Message from the Mountains

 

On the mount of Transfiguration God interrupted Peter’s babbling: “This is my beloved…listen to him.” Jesus came and touched the disciples saying, “Rise, have no fear.”  When the disciples looked up, they saw Jesus only.

In a time when we are upset, confused and angry about what is going on in the political realm we can line up on sides seeing others as enemies, foolish, misguided and dangerous.  I am not immune to such thoughts.

Listening to Jesus, we hear him say: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…For (the Father) makes his sun shine on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and unjust.” (Matthew 5:43) So Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount.  A bit later he taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven…forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

We are all broken.  We are all wounded.  We have all missed the mark of perfection, which is sin. If we are to listen to Jesus the beloved Son of The Father, then we need to listen.  Listen means to hear and obey.  Therefore, Jesus told his followers on the mount of Transfiguration to rise, be resurrected, and have no fear.

How to forgive?  How to be as perfect as the heavenly Father?  How not to fear?

During lent we will hear the author of Hebrews say, “O come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

As with the disciples, so with us, “See Jesus only.”

 

With God on the Mountain

Transfiguration Day

The Old Testament lesson Transfiguration Day (Exodus 24:8-18) takes us up the mountain with Moses, Joshua, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel.  They saw God walking on a clear pavement of blue sapphire stone, like the very sky itself.  It is noted that God did not lay a hand on the delegation of leaders.  In celebration of seeing God, and coming out alive, they “ate and drank.”

Perhaps they only went up to the base, because Moses and Joshua continue up into the mountain where God intended to give Moses the tablets of stone.  For six days Moses sat in cloud cover surrounded by the raging fire of the Lord’s glory.  On seventh day God spoke to Moses, giving him details concerning worship (Chaps. 25-31).  Moses stayed for 40 days.  It was during this time that people below talked Aaron into building them a “golden calf.”  The Hebrew says it was “cast metal.”

Over a millennium later God again appeared in glory on a high mountain.  This time the delegation was made up of Jesus and three of his disciples, Peter, James and John.  There Jesus was transfigured, “his face shone like the sun and his clothes as white as light.” Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared talking with the Jesus.  As Peter was babbling on about commemorating the event, a bright cloud overshadowed the group and a voice said, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”  Suddenly, all the saw was “Jesus only,” looking very much the same as when they climbed the mountain.

The way ahead would not be brightness and glory.  The Father’s voice would not be heard again.  Jesus would go on to Jerusalem and the dark afternoon of the cross.

So we enter lent on Wednesday.  We walk through the shadow of the valley of death waiting for that moment when we say, “Alleluia! He is risen! His is risen indeed Alleluia!”

 

 

Matthias, Called up from the Mino

The first baseball Spring training games started today.  Though our winter has a roller coaster of warm and cold, I sense a great longing for the comfort of the beginning of the baseball season

When Judas went down to the injurious sins of greed, and betrayal of Jesus, he turned not to the tree on which Jesus was hanged, but to his own hanging tree. In his place Matthias was tapped to fill out the roster and bring the team of disciples up to full strength.

After Jesus’ ascension, about 120 of Jesus’ followers were gathered when Peter brought up the need to, “Let another take his (Judas) office.”

Peter set out the qualifications.  He must have been with them from the time when John was baptizing.  The new No. 12 would join the 11 disciples in witnessing to Jesus’ resurrection. Two men were nominated to wear no. 12; Joseph, nicknamed Barsabbas, and Matthias.  The disciples prayed that the Lord would show them which one He had chosen. The lot fell on Matthias.

We know little of Matthias beyond what we have in Acts 1.  Tradition places his missionary work in Ethiopia.  The LCMS follows the old tradition of remembering Matthias on February 24.  The Roman Catholic Church moved the day to May 14 so that it fell nearer the time of the Ascension and Pentecost.  Other church bodies have followed suit.

We, the church, might well see ourselves as the 13th disciple, that through impelling power of the Holy Spirit we move out of our Temples into world in need of witness to the resurrection.

Prayer St, Matthias’ Day: Almighty God, you added your servant Matthias to the company of the apostles.  Grant that your church may always be taught and guided by faithful and true pastors; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 “By all Your Saints in Warfare,” LSB 517.

For one in place of Judas,

Th’ apostles sought God’s choice;

The lot fell to Matthias

For whom we now rejoice.

May we like true apostles

Your holy church defend,

And not betray our calling

But serve You to the end.

 

Three Motivations for Serving

 

There are basically three motivations in the church for doing good.

  1. The lowest level is Fear. This is the motivation of the slave.  He will do good, do well to avoid punishment. It’s the motivation of karma; that is, what goes around comes around, so it’s in one’s own self – interest to do good.

 

  1. On a higher level is that of the employee, the hired hand. Serving to receive wages.  I better be good so that I can go to heaven.  Do well so God will reward me.  The prodigal son would have been satisfied in being his father’s hired hand.  The older brother also served at this level.  “Father, I worked for you all these years and yet you never threw me a party, but this son of yours.”

 

  1. Children of God. These are the inheritors who do right because they are God’s children.  The ones who will hear in wonder on the last day, when Jesus says, “Come, blessed of my father.”  They already know they are free of punishment through grace and will receive their inheritance because of Jesus Christ.  These are the prodigal children who have been restored as sons and daughters of the Father, out of grace.

 

Jacob and Esau, Meet and Greet

 

This morning I read in Genesis 33 of the meeting of Jacob and Esau.  When Jacob heard that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men, Jacob sent ahead wave after wave of livestock as gifts to appease Esau.  As the time of meeting neared, Jacob led the way followed by the two slaves and their children, then Leah and her children and finally beloved Rachel and Joseph.  Esau inquired, “Who are these with you?”  Jacob says, that these are children God in his grace had given him.

As the meet and greet concludes, Esau says that he will accompany Jacob as they travel to Seir where Esau lives.  Seir was southeast of the Dead Sea.  Jacob gives a rather unconvincing excuse that his entourage could not move any faster.  Esau should go on ahead and he, Jacob would follow.  Esau offers to leave some men to help.  But, again, Jacob politely refuses the offer.

Is Jacob still suspicious of his brother despite the reconciliation?  Or is habit of acting deceptively still part of his character?  The story doesn’t tell us.  Perhaps that is intentional.  Jacob, the carrier of God’s promise, can’t quite give up old ways.  Though he led Esau to believe that he would follow him to Seir Jacob only went a little distance and settled in Succoth, still near the Jabbok River on the east side of the Jordan.  There he bought some land from Hamor family for 100 sheep.

This will lead into Schechem’s rape of Jacob’s daughter Dinah, which will in turn lead to a scheme by Schechem’s father, Hamor to take over the tribe of Jacob through inter marriage.  Jacob’s sons agree on one provision, all of Hamor’s men should be circumcised.  Then when the men were still sore after two days, Jacob’s sons attacked and killed the men, took their women, and all their livestock and looted their homes.  Once more, through deception, the people of Jacob enrich themselves and continue their way to be a great people; though not a people well loved.

What always strikes me about these stories, is that God keeps true to his promises through all the machinations of us humans.  Is comforting for we followers of Christ, who promised to be with us always.

You shall be Holy

Epiphany 7, 2017, Prairietown, Leviticus 19:1-2; 9-18

You Shall be Holy: 1. Demand 2. Promise 3. Command

Professor Nauman, a long-ago seminary professor, assigned his students to write a paper on the Holy Trinity.  He thought this would be the moment of truth for one of his students who showed up in class to answer “here” and that was pretty much the sum of his contribution for the day.  Sure enough, the student turned in his paper, ten pages, double spaced, repeated over and over, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy…”

“I would have given him as ‘A’” Professor Nauman said, “But he put a period after the last “Holy.”

All the double-spaced pages in the world would not be enough to contain the holiness of the Lord our God.  And yet, when the Lord spoke to Moses in the Old Testament reading from Leviticus his opening words were, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Being holy does not only applies to the congregation of the people Israel, but also to the congregation of the people of Zion, Prairietown.

This morning, Jesus doesn’t leave us off the hook either. Sitting on the mount he continues his sermon to his disciples. Jesus tells us at the end of our Gospel reading this morning, “You must be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

Talk about laying some high expectations upon us.  No wonder the prophet Isaiah was filled with high anxiety when he saw the Lord sitting on his throne in the temple with the six winged Seraphim fluttering about shouting, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” The whole place shaking and filled with smoke.  Isaiah declared “Woe is me! I am lost.”  When Jesus called Peter to be a disciple, he fell on his knees and pleaded, “Depart from me!  I’m a sinful man.”  Did not we confess at the start of our service, that we are by nature sinful?  We sinned against God in our thoughts, by what we did and by what we have said.  We haven’t loved God as we ought nor our neighbor. We deserve God’s punishment beginning at this very moment and not letting up even in eternity.

Then God says, “You shall be holy…You shall be perfect…?”  Folks we are in a heap of trouble, because we can never generate holiness and perfection from within ourselves.  Such attempts can lead us into a holier-than-thou attitude.  We  can always find someone who is less holy and more imperfect than we are.  But our point of comparison is not with one another, but with God.   Anyway next Sunday we’re going to be back here confessing that “Woe is me, I’m a sinful person.”

Well I seem to have dug us into a deep hole.  But how do we get out?  But that word of the Lord, “You shall be holy.,” is not only a demand, but also a promise.  Of late, our epistle lessons have come from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  So, let’s see if Paul has any help and it turns out he does.

He writes, “To God’s church that was made holy by Christ Jesus and called to be God’s holy people.” The people of Zion Lutheran church are holy,  along with “people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  And “you have been washed and made holy and you have God’s approval in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”  The blessing of holiness came to you personally at the baptism font where you were washed and became an acceptable residence for the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Your body is now a temple of the Holy Spirit. We did not become temples of the Spirit through any effort on our part, temples do not build themselves.   We don’t belong to ourselves but the Spirit and are called to use our bodies in such a way that our lives bring glory to God.  St. Paul tells us, “you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.  All things are yours…the world or life or death or the present or the future-all are yours.”  You see the Lord promised, “You shall be holy,”  and so you are.  When Jesus speaks to us of perfection, he is addressing us as blessed people, because, “Blessed are those who recognize they are spiritually helpless.  The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”

Martin Luther wrote, “Divinity may terrify man.  Expressible majesty will crush him.  That is why Christ took on our humanity, save for sin, that he should not terrify us but rather that with love and favor console and confirm.” A six-year-old girl experienced the love and favor of Christ while in church.  She didn’t understand the liturgy.  She couldn’t read too well. She scribbled throughout some long, boring sermons.  Nonetheless, she wanted to be there.  One day she was asked what she liked most about going to church.  “Communion,” she replied.  Upon further questioning she revealed that Communion was important to her because she would come with the family to the Lord’s Table and while the rest of the people received the bread and wine, the pastor would lay his hand on her head and give her a blessing.  So God also showed his love and favor through the human touch of his Son, Jesus Christ, who gave his body and his blood on the cross to save us.

You shall be holy is not only a demand and a promise, but is also a command.  The thrust of our lessons this morning is to put our holiness into action, as God put His holiness into action through Jesus Christ.  We demonstrate our holiness, and God’s by loving our neighbors as ourselves.  That is take care of the poor and the stranger.  We were once strangers to the kingdom of God but are now a chosen people, a holy nation, people who belong to God.

Local food pantries are in constant need of supplies to aid our poorer neighbors.   One of the strongest of God’s commands in the bible is to welcome the stranger.   Even in rural areas where I grew up in northern Wisconsin now have immigrants and refugees in their midst, just as my grandparents were strangers in that same area nearly 150 years ago.  The text continues with an interesting admonition, “don’t curse a deaf person or put a cement block in front of a blind person.”  In other words, don’t shame, and humiliate those who are defenseless.  In our day, we might think of the problem of bullying, including bullying on social media.  Jesus says to not only love our friends, but our enemies remembering that we were once enemies of God who took it upon himself to reconcile us to himself.  He calls us to turn the other cheek, for he turned his cheek to the smiters.

Though we are holy in Christ Jesus and perfected in him, our everyday practice of holiness won’t be perfect.  A woman heard from her church that migrants were living in tents in a vacant lot without electricity, running water in the hot dry summer.  She thought, “I have a three bedroom house for just myself and my two daughters, who are with their dad half the time.  I have room in the cool basement for some mattresses.  She made the offer and a family of five, a mother and four school-age children moved until the start of school.

The woman knew she had done a good thing.  But she was surprised that she also resented it.  What bothered her most was not being able to us the single bathroom in the house at a moment’s notice.  “isn’t it my house?” she grumbled to herself.  It appears that not only our bodies and lives belong to God so do our houses and all our blessings.  Intended to be shared in the practice of everyday holiness.

Thus I close with some prayer thoughts from the Psalmist: Lord teach me, how to live…help me understand…lead me on the path of your word…direct my heart…Turn my eyes away from worthless things.  Give me a new life in your ways, O my God, my Savior.  In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

 

 

Martin Luther, Doctor and Confessor

Martin Luther died on February 18, 1546

On November 10, Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, Germany, the oldest child of Hans and Margarethe Luther.  He was baptized the next day, the day Martin of Tours is remembered, thus he was named after that saint.  There was a saint assigned to nearly every day and people did not so much follow a calendar with dates, but noted the days by their assigned saint.

The family soon moved to Mansfield, where Luther received his early education.  At age fourteen he was sent to Magdeburg.  He completed his preparatory education in Eisenach.  He attended the University of Erfurt in 1501. In 1505 he joined the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt.  In 1508 he was sent to Wittenberg to continue his theological studies.  With another monk, he traveled to Rome in 1510 and upon his return to Wittenberg in the spring of 1511.  He received a Doctor of Theology in 1512.  Wittenberg University would remain his home base for the rest of his life.

In the winter of 1546, Luther went to his birth place, Eisleben, to arbitrate a quarrel between two counts over some division of land.  His efforts were successful.  He preached and at some point, indicated that he had said enough.

He suffered a heart attack soon after.  One of his associates, Justus Jonas, asked, “Will you stand firm in Christ and the doctrine which you have preached?”  Martin answered, “yes.”  On February 22, he was buried in the Castle Church at Wittenberg, where his remains lie today.

Prayer: O God, defend and purify the Church in our own day, and grant that we may boldly proclaim Christ’s faithfulness unto death and His vindicating resurrection, which You made known to Your servant Martin Luther through Jesus, our Savior.

High Expectations

 

The Lessons for Sunday are bracketed by high expectations

The Old Testament lesson begins: Lev. 19:1: “The Lord spoke to Moses saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, you shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”

The Gospel lesson (Matt. 5:38-48) ends with Jesus, the Lord, saying: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Such high expectations may well lead to high anxiety.  How are we, the congregation of the people of God, to attain the holiness of perfection/the perfection of holiness?”

High anxiety may result if we only view the Lord’s statements in Leviticus and the Sermon on the Mount as demands to achieve a certain level sinless saintliness.

The good news comes in the epistle lesson, I Corinthians 3:10-23. “Don’t you not know that you are God’s temple?”  “And you Christ’s and Christ is God’s.” “All things are yours…the world or life or death or the present or the future-all are yours.”

We are already holy, because the holy God acted to his people at the Red Sea and at the cross.  We are already perfect because we are perfected in Christ.  In Christ, we already belong to God.  We are already his people.  We are already built into a temple of God for no temple has ever built itself. We are the blessed of the Father.

The thrust of the lessons is to put our holiness into action, not to achieve holiness, but to demonstrate what it means to be holy by loving our neighbor as yourself.  We therefore are called to love our enemies for we were once enemies of God, who reconciled us to himself.  We are called to turn the cheek, for our Lord turned his cheek to the smiters.  We look out for the poor and the stranger among us for they are our neighbors and we were once among the poor and have been given the riches of God’s grace in Christ.

Prayer of the Day: Holy God of compassion, you invite us into your way of forgiveness and peace.  Lead us to love our enemies, and transforms our words and deeds to be like his through whom we pray, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Philip Melanchthon

 

He was born Philip Schwarzerdt (Black Earth) in Bretten, Germany on Feb. 16, 1497.  His father was a master of armory in Saxony and his mother came from a well-to-do family of merchants.

Philip excelled in the study of Latin and Greek.  Because he was such a good student his uncle gave him the name “black earth” in Greek, Melanchthon .  He was ready to take his Masters exam at age 15, but his professors didn’t think he would be accepted as a teacher at such a young age.  He did receive his Masters degree two years later and began to teach.  He was urged to get married because others thought it would aid him in his life.  In 1519 he stated that marriage would interfere with his studies and teaching.  However, he did get married in November of the next year.

He joined Martin Luther at the University of Wittenberg in 1518.  Melanchthon was a popular lecturer with as many as 2,000 students attending.  He and Luther became lifelong friends and associates.  He founded schools, wrote textbooks and systematized Lutheran theology.

In April 1530, Emperor Charles V called a meeting between representatives of Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism hoping to reach an agreement.  Luther was still under the papal excommunication issued in 1521 and under imperial ban.  He was still officially an outlaw. Therefore, Melanchthon was appointed  the chief Lutheran representative at the meetings at Augsburg.  He was the primary author of the Augsburg Confession, which was presented to the Emperor on June 25.  The confession defined Lutheran doctrine and teaching.  It demonstrated how Lutherans were not a renegade heretical group, but their teachings were based on Scripture and in accord with the historic teachings of the church.  The Augsburg Confession is still the defining document of Lutheranism place in the Christian church.

Melanchthon continued to work for the church until his death on April 19, 1560.

The First Savior

I’ve launched an effort to read the bible from Genesis to Revelation. I checked out the God’s Word translation from the seminary library.  To my surprise, the attendant said I had it for one year.   I responded, “Oh, that gives me a goal to get through the bible by next Valentines Day.”  I’m up to Chapter 15, of Genesis.

When reading of Abram’s journey to Egypt in Gen. 12:10 – 20, I was struct that the first savior in the bible was Sarai (Sarah).  In fact, she is the first “beautiful savior.”

Though she was at least 65 years old, Abram feared that her ravishing beauty would drive Pharaoh to kill him and take her for his wife.  To save his life, he directed Sarai to say that she was his sister (which was sort of true).  Indeed when the princes saw Sarai they were struck by her beauty and informed Pharaoh, who took her into the great house as his wife. (vs. 15 & 19)

Because of Sarai, Abram lived and was further enriched with by gifts of producing livestock and servants.  But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh with plagues.  Somehow Pharaoh discovered that his new wife was also the wife of his honored guest, Abram. Pharaoh called Abram on the carpet for his deception and ordered his men to see to it that Abram was deported.  The episode ends, “and they sent him away with his (savior) wife and all that he had.”

It is a strange story with Abram guilty of several moral ambiguities.  It is one of the many stories throughout the bible of how God perseveres to bring to fruition his promise to bless the whole world with life and salvation in Jesus Christ, despite the less than perfect people with whom he has to work.