Transfiguration Sunday – A LSB #699
Text – 2 Peter 1:19
And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns & the morning star rises in your hearts.
A LAMP IN A DARK PLACE
We confessed it in the Nicene Creed: “And He will come again with glory to judge both the living & the dead.” At the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ, Peter, James & John are given a preview of that glory. The popular culture of today would have us believe that the words of the Nicene Creed are just a cleverly devised myth. The same was true when Peter wrote his letter.
The human heart, as it has been corrupted by the fall into sin, wants nothing to do with being held accountable to God. The whole idea of standing for judgment is anathema to our rebellious nature. We see it & we feel it in our heart whenever someone dares to allow our sinful thoughts, words & deeds to be seen for what they are. We prefer sweeping our sin under the rug.
On nine different occasions, in the 4 Gospels of the NT, Jesus tells His disciples not to be afraid. Even if you don’t look up the verses you should be able to figure out what is the cause of the disciples’ fear in every one of those circumstances. If you need a clue, think about Adam’s response when the Lord came looking for him after he’d eaten from the forbidden tree.
Sin is the cause of the disciples’ fear in each case. Sin is the cause of all the fears we feel, whether a fear of heights, a fear of not measuring up, or a fear of having our sins revealed. Peter doesn’t mention it in his letter, but the Gospels of Matthew & Mark both say that Peter, James & John were terrified by the sight of Jesus during His transfiguration.
That is the irony of the effect of sin. Jesus was transfigured before them as an antidote to the influence of sin. Yet they are still afraid. Jesus shows them His glory to reveal a glimpse of the majesty of heaven, yet the sinful Peter, James & John are terrified by it. As a result, when they come down from the mountain, Jesus commands them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:9 ESV) Even to the close followers of Jesus, the glory He revealed wouldn’t make sense as long as they did not understand the mission & the purpose of Jesus as Messiah. First the cross, then the glory – for Jesus & for His followers.
And that is why St. Peter can describe the prophetic word as a lamp shining in a dark place. The world we live in, the world that exists under the cross, even for Christians is a very dark place desperately in need of light. The Greek word Peter uses “αὐχμηρῷ” is a word that, in addition to dark, can also mean dry, rough, filthy, dismal, squalid & miserable.
In the brokenness of their world, Peter, James & John were so baffled by the light of Jesus’ glorious transfiguration that they were terrified. Yet, God meant that experience to be useful to them much later in their coming ministry. As we heard in the Gospel reading, “Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.’”
Our heavenly Father grants us blessings too. Sometimes we recognize them immediately. Other times we have no clue what to do with them for now. Our culture also is rough, filthy, dismal, squalid & miserable. It’s becoming more uncivilized by the day. Protests that set things on fire & destroy property have become acceptable to many people.
Our constitution’s guarantee of the freedom to speak has been morphed into the freedom to hate, to steal & to destroy. You might remember that Jesus describes the purposes of the devil in a very similar way. Lucifer’s plan is to attack hatred with hatred. So the people in our country who see President Trump as a fascist are hoping to destroy his hatred with more hatred.
That totally flies in the face of what Jesus taught in the Gospel reading last Sunday: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor & hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil & on the good, & sends rain on the just & on the unjust.’” (Matthew 5:43-45 ESV) Stirring up hatred to fight hatred breeds only more hatred. No one can dispel the darkness with more darkness. Loving our enemies, instead of hating them, is the only life-giving solution. Jesus gave up His life so that sinners could live.
Hatred only tears down. Love always builds up. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” That Son then taught: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
If you see, you realize that light & love dispel the darkness. If you are still engulfed by the darkness it is impossible to see. More darkness, more hatred, never brings light, or sight. Every human being needs a lamp to bring light & life & love into the darkness of their heart. To do that, in the Epistle lesson from St. Peter, he shares with us some really good news:
“And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns & the morning star rises in your hearts.”
It is absolutely true that we live in a very dark world, but trying to comfort ourselves by denying that truth is utter foolishness. Still, it is what much of our world is doing today. I’m sure you’ve heard, “All people are basically & inherently good.” Yet, Jesus Himself said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18 & Luke 18:19 ESV)
Yes, people may find comfort in denying the truth, which of us has not found comfort in telling a little white lie, still, not a single human being ever finds healing in denying the truth. Not a single human being ever finds healing in the darkness. You & I desperately need the light. Our heavenly Father & Creator knows that. He sent His only Son into our world so that we may have eternal life. The Word of God was given to us in order to light the path of our personal lives so we’d be enabled to see. In fact, it’s like a lamp shining in a dark place, a rough, filthy, dismal, squalid & miserable place.
If you insist on believing that this world isn’t all that bad, then what was Peter doing as he wrote these words:
“But by the same word the heavens & earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the Day of Judgment & destruction of the ungodly… But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, & then the heavens will pass away with a roar, & the heavenly bodies will be burned up & dissolved, & the earth & the works that are done on it will be exposed.”
Or, how do you explain the words of John in Revelation 21:8, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters & all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire & sulfur, which is the 2nd death.”
You can’t say that God is fighting hatred with hatred, because God is love & He desires that all would be saved. He sent His only Son to die in the place of every sinful human being. It is the ones who refuse to believe who make the choice of where they will be for eternity. They willfully choose darkness & hatred over the light of our heavenly Father’s love.
Due to the darkness of sin, now we see dimly. The Transfiguration of Jesus is like a lamp giving light to reality – the reality of heaven! The sermon hymn encouraged us to think on the reward of heaven for that brings rest from the troubles & suffering of this life. The Nicene Creed does the same as we recite of Jesus: “He will come again with glory.”
Once Jesus had risen from the dead, Peter was willing to die for the reality of what he saw on the mount of Transfiguration. While you & I weren’t there we do have the prophetic Word, & we do well in paying attention to it as to a lamp shining in a dark place. The world the disciples were experiencing was becoming very dark as they approached Jerusalem where Jesus would be betrayed, suffer & die. Because of what He taught, Caiaphas & the Jewish council would heap shame, mockery & a death sentence for blasphemy upon the world’s Savior.
At His transfiguration, Jesus received honor & glory from God the Father in heaven. Then He announced, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This does not need to be understood as expressing the deity of Jesus, but rather, as asserting that He is Israel who has now fulfilled the terms of the Sinai covenant. It had called for Israel to be obedient.
That covenant was forged on a mountain, & on a mountain God the Father declares that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled it on behalf of all mankind. The transfiguration reveals the glory of Jesus to encourage us as we live under the cross in this life. The cross & then the glory are God’s ordained sequence of salvation. Jesus dies 1st. Then He rises from the dead to eternal life.
Our lives in this broken world are not meant to be heaven. We are here to play our part in rescuing people from hell. A cosmic battle is going on between the powers of darkness & The Power of light. God’s hatred for sin was exhausted upon His Son Jesus at Golgotha. Now is the day of salvation. Now is the favorable time. Let us love our enemies & pray for them.
The last day of time will be our 1st first experience of the glory of Jesus as He returns to earth for the purpose of confining all of evil to hell for the rest of eternity. The transfiguration is evidence of Jesus’ majesty that will be seen by everyone on that Last Day. It is encouraging news for those who trust in Him. It is challenging news for those who do not. Amen.
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto Me & rest; lay down, thou weary one, lay down thy head upon My breast.” I came to Jesus as I was, so weary, worn & sad; I found in Him a resting place, & He has made me glad. I heard the voice of Jesus say, “I am this dark world’s light. Look unto Me; thy morn shall rise & all thy day be bright.” I looked to Jesus, & I found in Him my star, my sun; & in that light of life I’ll walk till traveling days are done. Amen. LSB 699:1 & 3
 John 3:16 ESV
 John 8:12 ESV
 2 Peter 3:7 & 10 ESV
7th Sunday after Epiphany – A LSB #392
Text – Matthew 5:45b
For He makes His sun rise on the evil & on the good, & sends rain on the just & on the unjust.
ON THE EVIL & THE GOOD
“Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the days. Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers, blossoming even as we gaze. Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, swiftly fly the years. One season following another, laden with happiness & tears.” Those lyrics are from a song written in 1964 specifically for the musical Fiddler on the Roof.
They have a haunting yet powerful flow as they describe the universal human sensation of time. What the song lyrics leave out; however, is who it is that makes the sun to rise & to set. He’s vastly more powerful than any lyrics or music ever could be. Genesis 1:16 tells us: “…God made the two great lights – the greater light to rule the day & the lesser light to rule the night…”
The Gospel reading for this morning is the 4th & final lesson in a series of readings from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. As God’s Son explains to us the true meaning of the Torah, He now addresses the topic of love for our neighbor. As the news media of our day go out of their way to publicize & stir up the hatred in our culture these words of Jesus are very appropriate.
If we were to believe what is seen on television & read in the newspaper, we’d think our whole nation is about to go up in flames. What the propaganda artists almost never get around to publicizing is the love that is displayed every day, by people of our country, for their neighbor. It’s clearly shown in the thousands of Lutheran schools across our land & around the world.
If you spend time in them, hospitals, assisted living & nursing homes are other places where Jesus makes His presence known each day. There are hundreds of thousands of caregivers faithfully working their shifts & demonstrating love to real human beings who are dealing with real suffering. I specifically mention schools, hospitals, assisted living & nursing homes because the clients being served in them aren’t always there willingly. You know as well as I that makes it more difficult to love them. Yet, in Matthew 5, Jesus doesn’t stop there. He takes love into another whole realm:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor & hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil & on the good, & sends rain on the just & on the unjust.’” (Matthew 5:43-45 ESV)
How many of you enjoy seeing a beautiful sunrise? How many of you enjoy seeing this in action, “What goes around comes around?” Has it ever occurred to you that there is a contradiction in those two answers? We take pleasure in seeing someone get what’s coming to them, yet we relish the blessings we receive & take satisfaction in our efforts to gain them.
When a person we don’t like suffers misfortune we see that as payback for their nefarious deeds. When we make the effort to be in the right place at the right time to see a beautiful sunrise we see that as the result of our diligence & determination.
In those two manners of thinking we have completely missed the contradiction between them: “[God] makes His sun rise on the evil & on the good, & sends rain on the just & on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45b ESV) Who are we to assume that we are one & not the other? How is it that we take pleasure in another person’s misfortune while enjoying our own good fortune?
How well do you do at loving & forgiving your enemies? A poet once said, “It’s not difficult to forgive one’s enemies after they’ve all been hanged.” In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ command to love our enemies cuts through our phony spiritual façade. The idea of loving an enemy is intolerable & offensive to us as we’re born into this world. Our impulse is to hit back. Jesus can’t really mean it. To love our enemy & pray for him devastates our idea of good & evil. It shatters the illusion we enjoy when someone else gets what’s coming to them. It confuses our ability to enjoy the blessings for which we work so hard. Loving our enemy is beyond our capacity. To love & pray for them we need to be born again.
Even the enemy & persecutor must receive the loving deeds & prayers of Jesus’ disciples. Our purpose in loving & praying in this way is to give evidence that we are, in fact, sons & daughters of the heavenly Father. Maybe you’re familiar with these words:
“We will work with each other, we will work side by side. We will work with each other, we will work side by side. And we’ll guard each one’s dignity & save each one’s pride & they will know we are Christians by our love.” The song was based upon John 13:35 & in the NLT it’s worded this way:
“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” In the verse immediately before it, Jesus gives us more of the context: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34 ESV) God’s love is such that He makes His sun rise on the evil & the good.
In Matthew 5:47 Jesus told us, “…if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” Martin Luther commented on that with his characteristic brusqueness:
“Do you see now how pious you are if you are friendly & kind only to your friends? You are just about as pious as the thieves & the scoundrels, as the whores & the criminals, or as the devil himself.” (AE 21:127) Luther’s words are not very flattering. Some would say they are not even Christian. The portrait he paints of us certainly is not pretty.
Yet the words of Jesus, that Luther is commenting on, are certainly true, are they not?
“…if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” And those words are simply explaining the heart of the text where Jesus told us, “But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.’”
That’s how people truly know we are Christians – not just that we love our friends & brothers – but that we love our enemies & pray for those who persecute us. As we are born into this world it is an utterly impossible teaching & command. Jesus does not give us this command as some kind of motivational tool, but as a wakeup call.
The Son of God is calling us to see who we truly are without Him. At the same time, He is also calling us to who we are with Him – Immanuel, God with us. As in the sermon on Matthew 5:15, from two weeks ago, Jesus drives us back again to our emptiness & the poverty of our soul, so that we recognize, not just our need to be saved, but our desperate need to be saved.
Apart from God With Us, it is endemic in us to hide the light, not just from our enemies but from everyone. If you struggle to accept that, remember your reluctance to pray out loud in a public restaurant. Not even Jesus is asking you to pray for your enemies then. He just asks you to remember Him & publically thank Him for the blessing of food & drink.
The nature of real love is made clear by the existence of an enemy. Love of our neighbor can be allied with our own welfare, but love of an enemy has no purpose for me. Enemies profit me nothing. Pastors who only preach prosperity gospel or those who preach the happiness gospel, having nothing to say about Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies & pray for them.”
The greatest example of that can be seen at the cross of Golgotha, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing...” (Luke 23:34 ESV) And the best news in that is that Jesus prays those very same words for you & for me. In Holy Communion we hear Jesus say, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” (LSB p. 162, 209, 217) Capping it off we hear Romans 5:10, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.”
Everyone says love is a wonderful idea, until they have someone & something to forgive. God’s hatred of our sins was spent on Jesus at Golgotha.
If Christ’s command to love your enemies is causing you worry, as usual, this reading from Matthew 5 is not so much about us as it is about Jesus & His radical love for sinners. Out of love & grace & mercy, our Lord causes His sun to shine & His rain to fall upon the evil & the good, upon the just & the unjust.
Out of His radical love & grace & mercy, Jesus shows, calls, & equips us to become what He has already declared us to be. In our lifetimes we come across all kinds of unhappy people; angry at the church, angry at us, angry at God. They can be mean. They may be malicious. They won’t deserve any kindness or consideration we show them. And sometimes they are us.
That’s why St. Paul was inspired to write these words: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” Today, your Lord & Savior is calling you again to live that life which He has given you, to find rest in His love & to serve Him joyfully because of it. Amen.
God loves you dearly, grants you salvation, God loves you dearly, loves even you. You were in slavery, sin, death & darkness; God’s love was working to make you free. He sent forth Jesus, your dear Redeemer, He sent forth Jesus to set you free. Therefore I’ll say again: God loves you dearly, God loves you dearly, loves even you. Amen.
LSB 392:1-3 with alterations
 Sheldon Harnick is the author of Sunrise, Sunset.
 Written in 1968 by then-Catholic priest Peter R. Scholtes.
6th Sunday after Epiphany – A LSB #’s 506, 704, 412 v.1, 3, 5-6
Text – Deuteronomy 30:19a
I call heaven & earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life & death, blessing & curse.
SET BEFORE YOU – BLESSING & CURSE
It seems like a very simple proposition – blessing & curse. Who could not know which to choose? You almost have to wonder if God isn’t playing some kind of practical joke on Moses & the people of Israel. There really isn’t anything to consider. Obviously, everyone will choose blessing rather than curse, life rather than death!
So, why is their heavenly Father putting such a dramatic proposition in front of His people? It’s not every day life & death is set before you, especially with Yahweh calling heaven & earth against His people. In the Hebrew language it’s one way of saying that all of creation has been called by God as His witnesses.
To fill in the back story, the nation of Israel is on the verge of entering the Promised Land. In line with that the Creator of the universe instructs them to renew the covenant He 1st made with them at Mt. Sinai. After setting before the people blessing & curse, Yahweh says, “Therefore choose life that you & your offspring may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19b ESV)
Again, you may wonder why the people need to be told, “…choose life… that you may live.” So listen to these words, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good & evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17 ESV)
Do you remember the choice which Adam & Eve made? The question following that is this, “Before they made that choice, were they sinful or holy?” How about us, are we sinful or holy? It seems like a very simple proposition – blessing & curse. Who could not know which one to choose? Leading up to this instruction by Yahweh is a couple thousand years of history & God saw the choices that people made. The nation of Israel itself had been delivered from slavery in Egypt, been given the covenant on Mt. Sinai, been led to the Promised Land the 1st time, yet they chose curse instead of blessing & death instead of life. Listen:
“Joshua the son of Nun & Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes & said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, ‘The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, He will bring us into this land & give it to us, a land that flows with milk & honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, & the Lord is with us; do not fear them.’ Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?’” (Numbers 14:6-11 ESV)
So 40 more years the nation was led through the wilderness & finally brought to the eastern shore of the Jordan River. Other than Joshua & Caleb, an entire generation of Israelites had their bodies scattered across the desert. In a sense, Israel is now at the midpoint, between her redemption out of Egypt & her fulfillment in the Promised Land.
So, too, is the Church. We have been redeemed out of slavery to sin & death. You & I have been set on a pilgrimage toward the final fulfillment of God’s promises to His people. Yahweh has set before us eternal life in the final Promised Land of heaven. Our relationship to God today is very similar to that of Israel’s relationship to God in Deuteronomy.
The age-old problem with mankind is that we have never stopped eating the fruit that leads to death. Every day the scene in the garden gets replayed. Man sees something he desires. God says no. Satan taunts, “Did God really say . . . ?” And man replies, “Well, maybe just one little bite won’t hurt.” That’s why Moses wrote it down for us in Deuteronomy:
“I call heaven & earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life & death, blessing & curse. Therefore choose life that you & your offspring may live.” (30:19 ESV) We know the commandments of God. We know that He requires us to be holy & to live a holy life – perfect in thought, word & deed. Yet, how quickly caution is thrown to the wind & the warnings of God’s Word ignored when we see something we want.
We try & pretend that God has not spoken, or He wasn’t really serious when He said, “You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor; you shall not covet… anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Like the Israelites, we test the limits of Yahweh’s patience. Like a child testing his parents, we see just how much we can get away with, just how far the limits can be pushed, before our heavenly Father will inflict discipline upon us. The proposition is very simple – blessing or curse. Who could not know which to choose?
Yet, on scales large & small, we see it every day, people choosing curse & death. Granted, they often don’t realize what they’re doing, at least not the absolute finality of the road down which it leads. Still, every sin is a choice of death & every confession of sin is the expression of life.
Jesus is the Vine. We are the branches. If we remain in Him we bear much fruit. If we do not remain in Him, we’re like a branch that’s thrown away & withers. Those branches are picked up, thrown into the fire & burned. (John 15:5-6)
You have already been given life through Baptism & through the Word of God. That happened, not through your power, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. Leading up to the OT reading, the people of Israel had already been given life through the parted waters of the Red Sea. That happened, not through their power, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The choice before them in Deuteronomy is not whether they should remain in unbelief or choose God. Yahweh had already chosen them, as He called His people & rescued them from slavery in Egypt. Their heavenly Father had collected the branches & grafted them back into the Vine. Then, in the wilderness, they had been blessed through living water from the Rock, which was Christ. They are already alive. The choice before them now is whether they should remain alive in blessing or choose the curse of death.
To depart from God is to depart from life. To depart from God is to choose the curse. Yahweh’s entire creation was summoned to testify that He had told His people in advance what the results of their choice would be: a matter of life or death. The proposition before God’s people is a lot like the lyrics to a famous punk rock song, “Should I stay or should I go.”
The people are already with their Creator. Do they remain in Him & live, or do they depart from Him & die? That same question is set before you, not just today, but every day that you wake up with the breath of life in your lungs.
As they stand on the doorstep of the Promised Land, Moses is urging the people to accept the blessings given & to take their place in that relationship with obedience & gratitude. In other words, he urges them to remain what they already are – children of God. Do not follow the temptation of Lucifer to doubt God’s Word, & thus be deceived into choosing death.
The rite of confirmation has a lot in common with the reading from Deuteronomy 30. You are a child of God. That is your identity. Will you accept that? Will you remain what you are? Or will you reject it? The devil is certainly tempting you to. He throws all kinds of other identities, & other gods, before us.
Last Sunday’s sermon, from Matthew, was about being the people we are called to be – salt & light. Deuteronomy is reinforcing that message because we’re tempted to hide the light, to turn away from our role as salt. Jesus shows us what it means to be the salt & light with today’s Gospel reading. Do not be angry, do not insult anyone, do not look at a woman lustfully, do not divorce your wife. In other words, choose blessing rather than curse. You already have life. Live it, rather than choosing to reject life – rather than choosing to hide the light. Ultimately, the proposition that Yahweh set before us this morning – blessing & curse – is about belief & unbelief. How do we look at the world we live in & the life our Lord has given us in it.
So, a young couple moved into a new neighborhood. The next morning while they were eating breakfast, the wife saw her neighbor hanging out the wash to dry. “That laundry is not very clean,” she said. “Our neighbor doesn’t know how to wash her clothes correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap.”
Her husband looked on, but remained silent. Every time their neighbor would hang out the wash to dry, the young wife would make the same comments. About a month later, she was surprised to see a nice clean load of wash on the line & said to her husband, “Look, she’s learned how to do the laundry properly. I wonder who taught her this.”
The husband replied, “I got up early this morning & washed our windows.”
So it is with life. What we see & what we experience does depend upon the window through which we look. Are you looking through the window of faith or through the window of unbelief? For your heavenly Father has set before you blessing & curse, life & death.
Jesus promises that if you remain with Him you will bear much fruit & you will live with Him in Paradise, “…for He is your life & length of days…” (Deuteronomy 30:20 ESV) Amen.
Renew me, O eternal Light, & let my heart & soul be bright, illumined with the light of grace that issues from Your holy face. Remove the power of sin from me & cleanse all my impurity that I may have the strength & will temptations of the flesh to still. Create in me a new heart, Lord, that gladly I obey Your Word. Let what You will be my desire, & with new life my soul inspire. Amen. LSB 704:1-3
 Exodus 20:13–17
 A song by the English punk rock band the Clash, from their album Combat Rock. It was written in 1981.
5th Sunday after Epiphany – A LSB #839
Text – Matthew 5:15
Nor do people light a lamp & put it under a basket, but on a stand, & it gives light to all in the house.
HIDING THE LIGHT
The importance of light is demonstrated for us at the very beginning of God’s Word: “…the earth was formless & void, & darkness was over the surface of the deep…” (Genesis 1:2 NAS) Has it occurred to you to thank God that He didn’t leave things that way – formless & void with darkness over the surface of the deep?
That doesn’t sound like an inviting place to be. Fortunately, our heavenly Creator continued, “…and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light…’” (Genesis 1:2-3 NAS) It’s the very 1st thing that Yahweh calls out of the chaos – light! Our heavenly Father is not about hiding the light, but sin is all about that.
With our thoughts, our words & our deeds, how do you & I manage to hide the light? How about the time we judged another person’s motives without talking to them? Check! Or the time a popular new student arrived at school & you were immediately jealous? Maybe it was a popular new co-worker of whom you were jealous? Check!
What are some of those words we say that bring down darkness upon another person’s soul? Stupid? Fool? I hate you? You make me sick? Could it be you think you’re a better person than that for not telling them to their face? Talking about them behind their back can actually be a lot more fun – for the sinful nature!
What about the evil we do, & the good we leave undone, which bring chaos into the life of our neighbor? Leaving them in need because we’re too busy looking out for number one? Bagging them with the project because we have more important things to do? Those are ways of sinning by leaving good undone. How about the evil you’ve committed against your neighbors? Would any of you like to share? That would really liven up the sermon. Some of you might even take notes!
Our heavenly Father is not about hiding the light, yet sin is all about that. St. John elaborated in 3:19, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, & people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (ESV)
You know, it’s still that time of year when most people wake up for the day while it’s dark outside. So you have to turn the lights on & it hurts your eyes because they are still adjusted to the darkness. More & more that’s an appropriate metaphor for the spiritual lives of the people in our culture. Things that used to make people blush are standard fare today.
It’s in our music. It’s on our television. It is all over the news media today. What would’ve been considered pornography 60 years ago, is family entertainment in our day. Even if we are not directly involved in it, by not speaking up against it, you & I are hiding the light.
The simple act of praying before your meal in a restaurant is an easy way of putting Christ on a stand so He can give light to all who are around it. Have you been hiding the light? Even if you don’t think horrible thoughts about your neighbor, or verbally abuse him, or physically assault him, are you still hiding the light? It’s easy to do.
Our sinful nature is powerfully strong, & entirely corrupt. We see that in our thoughts, our words & our deeds: “…the light has come into the world, & people loved the darkness rather than the light…” (John 3:19 ESV) There’s no denying it. By nature, every single one of us, every single day goes busily about the work of hiding the light.
And that is why Jesus came into our world. It’s for that reason the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity took on human flesh & blood, while saying of Himself, “I am the Light of the world.” (John 8:12 ESV) To comfort & encourage us, St. John also recorded these words for you & me to hear, & believe, & put our trust in: “The light shines in the darkness, & the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5 ESV)
Those last words ought to remind you of another verse spoken by our Lord: “…In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV) Along with our sinful nature the world is powerfully strong, & entirely corrupt. Yet our Savior has not left us helpless or without the power of His encouragement.
For that is what the Gospel reading from Matthew is doing in the hearts of those who believe the very Words of God: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” That may seem like a tall order given the obvious nature of our sins, but remember, Jesus has already overcome the world. He has also overcome our sins.
Today’s Gospel reading from Matthew is in the section frequently referred to as The Sermon On The Mount. To a large extent, it can be seen as Jesus’ blessing of His disciples in the words we call the Beatitudes followed by the proclamation of the calling He has given us to be salt & light. The implications of that calling are spelled out in the rest of Jesus’ sermon.
The order of it is significant. Without the blessing of Jesus, which we call the Beatitudes, no one can receive & live in the calling our Lord then gives. These blessings form a sort of ‘doorway’ through which Matthew’s readers & hearers must pass if they are to grasp aright Christ’s teaching in the Sermon. These are the last four beatitudes:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the reign of heaven!” (Matthew 5:7-10) When we are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers & persecuted for righteousness’ sake, then we are salt & light in the world. Then we are blessed, & the world is blessed through us by the almighty & all-knowing power of God’s Holy Spirit. Yet, praying before a meal in a restaurant may bring persecution upon us, for the peace we offer to the world will at times be rejected. The very offer of peace will cause us to be hated & persecuted by some.
So, back to the beginning of Jesus’ sermon. Beatitudes 1–4 (Mt 5:3–6) proclaim that human creatures who have nothing in themselves to offer God nevertheless receive all the gifts that have come through Jesus. All the blessings of God’s reign in Christ are given to the spiritually bankrupt, & that is why we are now profoundly & eternally blessed.
Beatitudes 5–8 (Mt 5:7–12) pronounce further blessing upon Jesus’s disciples who, by virtue of their relationship with Him, have begun to be merciful, have received pure hearts, now work for Gospel peace, & may even suffer persecution.
From beginning to end, the Beatitudes presuppose the “preaching of the Law”; only those who’ve begun to repent (3:2; 4:17!) will hear & be encouraged to live out what Jesus is teaching. For such, our Savior speaks powerful, strengthening, reorienting gospel, both to Jesus’s original disciples & to all who will believe their message today.
God’s children know that, in spite of their sins, the Lord makes His face shine upon us. Knowing His face to be merciful, we then reflect that mercy as salt & light to our neighbor. As we resist the temptation to hide the light we bring true life into the world. That’s what the reign of God is doing through us. It is calling light out of the chaos of our culture.
As John 3:19 stated, “…people loved the darkness rather than the light…” (ESV) John 3:21 speaks of the times we resist that temptation: “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (ESV) The reign of God brings light into the world. Our sinful nature would rather have the light be hidden. The light hurts. Our saintly nature recognizes that the light, after the initial pain, also brings blessing. God’s children cannot actively hide their faith for long without endangering it. Like a candle, our faith can only be covered so long before it goes out.
The task of witnessing, of shining the light, involves exhorting the people of God to live lives of good works that will act as salt & light in a rotting & dark world. As God’s children you are no longer darkness. You are no longer dead. What hill has the God of the universe set you upon? To where & to whom & to what have you been born again to give the light of Christ?
It is through the vocations you’ve been given that your heavenly Father desires to bless the world – father, son, mother, daughter, student, teacher, employer, employee, politician, soldier, elder, usher, acolyte, husband, wife, neighbor, co-worker, doctor, nurse, technician, in all those ways & thousands more, it should be obvious to the people around us that God loves them & blesses them & cares for them.
We are not here on earth just to satiate ourselves, our wants & our needs. God does have a plan for your life. Yahweh Himself has prepared a purpose in advance for you to walk in, & to shine in. As I apply the Word to your lives, I’m also applying the life that God gives us through His Word, to your lives.
You, in turn, take that life out into the world with you. It salts the people around you, it brings light into their lives of darkness. Ultimately, the light of good works, in the lives of Jesus’s disciples, reveals the character of God the Father.
Having filled His empty disciples with blessing (5:3–12), Jesus names them salt & light, sending them out to their vocations & their communities as those who bless others with the goal of revealing what the Father of the Lord Jesus is like. Just as surely as salt is a blessing & light brings hope & clarity, so Jesus’s disciples, by their good deeds, show others who their Father is.
O Christ, our true & only light, enlighten those who sit in night; let those afar now hear Your voice & in Your fold with us rejoice. Fill with the radiance of Your grace the souls now lost in error’s maze; enlighten those whose inmost minds some dark delusion haunts & blinds. O gently call those gone astray that they may find the saving way! Let every conscience sore oppressed in You find peace & heavenly rest. Amen.
 Matthew 5:14 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet