Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Eyes for Jesus only. . .

Sermon for the Transfiguration of Our Lord (A), preached on Sunday, February 19, 2023.

In the romance novels and movies, lovers have eyes only for each other.  At least until they somebody else who catches their fancy.  That is the problem with eyes since the fall.  We do not see what we want to see but we see all kinds of things we should not see at all.  David looked out upon his kingdom but they were drawn most of all to Bathsheba who was modestly washing herself behind the walls of her own home.  Peter was walking on water until he looked down and doubts and fears began to replace Jesus in his heart and mind.

The disciples had been witnesses to Jesus’ glory many times.  They had stood with Him as water became wine, a lunch fed thousands, healed the sick, and raised the dead.  At times that glory was rather hidden but at other times it was obvious to everyone – even those not among the twelve.  But now, as Peter, James, and John go with Him up on a mountain, the demonstration of His glory on others is replaced with the visible glory on Jesus.

Jesus reveals what had been hidden to them or reflected from Him onto other things or other people.  His face shone like the sun – a bright and shocking light that they could not look upon directly.  The light spread to His clothing which shone as they were also lights.  With Jesus were Elijah the prophet who had rode the chariot of fire into God’s presence and the law-giver Moses who had seen the Lord and his own face shone with the brightness of the one true light.  What you might imagine was awesome, Peter and the rest of them found awful.  

Awkwardly, because Peter had just assumed that seeing the glory of God was supposed to be wonderful, he babbled on about setting up camp on the mountain.  It is like the stilted conversations we have when no one knows what to say but everyone presumes something must be said.  While Peter was still talking, God intervened with a voice that would shut everyone up.  This is My Son whom I love and with whom I am well pleased.  Listen to Him.”  

In terror, they buried their faces in the dust hoping it would all go away.  And everything did go away – everything except Jesus.  In fact, Jesus was the only one left.  Knowing their fears and the terror of what they had witnessed, Jesus told them to rise and have no fear.  They did not see Elijah the mighty prophet of the last days nor did they see Moses the law-giver and the patriarch of Israel anymore.  They saw no one save Jesus only.  

Note where this takes place in Matthew’s Gospel.  It is shortly after Jesus foretells His death and resurrection and then calls His disciples to deny themselves, and follow Him.  It is a couple of chapters before Jesus enters Jerusalem on His way to the cross amid the palms and hosannas of a great parade.  Prior to this the disciples were sometimes confused, sometimes confounded, and sometimes complaining about Jesus.  But now Jesus insists that they must have eyes for Him only.  They cannot afford to be distracted.  They cannot afford to be tempted.  They cannot afford to let anything disrupt their vision of Jesus.

My friends, we live in hard times.  The world has the memory of the pandemic, the reality of political division, war and violence, cultural conflict, and a host of things to distract them and capture their attention.  Christians are equally tempted to shift their vision away from the one thing needful to other things – some interesting, some upsetting, some distracting, some consuming, and some corrupting.  We seem to have eyes for anything and everyone except Jesus.  In fact, Jesus struggles to keep our attention because the ordinary chores of life and the exceptional days of difference would have all of us but in doing so would destroy us forever.

Part of the purpose of the Church is to give us eyes for Jesus only and to restore the vision we give to other things and people that would take His place.  Here in God’s House, we cultivate our eyes for Jesus only no matter if the distraction entices or repulses.  It is what might be described as the development of a Christian world view.  This world view is to see ourselves and the world and our place in the world through the eyes of Jesus and only through the eyes of Jesus.

For the disciples this vision was crucial.  Up to this point, they had seen Jesus demonstrate glory and it was compelling.  Now, on the mount of transfiguration, our Lord reveals that glory.  Why now?  Because soon they must descend with Him down the mountain and back to the path that was to end at the cross and empty tomb.  They were given this glimpse of glory not as reward but because they needed to see what that glory is and what it is for.  Christ’s glory is not hidden by the cross but revealed in it.  Elijah was the prophet whose presence would announce that latter days in which God fulfilled all His promises.  Moses was there as law giver to point to Him who keeps the law and all righteousness for us and all believers – fulfilling His promise in full.
My friends, we live in critical times for the continuation of the faith and even for this congregation.  It is not that you and I have to decide how to confront and over come the all the enemies of Jesus and of the faith but that you and I need to keep our eyes on Jesus.  In this moment, God is looking for us to have eyes only for Jesus.  It is for our survival against any and all enemies of the kingdom and those whose goal and purpose it is to deny us the Kingdom.  That is why we have eyes for Jesus only.  It is for our calling of a pastor that we need to set aside feelings and opinions in order to have eyes for Jesus only in this process.

We have presumed that God’s primary concern is our happiness when His real concern is our holiness, that is bringing us from sin to righteousness, from death to life, from a world passing to the eternal dwelling place He is preparing for us.  None of us are mere onlookers as Jesus enters into His suffering and dies for us. Jesus insists that we will walk where He has walked.  We have no freedom to indulge ourselves but live in a constant state of self-denial, taking up the cross and not avoiding it, making the sacrifices required not to save us but to keep us as the saved.  For that we must have eyes for Jesus only.

Look at John’s Gospel and right after Jesus’ triumphal entry amid palms and hosannas some Greeks who were Godfearers come to Philip and make a request:  “Sir, we would see Jesus.”  My friends, is not that why you are here today?  It is the call of every pastor to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments so that you see Jesus.  Show us Jesus is the prayer of every Christ as they enter God’s House and that is the sole reason for the pastoral office.  He shows you the glory of the cross and empty tomb, of water that gives new birth, of absolution that forgives my sin, of the Word that preaches life into your ears and faith into your hearts, and of the bread that is Christ’s body and the cup that is His blood.  In the end, it is the only this I or any Pastor have to give you.  These means of grace are not signs of His glory but they are His glory, His saving glory to make you His own that you may live under Him in His kingdom here and now and forever.  In the holy name of Jesus.  Amen.


Chris said...

Transfiguration is on August 6. WHy Lutherans moved it is one of their most incredibly ridiculous liturgical innovations. And they have A LOT of innovations.

Pastor Peters said...

Rome is not without its own innovations. The Transfiguration was fixed as August 6 by Pope Calixtus III in 1457 as a thank offering for the victory over the Turks at Belgrade on that day in 1456. So its official date is not much older than the Reformation.