Archive for the ‘Matthew 17:1-9’ Category

Living Beyond the Mountain Top

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Transfiguration of our Lord Sunday A, February 26, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here.”” [Matthew 17:1]

Transfiguration-Cal-34-Mar1Have you ever had something happen to you, which was so profound that it seemed to change how you look at everything in your life? Peter, James, and John did, but to understand their experience correctly, we need to look at their recent experiences with Jesus.

In the last couple of years, they experienced one miracle after another.

They must have felt like they were on top of the world. And then, out of nowhere, Jesus started talking about denying themselves, taking up their cross and following Him into suffering and death! Why, He even said that if they wanted to save their lives they must first lose them. Then He said that even He would need to suffer and die at the hands of sinful men in order to fulfill the will of the Father.

Now to Peter, that sounded like crazy talk, and he didn’t want to listen to anymore of that doom and gloom, so he took Jesus aside and tried to enlighten Him on how he thought a Messiah should speak. But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that; that was the devil speaking not Peter, so Jesus rebuked Peter with the often-quoted words, “Get behind me Satan.” He said that Peter was seeking the way of the world, and not the way of God!

Peter and the other apostles must have been thinking, “What’s going on here? This isn’t what I signed up for! What happened to all of our visions of glory that come with ‘walking and talking with our minds stayed on Jesus’ the Messiah?” You see, they wanted more of the glory, fame, and high life, but Jesus was telling them that instead of living large and in-charge, they would need to experience shame, suffering, and death. And then out of nowhere, Jesus gave them this little bit of information to think about: “Some of you will not taste death until you see the kingdom of God come in power.” [Mark 9:1]

So now, six days later there is Peter along with James, and John, up on a mountaintop, watching Jesus pray and seeing the kingdom of God enveloping them in power.

God’s power and glory always comes through His Living Word and many times Jesus, the Living Word, comes when we least expect Him.

It was getting late and they were tired; their eyes got heavy when all of a sudden, boom! It was as if all of the light in the world was pouring out of Jesus and the two visitors that suddenly appeared. And they weren’t just any visitors either; they were Moses and Elijah!

The three earth bound apostles were overwhelmed with the experience. The other gospels tell us that Jesus, Moses and Elijah were speaking about Jesus death, resurrection, and the day He would leave this sinful world, but Peter skipped right over those Words. All he seemed to care about was the glory! He must have thought, “Now this is the kind of Messiah I signed up to follow!” So with a mixture of fear and excitement (after all he was standing in the presence of God and the two greatest heroes of faith that ever lived), Peter interrupts Jesus’ discussion with these deep and insightful words: “(Hey, a) Lord, it is (a)good (thing) that we’re here (with you).” Do you want me to pitch a few tents for you and your guests?

I call that a Cool Hand Luke moment; you know… “What we have here, is a failure to communicate.”

With all of the responses someone should or could have had, maybe something like Alleluia, why in the world did Peter ruin that divine moment with such a stupid statement and question? Because many times when it comes to listening to God, we have a listening problem.

KGO talk radio in San Francisco once conducted a call-in poll. Ron Owens invited listeners to express their opinion. Thirty-five percent said yes, 33 percent said no and 32 percent were undecided. One listener, aghast at the large number of undecideds, protested, “It’s this sort of apathy that’s ruining America.”

The only problem with all these responses was that the radio station had never posed a question. It’s not apathy that is getting most of us in trouble – it is shooting our mouths off and shouting our lungs out over things that we know nothing about.
After Peter’s “Cool-Hand Luke” moment, God allowed a thick cloud to appear, and it suddenly swept Moses and Elijah away. Why? Because God was making sure that they both heard Him speak, and that they also understood why He spoke.

Aren’t we a lot like those apostles too?

We love it when we come to church and we get to sing our favorite hymn or spiritual. We love it when the preacher is talking about heaven and what a time will have there with no more suffering, pain, sickness, and death, but as soon as the message starts showing us where we fall short or what God expects from us, we tune it out.

We love to be entertained for about an hour, but as soon as the service starts cutting into our Sunday afternoon plans we get fidgety, and then irritated! Or maybe, we love the fellowship and coffee but get bored with the liturgy and ritual! You see, like Peter we say that it’s good to be here in church, but only if it meets our desires; as soon as worship time gets personal we become nervous and hope that it ends soon.

Now you might not interrupt the sermon or the readings with a foolish statement like Peter’s, but you too have your “Cool-Hand Luke” moments. For you, it happens the minute you tune out to what’s happening in Divine Service and tune into what you wish was happening. Peter wanted to silence the conversation and stay in the glory moment, and we aren’t any better. We love those mountaintop highs of worship, and if we could make it happen, that’s all we would ever experience.

Does that mean that emotion during worship is bad? No, not at all, but the good times aren’t suppose to be the center of why we worship. So what’s the solution?

Well, we just need to let Jesus be Jesus and then let Him do what He does. Do you see what I just did there? I took the emphasis off of you and me and put it on Jesus. That’s always the solution to most every thing, isn’t it? Yes church, we must remember that worship, our worship of God is simply our response to what He has done and is doing right now for us! This is what we call Divine Service; God’s service amongst and within us; His work of dealing with our sins as individuals and as a congregation.

In our Epistle lesson, St. Peter used his mountaintop experience and the Word of God he heard that day, as a way to guide both his life and ours’ every day as we live not on the mountain top but in the valleys.

The greatest growth in the apostle’s lives did not take place on the mountaintop, but instead it took place on the way to a garden and a rocky hill. The vision of Moses and Elijah is not what shaped the three, but instead it was the three years they spent with Jesus listening to His Word; the very Word that would predict His own betrayal and death; it would lead them to the Garden of Gethsemane where He was arrested and then to Golgotha where they witnessed their Savior’s death upon a cross. It was not Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration that impacted them eternally but instead, it was His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, which confirmed that “truly He was the Son of God” for them and for the world.

The day Jesus was crucified, that hill where they planted His cross became the highest mountain in the world, because it reached heaven for us. Jesus did not go up that hill to pray, but he did pray, he prayed for you: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” You see friends; the experience at the Mt. of Transfiguration is inferior to the experience at Calvary’s holy hill, because it is only at Calvary where you receive forgiveness of sins.

Peter and the boys missed the obvious. They were awed by Jesus’ glory, because He was their man, the Messiah who would be their champion by righting all wrongs. They were so excited about what they thought Jesus would do that they missed what God had already done. There standing with Jesus, were Moses and Elijah shining in the same glory as Jesus. Moses the great teacher who brought us God’s law, was listening to Jesus. Elijah, the great prophet who was taken up to heaven in bodily form, was listening too. What did it all mean? Only Jesus could explain it; and to make sure that they would one day understand, God’s Divine Service kicked into action again. Moses and Elijah disappeared within a dense cloud of God’s glory and the voice of the Father announced: “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.”

How does our worship go wrong?

It happens when we shut down our hearts and minds to the message in exchange for the experience; when we allow Jesus Word to become secondary to the experience. How does God make things right? By taking our focus off of the experience and putting it back onto the Word, this Word: “Jesus is My beloved Son, my elected One; LISTEN TO HIM!”
The truth is, without the Word of God speaking to us, there can be no experience. What is the experience? Dying and living and living and dying. In the Word you hear God’s law make demands that you can never meet; this is a Word that terrifies you, because you are a sinner standing in the middle of God’s perfect and blinding glory, and the result is your death, the death of your glory.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news about His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, you hear about a loving God who came to you, to take away your sins; the result is new life, a life free of condemnation and full of God’s love. In this good news you are taught that Jesus walked the painful way to the cross for you; He suffered and died to pay for your sins. In His death He conquered not just your sin and the devil, but also your own death. In His death and resurrection, all things can be made new again, even you!

In your baptism, Jesus brought you into His glory by drowning and destroying your old sinful nature and by bringing you into the cloud of His divine presence. In your baptism He chose you and He cleansed you. And what He cleanses, He also molds and changes. What He molds, He fills. And what He fills, He uses. So now, you live! Every day you choose to live for God as you put to death your old sinful and self-serving nature; you live for God and you live for others!

When the light show is over and the glory cloud vanishes, there is no one but you and Jesus, but not the bright as the sun Jesus, but the flesh and blood Jesus. He’s the one who moves around in this world of sin, loving, suffering and dying for sinners. He’s the One who speaks to them and through His Word makes them saints. How does He do that? Through the proclamation of His church… through you and me!

Remember in our gospel reading when He told the three not to say a word to anyone about what they had seen until He had risen from the dead? Well that time has come and gone. In case you haven’t noticed, everyone who knows is telling anyone who doesn’t what Jesus life, death, resurrection and ascension means… it means the forgiveness of all sins and eternal life! But you can only share that message if you are willing to come down off of the mountain top of worship and go out into the real world where there are real sinful and hurting people, dying without knowing Jesus. The exciting part about all of this is the fact that God wants to reach them through you!

So, until we meet again next Sunday for our next encounter with God’s divine service and our next foretaste of the glory to come, may He forever lead and guide you by the Word of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior… AMEN!

The Lord’s Prayer-Part 5

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

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Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Midweek Lent Message
April 6, 2011

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,” (Matthew 6:7-14, ESV)

Living Between the Mountaintop Experiences

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

  Transfiguration Sunday; Epiphany; Sanctification; Exodus 24:8-18; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

Transfiguration of our Lord-February 3, 2008
Vicar Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church
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“Rise, and have no fear.”


You may be familiar with the movie Forrest Gump, but what you may not know is that the movie was really a parody on the adventures of Peter Jenkins, the author of the best-seller “Walk Across America.” In the 1970’s, Peter decided to walk across the U.S. to find out what life was all about.  
     Something great happened to him during his travels, something he never anticipated, he was given faith!  While traveling through Alabama he came across a huge revival. He decided to attend, and at some point, God’s Word grabbed him. When the invitation was given to become a Christian, Jenkins walked down the aisle.
    He heard a lot of people trying to explain to him what just happened.   He heard words like: “Born again…,” “Saved…,” “The Lord led you here tonight…,” “Praise the Lord…,” “Ain’t God good?”  

    Mary, the woman who first spoke to him, said “Peter, this great elation that you’re feeling now – You are feeling great elation, aren’t you?” “Yes,” Peter replied.  (Well), “at this moment it may seem like these great feelings are going to last forever, but they won’t,” she told him. “Being a Christian is not based on feelings. You’re on a mountain top now, but someday, sooner or later, you’ll be far away from these great feelings. You may even wonder if all this ever happened.
    “Your Christian walk is based on faith, not feelings,” Mary explained. Peter had never thought about that. As he put it, “I was so thrilled that there could be good feelings mixed in with faith that I really didn’t care about her opinions.”
    More than twenty years have passed since that revival. “I was on a mountain top that night,” Peter reflected. “The feelings lasted a long time, but that mountain top hasn’t lasted all these years. Maybe I’ve been on more mountain tops than some, but I’ve also climbed, sometimes crawled, out of some awfully steep valleys, too.”

Most of us have had mountaintop experiences, perhaps not just like Peter Jenkins, but similar in that we were invigorated by an encounter with something historic that clearly demonstrated God’s presence working in our world. Let’s try a few historical mountain top experiences, that some of us were around for: I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” (MLKJ)   “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.”  (JFK) “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Neil Armstrong); “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” (Ronald Regan) Can you remember these great moments in history?  It’s possible, you even remember them vividly.  Are you the very same person, today, as the person who witnessed these moments in history?  I don’t think so; you see in addition to these great mountaintop experiences you have also spent some low times in the valley.  As our friends in the south might say, “You’ve been rode hard and put away wet a time or two.” 

Today, two of our scripture readings are centered upon wonderfully spiritual mountaintop experiences that were nothing short of miraculous.  In our Exodus reading, Moses, and a select few were allowed to climb the mountain of God and they saw God, and had a party that included food and drink!  In our gospel reading, we meet up with six men on a mountaintop, two of them long since dead, one who was revealed to be the Son of God and three others who were scared out of their wits!

Before Peter, John and James ascended to the mountaintop with Jesus, they heard some very alarming news from Him.  He had just told them for the first time that in the not too distant future his fate included being rejected, beaten, and killed in the very city that they were slowly making their way towards, Jerusalem.  Now this terrified and confused them.  What kind of Messiah would be beaten and put to death by the very people He came to save?  How can Jesus save us if He is dead?  God knew the confusion and fear that was in their hearts, and as a loving Father He sought to give them peace and confidence in His Son, who was in fact their long awaited Savior.  So Jesus led Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain to pray and find clarity, peace and strength for what lay ahead of them.  There on that mountain, God allowed them to see two important figures of Biblical history meeting and talking with Jesus. 

There was Moses who represented God’s Holy Law, and Elijah, who represented all of the prophets that God had ever used to foretell the coming of the Messiah.  Even though the apostles couldn’t hear what was being discussed, this meeting confirmed everything that Jesus had been telling them, mainly that He had come to fulfill the demands of the Law and bring the promise of God’s forgiveness, mercy and peace for the world.  From all around them, God’s glory beamed, making the words of the discussion unimportant.  But what if this mountaintop experience was nothing more than a passing dream, a wisp of smoke that would soon vanish, as the emotion faded?  Well God provided for that contingency as well, when He said, “This is my Son, my chosen one; listen to Him.”  Here in these 10 words, we along with the apostles are ensured that Jesus ministry to seek and save the lost was not just the mission of a well-intentioned man, but the mission of the God the Son, a mission that is empowered by God’s Spirit, and finds its source from the very heart of God the Father.

Peter, James and John needed to hear these words, not only to confirm that what they had just experienced was true, but also so that they could by faith, trust in Jesus leadership and follow Him where ever He led them.  We too need too need to hear these words.  We need to experience the realization that Jesus wasn’t just a cute baby born in Bethlehem destined for greatness, but rather He is the very essence of God who took on human flesh so that we could know Him as a brother and as a friend; so that we could know His Father as our Father.  We too need to experience the realization that God loves us enough to come to us; that He not only knows us as no other could, but that He calls us to His side by name. 

The apostles were amazed by what they had just experienced there on the mountaintop.  Who of us would not be?  Can you recall a time in your life when you felt that God’s presence was surrounding you?  Maybe you felt as Peter, James, and John must have felt, as if heaven had enveloped you. These experiences are what we might call the ultimate mountaintop experience.  Who would want something like that to end?!  Peter didn’t!  Always the fast talker, Peter blurted out, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah!”  Peter was trying to delay the inevitable; he did not want his out of this world experience to end.  Friends, we are not so different from him; we too love our “mountaintop experiences”.  We love to live in the moment where it seems heaven and earth meets, but eventually we must leave because…. 

There is little growth up on the mountaintop.  As beautiful and majestic as a mountain top vista can be, we are quickly reminded that the air gets thinner up there and the plants get scarcer.  On mountain tops, you find mostly rock and dirt. For growth, we have to come down the mountain and go into the valleys, where there is an abundance of water, which produces lush greenery and rich colors. But to do this we like Peter, James, and John must by faith respond to the command of God which orders us to trust, listen and follow Jesus.  We must follow Him where ever He leads us, even if we know where He leads will be painful and difficult.  Friends, the greatest growth in the apostle’s lives did not take place on the mountaintop, but instead it took place on the way to a garden and a rocky hill.  The vision of Moses and Elijah is not what shaped the three, but instead it was the three years they spent with Jesus listening to His Word; the very Word that would predict His own betrayal and death; it would lead them to the Garden of Gethsemane where He was arrested and then to Golgotha where they witnessed their Savior’s death upon a cross.  It was not Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration that impacted them eternally but instead, it was His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, which confirmed that “truly He was the Son of God” for them and for the world.  The day Jesus was crucified, that hill where they planted His cross became the highest mountain in the world, because it reached heaven for us.  Jesus did not go up that hill to pray, but he did pray, he prayed for you: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  You see friends; the experience at the Mt. of Transfiguration is inferior to the experience at Calvary’s holy hill, because it is only at Calvary where you receive forgiveness of sins.

Oh we love our mountain top experiences, where it seems life is good.  We like the days of peace and happiness to be strung together like a beautiful set pearls, but we know this too will pass.  We know that we can’t live in a moment, and we know that life, sometimes hard life is just around the corner; but our human nature fights to make those moments last.  But Christ taps us on the shoulder and says, “Rise and have no fear.”

Dear friends, when God’s Word call us to leave this place and go out into our communities, communities where there is often feelings of fear, anger, and worry, we must be confident that like the apostles, when we look up, we will see no one except Jesus leading us out and empowering us with His presence to demonstrate God’s love and forgiveness. (Mat. 17:7-8)  Yes dear saints, like the apostles, we too must go out into our communities because that is where Jesus leads us. 

When we go out from here, we must remember that Jesus is with us.  He is with us in His Word, a Word which promises that through Jesus, God is for us and not against us.  He is with us in the remembering of our Holy Baptism, the day He claimed us as His own; He is with us in His Holy Supper where He nourishes us with His own body and blood, promising nothing less than the completed forgiveness of sins.  At His table, we see the very veil separating heaven and earth part as we feast with all the company of heaven, eternally praising God and saying “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabbath rest; heaven and earth are full of your glory!” And finally he is here with us through His Holy Spirit who continually carries our prayers, even the ones that we can’t seem to find words for, and when those prayers reaches the thrown of Heaven, God hears the voice of one who is perfectly pleasing to Him; one whom He has loved with an eternal and everlasting love; He hears you! 

Let’s pray…Heavenly Father, as we leave the season of Epiphany and begin our slow Lenten walk towards Jerusalem, waken us afresh to your goodness, to the reality of evil, the pain of suffering and the beauty of your creation.  Then may we serve you with urgency, knowing full well the necessity of your saving love working through us in this fallen world.  In Jesus name… AMEN!