Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

Sermon on Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
For Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
February 25, 2009 (Ash Wednesday)

Why do you come to Church? Why do you volunteer your time and money and effort to see to it that God’s Word is preached and His Sacraments administered? Why do you come not only on Sunday morning but also on Wednesday evenings during certain seasons? Why do you give of your time, talents, and treasures for the projects and programs of the Church? This is the question that Jesus asks us in the Gospel lesson for this evening. Tonight we stand at the beginning of the season of Lent. During Lent many people give up certain types of food or drink or other things they enjoy in order to remember that our Lord gave up everything for us. In Church, we give up the Alleluias and certain other, more joyful, parts of the liturgy. In addition, Lent is marked by an additional number of services, with the Wednesday night Lenten services being added to the Sunday morning Divine Services. Now, the fact that all of this takes place is good and helpful. But we still need to ask ourselves what our motivation is for doing all of this. Why do we do what we do during Lent? Why, for that matter, do we do what we do in relation to the Church the rest of the year for that matter?

Our old sinful natures have an answer to that question. The answer that we by nature would give to that question is, “Because it will impress others, and maybe even God, with how holy I am.” We like others to think well of us. Our old selves are always concerned about our own reputations. In the realm of religion, that means that we like others to think that we are pious and holy. We like others to look up to us, to see how much we are doing for God. That’s the way the Old Adam deals with things relating to the Church. If he can’t stop you from participating in the things that have to do with God’s blessings to us, he’ll warp your motivations and your thoughts about what your are doing so that you end up doing these things, not for God, but for yourself, to show off and get praise from others. That’s how sneaky the Old Adam in us can be. And so Jesus warns us today, at the beginning of this season, that what we do, what we give up, in order to observe this Lenten season, is not for others to see. It is for God, so that we can remember what Christ our Lord gave up for us, and so that the message concerning Christ’s journey through death to life will have fewer thorns and rocks to contend with as it enters our hearts and begins to sprout.


But when I say that whatever you do during Lent, or during any season of the Church Year for that matter, is “for God,” I don’t mean that you are doing something to try to impress God. That would be just as bad as trying to impress other people by your actions. God doesn’t need your good works. Rather what I mean is that what you do for the Church, and whatever you may do as part of your Lenten discipline, is just that: discipline, outward actions that help you be a better disciple, a better hearer of God’s Word. It’s all for the sake of being able to hear and be nourished by God’s Word free from the distractions of the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh.


And so Jesus exhorts us not to lay up treasures on earth, not to try to impress other people, or God for that matter, with our own outward actions, but rather to lay up treasures in heaven. But what does that mean? After all, if nothing we do is going to impress God or cause Him to give us any rewards, then how can we lay up treasures in heaven? What treasures are there to accumulate? The answer is, those treasures which come to us as a free gift. First and foremost among these is the forgiveness of sins won by Christ through his pain and suffering. Any other treasure we may have in heaven is only ours because we have this primary treasure, Christ Himself and the forgiveness of sins that He grants unto us. And having that treasure, we have all the other riches of heaven as well, riches which will not rust nor fade away nor be stolen by any thieves, which don’t exist in heaven.


As I said, this treasure comes to us as a free gift. It comes to us, however, not through feelings, not through God speaking in our hearts, but through God speaking in our ears, through God washing us with water comprehended in and connected with God’s Word, through the bread and wine which are His body and blood. Because this treasure comes to us through such ordinary-looking Means, and we can’t see the effects of this treasure with our physical eyes, it is tempting to despise it and instead focus upon things we can see. But that’s part of the reason why Lenten discipline is helpful, because it keeps our eyes focused on those treasures in heaven, especially when we give up, or at least temporarily give up the enjoyment of, some of our treasures here on earth.


After all, as I hinted earlier, the events that we are leading up to through our Lenten journey are events in which Christ our Lord gave up everything for us. His entire state of humiliation, from his lowly birth in a stable in Bethlehem, through His rejection by the religious leaders of the day and ultimately even by the people, and finally His painful and unjust persecution, suffering, and crucifixion, were all for us. We take this journey through Lent to Easter because He took that journey for us. We study the basic teachings of our faith in the Catechism each Wednesday because it is these things which most basically and clearly show us how it is our treasures in heaven are gained. He didn’t just give up meat on Fridays as many folks do, not that there’s anything wrong with that. He didn’t just give up alcoholic beverages or desert or what have you. He didn’t just give extra money to the Church or come to an extra service per week; He gave up everything. He, the Lord of heaven and earth, subjected Himself to a human life that involved all of our poverty and sickness, all of our little pains and hurts, all of the anger and bitterness that sin has created between us and our fellow men. He went through all of that, lived for more than thirty years a life in the midst of that sin and sorrow and trouble, and then gave up even that life so that we might be saved. That’s why we give up certain things for Lent, why we review and renew the ABC’s of our faith during our Lenten services, so that the treasures in heaven, which He won for us by that sacrifice, can be more fully and completely appreciated. After all, since we have those treasures, we have it all, and so the pains and sorrows of this world, including whatever Lenten discipline we choose, will not truly affect us, since our heart is with Him and not with the things of this world. We have Christ. Our hearts are lifted up to Him, and He is with us. That’s all that matters. Amen.


✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Quinquagesima

Sermon on Luke 18:31-43
For Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
February 22, 2009 (Quinquagesima Sunday)

This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. Wednesday will be the beginning of the 40-day fast with which the Church has for centuries prepared herself for the celebration of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Most likely, it is in view of the upcoming observance of our Lord’s journey to Jerusalem that the ancient Church chose to read this Gospel lesson on this particular Sunday. As we view the events which occur before and during our Lord’s sacrifice on our behalf, we may be tempted to forget, as did the disciples, that all of this is what Jesus suffers willingly, for our salvation, and begin to think that the passion and especially the death of Jesus are all a horrible mistake and that Easter is the undoing of, the triumph over, that mistake or tragedy. But that’s not the way it is. Easter and Good Friday are part of one another, because Christ went willingly to His death, out of love for us. We need to be told this before it happens, just as the disciples needed to be told that even though it may seem like the most horrible thing possible, everything is still going according to plan. Jesus is giving His life up willingly, out of love and mercy.

Of course, the disciples didn’t understand this. They were zealous for their Lord, but in the wrong ways. They were zealous that He and His movement prosper and be successful and have all the honor and glory given to it by their fellow men which they though He (and, by the way, they themselves) deserved. We can see this not only from what Luke tells us about the fact that they didn’t understand what Jesus was saying, but also by the way they reacted to the blind man. They tried to shush him. This Jesus was too important a person, as far as they were concerned, to be bothered by a blind beggar. It was unworthy of Him, so they thought, to take notice of a man whom God was so obviously punishing in this way.


And that’s the way the world thinks. That’s the way we think, according to our old sinful selves. Appearance is everything. We like others to think well of us. But we like those who are rich, powerful, or popular to think well of us more than we like the poor, lowly, and despised to do so. Success is measured by riches and popularity. The goal of all too many people, including many Christians, including also many pastors, is to be rich, powerful, and popular. This problem infects not only those who really are those things, but also those who aren’t and who are envious of the success of others. How many Christians are led astray into sinful lifestyles by the perception that those who are popular singers or entertainers are also indulging in such lifestyles and that therefore to be like them one should also imitate their sins? How many churches are led astray into worship practices and preaching styles which substitute the spiritual equivalent of soda and candy for real Law and Gospel meat and drink, or worse yet, engage in outright denials of what God’s Word says, just because they want to be like the growing church in the suburbs which does the same thing (never mind the fact that the reason it’s growing is because it is in the suburbs and not because of its practices, good or bad)? How often do we fail to reach out to those who most need the Gospel because the lifestyle which they have led (for which they are most in need of forgiveness and healing) is repugnant to us, and instead try to get only “good people” like ourselves into the Church? In all of these ways we sinful human beings are jealous of our own honor and glory, or of what we think is the honor and glory of our church, and fail to show the love and mercy which Christ has for those who have fallen and need His help.


And that, of course, is the key to understanding this Gospel lesson. The whole reason Christ came to earth, the whole reason He was born, lived, died, and rose again, was out of love and mercy for others. He wasn’t walking around on earth to receive glory from men. Even the palace of Caesar himself was a mere shadow of the supreme honor and glory He had always enjoyed as the eternal Son of the heavenly Father. He came to earth to have mercy on us all, to do what was necessary to lift us up out of our condition of blindness and spiritual poverty into the heavenly vision of joy and light around His Father’s throne.


Of course, to do that He had to share in our life, to share in our misery, and to take it upon Himself, even to the point of the death on the cross. He didn’t just make Bartimaeus’ blindness disappear. He took the sin of the world, of which blindness is only one minor side effect, upon Himself and died for it on the cross. He became blind, deaf, dumb, lame, and dead for us on Good Friday so that we can see, hear, confess, and live the life that God created us to live. And he did all of this, not out of a desire for glory or honor that is visible in this world, but solely out of His love for us who are blind, deaf, and dumb to Him because of our sin.


And the result is that we now receive our spiritual sight. Just as Bartimaeus was no longer blind but now could see the face of Christ, we now see by the eyes of faith the Savior who has come and rescued us. Because sin has been taken away, the effects of sin are taken away as well. All this still takes place by faith, of course; the natural eye is still blind to the realities of salvation. Faith sees Christ Jesus. Just as in the case of Bartimaeus, it is faith that makes us well, not because of the faith itself, but because of the One in whom our faith trusts, namely Jesus Christ.


In a sense, Bartimaeus saw better than the disciples did, even before his physical blindness was taken away. He recognized Jesus as the One who came to show love and mercy to His people and to take away sin and its effects from us. The disciples recognized only a popular and powerful preacher who shouldn’t be troubled or bothered by the lowly and the despised of this world. But Bartimaeus had it right, and the disciples had it wrong. Christ came not to be powerful or influential but to die for us and to heal us of our sin one heart at a time. The reason He does it this way is because this world is passing away. His purpose is not to try to fix this world, but to lead us out of this world into eternal life. He comes not to Barack Obama or the leaders of China or Russia or any of the other leaders of the world (at least, not in their capacity as leaders; as individual human beings he may well come to them if they're Christians), but to ordinary people, to you and me, here, today. He takes away our spiritual blindness by the touch of His body and His blood to our lips. He has mercy on us poor, miserable sinners. He, the Lord of heaven and earth comes here, to each of us individually, and brings us His healing power, when His Word is preached and His sacraments administered. Unlike the blind man, we can’t see the change in ourselves. We don’t necessarily feel any different. And things won’t necessarily be better for us in human terms as we struggle with this fallen and sinful world; in fact, since this world is in opposition to Christ, things might seem to get worse. But we have His promise that He will take us to be with Him forever, that He will raise us up just as He was raised up from the dead. We have His promise that He will continue to have mercy upon us and provide for our every need, as we live with Him in righteousness and purity forever. And since He loves us, He does keep His promises. Amen.


✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sexagesima

Sermon on Luke 8:4-15
For Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
February 15, 2009 (Sexagesima Sunday)

It may seem stupid to fling the seed randomly at every type of soil instead of carefully testing the soil by doing market surveys and using other techniques to find out where the best soil is. But it’s the only thing we can do in the Christian church. Despite what it seems like to human reason, there is no way to tell whether a particular person, a particular neighborhood, a particular region of the country will react in any of the four ways we see in our text. Often it’s tempting for church officials to “invest” the mission dollars where the money is, in growing suburbs populated by those who have money to spare and who would seem therefore to be better able to support their congregation and the church body to which it belongs. Of course, that ends up being a way of making decisions based on what the church can get out of people rather than the love for people and concern for their eternal well-being which Jesus would have us exhibit. But apart from the question of selfishness, the fact is, all of the sociology in the world is useless in figuring out who will and will not bear the fruit of salvation. After all, the fruit we are looking for isn’t an externally healthy church (though that’s certainly helpful). It isn’t a lot of mission dollars going to work outside the congregation (though that can be an important way we as a congregation give thanks for the blessings God has given us). The fruit we are looking for is souls in heaven. And that’s something you can’t predict or analyze with human reason. Jesus’ statement about those who hear yet don’t hear means that in every plot of ground there will be some of each of the four categories. And the seed can often bear fruit in places that look to human wisdom as completely unlikely and wrong. Indeed, those whose lifestyles have been overtly contrary to God’s will are often more receptive to the Gospel of forgiveness than are those who think of themselves as good, upstanding citizens. And so we simply preach the Word and administer the sacraments here on Sunday morning, and we confess our faith to those we encounter in our lives. Whether it be in our day-to-day business or in some intentional outreach project, the activity is the same. We simply confess what we have heard. That’s how God’s kingdom grows even in the most unlikely places.

The next question that this parable raises in our minds, of course, is the question about us as individuals. What kind of soil am I? Am I the hard soil that doesn’t even let the Word sink in but lets the devil snatch it away? Am I the rocky soil which, even though the Word begins growing in my heart, it is not allowed to get very deep roots and so it doesn’t survive long? Am I the thorn-infested soil that simply has too many other things going on around me to allow my faith to grow and mature? What kind of soil am I? This question is, of course, a natural question to ask for anyone who is concerned with their own salvation. And it may be helpful for us to see if any of these things is true of us so that we can fight against these things in ourselves. But it can also be a dangerous question, because if I conclude that in some ways I’m like the hard path or the rocky or thorny soil, then I might give in to despair because I can’t hope to be saved. It’s too easy to look at these four categories and assume that everybody falls into only one of the four, and that’s that.


Fortunately it’s not that simple. All of us fall into all of these four categories at some point in each of our lives. We are by nature sinful and unclean, and we are constantly bombarded with the attacks of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh as we hear the Word of God. According to our old sinful nature we are hard-packed, rocky, and thorn-infested all at the same time. But according to the new person that has been recreated in us by Christ, we are good soil, which will produce the hundredfold fruit of everlasting life.


The hard-packed soil didn’t even let the seed in. Sometimes the Word simply doesn’t make it into our minds and hearts at all. Sometimes we think that we are too busy to stay and listen to God’s Word in the first place. We don’t even come to where it is being preached at all. Or we come and we doubt the truthfulness of what we are told. Or the preacher says something in his sermon that hits us the wrong way and we tune out the rest of what he has to say because of anger. Or we are simply too tired to stay awake during the preaching of the Word. These kinds of things can happen to any one of us, and in this way the devil snatches the Word of God away from us and prevents it from taking root in us that day.


The rocky soil allowed the seed to start growing, but it didn’t allow a good, stable root system to develop. We are always tempted to base our confidence in God in things that are shallow. Emotions such as feelings of happiness and warmth are a good thing; they are a good response to the Christian message. But they are shallow and they can change. The true joy and peace that Christ gives are not the same thing as warm feelings. The true joy and peace of Christ are still ours even when we don’t feel particularly happy or particularly peaceful. Too many people in our world think that they have lost their faith because they don’t feel the same way about God or about going to Church as they did when they were younger. And so when things in this world go badly for them they don’t think that Christ is still there for them to rely upon. The world is a cruel enemy of the Christian, and often things do go badly for people precisely because they do believe in Christ. Unless faith is grounded in something deeper than feelings and emotions, it’s not going to be able to stand up to the blistering heat of the world’s attacks against Christianity. Only God’s Word itself can create the truly deep roots that a Christian needs to survive even when everything in the world seems to be going against him and his shallow emotions no longer hold him upright steady in the faith.


The thorny soil allowed the seed to grow, but then it cut off the light that it needed to continue to grow and bear fruit. Our old sinful flesh pays attention to all sorts of other things besides the Word of God. We are by nature easily distracted from God. Even perfectly innocent and good things can distract us from God’s Word. Things like our work, our hobbies, sports, caring for our families, and the desire to sleep in at least one day a week can distract us from continuing to bask in the light of God’s Son. Our old sinful flesh wants to keep our energies away from sustaining the faith that has been planted in us.


But God has recreated our hearts. His Word acts as a plow to break up the hard soil, to turn up the rocks and remove them, and to destroy the thorn bushes. The rocky soil may not bear fruit one season, but the roots that the plants tried to put down will eventually over the course of the years break up the rocks and turn them into good soil. The same thing is true of the hard path. Plants and even big, strong trees can grow even in hills composed largely of flint and limestone. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh are beat down and killed by the dying and rising again of Christ our Lord. He is the good soil, because ultimately He is the one who bears the fruit of eternal life. His good soil is spread upon our poor soil through Baptism, preaching, and the Lord’s supper, just as good, black dirt is often put on a garden or a flower bed to make up for the poor soil already there. In this way he remakes us in His image. We become part of Him. And through Him we will become a hundred times more than we are right now, because we will be reborn, perfect, on the last day when He comes to harvest us and take us into the barns of His eternal presence and joy. Amen.


✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Septuagesima

Sermon on Matthew 20:1-16
For Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
February 8, 2009 (Septuagesima Sunday)

Life isn’t fair. Some people who hardly ever do any work get paid more than some others who do very difficult, dangerous, or dirty jobs for a living. And some have money they inherited from their parents and don’t have to work at all. And of course some of those who do a considerable amount of physical labor for the functioning of society don’t get paid for it at all because they’re staying at home, maintaining their own households and raising their children while their spouses are away at work. Even those who own their own businesses get taken advantage of sometimes, so that what was earned by their hard work ends up going to those who don’t work as hard but are sharper businessmen. Sometimes it seems like it’s the evil who don’t do any work but have all the advantages, while the good do all the work and never seem to get ahead. Life just isn’t fair.

It’s tempting, isn’t it, to blame God for this. After all, He is all-powerful, which means more than just that He can do anything. It means that He spoke everything that exists by His Word and that therefore it’s His Word that keeps it all in existence even today. And that means that nothing happens that He isn’t aware of or which He doesn’t have power to control or stop. The fact that the good guys seem to finish last while the lazy and evil do as well or better is something that God could put a stop to. And so it’s tempting to doubt His goodness when we see how unfair life often is.


What needs to be kept in mind, however, is that if life were truly fair, none of us would have made it this far. In fact, if God were to deal with each of us as we deserve, none of us would have been born because our ancestors would have died out long ago. Adam and Eve would have been killed on the spot after they ate the forbidden fruit, rather than dying of old age several hundred years later having been given a promise that there would come a Messiah, a Savior, from their descendants who would crush Satan’s head and rescue us from this old, sin-filled life. There is no one who has done good. Before God we are all just as sinful and corrupt as those whose advantages in this life we sometime resent. There is no one who has truly earned anything that he has. It’s all a gift from God despite our unworthiness. A God who dealt with human beings as they deserve, a God who dealt with human beings “fairly,” in other words, would have dispensed with all of us a long time ago.


In today’s Gospel lesson, the owner of the vineyard doesn’t do anything shady or dishonest by paying the last workers hired the same as those who worked all day. He promised them a denarius, and that’s what he pays them. But it doesn’t seem fair that those who only worked one hour would get paid the same as those who worked most of the day or even all day. After all, someone who has done more work ought to get paid more, right? That’s the way we tend to think of it, and that’s why often large companies will make salary information a confidential matter, to head off these sorts of complaints.


But it isn’t the way God thinks of it. You see, from God’s perspective it’s not about earning wages or food or clothing or anything else, it’s about giving. As far as God is concerned, what we receive in this life, and more importantly what we receive in terms of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation, are things that He gives us freely, not rewards or wages that we have worked for or earned. Even the things that He gives us by means of our daily work are really gifts from Him and not rewards. And what we do in our daily work is supposed to be done in service to Him and love for the neighbor, not for the motivation of earning money for ourselves.


It’s bad enough when the mentality of earning and rewards affects how we think of the things God gives us in this world. What is worse, however, is when that mentality creeps into our thinking about eternal life. There it is literally deadly. Eternal life is a free gift. And thank goodness it’s a free gift. If we had to earn it we’d be lost. What keeps us out of God’s loving fellowship is our own sinfulness, and that means not just that we’ve done some bad things but that we were born His enemies. Even trying to earn our way back into His favor is offensive to Him because who He is as God is the giver of gifts, and trying to earn His gifts is a denial of His goodness in giving them freely. Many things that people do which are outwardly good and loving, are from God’s perspective the worst blasphemy and sacrilege, because they are done with the idea of taking away God’s identity as gracious giver of all good things.


And so it’s good news that God “isn’t fair.” He’s not supposed to follow our selfish and picky little concept of fairness. He’s bigger than that. What He wants is not to hand out rewards or wages, but to give gifts. And the gifts he has to give are better and more lasting than anything we could possibly earn. What could we possibly do on this earth that would earn us eternal life? What could we possibly accomplish that would be worth the absence of sickness, disease, or hunger? How could we possibly repay Him for the gift of spending eternal life in His presence? We can’t. But we don’t have to.


He gives the same eternal life to the infant who dies only a few days after Baptism, to the old man who only came to faith in the nursing home, as well as to those who have spent their entire lives serving God and their neighbor. Now, He does expect us to serve Him and our neighbor as He gives us opportunity. He does expect us to confess Him to our friends and neighbors, to teach our children the faith, as well as all the things we do to serve our neighbors in terms of physical needs as well. But His gifts to us remain just that: gifts. They don’t become wages just because we’re working. Rather, our work is itself a gift to Him and to each other, a gift that can only happen because He has first given to us. Amen.


✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Transfiguration

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 ✠