O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Listen To Him
Listen To Him
Based on Luke 9:28-36
Preached on February 10, 2013
Click on the Play button
to listen to the Sermon.
Fellow baptized saints, back when I was in seminary, a classmate of mine showed me a promotional video for a megachurch in the United States. The thing was incredible. It had time-lapsed photography and high quality sound. It incorporated the aesthetic pleasures of contemporary art, all of which was properly timed to capture your emotions. In it there was a lone teenage boy standing awkwardly in a field gazing off into the distance as the clouds rolled by. Even before a single word was spoken, the music swelled and pulled at your heart, begging you to feel his pain. "I was in a really dark place," he began. "I grew up in Church, but I didn't know if God was real. I was alone one afternoon, walking out in a field." Of course, the music grows more raw. You almost feel like crying for him. "Then, just as I was really questioning and doubting, a cloud covered the sun completely and left me all alone in the darkness. And it was , like..." he pauses. The suspense just about kills you. "It was like God had abandoned me." "But then!" His voice changes, and bright images begin flashing on the screen. A new guitar riff lifts up the beat. "Right then! Right when I was ready to give up, the sun came out again!" By this point, you can nearly touch his happiness. "I could feel the sun's warmth on my face, and I knew - I just knew! I knew that God was there." Sitting in the student lounge watching this video for the first time, I leaned forward eager to hear his confession. Which God? What's His Name?!? But that was it. The video was over. After all his pain, after all his doubt, the teenage boy had made peace with his spirituality by learning how to worship the sun.
In our Gospel reading this morning, Peter and John and James go up the mountain with Jesus. When they are up there something unbelievable happens. Jesus shows them His glory. His face is altered and His clothing becomes dazzling white. No one has ever seen this before, and no one will see it again this side of heaven. Can you imagine what it would have been like to be up there with Jesus in that moment? Can you imagine what it would have felt like? How close you would have felt to God? What an experience! It is so incredible Peter doesn't want to leave. He wants to make tents. He wants to hangout up there forever.
But that is not what the heavenly Father has in mind. He wants His Son to go down the mountain. He wants His Son to descend to His death. So, the heavenly Father prepares these poor disciples for what is to come. "This is my Son," He says "My Chosen One. Listen to Him." This feeling you have will not last. When you get down from the mountain, you are not going to feel like this. In fact, you are not even going to like how you feel. You are not going to like what you see. You are going to follow my Son into the mouth of injustice where you will watch in horror as He is tortured and crucified. You will shamefully abandon Him and leave Him all alone in His darkest hour. In that hour if you look to your feelings as a measure of our connection, you will be in utter despair. So I tell you now. "This is my Son. Do not trust your feelings. But listen to Him."
In such a simple phrase, our heavenly Father introduces us to one of mankind's oldest idols, one of the devil's oldest tricks. She is a seductive woman, sitting on the patio of a cafe, adorned in the latest fashion, and she calls out to everyone who passes by: "Whoever would be spiritual, let them talk to me. Learn my new spiritual methods. I will teach you to experience God. I will help you learn to discover God through what you feel. To find Him in your heart."
Brothers and sisters in Christ, meet Mysticism, the seductive woman who is trying to convince you that the Word of God is simply not enough for your spirituality. Scripture is incomplete. Something more needs to be added. Another testimony from God. And where does this come from? She doesn't care, as long as you think God is revealing Himself to you in it. Perhaps it's the sun on your face, or that feeling you get when you are emotionally connected with good music, or perhaps the way the wind changed direction when you said a prayer. "See," she says, "that is God. Can you feel that? That is the Holy Spirit." She wants you to look for God in any place except the words of Jesus. She wants you to believe that you can determine God's will for you by the subjective experiences that you have. She wants you to believe that somehow what you feel inside of you can make your problems go away. She says the exact opposite of your heavenly Father.
"Trust your feelings," she says. "Follow your heart. The Bible is a matter of your own personal interpretation anyway." And just like that, maybe even without realizing it, Christianity is unhinged from the one place the apostles actually taught the Holy Spirit is present. The Word of God. With the Spirit no longer found in the words of the page, but instead "over here" or "over there," Mysticism keeps you dangling on an endless journey here and there and everywhere with your hope of eventually finding God boiling down to what's going on inside of you. Just you. You and your own personal "spirituality." You and your own personal Bible. You and your own personal Jesus. You and totally you, completely, absolutely, entirely you all alone.
But it's an easy sell, isn't it? Especially in our culture. We only want one thing. We want to feel good. Whether we are Christian or not, we spend most of our waking day trying to feel good. Whenever we feel bad, which happens a lot, we quickly search the market for something new to consume to make us feel better. We are like drug addicts looking for our next hit. When one drug doesn't get us high anymore, we move on to the next. We have become so good at it, we've brought it into the Church thinking that God must work the same way. Why wouldn't God want me to be happy? Why wouldn't God want to meet my needs, take away my cares and worries, and lift me up? Why wouldn't a truly good God want me to find Him by learning to feel the goodness of His presence? It only makes perfect heartfelt sense.
But Jesus never taught this. The Bible never tells you the path to finding God lies hidden in positive experiences. It's not that Jesus has a problem with emotions, after all He created them. But He didn't create them in order to speak to you through them. That was why He created words. "This is my Son. Listen to Him." The plain words of Holy Scripture are the antidote to the poisoned dish of Mysticism. God is far more generous to us than to force us to endlessly seek Him in the flurries of the wind and the palpitations of our hearts. He wants us to do far more than merely imagine what His will for us might be. He wants us to be certain. "This is my Son. Listen to Him."
A couple of years ago, there were two teenage girls living in Philadelphia who jumped in front of a train because their boyfriends had dumped them. They were not thinking that day. They were feeling. They were doing exactly what they had been taught to do - follow their hearts. The darker side of Mysticism is easily seen in this terrible tragedy, but usually it doesn't happen so fast. Usually she shows herself after a longer period of time, after years of church attendance and chasing after a successful life - then - alone in a nursing home having fifteen pills a day , hoping for a visit from anybody - those doubts about God buried underneath countless rays of sunshine come flooding back as the perfect storm.
How many times can feelings fix the real questions of faith? How long can one feel their problems away? What about after the divorce, after the death, after the bankruptcy, after the sin?
But God has words.
It is into these dreary depths of darkness that God speaks the saving light of His Word. It is here in this hopelessness that the words of Jesus create new life. These words are God breaking through the despair to rescue you. These words are spirit. These words are life. As Jesus says, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. These words I have spoken to you are spirit and life."
"This is my Son. Listen to Him." Poor Peter finally got the message. In his second letter, which he wrote decades after that mountaintop experience, he said, "We ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." Peter doesn't direct people to the incredible experience he had, or the indescribable feeling that came with it. He directs them to the prophetic word. He calls it a "lamp shining in a dark place." A Word that rises in your hearts.
This is the terrible thing about that godless video sold by a church looking to make money. Here was a real chance to preach the real Gospel from the real Bible about the real man Jesus, whose real words we still have. Words that are inspired and inerrant. Spirit-filled words. Words from a man who, as the incarnation of almighty God, was abandoned when the sun failed on that more-than-overcast Friday on a Roman hill called Golgotha. Words from a man who endured the cross, scorning its shame and pain. Words from a man who put His will and emotions aside. Words from a Son who listened to His Father, who trusted Him when He said, "You are my Son, my Chosen One" though everything He saw and felt said otherwise. Words from a man, who did not feel joy, but rather believed that joy would come on the other side of His tomb, when He would ascend to heaven and send His Holy Spirit to preach to you that no matter how you feel, the victory is His, and He gives that victory to you as a free gift.
That is what I wanted that video to preach to me. I was starving for it to remind me that Jesus' dying was not just some teenage flirtation with darkness, but the ultimate cosmically sacrificial death. It was the pinnacle of all human loneliness and yet the place where man was not alone, but God with us. It was the place where Mysticism met her match in a man who could not be tempted to do anything other than trust God despite all that He was seeing and experiencing, including the utter and eternal wrath of God against the sins of the whole world!
This is what that poor teenage boy had forgotten. "In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation." God's act of saving the world did not happen in me, but outside of me. In Christ. That's the message. That's the Word. This Word has pure meaning. The meaning is more than a mere story. This story is humanity's history. Our history is not the experience of every individual Christian all alone, but an utterly and entirely shared faith - not a feeling but a believed reality. One set of facts. One result from those facts. One faith. One Lord. One Baptism. One God and Father of all who sent one Spirit, who calls to our hearts with one hope that is preached -"Hey you. Yeah you. I'm Jesus. I died for you. That's right, I'm calling you by name. I'm washing you so that you shall have a part with Me. Just trust Me on this one. You are Mine now."
So when you're sitting there in a nursing home at the end of your life with a sphygmomanometer strapped to your arm, there will not be a single doubt in your mind about how God sees you. His Word will be the same then as it is now. "This is my Son. Listen to Him." In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr