23 January 2018

Exploring the One-Year Lectionary...Again

Nine years ago, I posted my sectional paper, "Exploring the One-Year Lectionary," which I delivered at the 2008 Commission on Worship's Institute on Liturgy, Preaching, and Church Music, held in Seward, NE.

Evidently, some are still interested in accessing the paper and reading it! Thank you!

I had forgotten, however, that I had stored the paper on Apple's now-defunct "iDisk" storage system with the old "mac.com."

Now that I've again been asked for a copy of this paper, I've stored it over at my podcast site, Sacred Meditations (which Apple will not be able to discontinue. :-).

To access it, just click here: "Exploring the One-Year Lectionary" and the PDF file should open right away.

And, while I'm in this shameless-self-promotion mode, go ahead and check out my "short-cast" for prayers and meditations on God's Word! :-)

21 January 2018

Homily for Transfiguration - 2018

Matthew 17:1-9

Listen here.

Make no mistake about it. When you see Jesus transfigured on the mountaintop, you see your own glorious future. You also will be transformed and transfigured. But also, don’t doubt this: it will be a rough, dark road to get you there.

This glorious sight of Jesus outshining the sun itself is no random event, no mere magic show. Jesus is not just showing off His divine glory. No, this event is intimately connected to what happened six days earlier. Jesus had asked His disciples who they confessed Him to be. Peter spoke up for all of them: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). “Well done, Peter!” Jesus said. “You’re confessing the faith that My Father has given you. Believe me, I will build My church on that very confession.” Then Jesus spoke of going to Jerusalem, suffering many things, being killed, and then being raised on the third day. We accept the words well enough, but Peter strongly objected: “Never Lord! How can you even think that?” So Jesus countered and corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! … You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matt. 16:23).

We, like Peter, love the picture and promise of radiant glory. We’re not so sure about the harsh reality of gloomy suffering—not for Jesus, and certainly not for ourselves.

So when Jesus is transfigured—revealing Himself as the very source of all light and glory—He seeks to comfort and sustain His distressed disciples. Suffering? Death? Cold, dark grave? The mere thoughts of such things, let alone going through them, lay us flat like a boxer giving a gut punch followed by an undercut. Jesus knows His disciples are laid flat by His prediction of the Passion. He wants to encourage them and sustain them. It’s as if Jesus is telling them, “Yes, it will be dark and deadly. Yes, you too will be shaken to the core, as well as opposed, hunted down, imprisoned, even executed just for confessing Me. But let not your hearts be troubled. Here is what lies on the other side of suffering and death, both Mine and yours.”

You see, this was not the first time that Jesus was transfigured and transformed. He has been the radiant, brilliant source of all light and glory since before the beginning of time—along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Then, when the time was right, the Son of God actually transformed Himself by taking on our human flesh and blood. In taking our humanity into Himself, He transfigured Himself—He hid Himself—in humility.

So when Jesus predicts His passion and death, He’s simply unveiling what lies further back in the deep dark recesses of His glory—His suffering in the garden, His arrest, His trial, His bearing the cross to Golgotha, the pounding of spikes into His hands and feet, the lifting of the cross into its place, and the weight of His body hanging from wrists nailed into the cross beam. This is the Son of God completely revealing Himself. This is His real glory—suffering so to redeem and forgive us sinners who had fallen from our glory. It’s on the mount called Calvary that you are transfigured.

Peter, James, and John basked in and soaked up the brilliant glory of Jesus transfigured. Peter even wanted to extend his mountaintop experience with a bunch of tents. Moses and Elijah, though, were there for a different purpose. Yes, they are heroes of the faith—Moses the icon of the Law and Elijah the representative of the prophets. Yes, Moses’ skin shone with a most incredible suntan after his time on the mountain with God. Yes, Elijah was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot, and hence did not taste death. But Moses and Elijah were also there as fellow sufferers with Jesus. Consider the many times God’s people rejected Moses with their complaining over things as mundane as food and water. Remember the times that Elijah had to flee for his life from the government out to get him or the time he took on the many prophets of Baal. The same people rejected Jesus. On top of that, Moses and Elijah appeared to speak with Jesus about His “exodus”—His soon-to-come suffering, His pending Passion (Lk. 9:31).

With all of this darkness and gloom hanging over the disciples, they desperately needed some encouragement, some hope, some promise. That’s why Jesus shone brighter than the sun—just a small glimpse of what lies ahead. That’s why the Father’s voice boomed from the cloud: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” That voice still bids us to listen to Him, and Him alone. And we find that voice speaking ever so clearly in the Scriptures. After all, here’s “the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Here’s what awaits all who follow Jesus—first, the suffering and dying of a fallen world; then, the glory and radiance of new life with Jesus. It’s the way it works since we humans first transfigured ourselves from God’s holy people into the devil’s sinful slaves. We should have had the brilliance of a trusting, loving relationship with God all along. Instead, we chose the nakedness of self-centered shame. Instead of being clothed with God’s glory, we had to settle for being covered by garments of animal skins.

But Jesus has come to reverse all that. He’s the new Moses as He leads us out of our slavery to sin and death and into the Promised Land of His mercy, forgiveness, and eternal life. He’s the new Elijah—surpassing all the prophets—because He alone has the words of eternal life. He is transfigured on one mountain, but on a different mountain—the one called Calvary—He accomplishes your transfiguration. He transforms you from sinners to saints, from people suffocating in death to people breathing the very air of life.

Make no mistake about it. The transfiguring and transforming continues. He who was transfigured from humility back into glory now comes transforming Himself in the bread and wine of His holy Supper. And with that Meal, He begins and continues transforming our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

So we live patiently and trustingly, awaiting that day when our own transformation will burst forth with brilliance. Much like putting up with the inconveniences of renovating an organ or soon a sanctuary, we bear with those things that are not yet set right—the crosses we bear, the sorrows we endure, the losses we suffer. But as we live patiently and trustingly, we draw strength and resolve from our transfigured Lord of glory. He sustains us. He gives the promise, the hope, the courage.

And so we can be people of life in this world of death. By God’s grace in Jesus, we can resist being conformed to this world. Instead, we are transformed by Jesus renewing our minds, by discerning what His good and acceptable and perfect will is. We can rejoice with those who march for life year after year. We can work with those who help mommies and daddies to keep their babies as well as teach them how to be better parents. We can run into the muck and the mess of our culture of death—this culture bent on snuffing out lives in the womb and shortening the lives of those who suffer or become frail with age. You see, our Lord of glory gave those people their very lives. He wants to protect their lives. He wants to transform them to eternal life too.

Our transfigured Lord reveals Himself to be the Lord of life in the face of death. This glorious revelation sustains us and gives us hope and courage as we journey through the valley of the shadow of death. Through Jesus’ transfiguration, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:16-17). Amen.

14 January 2018

Homily for Epiphany 2 - 2018

"New Wine"
John 2:1-11

Listen here.

Put yourself in the shoes of the master of the feast. You’re putting on the wedding banquet of the year for everyone in Cana of Galilee. The groom, the bride, and all the guests have been counting on you to provide the best food, the best drink, the best celebration—a celebration to give lasting memories for years. Then you notice a major faux pas. It would make you—along with the bride and groom—the laughingstock of the century. Running out of wine? At the wedding of the year? Who could ever live that down?

Then, in the midst of the stress and the shame, your employees bring you a cup. More wine? New wine? Where did this come from? Then you take a sip. NEW WINE! Better wine than what you first served. Better than anything you’ve ever tasted! Where did THAT come from?!

What IS this new wine? Did Adam and Eve have such good wine in the Garden of Eden? If they did, the wine at Cana might just be on par with it, if not better yet. We do know this is NOT the kind of wine that made Noah drunk (Gen. 9:21). It’s not the kind of wine that led Lot’s daughters to make him drunk so they could have children by him (Gen. 19:32). None of that debauchery with Jesus’ new wine.

We might get a hint of this new wine in the sacrifices of the tabernacle and the temple. Take a lamb, add some fine flour, and a bit of beaten oil for the main course, and then some wine for the drink offering (Ex. 29:40). God included wine on the menu for many of the sacrifices in His place of worship. In fact, He even prescribed only the best flour, the best oil, and the best wine—the first fruits (Deut. 18:12).

Then, when God’s people returned from exile and got reacquainted with God’s good Word and teaching, God used Ezra and Nehemiah to remind them of His joy for them. He wanted to turn their 70 years of repentance into lasting and ongoing joy. “Don’t weep and mourn anymore,” God said, “but rather eat the fat, drink the sweet wine, and share with those who aren’t ready.” After all, that day was “holy to our Lord.” And here’s the heart of the message: “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh. 8:10).

The psalmist speaks of wine that gladdens the heart of man (Ps. 104:15), but this new wine that Jesus brings goes beyond that First Article gift. This is the wine that made David sing, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Ps. 34:8). The wine of God rescuing him; the wine of safety, security, and joy in the joy of the Lord Himself. Truly a gift of the Second and Third Articles.

This new wine of Jesus is the wine spoken of by the prophet Amos—the mountains dripping sweet wine, the hills flowing with it (Amos 9:13). This wine comes from the Divine Vintner who raises up the fallen tent of David, who repairs and rebuilds His people, who makes them His Church that will stand for all eternity. It’s the wine that Isaiah also proclaimed—the Lord making a feast on His mountain, a feast of rich, fatty food and well-aged, well-refined wine (Is. 25:6-8). You see, on that same mountain God Himself would feast on something completely different: He would swallow up death forever.

The new wine that appeared suddenly and miraculously at Cana of Galilee is the wine of new life and resurrection for you and for me.

Ah, but it’s not yet Jesus’ “hour” when He confronts those empty jars and that embarrassing void of wedding wine. Yet Jesus still gives a prelude, a preview, a teaser trailer of what He actually came to do. Those empty wine cups? Those empty water jars? He would fill them. And in filling them, He would fill the people who drank from them. He would fill them not only with savory fruit of the vine, but also and especially with His saving life.

Jesus is no mere bartender rushing in to rescue a wedding party on the brink of collapse. He has a bigger and better purpose. He comes to rescue the whole human race—people like you and me; people including you and me—from their emptiness of God’s goodness. When His “hour” does come—on the cross—He will drink the bitter cup of God’s wrath and judgment. He will be the laughingstock of all around Him, even spurned by His closest friends. He will suffer the shame and humiliation of a cross. He will swallow up death forever. But in drinking that bitter cup, He will ensure that we can taste and see that the Lord is good. He will make death itself void and bare. He will give us the sweet joy of the Lord. That’s the sweet wine delivered at Cana. It’s also the sweet wine delivered here at this altar today.

Your Lord Jesus comes to fill your emptiness. We live in a world that has so much stuff, such overloaded schedules, such a plethora of things and people and activities for filling our lives. And still we are empty on the inside. Some try to fill the emptiness with the old wine, or old booze, of this fallen world. Some try to fill the emptiness with the fruits of the sexual revolution—free sex with whomever you wish, without all the so-called constraints of one man-one woman marriage for life. Some try to fill the emptiness with the meaning of “likes” or “follows” or viral videos on social media. For those who fill themselves with the booze, the numbness eventually wears off and the emptiness remains. For those who fill themselves with the sexual conquests du jour, they still sense the emptiness of commitment and real love. For those who get their meaning from clicks and likes, well, we know how quickly things change in Internet land.

What’s your emptiness? What is it that makes you think and feel that if you could have that one thing, you would finally be complete and whole? Whatever worldly, created thing you think could fill that emptiness, just know that it can’t; it won’t.

Jesus gives the new wine at Cana’s wedding to show you that He fills your emptiness with Himself. Just as He filled the stone water jars with the best wine, and just as He restored the joy of the bride, the groom, and the master of the feast, so also He restores you and your joy by filling you with Himself—with His forgiveness, with His life, with His salvation. You are cleansed by the purifying water of His Baptism. You are filled with the new wine of His Supper.

So your God has joy in you, and He restores that joy in you by revealing His Son—the Bridegroom of the feast. We don’t need to get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery. Instead, let’s be filled with the Spirit. Let’s address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Let’s sing and make melody to the Lord with our hearts (Eph. 5:18-19).

We don’t need to fill ourselves with the ways of the world when it comes to sex and marriage. Instead, let’s remember and extol the profound mystery of Christ and His Church—the profound mystery of the one-flesh union of love, life, and commitment. That profound mystery reveals itself in joyful little glimpses when wives submit to their husbands as to the Lord and when husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her.

What IS this new wine? It’s Jesus revealing Himself to you and for you. It’s Jesus bringing you into the joy of His Father and the Holy Spirit. It’s Jesus filling your emptiness with Himself—His life, His resurrection, and His joyous purpose in life. “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7). Amen.