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Good To Be Here - Pastor Woodford 2/11/18


5And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

            It is “good to be here.” That’s what Peter said. But what was good about it? And why was it so good? I love to think about the details of Scripture and let our faith explore and ask questions of the Bible. It’s good to be here. What was good about being there on that mountain?

It’s good to be here. Yes, it is also good that you are here this morning. But what is good about it? And why is it good. You often hear that it is good to go to church, but people want to know why it’s good and what exactly is so good about being here? 

After all, we want to know that too. Because, let’s be honest, sometimes actually getting “here” isn’t so good. Maybe the morning came too quickly, the kids wouldn’t get ready when they were supposed to, or you were in a hurry and got in an argument on the way, and now are not in the right frame of mind.

Perhaps your body is hurting too much, and getting up out of bed much less getting here, was a chore. Or maybe arriving here reminds you of the loss of your loved one and it stings each time you go through those doors. Yes, sometimes we find that getting to where it is good to be is a journey that is not always so good.

It is good to be here. More than a mere gathering of friends and acquaintances, it is good to be here because like Peter, James and John, you have gathered around Jesus. The same very Jesus they followed up that mountain, today you gather around His sacramental body and blood. And there is something powerfully good about that! To be where Jesus is brings a powerful hope and a marvelous comfort.

            Rabbi, it is good that we are here… So what did Peter think was good about being on that mountain? Was it a nice view? Was the air clean and warm? Did they find a nice grassy spot to lie down on? What was good about it?

            “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” The text tells us that it is not what was there that was good, but who was there that made it good. And did you note who all was there?

There appear with Jesus two great icons of the Old Testament. On one side is Moses, the great Law giver and deliverer of God’s people from slavery. He carried the stone tablets of the 10 commandments. He parted the Red Sea and led God’s people to the promise land.

On the other side is Elijah, the great Old Testament prophet. He defeated 450 prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, remained faithful in the face of great persecution, and was taken to heaven by a great fiery whirlwind.

We are not told how Peter knows who they are. And since there is no Bible picture directory that we know of that he could have referenced, we can assume that he knew their identity by divine intervention. Even so, that Peter, James, and John see them in bodily form is quite remarkable.

The bodily presence of Moses and Elijah reminds us that our physical bodies are precious to the Lord. Our bodies were a part of His creation that He called “good.” (Your body is precious in God’s sight. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.)

Moses and Elijah appear in bodily form and are standing next to Jesus as His divinity is brilliantly shining through His very body and blood. Elijah we know was taken up bodily into heaven. So it would only seem logical that he would appear with his physical appearance. However, Moses we are told was buried by God Himself.  So did God take up his body into heaven before He buried him or simply raise Him from the dead? We aren’t told.

The bodily presence of Moses and Elijah with Jesus points to the fulfillment of God’s promise given through them so long ago; and which was now being accomplished through the bodily presence of His Son, Jesus Christ. Their bodies are a reminder to us that the precious bodies of our loved ones who have died in the Lord will one day be made whole again.

Their bodies are a reminder that your body, which may have been defiled, shamed, or maimed, is precious to Jesus and is made whole and pure by the body and blood of Jesus here today. Yes, it is good to be here!

The promises foretold in the Old Testament were now being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The presence of Moses and Elijah put an exclamation point on that. When Peter sees all three of them together in one divine and magnificently terrifying moment, he declares: “It’s good to be here.”

If only we could have a mountain top experience like that! What we wouldn’t give to pitch a tent and find some divine shelter from all the chaos, the hurt, and madness of this world.

Too many times you and I look around our life and say, “Here, again?” Another long day, another fight, another lie, another bodily indiscretion, another disappointment, another question of “Why?” You look around saying, “Here, again. This is definitely not good to be here.”

Sin does that to you. It misleads you into a mountain of arrogance or crushes you under a mountain of guilt and shame. Such mountains are difficult to overcome—unless Jesus happens to be on that mountain with you.

There on that mount of transfiguration a blazing light of hope shines out for you. Jesus is revealed as Almighty God in the flesh. Whether you are standing atop a mountain of arrogance and idolatry or buried beneath a mountain of hurt and shame, Jesus stands with you, calling for you, and loving you.

It is good to be here because Jesus has sent me here to tell you that no matter what you have done, no matter what has been done to you, or what is happening to you, He promises to love you and give Himself to you here today.  

Though it may be terrifying, (like the text says it was for Peter on that mountain), it is nonetheless very good to be standing with Jesus. For you see, Jesus invites you to follow Him, to go down that mount of Transfiguration and follow Him up another.

On this particular mountain, Jesus is transformed as well. But rather than appearing in divine radiance and unlimited power, here His appearance became disfigured and marred. On this hill, His form became so gruesome He was one from whom men hid their faces.

Still, He invites you to come with Him to the mountain of Calvary, to see Him on the cross, to see your sins taken onto Himself, your hurt taken upon Himself, and your sorrow taken into Himself. You are invited to stand with Him on that mountain and to see, as terrifying as it is, that “it is good to be here.”

Then you watch as His precious body is carried to the tomb. You see it carefully wrapped and gently laid in the tomb. The very body which had been transfigured in a blaze of divine glory is now lying disfigured by torture and death. Yet you are invited to follow Jesus into that tomb, into His death, and, as difficult as it is, to see, “It is good to be here.”

 How can it be good to be here? That’s also what we ask in the midst of pain and strife. How can it be good to be here? That’s what we ask in the midst of suffering and death. How is it good to be here? It is good because you are with Jesus. And when you are with Jesus, be it on a mountain, under a mountain, on a cross, in the grave, or at His table, you are with Almighty God Himself.

Pain cannot stop Him. Sin cannot destroy Him. And death cannot hold Him. So when you are baptized into Jesus, you go where He goes, and He goes where you go. This means your failures, sin, and heartache is drenched in the unconditional love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

Yes, it is good to be here, right now, on this very day. For the same Jesus who stood on that mountain, bore that cross, and rose from the dead is set before you today. His very body and blood put into your mouth and into your lives, to give you hope, heal your hurts, and cleanse your body. “It is good to be here!”

This is a foretaste of what is to come. As Jesus’ dead body was transfigured from death to life in a blaze of almighty Easter glory, your body will be resurrected in the almighty light of Jesus’ eternal glory. There you will stand in the flesh, risen and glorified, with your Lord Jesus, and with all the saints—with Moses, Elijah, and all those who went before you—and there you will all declare, “It is good to be here.” Amen.  

Winning Others For Christ-Pastor Gless 2/4/18


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Two teams gather together today in Minneapolis at U.S. Bank Stadium. After all of the hard work, the practices, the team meetings, the games, the time has finally arrived. It’s the Super Bowl. Millions will gather around chips and chicken wings to watch the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots clash for one final game of the year. One final game where … it is all about winning. The losers are forgotten. The winners endure into history. It’s all about winning.

It’s not just that way in the Super Bowl. It’s that way in our lives too. Children battle it out over a toy to win possession of it…until they get bored and move on to a new one. Teenagers jockey to win positions of popularity. Athletes, young and old, duke it out to win another trophy for the case. Employees compete with other co-workers to win the praise of their bosses in hopes of winning that promotion. Corporations and company owners fight to win the next big contract. It’s all about winning.

Even the apostle Paul was all about winning. Five times in our Epistle reading, he references winning. But his understanding and approach to winning might look and sound a bit different than what we are used to.

For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all, I have made myself servant to all, that I might ‘win’ more of them (1st Corinthians 9:16-19).

You see, Paul was all about winning. But not winning the Super Bowl or a trophy or a promotion or a contract. His sole goal was to win others for Christ. It is a mission that began for him when he was on that road to Damascus. Breathing threats against the Christian Church, and having just approved the stoning of Stephen, Paul was met with a blinding light. And in that light, Jesus called out to him. Literally calling him out of darkness and into the marvelous light, Paul was soon baptized and began being instructed in the doctrine of the apostles. And then he was off and running. But not running for a trophy. He ran throughout his life to win others for Christ.

Listen again: For though I am free from all, I have made myself servant to all, that I might win more of them (1st Corinthians 9:19).

Luther explains this verse in this way: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant to all, subject to all.”

Perhaps even more clearly put: ‘The Gospel not only frees us from sin but also frees us for service. Every aspect of our lives is to be adapted to the needs of others so that they might come to faith in Christ.’

Now this doesn’t mean that we adapt the message of the Gospel to fit the wants and desires of others. To do so would only lead people astray and away from God. Rather, we hold fast to the message of Christ and Him crucified, and we let His Word stand.

What Paul is advocating for here is a most generous flexibility in love for our neighbors. And this is by no means any easy calling to fulfill. It means we are to put aside all of our self-interests, all of our wants, all of our rights, everything for the sake of winning others for Christ. Even if it means giving of our lives. In the verse preceding our text, Paul says that he “would rather die than have anyone deprive him of his ground for boasting.” Paul would rather die than not preach the gospel.

Now we are not all pastors, nor are any of us the great Apostle Paul, and we are certainly not Jesus. But like Paul, we have all been entrusted with a ‘stewardship’ as Paul calls it. We have all been given the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our baptism. We have been filled with the fruits of the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We have all that we need to share hope and teach Christ.

So why is winning others for Christ so difficult? Well, ever tried putting aside your rights and self-interests? It ain’t easy. Not one bit. We are a look-at-me, it’s all about me, selfie culture. Just watch the Super Bowl today. How many times do you think we will see our look-at-me culture on full display? From demonstrations during the National Anthem to touchdown dances to post-game interviews. We will be inundated with the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I.

But before we go pointing a finger at the athletes and celebrities, we need to stop and look at ourselves. How often do we seek the spotlight? How often do we seek attention? I mean, isn’t this where the selfie with our latest food that we ate all began? We love drawing attention to ourselves, and we love to think it’s our right to do whatever we want to do because we want to do it. But have we ever stopped to think that our words or actions might be drawing others away from Christ? You see, the problem is that with every attempt we make to draw attention to ourselves, our focus is driven farther away from Christ and loving our neighbor.

So Paul tells us: To the Jews I became a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (1st Corinthians 9:20-23).

Here Paul displays this generous flexibility that is all in alignment with love for his neighbors, not the self. He wants nothing to come between them and God, so he puts his interests and his rights aside to meet them where they are at in life. And where does this approach all come from?

From the One who displayed the most generous flexibility in love for others ever. Jesus willingly gave up His rights to the throne of heaven in love for us. He humbled Himself by being born of a virgin in a stable. He faced public scrutiny by dining with sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors. He was mocked, beaten, and whipped…all for the sake of winning others…He even gave His own life. He sacrificed His life so that He might save us.

As I wrote this sermon, I couldn’t help but think about the movie Hacksaw Ridge. In the movie, PFC Desmond Doss refused to bear arms during World War II for religious reasons. He faced constant scrutiny and abuse for being a pacifist who insisted on fulfilling his duty to be active in the war. But, when the Battle of Okinawa took place, Desmond Doss did the unthinkable. Facing a barrage of enemy fire, his battalion was ordered to retreat, but Doss refused to leave his comrades behind. Without a gun on his hip or in his hand, he single-handedly saved 75 men from death by literally dragging them out in the midst of constant enemy fire and lowering them by rope down the ridge. Each time he saved a man’s life, Doss prayed out loud, “Please Lord, help me get one more.”

What if we adopted this mentality for the sake of winning others for Christ? What if we put aside ourselves and our selfish desires so that by all means we might save some? Even just one more. There is not-a-one of us here that does not know someone that is not a believer in Christ.

What would it mean to us if someone set aside their own self-interests and the result was that our lost loved one was found in Christ? Perhaps it was their tithe to the Lord that paid for the pastor or missionary who serves in their community. Perhaps it was their time that they took out of their busy schedule to meet our loved one where they were at to share the love of Christ with them. Who knows?

God knows. And that’s why He equips each of us with all that we need to share the Gospel of Jesus with others. But there is a discipline that comes with it.

Paul writes: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1st Corinthians 9:24-27).

If we are going to run in such a way to win others for Christ, then it is essential that we practice self-control so that we don’t get caught up in this world and all of its temporary pleasures. It’s essential that we are in the Word daily and receiving the Lord’s Supper often so that we are constantly connected to Christ. So that we are given a share in Christ’s victory. So that we are equipped for winning others for Christ. Because we can’t do it on our own, and nor could Paul.

You see, Paul’s constant motivation for winning others for Christ was to look in the mirror and see himself for who he truly was. He was a sinner, and he knew it very well. He wrote: For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing (Romans 7:19) and that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost (1st Timothy 1:15).

This constant recognition of who he was before God, gave him a sense of gratitude for all that he had gained because of His Savior. Jesus had become all things in order to win him over from death to life. Suffering, bleeding, and dying, Jesus became weak so that by all means the weak would be saved. Paul, you, me. We are saved because of the self-sacrifice of Christ.

When we go about winning others for Christ, it all begins with looking to Christ and all that He won for us. He won for us the victory we needed over our sin, death, and the devil. He won for us eternity in heaven. As we consider the great debt he paid on our behalf, He motivates us to share that good news of great joy that is for all people. To be all things to all people in order to save some. “Please Lord, help me get one more.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Love Builds Up - Pastor Woodford 1/28/18


1Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.

Who is the smartest person you know? How do you know that they’re smart? Do they constantly tell you how knowledgeable they are, or do they simply serve others with their knowledge and let it speak for itself? In other words, do they use their knowledge to build others up or simply to puff themselves up? That’s what the Apostle Paul is getting at.  

There are plenty of people in this world who are happy to tell you how smart they are. Some tell you to your face, others tweet about it, and others write a book about it.

Apparently, this was a bit of a problem for the Christians at Corinth. Some were acting with Christian knowledge but not with Christian love. Corinth was a multicultural congregation with people of varying degrees of faith. In fact, some were only recent converts to Christianity. Only a month before they may have been worshipping false idols and eating meat in tribute to those false gods, but now they were learning the Christian faith and the way of life that went with it, which included putting a stop to what they learned were ungodly behaviors or practices.

The specific issue Paul is talking about in this reading was how those “smart” or “knowledgeable” Christians were treating fellow Christians, especially those who were not as well versed in the freedoms of the Christian faith, particularly about eating food offered to idols.   

To put this into contemporary terms, consider Hmong Village market just 45 miles from here in St. Paul. I’ve been there a few different times and it’s a unique market with all kinds of Hmong shops with authentic clothes, trinkets, and food from the south Asian countries (i.e. Vietnam and Laos).  This serves near 150,000 Hmong people now living in the Twin Cities.

In my visits I often saw in some of those food shops a statue of Buddha with incense burning in front of it in a manner that is overlooking all the food being sold. You and I know Buddha is a false idol and false religion. Therefore, I in good conscience had no problem buying the food or various curiously smelling fruits from the shop.

However, other Christians new to the faith may take offense at me buying food from that shop. Especially if it is a new Hmong Christian who just gave up all her Buddhist practices to become Christian. So would I be willing to forgo my freedom to buy and eat whatever I wanted from that shop for the sake of that fellow Christian? Do I love them enough to forgo a freedom I know I have so that they will not be offended.

That is what Paul is emphasizing when he says, knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. He goes on to explain: 5For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

7However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

In other words, just because you know you have the Christian freedom to do something, doesn’t automatically mean you should, nor does that “knowledge” make you better than someone else. Rather can you love others in such a way that builds them up?

The truth of the matter is the Lord wants His Church to be built up as a community, and that can only happen when its members display unselfish love for one another—which includes all those gathered with us today, along with those in our community, in our homes, and even in our work places. Love builds up. Love encourages. Love rejoices in others.

However, the arrogant person (noted in verse 2) who is satisfied in his or her possession of a certain level of Christian knowledge has not yet really comprehended the gift of the Christian faith. They have reduced the Christian faith to a mere set of facts or statements that they are happy to acknowledge, but do not know what it is to actually live the Christian faith in a way that actually loves others and looks to build others up.

In fact, Paul is quite blunt about those who claim such Christian knowledge. You and I do well to pay attention to it. Later in this same letter to the Corinthians (chapter 13:2) he says: “If I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

This world is filled with plenty of people who tear people down for their own delight: Bosses who rip apart employees but never compliment them. Parents who are happy to chastise their kids, but never give them encouragement or affection. Siblings who love to criticize their brother or sister, but are rarely patient with each other.  Classmates who harass others and call them names or relentlessly tease them; professors who intimidate and belittle students. Tearing people down happens all too often. Perhaps you know what that is like. Perhaps you do that.

To be sure, those 13 children who we imprisoned and abused in their own California home by depraved parents David and Louise Turpin, where some of them even chained to their beds, know what it is to be relentlessly torn down. The over 200 girls who were sexually assaulted by USA Olympic doctor, Larry Nassar, know that that is like. And the unborn children that never see the light of day because abortion continues to be a right in this land not only know what it is to be torn down, but literally torn apart.

Love that “builds up” seeks to protect life and celebrate life not just know what is considered life. We can have all the knowledge and all the smarts in the world, but without love, it amounts to nothing. I can be top dog at work, get all A’s on my report card, be the smartest coach, the smartest Christian, the smartest pastor, or even the smartest President of the United States, but if I have not love, I am nothing says the Apostles Paul.    

            Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up! Love creates security. Love sacrifices freedom. Love sacrifices sleep. It sacrifices time. It sacrifices money. It even sacrifices life. Jesus loves you so much He sacrificed His life for you on the cross so that you might be built up in love, and so share that love with others in your life.

But we often wonder, “what does that look like and sound like? Or how can I love when I just don’t feel like loving others. Or how can I love when I don’t feel very lovely?” Perhaps this example will help:

A man by the name of Rod Rosenbladt tells the story about one night when he was 16 years old. He grew up in a Christian family. It was the 1950’s and was one of the fortunate boys who had a car of his own. One Friday night he took his car out and picked up some buddies to have a teenage night on the town.

However, as Rod tells it he had been drinking throughout the night. In fact, he and his friends were all drunk. As one might expect, he ends up crashing his car. Fortunately, no one was hurt. But he knew he would have to tell his dad. The car was ruined.

After the accident, Rod called his dad, and the first thing his dad asked him was, “Are you all right?” Rod assured him that he was fine. Then he confessed to his father that he was drunk. Rod was naturally terrified about how his father might respond.

Later that night, after Rod had made it home, he wept and wept in his father’s study. He knew he was wrong. He knew what he had done. He was embarrassed, ashamed, and guilty.

So what do you think his father said? After ruining his car, putting the life of others in danger, being irresponsible and completely reckless, what do you think his father said? What would you say? What would you do? At the end of the whole ordeal, his father said to him: “How about tomorrow we go and get you a new car?”

Rod says God’s love became real to him in that moment of forgiveness and mercy. It washed over him and took a hold of him. As a result, Rod would go on to study to be a pastor. In fact, he went on to gain all kinds of Christian knowledge earning a Ph.D., yet always living in that love, where he would spend over 30 years of his life as a professor teaching and preaching about that love and grace to students at Concordia University in Irvine, California.

Of course, at the core of his teaching is not how much he knows, not how many degrees he has, nor how smart he is, but how much Jesus Christ loves his students. Love builds up!

You see, the love that Rod’s father showed him didn’t turn Rod into a drunk—it made him love both God and his father all the more.

But what’s interesting is that Rod says every time he tells this story in public there are always people in the audience who get angry. They say, “Your dad let you get away with that? He didn’t punish you at all? He missed a great opportunity to teach you responsibility!”

Rod always chuckles when he hears that response and says, “Do you think I didn’t know what I had done? Do you think it wasn’t the most painful moment of my whole life up to that point? I was ashamed; I was scared. And my father spoke grace and love to me in a moment when I knew I deserved wrath … and because of that I came alive.”

That is the nature of love and grace. Love builds up. As Christians who know God’s law, we know that we deserve punishment, but when we receive mercy instead of wrath, we discover love and the life that there is in it.

Our offenses are infinitely greater than a sixteen-year-old getting drunk and wrecking his car, yet God boasts not about how smart He is or how much He knows, but about pouring out His unconditional love on His undeserving children. Yes, the love of God is such that, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

True love is always at its most palpable and transformative when we are at our lowest. No one had to tell Rod to be sorry for his foolishness. He knew God’s law. No one had to tell Rod to be thankful that his dad didn’t repay him “as his sins deserved.” That one act of love and mercy transformed him—and his whole life was changed by it. Because that’s what love does. Love builds up.

You see, the only way we could ever possibly love our neighbor as ourselves is because we have been baptismally drenched in the irreversible, unconditional, and unending love of Jesus Christ. He loves you when you don’t feel lovely. He loves you when no one else loves you. Others may abandon you, hurt you, divorce you, and ignore you, but Jesus will love you. Always. No matter what.

And when you are loved like that, it changes you and transforms you. It builds you up. It gives you life. It let you share that love with others. Love builds up. In Jesus’ name, Amen.