Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Luke 13:1 - 9 -- Jesus, the News, and Ourselves

Grace and peace to you from Him who is and who was and who is to come,
       Folks who lived in Jesus’ time were just as fascinated by the days’ news as many of us are today, and it always seems to be the bad news that holds our attention. Wars, natural disasters, government scandals, and the misbehavior of well-known people often get us thinking. We want to know what the big events of the day mean for us. Sometimes it’s easy to find a meaning. A flood or a big snowstorm may touch the life of a friend or a relative or we may know a politician who is often in the news or we may have a friend or relative serving in the armed forces. Or it may be you have an active, curious brain and like to stay informed. Sometimes, on the other hand, we may want to get away from the news – which means different things for us at different times.
       This morning’s gospel gives us a lesson in how to interpret the news from a Christian point of view. Current events convince us that the world and we ourselves need to repent and take hold of Christ in faith. Some people wanted Jesus to interpret reports that Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, had murdered a group of Galileans who were offering sacrifices in the temple. They might have been members of a bothersome national faction that the government was worried about. It was a terrible thing for Pilate to do, in any case, and deeply offensive to the Jews, who never let outsiders into the sacred parts of the temple. Then, too, eighteen people died when a tower collapsed. Folks in those days believed that if really bad things happened to you, you and your neighbors could be sure that God was angry and was punishing you for some secret sin. Job’s friends had the same idea, you remember. They believed that Job suffered because God’s wrath was upon him.
       The truth is actually much different. It doesn’t happen very often that we can see God’s hand clearly in a sequence of events that we hear about in the news. The Almighty works in mysterious ways that are usually beyond the power of human minds to interpret correctly. Here’s a case to think about. A group of nuns working in a South American jungle prayed for years that the Lord would send them a jeep. But instead of a jeep, a terrible war came that lasted for months and months. Many people were killed. The nuns didn’t understand why God hadn’t sent them a vehicle. When peace came back and the sisters could finally leave their convent, one of them went out for a walk and when she reached the end of a path – what do you suppose? She found a jeep with the keys in the ignition.
       Anyway, Jesus said that wars and famine, earthquakes and unexpected catastrophes will be part of the news until he returns. The significance of particular events is usually hidden away in his mind and his will. The folks who went to Jesus with their observations about current events were too quick to form opinions about the sinfulness of others. Their biases didn’t help them understand what the news meant for them. They needed a deeper understanding.
       Misfortunes that happen to other people, Jesus told them, such as storms and floods and civil unrest, shouldn’t bring on bursts of self-satisfaction and finger-pointing. It’s easy for folks who live in favored places like Canada to become complacent, smug, settled into a comfortable routine and there’s always the temptation to be callous or indifferent to the troubles of others. We don’t please God if we allow ourselves to fall into these ways of thinking. A wiser, more Christian response to news about others’ difficulties is to see a warning in them – a wake-up call. All are sinners. Everyone needs to turn to God. Those who don’t will face a greater calamity than physical hardship. Paul wrote in a different connection: “Let anyone who thinks that he stands firm take heed lest he fall.” We comfortable North Americans are always in danger of spiritual sloth. It’s easy to live for pleasures and forget that life is uncertain and fragile and to ignore reminders that everyone needs to examine him- or herself in the light of God’s Word.
       Now, this morning’s Gospel doesn’t stop there. Jesus tells a parable to show God’s way of looking on the events of the day. The vineyard he referred to is Israel; the fig tree is Jerusalem, which was the most important city. The whole nation had been corrupt, barren, fruitless. The people shouldn’t become obsessed with two incidents only: they should strive for a wider understanding – that the whole society was worthy of receiving God’s wrath. Only Christ’s death for their sins would rescue them from condemnation. They needed to turn to God and seek his will while they had the chance. Otherwise, they’d miss out on salvation.
Jesus told them what the Heavenly Father wanted – spiritual fruitfulness that was the opposite of smugness and self-satisfaction. Jesus makes fruitfulness possible. It begins with sorrow for our sins and the grateful acceptance of Jesus’ friendship and the blessings he won for us when he shed his blood and then produces qualities such as the ones Paul mentions in Galatians – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Holy Spirit uses our repentant joy to bring fruitfulness out of barren soil.
       We make productive contributions wherever we go – to the life of our families, at our tasks, and in our communities – and in a Christian way because God’s Spirit works in us and empowers us to stick with him. We read our Bibles, say our prayers, come to worship. The Lord uses us. It is He who makes us fruitful.
We aren’t perfect, of course, and our failings concern us, but they don’t break our spirits, for our Savior who pardons us and calls us to repent and think again believes in us and prevents us from being overcome with worry about our transgressions. We rest in the trust he places in us and are confident of our fruitfulness. Jesus is like the vine-keeper in the parable who asked the owners of the vineyard to spare the fig tree. He intercedes with the Father on our behalf. He wants us to be fruitful and trusts that we’ll respond to the opportunities he gives us with an abundance of fruitfulness.
       Although the news may alarm us at times, Jesus teaches us to trust that God is active and in control. He is patient and slow to condemn; he works in mysterious ways by his own timetable. He doesn’t make mistakes. Instead of cutting off sinful humanity, he invites us to stand in faith at the foot of the Cross, when we receive pardon and renewed strength. Because of the Cross, there is no barrier between us and our Creator who will persist in making us fruitful.
       Bad days and the experience of suffering in our own lives don’t mean that we’re unfruitful. In fact, tough times bring a fruitfulness of their own in that they make us patient and faithful and teach us the art of compassion. The Heavenly Father doesn’t promise to spare us from tribulation. We expect rocky times, in fact, because Christians share in the suffering of our Savior. He does promise though, that he will use miserable hours for our good. Peter wrote that sufferings refine our faith the way fire refines gold. God thinks differently from the way we do: he uses tribulations as the soil out of which sturdy blossoms grow.
Life on earth will always be a mixture of good and bad. The devil tries to use our troubles to break us, while the Savior helps us to endure them and to see them clearly. Misfortunes humble us and teach us to call on the Lord for help. Difficulties give us the chance to imitate Jesus’ meekness and patience, to look beyond rough days to the brightest of all times that wait for us in heaven. Jesus shows us how to find uses for the rough waters we pass through which we don’t see as punishments from God – though they can be for people who don’t believe in him – but as inducements to draw closer to our Lord, who experienced miseries himself and used them to bring good to all people.
       Life is full of strange events that get us asking questions. Are people who suffer from wars and natural disasters worse sinners than other folks?  All sin and fall short of the glory of God. Jesus uses the news of the day to create fruits of repentance in our hearts. As we are sorry for our sins, we rediscover that God is forgiving, patient, and steadfast. He won’t give up on us. He will persist on our behalf. We trust that he’ll keep working on us and that the fruits of faith – joyfulness, kindliness, peace, gentleness, and so on will about in our lives. In Jesus name, we give thanks. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.             

Friday, February 22, 2013

Luke 13:31 - 35 -- Jesus Reveals His Qualities

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,
       Even though this morning’s gospel text isn’t one of the most familiar ones, it gives us a chance to remember some of Jesus’ qualities. He worked in the middle of society. He met a variety of people. Some were friends, others enemies. People in high places new who he was, especially Herod, the ruler of Galilee, where Jesus was travelling. Herod wanted to kill Jesus – or so the rumor went. Jesus didn’t cower in fear of Herod’s power, nor did he pack his bags and flee. He said – and in public, where many would hear him and repeat what he said – that the ruler was a fox. Now, the Greeks thought of foxes as cunning and crafty, while the Hebrews considered them animals of destruction. Whichever understanding Jesus had in mind, he knew that Herod was up to no good. Jesus wasn’t afraid to challenge him by speaking God’s opinions of his ways.
Jesus was strong and brave, then. He knew the world and had to be on his guard but he didn’t compromise with evil to save himself. He stood up to his enemies on the side of what is good and true. He was the Son of God and God himself so he had the authority to make judgments. He wanted the people and Herod himself to know that he was out of line, so Jesus spoke forthrightly in hopes that his words would get back to the ruler, who might take the chance to repent and turn to God and be saved. Jesus wants everyone to have an opportunity for salvation.
       Jesus was sturdy and courageous, then, and passes his strength on to us. We don’t act or speak when we don’t have authority, but neither are we doormats. We often speak out against injustice and wrongdoing. A top media executive once called a meeting of his senior staff when it happened to be Ash Wednesday. He noticed that some of his people had ashes on their foreheads. He called them Jesus freaks and said they ought to be working for another network. The story got out and Christian leaders were quick to protest. Jesus doesn’t call us, you see, to suffer in silence. He was brave and so are we.
       The text reminds us of other outstanding qualities of our Lord. He was on the side of life rather than destruction. He cast out demons, healed the sick, relieved burdens, and solved problems. He showed his power in acts of compassion. Since he could heal ailments of body and soul, we can rely on his promises that he will bestow greater gifts such as the forgiveness of sins, the friendship of God, and the hope of everlasting life. We trust him when he says he calls us into an eternal kingdom and promises to keep us there. Rejection of Christ and unrepented hardness of heart have serious consequences, from which Jesus wants to spare all people, so he lovingly draws us to him.
       He is persistent, in other words. He promised to keep on with his mission in spite of opposition.  We Christians get our stick-to-it-iveness, to use a word my mother taught me, from him. One foot after the other. Don’t give up. Look ahead to the satisfactions that will come when we reach a goal that’s hard to get to and takes a lot of time. Caring for others, success at work, resisting the assaults of the world and the devil, and sticking with Jesus – all take persistence, and the Lord shows us how it’s done. What’s more, he revives us if our persistence falters. Few things are more disheartening than looking back and realizing that we gave up on something we didn’t have to. We can’t persist in doing good on our own. The strengthens us and builds up our determination.
       Love is another quality we see in Jesus, which this morning’s gospel shows us in a vivid way. Jesus compared himself with a hen who gathers her chicks around her to protect them. The Heavenly Father called him to nurture the people of Jerusalem and Israel in particular so that they would be a blessing to the whole world. His love didn’t falter even though many of the people he was sent to rejected him. He reaches out today to gather people together so that we receive the protection of his love and inspiration for service. Our natural inclination is to go our own way and to claim that God’s love for us is a crutch that grown-ups don’t need. The devil tempts us to trust human strength, and many do, starting with Adam and Eve and going up to the news of the day, but Jesus keeps on loving and never shuts the door on anyone who looks for him. He gives wisdom to folks who listen to him. He trains us to accept what’s best for us, and that’s the love of God, which moves us to love him and our neighbors in return.
       God loves the whole world and all people, while Jesus had a special concern for Jerusalem, as we said, the holy city, the center of religious life for the people of Israel. But some of the people there and many of the leaders turned their backs on him. Jesus warned them – not in anger or vengefulness, but from sadness and compassion for their plight. He didn’t lash out or sink into despair. His love for them was steady and persistent. He willingly gave up his life to win the possibility of salvation for the people who turned away from him.
       St. Peter’s people stand up for the love of God where we live. The presence of sin and the devil and the weakness of human flesh don’t frighten us into silence of inactivity. We pray for our neighbors. We speak about the Lord. We correct. We forgive, as God corrects and pardons us. We may know people who are struggling in today’s economy or someone who is discouraged and looking for something solid to trust or we may have a friend who’s led astray by false teaching. We point folks in difficult circumstances to the faith and hope our Savior offers. We’re concerned about the welfare of others, committed to the world around us, and not on the world’s terms but Christ’s. He advised the people of Jerusalem that they should accept God’s Word while they had the chance. A time was coming – he meant the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army almost four decades in the future – when their lives would be much more difficult. It behooved them to cling to God while he was in their midst.
       Another of Jesus’ qualities – and we remember that he is God and man in one Person – is his attitude to the end of earthly life. He spoke about his coming death, not with bitterness, but as if he were reporting a fact. Although it is a great evil, death for Jesus and for us means deliverance from the troubles of earth to a better life face-to-face with God. St. Paul wrote: “I tell you a mystery...we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall all be changed. This perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality.” The day of fulfillment has yet to come. We perceive its glories by faith, but we are blessed now because Jesus has defeated the devil’s power to fill us with fears about death. We lead balanced, joyful, fruitful lives now because the Lord has promised us a glorious future. “O, death, where is your sting?” Paul wrote. “O, grave, where is your victory?” We live in the hope of unimaginable blessedness to come.
       But to return to our text. Some questions can’t be answered. We can’t explain why some folks reject Christ and his promises. We do know, however, that some people accept him. The Spirit moves lots of folks to receive the Lord in their hearts, and even in Jesus’ time, some welcomed him and stuck with him and learned from his teachings about the world. There were those who appreciated his persistence, were grateful for his healing, and rejoiced in his love, and who joyfully took new life from his conquest of death. Jesus spoke to people like that at the end of this morning’s gospel. He would soon make his departure from the world. When they saw him next, they would exclaim, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
As a man, Jesus loved his people and his nation despite their faults. As God, he cared about them so much that he died to save them – and not just one nation and one people. He died so that the whole world might come to life in him. He calls us to stick with him and promises that the Holy Spirit will keep giving us the grace to persevere in faith so that when he returns we will say with the faithful people of ancient Israel and all believers everywhere, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” We give thanks in the name of our Savior. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keeps your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.                                                

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Matthew 4:1 - 11 Satan Tempted Jesus and Now tempts Us

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,

An old gospel hymn called “Love Lifted Me” begins with these words, “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore, very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more.” A cry from the heart that invites a question: how can a Christian who attends church regularly and faithfully reads the Bible ever fall into such a pit? This morning’s gospel brings us an answer. The devil is forever stirring things up; he never sleeps; he never stops trying to trip us up by putting one temptation or another before us. He’s always busy striking at God’s beloved children.

Now, listen to the next lines of “Love Lifted Me”: “The Master of the sea heard my despairing cry, from the waters lifted me, now safe am I.” Temptation may strike us, but we trust by faith that our Savior rescues us and lifts us back to safety. Our Lord defeated the devil in the wilderness, not just for himself, but also for us and for all other people. He is our powerful friend who carries us through the perils of temptation. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews tell us why: “Because he himself suffered while he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

We begin our Sundays in Lent, then, by spending a few minutes thinking about temptation and Christ’s work of redemption. The purpose of Lent is to make us more aware of our frailties than we usually are and more aware of our need for Christ so that Easter will be a joyous time for us. The spiritual disciplines of Lent – the Scripture readings for the season and any belt-tightening we may take on in our personal lives – are meant to refresh us.

So on to temptation. Matthew’s description of Jesus’ encounter with Satan shows us three different ways that temptation may strike at us. First, in times when we feel deprived and it seems that we don’t have everything we need. Jesus had been fasting for forty days and nights. He was hungry and would surely have succumbed to the devil’s tricks if the power of God hadn’t been on his side. Satan tried to convince him that his Heavenly Father wouldn’t provide for him: “Use your power to turn these stones into bread.” We all may feel deprived at times, especially if something we want very much is missing from our lives. Maybe others have more than we do or somebody treats us unjustly or opportunities we hoped for haven’t come our way. We keep a rein on thoughts and feelings like that because the devil can work on us to make them larger than they are and we are tempted to think and act in ways that don’t please our Lord.

We follow Jesus instead, who looked for refuge in God’s Word, which teaches that no one lives by material things alone. We are not machines. Our souls need the Word of God that brings life and salvation. While the devil tempts us to let go of the best parts of life, God’s Word sustains us as we cope with the miseries and injustices of daily living. “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power,” Paul wrote. “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of the dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Jesus equips us to battle the enemy of our souls, and so we never fear that the devil will overwhelm us.

The first temptation describes how the devil attacks us if we’re needy. The second is the opposite, for Satan also hits at us when every need if fulfilled. He tried to trick Jesus into carrying out a foolish stunt simply to show off that he is God as well as man.  Again, Jesus silenced the devil with a verse from Scripture. God’s people do not put him to the test. Satan would love to persuade us that since we are Jesus’ sisters and brothers we may do whatever we want and no trouble will come to us. He would dance in the street if he could coax us to drive a car and read a magazine and talk on a cell phone all at the same time or to believe that we can live well without taking care of daily necessities, because we think that God will look out for us no matter what. The devil would like us to think that the rules of life don’t apply to us. He wants to persuade us that we can sin any way we please because we live under the protection of God’s umbrella of grace and forgiveness. Instead of looking on ourselves as forgiven sinners whom God has invited into his kingdom, we might come to think of ourselves as very special people above the law who can do no wrong. If we ever catch ourselves thinking like that, then we need to confess that corruption has blossomed in our hearts and turn to God for pardon with the hope that he will show us how to chase away the remnants of pride.

We are often at war with temptation, so we stand firm, as Paul wrote, with the belt of truth buckled around our wastes, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. We are vigilant for God, on our guard so that Satan won’t trick us into spiritual ease and slovenliness.

In the third temptation, old Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for an act of worship. He promised Jesus what he didn’t have the power to give, but he took a risk and hoped that he could deceive the Lord into giving up his ministry, his burden of care for others and a future that included public humiliation and the cross. He wanted Jesus to take the easy way and settle for the glamorous life of a miracle worker. But Christ ordered Satan away, for Scripture commanded him to worship and serve only God. His heart belonged to his Heavenly Father. Satan uses God’s good creation to tempt God’s children away from faith. He wants us to believe that the stuff this world brings us is the only reality. It’s tempting to dream, for example, about life in a warm climate with plenty of comforts and a non-stop supply of money and lots of people to wait on us. The devil tempts us, moreover, to believe that we can get this way of life by adjusting our values. We don’t follow Satan’s lead, however, because we trust that the life we receive from God is much more meaningful than the daydreams the devil sends us. Like Jesus, our hearts belong to the Heavenly Father. We worship and fear him only.

Still, we may worry that our flesh will get the best of us and that we’ll raise ease and comfort to first place. This won’t happen if we keep putting on the armor the Lord gives us. “Take the helmet of salvation,” Paul wrote, “and the sword of the Spirit, which is the work of God.” Paul encourages us to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” The Lord saves us through our faith in the death and resurrection of Christ to withstand the devil and his temptations. He falls to the ground before faithful people who are equipped with the spiritual armor from Christ.

So – to sum up – the temptations that come to us follow a pattern. We feel a little thrill when they first strike as if the freedom and loveliness we crave are finally within our reach. But the devil’s joys are brief and insubstantial. He loves to mock folks who surrender to them and make them feel miserable with guilt, so we put on the armor of God because we can’t resist temptation by our own strength. If we ever try to do that, we find ourselves tied up in a bitter struggle that could make us crabby and unlovable. Either way, whether we give in or try to resist by our own strength, we end up crying out like the person who wrote “Love Lifted Me”—“sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore, sinking to rise no more.”

We cling to Christ in faith. He brings us life and empowers us for our daily battle. Discipline and sacrifice become easier with Jesus as our partner. He is sympathetic to our struggles and come to us with love. He cleanses our hearts and minds; he endows us with hope and strength. His Word that worked against the devil in the wilderness also works on our behalf. It rescues us the way it rescued the Christian who wrote the old gospel hymn: “The Master of the sea heard my despairing cry, from the waters lifted me. Now safe am I.” The God of life is stronger for us than the devil or any temptation that troubles us, so in his name we say AMEN.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keeps your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Matthew 17:1 - 13 The Transfiguration -- Big moments

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord,
       The epiphany season gives us a chance to explore some of the times God revealed himself to his people in Bible times. Back in the days of the Old Testament, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and identified himself as the great “I Am”. He appeared to Moses again when he received the 10 commandments and to Elijah on Mt. Horeb when the prophet was feeling down at heart. These were big moments, both for the people involved and for the story of salvation.
       The transfiguration was also a big moment and a bigger one was about to take place. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, where he would surrender his life on a cross to pay for all our sins and build a bridge between mankind and God. He wanted to give everyone a chance for a rich, meaningful life that would last forever through faith in him. His trip to Jerusalem would have a glorious outcome, for he would rise from the grave there and ascend to heaven, but first he would pass through some dreadful days, and so he withdrew to a mountain with his “A” team disciples, Peter, John, and James, to spend time with his Heavenly Father in prayer.
       Stepping away from the text for a moment, we realize that we have big moments, too, birth, baptism, marriage, and the hour that our souls pass from this life to eternity. Other big moments are less obvious, such as when we choose our heroes or when we decide whether life presents us with a lot of closed doors or if it has a plenty of opportunity for us. Jesus’ transfiguration teaches us a lesson. We do not face our big moments on our own. Our Heavenly Father carries us through them. We trust, because of Jesus, that our big moments will turn out well for us, even the ones that come at us with a pretty dreadful appearance.
The Heavenly Father acted promptly to comfort and encourage his Son. He transformed his physical appearance as a reminder of the divine glory that Jesus set aside when he took on human flesh and that he would reclaim when he finished his mission on earth. The Heavenly Father sent him two companions: Moses and Elijah, whose features he also transformed. He chose these two because Moses received God’s law and Elijah was the chief of prophets, who held a small number of people together during a faithless time. These great men showed Jesus a lot of respect by being with him just before his journey to the cross; their presence highlighted that he is the fulfillment of both the law and the prophets and that he surpassed them. He would walk along a path that was especially his; his work would turn out well. His death would work like a seed that produced an enormous harvest.
       The Heavenly Father lifts us up, too, as we deal with our big moments. His companionship comforts us. He promises that our sacrifices will produce results. Bad times give way to good days. We sow in tears and reap in joy – one of life’s basic truths, up and down, bad and good. A let-down follows a big moment, then comes deeper understanding, more wisdom. Though he often insists that we wait, the blessed Lord makes sure that everything works out well for his beloved children.
       The Heavenly Father did something else for his son; he spoke directly. “This is my Son, whom I love; I am well pleased with him.” The Father used the same words at Jesus baptism. He claimed his son and reassured him that he wouldn’t let him go. He would guide and sustain him during the coming ordeal. The Heavenly Father’s’s infinite power and love, his wisdom and glory were all focused on Jesus as he directed his thoughts and his will toward the coming crisis in Jerusalem. The Father would uplift his Son; the Savior would make no bad choices during days that would be very stressful; he would take no false steps; he would carry out his Father’s plan without a hitch. And then he would return to glory. Moreover, the change in his appearance was a foretaste of the glorious transformation that would take place after he came back from the grave.
       The Transfiguration was also a big moment for the three disciples with him. They had seen Jesus’ miracles and heard his preaching and teaching; they had confessed their faith in him and knew that he must die in Jerusalem at the hands of the authorities and be raised again on the third day. Now the cloud, the radiance that shone from their master, the presence of Moses and Elijah and the voice of the Father confirmed for them that God had been working in Jesus and that he was God himself. They had put their trust in the right place. They were present at a revelation of his divine nature that amazed them at first and frightened them but that also worked to strengthen them.
       They received a specific command from the Heavenly Father – to listen to Jesus, his chosen one. The world floods us with an abundance of temptations. Thoughts stray easily; wills weaken; hearts drift. If they wanted to worship God faithfully and in truth, they would listen to Jesus. They would learn the meaning of his death and resurrection in Jerusalem. The hidden God is revealed in Jesus; the light of the gospels shines through him. They should look only to him.
       The unexpected physical change in the Lord overpowered them. Peter acted in haste. He wanted to make the big moment last longer and offered to build three protective shelters in hopes of persuading Moses and Elijah to stay with them. But since the world is full of change, impermanence, and sin, revelations of heavenly glory don’t last long. Peter and the others would have to wait for the sinless world that is coming and be happy for now with the promises the Heavenly Father made them in Christ. His word was enough to bring them to salvation and keep them there.
       The sound of the Heavenly Father’s voice scared the disciples; they fell face down on the ground. You and I would have done the same. Moses once wrote that no one can see God and live. The sight of the living God in his power overwhelmed the A-team. Jesus went to them. He touched them and told them not to be frightened, just the way a parent comforts a child after something frightening and mysterious happens. The Savior cleared a path between mankind and the Almighty God so that anyone may approach him confidently and boldly. When they saw the glory of God in the face of Christ, the three disciples saw a very human face. The light of heaven that unbelievers don’t see reassured them. The light that shone from the savior was a preview of the resurrection. It promised that a day of transfiguration would also come for them, when they would reign in heaven alongside the Lord. Meanwhile, God brought them into his inner circle. He caused the light of the gospel to shine in them. He assured them that the turbulent days ahead would turn out well, that no permanent evil would ever befall them. He makes the same promise to all his people, that everything that happens in our lives will work out for our good and the glory of God.
       So the transfiguration is a big moment for us, too, if we pay attention to it. Jesus looked ahead to sacrifice and suffering in Jerusalem.  The Christian life ever since then has involved sacrifice and even, from time to time, suffering. Materialism has captured the souls of many people. Christians sacrifice the fulfilment of many earthly cravings so as to live righteously in the light from heaven. We sometimes give up popularity and esteem because Jesus is more important to us than keeping up with worldly trends. We don’t join in with folks who devote their lives to temporary satisfactions. Like our savior, we put the best interests of others on a par with our own. We help our brothers and sisters in Christ bear their burdens. We don’t rise above ourselves to claim authority that the Lord hasn’t given us. We wait for him to reveal his will.
       We’re frail mortals, it’s true. The false gods of the age tempt us, the blows of life weary us. We sometimes look for easy ways, and on down days we may consider giving up on something we’ve worked on for a long time, even though we know it’s God’s wish that we keep on going. But the blood that Christ shed on Calvary washes us clean and gives us strength. The blessed Lord had stronger reasons to quit than we do, but he didn’t lay down his burden. He persisted. Needing strength, he brought his cares to the Heavenly Father in prayer. The Father revived him and prepared his spirit for the tough days ahead. He offers the same comfort and strength to us in our daily prayers and whenever we worship or read the Bible. In bad moments, when it may seem that nothing goes right, we remember that the Lord has claimed us in our baptisms and that he will not let us go. The Father who lifted up Jesus also upholds his adopted daughters and sons. As Paul once wrote, there is no veil between us and God. The heavenly light that never goes out shines clearly for you and me.
       The Transfiguration is a big moment for us because it reveals our destiny. The Lord knows that sacrifice and suffering touch our lives. Things happen to us that we don’t like. Opportunities to relax and enjoy life never stay around very long. Peter wrote: “...for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which persists even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” Suffering and sacrifice refine us and purify our faith so that we may be fit to meet the Lord when he comes back to claim us for glory. So hold on, dear friends, abide in faith. A day is coming when the circumstance of life will change completely and we, too, will be transfigured.
        The Lord shows us, meanwhile, how to cope with our big moments. We don’t give way to weaknesses. Like Jesus, we lean on our Heavenly Father, who strengthens us to carry on, even though we must sometimes walk along paths that are strewn with difficulties. His light shines in our hearts. His love for us gives us confidence. He will hold us steady and will not let go. He will shape us and refine us. We ask him to keep our faith strong until we reach the fullness of the new life to come. In His name we rejoice. AMEN
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of...

Friday, February 1, 2013

Luke 5:1-11 -- Jesus Rules Nature

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
       We’ll explore this morning’s gospel text from St. Peter’s point of view. We’ll pretend he’s with us this morning. He begins by telling us about the importance of fish and the fishing business in our Lord’s day. “The Sea of Galilee was free to everyone,” he tells us. “Anyone who wanted to could fish there. Fish was one of our favorite foods: people ate fish whether they were sick or in good health, on any day of the week, and especially at our Sabbath meals. A lot of people worked in the fishing business. You could get fresh fish or dried fish or fish that was pickled. We made sauces out of fish. Some folks were experts on the subject. They claimed they could tell where a fish came from by its flavor. We had plenty of legends about fish. We used to tell stories about a great dinner where 300 varieties were served and about the king of a neighboring country who ordered 600,000 barrels of sardines every week for the people who took care of his fig trees. We never believed these stories, but they were fun to share, especially if you happened to be out in your boat for a long time without catching anything.”
       Peter then tells us something about what Jesus did during this early period in his ministry. “He was baptized in the Jordan River, you will remember, and then the devil tempted him in the desert for forty days. He went back to Galilee after that and taught in our synagogues, where people praised him. You know about the time he went to the synagogue in Nazareth and declared that a well-known prophesy in Isaiah applied to him. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he read. “He has appointed me to preach good news to the poor, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Everyone in the synagogue marveled at the wonderful things he said. How could a carpenter’s son, they asked, be full of so much grace and wisdom? And then there was a spot of trouble. He said that people in his own country wouldn’t accept him, but that others, outsiders, would, and so there was anger in the synagogue, and the people drove Jesus out of his own city and tried to throw him down the cliff that Nazareth is built on, but he saved himself without any trouble and went down to Capernaum. This episode in the synagogue, by the way, encouraged him to preach outdoors, by the lake and on hillsides, rather than in our usual places of worship.
“After he left Nazareth, he drove out demons and healed numerous diseases. He even came to my house once, when my mother-in-law was sick with a bad fever, which he rebuked so that it left her and she got up right away and began to serve Jesus and the people with him. He went to a quiet out-of-the-way place later that day. People followed him and begged him to stay with them. He said that he needed to go to other cities – in particular the southern part of the country and preach the good news about God’s kingdom. Even so, people in our town urged him to speak God’s word to us. Then he saw our fishing boats and got into mine to use as a pulpit.”
       Peter draws our attention to this morning’s gospel text. “The story of what happens next isn’t just narrative,” he says. “Jesus’ life on earth had a meaning and a purpose and if you were paying attention you saw a lot of what’s special about Jesus in this one brief episode by the Sea of Galilee. He brought God’s kingdom to the earth, and this is what he showed us by his preaching and his healing and when he cast out demons. God and his kingdom had come to us, as he had promised would happen long ago. He wanted us to believe in him and to trust him. He would always keep his word; whatever he promised would come to pass. He used a small example to make a big point. After he finished preaching about the kingdom and the power of God’s word, he turned to me while everyone was watching and asked me to move out to the deepest part of the lake. He wanted me to trust him – that he would lead us to enough fish to fill our nets. Think of it! A carpenter was telling us professional fishermen how to carry out our trade. He wanted to give us a demonstration of the power of God’s word that everyone could see and to show that whatever he said would take place. If he promised to heal, healing would happen. If he said he’d die and rise again, that would take place, too.
       What’s more, he called John and James and me into his service, and to show his love and care for us, he gave us something we very much wanted and could use in our daily lives – boat loads of fish. He had greater gifts in mind for us, but he didn’t neglect everyday things and what’s down-to-earth. He didn’t give us something better than fish that we wouldn’t understand. He gave us fish. And because he gave us an abundance of what we wanted and needed, we could also trust him when it came to bigger things – like our salvation and living every day in God’s presence.
       Anyway, I should tell you something about the way I felt when the carpenter told the fisherman to move to the most unlikely spot for fishing and at the very worst time of day. I didn’t really believe him, despite the miracles he’d performed, including the healing of my mother-in-law; I didn’t trust that he really knew where to find a great school of fish. But I went along with him, because it was he, and I didn’t want to make him unhappy. Willingness and a desire to please, you see, aren’t the same things as the faith that trusts. Willingness says – what else can I get? What have I got to lose? Best not to give offense. Trust doesn’t ask a lot of questions and dives in wholeheartedly. We’d had a long and frustrating and disappointing night. I’d about given up on God. But I’ll tell you something – God didn’t give up on me. He never gives up. He sent me and my partners out to the middle of the lake and told us to let down our nets. What a powerful and generous God. Our boats were filled, and so I understood that if the physical world obeys his command so must the world of the spirit that we can’t see. So must life. So must death. I felt giddy for a moment and full of vanity, and I told myself that I’d hook up with this man forever and ever. Then I looked at Jesus, and new thoughts and feelings overcame me – of the sort I’d never had before. I knew who he was and also who I was. It was a much more powerful experience even than when he healed my mother-in-law. The Lord of the universe who controls everything and is on the side of life rather than death was right there in my own fishing boat. He was perfect and I was anything but, so I fell to my knees. People have told me they didn’t understand the way I acted. It was because I’d had an experience that most people never have; I had a glimpse of the depth of my sin and error. We mostly glide over the surface of life, not thinking very much about the meaning of what’s happening or who we are or why we do what we do, but just then a marvelous insight came to me – a revelation, and so I fell to my knees. You’d have done the same if you’d been there – or at least I think so, because you seem to be the sort of people who are attuned to God and his word.
       Anyway, I was astonished, amazed, thunderstruck. I told Jesus to go away from me. I wasn’t worthy to be in his presence. Besides, you’ll remember that Moses said that we can’t look on God and live. Again, you see, I was both right and wrong at the same time. I was right to see my sinfulness to repent. I was wrong to tell Jesus to go away, which he didn’t do in any case. He knew what was right for him and also right for me. God came to earth in Christ to make his home with us. He took on our flesh. He didn’t sin, but he lived the way we do. He worked; he ate; he slept; he laughed; he socialized. He also preached and performed miracles and brought the word of God to everyone who would receive it. He didn’t come into the world only to leave it. And when people did succeed in making him leave the world for a short time, he turned this shameful episode into a great benefit for mankind by using it to pay the price for the sins of the whole world. Everyone who trusts in him receives everlasting life and the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is tenacious and persistent; he means what he says. He came back to the earth, as you know, in a resurrection body to proclaim his victory over his enemies and over death and the devil and to give his people a preview of the wonderful life that lies ahead for them – perfect bodies, perfect minds, and perfect, never-ending happiness in the presence of Christ.
       “Now, I want to digress for a moment and call to your mind one of our savior’s resurrection appearances. Seven of us disciples were by the Sea of Galilee again. I said to the others that I was going fishing and they came with me. We fished all night, but we didn’t catch a thing. Just at dawn, though we didn’t know who he was, Jesus was standing on the beach. He asked if we had caught any fish. We had to say no, and then he invited us to drop our nets onto the right side of our boat and then we would catch some. He spoke the truth. Our net was so full that we couldn’t haul it into the boat. Then we recognized Jesus. He invited us to have breakfast with him. He shared his bread with us and some fish he’d been cooking on a charcoal fire. He went to a lot of trouble – didn’t he? – to convince us that he was God and that we could trust his promises. If he knew how to find us an abundance of fish and how to come back from the dead to be with us for a short while, we could also trust his words about salvation and redemption from sin, about the friendship of God and life everlasting.
       “Now, I want to make one more point,” Peter says, because he enjoys talking with us and he is delighted that God has kept us in his kingdom of grace and mercy, “please remember the last thing Jesus said to us in your gospel reading this morning. He said that he would empower James and John and myself and the other disciples to be fishers of men – and women, too, of course. The word that our Lord used for “catch” doesn’t mean ordinary catching, but to catch alive. Our fish died almost as soon as we caught them. They flopped around in the nets but not for long. When God’s word catches a person that person lives – and has life to the full, and not just an abundant earthly life, but fullness in eternity as well. I believe that God has caught you and that he intends to hold onto you. He catches you for life and for more life. He knows that you have times of trial and stress, and perhaps even deep discouragement. These are parts of life on earth for everyone. All such moments pass away. He commands you to trust his promises to you – as the other disciples and I learned to trust, for he has in mind the solution to all current and eternal problems. Keep onto him now; his word sustains you. Trust him. He has caught you alive.” AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. Amen.