Saturday, March 29, 2014

“A Question of Suffering” (Matthew 27:46)

S-1421 4MIL/3A 3/26/2014 Hymns: (O) #153 vv 1-2; S #156; (C) # 153 vv 3-4

Texts: Psalm 27:7-14; Hebrew 9:23-28; Matthew 27:45-49

Theme: A Question of Suffering” (Matthew 27:46)

Question: “Have you experienced loneliness?” Armour, SD

Faithful followers of the Savior, the text is from the Gospel lesson And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).

INTRODUCTION: In Nomine Iesu.

As we continue our journey this evening to Golgotha, remember the precious truth—Jesus lived and died for sinners. His sacrifice is the means by which the Lord forgives and saves. But there’s more to our salvation than the tale of an unfair death. Jesus’ third-day resurrection is proof that the Redeemer is alive and can bless and be with His people always. We pray this evening, that the Holy Spirit will be with us in this lonely world.

There is nothing more dreadful than being alone. Loneliness is a silent cry, a deep moan, a wail, a gasp, a sigh that comes from the center of your heart and the core of your being. It is the fire that burns the soul of man.

Though we have over 7 billion people in the world it is still a very lonely place. I would like to introduce you to Walter Samaszko, Jr. of Carson City, NE. I would like you to meet him, but I can’t because Walter was found dead in his home in June of 2012. Sadly, Walter Samaszko, Jr. had died sometime in April or May. Walter died and nobody noticed. That surprises me because Walter had lived in that home since the 1960s. He was part of a community, a neighborhood. Even so nobody knew or missed him; nobody checked on him; nobody knocked on his door. Walter died a lonely man.

Walter died a lonely man, but not a poor man. He was not a destitute soul who cut himself off from others because he feared somebody might laugh at his poverty. No, Walter wasn’t poor. As his house was being cleaned for sale, authorities discovered gold bars; gold coins, both common and collectable. Best estimate: Walter had $7,000,000 worth of gold. Even so, $7 million in gold wasn’t enough to stop Walter from dying alone; it wasn’t enough to stop him from passing from this world unremembered, unmissed, and unmourned.

But Walter isn’t alone in this tragic life style. Many people are lonely. Listen to a portion from a diary of Judy Bucknell of Miami, Fl who was found dead with seven stab wounds. “Where are men with the flowers and champagne and music? Where are the men who call and ask for a genuine, actual date? Where are the men who would like to share more than my bed, my booze, my food…I would like to have in my life once before I pass this life.” She goes on: “I see people together and I’m so jealous I want to throw up. What about me! What about me!” Though she is surrounded by people, she was on an island. Though she had many acquaintances, she had few friends. Here is another entry: “I feel so old. Unloved. Unwanted. Abandoned. Used up. I want to cry and sleep forever…” (Madeleine Blais, “Who is going to Love Judy Bucknell? Part 1, Tropic Magazine, The Miami Herlad, 12 October 1980). PAUSE.

This is a lonely world and you know it too. Can you hear the loneliness? The abandoned child, the divorced mother of 3, the empty home and emptier mail box; the long days and longer nights, a mound of dirt at a cemetery, a forgotten birth­day, a silent phone.

Cries of loneliness are loud! Listen again. Tune out the traffic and turn down the TV. The cry is there. Our cities are full of Walter Samaszko and Judy Bucknells. You can hear their cries. You can hear them in the convalescent home among the sighs and the shuffling feet. You can hear them in the prisons among the moans of shame and the calls for mercy. You can hear them if you walk the crowded streets, forgotten dreams and aging homecoming queens. Listen for it in the halls of our high schools as a kid sit on the basketball bench and where peer pressure weeds out the “have-nots” from the “haves.”

This cry is known by all people in our society. From the top to the bottom, from the failures to the famous, from the secular to the spiritual, from the poor to the rich; from the married to the single. Walter Samaszko and Judy Bucknell were not alone.

You, too, have tasted this loneliness. You have had your share of tears and sighs and gasps. You have tasted the bitterness of the long days and longer nights. Maybe you have pretended like others that everything is ok. Maybe you have fooled some of your friends to think you got it all together; but as you look into the mirror the stark truth rears it is ugly head and you know that you are alone and miserable. Then, in the seclusion and darkness you lift your eyes heaven ward and cry out to God “Dear God why have You abandoned me?” PAUSE.

It is a lonely world. Come closer and listen as we stand by the cross tonight. Listen carefully to that figure suspended like a ladder between heaven and earth and hear the most gut-wrenching cry of loneliness in his­tory. This cry didn’t come from a prisoner or a widow or a patient or a high school student. No, it came from the cracked lips of the Messiah—God’s Son—His only Son.

For three excruciating hours Jesus hangs in darkness, cut off from any comfort, any hope. He is battered and ravaged as His Father unleashes wave after wave of His furious wrath at our sins, which Jesus—the heaven sent Savior has taken upon Himself. On that dark and dismal Friday the Man from the cross screamed out My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” “Dad, why did You abandon Me!?” Never have words carried so much hurt. Never have words expressed such deep grief. Never has one being been so lonely—as that night when Christ was crucified.

Jesus’ screams to His Father is heart-wrenching and gut-splashing. He wants relief and not to be abandoned by the One whom He loves and serves. But tonight, on Skull Hill, Jesus the Lamb of God becomes the sin-bearer and alone. Every lie ever told, every object ever coveted, every promise ever broken, every filthy thought and deed is on His shoulders. He is SIN. And God…turns away.

The despair is darker than the sky. For the first time from eternity Father and Son are at opposite sides. He who was in the beginning with the Father is now alone. The Christ, who is an expression of God is abandoned, forsaken, left out in the cold and heat to die a lonely death. The Trinity is dismantled. The Godhead is disjointed. The unity is dissolved and Jesus can’t take it anymore.

Jesus withstood the beating, the humiliation, the mockery, the departure of His closest friends, the mock trial. And yet He remained strong. But not until His Father turned his face away from Him did He cry out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He just couldn’t take that loneliness away from the loving Father and the comforting Holy Spirit. The wail rose, the anguish increased, the pain suffocating and hell tasted.

His lips are cracked, His heart is broken, His eyes are swollen and He knows He becomes the scum of the earth in the sight of His Father. He knows God sends His wrath upon Him; and punishes for the sins of all of humanity. That is why He screams out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” PAUSE.

Certainly, the world is a lonely place. But thanks be to God twenty centuries ago the Son of God changed our lot. He who was forsaken by God, died and rose so that we may never be forsaken. He who was abandoned because of sin, now takes our sins away, so we will never be abandoned. He who endured the wrath of God, gives us His grace and love every day so that we will never taste God’s wrath.

Though Walter and Judy are the poster-children for this world, yet they are still cherished by the Savior of the World and so are we! On account of the sin-bearer we don’t have to be lonely any longer. Certainly, the world is a lonely place. But none of us have to be alone. The Lord who has saved us is here tonight. And because of this saving, we are joined to Him forever and ever. To Him alone be all the glory now and always. Amen.

Now the peace of God…

SOLI DEO GLORIA

Monday, March 24, 2014

“God’s Saving LOVE” Romans 5:6-8

S-1420 3SIL/3A 3/23/2014 Hymns: (O) #140 vv 1-3; (S) #342; L.S #153; #744 LSB; # 354. (C) # 140 vv 4-6

Texts: Exodus 17:1-7; Romans 5:1-8; John 4:5-26

Theme: “God’s Saving LOVE” Romans 5:6-8

Question: “How would you paint love?” Armour, SD

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed! Alleluia! The text is from the Epistle lesson For 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” (Romans 5:6-8).

INTRODUCTION: In Nomine Iesu.

Precious and loved children of God, last month many of you celebrated Valentine’s Day. Some of you got lovely gifts—chocolate, candy, flowers, Jewelry, clothes, taken out for supper or something else. Those gifts were given in love from your man or your lady, mother, father, or grandparents. These gifts were given in love because someone thought of you and wanted you to know that you are loved.

But when was the last time you got something from someone who hates your guts. A person who when he/she sees you his blood pressure goes up, his eyes reflects hatred and fumes flow from his/her nostrils. When someone hates us it is the last thing they would think of doing—giving a gift. If truth be told, they would rather move away from us or give us a knuckle sandwich. It is not normal for enemies to show love. It is not natural to demonstrate care and concern for someone you despise. It is unheard of and not practiced in any culture.

Yet, today, the Apostle Paul tells us clearly and convincingly that is precisely what our loving, gracious and merciful God has done. Notice the words of Paul that “It was while we were sinners that Christ died for us.” He demonstrated His saving love towards us—His enemies. Instead of sending us to the abyss of hell, He becomes the ultimate Sacrifice-dying in our place on the cruel instrument of the cross.

Paul, the one who calls himself “the chief of sinners” paints a most vivid and colorful picture of God’s saving love towards the ungodly and His enemies—He dies for them. With these words you see God’s love given freely and abundantly. Here you learn the truth that God’s saving love is by grace alone—while we were sinners. Here you will learn that God would spare nothing to win you back to Him. Here you get a grasp of the truth that God is willing to go to hell and back for you so you don’t have to taste hell.

This kind of love is unheard of, unthinkable and unimaginable—who has ever heard of such love? And yet it is as real as the sun that rises daily…and the air we breathe. This is the love that flows from the veins of Christ who loves us and chose to give His life as The Lamb on the altar of the cross. But how do we describe this kind of love and with what words do we convey something so foreign to us? PAUSE.

One of the hardest things I went through when I came to the USA was learning the English language. Part of the challenge was all of the slangs used. And Americans use slangs often and they are confusing to a foreigner like myself. Such as Keep your pants on.” (But I do have them on). Or, What do you have up your sleeves? (Nothing, except my arms). “Hold on to your horses(What horses?). Or “We got to hit the road?”

The first time I heard these sentences I was dumbfounded. And when I heard about hitting the road, I had to ask, “What is this Hit the road?” Why would you hit the road?” People would say to me, “I don’t know. It is just one of those dumb things we say.” Then a wise guy would start stomping the street with one foot saying, “See, we hit the road!” I wasn’t impressed with that explanation. I would respond “Maybe to an American it makes sense, but to an Arab, is crazy!”

We often use slang terms when we’re searching for superlatives, words to describe the highest or utmost degree of something. It’s not big, it’s humongous. We’ll attach “super” or “mega” to a word. In an effort to get more vivid expressions, we even move to the extremes of life and death. And then of course, the ultimate is when something is so good, it’s “to die for,” “Oh that cake is so good, it’s to die for!” When we are trying to find a way to convey the height of our love for something, what stronger language can there be than that? You should see his car: “It’s to die for!” When it comes right down to it, probably no one would actually be willing to die for a chocolate cake, or a great car, but it certainly expresses vividly the height of our appreciation for those things. Love is often demonstrated in sacrifice and in giving.

And no greater sacrifice has ever been displayed on the canvas of human history except in the cross of Christ. That is why Paul states, “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still SINNERS, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is not slang, but it’s hard for us to understand because it is not common among us to see. Indeed it is unthinkable, unimaginable and unheard of—who ever heard of such love. You have! Holy Scripture testifies and affirms the grace and love of God towards those who were created in His image. You heard of it this morning again as Jesus spoke Gospel words to the Samaritan woman. PAUSE.

Certainly this is unthinkable, unimaginable and unheard of, yet God has painted Himself with beautiful language to convey who He is and what He does. In 1 John 4:8, 16 we find a straightforward phrase that has the profoundest implications: “God is love.” What a pregnant phrase. We can spend our lifetime pondering the meaning of that sentence without ever plumbing its depth. It is worth noting, in the original language John does not say that love is God, but only that God is love.  The two terms are not interchangeable. Let us confuse the two. God indeed is love and His love is above any human thought or understanding.

Therefore, today by the grace of God as we have been brought by the Holy Spirit into His presence we behold this love given and shared through His absolution, His Word at the font and at the table.

But to whom does God demonstrate this unthinkable, unimaginable and unheard of LOVE? Do you know who He did this for? For all of humanity—so that every son of Adam and every daughter of Eve, will not experience the Second death; but live with Him forever and ever. He did it for you and me. He did it not because we have anything to offer God, but only because He offers us the greatest sacrifice ever witnessed in the world—the suffering, death, burial and resurrection of His Son. Yes, His Son showed us God’s Saving Love. It is yours today and every day by faith alone, through grace alone and on account of Christ alone.

Because God’s love is a saving love—He saved us while we were yet SINNERS. And we can sincerely say, it is no exaggeration or figure of speech that Christ came to die for us sinners. Thus, we take this message outside these hallowed walls and share them with other sinners so they too might know the saving love of God. God grant us the desire and will to carry this message to every corner of the world. Just as the Samaritan woman had done. Amen.

Now the peace…

SOLI DEO GLORIA.

“A Request of Love” (John 19:26)

S-1419 3MIL/3A 3/19/2014 Hymns: (O) #182; S #175; (C) # 145

Texts: Psalm 8; 1 John 4:7-19; 19:25-27

Theme: A Request of Love (John 19:26)

Question: “How do you show love while hurting?” Armour, SD

Faithful followers of the Savior, the text is from the Gospel lesson “When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, Woman, behold, Your son!’” (John 19:26)

INTRODUCTION: In Nomine Iesu.

Have you ever said goodbye to someone? It hurts. It tugs at the strings of your heart and causes your cheeks to be wet. Saying goodbye is never easy. No matter what the circumstance is. But it is even more difficult when you read the Word of God that says: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for My name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Mt. 19:29).

I can understand saying good bye to a worker, neighbor or friend. But how in the world do you understand leaving those you love—father, mother, brother or sister? What do we do with the request that Christ teaches? You can’t unless you understand that He is the Divine One who has come to be God in the flesh. What this means is this. God has condescended to suit up with us, so to speak, and live on our turf, without using His divine powers or prerogatives. And as we spend time with Him and in His Word we learn so much that helps us in our journey of faith.

Though we walk with Him and hear Him talk to us, it doesn’t take the sting out of our hearts, the tears out of our eyes and the lump out of our throats.

I remember it like it was yesterday. August 31, 1972 I packed my suitcases, stuffed $500.00 in my socks and loaded the Volvo station wagon, on our way to the airport to come to the USA. Then the time of truth hit. I turned around to say good bye to many family members and friends who came to wish me God’s speed. Tears began to flow freely. In the car the silence was loud. At the airport, the luggage checked and time once more to say goodbye. Embraces hugs and kisses to mom and dad. “Saeedy Baba,”(Goodbye daddy), “Saeedy Yuma” (Goodbye Mom). As soon as I said bye to mom, I started to weep and felt the lump in my throat. PAUSE.

I’m not the first son to leave home and say good bye, neither will I be the last. Many before and many after have and will leave home and it doesn’t get any easier. In the text today we see another Son who said “Goodbye” to His mother. Listen to powerful, profound and poignant Words of the Savior from the cross, Woman, behold Your Son!”

Mary is older now. The hair at her temple is gray. Wrinkles have replaced her youthful skin. Her hands are calloused and sun scorched. She has raised a houseful of children. And now, now she stands beneath the cross on a cold, dark and unforgiving hill and beholds the cruelest event a woman should ever witness—the death of her Son—by a crucifixion.

Yet, as she stand on that woeful Friday, her Son, Jesus—though dehydrated, cracked and scorched lips, lungs crying for air, nerves shattered by nails, thorns embedded in his scalp, with enormous pain, barely alive, with the weight of the world upon His shoulders; still has the presence of mind to fulfill the 4th Commandment and give a measure of healing to both Mary and John that He says: Woman, behold Your Son!”

In Psalm eight, David cried out to the God of heaven saying: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (8:3-4). And the answer is with these powerful, profound and poignant Words: Woman, behold Your Son!” PAUSE.

Beloved in Christ, I wonder what went through Mary’s mind as she witnessed this horrendous torture. The long journey to Bethlehem, perhaps; a baby’s bed made from animals’ hay; Fugitives in Egypt; at home in Nazareth; panic in Jerusalem; “I thought Jesus was with you!” The Carpentry shop or the dinner table laughter?

And then the morning Jesus came in from the shop early, His eyes firmer, His voice more direct. He had heard the news in from Judea. “John is preaching in the desert.” Her Son took off His nail apron, dusted off His hands, and with one last look said goodbye to His mother. They both knew it would never be the same again. In that last look they shared a secret, the full extent of which was too painful to say aloud.

Mary learned that day the heartache that comes from saying goodbye. From then on she was to love her Son, Savior and Lord from a distance; on the edge of the crowd, outside of a packed house, on the shore of the sea. Maybe she was even there when the enigmatic promise was made, “Any­one who has left... mother... for My sake.” (Mt. 19:29).

Mary wasn’t the first one called upon to say goodbye to loved ones for the sake of the Kingdom. Joseph (the beloved son) was called to be an orphan in Egypt. Jonah was called to be missionary in Nineveh. Hannah sent her firstborn son away to serve God in His temple. Daniel was sent from Jerusalem to Babylon. Nehemiah was sent from Susa to Jerusalem, in fact, it seems that goodbye is a word all too prevalent in the Christian’s vocabulary. Missionaries know it well. Those who send them know it, too. The doctor who leaves the city to work in the jungle hospital has said it. So has the Bible translator who lives far from home. Those who feed the hungry, those who teach the lost, and those who help the poor all know the word “goodbye.” PAUSE.

But beloved, what kind of God would put people through such hardships and heart wrenching moments? What kind of God would give you families and then ask you to leave them? What kind of God would fill your life with friends and then asks you to say goodbye?

The God of the Bible, who knows that the deepest love is built not on passion and romance; but in the giving of the greatest sacrifice—the sacrifice offered on a cross. It is the same God who knows that we are only pilgrims and that eternity is so close that any “Goodbye” is in reality a “See you tomorrow.” In truth it is the God who did it Himself. A God who said, “Woman, behold Your Son!”

But why would the Son of God say and do this? So that you and I would never spend eternity without Him. He did all of this, the goodbye, the moist eyes, the tug on His heart, the pain and anguish that being torn apart brings—all because of you. But He didn’t stop there.

He suffered more. He endured the punishment of pierced hands, feet and side for you. So that you and I would never be alone to be devoured by the evil one-satan. He did it so that you and I would spend eternity with the God of love.

Yes, tonight, know that the request of love was done for you and you and you, so that you may rejoice in Christ’s accomplishments and live in this love eternally. No wonder we can find HOPE in the most unlikeliest place—the cross. Amen.

SOLI DEO GLORIA

Now the peace…

“It All Depends on God” Romans 4:1-3

S-1418 2SIL/3A 3/09/2014 Hymns: (O) #149; (S) #381; (C) #245

Texts: Genesis 12:1-9; Romans 4:1-8; 13-17; John 3:1-17

Theme: “It All Depends on God” Romans 4:1-3

Question: “On whom do you depend?” Armour, SD

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed! Alleluia! The text is from the Epistle lesson What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For 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” (Romans 4:1-3).

INTRODUCTION: In Nomine Iesu.

Children of the Covenant, people of God, there are many sayings in the English language that have become so common to the human experience that we just “know” them and what they mean. In fact, let’s have a little fun with this to illustrate my point. I will start one of these wise sayings and I will let you finish the familiar thought. Ready? “The early bird…catches the worm! “Practice… ‘makes perfect!’” “Where there is a will…there is a way!’” “God helps those…who help themselves!’” “If you want something done right…you have to do it yourself!’”

You may or may not use these familiar thoughts in your everyday life, but you still know them. You know them because this is the way that most people think and live. In the right setting, some of these ideas are indeed very wise. But when we allow these thoughts to enter into our theological thinking and our lives of faith, the problem begins. There are times when we allow this human wisdom to invade our life with the Lord. We feel that we can make ourselves righteous and holy before the Lord. When we think like this we have simply allowed the devil to dupe us into thinking that our salvation depends on us and what we do.

However, Scripture is clear! These thoughts of our own righteousness before God are just plain wrong! As a matter of fact, it doesn’t depend on us at all. It ALL depends on God and His kindness to us sinners. As Paul reminds us in the text this morning, No one can take credit for his or her salvation, not even father Abraham! We can’t count on our efforts because of the standard of the Law. The Law demand perfection. And that is where we fail. We fail because none of us ALWAYS seeks the will of God. None of us ALWAYS looks after the needs of our neighbor. None of us ALWAYS honor, love and serve God above all else. That is why in the Gospel lesson this morning Jesus tells Nicodemus that a man must not only be born, but also be “born from above.” Apart from God there is no righteousness, holiness, or purity on our part. Because of this impurity it is impossible for us to earn salvation. Salvation is a free Gift and depends on God ALONE. PAUSE.

This truth is found all around us. We hear it, we see it, and we experience it daily. I don’t have to remind you of the evil the human race carries out daily. Besides the clear evidence of Scripture that paints the heart of man as evil, unholy as Paul teaches saying: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips.  Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.  There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Human history clearly testifies to the depravity of man. History can be seen as nothing more than a catalog of the wickedness of man. This is also not just a matter of the past. Look at the news today and you will see that wickedness is alive and well!

Since human wickedness is so pervasive and it is so ingrained in our human nature, it becomes even more clear that if man is to receive righteousness, it must come from outside the human experience. Scripture attests that the only source of righteousness is God Himself. Indeed it all depends on God. Paul, led by the Holy Spirit states emphatically, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (v. 3)

While man’s attempt to work at righteousness brings failure, frustration, and further disillusionment, the righteousness of God brings eternal rewards and blessed future. Most obvious and most longed for is the reward of eternal life. This again, demonstrates the fact that we believers count our righteousness as a gift of God is a reward in itself because it shows our dependence is ALWAYS on God, and not on ourselves. No one is able to stand in the presence of the holy God and say, “I have done it! I have earned God’s righteousness. I have saved myself!” You can try to think like this. But know this, if you do so, God will answer, Depart from Me you wicked man, I never knew you! (Mt. 7:23). PAUSE.

Paul teaches us the blessed truth that we are justified by grace apart from the work of the Law. Without our loving and gracious God, we would have no blessing, no future and no hope. Without our dependence on God we fail miserably. With these brief words, we are taught that faith and work can’t coexist as the source of man’s salvation. It is like oil and water, they just don’t mix. The message of God to Abraham and to all of His heirs has always been a message of grace and faith.

The only hope for ourselves and for our world is that by faith in Jesus Christ and the righteousness that such faith holds to, man who is by nature evil, wicked, dead is counted as holy, righteous and justified before God. Therefore we say it again; it ALL depends on God and not on us.

This hope of our bright future is evident during our Lenten journey. Because now during these days of traveling to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, to the cross and the empty tomb, we have a clearer picture of God’s great love to humanity in sending His only Son to be our Savior and Redeemer.

St. John in the Gospel reading for today states: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (3:16-17). It doesn’t get any clearer than that. Christ’s teaching is clear SALVATION depends on Him going to the cross, dying in our place and rising on the 3rd day. PAUSE.

So if it all depends on God, where do we fit in? If it isn’t about our work, what is left for us. Paul gives us the clear answer: 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. Our salvation is rooted not in our work of believing. It is rooted in the One in whom we believe. Faith trust that God is not only able and willing, but has already accomplished what He promises. That is why faith is not about us but about the One who goes to the Cross, lays in the tomb and bursts forth in glory. Faith isn’t about me. Faith is about JESUS!

Wisdom like this just doesn’t sit well with a wicked and dying world. When we as Christians cling to our hope in Christ outside of ourselves, the world looks at us in just as confused a manner as Nicodemeus looked at Jesus in the middle of the night visit so long ago.

We have this hope of salvation from God because we have been born into it. The waters of Holy Baptism flood over us and we are born anew. We are born into a family where faith is the fountain from whence good works flow. The righteousness that we put on display when we confess our sins, receive forgiveness, feast on Christ in the Holy Supper, sing our praises, raise our prayers, give our gifts to the Lord and selflessly serve our neighbor is really nothing more than us using the gift of faith that God has given us in baptism. It is in our baptismal identity that we have a sure and certain confidence for our salvation and our Christian life because in baptism it doesn’t depend on us. It is the free gift from a God who loves us with an un-ending love! In those waters Christ marks you with His cross. In that act the Father confesses: “You, My child, belong to Me. You bear My seal of approval and are counted righteous. YOU ARE MINE!

So those wise statements that we talked about at the beginning of the sermon have no place in the life of faith. They have no place because they point us away from the font and the cross. They point us to ourselves and our own efforts. What we find in our own efforts is failure, sin and death. And if Abraham couldn’t do it, Paul couldn’t do it, and Nicodemus couldn’t do it? How on earth can we foolishly think that we can?

But we don’t have to. Just as Abraham, Paul and Nicodemus came to faith on account of Christ and so have we. Jesus has come. Jesus has lived. Jesus has died. Jesus has risen. And He has done it all for you. It does not depend on you. It all depends on God! AMEN!

Now the peace…

SOLI DEO GLORIA

“A Plea Honored” (Luke 23:43)

S-1417 2MIL/3A 3/12/2014 Hymns: (O) #517 vv 1-2; S #154; (C) # 517 vv 3-4

Texts: Psalm 130: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 23:39-43

Theme: A Plea Honored (Luke 23:43)

Question: “Have you ever cried out to God to help you?” Armour, SD

Faithful followers of the Savior, the text is from the Gospel lesson “And He [Jesus] said to him, Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise’” (Luke 23:43).

INTRODUCTION: In Nomine Iesu.

Beloved in Christ tonight the Holy Spirit helps us to stand by the cross of Jesus on that fateful Friday and eaves drop on the conversation between the three men crucified by Roman soldiers. As Jesus hangs on the bitter instrument of torture—the cross, we hear of cruel laughter, mockery and ridicule hurled at Him from all directions. We hear the passerby, the Jewish power house, the Roman soldiers, and even the criminals hanging to His right and left.

It seems that we use mockery as an escape mechanism and we see it all around us. Many of the sitcoms today are filled with demeaning and debasing comments that hurt others and make the person feel he is better than another. But unless we acknowledge the truth that we need help, we don’t face the music.

All of us have been in need. From time to time the need is more urgent. We have cried to God in the hour of desperation, “Help me Lord Jesus. I need You, NOW!” Many times, we have fallen asleep with tears drenching our pillows. We know what it is like to be in need first hand, don’t we?

Tonight as we continue to stand beneath the cross, we hear of another plea made to the One who answers every prayer. What is amazing is the 11th hour request by one of the sons of Abraham is answered in the most outlandish way—it is granted to the ex-con by the Man hanging next to him. PAUSE.

This is not the first time the Lord honors the plea people have asked Him. Scriptures is full of answered prayers were mercy is poured out and oozes on hearts that don’t deserve it. We might expect Jesus to be so preoccupied with His approaching death that He wouldn’t notice a lone voice, crying out to Him in the midst of the clamor of the crowd. But His ears are attuned to cries for mercy. The Psalmist put it this way: “Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!” (Psalm 130:1-2). And indeed He does hear and answers the plea of every sinner who cries out to Him. Now that Christ has accomplished His mission and won complete forgiveness, we can be confident He hears our cries for mercy and pity too.

Tonight, that cry comes from the most unlikely place—the criminals crucified next to Christ. The first asks, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” He wants Jesus to be the Christ, but this is only for his own sinful purposes. He wants to cheat justice and escape his suffering and death, but not to amend his sinful life.

But the second criminal, the other son of Abraham, looks at Jesus and sees something no one else has been able to see. The Jewish leaders look at Jesus and see a man who can’t possibly be a Savior—He can’t even save Himself! The Roman soldiers see a powerless king. The other criminal see a powerless Messiah, but this criminal—this son of Abraham—looks through the crown of thorns, the blood, the sweat and tears and sees with His own eyes and knows in His heart that the broken man right next to Him is God’s Messiah, the promised King; the everlasting Savior. He asks Jesus to remember him on Judgment Day and not to bar him out of His Kingdom because of sinful life. PAUSE.

As wonderful confession as we behold and hear in the criminal’s rebuke and prayer, we see something even more amazing, outlandish and wonderful in Jesus’ reply. Not only on the distant Day of Judgment will Jesus remember the dying child of Abraham (the thief), but this very day his suffering will cease, and he will be with Christ in paradise forever. What a liberation this thief has received and what comfort it brought him. As you listen to the words of Jesus as He gives this promise to the criminal, “Today, you will be with Me in Paradise”, you may ask what are You thinking Lord! The man who deserved hell gets heaven. The man who should be damned is delivered. The man, who ought to suffer the punishment and God’s wrath, is saved and receives the blessings of God.

The answer is given from the dying Man from Nazareth, the Christ of God, the long expected Messiah through His cracked and parched lips—it is GRACE. Grace poured out on the wounds of the man who is about to die. Peace fills his soon-to-stop beating heart. Joy fills his being. He is getting what he doesn’t deserve. This is not what we would expect, but then again, our Savior is no ordinary Man either. I share this story to demonstrate the unexpected grace.

“In a large city some very creative crooks broke into a department store. They entered the store unnoticed and stayed long enough to accomplish their mission. The irony is they didn’t come to steal. Instead, these thieves switched the price tags. The tag on a $395.00 camera was removed and placed on a box of stationery. The $5.95 sticker off a paperback book was attached to an outboard motor. Everything was shuffled. When the store opened the next morning, you would have expected total chaos. Surprisingly, though, the store operated normally at first. Some customers literally got some steals while others felt the merchandise was overpriced. Incredibly, four hours slipped by before the hoax was discovered.” For four solid hours, no one noticed that all the values had been swapped.

That is precisely what Christ does. He takes that which didn’t have value because of sin and its requirements and gives it value by taking that punishment upon Himself and gives the sinner His holiness and righteousness. The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthian tells us of the Divine Exchange. Christ swaps places with us.

Christ is the only One who is righteous. At Calvary’s torture, He took our sin upon Himself and endured the punishment we deserved: namely, death and separation from God. Therefore, by a marvelous exchange, He made it possible for us to receive His righteousness and we reconciliation with God. Our standing and our acceptance before God are solely in Him. Again, all this is God’s doing; all this is freely available to us because of the great mercy brought about only through Divine Grace.

This demonstrates to us that every person has value because their value is found in Christ our Savior, who died and rose for every soul in this world including you and me.

The repentant criminal asked Jesus to remember him. This night, we do the same, as we stand beneath the cross and look beyond the bloody crown of thorns and see the King of kings, the Savior of the world. Turning to Jesus we cry out also saying: “Jesus, remember ME—Your child, when You come into Your kingdom.”

Tonight, hear His reply and take it to heart. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” What a blessing to know that we the sons of Abraham have hope not only for now, but even on our final day of life. Thanks be to Jesus who hears our pleas and answers them according to His Divine Grace. Amen.

Now the peace…

SOLI DEO GLORIA

Sunday, March 9, 2014

“The Wages of Sin and the Free GIFT” (Romans 5:15-17)

S-1416 FSIL/3A 3/09/2014 Hymns: (O) 262 vv 1-2; (S) 369; L.S. 157; 307; 155; (C) 262 vv 3-4

Texts: Genesis 3:1-21; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

Theme: “The Wages of Sin and the Free GIFT” (Romans 5:15-17)

Question: “What is your most cherished gift?” Armour, SD

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed! Alleluia! The text is from the Epistle lesson But 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. For 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 (Romans 5:15-17).

INTRODUCTION: In Nomine Iesu.

Son’s of Adam and Daughter’s of Eve, Lent is more than just a journey to Jerusalem, Golgotha, and the cross. It is the story of the Fall of man into the deepest abyss, and the tragic consequences of sin: it brought death to mankind and separation from God our loving Father; but it is also the story of our redemption, reconciliation and restoration brought about by another Man—Jesus Christ.

On this First Sunday of Lent we realize that the Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ invites us to join Him as He makes His final journey to the cross and the empty tomb, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem.” From the high point of the Mount of Transfiguration, the church has descended to the plain, to Ash Wednesday, and to the journey that will end at the cross; and in forty days, we will be privileged to stand with the women and look into the empty tomb on Victory Sunday.

For many, the journey to the cross is a sentimental one, Jesus is portrayed as the poor man who died for His con­victions, and the minor characters of the Passion are held up for minute examination.

However, today, the Holy Spirit reminds us that our journey in Lent is not only to a cross but to an empty tomb, not only to defeat but to deliverance, not only to sorrow but to celebration, not only to death but to life, not only to suffering or shame but to a victory earned by the heaven sent-Savior, Jesus the Christ. Yes, we need to hear both messages all the time.

Paul, the author of the text, highlights the “free gift” 5 times in 3 verses; but he also demonstrates the contrast of the wages of sin and the free GIFT. The First Adam brought condemnation the Second Adam brought Salvation. The 1st brought death, the 2nd life. The 1st pain, the second paradise; the 1st universal guilt, the 2nd forgiveness; the 1st failed and the second triumphed. Sin was the cause of the disobedience of the Fist Adam; but grace was the result of the Second Adam. Grace as the blessed free gift given out of love for us—SINNERS. PAUSE.

The first confirms to us of how deeply, dearly, clearly we are loved. The second promises to us the lively hope we have in a living Savior. Without a sense of being dearly loved and without a sense of high hope, we human’s can’t cope.

A colleague of mine (Peter Kurowski, a Pastor from California, MO), has been working for months with a talented young lady who is addicted to alcohol. Because she doesn’t sense she is loved, because she does not see clearly the meaning of Christ’s resurrection, she flounders going back to the slavery of the bottle. Until she beholds the Lamb who loved her, until she beholds the eternal I Am who rose for her, she will revert to the alcohol as her master.

Everyone of us here needs to know how deeply God loves us—for us to face what we face. Everyone of us daily needs and abundant dosages of hope to face a worse than otherwise is hapless, hopeless, and haunted life. This is the free Gift Paul promises to us.

In the opening pages of Holy Scripture, Moses tells us that after God created all things, He declared “all to be very good.” However, the good that God celebrated didn’t last long. The devil would not leave this good creation alone until he would deceive us and follow after him in the way of death rather than the Lord’s way of life.

Indeed, things went from good to bad in the blink of an eye. With one bite, sin and Satan became the evil biting at the heels, a stumbling block, a destructive force of darkness and corruption. One bite, and all that was good, very good, became bad, very bad. Creation, all creatures, and the crown of the creation became bad, very bad. Sin infected every corner of God’s creation.

The dark storm and clouds of sin rolled over God’s beautiful good creation, and everything changed. Hunger replaced plenty; pain replaced pleasure; toil replaced bliss; struggle replaced peace, and death replaced life. All of creation groaned under this overwhelming burden. The stark reality is this: The fullness, the holiness, the goodness of what once was served only as a painful reminder of what was no longer true. PAUSE.

From the heights of perfection to the depths of corruption; from the image of God to the tarnish of sin; from walking hand in hand to hiding from God’s face—great was the Fall; all because man and woman listened to the wrong voice. Out into this world Adam and Eve were driven and found themselves helpless in the midst of this terrible wilderness.

Yet, in that Garden when man and woman fell, was another voice—the voice of God speaking gracious promise to them. He would send a Redeemer to bring about deliverance from the fall! Great was the promise to the outcast from the paradise of Eden. Even in the midst of the disaster, even as our first parents were driven from Eden, even as the sweat, the toil, the pain, and death became humanity’s lot, there was the promise. A promise for them and for their children, a promise for the world, a promise for all generations; and a promise for you. The Lord God promised that He would provide the Seed, a Son who would crush Satan. He would be the offspring of God and woman who would be bruised for our iniquities; this Child would overcome sin and death and open the gates of the new garden—to everlasting life.

This was brought about with the New Adam, the One who would fulfill the Law perfectly, where the first Adam failed terribly. The First Adam brought darkness, but the Second Adam brought light; because He obeyed the voice of the Father: “Son, go down to earth and save mankind from the everlasting punishment of hell!

“To us a child is born, to us a Son is given” (Is. 9:6). The Lord God can be trusted, for His voice always speaks truth. The Lord God keeps His promise, and the Christ is born, Son of
God and child of Mary. Yes, He was bruised for our sin as the nails were driven and the cross was raised. Yes, His blood was shed and His head fell in death, but the grave could not hold the Promised One, for He rose up and crushed the head of the deceiver. Great was His victory, and great was the fall of the evil one!

Son’s of Adam and Daughter’s of Eve, our purpose in Lent is not just sorrow over sin, not just remorse over the enormity of our guilt. That will, of course be present as the Law does its work. But our purpose in going up to Jerusalem is to be saturated with the Gospel, to know that where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, to be renewed in faith and invigorated for life precisely because the free gift is not like the trespass.

All of this is ours because of the free Gift Christ brought forth to us from another garden—Gethsemane. From that Garden the payment for sin began and culminates on another tree. From the fruit of the Tree of the cross we receive the Free Gift of Eternal life and peace for ever more. PAUSE.

Beloved in the Lord, we know what our sins have brought. But I also implore you to see the free gift offered through the Second Adam. Hear the truth and take it to heart as my colleague, Pastor Peter Kurowski put it into a poem.

Adam and Eve had a great fall

Adam and Eve took with them all

For thousands of years humans have tried

For thousands of years humans have died

Trying to find a way to cheat death

All their best efforts turn into meth

Only One person in History did succeed

And He got nailed for Adam’s death deed

While Adam’s act led to condemnation

Jesus’ life, love, and death brought justification

While Adam was overcome in a paradise garden

Jesus in Gethsemane was earning our pardon

While Adam in Eden was overcome by a tree

Jesus nailed to a tree died for you and me.

In the New Adam, we found the rich grace of God’s Free Gift for now and always. Amen.

Now the peace of God…

SOLI DEO GLORIA

Thursday, March 6, 2014

“A Final Prayer of Forgiveness” (Luke 23:34)

S-1415 Ash W/3A 3/05/2014 Hymns: (O) #32 vv 1-2; S #652; L.S. #629 LSB; (C)#32 vv 3-v

Texts: Genesis 50:15-21; 1 Peter 2:21-25; Luke 23:26-38

Theme: A Final Prayer of Forgiveness (Luke 23:34)

Question: “Do you forgive easily?” Armour, SD

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed! Alleluia! The text for Ash Wednesday is from the Gospel lesson Jesus said,‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’” (Luke 23:34).

INTRODUCTION: In Nomine Iesu.

Beloved in Christ as we begin this sacred, solemn and steady journey of Lent, I remind you why Christ came into the world—to save us—ALL of us from sin death and the punishment of hell. Though we know that well, and we have heard it many times before, we don’t always consider the cost Christ paid to forgive us our sins.

Tonight, the Holy Spirit has brought us here so that we can follow the bloody road Jesus took to Golgotha and beyond. As we reach Skull Hill, we will hear precious, priceless and powerful Words that help us understand how Christ dealt with sin. We on the other hand, deal with sin differently.

On the afternoon of December 22, 1984, four African-American youths, Barry Allen, Troy Canty, James Ramseur, and Darrell Cabey boarded the train on a mission to rob video game machines in Manhattan. Minutes later, Bernie Goetz entered the same train. He sat down across from the four youths. A few minutes later, two of the youths asked Goetz for five dollars. Goetz, pretending not to hear them, asked them to repeat themselves. Canty responded, “Give me your money.”

Goetz responded by standing, drawing a revolver from his coat, and firing multiple times hitting all four. As Cabey lay bleeding, Goetz said “You don’t look too bad, here’s another,” and fired at Cabey. The last shot left Cabey paralyzed. Goetz left the subway, rented a car, and drove to Vermont. He turned himself in to New York City police nine days later.

The “subway vigilante,” as Goetz was labeled by New York tabloids, became front page news and stayed there for weeks, partly due to the passions it unleashed in New York and other urban populations. Some viewed Goetz as a hero for standing up to his attackers and defending himself in a rough neighborhood and a terrible environment.

http://www.fact-index.com/b/be/bernhard_goetz.html (Jan. 7/2014).

If truth be told and we search our hearts, we have to admit that we are like many of the New Yorkers who applauded the Vigilante who stood up in what he believed in. The support this man received shows that people are angry and mad. We’re tired and we’re mad because we are constantly being bullied, harassed and afflicted. We’re weary and tired with our broken and fallen world and its problems of murderers, rapists and thugs.

We’re angry at someone, but we don’t know who. We are scared of something, but we don’t know what. We want to fight back, but we don’t know how. But when a modern vigilante like Wyatt Earp walks onto the scene, we applaud him. He is carrying out our thoughts and wishes. PAUSE.

While people were generally grateful for a lawman such as Wyatt Earp to appear in their rough and tumble world, a far greater personage appeared on the stage of the Middle East to bring help, healing, and hope to mankind. Jesus was not only a lawman—pointing out sin, but gospel-man bringing the ultimate healing necessary. Jesus came upon the world’s stage not to use power but to empty Himself of all the power He had, so He would be put to death and taste hell in our place.

Tonight, on this Ash Wednesday we look at another response to the evil of this world. This too is carried out with Divine Passion by greater than any lawman—Jesus the Christ our Lord and Savior; who speaks to the mob who would soon put Him to death on a cross. Can you imagine that, Jesus doesn’t become a vigilante, but a forgiver of those who hated, hurt and eventually hanged Him, killed Him, crying out to them saying: “Father FORGIVE THEM…”

It is important to hear this statement and what follows: “For they do not know what they are doing.” But what is that moves Jesus not to retaliate? Have you asked how did He keep His control under the most cruel time in His life? The answer is given through His parched and cracked lips. “For they do not know what they are doing.” Study this sentence carefully. Jesus considered this bloodthirsty, death-hungry crowd not as murderers, but as victims. The victims of sin, the victims of our own sinful nature, a nature which He came to redeem and restore! It’s as if He saw in their faces not hatred but confusion. It’s as if He re­garded them not as a militant mob but, as He put it, as “Sheep without a shepherd.” PAUSE.

Did you hear the sentence? Did you comprehend it? He said, “For they do not know what they are doing.” And when you think about it, they didn’t. They had no clue of what they were doing. They were a stir-crazy mob, mad at something they couldn’t see so they took it out of all people—on the Son of God who came to be their Savior. But they didn’t know what they were doing.

And, as we share in their fallen sinfulness, neither do we! We are still, as much as we hate to admit it, sheep lost in the wilderness of humanity in need of our True and only Shepherd. All we know is that we were born out of one eternity and are frighteningly close to another. We know the truth of pain. We experienced heartaches and headaches, we have walked the roads of sorrow and sadness, and we have lived and tasted the bitterness of death, by burying someone we love.

Therefore, we don’t know what to do, how to fix the wrong, how to forgive and how to live with those who enter into our lives. We can’t undo death. We can’t fix the world’s problems and we can’t illuminate sin and we are angry at the world. Sin, our sin, is that real and that deep!

But, tonight by the power of the Holy Spirit I ask you to lift your eyes up (have them do that pointing to the cross), look at that disfigured person, and listen carefully to His Words and hear Him utter the pleas of forgiveness. I plead with you to hear Him say to you personally, “Father FORGIVE THEM…For they do not know what they are doing.” Inhale those words that drip from His cracked lips and drink abundantly tonight from the Cup He offers you. For in mercy and compassion what you see is the Faithful Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep—you and me because He loves us personally. That is why He drank that cup of suffering, to its bitter dregs, so that we could drink the cup of blessing to its sweet fullness of forgiveness!

Please don’t leave here confused. Don’t depart thinking He won’t forgive you. As His beloved Child, know the truth and pass it on. Behold His hands and His side, and yes, behold the empty tomb! Your every thought of confusion has been answered in His perfect gift, Yes, for certain, Christ died to save sinners, real sinners who really sin. He died for them and for you—every last bit of you, even the parts of your life you think aren’t able to be redeemed. There is nothing more powerful than the shed blood of the Son of God. That blood covers you now and forever. You are in Christ, and you are forgiven. Yes, you are! Amen.

Now the peace…

SOLI DEO GLORIA

“Mountain Top Experience” (2 Peter 1:16-18)

S-1414 Transfiguration S/3A 3/23/2014 Hymns: (O) #414; (S) #415 LSB Choir/Congregations vs 4; (C) #416

Texts: Exodus 24:8-18; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

Theme: “Mountain Top Experience” (2 Peter 1:16-18)

Question: “Have you had a mountaintop experience?’” Armour, SD

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed! Alleluia! The text for the TRANSFIGURATION Sunday is from Epistle lesson “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I Am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain’” (2 Peter 1:16-18).

INTRODUCTION: In Nomine Iesu.

Have you ever had a mountaintop experience? You know, one of those experiences in your life where your perspective on life gets changed? These experiences are uplifting, inspiring and life-changing. If you watched any of the recently completed Olympic competitions in Sochi, you got to see clear examples of these kinds of experiences through the television screen. As viewers, we were able to feel the glory as we watched athletes reach the pinnacle of their training as they stood upon the mountaintop of the podium basking in the glow of a gold medal! They had reached the mountaintop! And we take joy in watching this in others.

Today, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, we get to share in another’s “mountaintop experience.” I ask you, then, to put on your boots, backpack, water supply and come with me as we climb the mountain and see with our eyes a most beautiful sight. While there were no medals to be handed out on the podium that is the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John did have similar kind of mountaintop experience. And it was an experience that would train them for future glory.

Jesus led them on that mountain for a reason—to pray. As they prayed, two powerful leaders of their faith appeared with Jesus; His appearance changes; and a voice from heaven declare “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I Am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Mt. 17:5b). It was a powerful “mountaintop” religious experience that we call “The Transfiguration.” It was an illuminating experience for the disciples. Because of this experience, they saw Jesus in a whole new light. There in the presence of Moses, Elijah and Jesus, it was obviously inspiring and uplifting for these simple men. This was an event that changed their lives forever!

By the grace of God today we stand at a point in the Church Year that serves as a watershed moment. Here, we too, are called to a mountaintop experience. On This Sunday of the Transfiguration we stand on the pivot point between Epiphany and our Lenten journey to Golgotha. What we see this day through the eyes of the Three is the greatest Epiphany ever! This mountaintop experience moves these men to be exactly what the Lord calls them to be, followers of Jesus and witnesses of what they see and hear. That witness will even lead them to joyfully go to the point of death! That was some experience! PAUSE.

Today, we too, get to experience what moved Peter to say, “It’s good for us to be here.” Yes, indeed, it is good to be here. For here, you and I by the power of the Holy Spirit get a glimpse of God’s heaven-sent Savior—Jesus the Christ in all of His glory, majesty and power. Here in this place we hear the Words of the Father, “This is my beloved Son…Listen to Him.” Here in this place we see what many in this world don’t see. Here we see Christ for who He truly is, not a mere man, not a teacher, not a prophet, not a miracle worker but God in the flesh.

On that mountain the disciples saw something that moved them and changed their lives that Peter was inspired to write: “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. And witnesses they became. They took the message from Jerusalem to the ends of the known world.

It is good for us to be here again on the Mount of Transfiguration. It is good because from this mountaintop vantage point we can look back to the manger cradle and see all the glory of God that led to this point. Today the Epiphany Sundays come to an end. Ash Wednesday is only four days away. What started with the amazing glory of the light of a star now culminates in the glory that shines from the face of Jesus the Christ, whom the Scriptures call the “Bright and Morning Star! “

Yet for Jesus, who is the Son of God, The view from this mountaintop also reveals a future that is fraught with frightening implications. The Transfigura­tion is a watershed in Jesus’ life. Like Moses standing on the edge of the Promised Land, Jesus can see both the Glory of Eternity and the agony of the Cross that He must face before He gets back there. Moses and Elijah, The Law and the Prophets personified, speak casually with Jesus about what is to come. From here He sets His face toward Jerusalem and everything it will cost Him. His ultimate glory will not be revealed on this mountain. No, there will be another mountain. This one called Calvary. There He will not shine. No there He will be beaten and bloodied. There He will not radiate. There He will die for us the sinners! PAUSE.

The Transfiguration reveals a glory that is only made possible through suffering and death. For Jesus there will be no short cuts. There will be no easy way. It will be a lonely desolate and arduous climb. He will return home by way of the cross. Peter was right to want to build shelters in an attempt to stay, but he was right for the wrong reasons. It is natural for us to want to bask in the glory of an event. It is wonderful to live in the glory of the moment. But when the moment fades, the glory is gone. For the Olympic athlete, as soon as the Anthem falls silent, there comes the training for the next event. This also comes with the reality that a moment like this may never come again. The same is true for the Transfiguration.

This fleeting glory is not the Glory of the Transfiguration or the Glory of Jesus. To hold Christ back from the cross by denying His deity, to tempt Him not to go to the cross like the devil did is to elevate ourselves above the wisdom and knowledge of God. We couldn’t and shouldn’t hold Jesus back by denying Him the honor of which He is God’s very own Son. We can’t only look at Him as a man, however great of a man He is. For a brief moment in time upon this earth, Peter, James and John saw a glimpse of heaven come down to earth—in the personhood of Christ.

By the Spirit’s power, we have been led up to the mountain top to witness with eyes of faith the One who is the Savior for our sins. On that mountain, with ears of faith, we hear the voice of the Father in exuberant joy telling us: “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I Am well pleased. Listen to Him!” By the grace of God we will listen attentively. We will take to heart what the Savior says and does. And we do come down from the mountain to the plains that we could be His witnesses to our neighbors, family, coworkers and friends. PAUSE.

When we meet Jesus like we do on the Mount of Transfiguration and see Him for who and what He is, we are “transfigured” through faith. Like the Mount of Transfiguration was a watershed event for Jesus, so it is with us as we begin our own journey to the throne—through costly discipleship. We know that as the Journey cost Jesus, it will also cost us. It may cost us friendships, wealth or honor. It may even cost us our lives. But we make the journey on account of Him.

While this place looks familiar to all of us, today is a mountaintop experience. Here in worship today and every week the Lord gives us a transfiguring experience. Here, gathered together with people you know and love we are centered on and in the presences of Christ. We rejoice as we see our Lord once again transfigured before us in Word and Sacrament. The sights and sounds, although easily mistaken as plain and ordinary, move us in a profound way. Here we sing the praises of Him who was transfigured for us so that we would be transfigured from death to life for eternity. His death and His Resurrection changes everything.

But like Peter, James and John, we can’t stay. There is work to do. We come to this mountaintop experience week in and week out to have our sins forgiven and our batteries recharged by the Grace of God. Here we once again hear the voice of the Father when He says, “Listen to Him!” Like those three Disciples, we are changed by our moments in this place so that we might leave here as confident and joyful witnesses.

And as witnesses, we seek out others who are still sitting in the darkness of sin. We seek them out not to glory in what we have seen, but to share that glory with them so that they too may know our joy.

Saints in Christ, let me challenge you beginning today. That for the next 40 days (the days of Lent) you would prayer for someone daily and invite them to come the Lord’s house. Fervently and prayerfully consider whom you may invite to join with us on this mountaintop on Easter Sunday morning as we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord. But like Peter, we won’t follow clever schemes. No, we will just invite them to come to the mountaintop with us so that they may hear the Lord’s voice, listen and joyfully follow!

It is good Lord to be here. It is good Lord for us to be here week in and week out. For it is here that we have the mountaintop experience of the Glory of God. A glory revealed to us in Jesus as He gleams on the Mount of Transfiguration, as He groans and gasps for air on Mount Calvary, and as we wait for Him to take us to the glory of Mount Zion in Eternity! We can see it all from here. But we can’t stay. There are many that the Lord is seeking through us. The journey might be difficult, frustrating and hard, but the journey will be worth it! By God’s grace, let’s get going! AMEN.

Now the peace of God…

SOLE DEO GLORIA