanted good, we wanted evil, and where He wanted life, we wanted death. Our default state as humanity is to be at odds with God – indeed, to want to be gods ourselves, to have the control. This is part of the Old Adam’s nature within us … and on this side of eternity, we cannot be fully free of him. Paraphrasing what Luther once said, “In remembering our baptisms anew each morning, we once again drown the Old Adam … problem is, he’s a good swimmer.”

This is why even Christians have issues with control and pride. Our desire for our neighbors and loved ones to come to Christ is inherently good, well-intentioned, but to think that we can make that seed blossom and bloom and grow is the Old Adam screaming inside us. We cannot make that seed grow. We cannot force them to believe, and we cannot believe on another person’s behalf, no matter how much we want to. God is God, and we are not. He cannot be put in a box; He moves where and when He pleases, and whatever He does, He is right to do it. The Old Adam hates this … he wants to have control, and the fact that he doesn’t terrifies him, BUT … to those who have the Spirit of the living God dwelling inside of them … to us, who have been baptized into Jesus’s death and resurrection … who have heard the Word of God and keep it in repentance and faith, we know that we also have God’s Word of promise.

We have the promise that we heard in our Old Testament text, where YHWH promises, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Regardless of the outcome we want, we have the promise that His Word, the seed which He scatters through our work, will accomplish what He wants it to accomplish.

It’s a promise that we can trust, because He has been faithful in keeping it so far. You are, after all, sitting here once again, hearing His Word being proclaimed, and you are not turning away. More than this, however, is how He sent His Word … and how that Word took on human flesh, becoming one of us. It was His purpose that the incarnate Word be the Lamb of God, taking the full weight of all human sin, and be killed with it. As Jesus cried out, “It is finished” from the cross of Calvary, we see how He accomplished the purpose for which the Father had sent Him: to atone for all sinful mankind, putting to death the Old Adam so that God and man can be reconciled. He succeeded! It is done! Your sins and mine are forgiven because of what Jesus did!

That message, incidentally, is the seed which we are called to spread far and wide. We can’t make that seed grow, but we also don’t see all ends. We don’t know if that seed has fallen on the path, or if it is just taking a while to sprout. We don’t know, but God does, and His promise remains, even if it means waiting for a while.

Let’s face it – we hate not being in control. Whether it’s when our bodies don’t do what we want them to, when our parents or children don’t listen, or when dear loved ones seemingly ignore the seed of God’s Word that we try to sow in them, we hate it. But the reality is that we’ve never had control – that notion is but an illusion. We cannot put God in a box because He is God and we are not. We, the farmers who spread His Word, are in the box, and God is in full control. That’s a good thing, because we are not the savior of our neighbors’ souls. Jesus is.

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

Tags: Luke 8:4-15

Cleft for Me

February 09, 2020
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 today comes from our Old Testament text where we hear YHWH’s command to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.”  Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

You may not have counted on a bit of a history lesson here today, but you’re about to get one. YHWH had brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt, out of bondage. He had heard their groanings as they languished in slavery, and sent Moses to deliver them from the hand of Pharaoh. YHWH spared His people from judgment as He poured out plague after plague upon Egypt. He gave them the Passover meal as a reminder to them of His faithfulness in passing over Israel, shielding them from the death of the firstborn. They came out with their old and their young, with their herds and their flocks, with the plunder of Egypt. They were kept safe, passing through the waters of the Red Sea on dry ground, even as Pharaoh’s forces hotly pursued them. Their safety was assured as the waters of the sea swallowed the host of Egypt. No more bondage, no more taskmasters, no more oppression. Instead they had the freedom to be who they were called to be: YHWH’s chosen people. And the first thing they do with their newfound freedom … is complain.

Literally three days after their miraculous rescue from Pharaoh’s armies, the people grumbled against Moses. They see the bitter waters of Marah, water they could not drink in spite of their thirst, and they cried out to Moses, “What shall we drink?” What does God do? He has Moses throw a log into the reservoir, and instantly the water becomes sweet, drinkable, and the people gulp, slurp, and guzzle those sweet waters, slaking their thirst. He provided for their need.

Lesson learned, right? Wrong. In the following chapter, the people would grumble about the lack of food, yearning for the meat pots and bread that they “enjoyed to the full” in Egypt. As their stomachs growl and as the people grumble, God rains down manna from heaven and quails each morning. He provided for their need.

Then, we get to our text in Exodus 17. The Hebrews haven’t come to a place with bitter waters; they’ve come to a place with no waters whatsoever. In their defense, from a human perspective, this is dangerous. Next to oxygen, water is the most necessary element for human survival, and so we can sympathize with someone freaking out over the lack of water. Desperation, however, is no excuse for sin, and we are told that, because of this lack of water, the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” In spite of God’s gracious, continued provision for them over and over and over again, the Hebrews grumble and groan and complain and whine and quarrel.

Speaking personally, if I were in YHWH’s position, I know the temptation to teach these faithless people would be insurmountable. “I’ve taken care of you until now, and you’re not going to trust me to take care of this? Maybe I should let you languish in thirst a bit longer!” That’s what I would do; thanks be to God, I am not God, and thanks be to God that He doesn’t operate this way. Moses cries out to God, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” YHWH simply replies, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.”

Lo and behold, Moses takes his staff before the people, strikes the rock, and water gushes forth that the people are able to drink. Their thirst is slaked, the danger averted, and the people rest in the provision and care of YHWH their God, who has brought them up out of Egypt. With their need provided for, they are satisfied … for the moment anyway. I hate to be a Debbie-downer, but we know how this will go. The people will be satisfied for a while, and then they will resume their whining and complaining and grumbling and all-around faithless distrust of God’s provision.

We know all about that, don’t we? The more things change, the more they stay the same; things are very different for us than they were for the newly-freed Hebrews, but Lord knows that there are echoes of the Hebrews’ conduct in our own. Sometimes, reading how the Hebrews acted in the wilderness is almost like reading your autobiography, isn’t it? It is for me. We whine and complain and grumble and distrust God’s provision and protection! It’s astounding how doubtful we can be, how distrustful, and how faithless we can act when we feel hopeless or in danger. We wonder if God is really there, if He really cares for us, whether He actually loves us. The depths of our sin, the extent of our complaining and whining is rather astonishing.

But there’s something even more astonishing than our capacity for sinful and reckless thoughts, words, and deeds, which is really saying something. What’s more astonishing is that God continues to provide for His thankless creatures. In his Small Catechism, Luther explains how “God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”

He did it for the grumbling Hebrews, and He does it for us whiners. Even when they were thirsting or hungering, He was providing for their ultimate need by keeping His promise to them. Same with us. In our Epistle lesson, Paul reminds the Corinthians of another Rock that was struck for the good of God’s people: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,[a] that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

Our heavenly Father does, indeed, provide for us with every need we have, but there does come a time when food no longer does the body good, when water becomes difficult to swallow, when breathing become shallow and sporadic. Because we live in a broken world, death is a given (pending Jesus’s return, of course), but even when we do close our eyes in death, we do so knowing that Christ Jesus, our Rock, was cleft on our behalf on Calvary’s tree, that His death means our forgiveness, and that His resurrection means the promise of eternal life with Him. God has provided for our ultimate need – the forgiveness of sins and the restoration of a right relationship between God and man – in the Rock of our salvation, Jesus, who is called the Christ. Even for us whiners and complainers, God provides, for this life, and the life of the world to come.

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

The True Light of the Word

February 02, 2020
By Rev. James Barton

The apostle Peter begins this passage by saying that he is going to remind us of things we already know, and he’s going to keep reminding us, as long as he is alive; and even after he is dead, he’ll have a way to keep reminding us. He writes: “I intend always to remind you of these things, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have, I think it right, as long as I am in this body (literally, “in this tent”, for that is what we all are, only temporarily tenting in this world) - “I think it right”, Peter says, “to stir you up (to awaken you, to arouse you) by way of reminder ... and I will make every effort so that after my departure (literally, my “exodus” from this world), you may be able at any time to recall these things.” (2 Peter 1:12-15)

You might remember that when Jesus was arrested and condemned to die, Peter was so frightened for himself that three times he denied, with curses and swearing, that he ever knew Jesus. The risen Lord Jesus, later on, came to Peter and forgave him. That is exactly what Peter really needed. Then Jesus told him three times, “Feed my lambs ... feed my sheep ... feed my sheep.” Jesus gave him renewed meaning and purpose for his life. Peter then knew what his calling was to be, from that time on: to seek to provide spiritual food and spiritual care to the believers and to as many others as he could, no matter what they themselves thought they needed. (John 21:15-19)

Today, the media and the world around us wants our focus to be on the Super Bowl and the death of Kobe Bryant and politics and the impeachment and the coronavirus and so much more - so many loud, noisy, competing, confusing thoughts and ideas, all around us.

In our text, Peter wants us to stop and be quiet for at least a little while, and he points us to the one thing he knew that he really needed, and that we really need, too - for help in our own lives, and for eternal life, as well, beyond this life. He simply points us to Jesus Christ.

Peter warns us about the danger of “cleverly devised myths.” And how many of those don’t we hear in advertising, about wondrous products that don’t turn out to be wondrous at all, and misleading ideas in books and movies and on TV and on YouTube and the internet - and even in relatively nice shows like Hallmark movies, where everything always turns out just right in a very short time. We wish these things could be true, but we know they often aren’t, in everyday life. There is a lot of myth around us, even today.

But there is also real truth today, Peter says, in Jesus. Listen again to what he says: “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16)

Peter uses just one example, the story we heard in our gospel lesson for today, when Jesus’s face shone like the sun, in His light and glory, as the Son of God. Moses and Elijah were there, too, to show that Jesus was the One promised in the Old Testament, as the coming Savior. (Matthew 17:1-9) Peter doesn’t even mention Moses and Elijah, though. The really important one was Jesus and what He came to do for us. Peter says, “When Jesus received honor and glory from God the Father, who said, ‘This my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain.” (2 Peter 1:17-18)

Peter knew that everything he reported about the transfiguration of Jesus was true. He had been there and had seen and heard it all, as an eyewitness. He wrote down these words, then, in this letter so that even after his death, people would “be able at any time to recall these things” (v. 15). He also helped with the writing of the gospel of Mark, where this same story and much more of God’s Word was included.

God’s plans and predictions were written down by the Old Testament prophets like Moses and many others. And the New Testament fulfillment of it all, in Jesus, was written down by the apostles and others close to them. As Peter said in the Book of Acts, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” The apostles had to speak and write, because they knew what was true and that everyone needed the good news of the risen Lord Jesus. Even when they were threatened and imprisoned, the apostles could not keep quiet. (Acts 4:18-20)

The Bible, the Scriptures, came into being by the direction and work of God himself, through these writers, so that we can, still today, hear the true and reliable Word of God. Peter put it this way in our text, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.” (No one thought any of it up and wrote it down on his own.) “For,” Peter writes, “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God, as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (They would have nothing to say or to write without the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.) (2 Peter 1:20-21). “All Scripture is God-breathed” said the apostle Paul. It is all from God himself and is entirely true, even though written through Peter and Paul and others. (2 Timothy 3:16) The apostles all knew this as they wrote.

No wonder, then, that Peter says, “You will do well to pay attention to this certain and sure Word of God, as to a lamp shining in a dark place” - the darkness that continues in this sinful, troubled world until Jesus, who is called the Bright Morning Star, returns in glory on the Last Day. (2 Peter 1:19)

We still say of people, sometimes, that they are in a dark place in their life because of their struggles. And we also know that we, too, are sometimes in a dark place because of our own sins and weaknesses and the troubles we and others face and the heavy burdens we carry if we are left on our own. Peter himself was in a very dark place when he denied Jesus three times.

But Peter also reminds us just before our text of “the righteousness” (not of us, but) “of our God and Savior Jesus.” (2 Peter 1:1) Where we have so often failed, Jesus came into our dark world and lived a perfect life in our place, perfectly pleasing to His heavenly father. He died on the cross in our place to pay the penalty we deserve for every one of our sins and to forgive every one. And he rose in Easter victory to give us hope and new life. All of this is a gift from Him out of love for us.

Again, just before our text, Peter says, “Grace and peace” come to us “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ” and what He has done for us. These are all gifts of God. If you want to know real peace, keep listening to Jesus and what He promises. (2 Peter 1:2) And in this way, by faith, Peter says, “there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Eternal life is also a gift from Jesus. The door is wide open for us, in Christ. (2 Peter 1:11)

And again, just before our text, Peter makes one more amazing statement: By the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, we “obtain a faith of equal standing” with Peter and the other apostles. We often put the apostles up on a high pedestal for their faith and life. But imagine this - our faith in Jesus is of equal standing as Peter’s because it, too, is simply a gift of God. The same faith He gave to Peter and gives to every believer. (2 Peter 1:1)  Remember the words of Paul, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Peter cannot boast of his faith. Paul cannot, and we cannot either. It is all a gift of God, through Jesus and His work for us. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Peter keeps telling us to keep listening to Jesus and His Word, the Bible, for it truly is a lamp shining on us to give eternal hope and joy and strength to get through the dark places we are sometimes in, as Peter also was, and to know what is really true amid all the competing voices around us today. (2 Peter 1:19)

Peter ends this whole letter with these words, “You, therefore, beloved,” (loved by God), “knowing this beforehand,” (because Peter has written all this down, just for us) “take care that you are not carried away by the errors of lawless people and lose your own stability.” But be carried along by the truth, the Word of God. (2 Peter 3:17, 2 Peter 1:21) And then you will “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him,” Peter says, “be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)

And now, may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds safe, only where they are safe, in Christ Jesus. Amen. (Philippians 4:7)

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