Jesus, Our Advocate- Sermon for February 14, 2021

Sermon for February 14, 2021

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     The Today’s Show weatherman Al Roker was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostrate cancer last year. When he informed his wife Deborah about this diagnosis she admitted that ‘she lost it’, worrying about whether or not her husband will be with her much longer. Al Roker assured his wife that the doctor gave a good prognosis since the cancer was detected in time. His wife accompanied him on every medical appointment offering support and asking important questions. Al Roker had surgery in November and has made a full recovery and you can continue to enjoy his happy attitude on the Today show. Al Roker said this about his wife Deborah, “When somebody you love happens also to be your best advocate, that’s just a bonus. It helps you a lot to get through. That can make all the difference.” It is indeed a testimony to the power of love, all very appropriate today, Valentine’s Day.

     Valentine’s Day is a popular holiday. Just walk into the stores in Eagle River: the grocery stores have bunches of red roses on sale. The Walgreens has a whole aisle devoted to Valentine’s Day cards. Some of the gift stores have signs advertising candy for the holiday. But Valentine’s Day is not a church festival. The church does not sell candy, cards, or flowers. The church gives out the gospel, the good news of God’s love for us all. Al Roker spoke of his wife’s love during a difficult time. He called her his best advocate. An advocate is one who takes your side. An advocate is one who is by your side. An advocate is one who never leaves your side. The Bible calls Jesus our advocate, the Savior who is ever at our side to speak the good news of God’s love even when we feel unlovable, speaks the good news of the forgiveness of sins even when we are guilty, and speaks the promise of his love transforming us so we learn to love as he does.

The church does celebrate a festival today, the “Transfiguration of Our Lord.” The term refers to what happened when Jesus, along with three of his disciples took a hike up a high mountain to be by themselves. The Gospel of Luke said Jesus went up the mountain to pray. Jesus was transfigured before them, meaning his outward appearance changed. His clothes became dazzling white, far beyond any brand of bleach to make this change. What was revealed was the light of heavenly glory. Jesus was not alone but joined by Moses and Elijah and they were engaged in conversation. We recognize the names of important people in the history of Israel. Moses had mountaintop experiences talking with God and receiving the Ten Commandments and others laws for the people of Israel. Exposed before the glory of the Almighty God Moses’ face would actually shine. Elijah, too, went up a mountain to stand before the Lord and hear God’s word to continue his work as prophet. We heard today in the first lesson how Elijah was transported to heaven in a chariot and horses of fire. Moses was considered the greatest of prophets and Elijah was expected to return to prepare Israel for the coming of the Messiah.

In the midst of such heavenly light Peter spoke up with a suggestion: “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter may have had the important Jewish festival of Booths in mind. This festival called for the people to make temporary dwellings for outdoor use, remembering how God provided for Israel during the long journey from slavery to the freedom of the Promised Land. But the reading said Peter did not know what to say since he and his companions were terrified. Who wouldn’t be scared when a quiet time of prayer, or a hike up a mountain is suddenly changed by a display of heavenly glory. On top of this a cloud overshadows Peter, James, and John. A voice from the cloud, the voice of Almighty God spoke clearly: “This is my Son, the Beloved: listen to him!” The words remind us of Jesus’ baptism. When Jesus came up out of the water he alone heard the voice from heaven, “You are my beloved Son.” Now the three disciples heard as well. Jesus was more than their rabbi, a teacher to be sure, but also the Son of God. When the disciples present had the nerve to look they saw no one except Jesus. Peter, James, and John, perhaps the three disciples chosen for leadership, heard an important lesson on that mountain; after all the word ‘disciple’ means ‘student’ or ‘learner’. All who follow Jesus must learn the same lesson, Listen to Jesus. This is the key verse for the gospel lesson today.

Peter, James, and John had trouble listening to Jesus. I think we can have the same trouble ourselves. Prior to the gospel today Jesus told his followers that he would undergo great suffering and be killed, and after three days rise from the dead. Peter took Jesus aside to correct him. But Jesus rebuked Peter sternly for setting his mind on human things, and not divine things. And Jesus told them to listen: if they want to follow him it is necessary for them to deny themselves and take up the cross. But they would not listen. They could not listen. Can we really listen to Jesus who said ‘who ever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” The world does not think that way or teach such things.

Listen to Jesus. Peter witnessed heavenly glory on the mountain top. But Jesus did not come to this world to be a mountain-climb instructor. He came to be our Advocate. In the first letter of John we read, “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” In the 13th chapter of Hebrews we read, “Keep yourselves free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for Jesus said, ‘I will never leave or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” We must listen to Jesus and the good news of him being our advocate who takes away our sin and will never forget or forsake us.

Confirmation students have trouble at times understanding Jesus as their Advocate, the one who takes their side even when they mess up. Students can think they have to somehow earn the right of Jesus being for them and not against them. Recently they heard verses that honestly speak of how we have sinned or messed up, but only the partial verse. They heard the bad news, now what would they think the good news would be to complete the verse. A verse from 1 Peter was read, “For you were going astray like sheep”. If that is the bad news, what is good news? One student with enthusiasm replied “Jesus is our shepherd who finds us and takes us to himself.” She indeed listened to the gospel for Jesus is the shepherd and guardian of our souls.

To listen to Jesus does not mean we misconstrue his words and use them to perpetuate hate against other people. To listen to Jesus does not mean we use them to gain power over others and treat anyone as inferior. To listen to Jesus does not mean we can use his gift of salvation to isolate ourselves from the suffering of others. The corrective is the cross where Jesus was revealed to be the Advocate for the sins of the whole world. The cross reveals the powerful love of God to take away our sins, but also love that is to transform us. The festival today of the Transfiguration of Jesus, his heavenly glory, means our transformation. This transformation comes as lifelong learning, as we listen to Jesus and as Luther taught in the Catechism: God gives us the Holy Spirit so we “believe God’s holy word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.”

I read about a new church in Los Angeles with the name Beloved Everybody Church. On their website three symbols are used. First a hand-drawn heart is seen on the screen with the words “God loves you so much. No matter what you have done or not done. God loves everybody else, too, including the people who make you mad. God’s love is unconditional.” Then there is a picture of a wrapped present and the words “we just are gifts to each other, just as we are.” Then there is a picture of a butterfly and the words, “we remember God’s power of transformation, that we and our world are being transformed just like a butterfly does, so no matter where we find ourselves now, we know God is still with us and making us and all things new.” It is a church that welcomes everyone not judging by appearance or making separations based on able-bodied or disabled. This church seeks to be a community where everyone is honored and understood to have something to offer everyone. The membership is not large, but members may have left other churches where they were misunderstood or judged. A mother with a boy with autism stopped going to church because people did not understand her son. But at Beloved Everybody Church her son has the important role of blessing the congregation at the end of the service. We may like to think we are a Beloved Everybody Church, but it is not easy for many reasons. So we must listen to Jesus who loves us all unconditionally, has gifted all for the benefit of all, and walks with us faithfully as our ever-present Advocate, transforming us to love and serve like him.

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