Gospel: Matthew 17: 1-9
Glory be to the Father, Son, + and Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is an absolute joy to be back at Saint Paul Lutheran and Roman Catholic Community of Faith. For those of you who do not know me, it was in October of 2003 when I stood at the back of this sanctuary and was made a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
In 2007, I was a voting member from this congregation and sent to Ft. Collins to attend the Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly. It was at that assembly where I was noticed by Lutherans Concerned/North America and then became a member of board of directors of LC/NA in 2008. I sat on countless panels with members of this congregation as we shepherded many other congregations through their discernment process to become Reconciling in Christ congregations.
I sat right there (point to the second row on the left) on an early Thursday morning watching Pastor Kevin lift the Host above his head as he said the Words of Institution and I discerned my call to ordained ministry. Standing here wearing clerical garb and ready to preach is filling my heart with the love and joy of Christ. I give thanks to all of you, the people of St. Paul Lutheran and Catholic Community of Faith, for restoring my faith in Christ and setting me off on my journey toward ordained ministry. Now, let’s get down to business and talk about Jesus.
This text is an incredible text. It has everything a preacher could want in a text. First, there is a mountain.
Mountains are really important in Scripture. Mt. Sinai and you know who. Don’t worry; I get to say his name in a minute. There is the Sermon on the Mount. I hope you all had a good sermon on the beatitudes a few weeks ago. Now we are looking at Ash Wednesday later this week and Lent will take us to another mount, Golgotha. If you want, read ahead and find out what happens there.
Next, we have Jesus, but not any Jesus. We get electric Jesus all lit up by the brightest light that has ever been seen! We have Peter, James, and John, but Peter is the only one with a speaking part, so James and John are reduced to “the guys.” Oh, I don’t want to forget the obligatory Peter reaction, so I will just do it now so I won’t forget—Oh, Peter, Peter, Peter…what were you thinking? When will you get it? Ah, I feel better.
A quick recap: mountains, Jesus, Peter, and the two guys.
Next the guest appearance of Moses! There you have it, the first big name to appear on a mountain. Not to be left out, we have Elijah! So, if I wanted to take the easy route, I could stop there and proclaim the appearance of the law, prophets, and gospel—Moses, Elijah, and Jesus—but we are Lutheran. We never take the easy way out. So on I go…Peter sees electric Jesus, Moses, and Elijah and, here we go…let’s make this ground holy and build us a tabernacle.
In Greek word used σκηνάς can be translated as a tent, a dwelling, or tabernacle and tabernacle sounds more mysterious and churchy, so I am going with tabernacle. Don’t forget to mutter under your breath, “Oh, Peter, Peter, Peter…what were you thinking?” And then, the special guest appearance all the way from the Kingdom itself, God reprising his glorious role from the baptism of Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
These nine verses have everything; well they don’t have the bit from Luke where the disciples fall asleep, but other than that, WOW. Add in the fact that Epiphany ended last week and Lent starts Wednesday, there are so many directions a preacher could go, it is hard to decide.
So, here I am in my first Lutheran church. Epiphany on one side and Lent on the other and you may have noticed, I dressed for Lent because I look good in black. I have an incredible text with Electric Jesus, Moses, Elijah, and God. Out of all this incredible material, who sticks out in my mind? Peter. Peter always gets the bum rap. Peter has the dumb questions and if you read between the lines, you could see Jesus putting his hand on his forehead, looking up, and saying, “this guy. I had to pick this guy.” Peter always seems to say the wrong thing and we are supposed to learn from his mistakes. But do we? For two thousand years we have been running around a building tabernacles and making the places holy so we can talk to God.
I do not say this lightly because I am putting all my time, energy, and money on becoming a pastor and essentially being a paid staff member in a tabernacle. I want to stand up in a pulpit every week and tell you all about Jesus and what Jesus can do for you because we built this here tabernacle.
You know, for almost two thousand years, this strategy worked. Good golly. It wasn’t that long ago when you could build a magnificent tabernacle and put a cross on top with Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal…and people would just show up. They did. Everybody went to church. What else was there to do? Remember when you couldn’t go shopping, get an adult beverage, or do much of anything on a Sunday except go to church.
The world has changed. Sometimes the people of this congregation cannot get to church because a race or a parade blocks almost every road around here. Sunday service competes with soccer, football, baseball, hiking, and skiing. There aren’t enough hours in the week to cram in all the activities of a busy family and be a dedicated social activist. Church has become secondary for so many people.
The ELCA, the Rocky Mountain Synod, Luther Seminary, my seminary, and all seminaries are trying to adjust and keep up with the changes in the world. The buzz word in the ELCA is missional. How do we fulfill missio Dei—the mission of God? How do we as a church, the ELCA, the Rocky Mountain Synod, the St. Paul Lutheran and Catholic Community of Faith fulfil the mission of God? Where do we start when we talk about being a missional church? I have one idea.
I was at a gathering a few weeks ago when one of the panelists made the comment, which I have heard a few times before, is this: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is not attracting people to our tabernacles because we use Evangelical in our name. The argument goes like this: the term evangelical has been utilized by a faction of the Christian church and the word evangelical has taken on a negative connotation to those who are not affiliated with said faction.
I can see that. Evangelical has, over the past couple of decades, been associated with people who are judgmental and condemn all those who do not believe in their narrow view of Jesus, Scripture, and the church. So, the question, set forth before the gathering, was essentially,
“Should we no longer call ourselves the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America?”
This person appeared to be quite sincere and they really seemed to want an answer to their question, so who was I to deny them my opinion. I raised my hand was almost immediately called upon. I happened to be sitting at the back of the large room, almost directly across from the stage where the panelists sat. Half the room sat to my right, the other to my left.
I surveyed the room and began speaking,
I agree the term evangelism has been coopted by a group of people with whom I disagree, particularly on theology and their concept of the mission of the church, but I do not believe we should give up being that which Martin Luther called us to be—Evangelists.
What does evangelism mean? It means you must share your faith in Jesus Christ as your risen Savior and Lord. Do we let those who claim judgement for themselves take away that which defines us as Lutherans? Jesus is at the center of our faith and Jesus is the living Word of God. We proclaim that we are saved—we are sanctified, justified, and made righteous by his holy, precious blood, and with his innocent suffering and death.
It is Jesus, who sits at the right hand of God Almighty, who will come to judge the living and the dead.
We, as followers of Christ, are to proclaim to the world that grace, the forgiveness of sin and love of God—is gift to all those who follow Christ. I am confident you all here today because you have that faith in Christ and faith that the Holy Spirit has redeemed you and made you holy.
We cannot give up on being witnesses of Christ. We cannot give up that core of who we are as evangelists. We are called to leave our tabernacles and proclaim to the world—I believe in the electric Jesus who shines brightly in my life. I believe in the Holy Spirit who gives me the gift of faith when I hear the gospel. I believe God created me together with all that exists for there is too much in this world I cannot explain.
We build tabernacles and declare the ground holy, but when we walk out the front door of this beautiful and holy building, we are walking into God’s creation where every square inch is holy and we have to serve and protect the earth, the animals, the trees, and the people of every shape and color. We must exclaim and proclaim to all we meet, God is still speaking, Black lives matter, Science is real, Women’s rights are Human rights, No human is illegal, Diversity is beautiful, Muslims, Jews, Atheists are all our neighbors, people don’t chose who they love, all expressions of gender is beautiful, and to sum it all up—Love is love.
Thanks be to God!