23 February 2020

Homily for Quinquagesima (2020)

"Seeing True Love"
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 & Luke 18:31-43

Listen here.

In our second reading, St. Paul extols the virtues of love. But this love is a lot different from the love that the world pursues, a lot different from the love we know or experience. The love that we long for is the feeling that satisfies every desire and craving we have. It’s a love that indulges every need we believe we have. That kind of love is aimed at the heart. It zeroes in on and plays on the emotions. Its beginning and ending is in ourselves. So the words, “love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast…love never ends,”—well, they’re a foreign language. These words are hard to live up to.

But when St. Paul speaks of love, he’s not talking about a verb, but a noun. He’s not talking about what it means to be loving, but what love is. It’s not a feeling. Instead, it’s a Person. And St. Paul does not intend to accuse you or to give you ammunition to use against someone else. No, he  proclaims the Love that came down from heaven. This is not the Love that comes from you; it’s the love that comes to you. It’s not the Love that you must live up to, but the Love who lives for you and in you. And so St. Paul is not focusing on right behavior or a good feeling. No, he’s focusing on the Love of God who is Jesus Christ our Lord.

You see, our view of love is so distorted and muddled. It’s so centered on what meets our needs and pleases our flesh. Is it any wonder that we are puzzled—even offended—to hear that the Love of God is tied to suffering and death? We admire a love that sacrifices one life for another, sure. But what about the Love who immerses us in His self-sacrifice? We think highly of love that is loyal in sickness and in death. But why do we pull back from the Love who says, “Take up your cross”? And what’s our response when He says, “Forsake house, parents, spouse, children—everything and everyone you love—all for the kingdom of God”?

Yes, our love is so interwoven with everything we want and to everyone who does something for us. Is it any wonder, then, that we quickly glance over the “we” in today’s Gospel? Love-in-the-flesh says, “We are going up to Jerusalem.” And going we are—starting Wednesday and for forty days, not counting the Sundays. We are going up to Jerusalem with Love Himself and to be joined to Love Himself. We do not go up just to see what it takes to be Love. We go up to be with Love and in Love as He is delivered, as He is mocked, shamefully treated and spit upon, as He is flogged, as He is killed, and then as He rises again on the third day. Love calls us to come and die with Him, to be immersed in His suffering and death, to dwell in His dying as He dwells in our life and living. Yes, Love calls us to come and die with Him and in Him.

This is not about some kind of death with dignity. This is about rising with Him. His death puts to death the sin that kills us. His death gives live where we can see only death and the fear of death.

So it’s much more than simply Jesus dying for us. It’s more than the good Person being sacrificed to save the evil people. It’s us dying in Him and with Him. It’s the rebellious, sinful you being killed in the holy, innocent suffering and death of Jesus the Christ.

When Jesus first spoke these things, the disciples “understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” They could not see how this could be. They could not see the need or the benefit. They could not see how this suffering and death would be good for them, how it would give them any good. They could not see the love of God in the Love who would be crucified on the cross.

But what the disciples could not see, a blind man does see. And he sums it up in one word: “mercy.” That’s what the Love of God is all about. Not behavior. Not emotions. Not random acts of kindness. But mercy. The Righteous One becomes the sin of the unrighteous. The Life of the world undergoes our death so that we may live in Him. God-in-the-flesh dies for the ungodly, so that the ungodly may be called the children of God.

“Have mercy on me!” That’s what the blind man cries out. Even though he is blind, he sees who Christ is—the undeserved, unconditional, self-sacrificing Love of God. What the blind man believes allows him to see what those with perfect vision cannot see. You see, the blind man relies on what he hears; and then his sight is restored. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

What you have heard—and what you continue to hear—is that the Lord God has mercy on you. No, not because you are loving, but in spite of your refusal to live in love for God and for your neighbor. God has mercy on you in spite of your living as if God does not matter. He has mercy on you in spite of your constant chasing after what you love, making that matter most. In spite of you, the Lord God gives you His Love and then He also puts you in that Love.

Now you no longer need to live for the self-centered love that you crave. Instead, now you get to join in the chorus of the blind man, the saints, the angels, all the company of heaven. Now you get to join with all those unloving and unloveable ones who cry out: “Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.”

Now you see. Now you are confident. Now you trust and believe. Not only does your Lord hear this cry and answer your need; He especially has mercy on you. Now you may see, believe and be confident that the Lord God, in His mercy, has put you in His Love—that same Love who came to take on our flesh and blood, that same Love who came to live our life and die our death, that same Love who gives you His life now and into eternity, that same Love who even now comes to feed you on Himself. Now you see true Love—our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

03 February 2020

Homily for Transfiguration (2020)

"A Glimpse of Glory"
Matthew 17:1-9

We really don’t know what Jesus looked like when He walked the earth. The Bible itself does not give us specific details about Jesus’ appearance. Of course there were no photographs or selfies, and no one ever painted a portrait of Jesus before He ascended. Images we have are really just artist’s renderings.

But we do know this. When He walked the face of this earth, the Son of God humbled Himself and became a man. He did not fully use His divine powers and prerogatives. He lived just like any other human being. And His appearance was probably nothing special, just like any other Middle Eastern young man from Galilee. As Isaiah said, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him” (53:2).

Today, though, we get a glimpse of Jesus in glory. Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord—when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a high mountain. There His appearance was changed; He was transfigured, had a metamorphosis, before them. Matthew says, “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light” (17:2). Mark says, “His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (9:3). And Luke says, “The appearance of His face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white” (9:29).

For those moments on that mountain, Jesus radiated in all of His divine splendor and glory. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus gave us a sample of the glory we share with Him both now and into eternity. In the Transfiguration of Our Lord, we have a glimpse of the glory that our Lord graciously shares with us. Four things come out of our text.

First, we see and learn that there’s only one way to share in the glory of heaven. We do not share in the glory of heaven because we are good persons. We know we’re not! St. Paul writes in Romans: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one…. [T]here is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10-12, 22). No, we don’t and won’t share in heaven’s glory because we’ve earned it, been obedient, or done the right things through life. We cannot earn it, our obedience ever falters, and we certainly do not deserve it.

When we listen to our Gospel reading, we hear the one way—the only way—we will share in the glory of heaven: “Jesus TOOK with him Peter and James, and John.”  Jesus also tells us, “I am the way.” He is the way to heaven. Jesus is your way to heaven. Just as Jesus took Peter, James, and John to share some moments of glory on the mountain, He will take you to share an eternity of never-ending glory with Him. Jesus promises, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many rooms…. I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Jesus will take you to be with Him in heaven. Why? Because He loves you, because He forgives you, because He gave Himself for you to atone for your sins, because He revealed His love for you most supremely on the cross.

Here’s the second thing. In the Transfiguration of Jesus we also see the glorified bodies we will have. Jesus was transfigured. For a brief time He was shining with heavenly glory, not as a reflection, not with a giant light shining on Him, but as the very source—He Himself—of that brilliant glory. So it will be for all who trust in Jesus. All who trust Him and all who rest in Him will be raised again on the Last Day. Your physical bodies will be made alive again and transfigured into glorious, heavenly bodies. St. Paul writes in Philippians (3:21): “[He] will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body.” In 1 Corinthians, he says: “I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (15:51-52).

But our Lord does not wait until the Last Day to transfigure us. He also transforms us now through His forgiveness and mercy. When we hear the Gospel of Jesus proclaimed, “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” (2 Cor. 3:18). Even today in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood our Lord works to transform our bodies to be like His glorious body. And this transformation from sinner to saint, from rebel to redeemed, is intended to show forth in the world. As St. Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

Here’s a third thing we take from our Lord’s Transfiguration: all the faithful from all the ages will join us. Just as Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and spoke with Him, so also in heaven a great, countless multitude of believers will gather around the throne of God, and you will gather there too. Put yourself in that scene of the great multitude gathered around Jesus on His throne. You will be there with Moses, Elijah, and all the other believers of the Old Testament, with Peter, James, John and all the New Testament saints, as well as all believers in Christ through the ages of the Church.

And it’s a motley bunch really. I mean look what we have before us today: murdering Moses, whining Elijah, impetuous, foot-in-his-mouth Peter, and power-hungry, photo-op-seeking James and John, who wanted their self-chosen brand of glory at Jesus’ right and left hands. But it’s a motley bunch that lives by the glorious grace of God in Christ Jesus. Let’s also look at ourselves in the mirror. We are the worry-wart-Wandas, the hand-wringing-Harries. We are the complaining Cathies, the grousing Guses, the slandering Sams and Sallies. We seek our brand of glory without suffering, especially without suffering the loss of our self-serving. But we’re still the motley bunch that’s saved by Jesus’ suffering, delivered by His death on a cross, and glorified by His glorious resurrection. Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about His “exodus,” that is, His journey into the suffering, onto the cross and out from the empty tomb. His exodus is our exodus. He leads us through suffering and death and, especially on the Last Day, He brings us to glory, glory shared with all the faithful from all ages.

Finally, we learn from our Lord’s Transfiguration that heaven with Him will be a wonderful place. Sometimes people joke that heaven might get a bit boring, or that eternity might grow tiresome. But for a few short moments on the Mount of Transfiguration Peter, James, and John got a small sample of heaven, a glimpse of glory. And they did not want it to end! “Lord, it is good that we are here,” Peter exclaimed.

How could it possibly be boring to gather with all the saints around the throne of our Savior God? How could we possibly grow tired of worshiping and receiving from our Savior who loves us enough to suffer and die for us? And besides that, who says it will be stagnant or static? We will have a whole eternity to keep growing as God’s children, to keep enjoying His boundless, infinite gifts of love and life in His new creation. We will proclaim, like Peter, “Lord, it is good that we are here.” We will get to revel and rejoice in the glorious bliss of our heavenly home, replete with unending joy and perfect peace. As Isaiah says, “The ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (35:10).

Jesus’ Transfiguration gives us a glimpse of our glory in Him. As He took the disciples up the mountain, He’ll take us to eternity with Him. As He was transformed, so He also transforms us, both now and on the Last Day. We will get to spend eternity with motley but forgiven sinners like us. Yes, it will be good to be with our Lord Jesus for all eternity. Amen.