Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Worship for Transfiguration Sunday - 2011

Wednesday after Epiphany 8
March 2, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, known as Transfiguration Sunday. We will be using the Service of Prayer and Preaching (page 260) for our liturgy. This Sunday we will begin using our new bulletins, the design of which was selected by our voters. The appointed lessons for Sunday are Exodus 24:8-18; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9. The appointed Psalm is Psalm 2:6-12. The text for the sermon is Matthew 17:3. The sermon title is “More Than Moses.”

Our Opening Hymn will be “‘Tis Good, Lord, to Be Here,” (LSB 414). The Sermon Hymn will be “Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory” (LSB 416). The Closing Hymn will be “Jesus, Once with Sinners Numbered” (LSB 404). The Closing Hymn is the one we are currently learning.

Below is a video of the hymn "‘Tis Good Lord, to be Here." The congregation singing is a Lutheran one in Frankenmuth, MI. It includes the lyrics. You might be interested in knowing that Lutheranism came to Frankenmuth before the founding of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and congregations from this area were founding members of the LC-MS. Lutheran missionaries came to the Frankenmuth area with the purpose of bringing the Christian Faith to Indians, specifically the Chippewa. They did run into an unanticipated problem. The Lutheran’s, with their European background, found Indian villages, built towns nearby, learned the language, and began their work. However the Chippewa were a mobile people. When the time came to move on, the whole village simply picked up and moved. The Lutheran’s were nowhere near as mobile, with their wood and brick homes and churches. The effort did produce the first printed book in a Native American language, Luther’s Small Catechism.

This Sunday our adult Bible study will begin studying the book of Matthew. We will start with some introductory material. Now you may be thinking … “Yawn. I already know who wrote the book.” There is much more to introductory information than just who wrote the book. It gives an opportunity to provide an overall sweep of the major themes of the book, and how it differs from Mark and Luke, and other valuable information. In other words, it lays a good foundation for the rest of the study. Our Education Hour begins at 9:00 AM and everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons
Opening Note: All three of Sunday’s readings are traditional lections for Transfiguration Sunday. That is because the Old Testament reading is one of the background passages for the Transfiguration (there are certainly many more) and the Epistle reading contains a clear reference from Peter about the event. Naturally the reading from Matthew is his account of the event.

Exodus 24:8-19: One of the BIG themes of Exodus is worship. Moses tells Pharaoh that the reason the Hebrews are to be released is so that they can go and serve the Lord, that is, worship the Lord. The second half of the book is dominated by the establishment of that service. This reading is the establishing of the covenant between God and the people of Israel and as such is rich in worship themes. In 24:1-7 Moses reads the words of the covenant to the people and they all agree to it. It is God’s desire to establish fellowship with his people. A sacrifice is made, confirming the covenant. Blood sacrifices always point to Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice. The altar Moses constructs (his first) also points to Jesus (as all altars do), specifically the cross. The blood is sprinkled on the altar (Jesus will die) and then on the people (his blood covers our sins). This event prefigures the Transfiguration as the upcoming sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is what Moses and Elijah speak of with Jesus. Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 of the elders (including Joshua) go up Mt. Sinai. There they eat in the presence of the Lord. Sacrifices were generally eaten, representing fellowship. This also points to the Lord’s Supper, were we eat the sacrifice of the Lord, receiving the forgiveness earned on the cross and renewing our fellowship with him. Though the elders see God, God is not described. They see him from a distance. Going up a mountain is one of the ways the Transfiguration is prefigured in this text. Another way is that some of the people of God are in the presence of God on the mountain. A third way is that the glory of the Lord is revealed on the mountain in this reading, and it is revealed in Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. This glory is revealed and yet hidden with the appearance of a cloud. The Father speaks from a cloud in our Gospel lesson. Returning to the theme of worship, we have here accented that true worship is only through Jesus. Much more could be said about this text, but this will have to do for these notes.

2 Peter 1:16-21: 2 Peter was written shortly before Peter was martyred, around 35 years after the resurrection of Jesus. The Church was being troubled by those who said Jesus’ promise, and the promise repeated by the Apostles, of the return of Christ to judge the living and the dead were obviously false. The danger of hell and the hope of heaven were ridiculed. The faithful were losing heart. Peter writes to reaffirm the promises. In this reading Peter reminds his readers that they did not follow “cleverly devised myths.” Instead, the Apostles were eyewitnesses to the events recorded. Peter specifically refers to the Transfiguration (1:16b-18). However our confidence rests on even firmer ground, the Holy Scripture (1:19-21). This is also a wonderful text for affirming the Trinity. Peter speak of “God the Father," of Jesus being identified by the Father as “my beloved Son,” and the Holy Spirit as the One who inspired the Scriptures. These Scriptures are like a “lamp shining in a dark place.” In this world of darkness, where people continue to ridicule faith in Christ, we still have that sure word.

Matthew 17:1-9: The Transfiguration is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each accents different points. They do not contradict each other, but supplement each other. However, if we blend the three accounts together, we run the risk of missing the specific points each narrator wants to bring out. Because the text is so rich, I can write more here, without giving away any of my sermon. Sunday I will be focusing on Matthew’s account so here I will make some comparative observations. Matthew, with his very first time reference, tells us that the Transfiguration happened six days after Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ and then tried to persuade Jesus to abandon his mission. (Mark also notes this, but Luke says it was “about” eight days.) Peter, James and John (the first time in Matthew’s Gospel these three are singled out as a special group) ascend a mountain with Jesus. If you take a trip to Israel, your guide will point to a mountain and say it is the Mount of Transfiguration. The text does not identify which mountain it is, and your guess is as good as the guides. While Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was in prayer, Matthew omits this. Luke also tells us that Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory,” but Matthew omits that as well. Luke also tells us that Moses and Elijah were talking to Jesus about his upcoming “exodus” (i.e. at least his death, and perhaps also his resurrection and ascension). Matthew simply indicates that they were talking. Matthew also omits that the disciples were sleepy (Luke 9:32). It is Mark who tells us that the disciples were “terrified” before the Father spoke. Matthew and Luke only tell us of their fear when the Father speaks. The booths that Peter wants to build (mentioned in all three accounts) could have several Old Testament backgrounds, the Tent of the Tabernacle and the Festival of Booths being the two most likely. Luke tells us that Peter made this statement “as they were leaving” but Matthew doesn’t report that fact. In stead, in Matthew's Gospel, Peter is simply presented as blurting out his idea, actually interrupting Jesus and these two Old Testament saints. Both Luke and Matthew depict the Father as interrupting Peter, but Mark omits that fact. The bright cloud not only connects this with our Exodus reading, but has other numerous Old Testament connections (Exodus 40:34-35; 1 Kings 8:10-11; Psalm 26:8; Haggai 2:7, 9; Isaiah 6:1-3; Ezekiel 43:4-5; to reference some). Certainly the unity and yet distinction between Father and the Son are brought out here. The compassion of Jesus is depicted in verse seven (skipped by Mark and Luke). The next time these words are uttered in Matthew's Gospel is by the angel at the empty tomb. Matthew and Mark both records Jesus telling the three to not speak of what they had seen until after the resurrection, Luke records only that they didn’t speak of it. One translation point; in verse nine Jesus says “Tell no one the vision …” Now that is an okay translation, but the word “vision” can be understood in English to mean something not really there. Perhaps a better translation might be “Tell no one what you saw …”, for what they saw really happened, as Peter indicates in our Epistle lesson. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and I haven’t really touched on the “So what?” question that each of these observations prompts us to ask. But I have to stop sometime, and this is the time to stop.

• The March newsletter has been posted on this blog. Just go to the link in the upper left-hand column on this page.
• The pastors of Circuit 18 will be meeting in Irmo Tuesday, March 8, so the office will be closed.
Ash Wednesday is March 9. We will have our regular 12:15 and 7:00 PM worship services. The “noon” service lasts about half an hour, and is great for those who can make it on a lunch hour. The evening service lasts about 45 minutes (more singing).
Choir practice will follow our evening Lenten service.

Well, I pray I will see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

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