Tuesday, February 28, 2017
It is good, Lord, to be here. . .
It is great sport to poke fun at Peter – either His foolishness or his failings. It is downright funny when the water gives way, Peter sinks into the sea, and must cry out to Jesus to rescue him. It is sinfully delightful when Peter opens his mouth and inserts his foot. And then we Lutherans giggle that he is supposed to be the first pope! But we are laughing at our own weakness. Peter is nothing but a mirror of our own failings. Even on this Sunday when Peter is so overcome by everything all he can think about is camping with Jesus high above all his problems – never wanting to go back down.
It is good to be there. For where Peter is, that’s where we yearn to be. Who among us would not gladly leave the valley of our frustrations behind to escape to the mountain of our dreams? We grow weary of the costs of spouse and family, of the constant string of problems to fix and troubles to deal with. We grow tired of the grind of work and live in the dreams of our next day off, our next vacation, or the permanent vacation of retirement - when we can do what we want and not what others want. We have sweat the toil of earthly labor and we have groaned with tired muscles and over stressed minds. We long for rest – just like Peter!
Is there any one of us who would not exchange the uncertainties of tomorrow for the permanence of a today in which we have what we want or what we need? Of course we would! Sin has created a certain melancholia in our lives in which yesterdays were good old days and the future is filled with fear. We don’t like living in the face of the unknown that may tear down all we have built up. We want our easy life, our happy life, and we want it right now. That is what Peter was saying. We understand it.
But Peter could not stay on that mountain to camp out with Jesus in the clouds. It was not because Peter had failed in some way. The choice between mountain top and valley of the shadow had been made for Peter, as it has for us -- by Adam and Eve in the Garden. Peter was an ordinary sinner. and sinners -- ordinary or special -- no abiding place here on earth. There is no escape or refuge where we can hide. Unless someone faces sin and its death for us, we will be vagabonds searching for peace where there is none and running away from the troubles and trials that will surely follow wherever we go.
Jesus humanity is like ours. He has no desire to suffer, no want to die. But if He is to give us the glory that is His, He must descend the mountain and enter the valley of the shadow of death for us and for our salvation. Because Jesus cannot stay hiding in the clouds, neither can Peter. Neither can you. Neither can I. We must go down the mountain. But down the mountain comes the greater glory hidden in suffering and death that forgives and gives life.
Jesus must go down the mountain. He came not for dreams but for death, not for soaring mountain heights but for the depths of sin. Moses was once on a mountain but he could not stay. God sent him down with the Law to act as protective guardian against our harm and to point us to the Savior whom the Father would send. Elijah had to go down to speak the Word of the Lord to the people, calling them to repentance and filling them with the hope of God’s deliverance, mercy, and grace.
You must go down as well. You walk with Peter, Moses, and Elijah -- not in dreams but amid the reality of this life where we still wrestle with sin every day and where we are dogged by death that still threatens to steal our hope. You live your life not in some utopia where happy endings are for all but in the real world where marriages are a struggle, where children cost us more than money, where work is hard, and where leisure is a temporary rest at best. And this way you walk is called faith.
The way we walk is not by sight but by faith – faith amid struggles, costing sacrifice, carrying sorrows, fighting against sin and its temptation, and living still in the shadow of death. Faith sees all these things and sees through them because we see Jesus. You bet your life would be easier without the demands of marriage and family, without the burden of work, and without illness, age, and death. But here is where Christ has come. Here is where we live out our lives of faith. Here is where we see Jesus and Him only – even though tests, trials, troubles, and tribulation tries to steal our gaze.
Here is where we learn to live out the new life our eyes struggle to see but the water of baptism promises and the Word of Christ speaks. Here is where we learn to live as the new people created in Christ Jesus for good works. Here is where we find the commandments not only accusing our sin or driving us into the arms of Jesus but teaching us how then we shall live as the children of God we are by baptism and faith.
Peter was a fool but so are you and so am I. We have no best life now to dreams about. We have this life and we live it by faith, seeing Jesus even more clearly than we see disappointment and death. We have this life and we live it by faith, fighting against sin not to win God’s approval but because He has come to us in Christ and made us His own as the free gift of God hidden in water and proclaimed in the Word that does what it says.
Our true joy lies not in a dream world we escape to but in this life where Christ is and we are in Christ His new creation. The Law and the prophets do not point to a mountain top resort but to the valley where a cross is planted. And Jesus is there. There in Christ and Him crucified is the glory that is accessible to us, that saves us as we are, but does not leave us as we are.
Listen to Him is no command from the Father but an invitation to hear the voice of Christ when our eyes see nothing. It is a promise that Christ is there when our hearts feel nothing but fear, guilt, shame, and bitterness. It is the hope of a people who live in the world but not of it, destined for more than what we see, a future that is seen only by seeing Jesus.
This is why we are here. Here where Christ is. Where His glory is. Where His mercy is. Where our hope is. In the taste of bread that is His body, in the sip of wine that is His blood. In the Word that calls to us through the wilderness of our sins and its death, I am here, I have saved you, and I will be with you always. In response to such grace, the Christian gives up a dream but a better reality today and a future beyond all our knowing. And in response to what God has said, what more can we say than "It is good to be here." Right here. Right now. In the arms of grace. Amen.