Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Good morning, fellow redeemed!
From the Large Catechism concerning the Lord's Prayer:
Our Father who art in heaven:
No person can perfectly keep the Ten Commandments, even though he has begun to believe. The devil with all his power, together with the world and our own flesh, resists all our efforts. Therefore, nothing is more necessary than that we should continually turn toward God's ear, call upon Him, and pray to Him. We must pray that He would give, preserve, and increase faith in us and the fulfillment of the Ten Commandments (2 Thess. 1:3). We pray that He would remove everything that is in our way and that opposes us in these matters. So that we might know what and how to pray, our Lord Jesus Christ has Himself taught us both the way and the words (Luke 11:1-4), as we shall see.
A word about the freewill offerings at the Lenten meals: We've read and seen a lot about the earthquake in Japan here recently, and rightly so. Unfortunately, in this frenzied world, the things that happened a while back tend to get pushed aside by the world's news services. Last year, a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, a nation in the Caribbean Sea, and thought to be, if not THE poorest, one of the poorest nations in the world. In an email I received several weeks ago, the biggest problem in Haiti isn't radiation, but cholera, a disease that spreads through the lack of clean drinking water. LCMS World Relief and Human Care, in partnership with Lutheran Disaster Assistance, is making water filters available in Haiti. At a cost of $30 each, these filters provide fresh water for a family of six for five years. Our Lenten meal offerings this year are being given to LCMS World Relief and Human Care for this very worthwhile endeavor.
This week at Mt. Olive, a couple of changes are in store for Bible study.
Sunday mornings, we will be undertaking a study called Faith on the Edge: The Quest for Spirituality. According to the description, topics include Extrasensory Perception (ESP), paranormal and psychic phenomena, astrology, meditation and contemplation, Wicca, and health practices such as yoga and crystals.
Wednesday mornings, we'll undertake a study of 1, 2, and 3 John.
A few notes:
I hope to finish Mere Christianity this evening at Lutheran Book Club. The next book for consideration is "Why I am a Lutheran: Jesus at the Center" by Daniel Preus. The book club meets most Tuesday nights at the home of Dru and Tammy Blanc.
The April Church Council meeting has been moved up to April 4 at 7 p.m.
April 11, Vladimir Nitmitsky and his wife Julia, missionaries from Jews for Jesus, will be at Mt. Olive presenting a program titled "Christ in the Passover: Model Seder." Please make every effort to attend!
Finally, I'm a little reluctant to do this, but I encourage anyone who desires to come by McDonald's at Weber and Saratoga this evening between 5 and 8 p.m. The Carroll Tiger Band, of which Jonathan is a part, is having a fundraiser there.
David Simonds, undergoing surgery
Doris Nelson, going through physical therapy
Ruby Rieder, Emmet and Emma Wright, Ann Cleveland, Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston), Norene Estes (Oklahoma)
Those who serve in our Armed Forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen, Ryan Radtke, Dru Blanc (Corpus Christi)
The Church throughout the world as she continues the walk to the cross through this Lententide
This Week at Mt Olive:
Tuesday, March 29
Lutheran Book Club
Wednesday, March 30
Bible Study (1, 2, 3 John)
Lenten Midday Prayer
Lenten Meal (baked potatoes, sponsored by the Board of Elders)
Lenten Evening Prayer
Thursday, March 31
Sunday, April 3
Regular worship and Sunday School schedule.
Lent 4, Series A April 3, 2011
Lessons for the Fourth Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 42:14–21 ~ God promised to turn darkness to light and give the blind sight so they might follow Him.
Psalm 142 (ant. v. 5)
Ephesians 5:8–14 ~ Rebirth in faith is like waking from death into the glorious light of God’s new day.
John 9:1–41~ When Jesus gave sight to a blind man, he gave clear testimony that Jesus was a prophet.
or John 9:1–7, 13–17, 34–39
GATHERING THE TEXTS: Our Eyes are Always on the Lord.
Our Lord Jesus is the Light of the World and shines in our dark lives to guide us into his truth. Sometimes even the people of light close their eyes to the dawn of God's grace, as they did in Isaiah's day. Then they are spiritually blind, just as the Pharisees were when they confronted the man to whom Jesus had given sight. That man saw much more than his physical world when he met Jesus. Our eyes also are opened to see him and our tongues moved to confess: "I do believe, Lord!"
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Almighty God, your light shines in my life to light up my dark world. You know my needs and my desires. Reach out your strong hand to defend me from my enemies and guide me in the path of your truth. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: The blind man healed by Jesus on the Sabbath used his new found sight to give a clear witness to “the prophet” who had healed him. Our lives are gifts to God when we clearly express our faith in Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of the world.
OFFERING PRAYER: Through our stewardship of Your gifts, dear Father,
May we shine like bright lights for others,
That many people will hear the good news
That Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: When we fail to discern what is pleasing to the Lord, we are living in the darkness of this world, out of touch with God and lost in our selfish wills. God heals us from blindness just as Jesus did the man who He told to wash in the pool of Siloam. To recognize the redeeming power of God working in the darkness of this world means that we are enlisted in the work of the Kingdom of God and seek to do the Father’s will.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Whether you are a businessperson starting a new venture or a family trying to get out of debt or a young person preparing for a career or someone trying to lose weight—you need a plan. You need a plan.
But as different as these goals are—the plans to get out of debt and build a business and become a doctor and lose weight all share the same characteristics: where are you right now—your goal at the end—how you are going to get there—and what resources are at your disposal to reach your goal. Every plan has those steps.
The same thing is true in our life of faith and Paul talks about those steps in our text today. All of us have the goal of going to heaven when we die. And so we need to know where we are right now in our journey of faith. We need to know how it is that God is going to bring us to himself in heaven. And we need to know what spiritual resources we can count on to get us there. Paul writes:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand…
Standing in God’s grace. That is where we are right now and it’s a great place to be when it comes to our life with God! But what does that mean exactly—that we stand in God’s “grace”? I am always concerned that we hear (and even use) theological words like “grace” and “justification” and we know we should know what they mean—but we’re embarrassed to admit that we don’t. And so I’ll explain what “grace” means.
That we are standing in God’s grace means that when it comes to our relationship with God: we can be confident that God is favorably disposed to us—that he is pleased with us—that his attitude towards us is one of love and blessing—that far from being “out to get us”—God is for us—personally and individually. Right now we are standing in God’s grace. But how did we come to this remarkable place of blessing & favor?
Paul says that we have been justified by faith in Jesus and that through him—we have gained access into this precious place of standing in God’s grace. And so it’s through faith in Jesus. But there’s another one of those words that we hear and use but don’t always know what it means: that we are “justified” by faith. And so I’ll explain.
That word “justified” means that God himself has declared that we are right in his sight through faith in Jesus. It means that God himself has counted Christ’s holy life as our own righteousness --and that God himself has counted Christ’s death on the cross as our punishment for our sins.
The wrath that God has towards sinners has been taken away and replaced by peace-- so that now through faith in Jesus we are right in God’s sight and we can be absolutely confident that God looks upon us with a shining face of love-- and a desire to bless us with every good gift of body and soul.
Grace is where we are and faith has brought us there and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Our goal is to one day live in the presence of the glory of God—that is: to be in the presence of God himself with his light and love and life shining upon us forever and ever. This is THE GOAL of our Christian life.
I want to emphasize that point as strongly as I can because it often gets lost or distorted in modern Christianity. There are countless congregations where Sunday after Sunday all you ever hear is how to improve your marriage or how to discipline your kids or how to manage your money: how to have your best life now.
And there’s nothing wrong with any of these things and God cares about all of them. But the focus in these churches is always on the here and now—rarely, if ever, is the focus on the eternal purpose and plan that God has for your life—that heaven is HIS goal for you.
God has created you by his almighty Word- and redeemed you at the cost his Son’s blood- and brought you to himself by the power of the Holy Spirit- for a single purpose: that you would live with him in heaven—so that his glory would shine upon you forever in joy and peace. And as Christian people we rejoice in that hope.
But there is another one of those words that we need to make sure that we understand: the word “hope”. You hear people say: I HOPE I win the lottery when the odds are 600 million to one. That IS NOT what the Bible means by hope. The Bible says that HOPE is an anchor for our souls. That is because Christian hope, including and especially the hope of heaven, is based upon the promises of God—the fulfillment of which is in the future to be sure—but is nevertheless certain—because God has promised that we will be with him forever in heaven. That is our goal.
So far we have learned: 1. Where we are right now: standing in grace 2. How we got there: by faith in Jesus 3. and what our goal is: eternal life in the presence of the glory of God. The next step in God’s plan is getting us there. Paul writes about God’s process to bring us to heaven:
We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame
In sharp contrast to those TV deceivers who tell us that we can have our best life now, God tells us that the best is yet to come- and that there might very well be some hardship along the way until we reach the glories of heaven. But far from bemoaning our bad luck in undergoing hard times, we can actually rejoice in the midst of it because we know that there is a God of love who is wisely, graciously, lovingly, patiently working in those hard times for our good-- to form us into the image of his Son and prepare us for an eternal life in his presence. And so how does God do that exactly? What are the steps that God takes in that plan?
First of all we need to recognize that there are going to be hard times and there is going to be some suffering in this life. We live in a broken world- and we are broken people- and there are going to be times when that brokenness comes to rest on us and those we love. But as we go through those times, we come to see that what we thought was unbearable, has actually made us stronger.
It just like a person trying to get in shape: a little bit of running can seem like unbearable agony, but if they stick with it just a bit—they find that their endurance grows day by day. And that realization changes them on the inside: they begin to understand that they have interior resources that they never imagined- and they are even better fitted to face the next challenge in their life. So it is in our life of faith.
Character is produced in us as we face and overcome the challenges of life. When we discover (through trials) that God will equip us and strengthen us for whatever difficulties we have to endure—ever so slowly we begin to change on the inside—we become more courageous and confident—we develop an inner resolve—we gain a mental and emotional strength that can only grow when it is stretched by endurance. Our character grows. And character produces hope.
This is where God is working to bring us—to a firm hope in him—confidently facing the future and eternity—because we know the God who has been our help every step along the way has promised to remain our help- come what may-til we get to heaven.
Let me just summarize this process with an analogy. All of us who are parents know what we want at the end of our child-rearing years: we want decent, hardworking, Christian adult sons and daughters. And so, is the best way to achieve this goal to give them every thing they want on a sliver platter, to pamper them into helplessness, to never challenge them beyond where there are in any given moment?
Is that the best plan? Of course not! It’s a recipe for disaster!
And if we have sense enough to know that that formula doesn’t work for our children—why on earth would we demand that God work that way among us—his children? That is a recipe for spiritual disaster!
Our loving heavenly Father has an eternal goal and purpose for our life that he is working out—even in hard times—which are A PART of that plan.
But as little as we would spoil our children, neither would we let our children fend for themselves without our help-- and neither does our heavenly Father leave us to our own resources and strength. Every bit of God’s plan to bring us to our heavenly home (through suffering and endurance and character and hope) is accomplished in us by his loving help. Paul says that: God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. And so what does that mean? It means that:
Every time we hear God’s Word preached (the law that corrects us and the Gospel that comforts us) every time we hear that our sins are forgiven—every time we receive Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion—there, in those places, and in those moments—God is pouring his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit—to give us those spiritual resources we need to reach our heavenly goal—which is why he sent his Son in the first place. Paul writes:
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
All of us understand the challenges of reaching a goal. The vast majority of new businesses fail. Lots of kids want to be doctors until the hard work of physics and biochemistry kick in. Plenty of us have lost and gained back hundreds of pounds.
We know about failure in meeting goals. And so how can we be confident as Christian people that we WILL make the goal of heaven? It‘s because the One who has already accomplished so much in us and though us has promised that we will-- and his track record of accomplishing what seems to us impossible—is perfect.
While we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. It you think you are weak now (and that causes you to worry about reaching heaven) think what you were before you came to faith in Jesus! But it was at that moment—when you had no spiritual resources of your own—that God loved you and sent his Son to die for you. It is while you were still sinners—incapable of pleasing God—incapable of even making a start towards God—that Christ died for you.
This is the deep, abiding, everlasting love that God has for each and every one of you and having sent his Son to die for you—having brought you to himself by the Spirit’s work in Holy Baptism—having sustained your faith through word and sacrament up to this point—HE WILL NOT STOP working to bring you to heaven until you are safe and sound, standing in his presence, basking in his glory.
And so when you think about how far you still have to go to get to heaven—when you are in the midst of some kind of sorrow or suffering—when your sins seem to overwhelm your faith—remember what you learned today: that through faith in Jesus you stand in God’s grace RIGHT NOW—that he is at work in your life in hard times to shape and mold you into the image of his Son—and that having sent his Son to die for you while you were still a sinner—he CERTAINLY will not give up on you until you reach your heavenly goal. Amen.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Lent 3, Series A March 27, 2011
Lessons for the Third Sunday in Lent
Exodus 17:1–7 ~ Even when the Israelites doubted God’s care, he provided water in the desert.
Psalm 95:1–9 (ant. v. 6)
Romans 5:1–8 ~ When we needed it the most, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
John 4:5–26 (27–30, 39–42) ~ Jesus provided living water to the woman and many others in the village.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: God is With Us in Our Trouble.
The Israelites had crossed through the Red Sea on dry ground and found themselves in an arid land. Without water they would soon die, but even though they complained and blamed God, He provided water miraculously from a rock. God sent His Messiah to rescue us from the greatest trouble of sin and death, and by His death for us turns even our suffering into hope! At a well outside a Samaritan village, Jesus was thirsty, but in His asking a woman for help, He gave her, and many of her neighbors, the living water of faith and life.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord Jesus, you are an ever-present help in time of trouble, always more ready to answer our needs than we are to ask. Let your ready help be like a drink of cool water to me, giving me life in place of death, and hope instead of despair. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: We give, and choose to give even at a cost to ourselves (which is to say, sacrificially!), not to receive a reward, but because it is our loving response to Christ’s love for us.
OFFERING PRAYER: In all Your gifts, O Lord, we see Your gracious love,
And find Your greatest love in Jesus’ powerful name!
Accept the gifts we bring and bless them from above
That all we say and do may glorify Your name.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We have an ongoing emptiness, a need to be filled and refreshed. It is represented by our thirst and dependence on water. It is experienced in our sufferings. It is a result of our sin and alienation from God, but it is restored and reconciled by Jesus’ death for us while we were still sinners. Jesus is the source of our life and the means of our access to the Father.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Good morning, fellow redeemed!
Please pardon my tardiness. I usually get the update posted on Sunday evening, but I took the opportunity on our wedding anniversary to treat my wife to a nice dinner. Eighteen years ago yesterday, Kathy and I were united in the bonds of marriage. As I tell couples who are about to get married, one of the best things ever to happen to us was, about two months after our wedding, we moved to St. Louis for seminary. Talk about a change! We had to be dependent upon each other, as we were a thousand miles away from our families.
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, for You hallowed us with Your commandments and given us the marriage covenant. In this sacred union, You bind together man and woman, husband and wife, that they may be strengthened and upheld. And, You give us a picture of how You have Yourself to Your people, the Church. Strengthen all husbands and wives in their marriage, that they may delight in Your holy will and may raise up their families in the nurture and admonition of Your holy Word. Preserve Your bride, the Church, that she may rejoice to enter into Your marriage feast which shall never end. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen
Lutheran Schools. I once asked how many attended Lutheran schools during their childhoods. For a couple of years, Jonathan attended Trinity-St. Paul Lutheran School in Hamel, Illinois, Kathy attended Zion Lutheran School in Independence, KS through the eighth grade, and I attended Redeemer Lutheran School in Austin through the sixth grade. This week, Mt. Olive Lutheran Church celebrates the ministry with which our Lord has blessed us at Mt. Olive Lutheran School. Each week at Mt. Olive, forty-four children hear the Good News about Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
This week the Lenten services and Lenten meals continue. The theme for this week's Lenten service is "Father, Forgive Us When We Despise Your Great Salvation!" The meal is provided by the Sunday School teachers and the Sr. Youth, with an Italian theme. The offerings from this years' meals will be given LCMS World Relief and Human Care and Lutheran Disaster Assistance to purchase fresh water filter systems for families in Haiti.
Lenten services are held at 12:15 p.m. (Midday Prayer) and 7:15 p.m. (Evening Prayer).
The Lutheran Book Club meets on Tuesday evening at the home of the Blancs. This week, we enter Book IV of "Mere Christianity" by C. S. Lewis. The next book to be undertaken is, "Why I Am a Lutheran: Jesus at the Center" by Pastor Daniel Preus.
Finally, this coming Sunday will serve as Lutheran School Sunday at Mt. Olive. This is also the Sunday of a quarterly Voters Assembly meeting. Thus, the schedule for this Sunday is:
9:30 a.m. Divine Service (single service; guitar service)
10:30 a.m. Sunday School, Video for school parents in attendance, and Voters Assembly meeting
11:30 a.m. Meal and fellowship
12 p.m. Confirmation Instruction
Emmet and Emma Wright, Ruby Rieder, Ann Cleveland, Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston), Norene Estes (Oklahoma)
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen, Ryan Radtke, Dru Blanc (Corpus Christi)
Thanksgiving for the safe arrival of Stephanie Muhr from Japan
The churches in Japan and their pastors, that they may proclaim Christ crucified as the only source of home and assurance in the face of such a great disaster
The relief workers in Haiti from LCMS World Relief and Human Care, and Lutheran Disaster Assistance, as they continue to bring the hope of Christ crucified and the gift of daily bread into what often seems a hopeless situation
The holy Church throughout the world as she continues through this Lententide
The schools, colleges, and seminaries of the Church as they proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, March 21
Board of Elders
Tuesday, March 22
Lutheran School Week activity
Lutheran Book Club
Wednesday, March 23
Lutheran School Week activity
Bible Study (Deuteronomy)
Lent Midday Prayer
Lent Evening Prayer
Thursday, March 24
Lutheran School Week activity
Guitar Worship Rehearsal
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Romans chapter 3 is the great “justification” chapter of the Bible. Paul clearly, carefully teaches how it is that we can be right in God’s sight and have a life with God and be certain that death is not the end for us. He says in summary: “We hold that one is justified by faith APART from works of the law.” It is through faith in Jesus that God declares us right in his sight. It is through faith in Jesus we have a living relationship with God. It is through faith in Jesus that we will live forever.
But then Paul goes on to answer an objection regarding this teaching of justification by faith: “Isn’t this an innovation from what the people of God have always believed?” “Aren’t you overthrowing the law?” And in the verses immediately before our text, Paul says: “By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”
And beginning with our text today he shows that when he teaches justification by faith—he is simply teaching what the people of God have always believed—that this way of salvation is nothing new—but is taught by the Old Testament.
Yes the law of God has its place—it is the unchangeable will of God for how we are to live our lives—but it has never been the means of having a life with God—that has always come by faith—and he gives an example of this in the life of Abraham. Paul writes:
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?
At God’s command, Abraham left his homeland and his extended family and everything that was near and dear to him to go to a land that he did not know. Everywhere his caravan stopped he built an altar to the Lord and sacrificed to him. When God commanded to sacrifice his son, his only son, the son he loved—he did not hesitate—and would have done so if the Angel of the Lord had not stopped him and provided a substitute. In terms of obedience to the Lord—Abraham’s life was exemplary.
But what did his obedience GAIN for him in terms of his relationship with the Lord? If, in fact, Abraham had made a way to God through his obedience-- this was something to brag about—something to boast of. But had he really managed to do this? Paul writes:
If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about-- but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
The righteous, obedient, holy life of Abraham was praiseworthy—it merits our imitation--if anyone had a perfect right to boast to his friends and neighbors about who he was and what he had done compared to other men, it was Abraham—BUT NOT TOWARD GOD—because God’s standard is himself—his own holiness—his own righteousness—and as holy as Abraham was—he didn’t match God.
And yet, Abraham was right in God’s sight—he had a living relationship with God that would extend beyond his earthly life. And if that had not come from his obedience to the will of God—how had it come to him? It came through faith. The Bible says: Abraham believed God—and his faith was counted to him—credited to him—reckoned to him--as righteousness in God’s sight.
All of his good works—the countless acts that sprang from his obedience to God’s commands—the fact that he was the best sort of man—still did not add up to a life with God—it didn’t reconcile the books (so to speak) because in one column was God and in the other column were the works of Abraham. But-- God had credited something else to Abraham’s account that did equal up to a life with God: and that was Abraham’s faith. The question is: how did that “add up” exactly and why? Paul writes:
To the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness...
So why did Abraham’s faith make all the difference? When his works and obedience and life were not enough to have a life with God—when “the wages” for that that kind of life were still not enough to “buy” a place with God—why then did Abraham’s faith matter so much?
Maybe it was the act of believing in and of itself, that God rewards---that contrary to other human works, faith is the human work that God is really looking for—faith is the labor that earns our life with God. But that doesn’t “add up” either because it leaves us in the same place as any other kind of work—none of us ever having believed in God as fervently as the First Commandment demands that we do.
And so what was it about Abraham’s faith that God counted in his sight as righteousness?
It was the CONTENT of what his faith laid hold of: a firm trust in the God who justifies the ungodly. Abraham had not done enough- and could never do enough- to earn a place with God- but his faith in God WAS sufficient because the CONTENT of his saving faith was the God who graciously brings sinners to himself.
It is impossible to overemphasize this biblical teaching about HOW AND WHY faith is counted in God’s sight as righteousness! All kinds of people in the world today have faith—in something—but their faith does not count in God’s sight as righteousness—it does not equal a life with God—and it certainly does not lead to eternal life.
The murderers who flew the planes into the World Trade Center had faith—but the content of their faith was a murderous lie and a satanic idol—and their faith took them to hell.
Faith counts as righteousness in God’s sight—NOT because it is a human work—but because its object (what it believes in and lays hold of) is true. And the proper object of saving faith is the God who justifies the ungodly—that is, the God who forgives sinners. Paul gives another example of the same thing in the life of David:
David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works...
All of us know the story of King David—how he committed adultery with Bathsheba—murdered her husband by sending him to his death in battle—and then hid the whole sorry mess and went back to living his life as if nothing had ever happened.
But rather than striking him dead for his sin, God sent Nathan the prophet to lead David to see the truth about his sin and cry out for the mercy and forgiveness of God. He did not deserve forgiveness (what he had actually earned by his actions was death) but David knew the Lord was the God who forgives sins—and he did: God forgave David. It was this part of his life that inspired David to write the psalm that Paul quotes:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Please understand, David is not saying that he did not sin—he is not saying that somehow he had earned a free pass. He admits his deeds were lawless. He confesses that he is a sinner. But he also knows that God has covered that sin and not charged it to his account. How did this come about? Where is the justice in this kind of accounting?
David’s sins were covered and not counted against him because of the shedding of blood—just like the guilt and shame and sin of Adam and Eve were covered by the shedding of blood.
From the very beginning of time God had set before mankind’s eyes the wages of sin: and that is death. One innocent animal after another would shed its blood and lose its life as a reminder of the cost of sin --but also as a promise of the sacrifice to come that would cover all sins—once for all.
Jesus is that sacrifice. In our Gospel lesson today we hear Jesus explain to Nicodemus just exactly how faith saves: Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever BELIEVES in him may have eternal life. Jesus’ death on the cross has paid the penalty for David’s lawless deeds and ours. The blood that was shed there on Calvary has covered our sins. And the sins that should have been counted as ours were charged to Jesus who died under the curse of death that God pronounced upon them.
Abraham looked forward to that day in faith and so did David. We look back in faith and know it to be the accomplished fact of history.
The content of a true and saving faith is the God who justifies the ungodly—who forgives the lawless deeds of men—and that is Jesus. Jesus said of himself that “Abraham looked forward to his day” and that “David called him Lord”. These Old Testament saints had a life with God-- in the only way that it is possible to have a life with God—and that is through faith in Jesus. And it HAS to be that way so that we can be absolutely confident that we DO have a life with God. Paul writes:
For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
With these words Paul makes a VITALLY important point regarding our life with God and it’s this: we can only be truly confident that things are right between us and God when that life is based upon what God has done for us-- RATHER than what we have done for God.
If God had made the promise to bless the world through Abraham dependent upon his keeping the law—we would have been lost—for as obedient as Abraham was, he still was not perfect. He had multiple wives. He lied about his marriage to Sarah when he thought that another man would kill him to get her for himself. He tried to work out the fulfillment to God’s promise of a son on his own rather than simply trusting God.
If God’s promise to bless the world through Abraham depended upon his faithfulness (rather than God’s faithfulness) we would be lost-- for the law always brings wrath because God’s standard is perfect obedience.
This discussion may seem far removed from our lives but it’s not! The largest Christian church on earth—a church with as many members as the rest of churches combined—teaches falsely that our salvation depends upon our obedience to the law—thereby robbing their members of the confidence that they ought to have regarding God’s saving work in Christ that has earned their salvation from beginning to end.
Our life with God—our right standing in God’s sight—our confidence that there is another life to come when this life is over—rests safe and secure upon the work of Jesus for us—and so long as that is where our faith is found—we can be confident that we are God’s children—for our faithful God has promised us this very thing. Paul writes:
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations-- when he and his family and servants were only a handful of herdsmen. God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars-- when he didn’t even have a child. God promised that Abraham and Sarah would have a child --when they were decades beyond child-bearing years.
God kept every one of his promises to Abraham and ultimately fulfilled them in Jesus Christ—Abraham’s descendant.
Jesus is the one through whom the whole world is blessed with forgiveness- by his dying on the cross. Jesus is the One through whom God gave eternal life- by raising him from the dead. Jesus is the One through whom God counts us as his sons and daughters -where before he counted us as enemies.
This is what our faith rests on: the grace of God who reaches out to bless those who have not even yet begun to serve him or even know him. He is the God of kept promises and so our life with him-now and forever-is guaranteed to us who share the faith of Abraham.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Lent 2, Series A March 20, 2011
Lessons for the Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 12:1-9 ~ Abram went out in faith, trusting the Lord to lead him to a new land.
Psalm 121 (antiphon: vs 8)
Romans 4:1-8, 13-17 ~Just as Abraham lived by faith, so we receive life, trusting God’s promise.
John 3:1-17 ~ Jesus explained to Nicodemus that the new life of faith is the gift of the Spirit.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: Faith is the Child of Promise.
God promised better things for Abraham, and for the whole world, so Abraham trusted God's promise and made his home in the new land to which God led him. Nicodemus learned that the birth of a new life comes from the power of the Spirit working faith in God’s children. Abraham's family includes all who hear God's promise of salvation in Jesus and believe in his name; they are children of God. Promise gives birth to trust, especially when it is God who gives the Word.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Most gracious Father in heaven, I know that your Word promising eternal life through Jesus Christ your Son carries the power to create and strengthen faith in my heart. Help me stay close to your Word so that my trust in you may be kept strong. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: God has promised to use Abram, and all who, like Abram, trust God’s promise for life, to bring blessings to all the people of the world. God’s gift in Christ has blessed us. We are privileged to use our lives and goods in God’s service to bless others.
OFFERING PRAYER: Father Abraham has many sons and daughters,
All who live by faith, refusing schemes and barters.
These receive Your blessings, God, in flesh and spirit,
Sharing Gospel news with those who need to hear it.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: God has promised to give us great blessings, including an abundant life in Him that continues forever. When we see death and disaster all around us, we cannot understand how such things can be. We limit God to actions that are logical to our way of thinking, but God’s promise to Abram, and all who believe Him, finds completion in new spiritual birth for all who look to faith in Christ Jesus, lifted up on the cross to remove the condemnation of our sin.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
The division is set. There is no middle ground. What Adam and Eve failed to understand in the Old Testament Lesson for today (Gen. 3:1-21) does not get by Jesus in the Gospel (Matt. 4:1-11). By believing the lies of the devil, by following the path of disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit, the man and the woman, Adam and Eve, had thrown their lot with Satan. In effect, they had worshiped the devil. In withstanding temptation, Jesus, in the Gospel for today, remains within the will of His Father, worshiping only one God.
Many have contended that Jesus, true God, could not have sinned anyway, so the temptations He underwent aren't real. The truth is, Jesus is not impeccable, unable to sin, according to His human nature, but because He is at the same time divine, the inability to sin of His divinity is transferred to His humanity. Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.
By withstanding temptation, Jesus keeps the commandment, submitting only to the one true God and rejecting the devil. By faith, our Lord Jesus offers His perfect obedience to be accounted to us.
The holy season of Lent continues this week at Mt. Olive. The Lenten services this week present the theme "Father, Forgive Our Desire to Defy Your Divine Authority." Midday Prayer is held at 12:15 p.m., and Lenten Evening Prayer (with the Service of Light) is held at 7:15 p.m. Join us, following our Lord Jesus in His walk to the cross.
Again this week, a Lenten meal is provided. The menu is potato soup, hot dogs, and a dessert. A freewill offering is collected to be given the Haitian water filter project.
We are gearing up for Lutheran School Week the week of 21-25 MAR, with a celebration of Lutheran Schools on March 27. Please keep the education ministry of our congregation, as well as the congregations of our church body, in your prayers.
Finally, a little aside is in order. This week the Church, and society, observes St. Patrick's Day. For the Church, the day commemorates a faithful missionary to the Celtic tribes. For secular society, the day is simply another observation in which everybody turns Irish and efforts are made to put a dent in the world's supply of beer (from another Lutheran pastor of Irish descent: How many Irishmen does it take to screw in a light bulb? Three - one to hold the bulb and two to drink until the room spins). One thing I cannot abide is the attempts by some to be hip, calling the day St. Paddy's Day. A little research tells us that this is completely wrong and, to those of us with actual Irish ancestry, downright offensive. According to the Racial Slur Database, "Paddy" is a British derogatory term for an Irishman, along the same lines as the "N" word for an African American. On St. Patrick's Day, enjoy a little Irish Boiled Dinner or some corned beef and cabbage or simply a potato; enjoy a little Guinness or, if you must, some of that disgusting green beer. On St. Patrick's Day, praise God for the faith, life, and service of Patrick. But, please, do not call it St. Paddy's Day.
I will be out of the office most of Thursday, enjoying some family time. If you have an emergency, please call the Church Office and Mary will contact me.
Doris Nelson, hospitalized last week
Ann Stacy, Julianne's grandmother, and Harry Morris, Bill Waterman's friend
Gracyn Aills, Kathy's niece
Emmet and Emma Wright, Ann Cleveland, Ruby Rieder, Walter and Pearly Theiss, our brothers and sisters in Christ who are homebound
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorenson, Ryan Radtke, and Dru Blanc (Corpus Christi)
The holy Christian and apostolic Church throughout the world as she continues the road to the cross during the season of Lent
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, March 14
Tuesday, March 15
Lutheran Book Club at the home of the Blancs
Wednesday, March 16 (Happy Birthday, Jay!)
Bible Study (Deuteronomy)
Lenten Meal begins
Lenten Evening Prayer
Thursday, March 17 (St. Patrick's Day; Happy Baptism Birthday, Jonathan!)
Sunday, March 13, 2011
The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the Epistle lesson appointed for this First Sunday in Lent. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
What we have before us today in the three lessons appointed for this first Sunday in Lent is a summary of the basic teaching of the Bible on sin and salvation that I have summarized in the sermon title: “Death in Adam-Life in Christ”.
Genesis tells us how sin entered the world and what it did to us. The Gospel lesson shows us what Christ has done to earn our salvation by remaining faithful to God in temptation. And Romans perfectly joins them together so that we can clearly see the terrible curse of original sin for what it is—so that we can understand it’s deadly effects in our live—and so that we can give thanks to God for his incredible grace that has made things right again in his Son Jesus Christ. The bible says:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
Genesis tells the tragic story of mankind’s fall into sin. It is the Bible’s historical account of how we came to this place of spiritual broken-ness that always—without fail—leads to death.
The first thing that I want you to recognize from that early history of mankind is that there is a demonic element to our fallen human condition. The Bible doesn’t tell us a lot about the angelic rebellion against God except that by the time that Adam and Eve arrived in creation, evil already existed and Satan was determined to destroy mankind.
The same is still true of the world today. The Bible says that the devil is a roaring lion looking for people he can destroy. Those who deny the existence of Satan as a belief unworthy of modern people—deny the Bible. Satan is real.
But while rebellion against God did not originate with Adam, it is Adam’s disobedience that brought sin into the world and into every human life that followed. And yes, it is Adam and not Eve who sin is counted against even though Eve sinned first--because Adam came first-- and Eve came from him and when he sinned it destroyed every one of his children all who would come after him. All of them!
From the moment that Adam disobeyed God and ate from the tree in the Garden of Eden that was forbidden to him—he and every one of his descendants have been affected by his sin and die because of it—including us here today.
There are no exceptions or exemptions regarding the deadly effects of Adam’s sin. The Bible says that death spread to ALL men—even to those who did not break a specific command of God.
Adam and Eve had a specific command of God not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or they would die. Moses was given the Ten Commandments and death was the consequence for breaking those commandments.
But in between Adam in the Garden and Moses on Mount Sinai there was no particular, special revelation of God’s will in an audible or written way-- and yet every single person within that great length of time also died. Why is that?
First of all, even though there was no audible command or written law, the will of God was still written in man’s heart. Every person knew that it was wrong to kill and steal and commit adultery because God had written his will into their heart.
Ignorance of the Ten Commandments—or even the absence of the Ten Commandments (like there was for all those years between Adam and Moses) was no excuse.
Neither is it an excuse today. The Law of God is still written into every human heart. People can deny it—they can suppress it—they can join churches that tell them that it is no longer in effect--but they can’t get rid of it-- because it is written in their hearts and it accuses them and convicts them and God holds them accountable for it.
Second of all, every person between Adam and Moses died because Adam’s sin had spread to them simply by virtue of their being a part of the human family. Even little children died during that time just like they do today-- not because they had committed some great offense against the Ten Commandments or even sinned against the law written in their heart—but because they were descended from Adam.
The Bible says that death reigned over humanity even during this time that lacked a particular revelation of God’s will for humanity, because of the sin of Adam that was passed on to every human person.
Adam’s actions affected the entire world and in this, the Bible says, he is a type or a picture of the Savior who would come, Jesus Christ, but only for this reason: that the actions of Jesus Christ would also affect every person in the world—not for our condemnation—but for our salvation. The bible says that:
The free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.
One man’s disobedience brought condemnation upon every single person in the world—Adam’s sin destroyed our life with God and brought death to every person.
But another man’s actions—Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection-- made things right between mankind and God--so that Christ’s resurrection from the dead was God’s declaration of “not guilty” spoken upon the entire world-- just as he had declared the whole world guilty in Adam and condemned us to death.
In our Gospel lesson today we see Jesus making things right between God and mankind—standing in Adam’s place where Adam fell (and where we fall) and succeeding in true obedience and righteousness of life—saying “no” to Satan every place where we have sinned and said “yes”.
Satan came to Jesus just as he did Adam: with food—with a promise of power—with a promise of a position equal to God. But where Adam fell into temptation and by his sin destroyed humanity (where we do the same) Jesus resisted temptation and was the faithful, obedient man whom God demands every one of us to be.
In that one powerful scene of our Lord’s victory over temptation in the wilderness, we see Satan’s reign over mankind being broken by Christ’s perfect obedience to his Father’s will-- and so it would continue throughout our Lord’s life—moment by moment fulfilling—for us-- in our place every thing that God wanted humanity to be right up until that moment when he suffered on the cross for sins that were not his own—but Adam’s sins and our sins and the sins of all of men.
When Jesus Christ was raised by the glory of the Father three days later—the death sentence that was pronounced on each and every one of us by God because of the sins of Adam and our sin—was lifted off of us-- because of the obedience of Jesus in our place. Where there was death in Adam, now there is life in Christ.
Once again we can know God and love God and have a life with God. And all of this is given to us as a free gift of God’s grace. How much clearer could the Holy Spirit make it, than he makes it here, that our salvation—our justification before God—our right standing and right relationship with God-- is solely his gift to us based upon his Son’s work?! Salvation is by God’s grace alone!
But we also need to know that that the gift of salvation through Christ’s righteousness must be received by us personally and individually if we are to benefit from it-- for salvation is not only BY grace alone, it is received by us THROUGH faith alone. The bible says:
If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
God has reconciled the world to himself in Christ. Jesus has fully atoned for the sins of all humanity. He has destroyed the reign of death and restored the reign of life by his own mighty resurrection from the grave. The justification of the world is an accomplished fact of history. That is what the Bible teaches about the work of Jesus.
So does that mean then that every person will be saved? Does that mean that every person will go to heaven? No! Because each person must receive what Christ has done for the world for himself if the reign of Christ’s life is to be present in his own life.
There are no exclusions or exemptions to the necessity of faith in Jesus—not because of gender—not because of race—not because of a lack of knowledge of the Gospel—not because of age. Even babies need to receive the salvation Christ has won for them on the cross which is why we bring them to the waters of Holy Baptism so that they, who by birth are given death from Adam, can receive life in Christ. The Bible says:
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.
It is the worst possible news that one man’s trespass-- thousands upon thousands of years ago-- has caused the death of every person who has ever lived. But that is not the end of the story about us by any means—and in fact, the certainty of our demise points—with certainty to something far better.
Besides the old Adam who brought sin and death into the world—there was another Adam—a new Adam—who brought righteousness and life. And just as certainly as we die for the first Adam’s sin—so we will just as certainly live because of the second Adam’s obedience and righteousness.
That’s the point God is making here in these verses! There is simply no denying that all of us are alienated from God by nature and that we will all die—we’ve experienced that in our congregation twice in as many weeks. But neither is there any denying that we have all been declared right in God’s sight and through faith in Jesus will live forever in his presence. Just as certain as there is death in Adam—so is there life in Christ.
What Jesus Christ did in his holy life, bloody death, and glorious resurrection MEANS life and salvation for us! Through faith in Jesus Christ you are right in God’s sight and restored to the perfect relationship Adam had with God in the beginning and you will live forever for there is life in Christ. Amen.
And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
Monday, March 7, 2011
Lent 1, Series A March 13, 2011
Lessons for the First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 3:1–21 ~ Adam and Eve fell into sin when Satan tempted them.
Psalm 32:1-7 (antiphon vs. 7a)
Romans 5:12–19 ~ As the result of one trespass all have sinned.
Matthew 4:1–11 ~ After He was baptized, Christ was tempted by Satan.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: Happy to be Human
That is what it is all about, you know. Adam and Eve were not satisfied with their created state. Out of the dust they had come, but they wanted to go to the stars. They were blinded by the stardust and earned death through their dissatisfaction. Jesus, on the other hand, came from the 'stars' and took on the dust of our humanity, happy to do so. By his obedience to death he opened up our future to become once again all that God had intended when he first created us.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord Jesus, the temptations around me are many and suited especially for my weakest moments. You were strong to resist the devil. Give me your strength. Even more, give me your victory over sin and even over death so I may live with you forever. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: God has placed kingdoms, power, wealth, food, and clothing at our disposal. He calls us to use them not for evil purposes, but for good, to empower the dispossessed and to spread the blessings of His Kingdom.
OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, let us use these earthly gifts
To build the Kingdom of Your name,
And set us free from Satan’s bonds
To spread Your glory and Your fame.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We exercise our ill-won right to choose good and evil for ourselves and remain caught up in the grip of sin earned by Adam and Eve. Jesus exercised His divine right to be faithful to His Father’s calling and burst us free from the power of death. Now we live in righteousness, not by right, but by the free gift of God’s grace.
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
After the Transfiguration of Our Lord, we embark on the road of the cross, down into Lent, on the road of repentance where we contemplate the words spoken as ashes are placed on our heads: Thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return. We are reminded that we are dying, and that life only comes in the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ for our sins. This Wednesday, as you come into the sanctuary and have ashes imposed with the words mentioned above, I invite you to sit in silence, waiting for the beginning of the service. As you wait, open your hymnal the inside front cover. There are numerous prayers there, including this one, titled "Before Confession and Absolution":
Almighty and everlasting God, for my many sins I justly deserve eternal condemnation. In Your mercy You sent Your dear Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, who won for me forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation. Grant me a true confession that, dead to sin, I may be raised up by Your life-giving absolution. Grant me Your Holy Spirit that I may be ever watchful and live a true and godly life in Your service; through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen
As mentioned before, this week at Mt. Olive we enter the holy season of Lent under the theme Father, Forgive Them. In this season of preparation and penitence, we're not preparing so much for Easter, as we are for Good Friday, for our Lord's death, substituting Himself for us to pay for our sin. Beginning Wednesday, Lenten midweek services will be held each Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. (Midday Prayer) and 7:15 p.m. (Lenten Vespers). Each Wednesday, a light meal is provided by different groups. Please join us for the events on the road to the cross.
Speaking of Lenten dinners, a few of the Wednesdays have already been selected, while others remain open:
March 9 - LWML
March 23 - Sunday School and Sr. Youth
March 30 - Elders
Remaining open: March 16, April 6 and 13. If your group or committee would like to provide a meal on a Lenten Wednesday, please send me a blast.
Speaking of Lenten dinners, Part II: With the freewill offering received at the dinners, I propose that the offering be given to LCMS World Relief and Human Care to purchase fresh water filters in Haiti.
Tuesday, two events are on the schedule. First, we will be hosting the pastors of our circuit for Confession and Absolution. Each Sunday, as pastors, we get to SAY the words of absolution or forgiveness, but we rarely get to HEAR these words, except at circuit conferences. In recent years through the ministrations of Pastor Larson and Pastor Childs, I have been blessed to hear Absolution at the Ash Wednesday evening services. It's my hope to provide this same blessing to my brothers in the ministry Tuesday morning.
Also Tuesday, the Lutheran Women's Missionary League is having its monthly meeting. The activity this month is assembling health kits. I will be providing refreshments in the form of a Shrove Tuesday pancake supper.
Congratulations are in order to Miranda Johnson who earned the lead role in Alice in Wonderland at London Middle School. Performances are this weekend and next. I'm looking forward to seeing this!
Finally, a some folks have asked if a day or two would be available to bring in Camp Lone Star registration. The answer is: Yes, but I absolutely MUST have them in my office by Tuesday morning. Schedules and PDF registration forms are available both on the narthex table, and at lomt.org.
Jacqueline Davis and her family, at the death of her father
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), Richard Rhode (North Carolina)
The home bound among us: Ruby Rieder, Ann Cleveland, Emmett and Emma Wright, Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston), Norene Estes (Oklahoma)
The Church throughout the world as she enters Lent this week
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Tuesday, March 8
Circuit pastors Confession and Absolution service
LWML meeting and refreshments
Wednesday, March 9
Bible Study (Deuteronomy)
Ash Wednesday service with the Lord's Supper
Lenten Meal, provided by LWML
Ash Wednesday Service with the Lord's Supper
Friday a week ago, Lois Sandberg, one of our winter Texans, was the lead actress in a play out at Sea Wind RV resort. The next day she had a massive stroke and the day after she passed away. We saw her at church the Sunday before. She came to Bible class. And the next Sunday she went to be with the Lord. She was a faithful Christian lady who was prepared to enter into eternity and stand before the Lord.
What about us? Are we prepared to depart this earthly life? We need to be! Oftentimes, we think that death is far in the future—that we will have plenty of time to prepare—that we will have some kind of “advance warning” so that we can get our spiritual house in order before we die. But that’s not always how life works. That is why we need to be prepared to depart this earthly life whenever the Lord calls us home.
How is it possible to always be prepared to stand before the Lord? What do we need to know and believe to face the end of our life with confidence no matter when it comes? The answers to these eternally important questions are found in our epistle lesson today as Peter considers his own departure and writes to his congregation to make sure they are ready to die as well. In the verses immediately before our text he writes:
I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
These were the last words that Peter wrote before he was executed. From one Lord’s Day to the next, friends that he had worshiped with the week before were no longer alive. One by one the Christians in Rome were being carried away in persecution and put to death. That day of departure was drawing near for him too—and he knew it.
It is a fascinating thing to me, that as Peter witnesses the death of his fellow Christians-- and as he considers his own passing from this life--the event from our Lord’s life that he remembers- and draws comfort from- and reminds his fellow Christians of as they approach martyrdom—is the transfiguration of our Lord.
I think that is so interesting—that of all the things that he could have remembered: his great confession of faith—his walking on the stormy sea of Galilee—his post-resurrection meeting with the Lord—all the miracles he witnessed--the thing that comes to mind in that moment when he considers his own passing and the thing he wants to comfort members of his flock with who are also approaching death is the transfiguration.
But as I thought about that this week, I realized that the facts of the transfiguration are exactly the things we need to be prepared to depart this earthly life.
The transfiguration tells us the truth about Jesus: that he was not just a good man, but God. The transfiguration reveals the good news about our where we will go when we die and what that new life will be like: that we will be with Jesus and those who departed in faith before us and that’s a good thing. And the transfiguration reminds us of the perfect guide we have in the Word of God until that day we go to be with the Lord.
Believing these things that are revealed in the transfiguration of our Lord, we are prepared to depart this earthly life whenever the Lord calls us home. Peter writes:
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. He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”
This week I got my Consumer Reports 2011 Best and Worst Cars issue. It gives reviews and advice on buying a car. If I am going to pay tens of thousands of dollars for some item I want to make sure I have the best information possible at hand. How much more do we need the best possible information when it comes to life and death!
Now you know that there are all kinds of idea and theories and philosophies when it comes to the religious questions that deal with eternal things such as our relationship with God and how we are to live and what happens to us when we die.
Some believe that we are reincarnated when we die. Others believe that we can obtain enlightenment in this life. Still others believe that we simply do the best we can and we die—and that’s that. Thousands of different ideas and beliefs—what Peter calls: cleverly devised myths.
Christianity is different than this. The foundation of Christianity is the testimony of real people regarding what they have seen and heard. Moses and Aaron and the elders of Israel beheld the glory of God and ate in his presence and saw the tablets of stone with the Law of God. Peter, James, and John went up with Jesus on the mountain and saw God’s glory in Christ. Peter says that they were eyewitnesses of his majesty and they heard God’s voice concerning his Son Jesus.
And so what did they see and hear and why did it matter so much to Peter that this was the thing that came to mind as he faced death? They saw in the blinding light and they heard from the voice of God that Jesus was not just a wise teacher—not just a courageous leader—not just a man—but that he was God. The majestic glory of God shone through his ordinary human flesh. The voice of God claimed him as his Son.
It was not just a man who had been with the disciples those three years—not just a wonder-worker—not just a wise teacher—it was God. It was God who taught them. It was God who went to the cross and died. And it was God who rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. God came to the rescue of his people and God forgave their sins and God promised life- like his own- that death could not end.
That was Peter’s comfort as he faced the end of his life and that is our comfort as we prepare to depart this earthly life. Our salvation and our resurrection is assured- not because it is a pious wish of some good man-- but because it is the promise of God!
That’s why the transfiguration is such a comfort for us we contemplate our mortality—because it reveals Jesus as the God who has the power to raise the dead even as he was raised from the dead! (Transition) But the transfiguration is also a comfort because it gives us a window into what eternal life will be like for us. Peter writes:
We ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
Every Transfiguration Sunday poor old Peter gets grief from preachers all over Christendom for his response to being in the presence of Jesus and Elijah and Moses. He says: Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah. And preachers will say about him, “There he goes again—Peter letting his mouth run ahead of his brain! How ridiculous it was to think that Moses and Elijah and Jesus would dwell there on that mountain in tents!”
But I’ll tell you the truth—Peter got a lot more right than wrong! It was good to be there! Basking in the glory of God—seated at Jesus’ feet—in the presence of the saints! Isn’t that what we hope for ourselves after our earthly life is over! Isn’t that the very thing that God promises to those who remain steadfast unto the end!
As Peter faced his own death—it is not something unfamiliar or unknown that he faced because he was with Jesus on the holy mountain. Heaven and earth came together in the presence of Jesus. The painful division between the living and the departed that we experience here on earth fell away as Moses and Elijah stood there with Jesus—alive!
Peter knew just exactly what would happen to him when he closed his eyes in this life—he would open them to the unveiled glory of his savior—he would be surrounded by the faithful saints who had come before him—fear and suffering would be banished--and he would never again have to leave that place to return to hardship and temptation.
So it is for us. We see in the Transfiguration of our Lord that for those who believe in Jesus—death is not something to be feared but simply the beginning of a new life in Jesus’ presence—reunited with the saints who have come before. And having prepared to depart this life in this way—by believing the promises of God—only then are we ready to live the rest of our life the way God wants—serving him here on earth, guided by his Word—but ready at any time to go and be with the Lord. Peter writes:
We have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
In the “Band of Brothers”—a miniseries about a company of paratroopers in WWII—one of the episodes is about the fear of dying that they all faced and how some overcame it and how some gave in to cowardice. And this episode follows one young soldier who is paralyzed by fear—who can’t do the tasks that are set before him as a soldier. Eventually he ends up in the same foxhole as one of the most courageous officers in the company—a man who fights heroically with little concern for his own life. The young soldier asks him how he does it. And the officer responded that early in the battle he stopped believing that he would get out of it alive—and this set him free to do his job without worrying about when death would come.
There are billions of people on this planet who live in the same dark place as that young soldier who was so afraid to die that it paralyzed his life. But the difference between them and us is that the bright, shining light of the resurrected Christ has shone into our hearts. Jesus is the Captain of our souls who has shown us the way to courageous, meaningful life by setting his face towards Jerusalem and death on the cross-- and knowing awaited him there—continued on—because he also knew that life, real life would come after death.
His death and resurrection—his identity as God in human flesh—his forgiveness and salvation—were all foretold in the pages of Holy Scripture. With accuracy and faithfulness Moses and Elijah and the prophets foretold all that Jesus would do because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
That same faithful Word which has taught us about the person and work of Jesus is a faithful guide for our lives right here and now until we go to be with Jesus—it is a lamp shining in a dark world that we are to pay attention to-- for it not only shows us the way to eternal life and prepares to pass from this life—but it guides our lives until that day the Lord calls us home.
It is only when we are prepared to depart this earthly life (through faith in Jesus and a yearning for our heavenly home) that we are truly ready to live out the rest of our days as God’s faithful people for as many days as he gives us-- trusting his faithful Word to guide us safely to everlasting life. Amen.