Sunday, August 6, 2017

In this world that is changing, turning upside down so quickly...


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Consider the room underneath our sanctuary, where the various cabinets and closets are.  If the power ever goes off down there, you are really in the dark.  In the days when I used to watch recess at LMS, I would sometimes take a grade down there on a rainy day and turn off all the lights.  They loved it!  You could hold your hand this far from your nose and not see it.  What an accurate metaphor for the world we live in!  The Gospel is the sunshine, the energy that enlightens a world that has no energy of its own.  It has gloom, and despair, and a sense of the tragic.  Human reason is not a light.  It is a mirror that reflects and focuses light as long as one is shining, but reason is fallen, compromised by sin, so the only thing it is able to reflect is more darkness.  Like a flashlight downstairs, the Word of God, the completely reliable Word of God, penetrates the darkness.  When Peter refers to "the prophetic Word," he means the Old Testament, which in his day was the Bible.  The apostles added more details, but the message is always the same.  The Biblical message enlightens those who pay attention to it. No one else has anything but darkness.

Now let's go a few verses up from our sermon text, up to verse 4 in fact.  There Peter referred to something unparalleled in human experience.  He said that Christ shared His divine nature with us.  Think about that!  It isn't enough that He took away our sins!  It isn't enough that we have peace in our hearts!  It isn't enough that we have comfort in the day of trouble, or the hope of heaven.  We have all those, to be sure, but now He gives us a share in His divinity.  Wasn't this the very thing that the snake offered the universal mother?  His way to get that was by disobeying.  Jesus gives us the opposite.  His perfect obedience is credited to us.  He gives a spiritual life that begins when we are born again of water and the Spirit.  Even as heaven and earth were born when the Spirit moved on the primeval water, so we are born again when we are washed and sanctified by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, applied through Holy Baptism.  Our Catechism calls this life "the new man."

We think our technology enlightens us.  It might give us capabilities, for good or evil, but it cannot make us divine.  It raises the stakes, but does not give us a better hand.  It took a generation to learn the secrets of the atom.  Within a decade mankind made it into the most destructive bomb imaginable.  The church has also been seduced by technology, such as management techniques, marketing, and entertainment.  The results have been dreadful.  Instead of the shepherd, the model for clergy has become the CEO.  Instead of ministry, the church pursues people management.  Instead of worship, insert entertainment.  The church has come to dislike doctrine, but if you don't have doctrine, you don't have a church.  Without the divine light, the church is just another part of the darkness.

Peter contrasts the certainty of the Word with the myths devised by men.  Some scholars have called the Gospel a myth.  That had better not be the case.  If the Gospel is a myth, if Jesus didn't really die and rise again, then there is no point in having a church.  No one can build faith on a myth.  The ethical teachings of Jesus are meaningless unless He had authority to say them.  The Christian Gospel is the one certain, true word that we have in our society today.  It isn't "my truth" or "the church's truth."  It is the truth.  I cannot impose it on you, but I can be the messenger who says that when Jesus returns, He will impose it on the world.  That is how it is going to be.

Our world does have myths.  Secular humanism has its mythical narrative which it calls the story of Progress.   It teaches that mankind heroically overcomes all obstacles by applying technology over nature, including finally his own nature.  There are also spiritual myths, that talk about the higher self, or the masters, or reincarnation.  All such things are devised by men.  No matter how sincere those who hold them might be, they are wrong.  Nothing against sincerity, but it does not make up for being wrong.  Stalin was a sincere Communist, which made him a lackey of hell.  You can say the same thing of Mohammed, or the New Age people.

Christians are not against spirituality so long as you keep it connected to holiness.  Christian spirituality seeks the cross.  New Age spirituality is self-indulgent, disobedient, striving for the very things the snake offered in Genesis 3.  There have always been some in the church that have tried to combine Christianity with the occult.  Unfortunately, that turns lights off, not on.

But the apostles did not make up stories.  They wrote about what they saw and heard.  On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John heard the Voice.  They knew God was speaking to them.  They saw Jesus glorified in their presence, for as Peter tells us in verse 18, we were with Him on the holy mountain.  Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, representing the Law and the Prophets, but the core of the Gospel took place on another hill. Jesus did not bask in the glory of the Transfiguration.  He was headed for Calvary.  Immediately He warned the apostles not to talk about what they had seen until after He died and rose again.  The good news is that He did both of those things.

Is there any compelling reason why we should believe the apostles?  Why not?  They were practical men, not visionaries.  They were experienced men of the world, not very gullible.  They had no conflict of interest, since the government threatened them with death for telling what they had seen.  They were men of good repute, honest and industrious.  In the story they wrote, they did not make their own roles very heroic, but they did keep their eyes on the Scriptures, showing us how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies.  Why should we not believe them?  This is not a myth.  This is the one genuine light in the dark world.  We witness to this whenever we light the altar candles, beginning at the top to show that all light must come from God.  The Word is our witness from the Holy Spirit, to make us certain that Jesus has saved us, that forgiveness and life are ours by His cross.  We can find certainty nowhere else.  We can look to the Word.  Soon the dawn of eternity will swallow up the darkness of time.  Until then, pay attention to the Light that we do have.  AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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