Sunday, January 29, 2023

Veiled Glory

 Exodus 34:29-35

And it came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses' hand as he was coming down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him.  So when Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.  Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers in the congregation returned to him; and Moses spoke to them.  And afterward all the sons of Israel came near, and he commanded them to do everything that the LORD had spoken to him on Mount Sinai.  When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.  But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out; and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what he had been commanded, the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone.  So Moses would replace the veil over his face until he went in to speak with Him.

Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday                             1/29/23

Veiled Glory

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

When I was a student in Junior High school, we read this story about the Minister's Black Veil by Nathaniel Hawthorn.  The story was fascinating – the preacher – a normally calm and well-liked man – suddenly started to wear this black veil constantly.  It covered his eyes and nose.  No one saw his face for years.  No one understood why he wore the veil, and he never said.  It changed his life.  Even his fiancee backed away from him.  The climax of the story was when was dying and they pleaded with him to remove the veil, but he refused.  After he passed away, no one dared to move the veil from his face even as he lay in the casket.  They all just wondered if he was disfigured, or hiding some secret shame, or what.

I wonder if that the idea came from Moses.  He went up into the Mountain of the Lord, Mount Sinai, to receive the Law from God, and He stood in the presence of the glory of the Lord so long that his face began to shine with a reflected radiance, like one of those green phosphorescent crosses that were so common when I was a child, except I doubt it shone green.  The shining of his face so unnerved his people, even his brother Aaron, that he began to wear a veil to cover his face and hide the troubling sight from his countrymen.  It appears that Moses wore that veil for the rest of his life – and no one took it off after his death because he died alone on Mt. Nebo.  This is something of an object lesson in advance pointing forward to the Transfiguration of Jesus.  Our theme this morning is veiled glory.

This is such an Transfiguration kind of Old Testament Lesson.  Here we see the glory of God shining from the face of the man Moses.  It is "borrowed glory" as we sing in the hymn, but it is the glory of God.  In the Transfiguration of Jesus, we see the glory of God shining forth from God through the veil of the humanity of Jesus.  Unlike Moses, Jesus did not put on His veil and take it off from time to time.  The mystery of Jesus Christ is that He put on the veil of Human nature and human flesh and blood at His conception, and has never taken it off.  At the time of the Transfiguration, Jesus allowed the glory that was His own to shine through the veil.  But He has never taken that veil off.  Today, the glory of God permeates and shine through the humanity of Jesus full-time.  That time of humility and meekness has passed.  He is true God, and has always been.  Now, all the glory and power and might and every attribute of His divine nature is at work full time even in and through His human nature!

What does that mean for us?  It means that wherever you find God, or imagine Him to be, the man Jesus must be there.  You cannot have God without Jesus.  That is what Jesus meant when He said, in John 5, "For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him."

That highlights the problem with Judaism, Islam, and all of those other religions, even those so-called Christian religions that do not know Jesus as true God.  When they use the word, "God," they mean something fundamentally and radically different than we do – no matter what they say.  When they pray, they pray either to a creature of their own vain imaginings, or they pray to a demon – but where God truly is, there you will find - and have –  and pray to Jesus.  This does not mean that you cannot pray to the Father – it means that you cannot pray to the Father if Jesus is not true God in your faith, or if you imagine that you can pray to the Father without Jesus also hearing.

That is what is fundamentally wrong with the all those community prayer services for the National Day of Prayer and joint, community worship services, such as those for Thanksgiving or Good Friday.   We cannot pray side by side with those who deny the deity of Christ without at least implying by our actions that their prayers are heard by God, are just like ours, and that their God is the true God, just like ours.  That may not be the thought in the mind of anyone when they pray with others of other religions, but it is what the action says – and actions very often do speak louder – and more honestly – than words.

And before I move on, let me answer one of the false charges that has often been tossed about to silence people who say the sort of thing that I have just said.  It is said that those Lutherans who object to syncretistic actions, like community prayer services or joint Day of Prayer observances, are saying that we are forbidding prayer in the presence of others, even of our relatives who belong to other Christian church bodies.  We are not.  You can pray anytime and anywhere.  There is a difference between praying in someone's presence, and praying with them.  There is a difference between praying to the true God in the presence of and for the welfare of others, and inviting those who do not believe in the Triune God to pray with you as though they could, or joining with them in their prayer.  To do so is just fundamentally deceptive and dishonest.  

And there is a difference between family members praying together at a family gathering, and an ordained clergyman praying as a leader in a public worship service.  The prayer of the layman is as precious to God, and answered just as surely as the prayer of the preacher, but the public function and witness of the prayer of the preacher is different by several degrees from the private, family prayer with those understood to be fellow Christians.  He is to be a leader, a teacher, and an example.

Back to Moses: the light shining from the face of Moses meant something.  It spooked Aaron and the company of Israel because it was a visible, undeniable reminder that they were dealing with the true God!  This glow was the evidence that Moses was staring into the face of the Glory of God!  The ability to pretend that other deities were "just like Yahweh," or that they were surely as legitimate and valid as He is, vanished.  Yahweh sent the plagues.  He made the Red Sea part for Israel.  He made Manna appear to feed them every morning – except, of course, on the Sabbath.  He was the Maker of the pillar of fire by night and cloud by day, and was visibly present by means of it.  And now His glory was luminescing from the face of His prophet, Moses.  There was no room for confusion.  Unbelief could be done – and it was from time to time – but there was no room for confusion.  This glow revealed that Moses spoke with the true God and that the Word Moses proclaimed was God's Word!

St. Paul also mentions the veil of Moses.  He referred to it to describe the stubborn unbelief of Israel, and of all other unbelievers, who read the Word of God and do not find Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of mankind therein.  In Second Corinthians, Paul says that when they read the Old Covenant, their heart is veiled – they cannot see the glory of God in Christ.  But when they are brought to faith, Christ lifts the veil and they can see the glory of God.

And what is the glory of God?  The answer to that question is the same as the answer to "And what is the will of God for us?"  This is the glory that Paul wrote about in Second Corinthians 4:6 – For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

The glory of God is that He sent His Son to become one of us, to live for us, and then die in our place -- on a cross, no less, so that our sins might be forgiven, and we might be made heirs of everlasting life.

And don't let the word "might" fool you.  It expresses purpose – not uncertainty.  Jesus accomplished all that He came to do.  Your sins have been atoned for.  You have been redeemed.  Your sins are forgiven, and God pours out everlasting life upon all, that the one that believes might receive and possess and enjoy that life beyond sin and sickness, sorrow and death.  He that believes and is baptized, shall be saved!

The glory which shone from the face of Moses, like the glory of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, also speaks to us about the promise of God for us.  That glory of Moses is just a pale foretaste of what God has planned for us.  God has promised to transform us into the image of His glory.  We have that glory now, but, like Moses we have it hidden behind a veil.  God would have us to walk by faith, not by sight.  It would be an interesting world if Christians glowed, while unbelievers did not – but surely the world would postulate some sort of scientific explanation to threaten that this "glowing" will damage our health or shorten our life-span, and people would run in fear from us, fearing contagion.  And Hypocrites would be unable to hide in the church.

No, the glory of the Children of God in Christ is hidden.  The only way God will let us show it right now is by lives of faithfulness and holiness – loving one another, and serving our neighbor for the sake of Christ – you know, "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."  And our visible glory – when we are finally transformed into the image of His glory – will come on that great day of resurrection and home-going.  On that day, our Lord Jesus "will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself."  Or, as John writes, in his first Epistle, "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is."

So, like Moses, let us remove the veil whenever we come before the Lord, when we enter into His presence in the Word, and in the fellowship of the body of Christ, and in the blessed Sacrament.  Let us behold His glory in Jesus Christ – a glory that is veiled to unbelievers, pagans, and hypocrites.  And when we leave this place, let us reflect that glory by lives transformed by the Word, shining with the glory of God's love and grace toward us.

And remember Moses, and Jesus.  The path for Moses was not smooth and easy – he faced the unbelief and hostility of many.  He finally died being given just the view of the promised land, but not allowed to enter it.  Jesus walked down the Mount of Transfiguration and walked the road to Jerusalem to suffer and to die.  Just because we carry the glory of God within ourselves does not mean we will enjoy peace and prosperity and comfort in this world.  It means, in fact, just the opposite.  We will know the attacks of Satan, the hostility of the world, and all those things which we can lump together under the phrase, "the cross appointed to us."  We will bear the cross, if we are truly Christ's people, "for the Father disciplines those whom He loves," and the world hates us as it does Christ, for we are His people and His body in this dark and sinful age.

And the glory we possess as His children is veiled.  Everyone would want some if it merely made us rich and happy and kept trouble at bay.  But God wants faith, not greed, lust, and the selfishness of the flesh to be our connection.  He has appointed faith as the hand that receives His blessing.  So walk by faith – not measuring by what we see or how it feels, or what others – any others – think of us.  Our measure is the Word of God.  Our goal is to walk humbly with our God.  And our true glory – like that of Jesus, or even the glory which shined from the face of Moses – is veiled glory.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Learning Humility

 2 Kings 5:1-15a

1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. 2 Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman's wife. 3 She said to her mistress, "Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." 4 So Naaman went in and told his lord, "Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel." 5 And the king of Syria said, "Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel."

So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothes. 6 And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy." 7 And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, "Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me."

8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, "Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel." 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha's house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean." 11 But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, "Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?" So he turned and went away in a rage. 13  Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, "My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, 'Wash, and be clean '?" 14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him."

Sermon for 3-SAE                  1/22/23

Learning Humility

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This Old Testament text has always been one of my favorites.  The odd thing for me is that I have loved the account for many reasons, but I have never written a sermon on it before.  Sometimes you get a well-seasoned sermon that I have preached in one form or another in the past, perhaps many times.  This morning you get a brand-new, Just written for here and now sermon – not something I do every week.

Don't get me wrong, almost every sermon is rewritten and tailored for this congregation and this point in time.  This morning's sermon is a first run at the text, just like I was a new kid in the pulpit.  Writing a sermon on an Old Testament lesson that I have never preached before is a humbling experience.  So, with Naaman and all of you, this text will be a lesson in learning humility for me as well.

I love the lesson of the little Israelite slave girl.  She was captured in a raid by Syria on Israel and she became a slave in the household of Naaman, serving Naaman's wife.  We know nothing about her situation except that she was a captured slave, and apparently holding fast to her faith.  She also wished the best for her captor - she wanted him to visit the prophet in Israel and be healed of his leprosy.  There seemed to be no bitterness in her about her situation or the change in her circumstances and loss of family, and what not.  She had clearly learned humility and her situation did not change her heart toward her God.

Naaman brought the novel request to his king, and the king sent Naaman with a large gift to the King of Israel seeking the healing that the little slave girl spoke so confidently of.  Once the confusion had been cleared up and Naaman sought the prophet, we have the remarkable scene of the leading general of the Syrian army, with his chariots and troops and what-not parked outside of the humble home of the prophet Elisha.

Elisha did not even deign to come out and appear before Naaman, but sent a messenger out to tell him to go and wash in the Jordan seven times.  Naaman was outraged!  The prophet did not even come out to see him, or wave his hands over the man and speak some sort of incantation.  That was an offense against the pride of the great general.  And then he told him to go wash in the Jordan river!  The river was shallow and narrow most of the time and nothing much to look at, let alone bathe in.  The mighty rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, were far more impressive!  How dare the prophet humiliate – humble –  the mighty general of Syria?  So Naaman stormed off in a huff,  filled with wounded pride.

Eventually his servants managed to communicate some sense to Naaman, Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, "My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean ‘?"  They said, in effect, that his pride was standing in his own way.  You would do some great and difficult thing, if the prophet came to you and asked you.  Why not just do the simple things he commands?

Naaman had to swallow his pride, and humble himself to dip in the Jordan seven times.  And it worked!

Now there is more to the story, of course, but Naaman's healing required learning humility, and being guided by the Word of God instead of following his own proud thoughts.
The lesson for Naaman is the lesson for us.  Humble yourself before the Word of God.  Our circumstances are different, and our needs are generally different, but we all need to learn that lesson of humility.  There are always at least two ways of doing things, man's way and God's way.  You can listen to your ego or listen to the Word of God.

To follow God requires that you learn humility.  The Gospel requires that you humble yourself under the Law and  recognize that you are a sinner.  We all do that, sort of.  We may confess our sins, but we secretly don't think our sins are all that serious or a big deal.  Your pride has you convinced that your sins are nothing special.  So, Coming to church, going to Bible Study, paying attention during worship, and finding the true depth of your sins is a step too far, and woe unto the Pastor who preaches too clearly and forces you to confront your sins.  You are wrong, of course, and imitating Naaman after a fashion.

On the other hand, some of us go to the other extreme and believe that our sins are too many and too great to ever really be forgiven.  Like Naaman, we think we need more than what God prescribes.  We want the prophet to lay his hands on us and speak mysterious incantations – and whatever is prescribed by the Word of God seems too small and insignificant to remove the stain of our sin.

For healing, Naaman had to humble himself, and ignore what seemed to him to be a slight, an insult, and do the simple, unpretentious thing that God gave him to do to be cleansed.  He had to learn humility and dip himself in that pathetic excuse for a river – and he came out cleansed.

We need to hear God's Word and learn humility, and discover that He has placed true power in simple things, like Pastor's preaching and the bread and wine of the Holy Supper.  The preaching is not just Pastor Fish's opinions, but the very Words of God which works faith in those who take it to heart and trust God to do as He has promised and to cleanse us in the absolution, and in the sermon and in the sacrament.

If you think that your sins are of little account, you have not been listening or taking God's Word seriously.  To rescue you required the very life and death of the Son of God.

If you think that your sins are too many or too great to be truly forgiven, you are underestimating the price paid for your sins, and thinking that just because it is simple bread and wine that the Lord chose to use in the sacrament, it does not retain enough power to cleanse you.  You need to learn humility and stop calling God a liar, and stop judging things by how they appear to you, and listen to the Word of God instead.

Jesus said "It is finished."  He accomplished your redemption completely that day on the cross.  When He said this is My body and this is My blood, He created something new and miraculous for you and all sinners.  Your sins are forgiven!   Not because Pastor Fish says so, but because Jesus says so, and I am simply the voice He has called to speak those words of grace through in this place and to you personally.

You have been cleansed of the leprosy of sin as surely as Naaman was cleansed of his leprosy of the flesh, by learning humility, and doing the simple things that God promised would cleanse you – hearing His Word with faith, and partaking of this holy food, hidden in, with, and under the humble elements of bread and wine and believing what Jesus has said about them, that you are forgiven.

The verses following our text in 2 Kings tell us of the transformation of Naaman by the gracious gift of God.  He changed his religion, and he appealed to God for forgiveness when he had to accompany his king to the temple of a false God.

Faith in the Gospel will work similar changes in us – we will take this religion seriously, and will guard our steps that we confess Christ in all that we do, thinking about what we do and what we say, and how they reflect our confidence in God.

You see, learning humility is not a "once-and-done" thing.  We must fight the sin that is natural to us, and constantly repent and believe, learning humility daily and living in it all of the time.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Seeing God's Glory

 Exodus 33:12-23

Then Moses said to the LORD, "See, Thou dost say to me, ‘Bring up this people!'   But Thou Thyself hast not let me know whom Thou wilt send with me.  Moreover, Thou hast said, ‘I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.'  Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found favor in Thy sight, let me know Thy ways, that I may know Thee, so that I may find favor in Thy sight.  Consider too, that this nation is Thy people."  And He said, "My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest."

Then he said to Him, "If Thy presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here.  For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Thy sight, I and Thy people?  Is it not by Thy going with us, so that we, I and Thy people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?"  And the LORD said to Moses, "I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight, and I have known you by name."

Then Moses said, "I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!"

And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion."  But He said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!"  Then the LORD said, "Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by.  Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen."

Sermon for 2-SAE                                                                             1/15/23

Seeing God's Glory

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Moses was a unique individual in the history of the Church - and of all of mankind.  He was chosen by God to do the most amazing things.  Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt and away from slavery while the arguably-most-powerful man on earth in his day stood by helplessly.  He had done everything he knew to do and had been brought to submission by a preacher who didn't even do most of his own talking.  He spoke to his brother, and Aaron spoke the words of Moses to the Pharaoh.  Even when Pharaoh repented of his submission and sent his army out after Moses and the slave people, his army was crushed and destroyed by God, seemingly at the hands of Moses, at the Red Sea.

Then Moses brought down to the children of Israel the most comprehensive set of instructions for religion, for justice, and for health and hygiene.  He single-handedly led the tribe of several million people through the desert, and encamped in the Sinai peninsula for forty years.  And Moses spoke with God, as the verse before our text describes it, "Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend."  Although Moses may not have known it, the Bible tells us in the New Testament, that Moses and the children of Israel were acting out the story of salvation which came to reality and its full meaning in Jesus.  Their lives, although real, were object lessons and illustrations for the people then, and for us now, of the love of God and the salvation from sin which He promised in the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve, and which He proclaims to us today in every faithful sermon.

In our text, Moses is at Mt. Sinai.  He is conversing with God.  God has explained how Moses has found favor - the Old Testament word for ‘grace' - and Moses is trying to bargain with God.  He is trying to spend the capital of his grace with God for blessings for himself and the people of Israel – bargaining with God in prayer.

Much of what Moses is asking is God pleasing.  He asks God to be with His people Israel as they journey to the promised land -"the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.'" God graciously promises to go with His people, even though He warns Moses that they are a stiff-necked people and that His presence with them will be hard for the people to bear.  For the sake of His servant Moses, God will go with the people, and He promises Moses rest.

Then Moses makes the request that our theme focuses on - he says, "I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!"

Moses was asking for something he did not understand.  First of all, the glory of God is not what Moses expects.  He was wanting to see something humanly comprehensible.  God explained that what Moses wanted wasn't possible.  He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion."  But He said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!"

What Moses wanted to see was God as He is in His essence.  He wanted to look upon God and understand Him, or at least form a mental image.  What God meant in response was not that no one could see Him, but that no one could see Him as He is, in all His power and glory and holiness.  God has shown Himself to various people in many ways.  When those people saw God, they saw what God wanted them to see - so that they would understand and believe what He said to them.   None of them, however, saw God as He is.  Even the angels hide their eyes from beholding God directly according to His glorious divine nature.

So God offered to show Moses just a small part of His glory - what God called His "back", but His "face" - the fulness of God as God - no man could witness and survive.  It doesn't say so explicitly in the Bible, but I suspect that confronting the full glory of God as God would simply cause us to cease to exist, literally blown out of existence by the glory of God.  God gave Moses what He could comprehend, and what He could behold and live.

But Moses did not see what you have seen - the true glory of God.  St.  Paul speaks of it in 2 Corinthians 4, where he writes of "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ".  You haven't seen that glory with your eyes, but with faith, and heard of the glory of God in Jesus Christ.  Jesus is, as the writer to the Hebrews was inspired to put it, "the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature."

Because no man can see God's face and live, God veiled His glory in the flesh of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is no less His glory, it is just filtered through His human nature so that we human beings can behold Him.  The glory of God is not chiefly in His power - although that is awesome and incomprehensible and glorious.  His glory is in His love, His grace, His forgiveness, and what He has done on behalf of such insignificant creatures as us.

His love is such that He set aside all that it is to be God and took on human limitations and human flesh and blood and became man.  Of course, at the same time, He was fully God and maintained the world and all that is in it, and the whole universe around it, but He suffered Himself - that means He permitted Himself - to endure being bound up in an infant, to growing slowly as a child, to living humbly as a man - a none too wealthy or influential man in the circles of His day.  He endured human sin and unbelief and hatred.  He endured the pollution of all that He had created so very good by sinful men around Him as He lived an ordinary life in a time which we would have found grindingly poor, and terribly ordinary, and unbearably dull, and monstrously violent and unfair and uncomfortable.

And all of that was to come to the point where He could suffer ridicule and torture and be cruelly executed on the cross for us and for our sins to satisfy the justice of God and to endure the wrath of God against sin - and the sinner!  He died in your place and mine.  He paid for our sins, our evil deeds, our wicked thoughts, our hurtful words,  our spiritual lethargy.  He died to save us.  He redeemed us from our sins to set us free from sin and enable us to live holy lives as the holy people of God.

I don't know what Moses saw, when God uncovered Him and allowed Him to see "the hindparts of His glory," as the King James Version puts it.   I wasn't there and the Bible doesn't say.  I can imagine he heard wild noises and saw bright light and felt enormous fear and awe, but that is just my imagination.  I am sure, however, that he never heard or saw what you have heard this morning, and every Sunday when you come to worship.  He never heard the Gospel, or saw the cross and knew what it meant, or tasted the Lord's Supper and knew that with the body and blood hidden beneath the outward element, Jesus has entered you and cleansed you and strengthens you for life as His child in this very dark and evil world.

Moses never knew, at least until God brought Him home from the top of Mount Nebo, that Jesus Christ is the true glory of God, and that the forgiveness of sins, purchased and won by the Son of God for you at such a tremendous price, is God's glory - a glory that transcends the power to create a star and keep it burning through the millennia.   God loves you.  That is your glory - and His.  He loves you enough to do whatever it takes to save you from death and hell.  He has promised that He will raise your tired bodies – tired no more –  from your grave and give you eternal life of both body and soul.

God said to Moses, "My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest."  "Rest" is the meaning of the word "shabat" or "Sabbath".  He went on to command the ‘rest' of the Sabbath for the people of Israel as a sign which pointed forward to Christ.  We live in that Rest.  He gave Moses rest from his uncertainties and fears, and showed him that He, God, was faithful, and was going to be with him all the days of his life.  And God finally brought Moses to rest on Mt.  Nebo, and brought His servant home to Himself in glory.

He has also given us rest.  Jesus said, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." It is not rest from this world or its troubles.  We have those around us.  We have plenty of work to do.  We have mission field outside our doors filled with people who have no idea of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.  They think they have to earn heaven.  They still expect a triumphant savior who will give them worldly glory and riches and power - and the demonic scam artists are out there fleecing the flock for all their worth.  We have to tell them.  We have to show them.  We have to reflect the glory of God by lives of holiness and by confessing Christ and the glory of God in forgiveness and love.  

But we possess the rest of forgiveness.  We do not need to try to earn heaven – it is a gift!   We have no minimum duty or required measure of holiness to accomplish.  We don't have to look like we deserve salvation, nor do we have to acquire the stuff of this world to know the love of God is with us.  We need only look to the cross, and take God at His Word, and trust in His promises.  He will give us the things to do, laying those holy works in our path for us to accomplish as we come to them.  No worries, as they say in the outback.  We have the rest of salvation and of the love of God in Christ Jesus.  "for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father."

So, if you want to see the glory of God, as Moses did — and who doesn't? — then look at the cross where God did the unimaginable and endured the unendurable for you, and look back at the Baptismal font, where God adopted you as His own in Jesus Christ, and look at the altar and the holy Supper there, where God feeds you with His body and gives you to drink of His blood, and look around you at this holy fellowship into which He has gathered you.  Don't be deceived by appearances, just look and believe all that God has spoken about these things, and promised about them, and you will be seeing God's glory!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Softly, Tenderly, and Irresistibly

 Isaiah 42:1-7

"Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights.  I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.  He will not cry out or raise His voice, Nor make His voice heard in the street.  A bruised reed He will not break, And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.  He will not be disheartened or crushed, Until He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law."

Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk in it, "I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, And I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the dungeon, And those who dwell in darkness from the prison."

Sermon for The Sunday after New Years                         1/08/23

Softly, Tenderly, and Irresistibly

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, Calling for you and for me.  See, on the portals He's waiting and watching, Watching for you and for me.  I remember hearing that song on my dad's old country records.  I always thought it was beautiful and sentimental.  I also thought it was just a Country song until I found it in hymnals of other church bodies – even a Lutheran Hymn-book published for the ALC in the 1950's.  I only bring it up because our text put me in mind of it, as I considered our theme for this day.  Based on the words of Isaiah, our theme is Softly, Tenderly, and Irresistibly.

The servant passage is familiar to most Christians.  This is the one where it says that He will not break a bruised wick or extinguish a dimly burning wick.  Jesus will go forth and be utterly inoffensive, He will not measure faith - either you believe or you do not.  He will be all encouragement.  It seems odd, doesn't it?, that the One being described in this way is the source of the greatest and often most-violent confrontations in the world.  He isn't actually the Source, but His being and His work and His message serve as the focal point and inspiration for persecutions and condemnations, and actual violence.  Nevertheless, Our Lord does all the things prophesied about Him.

Jesus was not often a rabble-rouser.  He taught.  He did His work quietly, and for the most part, He did it the same way then that He does it now, by the power of the Word.  Jesus did not go out to stir up trouble or get people all churned up.  He preached and He taught - and most of the time He spoke about love.  Of course, there were those few occasions - such as when Jesus ‘cleansed' the temple.  He seemed to have gotten a little more aggressive there.  But He didn't challenge anyone's faith there or attack the weak in faith.  He simply addressed the Law of God to those who were quite comfortable with breaking it and abusing the house of God.  I would doubt anyone who actually believed in God was offended or hurt by what Jesus did that day.

This prophecy speaks about how the One sent will bring forth justice.   Isaiah says that He will faithfully bring forth justice.  I suspect that some who read this prophecy were expecting some great form of legal reform.  Like us, the ancients had to deal with the utter duplicity of those in power.  People tend to take personal advantage of whatever authority they may possess, for however long they may possess it.  Long before modern politics, there was the parable of the unjust steward, who took advantage of his position to feather his own nest - and that parable would not have made sense to anyone if that sort of behavior was unknown or uncommon.  So, some could well have imagined that what Jesus was supposed to bring was a fair judicial system.

But what Isaiah was prophesying was the Gospel.  The justice that He brought was the completed justice of the cross.  If your sins or mine were to be paid for by us, it would require an eternity of torment - hell.  We would never quite finish paying for our rebellion against our Creator, nor our stubborn sinfulness in the face of the goodness of God toward us.  God gives us a sunrise, and we complain abut having to face another day.  God feeds miraculously, and the children of Israel grumbled about that miserable manna.  We have sixty years of tremendous good health, and when we get sick we act as though we receive nothing from the hand of God but trouble - and that we cannot confidently look to God for blessings or good.

No, if our sins were to find complete justice, we would need something much more than we are capable of doing, of suffering or paying.  That is where Jesus came in.  He is the One of infinite worth, who took up our sins, although innocent Himself, and paid the penalty to the very last drop of His blood.  He paid our debt, not His own, and He paid it with the very life of the Son of God Himself.  By comparison, we are worth nothing, for without Him we would not even exist.  He is what gives substance and meaning to everything, and He gave Himself for us.  Suddenly, we are not worthless.  Because of Him we are counted in the scales of God's values as precious, like His only Son, because His only-begotten Son, who has been with Him from eternity, counted us as precious and worth dying for!

Now we are cleansed, forgiven!  We are counted righteous with His righteousness just as He was counted guilty with our sin.  He made Him to be sin, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him!  Talk about establishing justice!  He has accounted for every sin and poured out upon all mankind the verdict of ‘innocent, beloved of God, and redeemed'!  Now, only those who reject His payment, who refuse His gift, or who demand to be held to account for their own native worth and righteousness fail to receive and enjoy the salvation He has won.  Justice has been served, and now grace is poured out.  He that believes and is baptized shall be saved!

    He did not allow anything to stand in His way as He established justice – and He did it without crying out or fighting with earthly weapons.    He did it softly, tenderly and irresistibly.  He walked quietly to the cross.  They could hardly get Him to speak.  He did not struggle, but ordered those who wanted to fight for Him to stand down.  He healed the man whose ear had been cut off.  He bore their abuse and mocking, and pleaded with His heavenly Father for their forgiveness because, as He put it, they had no idea what they were really doing.  And, although the coming crucifixion made Him sorrowful to the point of death, and His sweat came as great drops of blood, nevertheless, He went forward and allowed all those horrible things to happen, just as He knew they would, so that we might be declared just!  Talk about establishing justice!  He defeated sin and evil without firing a shot, but by humbling Himself and enduring all that they had to dish out, not helplessly, but with purpose.

In the last verse of our text, Isaiah speaks about the One prophesied opening blind eyes.  Our Lord does that through the Gospel.  It is by the preaching of the Word and the declaration of forgiveness and by the announcing of the promises of God that faith is created and sustained.  We are naturally unable to believe, or even to really comprehend the treasures of the Gospel.  The Bible teaches it clearly, in verses such as 1 Corinthians 2:13-14, "which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.  But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."  We also confess this truth in our Catechism, "I believe that I cannot, by my own wisdom or strength, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him."

So Jesus opens the eyes of the blind.  He makes us to see the truth and trust in Him.  He doesn't do it by coercion, but softly, tenderly and irresistibly, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work through the Word.  We can't argue someone into faith, any more than we can argue someone into joining our congregation.  All we can do is tell them the truth, speak our confession of Christ, and invite them to come, and see, and know for themselves.  It isn't a popular approach.  We like to have something that gives us control over the process and makes results more predictable.  But Jesus opens the eyes of the blind, not us.  The Holy Spirit creates faith when and where He chooses, by means of the gospel preached.  So programs and presentations don't work, except to the extent that they get us speaking the Word of God.

Isaiah says that God would make His Servant a light to the nations.  Jesus is every bit of that.  He is a light in that He gives enlightenment.  He shows us the true shape of reality, that is to say, the will of God.  The Gospel exposes as a lie the idea that God is to be feared with terror.  The God of Islam provokes terror, but our God forgives.  Our God protects.  Our God feeds and guides His people, and takes care of the rest of the world as well.  And He wants to be known as the God of all mercy and goodness and love.  He want us – and everyone else – to know that we can depend on Him, and then to actually trust in Him.  His will toward the entire race of mankind is that they would know the truth, believe in Him, and trust His good and gracious will toward them, and walk before Him in love and humility and fellowship with Him and with one another.  God would have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

The evil men of Islam, of Buddhism, of Hinduism – or of open atheism and unbelief in America – the men who riot and burn and kill on the evening news – are frightening only in that they portend difficult times for those who live among them.  Their violence might spread, and might hamper our peace and enjoyment of life.  But as men, I do not hate them, I feel badly for them in their ignorance, and I wish for them the same thing I wish for the unbelieving around us, that they may come to know the truth and find peace in the will and the love and the grace of God.  And what is His will?

The reason that this prophecy says that He will be a light to the nations is that this ‘light' is not restricted to the Chosen People of the Old Testament.  God has always planned on rescuing men from every nation, who will believe.  Israel was chosen, but turned its back on God.  But God had already decided long ago to bring His good will and saving grace to every man and woman who will listen and believe and trust in Him.  And He has done it!  The Church exists in every land.  There are believers of every race and every nationality and every language under the sun.  And they are all members of the one Church, the same Church, the Body of Christ, and His Bride.

When we come to faith, by the power of the Spirit, we have been brought out of the prison of sin and death, mentioned by Isaiah in this text.  The prison is the prison of death and hell, the dungeon of false doctrines and false gods, the darkness of superstition, ignorance and sin.  The fear of dying and what awaits us beyond the grave is darkness and a dungeon for the mind and for the soul.  They become a prison of reality when people die in unbelief, but even here and now they are a miserable captivity for souls lost in uncertainty, ignorance and the awful anticipation of what lies beyond.  

But now, we have been brought out from the prison-house and set free from the dungeons of sin and death.  Not only is there peace of mind now, but death itself is not the end.  We have been made the beneficiaries of justice, set free from our prisons of sin, and even from the prison of the grave.  We don't have to do it all or despair.  He will raise us to everlasting life in the day of resurrection, and we shall live in the light of the covenant which is Jesus Christ, into which we have been drawn softly, tenderly and irresistibly.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, January 01, 2023

 The Power of the Name

  Numbers 6:22-27

22 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 23 "Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, 24 "The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."  27 "So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them."

 The Power of the Name

The Sunday after Christmas                       1/01/23

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ;

Cartoons, comic books, and super-hero movies all express the same basic thing; the very human longing to be in control, to be able to manage in the most difficult of situations, to be, as the devil tempted Eve in the Garden, "like God."  The desire to be like God is as old as mankind, but it is twisted by sin into wanting to be or making one's self into their own God.  It is probably the sin-contorted version of something God created in us to be good, the need and desire to be in intimate contact with our God.

Adam and Eve enjoyed something none of us have ever experienced, close communion with God.  He would come to them in the cool of the evening in the Garden to walk and talk with them.  No one since has been in that kind of communion with God, except Jesus.  Moses came close, being able to talk with God face to face in the Tabernacle, but that most basic impulse of the human nature has never been met since sin raised its ugly head among mankind.

The closest we come today is Holy Communion, and hearing His Word.  For men and women one of the most common and powerful ways of being in communion with God, aside from the sacraments, is the Aaronic benediction.

 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  "Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,  "The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;  the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."  2 "So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them."
A century ago a Lutheran scholar and commentator, the Rev. Paul Kretzman, described this benediction as follows:

The blessing, as spoken by the priest, was not a mere pious wish, but it actually transmitted the divine power of blessing to the people. Every Israelite that believed these words as pronounced upon him went to his home with the blessing of the Lord resting upon him. To this day the members of the congregation are dismissed with the words of this blessing, and should take home with them the merciful goodness of the Triune God, especially the assurance of the forgiveness of their sins.  

Placing the name of God on the congregation means imparting His grace and power.  That is so because The power of God at use among men is His name.  That truth is reflected in how many times God speaks of people relating to Him by calling upon His name.  It seems that the Bible doesn't talk a lot about calling on God, but calling upon His name.  That is reflected in the Second Commandment - that we do not take the name of the Lord in vain.  To use the name of God is to exercise, or attempt to exercise, the power of Almighty God.  This profound spiritual truth may lie behind the pagan belief that you can control someone, or their fate, if you possess their true name.  When Jacob wrestled with God, he asked God what His name was.  Rather than answer, God asked him why he wanted to know and gave Jacob a new name, Israel.

Names have meaning, and in the Bible, significance.  The word "name" appears in Scriptures 865 times.  Many of those are just used for names, but many of them speak of people coming to worship God as calling upon His name.  God even says, "in every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you." Such is the significance and power of His name.  That passage from Exodus 20 is the reason I teach that the full, formal name of God among us is the Bible itself.

The name of God as revealed among us is not just a simple word.  The Prophet Isaiah said in chapter 9, verse 6, And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.  And when God promised the birth of Samson He asked Manoah, Samson father, But the angel of the LORD said to him, "Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?"  The New Living translation translated that answer as, "you wouldn't understand it if I told you."  So we know the name of God as "I am who I am" Or LORD, and as Jesus, because the name is significant and powerful, Luke 2:21  And when eight days were completed before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.  

The name of Jesus will bring every knee to bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and to confess Him as LORD.  So when we deal with the name of God, we are dealing not just with a mere vocable, a spoken word, but with God Himself and with all of His power.  That is why the benediction is so much more than just a blessing at the end of the service.

The promise of God is that when we speak that benediction to the people of God, we place His name upon them, with all that power, and He will come to them and bless them. If you could feel what is happening, you would tingle all over at the invocation of the name of God upon you, but we walk, by God's choice, by faith and not by sight - or any other sensory input.

And the best blessing is that which we know comes with the name of God:  Acts 4:12 "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved."

The name of God brings us forgiveness, life and salvation.  It carries with it all of the blessings that Jesus has won for us – to be received by those who know it and believe.  For us, the name of salvation and the name of forgiveness and the name of God is Jesus Christ, but that name contains and conveys the name revealed on Mount Sinai, and spoken in the benediction.

This Sunday is celebrated in the Church  as the day of the Circumcision of Jesus, and the day on which He was formally named Jesus.  That is why this Old Testament Lesson is appointed for this day, that we may hear and remember the way that God has commanded that His name be invoked upon His people in the times before Christ - and that all His blessing be poured out upon His people - Just as we do when we invoke His name in the New Testament way – – the way I close ever sermon:

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)