Deuteronomy 34: 1-12
Psalm 99: 1-5
2 Corinthians 4: 3-6
Luke 9: 28-36
“Beauty Beyond All Measures”
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
Today marks the end of Epiphany. We started with the light of the Advent Star of which the wise men followed, and we end with the light that is Jesus Christ. In fact, we will be concluding this final service of Epiphany with “Shine, Jesus, Shine.” So, yes we will be concluding literally with the light of Christ shining forth. But what do we mean when we claim that Jesus is the light? Many may claim that it is metaphorical, but that is such a lack luster way of thinking that tears away the significance of today’s Gospel. For into today’s Gospel, Jesus is literally a brilliant light that is dazzling. Thus Jesus isn’t just a metaphorical light but is the Light in the same way that he is the Truth, Life, the Way, and the Door. None are metaphorical references but actual revelations of reality.
Actual revelations of reality… there is something to that statement. When you hear the word Transfiguration what are some of the concepts that goes through your mind? Change is what comes to my mind, and with regards to what is happening on the mountain, there is certainly change happening, but what is this change?
Some might read this chapter in Luke and assume that Jesus was physically changing into something different, only to revert back to his original form. Their line of thinking goes an odd direction because they then start claiming that Jesus was something different and that his substance was changed at that very moment, though temporarily. It’s almost as if they are claiming there are two different Jesus’ or that he has a more perfect form thus implying that his current form is not perfect. Confusing, I understand, but basically, the end conclusion is that Jesus is very human, but on the mountain his body transforms temporarily to a more divine form.
When you separate the two then you lessen the original form. If the mountain form is more divine then that would imply that the supposed lesser form, the form Jesus usually takes, is less divine. Does that not sound wrong? Do we not say that Jesus is wholly human and wholly god? If that is indeed the truth then at no point is Jesus more or less divine but is always wholly divine. From birth to mountain to death to resurrection, Jesus was always wholly human and wholly divine; never lacking in one.
Such line of thinking, that Jesus was at one point more and thus also less divine, aligns quite well with the atrocious belief that Jesus was actually just a mere human who upon baptism was adopted by God the Father and became some divine superhuman. That was an actual belief during the early church and quickly stamped out as utter heresy. Sadly the belief wasn’t completely ostracized, for it rebranded itself and became widely popular in the form of Mormonism (Latter Day Saints) and Muhammadanism, a Christian heresy that worshipped Muhammad and is now known as Islam.
So if Jesus was wholly divine at all times of his life on Earth, never lacking in divinity, then what happened on the Mountain when Jesus was transfigured? We know he didn’t transform into a more perfect being. Were the disciples mistaken or drowsy? This is an even worse theory and deserves no further discussion as such is a product that stems from faithlessness. So what does that leave us? What is truly happening at the transfiguration?
What did I say earlier… actual revelations of reality. Though Jesus’ appearance changed does that mean his actuality, his being, changed? No, but in reality what happened is that his appearance changed to conform to reality. The Transfiguration was a revelation of who Jesus was, is, and will always be. He is the light, and the Transfiguration proves that. He didn’t become the light, but he was always the light. The Transfiguration just merely revealed to all who were present the truth of who Jesus really was in a visual format. And just in case those present still didn’t understand, God the Father provided an auditory revelation by stating that Jesus “Is my Son, my Chosen One.”
From our fallen human perspective, without the faith in God that comes from the Holy Spirit, our eyes, veiled by sin, cannot perceive the divinity of God, let alone realize that Jesus is God. Our own wickedness moves us about like an underwater current guiding us away from the intended destination. It is this sin, which we are all born with, that prevents us from seeing reality and perceiving for ourselves a fake reality. It is this veil of sin, which shields our eyes from the blazing light of Jesus, to see only a human being.
It is for this reason we state in the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” We are incapable of seeing Jesus Christ. We may see a human, in fact some even claim that Jesus of Nazareth was a myth, but because of our own sinfulness unless God aids us we cannot see the glory of Jesus Christ’s divinity.
Each and every time in the Bible whenever someone sees the truth of Christ’s Divine Kingship or proclaimed such it has always been at the behest of God: Angels speaking to Mary and Joseph; a dove descending with a voice during the Baptism of Jesus; Peter claiming that Jesus is Christ; and today during the Transfiguration. At all these occasions, God revealed the truth about his Son Jesus Christ to us. And after all this, with Jesus on the Cross who just breathed his last breathe, the sky turning dark, an earthquake shaking, the tapestry torn in two, and the saints rising from the grave as if they never died, you have that one Soldier in Mark who said, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
We need God to reveal the divine beauty of Christ to us, for without his aid, all we see is a mere human. Now lucky us, because of the power of the Holy Spirit which provides us with the faith in the saving grace of Christ who did indeed die on the Cross to wash us of our sins, we are indeed blessed for we know that Christ has saved us. We know of Christ’s divinity. But that is simply because God revealed that to us and on no account of our own power.
Eventually Peter, John, and James, as well as the other disciples and all of mankind, would benefit of this gift if accepted, but for now they would have to wait until the appointed hour. So while they waited, God gave them a most glorious opportunity to see the fullness of Christ’s glory, a beauty that goes beyond all measures. On the mountain, in the presence of Moses and Elijah, the three disciples witnessed not a mere human, their teacher, but saw his fullness. Yes Jesus’ appearance changed, but such a change was to only emphasize the hidden qualities that us fallen humans cannot perceive, that is his divinity.
A momentary glimpse for the three disciples, but definitely a momentous and unforgettable event as proven since it is written in the Gospel. How could they have forgotten of this shocking event? The Light of Christ’s divineness was seared into their memory, burning an imprint that they will hold on to as dearly precious. It must have pained them to keep this event secret, for they remained silent about what happened on this mountain until much later. But what they witnessed was truly a gift.
And know this; this gift of Christ’s revelation is not uniquely given for these three individuals. Each and every one of you who believe in the saving grace of Christ will also benefit from this same gift. Some of you may have already, within a dream, seen the glory of God. If it happened to Paul it can happen to others after Christ. But all of you will indeed see the full glory of Christ, for with due time, all who believe will face Christ in his heavenly kingdom. There you too will see the fullness of Christ’s divineness which is abounding in steadfast love, warmth, and grace. The eternal life that awaits us is a life void of sin and because of such there is no veil of sin that blinds our eyes, thus allowing us to see the brilliance of Jesus and all his glory and might. And if we haven’t yet, there in heaven all will share in the gift that was so graciously given to Peter, John, and James in today’s Gospel.
So as a reminder, Jesus did not become more perfect; he is and has always been perfect. Jesus did not become more divine; he is and has always been wholly divine. Jesus did not become something different; He is and will always be the same. And, through the gift of God, we who cannot by our own power see Jesus as Christ and all his glory are gifted with opportunities to witness the depths of who Christ truly is.
Let us pray,
Dear Heavenly Father, throughout all of history you have opened the eyes of your servants, serving as a light to cast away the darkness that hides the Truth. Continue to open our eyes every waking hour of our lives so that we who are weary never falter in seeing your amazing grace. In your most holy name we pray: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Genesis 45: 3-8a, 15
Psalm 103: 1-13
1 Corinthians 15: 35-38a, 42-50
Luke 6: 27-38
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
Some of you may already know that last year, 2021, was an incredibly difficult year, the most difficult one I have lived so far. Without devolving too much details, basically someone dear to me and extremely close, someone in whom I trusted, respected, and loved betrayed not only myself but also my entire family. Because of this event, the entirety of last year was hellish as politically motivated individuals attacked me, persecuted me, tried to get me arrested, or kicked out of the military simply because of my faith and faith guided morality. My trust in all those involved in this yearlong attack have been completely shattered, and I have zero confidence in their ability to do their job in a morally upright fashion, let alone follow Christ. They have become my enemy. Now I didn’t choose for them to become such but instead have always and still do provide the benefit of the doubt and second chances, ready to forgive the moment they repent of their demonic practices. They chose to be my enemy when they decided to actively ruin my life on the basis of my faith and faith guided principles.
Now I have heard many claim it isn’t right to have enemies. Such people are either in love with the world, or fear persecution, or will do anything in their power to make sure no one judges them. It creates a contorted view of Scripture where many falsely believe that as Christians we should be everyone’s friend. Do these people not understand that the world already hates Christ? If you wish to be friends with everyone then get rid of your relationship with Christ, for the enemies of God will naturally become your enemy the moment you profess faith in He who is the source of all that is good, true, and life-giving.
We live in a fallen world, and as such, many will scorn your existence, and if given the liberty, will cause your life to either cease or be tormented. You could be the nicest person in the world, the most giving and gentle and even politically correct member of the community, but simply because you have faith in God the world will look upon you and see you as someone who should be hated. You could do anything and everything right in the eyes of man, but if you believe in Christ then you are no comrade but enemy number one. Even among brothers, you may find discord, for not even blood relationship can shield you from persecution.
One such person in Scripture can attest to this harsh reality. Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Jacob Israel, was dearly loved by his father and was a receiver of dreams, dreams that alluded to all his siblings eventually bowing down to him. His siblings became exceedingly jealous over the love Joseph was receiving and even more furious over the thought that Joseph, of all people, would reign or may reign over them. Their pride got the better of them and as a result, they conspired against Joseph, and succeeded in excluding him from the family. No longer would he be able to reign over us! Shortly after, they became horrified over their own wickedness - what have we done; our own brother - but the damage was already dealt and, from their perspective, Joseph will no longer be with them.
The brothers who conspired against Joseph were his enemies. And like Joseph, in many other incidents we too will be faced or have faced with the trouble of seeing a brother turn enemy against us. When these things happen, what do we do? Do we return hatred with hatred? Do we return sin with sin? They harmed you; do they not deserve to also receive harm? It is very human to fall victim to such ill thoughts, a dreadful cycle of hate that ropes us in, but that does not make it right. Though it is alright to respond with justice, one must not confuse justice with malice. So how are we to respond?
I’m sure Joseph had some ill will towards his brothers shortly after this affront they committed against him, a brief fire of indignation. But instead of fostering what little kernel of pain he may have had in his heart he decided to instead have faith in God and kindle even more so a kernel of love.
God guided him from Canaan to Egypt where he was placed under a lord as manager. And even when the wife of the lord falsely accused him of sexually assaulting her thus leading to his imprisonment, Joseph still trusted God and God’s plan. So Joseph, though a prisoner, became a leader in the prisons whom the guards trusted in managing the needs of each prisoner. This is what led to Joseph’s interaction with the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker, and through them eventually Pharaoh, for God then guided Joseph out of prison to be an advisor to Pharaoh. It was through the guidance of God and all of the pain associated with it that Joseph, Son of Jacob, who was supposed to have been killed, found himself before Pharaoh, interpreting a dream that would lend to Egypt and her surrounding lands the ability to weather the upcoming seven years famine.
Had not Joseph gone through this horrendous journey he would have never of been able to be placed in a position as lord where he could not only protect his own family from the famine but also caused the Hebrews to be well respected among the Egyptians. And thus the initial dream was finally fulfilled with Joseph’s brothers coming to bow down to the lord of the land, who was Joseph, in order to receive aid during the famine. This was the first time in decades that Joseph has seen his brothers, he knew them though they knew not him, and they were bowing to him.
Now upon seeing the tests that Joseph gave to his brothers, one may wrongly assume that Joseph was still angry at what they did to him and was punishing them. Such an assumption is incorrect because throughout each and every interaction with his brothers Joseph is fighting back tears and weeps many times. He had already forgiven his brothers, and the kernel of love he had fostered pained him as he tested his brothers. Eventually the flood gates overwhelmed him and he started balling in front of his brothers and it is while he was loudly weeping, loud enough that even the household of Pharaoh heard him, it was during this event that we read our first lesson. So as you read the first lesson, imagine Joseph with tears running down his face the entire time.
Joseph’s brothers may have become his enemy, but even in that moment God was still with Joseph and guided Joseph for God had a plan. And because it was obvious to Joseph that his brothers all regretted their sinful action and were truly repentant Joseph told them to not be distressed or angry with themselves, for even their sinfulness was used by God to achieve a grander goal.
You may have noticed allusions between Joseph’s story and Jesus’. Jesus was eventually betrayed and through this betrayal was sent through a shame of a trial that eventually led to His own death. But all this was according to God’s plan. God sent His son to die on that horrible tree for our sake, but how could He, the most innocent of lambs, be placed on the cross unless he was sent through a shame trial and how could such happen if he wasn’t arrested and how could he have been arrested if no one betrayed Him? The sin of Judas was necessary for Jesus to fulfill the grander mission of dying on the cross for the sake of bringing us eternal salvation. Yet in the face of all the wicked people who laughed and slandered as he died on the cross he cried out to His Father to forgive them for they knew not what they were doing.
Jesus was on the cross because of the sinful actions of many, but Jesus willingly died on that cross for the forgiveness of sins to include the sinful actions of His enemies who placed Him on the cross in the first place.
So what do we do with our enemies? Love them. Bless them. Pray for them. Have faith that God has a plan and that He will guide you and protect you and that something good may come out of your suffering. And even if nothing good comes out of such, or at least you can’t perceive any good coming out of your suffering, still love your enemies.
The world already loves those who love them. It is no secret that sinners treat those who treat them well in similar manner. It is easy to love those who love you. It is easy to do good things for those who do likewise for you. It is easy to give to those who give to you. These are all things that the world already knows, but what about to your enemies? Among humans, God has many self-proclaimed enemies, but God unconditionally loves each and every one of them. He grieves over our sins, and even more so when we turn away from Him. He is always reaching out towards us, with the gift of salvation ever ready, even when we curse Him. You think you have enemies? God has more, but he loves each and every one of them.
So I ask you this, not do you have enemies, Lord knows you do, but are you willing to pray for them? Someone has stabbed us in the back. Someone has bared false witness against us. Someone has threatened our lives. To those who are your enemies, will you ask God to guide them? Will you ask God to bless them with His Holy Spirit, with His saving grace? For I ask you this, who do you think is more in need of God’s grace: the one who loves you or the one who sins against you?
Let us pray,
Dear Heavenly Father, lend us your strength so that way we never lose sight of your unconditional love toward us and toward all humankind. In your most heavenly name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jeremiah 1: 4-10
Psalm 71: 1-6, 15-17
1 Corinthians 12: 27- 13:13
Luke 4: 21-32
“The Word on my Lips”
Grace and peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
How many of you feel inadequate in your speech, in your ability to teach or preach and simply say what is in the Bible? Whether in part or wholly, how many of you feel that you are not well equipped with spreading the Good News? Maybe you have stage fright, a stutter, an accent, a small vocabulary, not enough education, or you're too young in the faith.
Whatever it is that troubles you, there is something that prevents you from believing that you are well equipped to spreading the Good News. Myself? I too have these fears. I fear that I will fail God, that I would misspeak and cause confusion. I fear preaching and teaching something that goes against the teaching of God. I fear that because of my own verbal struggles that the message I convey comes out as only garbled noise. I stumble over myself. I lose myself in the sermon. I have struggles producing certain sounds. I always second guess my sermons even while preaching them. Sometimes I speak too fast. Some days my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth as I am at a loss for words. I get butterflies in my stomach as I get wrought with fear, and after my sermons I can't stop criticizing myself.
Public speaking terrifies me, why did God pick me? All I wanted was to go into the math field and be a civilian mathematician and army engineer. I have no speaking skills. Quite the opposite. So why me? I would be lying if I told you I answered God's call instantly. I second guessed him, and sometimes I still do, but I am a Soldier and Soldiers obey orders, and my supreme commander is Jesus Christ Himself alone. So how could I disobey a direct order from God? Though I didn't disobey, I didn't trust God's judgment and asked my peers about this calling. Every one of them told me to go this route. My fellow Soldiers. My fellow Mathematicians. My teachers. My family. God was telling me to go, but this must be a mistake. I cant speak to save my life. My grammar was horrendous, and by far my absolute weakest subject. I went through 9 years of speech therapy just to learn how to speak and instead of graduating I ran away, giving up thinking that I will never learn and it was better that use my time learning things more important than grammar and my sounds such as Math. I ran away from ever thinking I would be some orator, and here God is telling to go into a profession that depends on good oral skills. Though I didn't run away, I did wonder, “Why Me.”
So I understand if you may have your struggles. If you may be terrified with standing in front of others. If you don't trust yourself. I truly do. I understand if you fear you may fail God, and thus leave more well-spoken people the task of delivering the Gospel. I understand if you fear you may even look like a fool either because you can't speak or because you are too young in your Christian understanding.
So what do we do when we receive a command from God to tell our neighbor, “That Jesus died on the cross for you.”
It may sound too simplistic to trust and obey, but that is the answer, at least from our part. Do you think that if Jesus commands us to spread the Good News that He would not equip us? We may think He doesn't, but He does.
As we read from Jeremiah, we get one of many times in the Bible that God calls the ill-prepared and prepares them. Jeremiah is called by God to be a prophet of the Lord. But Jeremiah is just a mere youth appointed under a priest. Jeremiah is right to say, “I do not know how to speak.” How could Jeremiah be an effective prophet of the Lord? I have neither the skills nor the education. What can He give or do that the priests around him can't do better? Why Me? For most of us, we will never find out the answer to that question. Why Me? But did God leave Jeremiah ill-prepared? No, far from it! For God looked upon Jeremiah's weakness, and told him quite firmly that whatever He commands Jeremiah must obey, but to not be afraid because the Lord will be with him. Then the Lord touched Jeremiah's lips with His hand and told Jeremiah that He had put His words into Jeremiah's mouth.
God knows Jeremiah cannot do this by his own ability. He already knew Jeremiah's weaknesses and his struggles. He knew Jeremiah before He was born; He was the one who consecrated Jeremiah before Jeremiah's birth. He knows all the hairs on Jeremiah's head, every thought, every evil, and all that he doesn't have. But God also doesn't make mistakes. He picked Jeremiah, knowing Jeremiah's faults, and instead of leaving Jeremiah alone God became Jeremiah's words. Thus it was not Jeremiah who spoke through his own lips, but it was the Word of God that proceeded out of his lips.
Now is Jeremiah alone in this gift? No, for we know of many others whom God speaks through, but is this a rare case? I say no to even that. Jeremiah is no different from any Christian today. Jeremiah is the Church. For if left to our own devices, we will truly fail. It doesn't matter how smart we sound or how charismatic our words are. If God does not speak through our lips, if the Holy Spirit is not present, then our utterances are just noisy gongs. How are we to obey God's commands without God on our lips?
Speaking of which, what is this command God has given each and every one of us? Why the Great Commission; to baptize, preach, and teach. But like Jeremiah, we are all equally ill-prepared to fulfill this task if left to our own device. If anyone believes they have the ability to spread God's Word without the help of God then they are puffed up and a liar. Jeremiah knew his weaknesses, and instead of hiding them, he exposed them. Jeremiah wanted to obey God, but he needed help, for he had the humility to accept that he couldn't do what God wanted of him. We, if left to our own devices, will fail God. Who are we to believe we could genuinely convert even one soul to Christ? We can't. We are like Jeremiah, whether we recognize or not, whether we accept it or not.
But just like how God placed His Word on Jeremiah's lips, when we speak the Gospel, God places His Word on our lips too. That much is a guarantee. For if anyone was to convert it was not because of your own intellect but because of the Holy Spirit which you did not bridle but boldly released for others to receive.
There are many reasons why we bridle our tongues. Most all are related in some way to fear. Fear of messing up. Fear of getting laughed at. Fear of being the center of attention. Fear of losing a friend. Fear of being ostracized. Fear of getting fired for merely speaking the Word of God. In all these cases, God tells us just as he tells Jeremiah, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” Do not be afraid, for God is with us and His Word will be our words. Do not be afraid, for God knows our struggles and never leaves us up to our own weaknesses. Do not be afraid, for this world is too short for such worries, but the reward in Heaven is great for according to Christ's Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” When people persecute on account of Christ, rejoice and be glad? How could we rejoice and be glad? That is fear speaking. Rejoice and be glad because God is indeed with you and your reward in heaven will indeed far surpass whatever trivial earthly pleasures the world will have to offer.
And in case we come to believe that God won't speak through us like He promised Jeremiah, read Psalm 71. It reads, “My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day.” Well how does that prove God speaks through us? Christ tells us many times that it is only because of the Father that we can proclaim Jesus is Christ. So in Psalm 71, what is this “salvation” if not Jesus Christ? Christ is the source of our Salvation, and through Him we are given the ability to proclaim Him as our Lord. How can we speak of the deed of salvation which comes from and is the Lord, our Savior, Jesus Christ who died on the cross for all sin, if not through the power of Christ who is the Word which is placed on our lips through baptism? Our mouths will tell of your righteous acts because through the Holy Spirit we can't help but proclaim from our lips the Word which saves. I may be a mess when it comes to preaching, but it is not my words that leaves my lips which is out of my weakness, but the Word which is not of myself but of God and all of His might!
So why me? It is not up for me to determine that, but to simply trust and obey, to have faith in Christ that He will guide me and supply me. To never give into fear and simply do what Christ commanded of me, not because I wish to obtain salvation for through Christ I am already saved but simply out of love for Christ that surpasses whatever fears may avail me.
Before I conclude, I wish to read the Gospel according to Matthew chapter 10, verse 16 to 23. I noticed that in our LBW lectionary this part of Jesus' speech is excluded. It is completely skipped. And I believe that to be a complete disservice. Why? Because I have heard many chaplains, Lutheran chaplains at that too, who abuse part of this scripture by saying it in part but not all together. No verse in this passage should be read apart from another but should all be read in light of each other. Thus I ask that as you listen to the Words of the Lord that you listen carefully and then reflect on what I have already said in this sermon. When “wisdom” is mention, that is to be understood in light of Job 28:28 which states that Wisdom is found in the fear of the Lord. When “innocence” is mention that does not mean to act blamelessly but to act in a way that is innocent of the cares and evils and vices of the world. And the rest, listen in light of Jeremiah and Psalm 71.
The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 10, verse 16 to 23.
“16Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”
The Gospel of our Lord.
Let us pray,
Dear Lord give us the Strength to preach your Word, the Humility to know that it is not our own, and the Wisdom to trust Christ above all things. In your holy name we pray, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Isaiah 6: 1-13
Psalm 85: 8-13
1 Corinthians 14: 12b-20
Luke 5: 1-11
“I am a Sinner”
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” There is much wisdom in Simon Peter’s words found in today’s Gospel. He saw the miracle of Jesus bringing the fish, too much for the nets to hold, to the fishermen of Capernaum. The sheer amount of fish was enough to terrify Simon, for in that moment he instantly knew that he was in the presence of God Almighty in the flesh. He may not have known of the virgin birth that took place three decades prior or the event that took place on the Jordan River, but as a good Judean raised under the Torah he should have been at least aware of the many stories of God interacting with humans. For example, when Jacob son of Isaac literally physically wrestled with God; thus why he was renamed Jacob Israel which means, “Jacob wrestled with God.” So Peter, with the full knowledge that God does interact with His creation, and seeing Jesus Son of God nearly tear the nets apart by calling forth a swarm of fish, Peter knew that he was in the presence of God and was terrified.
King Solomon writes in Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” But why is this so? Why is it wise for Peter to be so terrified? It isn’t simply because God is almighty and the very source of all of existence, nor is it simply because God is all good and cannot have any evil within Him, but also because in the presence of God Peter knew He, a sinful man, was unworthy. The fear of being smited wrought the conscience of Simon Peter, thus he immediately fell down at Jesus’ feet begging for mercy, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Let me tell you, at that very moment, there wasn’t a sinner walking the Earth that could match the wisdom of Peter.
Last week I preached about why we may feel unworthy with regards to spreading the Gospel. Examples included speech issues and stage freight and lack of knowledge, but there was one reason for feeling unworthy that I intentionally glossed over. And that was feeling unworthy to spread the Good News because of your sinfulness.
What if you did a number of horrendous things in your past, stacking great sin on top of great sin? What if you rightly served multiple decades in jail for committing a crime that would terrify the minds of any sane citizen? What if you lived a life of debauchery and decadence as you gluttonously devoured all sorts of passionate life styles? What if you did any of these and more, but found Christ? You may have walked away from these things or are struggling to release yourself from the evils of the world, but may also struggle with feelings of worthlessness. How, of all people, am I worthy to tie the sandals of Jesus’ feet, let alone preach His Gospel? I feel like I’m talking about Paul, aka Saul, here. For Saul persecuted the Christians; was at the front of leading the initial charge against the newly converted. He was the one who ordered the murder of the first Christian Martyr. So as Paul, he acknowledges that he is the worst of all mankind and deserves Hell for all that he has done, but Christ saved even him.
Here is the thing; I rather have a person preaching the Gospel who knows that he is a wretched sinner than someone who believes he deserves Heaven. I rather have a person spreading the Good News who acknowledges that they are a sinner than one who haughtily claims they are guiltless of sin. I rather that all Christians live with contrite hearts than believe that they are not in need of forgiveness. Why? Well, if you believe that you already deserve Heaven they why do you need the Gospel? You don’t, it’s not necessary for you are apparently already saved. If you are sinless, then the forgiveness and salvation that comes only through the cross of which Christ died on is meaningless because you don’t need either. Christ did not come for those who are saved, nor did he come for good people, or those who are already righteous. He came for sinners. He came for those are the lowest of the lowly. He came for evil men who are wretched maggots. He came with both mercy and grace; withholding the gates of Hell of which we rightly deserve and gifting the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven of which we most definitely do not deserve.
Isaiah understood this, his unworthiness. For when the Lord called Isaiah, Isaiah, wrought with fear, said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell in a midst of people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Like Peter, Isaiah knew he was in the presence of God and was well aware of his own sinfulness. He was a man of unclean lips, implying that he has said some awful things. But he is no different from your common Israeli during that era, for Israel had transformed into a land of unclean lips.
Blasphemy was rampant in Israel, and persecution against the Jewish faith was on the rise as secularism and unholy acts of worship to false idols became the norm. If you dared preach the Torah, then those who heard you would hardened their hearts instead of softening it. They became even more hateful and raged against God. Your life may even be ruined if you preached against the authorities who defied God. Israel had become unclean and for safety reasons many stilled their tongues, mimicked the preaching of the idolators, or even defended the actions of their new captures. Isaiah was a person who lived in this environment and knew himself to also be someone whose lips were not void of sinfulness.
So did Isaiah hide his sinfulness? No. Instead he laid his burdens bare to the Lord of hosts. Isaiah acknowledged that he was a sinner. And instead of smiting Isaiah, God sent an angel to purify Isaiah. The sin that rested on Isaiah’s lips was burned off, his sin atoned for, and because there is no sin the need to feel guilty was no longer necessary. Isaiah had a humble and contrite heart, and it is for this reason that the Lord God graciously cleansed Isaiah. Now God also had a mission for Isaiah, and, if you remember from last week, God knows our weaknesses and does not leave us ill-prepared. Thus God prepared Isaiah through the burning coal, for the true reason why He called Isaiah was to preach to the country of unclean lips that Isaiah lived in.
Sadly, God knew that Israel was not going to listen to Isaiah. Isaiah will preach and Israel will harden their hearts and get enraged at the words of God that leaves Isaiah’s lips. Some people who claim to be wise may suggest that it is better to remain quiet when in the face of those whose hearts are already hardened. Such people would use the serenity prayer to claim that you should just not waste your time preaching to those who will never change their ways when in listening range of the Word, but that is not what the serenity prayer says, for it merely says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” Such people would be the very terrified Judeans who would be begging Isaiah to shut-up, claiming that his preaching was a waste of time and was having the negative effect of whipping the blasphemers into an even more fearsome frenzy.
Like Peter, we are sinful men who do not deserve to be in the presence of God. Like Paul, we, each and every one of us, have a history of sinful actions. Like Isaiah, we are unclean and live in a land that is most definitely unclean. But also like Isaiah, God, through His Son, cleanses us of our wickedness and prepares us for the mission of spreading the Gospel. Our Psalm 85:10 says, “Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.” We are not righteous, nor are we the source of our own righteousness. Righteousness comes only from Heaven above, from God alone, and thus if we are to be righteous then it is simply by the grace of God alone. And thus through Christ, we who are not righteous but filthy rags, sinners the worst are we, are made righteous, on no account of what we have done but on every account of what Christ has already done on that terrible cross.
“Sin boldly, but even more boldly belief in Jesus Christ,” one of Martin Luther’s more famous quotes. You’ve heard me us this quote, saying that if the world considers Christianity sinful then sin boldly, but there is another usage for this quote. You are a sinner. Do not hide from that awful reality. Boldly acknowledge your sinfulness. If you are going to sin, and you will, face it head first and don’t hide from your own wickedness. Only then can you with a despairing heart boldly turn to the cross and fiercely proclaim to the Lord, “I am a sinner, save me from myself.”
So to those Christians who are so weighed down by their own history of sinfulness and wonder if it is even permissible of them to speak the Gospel; who wonder if they are even right with God; who wonder if it is hypocritical for them, a sinner, to talk about the grace of God – another quote from Luther. “So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: "I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!”
Let us pray,
Dear Heavenly Father, in our sinfulness each and every one of us has done something we are not proud of. We may wish to hide these things from you, you who know everything, so we ask that you instead give us the courage to face our darkness, but to face it with the full knowledge that your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, died on the cross for sinners like us in order to forgive us and redeem us. We pray in your holy name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Isaiah 62: 1-5
Psalm 36: 5-10
1 Corinthians 12: 1-11
John 2: 1-11
“Zion, The Bride”
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
In many religions the gods are far removed, living in their Castles and Mountains and Domains where no mortal flesh generally exist. Humanity and the gods of their imagination were separated; Gods in their domain and humans their mortal realms. This is a figment of the human imagination for how else can you explain the divine that you cannot see? Human reason which guides their made-up religions has led many easily dissatisfied worshippers into assuming that these fantastical beings obviously reign in a foreign environment, for why else would we be unable to see them? The relationship between them and their gods was not intimate. I mean, how could it? How can you be intimate with that which does not exist? There is no long lasting unceasing close relationship with their far removed gods.
Now some of you may realize that what I just said may sound familiar, for this is also a slanderous argument used against Christians by those who lack faith and are thus blind to the Truth. And what is this Truth? That God is not far removed. He does not live solely in some alabaster castle or behind closed gates. He is here, and as proof, just look at the Communion elements; that is truly and physically his Body and his Blood. So He is not far removed. But to the unbeliever, who lacks faith and is thus blind to reality, all they see is bread and wine. They are
incapable of seeing God, and thus their view of us, similar to our view of those who worship dumb idols and false gods.
The thing is God indeed has a very close and intimate relationship with His people. If you look at the first several books of the Old Testament, starting with Exodus, God was physically present with his people through the ark that traveled with them. God was amongst us in those early days as we walked with us, traveling with us, from camp to camp. And even when they settled, all he asked for was a tent, just like everyone else. He wanted to be close, easily accessible, and not far off. God was not to be like some lofty Lord who had serfs appointed under him but dared not ever mingle with such filthy troglodytes. He was not like some prince who lorded himself over the common rabble expecting praise for prides-sake. God is King, He is Lord, but He was not like these lords. Instead he was a King whose people were more like family than servant.
His people Zion, were not mere worshippers, but was his beautiful bride. God had so much love for his bride, of whom he adored, that he adorned her with a royal diadem, a crown of beauty, and brilliance that caused kings to glorify her. Zion, His wife, was like a Cedar tree placed on the highest mountain for all to see. Zion, a people truly blessed by God.
How could anyone say that the Lord is far off when He is so obviously close to a people that he is literally married to? Now Zion in of itself is not beautiful, nor is she the cause of her own righteousness. Zion in of herself is not worthy of praise, nor is there anything particularly special about her. Yet, the Lord God
chose her and makes it so that she was more beautiful than anyone and anything. It is the Lord God who made her righteous and brilliant and like a burning torch that brightens a darkroom. It is the Lord God who is the source of her salvation, who purifies and presents as purified. Kings don’t bow down to Zion for anything particularly of Zion, for what can Zion produce that is worthy of praise from earthy kings? But Kings do bow down to Zion regardless for they see the glory of God present behind Zion.
They see the blessings of the Lord showered upon Zion. They see her kindness, her boldness, her unwavering faith, her might. They see all this, and the arm of God being the source of all these blessings. Thus the nations bow down in fear and awe for Lord God stands with Zion as Husband and wife.
They see her beauty, but know that Zion, in of herself, is not particularly beautiful. They see a beauty that can only be achieved through the intervention of the Almighty. The crown she wears is not of earthy beauty and significance, but is a divine crown gifted by the King of Kings Himself; a divine crown which has beauty and significance that far surpasses anything of the earth. How can anyone claim that God is far off when the obvious splendor of God is as clear as the eye can see?
But who is Zion? Is Zion Jerusalem? Is Zion Israel? Is Zion Judaism? Zion is the people of God. All who have faith in Him and have received the inheritance of Heaven through faith in the Son which comes from the Holy Spirit is Zion. The Church is Zion. And Jesus is her Bridegroom.
Now as a disclaimer, I am not preaching a Gospel of prosperity, of earthly wealth, but am merely saying that those who have eyes to see would see that God does indeed bless his people with more lofty and divine things for He is not only our King, but is also our bridegroom.
His love for us surpasses all understanding that whenever we turn from evil but then turn towards Him He rejoices and all the heavenly hosts sing alleluia. You know the parable of the prodigal Son; that is a story reflective of someone who turns away from God, who ruins their life, who realizes the love of God, who returns thinking he does not deserve to be recognized only to receive the finest of feasts. The Father is torn apart whenever we leave his life-giving presence, the source of our beauty and righteousness, and thus He is overjoyed whenever we turn back to Him. He is like a lovesick fiancé who finds out his soon-to-be wife has ran away with someone else, who continuously sends letters to her about his unconditional love, who organizes the wedding regardless, and then breaks down in tears of joy as he sees his bride running down the aisle on the wedding day asking for forgiveness.
His love for us surpasses all understanding that He is even willing to rewrite the Laws of Nature all so that He can provide us with miracles. Many of you know of or have been the recipient of these miracles: an incurable disease disappearing; a turning from a sinful life style; an impossible event happening; a happy providential “coincidence”; a prayer heard.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus went so far to rewrite physics all so he can miraculously transform water into wine; wine, an incredibly important thing for weddings, and always a tragedy if spoiled or lacking. When the wine ran out, it was Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who came to Him and said, “They have no wine.” She’s practically ordering Jesus to make more wine, for she knows the truth about her son. And Jesus knew her implied message, a demand to perform a miracle, which is why He said, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Yes, I see there is no wine, why are you telling me in particular that unless you are implying that I do something about it? My time has not come yet, when it does then I’ll do a miracle. Then the audacity of His mother who told a servant, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Honor thy parents. Jesus loved his mother so much, that even though it was not his time, he performed his first miracle; turning water into wine. He couldn’t say no to her. He rewrote the Laws of Nature simply because his mother commanded him, though implied, to produce more wine. And isn’t fitting that his first miracle was done at a wedding, and done so that the wedding feast would be fantastic? This and communion, are both foretastes for the even grander feast in heaven that is prepared for all us, a feast for the wedding between the Church and her King.
His love for us, his precious bride, surpasses all
understanding that he willingly gave up everything to save us. A true husband protects the honor of his wife, and would go through thick and thin to make sure that she is always provided for and is safe. Many Soldiers, police officers, firemen, willingly give up their
lives not merely for the sake of country, but for the sake of their family. There are Soldiers who carries pictures of their wives on them as a reminder of why they are doing what they are doing. According to John 15:13, to lay down your life for the sake of a
friend or family is the greatest form of love. The Love of Christ for his bride, the Church, surpasses all understanding that he willingly allowed himself to be taken, slandered, brutally attacked, humiliated, and suffered one of the most painful of deaths. He allowed all of this, for just as Satan alluded to during the Temptations, all Jesus had to do is cry for help and angels would lift him up. He allowed all of this, because he knew the end result, and desired this end result. For through his death, he forgave us all our sins by taking on our sins and went to Hell so that we won’t have to go to Hell as a result of our sinfulness.
He saved us, and he did that because He is not just our King but also the Church’s ever faithful and loving bridegroom.
Let us pray,
Dear Heavenly Father, as we take Jesus into our bodies through the Eucharist, help us remember that this is a foretaste of the overwhelmingly gracious Wedding feast that awaits us eternally in Heaven. In your holy name we pray: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.