Category Archives: Law and Gospel

The Veil is lifted Luke 9 Transfiguration Sunday March 3, 2019 Trinity Lutheran Church Chestertown, Md

[click on the icon above for the audio of this sermon]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son T and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who have been allowed a glimpse of Jesus as God as His children in baptism said … AMEN

We’re in an interesting period, between the secular observances of Saints; Nicholas, Valentine and Patrick, Jesus’ lifting of His Human veil, plus the time of Lent, where we dedicate time to special reverence. I did come across some detail on the St Valentine story: “A common hagiography describes Saint Valentine, as the former Bishop of TerniNarnia and Amelia, a town of Umbria, in central Italy. While under house arrest of Judge Asterius, and discussing his faith with him, Valentinus … was discussing the validity of Jesus. The judge put Valentinus to the test and brought to him the judge’s adopted blind daughter. If Valentinus succeeded in restoring the girl’s sight, Asterius would do anything he asked. Valentinus laid his hands on her eyes and the child’s vision was restored. The judge obeyed and as a result, freed all the Christian inmates under his authority. The judge, his family and his forty-four member household were baptized.[20] Valentinus was later arrested again for continuing to proselytize and was sent to the prefect of Rome, to the emperor Claudius.

   Of much more importance, like more than infinitely more important, we remember the Transfiguration of Jesus today. Festivals of different saints are a great thing, especially when it’s one who like St Nicholas, Valentine, Patrick who are readily recognized by the secular world, and we don’t emphasize enough the importance of these saints, not for holidays, but because of how they lived and died for Jesus. But we also remember, that in Jesus we are all saints, Nicholas, Patrick, Valentine, great men, who should be remembered as examples of faithful living and maybe we should be more pro-active about observing their feasts and festivals. We look to those men for their example, we pray for God’s strength to emulate their lives, but we too are saints and we all are priests and we are all expected to come into the presence of the Father on the basis of our salvation in Jesus.

Jesus has shown Himself during the incarnation as a man, the Bible says a rather unremarkable looking man, you wouldn’t think much about Him at all if you walked by Him on the street. Those privileged disciples, by extension, now, us, see Jesus as He truly is. He is God, He is appearing to His disciples, in, no doubt, a much more muted form. We could not endure His splendor as God the Son, but in the Transfiguration there is no doubt that He is far above anything we are and the Father comes along and confirms, this is My Son! The veil has been lifted. There are a few times in the Bible where people have been left with a view that’s been hazed over, if not outright obstructed. Moses was in the actual presence of God and had to wear a veil among the people because they weren’t able to bear even a sort of reflected view of God’s Shekinah glory. Mary Magdalene had a veil over her eyes at the tomb. The two disciples didn’t see Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Gregory of Nazianzus writes “The great theophany of Jesus’ transfiguration gives us a glimpse of the mystery of the future resurrected life in Christ.”[1] This is not just the veil of the deity of Jesus, but also the revelation, which Jesus gives us a further revelation of in His resurrection. Which will be us, as Jesus is in our reading, but we will also be so much glorious in the resurrection.

Dr David Lewis observes: “Paul discusses the cause of unbelief with the image of “the veil” an image where faith is likened to seeing and so unbelief is blindness.” We certainly know those who just will not see Jesus as Lord. I have no doubt, the Holy Spirit has presented Jesus, has tried to move some people and they will just not be budged, they like the blindness.

I certainly resonate with what Dr Lewis says in terms of Paul’s ministry and ministry today. Christian ministry, proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus is not for shrinking violets and the church has been guilty of that for decades and is becoming even less of a witness today. We are more concerned about offending others, quoting Billy Graham, while we’re offending God.

Dr Lewis notes: “Because of this [inability to see under the veil] Paul stresses the importance of conducting his ministry with openness/boldness. What is openly proclaimed is that Jesus is Lord.” Why proclaim Him? “The hope [Greek elpida, elpus] in the enduring/remaining glory…the new covenant … This hope motivates Paul to behave boldly/frankly/openly (marresia) in his ministry …”[2] As we should.

Jesus has unambiguously revealed Himself on that mountain and the Father has confirmed who Jesus is: “This is my beloved Son.” The Father envelopes everyone in a cloud, which causes John, James and Peter to be afraid. God the Father proclaims, “This is my Son, my Chosen: listen to him!” The Father never says this about anyone else through the span of 5,000 years recorded in Scripture, or any time in history. He says this just about Jesus. There is no doubt who the Father is, there is no doubt who the Son is. Ambrose writes: “The cloud that overshadows them does not sprinkle them with moisture but with faith to believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”[3] We are God’s children when we are born again in baptism, we are His and we are strengthened through His Word in preaching and in Scripture and we are saved through the Body and Blood of Jesus. We are saved through His sacrifice, the payment of His perfect life as compensation, the just payment for our sins. This is our hope, this is the only hope of mankind, the Lord Jesus! And that is why we must boldly proclaim the hope and promise of Him, as Paul did. Jerome writes: “They [Moses, Elijah, the disciples, us], too, indeed are dear to Me, but He is My beloved; hear Him, therefore. They proclaim and teach Him, but you, hear Him; He is the Lord and Master, they are companions in servitude. Moses and Elias speak of Christ; they are your fellow servants; He is the Lord; hear Him. Do not render the same honor to fellow servants as to the Lord and Master. Hear only the Son of God.” You might wonder why Moses, who was given the Law, Elijah considered the Prince of the Prophets figure into this scene. I don’t know where I read this, Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah, that they were discussing His “departure”, which we understand is from His earthly life, to His resurrected life, His glory at God’s right hand. But it’s also to initiate the age of grace, we are saved by Jesus’ acts which are rapidly approaching after the Transfiguration. His entry into Jerusalem, His brutal beatings, torture and crucifixion, His glorious resurrection on Easter. But it is also to close out the age. We are no longer under the Law given to Moses, we are saved only by grace. Further, the age of prophecy which Elijah represents, which consists of so many holy and righteous men is also at an end. We have Jesus’ promises, there is no further revelation, all we need to know to the end times is revealed in Jesus.

Now that Jesus begins the last leg of His journey to the Cross, everything is set for His glorious resurrection and the promise of our glorious eternal resurrection in Jesus.

Since we are entering in to the time of Lent, the time for sacrifice, for reflection, for service, please take more intentional time in devotions. For this week spend some time in prayer asking for guidance to help you lift the veil from those you know. How can the Holy Spirit work through you? Who does He want you to help to lift the veil from their eyes to see the only hope and promise in the world? Jesus Christ, God the Son and our Savior. The Holy Spirit has lifted the veil from we who are baptized and born again in Jesus. He works through us to lift the veil from others in order that they see Jesus.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.

[1] Gregory of Nazianzus quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture NT III Luke Edited by Arthur Just p 158

[2] Dr David Lewis  “Concordia Journal/Winter 2015) pp 60-61

[3] Op. Cit.

People need to wake up and realize they make themselves God’s enemy John 3:20

As much as I read people from the past, I see it repeated over and over today. The failing is that if it’s already happened, and people are trying to run the same game as people 500 years ago, the people today are simply, let’s be charitable, and say not very perceptive, or they think people today are not very bright and can be played into their game. How about the nonsense being played against law enforcement today? One of the stated purposes of the United States constitution for government is to “provide for the common defense.” When you are sworn in as a law enforcement, military or some officer of government, you swear to protect against all enemies “foreign and domestic”. Whether they are Americans or not, anyone who does something that is an attempt to undermine the civil authority is an “enemy”. We need to be open to correction, not abuse, not overreaching authority on the part of government, people trying to abuse their power and authority, but we do need to accept when we have stepped out of bounds and offended the law and our neighbors. Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves, doing things that offend and deprive our neighbors rights is obviously not loving.

Martin Luther had a great, if not obvious observation; “The world doesn’t want to be punished. It wants to remain in darkness. It doesn’t want to be told that what it believes is false.” (365 Devotional Readings from Martin Luther “Through Faith Alone” Concordia Publishing House July 2) Oh, wow! We’re seeing that not just in terms of the Christian church, but also the authority of what Dr Luther called the “left-hand kingdom”, the civil authority. Dr Luther asserts that God placed the “right-hand kingdom” in the world to assert the authority of the church, those who want to benefit from being in the church. He also asserts that God placed the left-hand kingdom in the world also. Those who are law- enforcement officers, government officials, mayor, governor, president, district attorney, attorney general etc. All placed by God to maintain public order. As much as we see attacks against that order now, Luther saw in his day. As Americans, in the tradition of the Declaration of Independence and the writings of the Founding Fathers, we certainly have a right to push back against government that becomes abusive of its authority. That is the whole reason for American Revolution. You can certainly make the case that government in many ways has become abusive of its authority. While it may be being dialed back a little with recent Supreme Court decisions, more and more government has been discriminatory against Christians, depriving people of their First Amendment rights to practice their religious beliefs without government interference. But in the way that those who want to somehow eliminate local law-enforcement, Luther’s observation is as prescient today as it was 500 years ago. Make no mistake, those who want try to usurp local law-enforcement do so in an attempt to intimidate government into creating a de-facto local government in many city neighborhoods. That distinct minority of people are making a play to establish their own system which would be established solely to their benefit and increase their wealth and power. In terms of third-world countries, Somalia would be a great example of a place ruled by local, I don’t know how to put it nicely, that run their fiefdom under their own authority, chose who will survive/thrive under their rule and starve those who resist. That is the vision of those who would presume to some how create autonomous zones in our cities.

This is the extreme example of what Luther writes about, but there are many enemies, to the church and civil authorities, foreign and domestic who would run roughshod on the rest of us given the opportunity. The church’s authority has certainly been undermined, now other authority, certainly the left-hand kingdom is being challenged.

Luther addresses the issue in the church: “If you also don’t want to be corrected, then you might as well leave the church and spend your time at the bar and brothel. But if you want to be saved – and remember that there’s another life after this one – you must accept correction.” It is pretty amazing how many people outside and inside the church (foreign and domestic) continue to undermine the church. The Bible addresses many issues which state that in order to be a Christian you must conform to the stated teachings of what is in the Bible. Of course the mantra today is “well my God, would / wouldn’t…” and in their petty dictator way, ignore the reality of what is written, but continue to insist that God would approve of their way, in complete contradiction to any kind of reality or documentation. Luther goes on to write: “If you don’t want to be saved, what’s the use of me being concerned about it? If you aren’t sure you believe in hell, the devil, death, eternal condemnation, and the wrath of God, then just ask your neighbor about it…”. We see this all-around us today, don’t trust in what God’s minister says, or elected official, or police officer. Instead go have a chat with your uninformed neighbor, and you can both share your ignorance and then wonder why your life is as messed up as it is. Trust everyone else but the people who God has put in place to serve the public good. I have seen it acted out over and over in many settings, it’s bizarre! Suffice to say, you can create your fantasy world, what you say is right or wrong, but if it is in conflict with the revealed Word of God in Scripture, then you are condemned, you are an enemy of God.

“In short, if the church and secular government are to exist, they must shed light on evil. The civil authorities must punish the obvious deeds of darkness of public vices and the offensive ways of people, while we preachers in the church must bring to light the subtle darkness of false teachers and false belief. We must confront those who teach and think that they have God’s approval because of what they do.” As a pastor it’s not up to me to punt when I know someone who is playing around with God’s word, anymore than a police officer can just walk by someone who stabbed another person. We both have the duty to enforce what we’ve sworn to do (and Christian ministers certainly take vows in their ordination on what they are supposed to do to serve). With the civil law it’s usually pretty obvious. There’s a body with stab wounds in it, the person has ceased to have a heart rate and respiration, people have stepped forward and credibly accused a person of the stabbing/murder, and the police have the duty to arrest, imprison and attest in court to what the person did. A Christian minister’s duty is often a little more subtle, but nonetheless, usually obvious, and frankly profoundly more destructive if he does not address those issues. Issues of sexuality today have had a profound effect on undermining the church and the civil authority. “I will do what I want, when I want”, when God has said “thou shalt not”, calls into question the authority of the church. Since western government was established under biblical principles, leads people to wonder why it’s anymore important than church authority. The answer is that the civil authority can still put you in jail and even execute you. Church authority can’t, but whether or not you believe in hell, the punishment of God is profoundly more effective than civil. You can put someone in prison for a season, hell is eternal and would make an American prison look like Wallyworld.

“If the church and government stopped admonishing people, the whole world would collapse in a heap. If you want to be saved and be a Christian, then stay open to correction. A preacher has to rebuke, or he should leave his position. The Christian who won’t accept correction is only pretending to be a Christian.” I’ve been a Christian pastor for 8 years now, I’ve certainly seen it. Those who are convinced their authority in the church is more necessary than the pastor’s, despite having no training, education, real experience, or any other credential, and yet actively work to undermine the man appointed to be the pastor. That person is living in their own fantasy, they are undermining God’s authority as much as any pretender to civil authority in a neighborhood, foreign country, and just as much an enemy of God and certainly a domestic enemy of the church.

Certainly the world and the church, both under God’s direction, have ways of reasserting the authority God has given them to maintain order and not “collapse into a heap.” But it requires people who will stand up under the scrutiny and the pressure of those who are in active rebellion, enemies foreign and domestic and do God’s will in either realm. The church needs to be much more pro-active in supporting those people on the front lines, maintaining the order, and taking the shots. The people need to stop listening to the non- sense of those who would readily suppress them and take from them if they succeed in ascending to authority. Instead in today’s world, it’s easier for the majority of people to side with those who take the side of those trying to usurp God, His enemies, and then wonder why the world has collapsed into a heap and why no one’s doing anything about it. Oh yeah, it’s bizarre! Try being in the position of those who support God’s servants and not the way of the world, the world’s way will end up as an incredibly evil and destructive way to live.