Monday, February 16, 2015

It is a climb, but it is worth coming out of the valley sometimes

THE VIEW FROM THE TOP


This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired
This was the Baby of Christmas!  A couple of weeks ago we were celebrating His birth.  Now we see Him in far more glorious circumstances.  The angel had told His Mother that He would be called the Son of the Most High.  Now the thundering Voice confirms it.  No crowded inn pushes Him into a barn today.  The Son of God appears amid the lightning and thunder.  We heard the Voice at His Baptism.  Now we hear it again, as if Jesus were being confirmed.  He was gaining additional strength for the journey to Calvary, which He was soon to begin.  As for Peter, James, and John, they would find new respect for this Carpenter.  In Psalm 84 the sons of Korah help us to understand how they must have felt.  All human souls were made for fellowship with God.  Our hearts and our flesh cry out for the living God.  We yearn for His presence.

What is this Psalm about?  The sons of Korah were musicians, singing about the temple Solomon had built.  It was situated on top of Mt. Moriah, very high ground on the east side of Jerusalem, the place where Abraham offered Isaac to God.  Solomon had lavishly decorated his temple with golden cherubim and palm trees in all of its courts.  A great bronze altar stood in the courtyard for the morning and evening sacrifices.  Inside, there was even more beauty.  In the sanctuary one could see the golden altar of incense, the seven-branched candlestick, and the table of the holy bread, twelve loaves representing the firstfruits of the tribes of Israel.  Then, at the very center, was something far less magnificent, but far holier than anything else.  There were the curtains that sealed off the little, windowless room where the Lord dwelt in unapproachable mystery.  Inside of it was the Ark of the Covenant, which Moses had made in the desert.  Solomon, David's son, built the temple to enshrine that Ark.  Korah's sons were the ministers of music.  They thought they were in the center of the universe.  Here was the chosen seat of the Lord in His chosen city.  Here was the goal of all the annual pilgrims who crossed the countryside of Judah to worship in this place.  Here God had blessed David, a leader of a group of desert guerillas, and set him in the place of the Jebusite kings.  Here Solomon was a priest after the Order of Melchizedek.

That temple, which today we call the "first temple," was destroyed in 587 BC by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.  A second temple was built on the same spot.  It was still standing during the ministry of Jesus, but forty years later the Romans would not leave one brick on top of another.  It isn't a temple of bricks and mortar that we see on the Mountaintop.  Here we see the Third Temple, the Perfect Temple, the glorified Body of the Son of David.  One could imagine all the angels bursting into song as the Voice thundered out the true identity of this Galilean Carpenter.  How privileged were those who saw it!  But we wonder, why only three?  Where were the other nine?  Certainly the empty seats around us here should remind us of that same question.  After six days we will be here again, to begin our annual journey to Jerusalem.  Will 25% be considered good attendance?  Doesn't everyone want to see the view from the top?

How much we need that vision!  The sons of Korah couldn't have put it better:  My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.  Nothing else can satisfy our deepest longings.  Birds may build their nests anywhere - they were made for this world, but we cannot be at home here in the desert.  We might try the pleasures of the flesh, but they soon grow monotonous.  We turn to wisdom, but worldly wisdom is vain.  Wealth and power look like they can help, but they never turn out right.  God built desire into us, so it will not die.  The Buddhists err when they say it is our problem.  Desire is a sign calling us to God.  The aging king Solomon tried everything and concluded that it was all vanity.  Poor man!  He did not commune regularly with his God.  Not that we could ever rise to God.  That is plain foolishness, but we have His house, His Word, and the blessed Sacraments that He commanded.  These are only an oasis; the world is still a desert, but they call us to our real home, backward to paradise lost, and forward to heaven promised.

Peter, James and John wanted to build sanctuaries on the mountaintop.  We built ours down in the city.  That was good.  We wanted our sanctuary to be a witness to the people of Cleveland.  In its own way, it was a mountaintop for our souls.  The space we rent is sanctuary space, filled with the beauty of the Lord.  The Word calls us to look down at Calvary, and beyond it to the empty tomb with the heavenly messengers at its door.  Our Lord is risen.  He is coming again.  For that reason we made our sanctuary face east, the Savior's return is the dawn of the everlasting day.  Those statues showed Jesus flanked by two evangelists, the two who were also apostles, Matthew to remind us that He is human, John to witness that He is divine.  Soon we will behold another Transfiguration;  Jesus appearing in the elements of the Holy Eucharist.  At such a time we certainly ought to examine ourselves, to approach this place with godly fear, for we are coming to meet the living God.  Be sure He is not here to mark iniquities, but to pardon them, not to claim His rights, but to shower us with grace.  If you have dozed during this sermon, don't feel bad.  Peter, James, and John couldn't stay awake either.  Fortunately they woke up in time or they would have missed that blessed vision.  So we must be alert now as the Church offers us the best things of all: the Body and Blood of Jesus.

It is not Zion that makes us happy, but He that dwells in Zion.  He meets us here, making this place holy.  Without the Savior's presence this would merely be a pile of bricks, but the living God is here, and you take Him with you when you leave.  If you cannot attend the services of His house, He is with you still.  He is with you in the valley of the shadow of death, and when you climb your personal Calvary.  He has made you a stone in His spiritual temple, so you need never depart.

The disciples heard Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus about His death.  That's what we hear in this place, too.  We speak of Jesus crucified and risen, for by that He makes us holy.  By His death Jesus took our sins upon Himself.  To share His cross is the first step in sharing His crown.

So we like the view from the top.  We enjoy this peaceful isolation, and want to stay here forever.  Jesus will not allow that.  The mountaintop is not the promised land.  It is an oasis only.  The way to our permanent home is back down into the world that is waiting to be saved.  May this holy feast strengthen us for the journey ahead, help us follow close order behind our Lord as He sets His face to Jerusalem.  May this brief taste of joy reinforce our faith as we return to a world that is consuming itself with sin.  After six days, we will be ready to come again, to climb to our Lord's place of prayer, and follow Him to His death and resurrection.  AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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