Sunday, February 1, 2009


Sermon on Matthew 17:1-9
For Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
February 1, 2009 (The Transfiguration of our Lord)

How often have you looked around while you were in Church and said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here?” Probably not all that often. If your old sinful nature is anything like mine, I bet when you come here on Sunday mornings your thoughts more often go like this: “I sure could use a few more hours of sleep.” “(Sigh) Pastor chose that hymn that has 15 stanzas . . . again.” “Well, so-and-so is here. It’s been a while. Wonder what made them come.” “That whole section of the pews is empty. I wonder where everybody is this morning.” “It sure was cold this morning.” And so on. I’m sure all of you could name a thousand different things that go through your minds while you are here that go against what Peter said in this morning’s text.

When we read the story of the Transfiguration, often our first reaction to what Peter says there is to say, well, he’s being silly. After all, his suggestion is pretty dumb. Moses, Elijah, and even Jesus are really in heaven, discussing Jesus’ upcoming death at Jerusalem, and the disciples are merely being allowed a glimpse into that glorious reality. They don’t need tents because they are in the Father’s mansions. But even though Peter’s suggestion is kind of silly, the reason why he suggests it is right on the money. Lord, it is good for us to be here.

It is always good to be where our Lord is, where He has promised to be found. Of course, He is everywhere. But He has not promised to be found everywhere. He has promised to be found where His Word is rightly proclaimed and His Sacraments rightly administered, that is, in the regular worship services of a Christian congregation. Thing is, we can’t always see the glorious reality around which we gather Sunday after Sunday. The disciples couldn’t always see the glorious reality into which Jesus gave them a short peek in this morning’s Gospel. Usually we walk by faith, not by sight, because what sight shows us isn’t so glorious many times. I’m sure many of you have experienced festival worship services that so moved you that you wish every service could be like that. But of course it cannot. This world continues to be an imperfect, sin-filled world, and so therefore what we experience with our senses doesn’t always live up to expectations. Christ Himself could not stay on that mountain, but rather He had to go down and go to Jerusalem so that He could go up a different hill, called Golgotha, and be nailed to a cross. The disciples had to follow Him and endure hatred and persecution from those who killed their Lord. We may not suffer the same things they suffered, but we have a multitude of pains and sorrows and troubles in this world. Even in the Church, where heaven itself comes to meet us in the person of Christ, what we sometimes experience is conflict and turmoil instead of joy and peace. While we remain in this life, the heavenly realities we have in Christ will more often than not be hidden under the earthly pain and sorrow that comes from the sin that lives in every one of us.

But we can take comfort in the fact that Christ has won us the victory over this sin-filled world. The conversation of heaven, which we hear on the lips of Moses and Elijah in the presence of their God, and which St. Luke records for us as being a discussion of Jesus’ upcoming death at Jerusalem, is the same as the content of the Holy Scriptures, and it is what we preach. Christ suffered, died, and rose again for us. Christ won the victory for us by His death, and proclaimed that victory over sin, death, and the devil to the whole world by His glorious resurrection. It is precisely because Christ suffered on the cross that our sufferings will eventually have an end. It is precisely because He bore the guilt of our sins and endured the punishment we deserved that we can stand in the presence of God. Peter had quite recently asked Jesus to go away from him because he was a sinner. Now Peter wants to stay with Christ forever. This transformation is only possible because of our Lord’s suffering, death, and resurrection. It’s no wonder that even in heaven, the redemption that Christ won for us will be the focus of our conversation and our worship, even as it was, and still is right now, by the way, for Moses and Elijah. Even the Father tells us to listen to the One who was Crucified. St. Paul sets the example for all pastors when he writes to the Corinthians that He knows nothing among his congregations except Christ, and Him crucified. This stark and gruesome execution is in fact the most glorious reality in a heaven full of wonders and glory, because it was precisely through this event that we are able to enjoy the bliss of heaven.

The glorious vision of heaven ended. Christ’s clothing no longer looked like the sun. Once again he appeared to be an ordinary man. Moses and Elijah were no longer visible. We can imagine that Peter and the others were somewhat disappointed. But they need not have been. They were still in the presence of the Creator of heaven and earth. And because of that the glorious reality they had just seen was also still with them. Where Christ is, there is heaven. The important thing about being in heaven is being with Christ. All the other blessings we will enjoy there are mere side-effects of His glorious presence. And in fact, He is with us right now. Wherever there are two or three gathered in His name, there He is in the midst of them. Through Holy Baptism He has taken up residence in your heart and remade you into new creatures, who will stand with Moses and Elijah before His throne and sing His praises forever. Through Holy Absolution and through the preaching of the Word He is speaking to you the words of eternal life, the words which the Father exhorts you to hear in our text. And through Holy Communion He is feeding you with Himself. The communion liturgy teaches us that where Christ is, there are the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.” Moses and Elijah are here with us because Christ is with us, and so are all the other saints, including our own loved ones who have died to this life and who are right now experiencing the joys of eternal life. We may not be able to experience this glorious reality with our five senses. But it is real. What really happens to us on Sunday morning may not be visible to our five senses, but it is in fact the same thing that happened to Peter, James, and John on the mountain when Jesus was transfigured. Heaven itself comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ. The one who died on the cross for us now gives us Himself, and with Him comes everything else that He has won for us. Where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. How good, Lord, to be here. Amen.

✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

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