Monday, January 18, 2016

Not a mystery [Transfiguration of Jesus; St. Matthew 17:1-9]

Already at the end of the Epiphany season, Jesus symbolically marks the descent into Lent by coming off the mountain of Transfiguration. Really, Christmass and Epiphany go together and form one big revelation of who Jesus is. During this season Jesus reveals Himself to us.

And during His whole life, He was not in disguise as a homeless man, a vagrant, or anything sneaky like that. If Jesus didn’t want to be seen, He hid Himself. He didn’t put on a hoodie or a costume. If Jesus didn’t want people to recognize Him, He prevented their eyes from doing so. He did not have to resort to tricks or mind games.

This is taught to us today as St. Peter says,
“Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

St. Peter knew that it was Jesus he had been following the last three years. Peter knew that it was Jesus that he was going to the top of this mountain with, he knew it was Jesus being transfigured, and he knew it was Jesus he was descending the mountain with.

He even tells us, in the epistle reading, that none of the Apostles followed any cleverly devised myths when they preached Jesus to you. There were no word games you had to play. There was no giving of hearts, no meditation, and no moving of the spirit. There were plain and simple words preached and plain and simple words believed.

Jesus’ entire existence is one of transparency. In fact, Jesus desired knowledge of Him to be shared so much, that He created an entire universe in order to show it to a race of beings created by Him.

Jesus had such a need to be known by the whole world that He made Noah build an ark and preach about it for 100 years before bringing the Flood upon the earth, not that anyone else listened. Jesus’ will to be known was so strong that He came down to talk to Moses, came Himself to gather up Elijah into heaven, and was made man.

Our hymn, "O Love, how deep", clues us in on this as well. Go ahead. Turn to it. It sings:
He sent no angel to our race, of higher or of lower place,
But wore the robe of human frame, and to this world Himself He came.

Look at your Introit in your bulletin, right now. All this language, even in the Psalms, is earthly language. Lightning, earth, tabernacles, courts, house, doorkeeper, tents, sun, shield, etc. All these things you can find in your day to day life, well, just about. These things are used by God and yet they are created things. There is never any talk about working yourself up into an emotional, heavenly frenzy in order to find God. He is, and always will, reveal Himself by earthly means.

It is the world that deals falsely with you by slight of hand. It holds lotteries in order to discover who will be the special-lucky person, out of millions, this time. It holds contests and raffles that hide the winner until the very end. It is the world that uses smoke and mirrors in order to determine the true grit of a person.

It is you that employs these same strategies. In dealing with your neighbor, you are told to never show all your cards in order to get the best deal. In dealing with God, you say one thing, but believe another in order to hedge your bets, just in case you got it wrong.

Repent. Jesus does not need tests and trials to uncover what’s in your heart. He already knows. And what He knows is that you are in sin and you are afraid of God. You fear the future and you fear the actions of God in your life, whether they are for you or against you, because you really can’t tell most of the time.

What is this Transfiguration to you? It is something to be feared in your sin, because it is an act of God and because Jesus alone has the glory. In the end this is how it will be. You will look for help from works and merits, priests and holy-men, or maybe even in saints.

But those will all disappear, in the final judgment. Even our own works will disappear and fly from us, leaving us comfort less. And as Peter, James, and John fell down at the Transfiguration, you too will feel forsaken by God.

Yet, Jesus will be known. He will be there and it will only be Him that you see. To those that do not believe, He will be a stern judge ready to cast into hell.

To those who believe and cling to the Word of God, Jesus will be Who He has always said He was: redeemer and savior. He will be the same God who baptized you into His death and resurrection. He will be the same God Who spoke forgiveness to you over and over again. He will be the same God that opens up His side to feed you salvation.

Today, Jesus does not deal falsely with you. He has no hidden agenda or secret path of enlightenment. He has no pop quiz ready and no plans to nor any need to keep anything or anyone in the dark, for the veil came down at the cross.

Do pay attention to the man behind that curtain. He has traversed time, space, and death in order to be here today. He opens Himself to criticism and doubt and yet remains true. He allows Himself to be handed over and handed down to you in hand and mouth.

This same Jesus that is transfigured in glory and that we will see on the Last Day, now publicly and visibly heads down to the cross. This same face of Jesus that shone like the sun will be on the cross, buried in the tomb, and rise again on Easter.

And that is the point. That this transfigured Jesus is the one going to the cross, not some regular guy or false messiah. The Jesus that can shine like God and talk with men who have died will be the one to shed His blood, take His life back again, and offer it to you in His Church today.

For now you see, hear, and believe the sacraments which God uses to create and sustain Christians in these last days. You hear the Word of God and believe that Christ is Transfigured for you, that Jesus is on the cross for you, and that He will come again for you ready and eager to take you into His kingdom in eternal life.

Monday, January 11, 2016

True prayer [Epiphany 1; St. Luke 2:42-52]

Prayers. Supplications. Petitions. Intercession. Asking. Beseeching. Pleading. Begging.

All these words have to do with what you call prayer and what you have heard in the Gospel read today. For Jesus has spoken and says,
“And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.’”

When Sts. Joseph and Mary finally beheld their son, they pleaded with Him and begged Him to give them an answer to why He made them suffer so. This happened only because first they knew they had to care for Jesus and believe He is the Son of God. You too must also learn what you are to do and believe before you can pray.

First, you learn that it is your duty to pray, because God has revealed Himself to you in the 10 Commands and has told you to pray. For to call upon the Name of God is nothing else but prayer. And you have much to call upon God for, because the Commandments have revealed your sin to you also that you can not perfectly keep them.

Second, you must believe that there is a God to pray to and that His commands are just and holy. That He is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. That He has created you and all things. That He has sent His Son for you and that He draws you to Himself by His Spirit. Otherwise, why would you pray to nothingness or a false god?

Thirdly, in this one, true faith, to which the Holy Spirit has called you, you pray. In faith you pray; in Christ you pray, for “prayer relies upon God’s mercy, when we believe that we are heard for the sake of Christ…because without [Christ as our] High Priest we cannot approach the Father.” (Triglotta: AP.211:212)

Pray in any other way and you are attempting to do a good work. If you are unwilling to receive something from God, then you are only willing to repay Him. If you are only praying to present your best to God, then you are praying to yourself and not to God.

Daniel says that “… we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion. 19 O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name.” (9:18-19)

Thus Daniel teaches us in praying to lay hold upon mercy; to trust in God’s mercy and not our own merits before God (Triglotta: AP.211:210). God would not command you to pray if He first did not intend to answer it. And He would have said, “first get your act together then pray”, if that was the way of things. Instead, the Lord gives His promise and faith believes. First there is grace, then there is response.

Do not think that there is no use to your prayers. Do not doubt that God hears them and do not think it is all the same if someone else prays and you do not. It is not this way. If you would be Christian, it is your duty and obligation to pray.

Of great advantage to sin, death and the devil is it when a son says to his father, “I don’t need to obey you; I can go and do as I please; it is all the same.” If you are not calling upon God in every trouble and need, then you are calling on something or someone else and it is usually yourself.

Jesus has so designed salvation to be a great shield against such things. Prayer is given that you may repel and silence such sin and evil. Prayer is given to you for your advantage.

Jesus does not need to hear prayer to know what you need or what needs to be done in this world. Before your prayer escapes your lips, Jesus already revealed Himself to the whole world as the Lamb of God, silently led to the slaughter answering all the prayers of the world.

And this is the great epiphany. That Joseph and Mary know where to look for God. They know what He looks like, what He sounds like, what He eats, and how He dresses. They know His words and they know His thoughts. Thus they are able to find Jesus in the Temple and beg of Him.

The Word of God also gives us this glad epiphany. That our High Priest, Jesus, has ordained it that we would not come to Him with sacrifices and atonement of our own, but that He would seek us out, dead in our sin, and offer a sacrifice for us revealing Himself as the Messiah.

In this Great High Priest, born under the Law, all are redeemed to God and have received the full rights as sons (Gal.4:4-5). In this great High Priest, you find His sacrifice for your sins, because He knows all your needs and fulfills them, before you ask.

This great high priest still intercedes for you today. He pleads with the Father, interceding on our behalf. And He is the only one to do all this for you and knows you need it before you pray.

And these weapons Christ has bestowed upon you to stand up against the devil. Though the devil and his followers could easily crush us underfoot, the prayer of the righteous, in Christ, intervenes like a wall of iron. For whenever a godly Christian prays, dear Father your will be done, god speaks from on high and says: Yes, dear child, it shall be so in spite of the devil and all the world.

“Therefore you should say: ‘My prayer is as precious, holy, and pleasing to God as that of St. Paul or [any of the other] of the most holy saints.’” (Triglotta: LC.701:16). Your prayer is great and something to be taken seriously. Do not babble, but pray for something because God is the giver. Ask, He says.

So, when you pray, use the words of psalms, hymns, and Scripture. Jesus did not leave you with no words to pray, but causes His own prayer to be written down for you. So pray this:

“Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread and
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever:

Monday, January 4, 2016

House of Bread [Christmas 2; St. Matthew 2:13-23]

Having become thankful for receiving the Lectionary, we receive even more from the Apostles and even more about our Savior as He speaks to you today saying,
“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem...”

Bethlehem. This city we love to sing about at Christmas, but have no idea why its such a great place. It is mentioned about 52 times in the Bible and about 85% of that is in the Old Testament. So much for thinking that only the New Testament gives importance to this city.

Our most notable about Bethlehem: Ruth takes place entirely in that city; King David is from there and also the prophesy that the priests give to the Magi seeking Jesus mentions this place.

Indeed Micah is right in saying that even though Bethlehem is tiny, by no means is it the least among the cities of Judah. For as the Gospels tell us, Jesus is born there, the shepherds seek the swaddling clothes and the manger there, and the Magi worship the true King there.

So, we learn from David that Bethlehem is small, he being the least of his brothers; we learn from Micah that we are not to take it lightly. We learn from Ruth that her redeemer comes from there and that in Bethlehem she finds salvation and redemption.

And where one finds salvation and redemption, one finds Christ. Bethlehem is not just a little town with no dreams. Our little town holds an even greater secret: its name means “house of bread”. It is the true Church in which hungry souls are fed the living bread from heaven.

The bread from heaven is born in the house of bread, laid in a bed of worthless fodder where Christ is to be proclaimed and nothing else. The pulpit of the Church becomes the manger, then, offering the wholesome pasture of the Word for poor Christians.

The bread we find wrapped in bloody, swaddling clothes: both the Old and New Testaments with the Law and the Gospel. It is there where we should seek Jesus. It is there that we then hear of the star of the most holy Gospel, which we are to follow.

Neither Mohamed nor any of the other prophets had a birth like Jesus and they know it. Even though Islam teaches about Jesus, some say even more than the Bible does, others had miraculous births and just as holy a calling as Jesus.

Even though the Jews believe in a messiah, they pass right by the prophecies of a suffering messiah and only look forward to an almighty messiah to give them an earthly kingdom.

Repent. Though we search for Jesus, we tear the place up and slice it apart. We run through the world and confess that the tenants of other faiths talk about Jesus, so they must be true too. We slice through what God has presented to us in His Word and declare that if we just cut out this and that, that all religions are basically the same.

Imagine that God is trying to get something into your head and He goes about it in this way. That the Name Jesus isn’t important, its just one among many. That the manger or the Star isn’t special, it could have been any place or a comet or eclipse that cause these things.

Imagine you are trying to take a test and, not only do the questions continue to shift and change, but the answer keys are multiple and changing as well. Who could pass such a test? Who would even take it and to what end would it serve?

The world understands the need for clarity. In order to get taxes, the Federal government has made very many specific rules. In order to drive a car, there are very many specific requirements and licensing that need to be followed.

The Lord is no different, for only one prophet out of many was immaculately conceived and birthed by a real virgin. Only one priest was able to enter in to the Holy of Holies by His own blood. Only one king is able to lose His life, in order to rule His kingdom forever.

The virgin birth in Bethlehem is miraculous. Islam gets it and must capitalize on it or be left behind as Judaism is. The world understands how important Jesus is, so they must speak against Him. What the devil, the world, and your sinful nature do no understand is that the Christ must be handed over, suffer, die, and three days rise again.

What any other religion can not fathom is God being made flesh. Not only that, but their small minds can not begin to comprehend and God who offers Himself as the sacrifice for all and then presents this sacrifice in the form of a meal.

In Jesus all the dots connect. The sacrifice is to be both for sin and for forgiveness. The true Son of God is to be both the host and the servant. Jesus is to be both the giver of the Feast of heaven and its main course.

All the Old Testament events that happened in Bethlehem; all the symbolism in its name and all the events of the New Testament lead to Jesus being born of a virgin, dying on the cross, and feeding you eternal life in His true Body, which is the bread of heaven.

You will not find salvation or God anywhere else except in this house of bread. For it is here that you now approach and touch these historic items. It is here where the feast of the living bread from heaven is celebrated. It is here that you find good pasture when Christ is proclaimed from the pulpit manger.

Poor Christians are swaddled in the Old and New testaments finding their suffering messiah who knows all their woes. Seeking Christians are wrapped in the Law and the Gospel, hearing of their sin and being shown their Savior.

The proclaimed, most holy Gospel illuminates the dark things of this world by Faith, revealing salvation in water and the Word; grace in the preaching of the Word, and a true meal and medicine unto the forgiveness of sins in, with and under bread and wine.

Only the one true Jesus Christ is both master and slave, serving forgiveness for free, without any works. Only one true God-man, Jesus, can be the Son of God Who dies and rises again. Only the true Messiah can be meat indeed and drink indeed to satisfy eternally and to state, once and for all, that here is God in the flesh and none other.

So, it is to the house of bread that Faith leads you today, to find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, and offering Himself to be taken and eaten and drunk.