Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 17:1-9 Sermon
March 2, 2014
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
----- "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise"
TLH 135 "'Tis Good, Lord, To Be Here"
WOV 653 "Jesus On The Mountain Peak"
----- "O Wondrous Type, O Vision Fair"
‘TIS GOOD LORD TO BE HERE
TEXT (vs. 4-5): “And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’”
Every year about this time, I do a little reminiscing. It was about this date in 1989 that I remember my parents taking me to the railway station inLincolnto begin what would be a life-changing journey for me.
I was 34 years old at the time, and fresh out of seminary. I had been ordained into the ministry in August of 1988, and I had received my first call. I had been commissioned to go toAustraliaand serve a small group of Christians, scattered over a rather large area. In accepting this call, I agreed that I would stay at least five years, which is a stipulation that is rather uncommon in the Lutheran church.
Accepting this call wasn’t easy either. It involved a lot of prayerful consideration. I was committing myself to something I really didn’t know anything about. I had never experienced a pastoral call, and I had never experiencedAustralia. And here I had agreed to a five year minimum term! This call was uncommon in another way too, in that I was given an option as to whether or not to take it. Generally seminarians are assigned their first call by an assignment committee. Congregations who are willing to accept a new seminary graduate for a pastor will put in a request to the assignment committee at the seminary for a candidate. The seminary graduate agrees ahead of time to take what the assignment committee decides to give him. That’s the way first calls into the ministry generally work.
But here, I was taking a call that nobody else seemed to want. A year or so previous to this, a representative fromAustraliacame to theUnited Statesand met with synodical and seminary officials to see what they could do to get a pastor.
It was a move that most pastors didn’t want to make. For most of them, it would have involved moving a whole family. But for me, it meant just moving myself, which was certainly a challenge too. Besides that, the salary wasn’t the greatest; actually about half of mission scale. And it meant being about 12,000 miles away from other family and loved ones. Homesickness might be a problem. So yes, it was a difficult call to fill.
So I arrived there the week of Palm Sunday in 1989. Here I was, just as green as grass. There are many details about my arrival that I remember. But the thing that I remember most was the people. They were willing to grow with me, and I with them. Together we were ready to do the work of spreading the gospel. Certainly it was a rewarding time, and the work of God’s kingdom was being carried out.
Several months before my fifth anniversary there, I received a call from a small congregation inKennesaw,Georgia, a northern suburb ofAtlanta. Since I hadn’t been inAustraliafive years yet, I returned the call and told them I couldn’t consider a call at that time because of my previous agreement. I told them not to wait for me, but to pursue other candidates.
It was just before Easter, during Holy Week of 1994 when I received not one, but three calls to consider. One call was toGrass Valley,California; to a mission congregation I had worked with one summer while I was in seminary. The second call was to a two-point parish in northernMinnesota. And the third call was once again to this small congregation inGeorgia.
I waited until after Easter to make a decision. I took a small trip up the Pacific coast, away from my home to contemplate things. Since I was holding three new calls, I got the message loud and clear that the Lord had different plans for me and for the congregations I was serving.
With prayerful consideration, I made the decision to accept the call to the congregation inGeorgia. This was a group that had been without a pastor for about 5 years, and nobody seemed too eager to go there. The congregation inCaliforniahad a retired pastor living there and serving them, and the call to northernMinnesota, Fertile and Crookston, was a call to two well-established congregations that never seemed to have too much trouble getting pastors. To my way of thinking, the congregation inGeorgiahad the greatest need for ministry.
So in 1994, I made my way back to theUnited States. I spent the next 4 ½ years inKennesaw,Georgiaserving the congregation there, and later on another congregation was added inCartersville,Georgia.
In 1998, October 14th to be exact, I resigned my call from the Kennesaw and Cartersville congregations. Through no fault of the congregations, I had made some mistakes during my ministry, mistakes that pretty much required my resignation. I take full responsibility for my past mistakes, and I am not shifting the blame upon anybody else. That’s all I’m going to say on that subject, as I don’t believe any good can be served by resurrecting past sins.
Resigning from a congregation and a synod does not mean that I resigned God, or I resigned from being a Christian; nor does it mean that someone “un-ordained” me, or that God did not want me to do his work. It was rather a time of change, a time of transition. God had different plans for me.
After returning to Lincoln, about seven months after my resignation in Georgia, after a period of training I was commissioned as a chaplain for the Lincoln Police and Fire departments, a position I still hold to this day. I have served two consecutive terms on the Board of Directors for the chaplains. And after sitting out a while, I was re-elected to the board, where I am in the 2nd year of my first term (again!). My ministry had taken a different direction.
And now, for almost ten years, I have had the privilege of serving as your called pastor here at Mighty Fortress. I am indeed thankful that the Lord has seen fit to call me into your midst, and it is my prayer that I will be able to continue to serve you for years to come.
Why have I taken this opportunity to elaborate on my past? Today is Transfiguration; what does any of this have to do with the Transfiguration account?
The answer to that can be found in the first words out of Peter’s mouth on the Mount of Transfiguration: “Lord, it is good that we are here.”
As I reflect back, I can see the hand of God at work in my life and ministry. And there have been numerous instances during that time that I have said to myself, “Lord, it is good that I am here.” I have gone where God has wanted me, and I am here because God wants me to be here. That’s the way a divine call works. The call seeks the man; the man does not seek the call.
In our text for today, we are told about the account of the Transfiguration. If something is transfigured, that means that the appearance has been changed—maybe you could think of someone who changes a car into a street rod. It’s the same car, but it looks totally different.
In this case, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John high upon a mountain. And after they get there, Jesus is transfigured. It’s still Jesus, but he has a totally different appearance. In Mark’s account of the Transfiguration, the Bible tells us that “…his clothes became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller (which means “launderer”) could bleach them.” The Old Testament Prophets Moses and Elijah also appear with Jesus, and they converse with one another.
Of course this scene was something the likes of which the disciples had never seen. They were quite understandably shaken. And so Peter sort of blurts out what is on his mind.
First of all, he knows that this is a good thing, and he says so. “Lord, it is good that we are here…” are the words that he used. He knew that being in Jesus’ company was always desirable, even though the situation was new and rather fearful.
And then he makes an offer: “…If you wish, I will make three tents here, (or ‘booths’ or ‘shelters’ as it is sometimes translated) one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Maybe this wasn’t a momentary thing; maybe they were going to make a home here, even though it would be a temporary one. Some say Peter’s gesture was a foolish one, and perhaps it was, but I think it was said with all good intentions; at least he was trying to be hospitable.
When I read this account, I always find it interesting that the disciples automatically knew that the other two men with Jesus were Moses and Elijah. How did they know their identity? There were no photos, no video footage, and no portraits. There wasn’t anything that would have preserved their appearance. How did they know?
The Bible doesn’t say how they knew, they just did. I do believe this gives us an idea of what heaven will be like, in that we will not need any introductions to people; we will just know them.
So why did Jesus do the Transfiguration? Why did it happen? I believe there are several reasons for this.
First of all, this was another way that Jesus gave validity that he was who he said he was. Jesus allowed at least some of his divine glory to shine through. This wasn’t just sunlight reflecting off the water like some have supposed. The disciples would have known what reflected sunlight looked like. This was no ordinary earthly light. This was definitely God in the flesh, right before them.
Secondly, Moses and Elijah were there. This was proof that Christ didn’t come to start a new religion. Jesus didn’t come to replace anything. It wasn’t a breaking away of what was already established. Rather, this was a continuation of the faith. Christianity started in the Garden of Eden, and will climax on Judgment Day.
Finally, God the Father came to them in a cloud. He spoke the words, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Jesus’ words had authority, and what he was saying was absolute truth. Once again God the Father gives approval to Jesus and what he is doing.
Just prior to this, Jesus had spent time instructing his disciples. He had been telling them about what was going to happen to him. His suffering and death would be forthcoming soon. The times ahead would be difficult. The disciples would wonder how God would ever allow things like that to happen.
The disciples needed that added bit of assurance that God was really the one in charge, and that things were happening according to his will. That is the reason why we have Transfiguration Sunday right before the beginning of the Lenten season, where we reflect upon Jesus’ passion.
As we look at Jesus, we see truth—especially the truth about ourselves. What happened to Jesus on that mount is similar to what happens to each of us.
Sin in our lives has made us unfit for God’s kingdom or to do his work. Sin has created this huge chasm between us and God. By ourselves, we cannot stand in his holy presence. His glory is too great, and we are so unworthy.
But listen to the words of the Prophet Isaiah in chapter 1 verse 18: “Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
Here we have some great metaphors about sin, and what happens through faith in Christ. Sin is like a red stain which has been set fast into a piece of white fabric. Nothing on earth can completely remove it.
But through faith in Christ, that stain of sin has been removed. Christ’s blood has washed that sin away. And now we can stand before God a dazzling stark white. The Bible tells us in Philippians chapter 3 verse 21 what we will be like in heaven. We are told that Jesus “…will change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.”
Jesus was on the mount with Moses and Elijah, two Old Testament Prophets. It will do us well to remember that both Moses and Elijah were sinners. Both of them had broken God’s law and deserved only his wrath and punishment. Their sins, just like ours separated them from God. All of the good things they did for thekingdomofGodwould have been of no avail without faith in the promised Messiah, the Saviour. On their own, they were in no way righteous.
But there they stand on the mount. They are conversing with Jesus. They are sharing in his glory. They have received their heavenly reward.
Through faith in Jesus, we too shall stand right along with them. The glory that they now have is a sure and certain guarantee for us as well. We don’t have to be prophets or apostles or evangelists or anything else to merit God’s grace and favor. All we have to be is believers in Christ our Saviour.
God has certainly blessed my life and my ministry. In retrospect, I have seen his hand actively working. No it hasn’t been easy. There have been the proverbial ups and downs along the way. And I haven’t been perfect either. I have, and I still daily sin much. I’m just as much human as everybody else is, and I am constantly in need of the forgiveness that comes through Jesus.
There are indeed some even today that are critical of me and the fact that I’m serving here as your pastor. Some have said that past sins should keep a man from the pulpit, regardless of repentance or the assurance of God’s forgiveness and forget-ness.
Thankfully, those are the opinions of people, and such opinions are not always in accordance with the will of God. The call I have to serve you as pastor is a call from God, which has been extended to me through you, the congregation. It is not something of human origin or arrangement. It is not something I sought from you. I would not be here today if God didn’t want me to be here. I am here by divine authority.
Therefore as we continue into the future, we can expect God’s blessing. In our text for today, God spoke from the cloud: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And so we do. Together, we can say just like Peter did in our text for today, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”