Monday, January 22, 2018

Sermon on Psalm 84:1-2a, 4, 10-11; 77:18b (Introit), for the Transfiguration of Our Lord (1 YR Lectionary), "How Lovely is it to be with God's Beloved Son"

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord... For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” In just a few words, when Peter says to Jesus, at His Transfiguration: “It’s good Lord to be here” and offers to build dwellings for Jesus and the rest of them to stay there; Peter is echoing the thoughts of Psalm 84, our Introit. Like Peter marveling about the glory of being in Jesus’ presence, so the Psalm speaks of the delight of being together with God in His dwelling place, His courts; how his soul thirsts to stay with the living God forever. At the Transfiguration, when the Father speaks from the heavens, He does not answer Peter’s suggestion, but calls him to silence and to listen to Jesus. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” As God’s courts and dwelling place are lovely to the people, so God’s Son Jesus is lovely to the Father. Dear to both God’s heart and ours, is Jesus. Jesus is God with us, Emmanuel, and He is the focus both of God’s gift to us and our responding worship. There is harmony and blessing in loving and being delighted in the same things that are beloved and pleasing to God.
What is the difference between something being beautiful, and lovely? Beauty can be appreciated objectively or at a distance. Even with a certain amount of detachment, like a person can admire artwork or a beautiful person, even without knowing them. But to be lovely, or to be “beloved” means that the object or person stirs your love, your affection. They are dear to your heart. And so the Psalmist sings about God’s dwelling place, the courts of His Temple, the place of worshipping Him. It is not just a physical beauty, but a stirring of his heart’s emotion, a dearness, a loveliness, that God’s house inspires in Him. And it is God’s presence that makes it so. It’s the presence of God that makes His house of worship lovely and dear. God the Father speaks of His Son with this same dear affection and tenderness. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to Him.” Beloved—God’s treasured and only Son. Beloved—you disciples now briefly glimpse His hidden glory. Beloved—He remains my beloved all through the suffering, agony, and death of the cross, to bring my presence to you—so that you also may be the beloved of my heart.
God calls you in Christ to become His beloved—His dear children, through the washing of forgiveness, through the baptism of death to sin and life to Christ Jesus, through the feeding of His precious body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. God has sent Jesus His beloved Son into the world, so that He now also has you as His beloved. Beloved—confess your sins to God—He knows them well. Beloved—see His beloved Son—Listen to Him! Beloved—let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone that loveth, is born of God and knoweth God.
Peter wants to prolong the glory experience, but this request is denied. Last week I preached about how the goodness and glory of Jesus did not remain hidden, but peeked out in the miracle at Cana. But while the glory of Jesus was hidden again from the disciples after the Transfiguration, the goodness and the presence of Jesus is never taken away from the disciples or us. Jesus’ goodness and presence remain where He has promised—in the gifts of the Lord’s house—His Holy Word and Blessed Sacraments. God’s goodness and presence is not hidden from us, but revealed and continued in these promises. When the Psalmist prays in 5 different Psalms for God not to hide His face, he’s praying out of loneliness, distress, or affliction. In times like those, we beg God not to hide His goodness and presence from us. But in Psalm 51, he prays for God to hide His face from my sins. So the only time when we want God to “hide His face” from us is for Him to turn away from our sins. And He does this only for the sake of His beloved Son. So when we repent to God for our sins, He welcomes us into the goodness of His mercy and presence. We stand joyfully in His courts, and are blessed through His forgiveness.
In Christ, we find the peaceful dwelling place with the Lord, that the Psalmist yearns for, saying: “my soul longs, yes faints for the courts of the Lord” or  “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”  This yearning for the place of worship, unfortunately may be unfamiliar to some. How often do the green fields or blue waves or soft beds and pillows or high definition flat screens or dining tables of Sunday morning inspire more yearning in us than worship, if we admit it? Do we run to the “courts of the Lord” with joy to sing His praise, or is our desire placed somewhere else? And even if we can chuckle a little at ourselves, why doesn’t our desire so often match the Psalmist’s, or Peter’s? They were longing for the God of highest peace and beauty, and even just a seat in the doorway would be enough.
That’s the kind of longing, when I was a young hockey fan, without enough money in my pockets, where I would have jumped at the chance to even get a standing room spot, even by the stairwells, at a Red Wings’ playoff game. Can you resonate with that, with your favorite sport’s team? Or to get a ticket at a concert for your favorite pop artist? For our youth, how many of you would jump at the chance for tickets for your favorite concert? Among our adult members, I’m not sure what inspires the same passion or excitement in you. But reflect on this: what does it tell us is missing from our spirituality—not that we like those things, but that we lack the same passion for God’s presence? It’s not that we aren’t meant to enjoy the good things of life, in healthy moderation—like sports and fitness, music and entertainment, nature and the outdoors—they are good gifts of God, after all—but they are precisely that—gifts of God. And how mistaken it is to love the gifts more than the Giver!
With what kind of love do these things, mere possessions, mere earthly things, entertainments, or awards and praises of humans—with what love do they call to you? Can they fill us? Can they love us? Are they anything in comparison with the love of God? I hope that none of you love your wedding rings more than your spouse, or your new toys and Christmas gifts more than your parents, or your gift cards than the people who cared enough about you to give them! That would be a topsy-turvy way of living—but I think we all recognize how much the incredible overabundance of our modern life inclines us toward this. When I say incredible, I mean the astonishing variety of food, luxury, travel, entertainment, information, and etc etc that is available to almost all of us, and even 100 years ago was not even available to the mega-wealthy. We can be so enamored with ‘things,’ idols, that our hearts feel little delight for God.
But return to the Psalm. Return to the longing that moved him, as he was, for some unknown reason, separated from the courts of the Lord, the Temple, and longed to return. What does it take to fill our hearts with such longing, and to replace the empty desires of things that only take our minds off life for a while, or numb our pain or boredom for a while, or fill our stomachs for but a while, or cheer our hearts for but a while? What it takes to fill our hearts with such longing and desire, is nothing other than realizing that God always has been the greatest gift He can give to us. The Lord who strengthens us, who hears our prayers, who is our sun and our shield, shining in the darkness of our life and shielding us from danger. The God who bestows favor and honor. Who comes to us in Jesus, His favored, beloved, precious Son, with whom He is well-pleased. In Him, we have adoption as sons and daughters of God. And yes, that comes with gifts! But greater is the Giver than the gifts! We get to know and be His—to belong to Him.
Whether false alarms or true alarms, we are Christ’s, and He is ours. This is the precious truth that filled the Psalmist with such yearning, and I believe it’s the same thought that moved Peter in amazement and awe to blurt out, “It’s good Lord to be here!” There is something unmistakably good about God’s presence—better even than poor words can express. But to know and taste that bit of the eternal, and to long for God’s promised peace and rest, brings us here again and again, to the presence of Jesus, to His gifts of Word and Sacrament freely given out, to prayers and songs rising with glad notes of joy. To taste that goodness is to know and be with God’s beloved Son, and to listen to Him. For God alone can satisfy and fill our longing—not just for a little while, but for time and eternity beyond.
When the Psalmist says one day in God’s courts is better than a thousand elsewhere, it also makes an interesting thought about time. C.S. Lewis comments on this verse by saying that we touch upon the eternal in worship. And to touch on the eternal is necessarily something we can describes by our poor grasp of time. He says we long and hope to someday be free from the constraints and limits of time, and to enter the eternal. The book of Ecclesiastes says that God has “put eternity into man’s heart” (3:20). So Lewis suggest it is because we are destined one day to move beyond this present limitation of time, that we continually marvel about time as though it were something strange to us—like when we say, “How he’s grown!” or “how time flies!” So better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere—is an expression of the timeless goodness of being in God’s presence. We yearn together with the Psalmist for the eternal delight and rest of God’s presence—a day of rest when no time is counted, but joy will be endless, filled with God’s perfect goodness. And we, with Peter and all the disciples, find that the loveliness of God’s presence in God’s beloved Son Jesus. Listen to Him! In His Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:
Listen at:

  1. Read Psalm 84, and reflect on the parallels with Peter’s remark “It’s good Lord to be here!” Why is there such joy and delight in God’s presence? How was God’s presence with His people found in the Old Testament?
  2. How is God’s presence personalized and localized in the New Testament? John 1:14. How did Peter, James and John witness this, uniquely in Matthew 17:1-9?
  3. What is the difference between something being “beautiful” and “lovely”? How does the Psalmist use the adjective “lovely?” How does God describe Jesus, when He speaks from the cloud? Matthew 17:5
  4. Though the “glory” of Jesus was hidden again, what remains for Peter and for us? Read Psalm 13:1; 44:24; 88:14; 102:2 and 104:29. What does the Psalmist not want God to hide from him, and why? In Psalm 51:9, by contrast, what does the Psalmist want God to hide, and why?
  5. In Psalm 84:10, what modest place is the Psalmist content to have? How can we compare this to our individual longings? Does our passion for God match the Psalmist’s, or Peter’s? Why or why not? What passions threaten to displace God from our center of attention, and love for worship?
  6. How is God far greater than His gifts, and all the things we can enjoy in this life? How does it teach us greater contentment and satisfaction, to have God as our highest love?
  7. Why is Jesus the center of God’s gift to us, and the focus of His love? How are we blessed when we love the things that God loves?
  8. How does Psalm 84:10 hint at time and eternity?

No comments: