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Posts Tagged ‘James’

Text:  St. Matthew 17: 1-9

Please note:  Today we worshiped in the Sanctuary/multi-purpose room of the Hillel House, the Jewish Campus Ministry center, for Washington and Lee University (see previous post) . If you are unfamiliar about synagogues, the center of a synagogue  is the bema (the place for the Torah Scrolls) and behind it the niche for the Scrolls.  The Hillel House is quite new and contemporary and the Torah niche is locked behind large wood sliding doors.  To my pleasant surprise, the doors were unlocked.  During the Sermon I opened up the niche at the point indicated in the sermon.

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

There are three set of threes in the Gospel lesson: 

First set:  Jesus takes up on the high mountain apart Peter, James and John

Second set:  Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah

Third set:  The Son is transfigured, and then soon the cloud “overshadows” them all.  As when Mary asked the angel Gabriel, How can she conceive, “And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”  The overshadowing cloud is the sign of the Holy Spirit and then the Father speaks, This is My Beloved Son. The third set of threes is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three yet the one God and Lord of us all.

 The first set:  Peter, James and John

Why did the Lord select Peter, James and John from the twelve disciples?  This happened on more than one occasion, for instance, He took them apart when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane when the Lord was sorely distressed. Yet, on both occasions, Peter, James and John fell asleep. Asleep during the glory they wanted so much.  In the previous chapter from Matthew, Peter confessed Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Upon this confession, Jesus said, I will build My Church. Sounds glorious, doesn’t?   To build His Church, He said He would be arrested, beaten, crucified, cast out and on the third day rise again. Not so glorious and so  Peter basically said, God forbid.  Peter wanted glory without the Cross, that is, the full pardon of sinners in the necessary judgment of sinners which Jesus bore fully in His sinless body and soul.  Luke tells us Peter and company fell asleep during the Transfiguration, overwhelmed by the light, not able to take it in.   James and John make the request of Jesus to sit on His left hand and His right hand…Jesus told them it wasn’t for Him to give but to those so appointed, in a sense Jesus was telling James and John  they could not take in such glory.

The Old Adam cannot take in earthly glory.  When in ancient Rome, after a military victory, there would be a great parade of the soldiers, exotic animals taken in the conquest, musicians and dancers to honor the conquering Roman General and then a slave would whisper in the general’s ear:   “All glory is fleeting”.  “Sic transit Gloria mundi”, thus passes the glory of the world.  The Romans got some things right but they said it with nostalgia for a glory that would persist and endure but they could not grab with all their military might and cultural glory. We see day in and day out, famous people at the pinnacle of achievement and power, acting to the world as if the glory would last forever and we think so as well, then stupendously fall.  Proverbs 16: 18: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  We will hear next week  in the Gospel for the 1st Sunday in Lent, the devil tempting Jesus three times and the two times, devil takes Him, where? The heights.  First to the pinnacle of the Temple then it is to a high mountain and then shows him all the kingdoms of the world, “…and their glory”.  We do not win in the Faustian bargain.  We cannot be safe in the devil’s dealing on our own.  Now most of us do not have to concern ourselves with such, but we do hanker after it…like at a gas station, a dollar and a dream in a lottery ticket. The Old Adam cannot take in temporal earthly glory in our depravity and so eternal glory? Hardly.  When the three disciples hear the Voice, then they fall down in terror, and Jesus touches them and they see Jesus only.  He goes to Jerusalem. No man nor woman can grab and hold on to glory, but the glory of the Word made flesh holds them and His hand is strong to save.  He is love’s pure light, His love to give and forgive in His hands.

So it was to the first set of three that the Lord showed His glory.  This is the main reason He took them with Him to the “high mountain apart”;  and then, at the end, before Good Friday, He showed them His suffering of soul in Gethsemane:   they may know that the One who goes to the Cross is fully God as He is fully man and a man, so we fully know in faith.

Second set of threes:  Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah

Peter wanted to build three tents for the second set of threes, equally built.  Maybe another reason Jesus took the first set of three is this:  they were quick learners but like many quick learners, they can also get the lesson quickly wrong, as Peter did wanting to build those three tents.  In the midst of the glory of uncreated light, Peter butts in, he asserts himself when he should have been listening.  Not a shred of modesty and humility. 

 “…what we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert—himself.” (G. K. Chesterton) 

Peter is very careful in his speech: a tent, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah, implying Jesus is an equal with Moses and Elijah. Peter got that wrong.  Jesus is Moses’  and Elijah’s Lord. 

 “…He asked them:  Whom do men say that the Son of man is, they said to Him: Some say Elijah;  some others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.  And so He led them up into a high mountain, and showed that he was not Elijah, but the God of Elijah;  that neither was He Jeremiah, but He had sanctified Jeremiah in his mother’s womb; that neither was He our of the prophets, but the Lord of the prophets, and he had that had sent them.”—St. Ephrem

 Now in this place, to even say Jesus is equal to Moses and Elijah might be hotly contested, let alone He is the God of Elijah and Moses.  Elijah and Moses were talking with Him.  Luke tells us  the content of their holy conversation: it was about Jesus’ departure, literally His exodus.  Jesus does not insist on some bragging rights over against Moses and Elijah which would be sinful.  He wants us to know that all of that which the Lord inspired Moses and Elijah to write and to speak is to point us to the Lord. Joseph Smith and Mohammed, both heretics, rewrote the Bible, Jesus did not, He could not, for He know whom He inspired and knew what He needed for us to hear: the Law and the Prophets. These Words, in the these Scrolls, the first five books of Moses.  He did not rewrite the Bible,  He fulfilled it for us all, and He is clear that the Old Testament is God’s unaltered Word.

“…you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.(2 Timothy 3)

The Lord who called Moses and Elijah, not because they were great, but to show them His Word and now the Lord’s Word shines upon them as it did so many years ago. Still does.  In many and various ways God spoke to His people old by the prophets but now in these last days he has spoken by His Son. 

 Third set:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit

The Son is transfigured, the Holy Spirit descends in the cloud of light and the Father speaks.  Epiphany begins with Jesus’ baptism.  As the Son came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended as a dove and the voice spake:  Thou are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased, the exact words the Father said of His Son in His Transfiguration but now He adds, Listen to Him.  The Father does not merely say, my Son, but my beloved Son:  for in the Lord, the Father loves the Son and that holy love pours forth in the Holy Spirit. “…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Peter, James and John fell in terror, not at Jesus transfigured, not at the bright cloud but at the Word of God, yet it is the Word of such holy love…maybe that’s why they were sore afraid.  On another occasion when the Lord filled his fishing boats with so many fish the boats began to sink under the weight of so much goodness, Peter fell down before Him and said, Depart, from me O Lord for I am a sinful man.  Sinful man can not gaze into the unmasked utter goodness and mercy of the living God without terror at their own wretchedness.  The Father says to them and to us all, Listen to Him.  We will hear next week, again Lent 1, tell the devil, Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, quoting the Bible, specifically Deuteronomy.  We listen and hear every Word from God in the Bible and from the Word made flesh.  The love of God in Jesus Christ, literally touched them, Rise and fear not, Peter, James and John, I have loved you from before the foundations of the world and I will go down to die and then to rise. The first set of three is you and me.  The second set of three, the Church, in which we are made part of, His Body by our baptism into the Holy set of Three, In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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Lessons:  Acts 15: 12-22a, Psalm 133, James 1: 1-12, St. Matthew 13: 54-58

Prayer of the Day:

Heavenly Father, shepherd of Your people, You raised up James the Just, brother of our Lord, to lead and guide Your Church. Grant that we may follow his example of prayer and reconciliation and be strengthened by the witness of his death; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Biography: St. James of Jerusalem (or “James the Just”) is referred to by St. Paul as “the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19). Some modern theologians believe that James was a son of Joseph and Mary and, therefore, a biological brother of Jesus. But throughout most of the Church (historically, and even today), Paul’s term “brother” is understood as “cousin” or “kinsman,” and James is thought to be the son of a sister of Joseph or Mary who was widowed and had come to live with them. Along with other relatives of our Lord (except His mother), James did not believe in Jesus until after His resurrection (John 7:3-5; 1 Corinthians 15:7). After becoming a Christian, James was elevated to a position of leadership within the earliest Christian community. Especially following St. Peter’s departure from Jerusalem, James was recognized as the bishop of the Church in that holy city (Acts 12:17; 15:12ff.). According to the historian Josephus, James was martyred in AD 62 by being stoned to death by the Sadducees. James authored the Epistle in the New Testament that bears his name. In it, he exhorts his readers to remain steadfast in the one true faith, even in the face of suffering and temptation, and to live by faith the life that is in Christ Jesus. Such a faith, he makes clear, is a busy and active thing, which never ceases to do good, to confess the Gospel by words and actions, and to stake its life, both now and forever, in the cross. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:

James repeatedly addresses in his epistle “my brothers”.  In 2: 15, he speaks about ‘a brother or sister” being poorly clad.  If “brothers”  refers to the entire congregation, sisters included, regardless of sex, then why would he add “sister” at 2: 15?  Wouldn’t “brothers” be enough at 2: 15?  Yes, it would have but the case has been made that “my brothers” refers to James’ brother pastors (1), therefore like Paul’s letters to Timothy, James is also a pastoral epistle, that is, addressed to a pastor or pastors. This is further corroborated in 3: 1, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”  James wants to impress fellow pastors to be strict about the doctrine they teach.  In this chapter, he uses many analogies, one being the human “tongue” (verses 4-5):  

 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

A week from tomorrow  is October 31st, the Feast of the Reformation.  The blessed Reformers were very much concerned with the preaching and teaching Office of Pastor.   Priests at the time were beating congregations down with the Law, both God’s and man made churchly rules and regs that by them we can attain heaven.  It was a curse.  Pastors are called as  ordained Servants of the Word so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His single-Handed salvation of us all be preached for the increase of saving faith.  James further writes  that with the tongue we bless the Lord and curse our neighbors.  James was encouraging his brother pastors to be clear in preaching the Word, rightly distinguishing Law and Gospel so that a “harvest of righteousness” come to fruition in the making of “peace” (verse 18), God’s peace which surpasses all understanding.

 Many pastors/ministers/ priests,  at the time of the Reformation,  and now  concentrate the people’s attention on themselves and not Jesus Christ.  Has the Lord’s salvation come from the heart of Joel Osteen or your pastor or the Pope? By no means! Pastors are called to preach Christ, not the Christian.  The place of salvation is not the creature, but  the Creator who sent His only-begotten Son.  Preaching the Christian will set the ship of the Church (Latin: navis, ship and from it, nave, where a congregation sits), the wrong way, not Jesus Christ’s way.  Bitter jealousy and rivalry, over “ministries” will result (see verses 14-16) and will result in “every vile practice”, like a mega-church pastor building a million dollar home.  Many such pastors sell their books and preach their books, but not The Book, the Scriptures. Such bitter jealousy for more is not of the Lord, and as James wrote, saving wisdom, the Word made flesh comes from another source,

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. verse 17

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 1: 17

Almighty God, grant to Your church Your Holy Spirit and the wisdom which comes down from heaven, that Your Word may not be bound, but have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people. In steadfast faith, we may serve You and in the confession of Your name, abide to the end through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

(1)  From James:  The Apostle of Faith commentary by Dr. David Scaer

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“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3: 13, NIV)

 

“Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you.  Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.”—Ecclesiastes 7: 21-22

In the daily lectionary, today’s Old Testament readings are from Ecclesiastes at this time of the year and the verses above are from today’s reading, May 30th.

It is hard not to take to heart lots of the things that people say!  Pastors are especially prone to such as someone may come up and say those deadly words, “Pastor, some folks are saying…”   Given the verses, the “things that people say” are cursing, that is, defaming and dishonoring your name, your good name. It is related to the 8th Commandment. When it is taken to heart, that means, I am hurt, dismayed, angered.  .  So first, this first half of verse 21 is good advice but the result is interesting, “…lest you hear your servant cursing you.”  For instance, we live in an age in which what people say about public figures is polled  daily, and it seems, even hourly.  What happens when a servant’s master (read here, leader, father, mother, official, boss…well, anyone) does take to heart all the things that people say? You might get really depressed and then your servant (read, son, daughter, student, co-worker, friend, etc.), those who need you, will curse you because you become ineffectual. You might get really angry, then those who need you will curse you because you’re always “in a lather”.  You might hear all the gossip, and decide to bend with public opinion and this can even worse as one is tossed to and fro by every wind of gossip.  Then those who need me will curse me because I have wimped-out. Those who love you need your leadership.

But then comes the punch line of God’s Law:  Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others. All that time I was feeling wounded, betrayed, etc., I forgot how many times I have cursed others!  “Oh, not to their faces!”  “But, your heart, your mind, knows how many times you have thought so!”  (James 3:8-10) Then verse 20:  Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.  I guess I have not been as righteous as I thought…I was looking to me, and not to Thee, Dear Savior!  I have licked my wounds and not sought Thy wounds.  Your heart knows.  But rejoice! 

  By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; or whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.  Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God-1 John 3: 19-21

 When my heart knows it’s cursing, be assured,  it’s sin, God is greater than our heart! Be reassured in His Promise to you.  He knows everything and from Him no secrets are hid.  His Law shows His condemnation and upon the Cross His salvation.  The other response per Eccleciastes 7: 21 is I won’t take what people say to heart and just “buck-up” and let that roll off like water on a duck’s back, in other words, stoicism. Natural man, that is the Old Adam, can do that for awhile…but not day by day, let alone forever.  That’s for awhile as the Law accuses always: who are you fooling?  Not stoicism, but His forgiveness, His death for people who cursed and mocked Him…folks like this “righteous man”. (Galatians 3:13) When by faith we know His Cross and our forgiveness, our hearts do not  condemn us, we have “confidence”, literally “with faith”, before God on account of His Son in His Incarnation. Then in Christ, in Him alone, we can do  what under the Law we could never do:   bless those who curse us, that is pray for them. Romans 12:14.

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