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12:23:00 pm, by Robert Arbogast , 1684 words  
Categories: Lent 2013

Give Us the Bread We Need Today

Sermon Preached by the Rev. Robert A. Arbogast
Olentangy Church, Columbus, Ohio
March 10, 2013

Scripture Readings
Deuteronomy 8:1-10
Psalm 127
1 Timothy 6:6-10
John 6:27-35

To begin with, we don’t know how to translate it. I’m talking about the next petition in the Lord’s Prayer.

After we pray that [the Father’s] name be honored as holy here on earth just as in heaven. After we pray that [the Father’s] reign arrive here on earth just as in heaven. And after we pray that [the Father’s] will be accomplished here on earth just as in heaven. After all that, we pray, Give us today our daily bread. Or, Give us today our bread for tomorrow. Or, Give us the bread we need today. Or some other possibility.

Nobody knows for sure how to translate that line of the Lord’s Prayer. Because right in the middle of it, there’s a Greek word that doesn’t show up anywhere else. So we take a guess. It’s daily bread. Or it’s bread for tomorrow. Or it’s the bread we need.

Which means we’re not exactly sure what we’re praying for. But we do know this much: we’re praying for bread.

Bread means a lot of things to us. For some of us, bread means a slice of toast in the morning. And for some of us, bread means the built-in handle for our favorite hamburger. For some of us, bread means a pre-sliced loaf, wrapped in plastic. While for some of us, bread means a baguette sticking its tongue out of the end of a paper bag. For some of us, bread is a part of every meal. Slathered in butter. Covered in jam. Dipped in herbed olive oil. But for some of us, bread has been just about banished from the table. Too many carbs!

We have our preferences. And some of us have dietary restrictions. But we all could get by just fine without bread. Because for us, food is much more than bread.

That’s not how it was in the ancient world. Especially among the poor. In their world, bread was food. In their world, bread was life. To have bread for today was to be able to live at least until tomorrow. And to have bread on hand for tomorrow was the ticket to a good night’s sleep.

To pray for bread is to ask God to take care of us. To take care of our most basic needs. To take care of keeping us alive. But this petition is about more than asking. It’s like the petitions that say, here on earth as in heaven. So when we say this prayer, we’re not just asking, asking God to take care of our hunger. No. When we say this prayer, we’re also making a commitment, a commitment to do something about other people’s hunger. That’s the way the Lord’s prayer works. We need to do what we pray for.

Even though we don’t live by bread alone— Hardly! We live by tomato soup, boneless chicken breast, and gouda cheese. We live by Egg McMuffins, broiled sea bass, and baklava. Even though we don’t live by bread alone, too many people in this world do. They live by a scant daily ration of wheat flour or rice or corn meal. They live by food stamps. They live by the kindness of strangers. And we can’t pray for daily bread, we can’t expect God to feed us, if we don’t care about hungry neighbors.

That’s why we’re making a special offering today for Neighborhood Services. The money will buy Easter meals for poor neighbors. Today’s offering is one way for us to do our prayer. And if you didn’t get the message, or if you didn’t bring your checkbook, then bring it next Sunday. Or send a check directly to NSI.

Speaking of next Sunday, we can do it all over again next week. Because next week the second offering will be for the Sea to Sea Bike Tour. The point there, too, is to feed the hungry, to share our bread.

How much? Well, what’s your Easter feast going to cost you this year? Maybe you can give a portion of that or the same amount or even multiply it! But don’t cancel your own feast! Don’t even scale back your own feast! If there’s ever a day for feasting, it’s Easter. But share the joy! Share the food! Pass the bread!

So, when we pray to God for bread, we’re asking God to take care of us. At the same time, we’re also making a commitment that we will help take care of others. And there’s more.

In Deuteronomy, Moses says that Israel had an important lesson to learn. They needed to learn that they did not live by bread alone. Instead they lived by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Not by bread alone, but by every word. Actually, how they lived was by the bread that God provided for them every day. Every morning, their daily bread waited for them on the ground. All they had to do was to go and gather it up. It was a miracle. It was bread in the wilderness.

Well, you can’t think about a miracle of bread in the wilderness without thinking of Jesus. Jesus fed thousands of people in the wilderness. He only had a few loaves of bread to work with. But that didn’t matter. He set a feast in front of them. They all ate. And they all had enough. More than enough. And they followed Jesus. Hoping for more. Hoping that he would take care of them. That he would be their source of daily bread.

Maybe we think those people were being kind of petty. That they set their sights too low, worrying about their physical needs. But they were latching on to something significant. Something that resonated. Something that struck a deep chord within them. It was like déjà vu all over again. They had been down this road before. Moses had given their ancestors bread in the wilderness, bread from heaven. And now here it was again.

But Jesus set them straight. It wasn’t Moses who gave them the bread back in the day. It was the Father. And now that bread was here again, the bread from heaven. And that bread was Jesus.

Now this is John’s Gospel. It’s the Gospel that begins by telling us Jesus is the Word. And now here it tells us Jesus is the bread, the bread of life, the true bread from heaven. Moses may have said, You don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. But here John is, telling us that The Word is our bread, and our bread is the Word! And because this is John’s gospel, bread means the Table, bread means the sacrament.

John’s Gospel is the only gospel that has no account of the Last Supper. That’s not because John didn’t consider the Supper important. No. It’s because the Supper is a theme throughout his Gospel. Including right here, when Jesus says, I am the bread of life. So when we pray for bread, we’re praying for the body of Jesus on the Table.

Always give us this bread. That’s what the people said to Jesus. That’s what we’re saying, when we pray for our bread. Always give us this bread. Always give us the body of Jesus. Always feed us at the Table.

So the prayer is about our regular need for food. The prayer is about our care for the hungry. And the prayer is about the sacrament of the Table. And all of those things come together for us here.

In a few minutes we’ll come to the Table. We’ll do it with the prayer fresh in our minds. Father, give us the bread we need today. And we’ll remember that the God who sets this Table before us is the God who looks after every one of our needs. And because we live only by what God provides for us, we’ll come to the Table hungry, hungry for everything God provides for us. Not just daily food, but a Savior and a hope and a future. And we’ll come having no claim to any of it. That’s right. No claim at all!

You see, when we come to the Table, we come empty. We come hungry. We come to the Table like beggars, waiting for God to supply our needs. That’s why it fits so well to approach the Table with our hands held out empty, waiting to be filled by God. Filled to overflowing with God’s grace.

And there’s more. When we come to the Table, we don’t come alone. Obviously, this is a meal we share. We come, all of us together, to the Table to share the meal. But we can do more than that.

Someone suggested this, and I think it’s a great idea. When you come to the Table, don’t come alone. Bring someone with you. Not physically. (Though you could do that.) But bring someone with you in your heart and in your mind.

Someone you know who doesn’t have enough to eat. Bring that person with you to the Table.

Or someone you don’t know, but you saw him in the Kroger parking lot, trying to scrape together a meal from strangers. Bring him with you. Bring him to the Table.

Or someone you don’t know and never saw. But you know she’s there. A young girl. A refugee from all the fighting in Syria. She’s living in a camp. And there’s not enough to eat.

Bring her with you to the Table. Carry her in your heart and in your mind. And when the bread is placed in your open, empty hands, pray that God will fill her hands too. And let that thought linger with you. And let her remain in your prayers.

Father, give us the bread we need—give all of us the bread we need today. Amen.

In the Name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.


01:00:00 pm, by Robert Arbogast , 1356 words  
Categories: Lent 2013

Here on Earth, just as in Heaven

Sermon Preached by the Rev. Robert A. Arbogast
Olentangy Church, Columbus, Ohio
February 24, 2013

O God, we’re living in the middle of our own stories, our own dreams, maybe even our own nightmares. We need a better story. So tell us your story today, the old, old story about Jesus. Soften our hearts to hear it, to hear it as if for the first time. And to welcome the news about your work in the world. And to welcome our own role in that work. Holy Spirit, come to us. Fill us, soul and spirit. Transform us, heart and mind. Be a steady wind to wear away our resistance. And be a fire to ignite the life of God within us. Amen.

Scripture Readings
Isaiah 29:22-24
Psalm 103:1-5, 19-22
1 John 2:12-17
Matthew 26:36-46

I know, I know. Last Sunday’s sermon was a snooze-fest. Unless maybe you happened to be an English major. All that talk about metaphors! I won’t do that today. But I will have to fuss just a little bit over how the Lord’s Prayer is translated.

You see, English Bible translations can be very traditional. What I mean is, those translations don’t like to mess with our sense of what the Bible is supposed to sound like, especially certain very familiar passages. Change the translation of Psalm 23 too much, and you won’t have a best-seller on your hands.

To take another example, when it comes to the Lord’s Prayer, most Bible translations stick with what’s familiar. This is nowhere more evident than in the first petitions. And so, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say,

Hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven. (NIV 1984)

That’s what we say. That’s what we pray.

But that translation tends to obscure the meaning of the prayer. What happens is that on earth as in heaven gets connected to your will be done, and that’s all.

Your will be done
on earth as in heaven.

But on earth as in heaven goes with all three petitions:

Hallowed be your name,
on earth as in heaven;
your kingdom come,
on earth as in heaven;
your will be done
on earth as in heaven.

The prayer is a plea, a plea that the basic realities of life in heaven will become the basic realities of life on earth.

It’s a prayer for what John pictures toward the end of the book of Revelation. He sees the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven and settling on the earth. In other words, heaven and earth joined together for good, and the realities of heaven taking root on the earth.

That’s what we’re praying for. That God’s name be honored as holy here on earth just as in heaven. That God’s reign arrive here on earth just as in heaven. That God’s will take place here on earth just as in heaven.

Suppose we want things on earth to be the way they are in heaven. (Heaven. The place of light and life. The place of justice and joy. The place where God is worshiped and obeyed by everyone: by angels and every creature.) Suppose we want earth to be like heaven. Suppose we want it so much that we pray for it, that we pray for it every day. How will it ever come about, what we want? How will it ever come about, what we’re praying for?

Jesus taught his disciples to pray this prayer—to pray our prayer; but it was theirs first—he taught them to pray that God’s name would be honored as holy, that God’s reign would arrive, and that God’s will would take place. And to pray that it all would happen on earth. How would that be? How? By the life and work and death and resurrection of Jesus! That was how God intended to fulfill the meaning of his name. That was how God intended to set up his kingdom. That was how God intended to accomplish his will.

So the disciples were praying the same thing that Jesus prayed in Gethsemane. Not my will, Father. Your will be done. And here’s what’s really important to notice. How would God’s will be done? on earth? in Jerusalem? How? God’s will would be done by Jesus doing God’s will. There’s no point for Jesus to pray, Your will be done, there’s no point for Jesus to teach his disciples to pray, Your will be done, there’s no point unless Jesus is ready to do God’s will himself. And he was. He may not have preferred what it would mean for him to do God’s will. But he was ready to do it.

In the same way, there was no point for the disciples to pray, Your will be done, unless they were ready to do God’s will themselves. And there’s no point for us to pray, Your will be done, unless we, too, are ready to do God’s will ourselves. Even though we may not prefer what it means for us to do God’s will.

When we pray, on earth as in heaven, we’re praying for the whole thing. We’re praying that God’s name be honored as holy all over the earth. We’re praying that God’s reign arrive all over the earth. And we’re praying that God’s will take place all over the earth. But “all over the earth” is made up of lots of little corners. So when we pray, on earth as in heaven, we’re also praying for the little corners that we inhabit. And there’s no point praying for our little corners unless we’re ready to do ourselves what we’re praying for.

So how do you and I honor God’s name as holy in our own little corners? How do you and I welcome God’s reign in our own little corners? How do you and I see to it that God’s will takes place in our own little corners? How? It has everything to do with following Jesus.

Sometimes we think of Jesus as the one who obeyed all the rules. He didn’t break any of the Ten Commandments. In fact, he didn’t violate the least bit of God’s Law. So maybe honoring God’s name and welcoming God’s reign and doing God’s will is about keeping a set of rules. And no doubt we can look at the Ten Commandments to remind us and we can look at the Heidelberg Catechism to remind us what the general shape of faithfulness is like. And to remind us of lines that we should not cross.

But many situations aren’t a tight fit for the rules, so that we would know just what rule applies. Besides, the work that God sent Jesus to do was not to obey a set of rules. He sent Jesus to heal and renew the world. That’s the work we share in as his brothers and sisters. So if we’re going to do our part to bring about what we’re praying for when we say, on earth as in heaven, then we will be busy healing and renewing our own little corners of the world.

Here’s our mission then. Whatever situation we’re in—maybe we’ve stopped by to see Linda Frankenberg in the nursing home, maybe we’re on the phone with a grown-up son who is trying to make a difficult decision, maybe we just found out that a friend’s baby was stillborn, maybe we’ve just picked up a hitchhiker who’s far from home—whatever situation we’re in, there’s one thing for us to do. To reflect the grace of God. To reflect the grace of God in how we listen. To reflect the grace of God in how we love. To reflect the grace of God in what we say. To reflect the grace of God in how we help.

You and I really can make a difference. Maybe only a small difference. And maybe only in our own little corner. But we can make a difference, a healing, renewing difference. And we’re praying for at least that when we say, on earth as in heaven.

In the Name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.


01:00:00 pm, by Robert Arbogast , 1670 words  
Categories: Lent 2013

Our Father in Heaven

Sermon Preached by the Rev. Robert A. Arbogast
Olentangy Church, Columbus, Ohio
February 17, 2013

Scripture Readings
Deuteronomy 32:1-9
Psalm 95:1-7a
1 Corinthians 8:1-6
Matthew 6:1, 5-15

O God, this is the season of penitence. And we welcome you to confront our wandering hearts, our wayward souls, our weak minds, and our willful spirits. We welcome your discipline. Because we trust you. Because you love us. As we listen to your Word, light a holy fire within us. As we gaze upon you, awaken our love. Through Jesus. Amen.

According to the Heidelberg Catechism, prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us (A116). We didn’t read that part of the Catechism this morning. But it’s the starting point for what the Catechism has to say about prayer in general and about the Lord’s Prayer in particular. (The Lord’s Prayer is going to be our focus this Lent.)

Prayer is an expression of thankfulness to God. So prayer isn’t just about asking God for stuff. More than anything, prayer is about shaping the relationship we have with God and making it deeper. That’s why we pray every day. That’s why we even pray without ceasing (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17). And that’s why Jesus teaches us to pray, Our Father.

It’s a cornerstone biblical testimony that God is our Father. But we should acknowledge right away that all biblical talk about God—even talk about God as Father—is metaphorical. And that the concern is not so much with facts as it is with truth. Take a very familiar biblical metaphor. The Lord is my shepherd (Psalm 23:1). Here are the facts: #1, God is not a shepherd; #2, you are not a sheep. Nevertheless the Lord is your shepherd. That’s a profoundly true statement, more true than mere facts.

The Bible uses human words to express things about God. But human words can never express the divine Word. They can never express the essence of who God is. The only human way to express God’s essence is the way of the Incarnation, when God takes on the human flesh of Jesus. Beyond that, we use metaphors.

At best metaphors only hint at who God really is. That’s the way it is when we call God our Father. The word Father indicates something about God. And it indicates something about our relationship with God. But it’s our own experience with human fathers that we have in mind. That experience gets us in the neighborhood of understanding who God is and how God relates to us.

But again, metaphors are imperfect. Even the best metaphors. And the Father metaphor for God is itself deeply flawed. To call God Father is not easy to do, not if you’re a young woman and the only father you ever knew abused and abandoned you. In that case, the Father metaphor is ugly and unsettling and doesn’t come close to depicting the relationship we have with God. But the Bible says Father. And Jesus says Father. So we should linger over that word, linger over that metaphor, for a while.

It could be that the Bible’s Father metaphor has a universal meaning. After all, there is only one God. And that God is our creator, the creator of heaven and earth and of everything and everyone on the earth. So it wouldn’t be amiss, not really, to think of God as our one Father and to think of every last one of us on this earth as brothers and sisters in one family. But that’s not what the Bible is talking about when it uses the metaphor of Father for God.

Maybe I should add here that even the word God is a metaphor. That word, God, has all kinds of associations, associations that are different for different peoples and for different individuals. Simply to say the word God is not to speak clearly. When you say God, you haven’t said it all.

Even when the Bible uses the word God, we don’t know what that means. Not until we have taken in the Bible’s story about God. When Moses wants God’s name, in other words when Moses wants an easy-to-grab metaphorical handle for God, God replies by saying, Wait and see how this story goes. That’s how you will know who I am. I will be who I will be (cp. Exodus 3:14).

The same thing is true of the Father metaphor for God. To know what that means, we have to pay attention to the Bible story about God as Father. With that in mind, let’s take note of Deuteronomy 32, sometimes called The Song of Moses.

First, let’s remember the setting of Deuteronomy. It has been forty years since the exodus. Nearly all the adults who had any experience of the exodus—nearly all of them have died. A new generation has taken their place. This generation needs to hear the story. The story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The story of Joseph. The story of slavery. The story of the exodus. The story of the Sinai covenant. And the story of God’s faithfulness for forty years in the wilderness. The book of Deuteronomy tells that story and calls for a renewed commitment to the Lord.

When we get to The Song of Moses, we’re almost at the end of the book. The whole story is in mind. And Moses calls for the Lord to be praised because of that story. And the heart of the story, Moses says, the heart of the story is here: The Lord, your Creator, who made you and formed you, is your Father (cf. Deuteronomy 32:6). And this isn’t about the creation of the heavens and the earth. This isn’t about the creation of the one human family. No. It’s about the creation of Israel as a people, as a people who belonged like no other people did, a people who belonged to God. For the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance (v. 9).

To say that God is the Father of Israel, is not to say something general about the brotherhood of man. It’s to say something specific. That through covenant-making and promise-keeping, through faithful actions of redemption and love, God has become and God is the Father of this people. And it’s in a way that he is the Father of no other people.

Let’s take a long leap forward from the book of Deuteronomy. Let’s leap across generations and centuries, all the way to the story of God in Jesus Christ. The story of his Incarnation. The story of the kingdom breaking into the world wherever he went. The story of his suffering and death. The story of his resurrection and ascension. The story of the giving of the Holy Spirit. And through that the story of the church, the new people of God.

What this story adds up to is that God is our Father. God is the One who formed us, loved us, and saved us to be his family, to be the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. And so the Catechism says, Through Christ God has become our Father (A120).

Before it means anything else, this means that, like Israel at Sinai, like Israel in the wilderness, we are part of the exodus. Only in our case, we are part of the new exodus. What I mean is the exodus that Moses and Elijah talked with Jesus about on the mount of Transfiguration. That’s the exodus that Jesus accomplished in Jerusalem, when he surrendered his life to the cross. It’s the victory he won over the principalities and powers that from the beginning have tried to enslave all people. That have kept us under their power because we’re afraid of dying. And because we’re afraid of all the little deaths those powers can inflict on us.

But Jesus defeated those powers. So now they can do their worst to us, just like they did their worst to Jesus. But it’s not enough, it will never be enough, to separate us from the love of God. This is the God who loves us so well, who loves us so faithfully, and who loves us with such ferocious power that the best word, the best metaphor, we have to refer to that God and to refer to that love is Father.

To call God Father, is to say that God looks after us, like a good father looks after his children. That God knows our needs and satisfies them. That God protects us and defends us. That even when we’re afraid and feel on our own, still God is keeping a watchful eye on us and will never leave us.

But there’s more. There are implications on our side of things, too. To call God Father, is to say that we are God’s children. That we are brothers and sisters of Jesus, who is the Son of God. And that we are prepared to join our elder brother in the family’s work, which is to renew and heal the world. (More on that, I expect, in the coming weeks.)

For now, we pray Our Father in heaven to the God who is indeed in heaven. The place that human language cannot penetrate. That human language cannot describe. That human language can only begin to hint at. Yet from that place, that God has come to be with us, has come to be among us. First, in the flesh of Jesus Christ. Then, in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. That God has come to claim us, to call us, to care for us, to send us. In other words, in about the only words or the best words we can come up with, God has become our Father.

And we are, with so many others, baptized into the family, gathering at the family Table to share the family meal—we are the children of this God. We are adopted to be the brothers and sisters of his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Glory to the Father
to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit,
now and forever.


02:39:00 pm, by Robert Arbogast , 1626 words  
Categories: Epiphany 2013

Moses Finally Sees the Face of God

Sermon Preached by the Rev. Robert A. Arbogast
Olentangy Church, Columbus, Ohio
February 10, 2013

Scripture Readings
Exodus 33:18-23
Psalm 63:1-8
Hebrews 1:1-3a
Luke 9:28-36

O God, out of your great love, you brought us together and brought us here. Because you love us, we trust you. We trust you to be faithful. We trust you never to leave us, never to forsake us. We trust you to move among us by your Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith and to challenge our doubt as we open the Word and as we approach the Table. And we trust you to lead us into the future you have planned for us. Prepare us, O God, to experience your grace. Amen.

In the Bible, Abraham is called the friend of God (cf. Isaiah 41:8). And why not? God spoke with Abraham. And Abraham bargained with God. God made promises to Abraham, tested Abraham. And Abraham trusted God. It was a unique, unparalleled relationship. Until Moses came along.

Nobody was as close to God as Moses. It started tentatively. Moses approached the burning bush only intending to investigate an unusual occurrence. But God was there and the ground was holy and Moses fell on his face. That’s when God started talking to Moses. And the conversation continued for forty years.

The connection between God and Moses was so close, so intimate, that some of God’s glory would rub off on Moses. His face would start to glow. It was intense. It was more than anyone had ever known. Even Abraham.

But always Moses’ connection with God was indirect. God was in the fire of the bush. God was in the rumbling of Mt. Sinai. God was in the pillar of cloud at the door to the tent of meeting. Always the connection was indirect. Always the connection was mediated.

That wasn’t enough for Moses. He wanted more from God. He wanted more of God. And that’s what he asked for. Show me your glory, he says to God. I want to see you directly. I want to see you as you are. I want to see you face to face. I think Moses makes God happy. When Moses wants more, that somehow satisfies God.

But God can’t grant his request. It goes a step too far. So God tells Moses, I’m going to give you a glimpse of who I am. You can look at me after I pass by. But you can’t look at my face. It would be too much for you. You wouldn’t survive. So God puts Moses into a cut on the face of the mountainside. Then God passes by, putting a “hand” over Moses and not removing it until Moses can see only God’s back.

It’s an amazing, up close, personal encounter with God. But Moses is probably disappointed. Because it still isn’t what he wants. He wants to see God’s face. (I wonder if he tried to peek.) Poor Moses. So close to seeing the face of God! But the story isn’t over. Not for Moses.

Jesus climbed a high hill. He wanted to pray. He needed to pray. It was toward the end of his work in Galilee. He was tired. The devil and the demons. The illnesses and the ill-will. The lessons and the losses. And the growing sense of danger and doom. It all wore him down. So he climbs up that hill. He climbs up that hill for a time apart, for a time with his Father.

While he’s praying, something happens. Something comes over him. And his appearance changes. Jesus himself doesn’t change. But something that was always there suddenly becomes visible. It’s as if a veil is lifted, a veil that prevents all of us on earth from seeing into heaven—it’s as if a veil is lifted, and suddenly Jesus becomes truly visible. Not just in his human nature. Everyone had seen that. But in his holy, divine nature. And the first ones to see it are Moses and Elijah.

Moses had said to God, I want to see you face to face. Now, at last, Moses can see the face of God. It’s the face of Jesus, the very human Jesus. The face of Jesus, radiant with the glory of God. Show me your glory. That’s what Moses had said to God. Now he sees that glory unveiled!

Peter, James, and John see it too. And they nearly come undone. Peter, who was always talking—Peter can only stammer some nonsense about making camp right there on the hillside with Moses and Elijah.

Then there’s a cloud. Moses had seen that before. The cloud had been his constant companion through forty years in the wilderness. Now here it is again. And from the cloud comes a voice, the voice Moses had heard so many times. Only this time, the voice isn’t for Moses. It’s for Peter, James, and John. It’s for all of us. And the voice says, This is my chosen Son.

John, in his Gospel, captures the essence of what’s going on here, up on the hillside: The Word became flesh and . . . we saw his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son (John 1:14). As the writer of Hebrews puts it: The Son is the radiance of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3). What it comes down to is this, as Jesus tells Philip: Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9).

So Moses finally sees God. Sees God up close. Sees God face to face.

If only we could see God like that! Up close. Face to face. It doesn’t seem to happen much. Actually, it never seems to happen. But wouldn’t it be great? Wouldn’t it be amazing to see Jesus that way?! Maybe. But maybe not.

When Moses saw God in the fire of the burning bush, he fell on his face. He knew he wouldn’t last long looking even at the reflected glory of God. How long do you think we would last, if we saw Jesus face to face? If we looked him in the eye? Or, maybe more to the point, if he looked us in the eye when he was ablaze with glory? Don’t forget what happened to Saul on the road to Damascus. He saw Jesus. And what he saw was so overwhelming that he went blind. So maybe we don’t want to see Jesus face to face.

Well then, is there any way for us to see Jesus? I think so. Let’s go back to Moses. Up on the hillside, with Elijah at his side, did Moses see Jesus the way Peter, James, and John did? In other words, did he see everyday, ordinary Jesus? No. Heaven was opened right there right then. And Moses saw Jesus burning with the glory of God. There’s no way we are ever going to see that, right?

Well . . . Did you notice what Moses and Elijah were talking about with Jesus? They were talking about his “departure,” which was going to happen in Jerusalem. That’s how we heard it a few minutes ago. His “departure.” But the word Luke uses—and remember, it’s Moses talking with Jesus—the word Luke uses is “exodus.” Jesus is about to accomplish an exodus in Jerusalem.

The original exodus, under Moses, was God freeing his people from slavery in Egypt. The new exodus, the one Jesus will accomplish, will be God saving the world from sin and death and judgment. Jesus will accomplish that new exodus on the cross. It’s the cross that reveals the glory of God. On the cross, when the sky goes dark for three hours—on the cross, Jesus shines with the glory of God. Not for the naked eye to see. But for the eye of faith. For the eye that has been blessed to see heavenly realities right here on this earth.

I could speculate about other ways of seeing Jesus, other ways of seeing the glory of God that’s revealed in the face of Jesus. You know, special visions and revelations and such. But the glory of God in the face of Jesus is revealed in the cross. And that’s where we see it.

When we read the Bible—here together, at home as a family, or on our own in a favorite chair—when we read the Bible, the glory is there. Because in the great story of the Bible, every line, every thread, from beginning to end, connects to the cross.

When we tell our children that great story, the story whose bright shining climax is on a dark Friday afternoon when Jesus hangs between heaven and earth and surrenders his life to the curse and judgment of the cross—when we tell our children that great story, the glory is there. And it tells them who they are. And it tells them what’s up and what’s down, what’s in and what’s out, what’s right and what’s wrong.

When we sing good hymns and praise songs, the glory is there. Because those songs celebrate the great, cross-shaped story of the Bible. And when we preach, the glory is there. Because preaching is not preaching without the cross.

And whenever we eat the bread and drink the cup, the glory is there. Because this is the crucified body and shed blood of Jesus. Because his body and blood are the exodus that sets us free from sin and death and judgment. And because with the eyes of faith, we can see on this Table the disfigured, even unrecognizable face of the one who hangs on the cross. And that face is radiant, radiant with the glory of God.

So open your eyes! Father, open our eyes. We want to see Jesus. Today and always. We want to see Jesus!

In the Name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.


03:47:00 pm, by Robert Arbogast , 1909 words  
Categories: Epiphany 2013

Right Here, Right Now

Sermon Preached by the Rev. Robert A. Arbogast
Olentangy Church, Columbus, Ohio
February 3, 2013

Scripture Readings
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6, 17-18
1 Corinthians 13
Luke 4:21-30

Lord Jesus, what an amazing thing! You’re about to speak to us! We don’t deserve your attention. Most of the time, we don’t expect your attention. But you’re so close to us. Closer than we realize. Closer than we could ever imagine. You give us careful attention. You love us. And in your love, you speak to us. Heighten our senses, so we can know your presence here today. So we can hear you, see you, smell you, touch you, taste you. So you can be everything to us, for this little while at least. Enough to make us hungry for you all the time. Thank you, Jesus, our God. Thank you for your amazing love. Amen.

I don’t understand how it happens. The Gospel is so matter-of-fact about it. But it puzzles me. It amazes me.

It starts here. Some time after his cousin John is arrested by Herod, Jesus leaves his hometown of Nazareth. He relocates to Capernaum, which becomes his base camp (cf. Matthew 4:12-13). Whenever he goes out to announce the kingdom of God, to heal the sick, or to pray, he always comes back to Capernaum.

One of his outings takes him back to Nazareth, his hometown. There, in the synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus reads from the Isaiah scroll. When he sits down to teach, he begins like this: Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. That raises some eyebrows. But Jesus is an impressive teacher. And the hometown crowd is amazed.

Then there’s a change of mood among his former neighbors. They remember that Jesus is a local boy (Isn’t this Joseph’s son?), a local boy who has moved on to bigger and better things. When they remember that, they’re not so impressed anymore.

It’s something like LeBron James. James is an amazing basketball player. But when diehard Cavs fans watch him play, they can’t forget how he bailed on the Cavs and on Cleveland in favor of the Miami Heat. Those fans burn with resentment and anger.

Jesus detects a similar sentiment among the hometown audience. They aren’t happy with him. They know he’s relocated to Capernaum. And they’ve heard about what he’s been doing there. All very impressive. But he hasn’t been doing anything like it in Nazareth, his hometown, their town. And that doesn’t sit well with them. Not at all.

Jesus detects the attitude. And he confronts it. I suppose you’ll tell me, Heal yourself, doctor. You’ve been doing impressive stuff in Capernaum. Why don’t you do some of it around here? Then, instead of smoothing the ruffled feathers, Jesus stirs things up: It’s not like I expected anything different from you people. No prophet is accepted in his hometown.

Then he reminds them of a couple of old stories. And he casts them in the role of faithless Israel. Ever wonder why the Lord sent Elijah to stay with a Phoenician widow and not an Israelite? There were plenty of widows in Israel. Ever wonder why a Syrian general was healed of leprosy and not an Israelite? There were plenty of lepers in Israel. In essence, Jesus is saying to them, You don’t deserve me!

I don’t know what kind of response Jesus is expecting. But the response he gets—no surprise—is anger. Enraged anger. How-dare-you! anger. Anger that isn’t at all tempered by love. And his one-time neighbors hustle him out of the village and take him to a precipice. They’re so enraged that they’re ready to shove him over. But [Jesus] makes his way through the midst of them and leaves. And guess where he goes? Yep. Back to Capernaum (cf. Luke 4:31)!

Now, here’s the thing I don’t understand. They have him surrounded. They’re angry. They’re keyed up and ready for a lynching. But [Jesus] makes his way through the midst of them and leaves.

How does he do that? The Gospel doesn’t say. Does he throw them into confusion, so they can’t act together? Does he strike them blind, so they can’t see him. Does he say, Whoever among you is without sin, you get to push first—and then the crowd melts away? We don’t know. The Gospel doesn’t say. But somehow [Jesus] makes his way through the midst of them and leaves. What’s going on here?

There’s a great scene in the old movie Ben Hur. A Roman officer threatens a man who is kneeling down to give a drink to a fallen prisoner. But when the man stands up and looks at him, the Roman officer is struck dumb. All he can do is stammer and walk away. The man, of course, is Jesus. The movie wants us to understand that there was something compelling, even overwhelming, about Jesus. Enough to stop a Roman officer in his tracks. And enough, I suppose, to stop a lynch mob where it stands. Is that what’s going outside of Nazareth that day?

Perhaps. But it could be something different. Something more. It could be that what matters is not so much what happens, but what’s behind what happens.

Let’s remember the reading from Jeremiah. When the Lord enlists Jeremiah as a new prophet, he tells him about a longstanding connection. Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I set you apart. In other words, Jeremiah, don’t imagine that this is something you’re dreaming up, or that this is some kind of desperate improvisation on my part. This is what I have been planning and intending for longer than you know. Then the Lord hammers home just who is in charge, shaping events: You must go . . . I command you . . . I am with you . . . I will rescue you . . . I put my words in your mouth . . . I appoint you . . .

What it amounts to is this. The Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is the one talking to Jeremiah. The Creator of heaven and earth is in charge. God is calling the shots. To use a theological word, God is “sovereign.” So when the Lord sends Jeremiah with his Word, Jeremiah will not fail. Maybe the people won’t listen. But God’s purpose will be accomplished, even if his purpose is to judge the people and send them into exile.

Moving back to Nazareth . . . The mob there has ideas about getting rid of Jesus, permanently. But now is not the time. And Nazareth is not the place. Yes, Jesus must be gotten rid of, and he will be gotten rid of. But at the time and in the place that God determines. Because God is at work through Jesus. God has sent his Word, sent his Word in the flesh, and nothing will stand in the way of the Word accomplishing everything that God intends.

Nothing will stand in the way: not the devil in the wilderness, not the lynch mob at Nazareth, not the family members who think Jesus is out of his mind, not the crowd that wants to crown him king, not the demons who know his identity better than anyone else, not plotting politicians and priests—not any form of darkness. Because in Jesus, the light of God shines, and no darkness can overcome it. Not even the darkness of betrayal and abandonment. Not even the darkness of injustice and torture and execution.

God will and God does accomplish his purposes. Yet we often don’t know how. How does Jesus slip through that angry crowd and go on his way? Who knows?! But God has a plan, and that plan will certainly be accomplished.

When we pray, Your will be done, that’s what we’re talking about. That God’s intentions will be completed for this world. Justice, mercy, and renewal. That’s the work of God, of which Jesus is the cornerstone. The work of God that we have a part in, however small.

It’s a strange thing about us, about all people, I suppose. Think about those folks in Nazareth. They hear about what Jesus is doing elsewhere. Great things. Amazing things. And at first they rejoice. But then they turn sour. Because he isn’t doing that kind of thing in their neighborhoods. It’s easy for us to feel the same way when we hear about what Jesus is doing in other churches.

On Tuesday nights, Bob Hawk and I go up to the Marion prison. While we’re there, we sometimes hear the other volunteers talking about their churches. They’re always talking about the great things that Jesus is doing: We have 750 people every Sunday. We have over fifty kids in our youth group. We had forty-seven information tables set up, one for each ministry of our church. We have thirteen guys who come to the prison every week. My nephew started a new church three years ago; they started with ten people and now they have over 300 every Sunday. And so it goes.

It’s tempting to hear that and to say, and to pray, Jesus, why aren’t you doing that sort of thing here? We’ve been loyal. Over fifty years we have served you together here. We’re still praying. We’re still listening. How come you’re not moving here the way you are in those other places we’ve heard about? Who of us doesn’t wonder about that? Who of us doesn’t want to see something more and better happening around here? It’s only natural to feel that way.

That’s the way the people in Nazareth feel. And we can understand it. Sure, they go off the deep end with it. But we can understand where they start.

Well here’s the thing. The people of Nazareth are disappointed and upset about what Jesus is doing somewhere else and not in their own town. They’re so upset that they don’t appreciate what’s happening right then. Jesus is in their town, in their synagogue. He makes a key announcement. And they miss it. They don’t recognize how blessed they are that Jesus is right in front of them.

What about us? Are we blind to? Do we not even notice, not even realize, maybe not even believe that Jesus is here with us? Now, I know this has become something of a theme lately. But it’s important.

Because if it isn’t true that Jesus is with us right here right now—if it isn’t true that Jesus is with us right here right now by the Holy Spirit—if it isn’t true that Jesus is with us right here right now by the Word that we read and proclaim—if it isn’t true that Jesus is with us right here right now by the bread we break and the cup for which we give thanks—if it isn’t true that Jesus is with us right here right now, then let’s turn off the lights, let’s go home, and let’s not bother coming back.

But if Jesus is here—as he promised—if Jesus is here, then let’s have faith that God has a purpose and plan, that we have a place in that purpose and plan, and that nothing is going to stand in the way of what God has in mind. And because Jesus is with us right here right now, and because he is with us always, let’s give thanks and celebrate. Remember what Nehemiah said, The joy of the Lord is your strength (cf. Nehemiah 8:10).

In the Name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.

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