Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Fear and love. . .

Sermon for Transfiguration C, preached on Sunday, March 3, 2019.

    Among the lies we tell ourselves is that if only God would give us a sign, we would believe and never doubt again.  If only God would explain Himself and give us reasons for what happens, we would be okay with it.  Though we long to escape it, fear is the constant companion of faith for as long as we live in this mortal life.  Only in heaven will love completely overcome fear but for now, fear and love always go together.  Remember Luther’s explanations to the commandments:  We are to fear and love God...   We fear because we know our sinful hearts that God is holy and we love because we know God’s heart in Christ is merciful.

    Today is Transfiguration Day.  We all would have loved to be there to see the hidden glory of God revealed, to see what is hidden from us here on earth and known only by faith.  But on the mount of Transfiguration there was no end to fear.  There the raw and powerful glory of God was revealed in all its truth and terror.  Peter and James and John were taken by Jesus up to the top of the mountain on the heels of a great mission trip with all sorts of victory stories to tell and impress Jesus.  They had watched Jesus distribute five loaves and two fish to feed thousands.  Peter had confessed boldly that Jesus was the Christ of God.  So why fear?

    Why would they fear?  Because as wonderful as each of these things were, they were also filled with terror.  Yes, it was wonderful to be given authority to preach the gospel and heal the sick but what a big burden for such small shoulders.  Yes, it was wonderful to see the miracle of thousands fed by so little but people were still hungry and now they expected the disciples to be able to do something about it.  Yes, it was wonderful to confess Jesus as the Christ but not if being the Christ meant the suffering of the cross for Him and perhaps for those who followed Him.  The disciples were afraid.  I know I would have been.

    Up the mountain they went with Jesus expecting to pray about it all.  But before they could bow their heads and fold their hands, Jesus began to shine and they saw two men appear to be with Jesus.  Could this be Moses dead for thousands of years now come to converse with Jesus?  Could this be Elijah who ascended into the presence of God on chariots of fire?  No wonder they were afraid!  And with the fear came the weariness of minds too full and eyes too heavy and sleep beckoned to them.  Surely everything will be better in the morning, right?  They were denied not even this moment of solace.

    Just when they knew enough to fear, it was over.  What on earth was going on?  Who stood with Jesus and why?  Should they stay here or should they go?  Was it a voice or was it thunder?  And then it was gone.  The glory was gone.  Moses was gone.  Elijah was gone.  Only Jesus was left.  They did not say another word.  Their tongues had been stolen by fear and they could not even tell the other disciples what they had seen or confide into wives and children the great mystery of this mountain and its glory.

    We long to see a glimpse of God’s glory, to get answers or signs to erase all our fears.  We want to behold the glory of God because life is too filled with troubles and trials.  We want to admire the glory of God because there is too little on earth worthy of our admiration and trust.  But for Peter, James, and John this glory was not comfort or peace.  It was pure and raw terror.  Instead of being relieved of their fears by the glory of God, their fears were only magnified by the presence of God’s glory.  Here on earth love and fear live together in faith.  Someday God will wipe away all tears and fear will fade from memory and heart but not yet.  For now they are always together. 

    Jesus told them not be afraid.  He told them over and over again.  He tells us not to be afraid.  We come Sunday after Sunday still seeking an end to all our fears.  Jesus never told them they had nothing to fear but directed their fears to the One who can destroy body and soul.  Think of the context.  In the Old Testament it was a curse not to have a son to wear your name.  Without heirs to continue your line, it was like your memory was obliterated from the earth.  The Lord does not promise us that the earth will remember us.  Instead He promises us that God cannot forget us.  Not that there will always be people who knew us and loved us and admired us but that God knows us even in our sin, loves us enough to save us, and His mercy will remember us when all else is lost and will deliver us to everlasting life.

    Jesus does not promise that if we love Him enough or pray hard enough or work hard enough to follow Him that all our fears will vanish.  What He promises us is that our fears are answered by the love of God, by the mercy of God, by the determination of God to do all things for our salvation, and by the power of God to raise our dead bodies and give to us life that death cannot overcome.  This fear drives us into His arms of love.  There fear and love stand together – fear that acknowledges we have real enemies and we are in real danger and love that comes to us in Christ – stronger than our enemies and the only one who can rescue us forevermore.  Faith is the union of honest fear with the only God whose love gives the fearful hope.  So we come acknowledging and confessing not only our sin but also the love that forgives that sin.  Fear and love walk together on this earth and it is a good thing.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom but the end of it is love, Christ, the love of God in flesh.

    The Law must be spoken to our willful and lying hearts and to awaken us to to own our sin and its consequences. . . But the Gospel speaks sweetly of forgiveness and life in Christ. This is how the Word God speaks to us.  And hearing that Word of God, the Spirit directs our fears away to the Lord who has conquered all things for our salvation.  But the Lord does not only comfort, He corrects and the Lord does not only correct but comforts.  In this holy tension faith lives and without fear or love it dies.

    This tension is focused in Jesus.  He is Savior who dies that we might live and He is Judge before whom all must appear.  When the glory had faded and Moses and Elijah had gone, only Jesus was left.  And Jesus is always all that is left.  He is the voice of comfort to our conscience terrified by sin and its death and He is the voice of terror to our conscience no longer convicted by sin and in fear of death.  God has not redeemed us so that we might play together as friends in the sandbox of eternity.  God has redeemed us so that we may live under Him, honoring Him as God and knowing that we are not, and yet rejoicing in the mercy that saves us.  The Gospel is not some grand egalitarian scheme to tame God but God taming the power of our sin by turning our eyes and hearts to Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer.

    You may think you need to get rid of your fears but what you really need is to have your fear focused so that you are drawn to daily repentance by the power of the Holy Spirit.  You may think that what you need is to figure out the secret of loving perfectly  but what you really need is to be rescued by that love, called from your wandering ways, from your daily dances with the devil, and turned to Jesus.  You may think that fear and love cannot live together but they must live together in us for now. . . until He comes in His glory to finish His new creation and fear is swallowed up in love forever. You may think you need answers to make sense of it all but in the end it is only Jesus, the author and perfector of the faith whom we follow because there is none other.  You may think that fear is a curse, but if that fear draws you back to God through repentance, that fear is a gift and a blessing.  You may think that love is always gentle but love which cannot growl the voice of the Law into your prideful heart is not love at all.

    Like a parent who cares more about a child’s safety than their happiness, the Lord uses fear to drive you to repentance but He does not leave you in your fears.  He forgives all your sins.  In heaven perfect love will cast out fear but here on earth we are grateful that someone loves us enough to put the fear of God in our hearts for truly it is the beginning of wisdom.   We do not live on the mountain tops but in the valleys and in the shadows.  Fear is real but the fear that points us to Jesus gives way to perfect love and this love abides forever.   Thanks be to God!  Amen.

No comments: