Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Mardi Gras - Dina's visit wrap-up

Grace's mother Dina went back to Ottawa today, after a week-long visit. We all had a really nice time, and thanks to Dina for being such a big help making suggestions for selling the house and assisting Grace with various projects.

For the benefit of our family members (the rest of you will probably not find the following to be compelling reading...), here is a wrap-up of the week's activities...

Tuesday, Feb 21 - Dina arrives from below-zero Ottawa. Grace picked her up at the Louis Armstrong airport in 60-something degree weather. They came back to the house and made a loaf of pear cardamom bread, made a turducken roll, and prepared poached pears. Not bad for the first day off the blocks! I was putting in a long day at the church, so I didn't get home until 10:00 pm. I had a nice dinner, that's for sure! Also, our long-awaited Gevalia shipment came in - what great timing, and what great coffee!

Wednesday, Feb 22 - We all went in to Salem in the morning. Dina, Grace, and Leo sat in on my 6th grade religion class. The class turned into a press conference about Canada. Grace sang "O Canada" in both official languages, with Dina on backup vocals. The questions were rather interesting. One kid asked if Canada had more cars or horses. Another kid asked Dina if she could speak Canadian. Several kids wanted to know if Canada had McDonald's. Latin class was less interesting, as I gave my students a reward for academic excellence by letting them go outside. We ate a scrumptious school lunch (spaghetti), followed by chapel - at which I was the liturgist and preacher.

In the afternoon, we went to Magazine Street, 5400-5500 block. It was warm and sunny, in the upper 70s, as we strolled the beautiful uptown neighborhood. We visited several shops, took in a coffee and chickory at CC's coffeehouse (as well as shared some King Cake - filled with pecan pralines).

We headed back to the West Bank, ate an outstanding dinner at Common Grounds (Dina: crabcake, Grace: grilled ginger tuna steak, myself: BBQ chicken). The waitress was the sister of one of my students, and gave us outstanding service. Leo began fussing, so we headed back to the van for a little n-u-r-s-e (the little guy is getting clever, so we have to spell it sometimes).

We went back to church for my Bible Class, where we had an interesting discussion of Genesis 32 while Leo crawled about the sanctuary pointing and chattering. At 7:30 pm, we had Divine Service - I was liturgist and preacher.

After that, we went back home, and hit the hay. Long day!

Thursday, Feb 23 - I went to work in the morning. Grace and Dina went to the fabric store to get cushions and fabric to convert our daybed into a nice sofa, as well as lace to repair Grace's antique mantilla that got shredded by a certain little furry orange creature. Grace made Indian food for dinner (coriander chicken, Indian cabbage and peas, and spiced Indian potatoes), as well as some Gewurtztraminer wine. I got home, and we all ate and thoroughly enjoyed the repast. For dessert, we went to Cafe Du Monde on Veterans for cafe au lait and beignets. Leo's fourth tooth emerges!

Friday, Feb 24 - I worked from home Friday, writing Sunday's sermon. Grace and Dina made prune and apricot bread, as well as creme brulee for the dinner's dessert. Spent the morning relaxing. We ate leftovers and cheese and crackers for lunch. In the afternoon, we returned to the West Bank, visiting World Market, Barnes & Noble (where Dina bought us birthday and anniversary presents, for Grace, a calligraphy kit, and for me, the latest Stephen King book), and Best Buy (where Dina did some research on laptops).

I had to sign some papers at church, and we arrived just in time for the annual children's parade. It was held in the gym, due to the rainy weather. However, it was lively, with many of my young students answering my cry: "Throw me somethin' mistah" with tosses of beads. Grace and I got to the gym just in time to catch a glimpse of Elijah Woods, the actor who played Frodo in Lord of the Rings, who popped in for a visit.

Dinner was tilapia covered in cornmeal and provencal spices with leftover Indian cabbage, and Indian rice. And, of course, the creme brulee, which was comme-il-faut, magnifique, un triomph, and all that. We also indulged in a daiquiri (our usual flavor pineapple-amaretto was not in the Mardi Gras rotation, so we went for mudslide, which is made with 190 proof alcohol.

Saturday, Feb 25 - a visit to the hurricane-devasted area of Lakeview via the Veterans "boat launch." We drove by Ramsey's former home. We headed to the Riverwalk for lunch, and were shocked at how few restaurants were open. We had Mexican, and shared a marguerita. We walked around the French Quarter, which was, as usual, quite a scene: tarot card readers and Christian protestors outside of the door of the cathedral. A pretty decent turnout of Carnival revelers. We went to the 5:00 pm vigil Mass at St. Louis Cathedral. After the service, it was raining pretty hard, and was rather chilly. We headed back to the van, and went home. We ate crawfish etoufee for dinner, with root beer floats for dessert (as well as coke-and-Southern-Comforts). We had a supplimental dessert of coffee ice cream and king cake. Grace and Dina began mantilla-repairing operations, while I studied Latin and struggled with a blog posting that kept wanting to delete large sections of itself without explanation.

Sunday, Feb 26 - I went to the early service and Bible class on my own. Keith was in Houston, so I was again both liturgist and preacher. Grace, Dina, and Leo showed up just in time for the 11:00 service. After church, we headed over to the church parking lot for the Adonis parade. Dina wasn't feeling too well, so she stayed in the van - which was strategically parked to give her a front-row seat to the madness. Grace, Leo, and I were bedecked with beads, a few doubloons, stuffed toys, cups, and decks of cards retired from the local casino. Floats made fun of the "late unpleasantness" - which in today's context doesn't refer to the War for Southern Independence and Reconstruction, but rather Katrina, Evacuation, and Reconstruction. We lunched on snacks during the parade. We went home and relaxed. We can't remember what we ate for dinner! We watched the first episode of Bless Me, Father.

Monday, Feb 27 (Lundi Gras) - More fabric store shopping (three times!). I stayed in the van with Leo, studied and slept. We had lunch at Oki Nago, a Japanese-Chinese buffet, where we stuffed ourselves to the gills! We picked up a praline-cream cheese king cake at CC's. Dina and Grace continued their sewing project. Leo attempted to drink a cup of coffee, and ended up spilling it everywhere - which made it necessary for Leo to have a bath. We took it easy, and relaxed around the house.

Tuesday, Feb 28 (Mardi Gras) - Wrapped up sewing project. Dina made suggestions for selling the house. Took Dina to the airport (where people were still dressed in costumes and beads), had coffee (where Leo again dumped it on the floor), and went with Dina to stand in line at security, and sent her on her way back home, from the upper-70s to the below-zero temperatures of Ottawa.

Leo enjoyed seeing his grandmother, and he began to mimic her when she would cough. He also sqints at her and laughs. We're not exactly sure why. We figure the next time Dina comes to visit, Leo will be walking. Again, we had a great time, and look forward to Dina's next visit to come and help us prepare the house for sale.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Mardi Gras, Carnival, and Christianity

People who don't live in New Orleans have a lot of misconceptions about Mardi Gras and Carnival. The stereotype is that it's a pornographic display of public nudity and drunkenness. Church groups even send "evangelists" to try to convert the revelers.

We saw a couple guys dragging large crosses mounted on wheels on Bourbon Street. One of the observants of this protest called it right: "Jesus didn't have wheels."

My Roman Catholic mother-in-law is in town for a visit, and we took her to Mass at St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter. There were a group of dour sign-bearing protestors trying to convince people that Jesus doesn't approve of the merry-making. The funny thing is, the protestors were standing outside the cathedral where the Mass was to begin in five minutes. I invited some of the stony-faced "Christians" to come into the cathedral and actually meet Jesus. Nobody took me up on the offer. Maybe they distrusted me, a "fool for Christ" in my silly hat and beads...

Anyway, Mardi Gras is a religious festival - French for "Fat Tuesday," signifying the last day of feasting before Lent begins the next day on Ash Wednesday. It is elsewhere called "Shrove Tuesday." It is a time of joy and feasting - a time to "get it out of your system" before the season of self-examination, self-discipline, and mortification of the flesh of the six-week Lenten season prior to Easter. Carnival ("farewell to flesh") refers to the several weeks between Epiphany (January 6) and Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is the pinnacle of the Carnival season.

So, our misguided Christian brethren don't get it. Perhaps they are unfamiliar with the Church's ancient traditions and calendar. But as Scripture tells us "to everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1ff) there is a time for joy and celebration, as well as a time for introspection and self-examination. Carnival and Mardi Gras are times for the former, and we will indeed participate in the latter, long after they have packed away their signs and loaded their wheeled crosses into the attic.

Indeed, if you're looking for sinners, you can find them everywhere (in fact, the very best place is our own mirrors!). If you're seeking out those who abuse times of joy and warp them into self-destructive and sinful behavior, you can sure find it - whether on Bourbon Street in New Orleans or Rural Road 1 in any corn town in the midwest. Most of the time, people who carry signs and bullhorns are looking for attention.

And attention is hard to get during Carnival! I guess that's why they try to be just as garish as the rest of us who are enjoying ourselves. But truly calling folks to repentence just isn't dramatic and theatrical

Maybe the protestors ought to leave that to us "fools for Christ" who wear the black robe and white collar. We'll be here during Lent when they are long gone. We'll also be here for Easter when we celebrate the resurrection anew, and the joie de vivre (joy of life) will return again to New Orleans and the world

Meanwhile, check out this article by Angus Lind, a reporter who "get's it," from today's Times Picayune.

So for now, "Throw me somethin' mistah!" and let the good times roll!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Sermon: Quinquagesima

26 February 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 18:31-43 (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

The theme of today’s Gospel text is blindness and restoration of sight. But as is always the case with Holy Scripture, there is more here than meets the eye.

First, there is the obvious. A blind beggar cries out to Jesus for mercy, addressing him as the Son of David. The beggar knows he is blind. He doesn’t insist that people use euphemisms to downplay his affliction. He doesn’t insist people call him: “visually impaired,” “differently abled,” or “handi-capable.” No, he understands full well his condition. He can’t see. His world is one of darkness. He must beg and rely on help for the most basic things. He seeks wholeness and healing.

And he knows where he must go to get it.

He seeks out the Son of David, that is, the Christ, the Messiah, the King of Israel. Though his eyes do not see, he “sees” who Jesus is by faith – unlike the “blind guides and hypocrites,” the Pharisees, who don’t suffer physical blindness.

And so he cries out to Jesus for mercy. His cries are an embarrassment to the community, and they try to shush him, “but he cried out all the more.” Jesus hears his cry for mercy, and listens to his prayer. He addresses Jesus using the term “Lord,” which in Greek is “Kyrie,” and which in Hebrew is “Adonai.” Adonai is itself a euphemism for the name of God: Yahweh, I AM. Again, the blind man is not so blind at all, for by faith he “sees” that Jesus is none other than God Almighty from the Old Testament. And like his ancestors, he cannot see God. For it was said in those days, if you saw God face to face, you would die. But this was no longer to be the case, for because of Jesus, this man would indeed see God and live!

He prays for his sight to be restored, and immediately, that is, straightaway, he receives his vision! And he becomes a disciple of Jesus, a follower. All of the people witnessed this miracle, and they praised God.

Notice that Jesus links faith to this miracle, “your faith has made you well.” There is a temptation to look at faith in a superstitious way. Kind of like magic dust that we can store up by going to church, saying prayers, and leading a holy life. When we see faith in this way, faith becomes a kind of token that we can trade in for valuable prizes: a miraculous healing, a financial miracle: the old “gospel of health and wealth.” But to read this passage in this way is to be blinded to the meaning. Faith means “belief.” It does not mean the power of positive thinking. It doesn’t mean self-confidence, or “name it and claim it.” For the faith, the belief, Jesus speaks of is faith in Jesus. Notice the man’s cry and prayer: “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

His faith is not in himself, not in his own power to conjure up a miracle, nor even faith that Jesus will cure him. Rather, he prays Jesus to cure him, with faith that Jesus is capable of doing so. Why? Because Jesus is the Christ: the Messiah. Because Jesus is Lord: very God of very God. And in this faith, this belief, he makes his request. He begs for “mercy,” that is, clemency, leniency, pardon. He knows he deserves to be blind – as all of us do. And so he seeks the opposite of justice. He asks not for what he deserves: punishment – but rather for what he does not deserve – forgiveness.

This is pure Gospel, pure grace, pure mercy. Jesus’ healing of this poor, miserable sinner is the living embodiment of the love Paul speaks of in our epistle text. Pure divine love doesn’t seek revenge or just retribution, but rather this love wipes the slate clean and forgives.

The blind man’s faith has indeed made him well. No magic dust, no positive thinking, but rather belief that the incarnate God was passing by in the flesh, and trust in his authority even over disease, darkness, and death.

But notice what precedes this miracle. Jesus is speaking with the Twelve, the ones he called “you of little faith.” And their lack of faith is making them blind. Jesus tells them quite plainly what is going to happen. They’re going to Jerusalem, and just like the law and prophets testify, the Son of Man, the Son of David, the merciful one will be “delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon.” He will be whipped and killed, and he will rise again the third day. Jesus lays it all out for them. But their lack of faith blinds them to the proclamation of God’s Word! For “this saying was hidden from them.” They were completely in the dark about what Jesus was talking about.

We need the Light of Christ to illuminate the Word of God.

This is how it is we Christians can read the Scriptures and hear the Gospel proclaimed and by faith comprehend and take it to heart – all the while the world cannot see it. They mock, and in their blindness, revel in deeds of darkness.

You see, we’re all blind, we’re all beggars, we’re all immersed in a self-imposed darkness. We are those of “little faith.” We are like the Twelve who want a different Jesus than the Jesus of the Gospels. We become annoyed when God’s will is not our will, when we must endure our own crosses. Who among us embraces his cross and joyfully follows the Lord to be “delivered to the Gentiles,” mocked, insulted, spat upon, scourged, or even killed for the faith?

And so the example of the beggar is clear. We need to accept the reality of our blindness, our darkness, our brokenness. We’re not “morally-impaired,” we don’t simply have “different standards of behavior.” We’re not ugly ducklings waiting to become swans if we only work hard enough, repeat lots of affirming phrases in the mirror, and become ablaze for the Lord. No indeed. As Dr. Luther wrote shortly before his death, “we are beggars.” The only “affirming” things we can say in front of our mirror is: “I am a poor miserable sinner.” Indeed, the Law itself is for us a mirror that shows us every blemish and imperfection. And we gaze into that mirror dimly, imperfectly. But one day we will be able to look into the mirror in the pure light of Christ, all imperfections gone, all blindness taken away.

As a blind beggar, what do we do? We cry out “Lord!” This is why we begin our liturgy in the name of the Lord, the Triune God. We begin our cry by invoking the One who can help us. Then we acknowledge our sins and ask Jesus to forgive us, to have mercy on us. We sing the very prayer of the anonymous blind man every Sunday: “Lord, have mercy! Christ (that is, the Son of David), have mercy! Lord, have mercy!”

For we don’t dare approach the throne of God with a swagger and strut, demanding what we deserve. No, rather we gaze upon this altar with eyes cast down, bowing and scraping before the King. We fall face down as blind beggars – for then and only then does the Son of David gently touch us, raise us up, and restore us to worthiness to stand before God, face to face, and live.

For the blindness of this world is a passing thing. Disease and death are on their last legs. Unhappiness and sorrow, separation from loved ones, pain and suffering are quickly passing away into non-existence in these last days. So, dear brothers and sisters, “Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees…. Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; he will come and save you!”

For every day that passes, we are closer to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words in our Old Testament lesson: “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water; in the habitation of jackals, where each lay, there shall be grass with reeds and rushes.”

Jesus gives us a foretaste of this wondrous new creation without sin, death, and the devil, without blindness, disease, and sorrow, without hunger, thirst, and fear, when he responds in love to the persistent blind beggar who in faith cries out: “Kyrie eleison! Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sermon: Sexagesima

19 February 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 8:4-15 (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today’s gospel text is often called the Parable of the Sower. Perhaps this isn’t a very accurate title. The sower isn’t really the important character in this story. Rather, the mover and shaker of this tale is the seed. Maybe we should call this the Parable of the Seeds.

Seeds are remarkable things. They’re small, unimpressive, and easy to overlook. But look at what they do! The mightiest redwood tree, the most ancient bristlecone pine, the most fragrant rose, and the most luscious fruits all find their genesis in a tiny pellet. A pellet imbedded with complex DNA codes and intricate chemical systems that start a chain reaction when something as simple as water is added to it.

Jesus said something similar when he spoke of the seemingly unimpressive little mustard seed which grows into a tall shady tree that birds can even nest in.

But there is so much more to this parable than the lesson that great things come in small packages. No, indeed, this is no ordinary tiny bit of matter – but rather seeds are in a way a sacrament – an earthly element that quickens into life by the command of God. For seeds bear in them the creative power of God himself.

The Lord God created a perfect world teeming with life – and seeds were part and parcel of this great creative plan. In fact, only twelve verses into the Bible, we read: “And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind.’” Seeds have always been integral to God’s creation. And these seeds were there to give food to mankind and all living creatures, who were given permission to eat “every green plant.” Seeds are the ongoing creative work of God to sustain man and beast alike.

But what did man do? He abused the seeds, he took advantage of God’s gift – eating that which was not sown for him. And after the Fall, God announced the consequence to man: “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…” No more would seeds sprout effortlessly for man. No indeed, birds will eat what the man has sown – no longer living in harmony with man, but in competition. Rocky ground and lack of moisture would make his job harder – making him till and water the ground. Thorns would entangle the seed and choke it out – requiring constant weeding and hoeing. Good ground was to become hard to find – and the man would have to labor to eat his bread.

Interestingly, God announces only a few verses later, to the Serpent, that a seed was coming to fix what had been broken. He tells the devil that the Seed of the woman will crush his head. The Seed from the body of Eve, the DNA of the very woman who committed the first sin would come to conquer the Serpent and set the world aright once more.

The Seed was promised throughout the Old Testament: to Moses, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to all of the prophets. Through David who reigned over a prosperous kingdom, and through God’s messengers who saw the Temple destroyed and the people captive. Through wars and conquests, occupation and bloodshed, the promise of the Seed remained alive, passing from generation to generation.

And when the ground was ready, the Seed was at last sown. Unlike any other human seed sown by an earthly father in the natural way, this Seed was sown supernaturally by God Himself, through the Holy Spirit. The angel of the Lord appeared to Mary and sowed the Seed into her ear! The Seed is none other than the Word of God – the Word made flesh! And once implanted, that Seed germinated into the fertile ground of the Blessed Virgin, and grew into a grown Man, the fulfillment of God’s promise to the Serpent. He, the very Word of God, crushed the Serpent’s head in an unthinkable way: by dying, and rising from the dead. For Jesus himself told us that unless a “grain of wheat” – that is, a seed – “falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

And look at how this Seed falls to the earth, notice how our Lord suffers on the cross. Jesus, the Word of God, the Seed, is thrown onto the wayside, the road, where he is dragged to his cross. But notice that the birds of the air do not devour Jesus’ body as with other condemned criminals. And this Seed is hurled upon the rocky ground of Golgotha, where he lacked moisture – but in spite of his suffering and thirst, this Seed was not to wither away. He was even crowned with thorns, the very symbol of Adam’s curse – and yet this Seed would not be choked out of existence.

For while the Seed did die, He fell into good soil, and he rose again having crushed the Serpent’s head, descending into hell to announce his victory.

For indeed, the Seed fell on the good soil of the New Israel, the Church, where the Word of God is implanted, where his life is given to us, like Mary, into our ears – by preaching. The Seed is also given to us through bread and wine (both of which come from seeds), and through water that germinates and nourishes the life within the Seed, baptismal water.

Of course, sowers continue to scatter the Seed of the Lord’s Word. The sower has no mandate to try to genetically engineer the seeds or to try to strategically figure out where all the good ground is. His job is to cast it everywhere. And while good ground may be hard to find, the Word of God does what God intends it to do. Just as the rain and snow fall from heaven, so the Word of the Lord will not return void. For even in the midst of thorns and thistles, the prophet Isaiah, himself a sower of the Word of God, prophesies that cypress and myrtle trees will grow and replace the briars.

And even though a sermon from a preacher, or a few words chanted over bread and wine, or a spoken declaration of the forgiveness of sins, or a sprinkle of water on a baby’s head don’t look very powerful, they are indeed the very same Seed that crushed the Serpent’s head: the Word of God is “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.”

The Word of God is the most powerful thing in creation. It dwarfs the power of the atomic bomb and makes a mockery of the energy of the sun. For only the Word of God can overcome death, can make us worthy to stand in the presence of God, can give us life beyond the grave itself.

Even on this side of the grave, where nature conspires with the devil himself against us, where the rockiness of our shallow hearts attacks us, where the weeds and thorns of the cares of this world choke us out, we have a Seed who is also our Savior, the One who crushed the Serpent’s head, the One who has replaced the stony ground of our hearts with a heart of flesh, the One who took our crown of thorns to his cross, and exchanged it for a crown of victory for us.

Dear Christians, let us thank God for his Word, for his Seed. “Go out with joy, and be led out in peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” All of creation rejoices because of the fruit that the Seed bears. And that Seed is in your ears and on your lips, and will remain so even as we eat of the tree of life unto eternity. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Sermon: Transfiguration

5 February 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 17:1-9 (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” So says the third verse in the Bible.

Of all the things God could have begun creation with, light is the very first. Of course, cosmologists and physicists understand the importance and uniqueness of light. Even to the most unbelieving, rationalist, materialist scientist, light is a mystery, an enigma. Is it a particle? Is it a wave? It seems both at the same time. It challenges our reason, and forces us to simply accept what it is on faith.

Why would the almighty Creator make light on that first day of creation? Without probing into what has not been revealed to us, we can conclude that light makes it possible to see. Nearly every life form depends on light. Plants convert it into sugars that nourish. Animals use it to see. Humans rely on it for civilization itself.

Light is mentioned in the Nicene Creed. Jesus is described as “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.” Jesus calls himself the “Light of the world.” The Psalmist prays: “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path,” and “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?”

Light enables us to see, to sense the reality around us. And darkness is its opposite. Darkness conceals reality, confuses us, disorients us. We are unable to read, and are less able to communicate in the dark. Darkness breeds fear. Violence and crime often occur under cover of darkness. Long bouts of darkness can lead to depression. Satan is himself called the Prince of Darkness. Jesus describes Hell as a place without light.

It is no surprise that God’s presence is almost always described in Scripture as being accompanied by a glorious, shining radiance. His presence in the Ark of the Covenant was signified by a pillar of light. As we heard in our Old Testament lesson, Moses’ face shone with residual light from standing in the glorious presence of the Lord. So as not to become a distraction from the Word of God that he was called upon to preach, and in deference to the fears of the people, Moses veiled his face. The shutting off of this light was an act of mercy.

For as much as light is a blessing to us, the light from God’s presence is disturbing to us. This light shines upon our sinfulness and exposes our filthiness. This is why Isaiah, in a wondrous vision, when exposed to God on his throne, cried out: “Woe is me, for I am undone. Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Even the angels in this vision shielded their faces in God’s presence. However, these same angels mercifully purged away Isaiah’s sin by placing a hot coal on his lips.

Peter behaved the same way when he encountered Jesus miraculously putting a huge load of fish into his nets. He responded: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Peter’s encounter with the glorious and divine Jesus was terrifying. Peter would later be present as Jesus revealed his glory in today’s Gospel text, the transfiguration. And Peter, like Isaiah, would have his sins purged away as the Lord would give him his very own body and blood upon his lips at the very first celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

So while light is a good and beneficial thing, sometimes it’s a blessing that the Lord veils himself, just as Moses veiled himself. Peter and the disciples dealt with Jesus for three years. Aside from the transfiguration, Jesus’ face did not glow. Jesus’ divine glory was veiled by his humanity. And this was an act of mercy for those around him, just as it is an act of mercy for us today.

Skeptics will often scoff, demanding that God reveal himself. They don’t know what they are asking for. In every instance in which God speaks directly to man, it is terrifying. Again, our sinful flesh can’t stand to be in God’s perfect, glorious presence. God knows what we can bear, and so he reveals himself to us in rather unimpressive ways: through his preached word, through the ministrations of a pastor, through the work of a parent, teacher, shop girl, or delivery boy. Through the doctor and the street cleaner. Through a helpless baby in a manger, through a wandering rabbi, through a convicted criminal dying by execution. Through unextraordinary water poured in the name of the Trinity. Through bland wafers of bread and unimpressive wine that has been blessed by the word and command of Jesus.

God loves us, and so veils himself. He asks us to see him with eyes of faith. The author of Hebrews tells us the very definition of faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Though he may be veiled, we see him through faith. Though he may be hidden from our eyes, through faith we see him where he promises to be found. Though the world scoffs and bares its teeth and rages against us for our supposed folly, we continue to joyfully walk by the light of faith.

In the Creed, we confess that God is Creator of things both “visible and invisible.” Luther pointed out God’s mercy in veiling our eyes from the reality of the spiritual warfare that surrounds us. Can you imagine the horrifying sights we would see if angels and demons were not hidden from our eyes? When we are ready to see all, God will reveal all. But until that time, we see through the glass darkly. We should be content and grateful for God’s being veiled, and for his gentle revelations of himself. The word “revelation” means “unveiling.”

Notice in our Gospel text, Jesus shines “like the sun,” and even his clothing became overwhelmed by the light. Of course, Peter, James, and John were inhibited from looking directly at Jesus. But beyond the phosphorescence, they did see Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus. Now at last the mystery of Moses’ glowing face has been revealed. Like the moon, Moses’ illumination is only reflected light, light that comes from somewhere else. That light comes from Jesus, the light of the world, the source of all light, the selfsame Word of God that called light into existence, the Light of Light and very God of very God. Jesus, shining in his own glory is the fulfillment of both the law and the prophets. Apart from Jesus, the history of Israel is meaningless. But in Jesus, the Scriptures are illuminated, history fulfilled.

This is not merely a good man, a great teacher, a sage dispenser of spiritual advice. No indeed, Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh, the one “begotten, not made. Being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” In case there are any doubts about who he is, Jesus sheds glorious light on the situation. And by the light of this Christ, we see through the darkness of sin and death into the radiance and glory of God, the uncreated light. The book of Revelation, the “unveiling,” tells us that new Jerusalem will be lit only by this magnificent and radiant light of Christ.

During this miraculous transfiguration, God the Father reiterates his homily preached at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear him!” And the disciples fell face-down, as did Isaiah in the divine throne room. And Jesus heals their sinfulness with his touch, and tells them not to be afraid. And when they looked at him again, his glory was once more mercifully hidden beneath his manly veil, and they “saw no-one but Jesus only.” Again, they only see the humanity of Jesus with their fleshly eyes.

But in revealing his glory even for a moment, Jesus prepared them for a time when their faith would be tested to the limit. And yet, in his mercy, he quickly covered up his glory, so that all they saw once again was his humble human form.

Dear friends, the Lord is merciful. For he takes away our sins, gives us eternal life, communes intimately with us, taking our flesh and blood and giving us his own flesh and blood. In our sinful inability to stand in his glorious presence, he stoops mercifully to stand in our sinful presence. And he continues to do so today.

Every time the Sacrament of the Altar is celebrated, Jesus’ modern day servants of the Word hold aloft the chalice and the host as the people sing: “Oh Christ the Lamb of God.” The elements are held up for us to behold as we sing - because Jesus is there! His glory is veiled, his presence hidden under bread and wine – but he is still in our midst doing his work: forgiving, strengthening, reconciling, healing, giving life, removing guilt, and rolling back the ravages of death and darkness.

For 800 years Christians have sung the marvelous communion hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas – himself named after the apostle who doubted Jesus’ presence until he could touch him physically:

“Word made flesh, the bread He taketh
by His word His flesh to be
wine His sacred Blood he maketh
though the senses fail to see
faith alone the true heart waketh
to behold the mystery.”

So, dear brothers and sisters, let us give thanks for the mighty and glorious Jesus, whose face shone, revealing his divinity and bolstering the faith of our first bishops of the Church. And let us equally give thanks to the humble and lowly Jesus, who, robed entirely in humanity, walked among us and continues to speak to us by his Word and makes himself present with us by his sacraments. Let us praise him for his mercy in protecting us from horrific and terrifying sights, while bathing us in the warm glow of his Word that lights our path.

And just as Moses’ face shone with light reflected from his God and his Savior, Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world.” Let us remember that his glorious light and his merciful veil go together paradoxically. Just as light is both wave and particle, and just as Jesus is both human and divine, and just as the Holy Supper is both bread and body, wine and blood. May the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you, you who have been baptized into his name and called “out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.