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Sunday, February 15, 2015

From Glory to Glory

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
As we begin, I want you to consider something.  Who is the one who made you?  Who is the one who formed you in the womb and called you by name?  God, our Father, the Creator of the Universe fearfully and wonderfully made you.  He handcrafted you, and because of that you are worthy.  You are worth more than the friends you have on Facebook.  You are worth more than the grades you got on a test.  You are worth more than the paycheck you bring home at the end of the week.  You are worth more than the label on the clothes you wear.  You are worth more than you could ever imagine because in the eyes of the Lord, you are loved, and you are worth dying for.  You are funny.  You are smart.  You are strong and powerful.  You are capable, and any voice that tells you different is from the enemy, and the next time you hear one of those voices you stand up and you say, “Nope, not me Satan.  I’m the child of the living God, cherished and loved and adored above all things by the Creator of all things for the glory of Him who is above all things, and I am…

Pastor: Whoa!  Whoa!  Whoa!  Vicar, what are you doing?!?!?
Vicar: …worthy.”  …Pastor, do you mind?  I’m preaching here.
Pastor: Are you sure, vicar?  Because preaching requires the proper understanding and proclamation of Law and Gospel, and that’s no Law and Gospel.
Vicar:  Well, pastor, I decided that condemning people for their sin ins just too negative and that not what people want to hear.  I wanted to make people feel good about themselves.  I wanted to make our message more attractive; something that people would enjoy hearing so that they’d keep coming back.  I’m trying to boost attendance, and besides, I want people to like me.
Pastor: We’re not here to make people like us, Vicar.  We’re here to preach the Word in its truth and purity, just like Paul did, and that requires both Law and the Gospel to be distinguished and proclaimed.  Do not put a veil over their hearts so that they do not see Christ and do not see the truth.  Preach the truth, Vicar, preach Christ, because what we preach is not of ourselves but is Christ alone.  We are preachers of the Word for His sake, not our own.
Vicar: Okay, okay Pastor.  I’ll do it your way.”
Pastor: Thank you, Vicar.
            Okay, so the truth.  Well, the truth is that I have been mixing Law and Gospel.  I have been telling you about how great you are and how worthy you are because God has created you.  I told you that because of this you deserve all kinds of good things, but this is not the truth.  The truth is that you deserve hell.  Yes, God has created you, but that is not enough.  We were created in the glory of God, bearing His likeness and image.  We were created to do His will.  God demands that we follow His will perfectly, and anything less He considers nothing more than a pile of dirty rags tossed over in the corner of the room worth nothing more than to be disposed of.  Adam and Eve were created perfect, that they did the Father’s will perfectly…that was until Satan entered the picture.  Satan came and told them that they were worthy of being gods themselves.  He told them that they deserved all kinds of good things, and he pulled a veil over their heart, causing them to lose sight of God and they sinned.  They were no longer perfect and lost the glory of God.  They were no longer worthy.
            Since then humanity has been trying to regain that glory.  Some have lost sight of God altogether and they glorify themselves as gods.  Others who remember God have tried to regain their glory by trying to once again be perfect.  The motivation for doing so is out of terror of being at odds with a holy and perfect God.  In our Old Testament reading today we encounter Moses coming down from Sinai with the tablets of the Law in his hand.  When the people saw him they were terrified because his skin was shining.  This did not terrify them simply because it was something that they were not used to, but it terrified them because in the glowing skin of Moses they were confronted with the reflection of a holy and perfect God, and they knew they were an unholy and imperfect people.  They were terrified not by Moses, but by God Himself, so Moses veiled His face when he was with the people, but when he was before God he left in unveiled.  The only hope the Israelites thought they had, therefore, was to follow the Law that God had given them perfectly.
            Paul says the Israelites were terrified because they did not understand.  They did not see God for who He truly is.  They only saw the perfect and holy God who troubled their sinful consciences, but Moses saw something more.  Moses also saw the gracious and forgiving God who would allow such a sinful man to stand before Him.  The Israelites were blind to this so Moses continued wearing the veil as long as he met with God on Sinai.  In this way the veil remained and the hearts of the Israelites were hardened so that they could only see the God that demanded perfection, even to this very day.  Instead of seeing God for who He truly is, they busy themselves trying to fulfill His Law and earn their own righteousness before Him.  When we refuse to see God full of grace and mercy, we too have a veil over our hearts and continue to try and find our own worthiness and glory before Him.
            But this is impossible.  We will never be able to justify ourselves using God’s Law.  We will never climb that ladder or make that ascent because the Law on its own only condemns us.  It is too much for us to bear because we are weak in the flesh.  When we try to justify ourselves by the Law, the Law finds us lacking and demands God’s wrath.  The work of the Law is only complete when we are condemned and thrown into hell.  This fact is indeed terrifying and should make us feel uncomfortable, yet as long as the veil remains over our hearts we can find no comfort or assurance.  If we live with this veil over our hearts we will continue to try and make our ascent and regain our glory before God by doing enough or being sincere enough or knowing enough or believing enough or whatever, but no matter how hard we try or how pure our motivations it will never be enough.  With God it’s all or nothing, and we will never stand up under that kind of scrutiny.  When we insist that I’m okay, you’re okay, we’re all okay we’re living a lie, for who here is not under the Law?
            One day, about two thousand years ago, a rabbi took three of His disciples up a mountain.  There, He transfigured before them.  His clothes became radiant, intensely white, like nothing else on earth.  And there appeared with Him Moses and Elijah, the representatives of the Law and the prophets and the ones who gave their testimony for God.  These three disciples stood in awe, amazed, even terrified.  They did not know what to say, and then a voice spoke from somewhere within cloud that had descended upon them.  It declared that this was His Son, and to listen to Him.  With that, the cloud vanished, along with Moses and Elijah and the radiant light.  It’s like the veil was lifted from the disciples for only a moment, and they were given a glimpse to see the glory of God.  But a moment later God’s glory withdrew back into its original source, and there, standing in its place, was Jesus only.  The eyes of the disciples were opened, if only for a moment, but they saw the glory of God shining as bright as can be, through Jesus.  This radiance wasn’t a mere reflection, as it was with Moses, but it was the fullness of God emanating from Christ Himself.
            There is no doubt that the disciples did not understand the significance of what they had just witnessed.  As they stood there gazing upon Jesus, Jesus told them to tell no one what they had seen.  That is, at least, not until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  In the very next verse, after our Gospel reading for today, we are told that the disciples kept the matter to themselves, wondering what this rising from the dead might mean.  Fortunately for us, we know what this resurrection meant, and what it says about that day on the mountain.  Dear Christians, we know this story: the fullness of God dwelt in human flesh.  Christ stepped down from His heavenly throne and came as a servant in human form.  He who is above all things submitted Himself to the Law He created.  He obeyed the Law perfectly, showing His glory to the world, yet He handed Himself over as a lamb to be slaughtered.  He did so for our sake, taking our sin into Himself.  In doing so, He received the punishment we deserved, and in exchange given us the glory that was His.
            So, I ask you again, who here is not under the Law?  The answer, brothers and sisters, is that no one here in under the Law.  Christ has fulfilled the Law for us, so we are freed from its burdens.  With Christ’s death and resurrection, the Law has perished and given way to the glory of Christ.  Christ has taken His glory, and has given it to each and every one of us so that you are in fact worthy to stand before God, not on your account but all for the sake of Christ and the blood He shed for you.  When we stand in Christ, we stand before God with an unveiled face and see Him in His full glory, full of mercy and grace, and we see just how far God was willing to go to save us from the clutches of death and hell.  And it is as we bask in God’s glory we are being transformed from a perishing earthly glory to a living glory that has no end.
            As we move in to the Lenten season on Sunday, it is my fervent prayer, that each and every one of you are turned to Christ.  I pray that you do not desperately cling to the veil of unbelief, but that you let it be lifted so that you are confronted with the reality of your sin, for this is the purpose of Lent.  Over these forty days may we stand in recognition of our sin and let the weight of condemnation press down upon us as the Law does its work, so that we more clearly see the glory of Christ and are driven deeper into His mercy.  It is only when we let go of the veil that can we see Christ for who He truly is and appreciate fully what He has done for us as we remember His death on Good Friday and celebrate His resurrection on Easter Sunday.  And remember, in Christ, you are worthy.

            May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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