The Home of God
Mark E. Ryman • A sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, February 11, 2018
Leviticus 26:9–13; Psalm 114:1–8; Revelation 21:1–4; John 14:1–3
May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Everybody wants a place that they may call home—a place where they are welcomed and loved, where they can be themselves while growing into who they are meant to be, by God’s grace. Our church’s outreach slogan sort of encapsulates that idea: “Grace: a gift from God, a place for you.”
Now, just so you understand, at our recent Council retreat last month, we wrote a mission statement for our church that sounds different. It’s on the front of your bulletin, and reads: “Proclaiming the grace of Christ in Word and Sacrament.” That is our mission. It’s our purpose for being a congregation. We want to be very intentional and focused in a mission of proclaiming the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and doing so through both Word and Sacrament.
That mission statement is what we understand ourselves to be. It’s our reason for being a congregation. But we want the surrounding community to hear this: Grace is a gift from God. But in terms of Grace Lutheran Church, it can be a home for you—a place where you will be welcomed and loved while growing into the person God wants you to be, and who you can become through his grace.
Everybody needs a place like that but that place isn’t a home because it looks pretty, has all the right furnishings, and is comfortable. It has to have the right person or persons living there with you.
Let us pray. Majestic Father, through his transfiguration you reveal Jesus as the beloved Son whom you sent to live among us. By the indwelling power of his Spirit, reveal yourself to us so that we will abide with you until that day when the same Christ Jesus returns for us to enjoy the fullness of your glory for eternity. Amen.
We all grew up in different kinds of homes. Some of us for better; some worse, I imagine. Some of us probably never wanted to leave the home we grew up in; some of us couldn’t wait to move out. God however, can’t wait to move in. And he never wants to move out.
This is how he brought the Israelites out of the land of Egypt. It is how he delivers us from bondage to sin and death. He lives among us.
The right person can make all the difference. I watched an interview with Steve Kerr, the coach of the Golden State Warriors. He talked of when he was the General Manager for the Phoenix Suns, and how badly the Suns wanted to get Stephen Curry to come to Phoenix. It wasn’t just because he was a good basketball player, likely to become much better. They wanted him because he was a good player—and a good person. The right person on a team can turn a team around. The right person in your family can turn your home around. It can make it the kind of home and family that you never want to leave.
God delivers us by dwelling with us. He makes us productive, blesses us, and free us from those things that constrain us in life by walking with us through life. By walking with us and being our God, he shows us how to live: how to bear fruit, receive his gifts, and live liberated lives. Because he is here with us, we follow him.
It’s hard to follow a father or mother who is never home. If they are working all the time, hanging out with friends too much, or just check out of family life, studies inform us, experience shows us, and common sense tells us that dysfunctional children can be the result.
God is not that kind of Father. He has always made it a point to be with us. We have seen in our reading through the Bible this year that God was present with his people even when they weren’t sure whether he was a supernatural being or a human being. They knew him to be the Lord God whether he appeared to be man or angel, or for that matter fire or cloud. But we can see that he was very near, present with his people, walking and abiding with them. He was so present and visible in the exodus that they could easily follow him. By the time of his incarnation, when God became both supernatural and natural, God and man, in Jesus Christ, you’d think that we would more easily be able to obey him when he repeatedly said, “Follow me.”
This is what discipleship means. Discipleship is following God through the wilderness of life. That starts with realizing he is home. God is present, as Paul says: “He is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:27–28).
In the typical Transfiguration Gospel Lesson, we would see Jesus on the mountain with Moses and Elijah. Just a few of his disciples, Peter, James, and John, would be near enough to see his glorious radiance, so bright as though to block out the appearance of the patriarch and prophet. High up on that mountain, they hear a voice from an overshadowing cloud: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7).
In the next scene, the last verse of the lectionary Gospel reading for Transfiguration Sunday, those disciples are coming down the mountain side, following Jesus and listening to him. From there, of course, they continue to listen to him, in fact, even living with him as they traveled throughout the land. This is discipleship: following God, listening to him, living with him. And this is easy to do since he still walks among us through his Spirit who has made us his home—so much so that believers are seen as temples of the living God. Again, Paul says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16).
The glory of the Spirit of Jesus, the transfigured incarnation of God, the fire and cloud of the wilderness, the burning bush deliverer, the creator of heaven and earth, has determined to live among us, Indeed, in these last times, he has gone further still; he has chosen to abide within us!
“When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became his sanctuary, Israel his dominion” (Psa 114:1–2). When the Israel of God was delivered out of the house of sin and death, believers became his temple, the Church his kingdom. God is indeed not far from each one of us, for he lives within us, living and moving and being God.
With God so near, some still will not listen. I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising. It is this way in human families. Children ignore their moms and dads. We used to be able to do this with no distractions other than our own childish obstinance. Now, they have TV, video games, and cell phones to distract them.
What distracts you from hearing the voice of Christ? What keeps you from reading his Word each day, from praying to him continuously, from Wednesday Bible study, from Sunday worship?
Remove the distractions and follow him so that you may see with John that he has not only gone to prepare a place for you, it is ready! Don’t you hear the voice? It is a loud voice coming from a throne. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
God has made a home for you. You do not need to wait for death to experience it. Though he is calling you heavenward, the prize of that upward call is not yet here. So, we press on for that goal, as Paul says in Philippians 3:16, by holding on to what we already have. We have the example of the apostles and the early Church, who continued to walk with God after his ascension, “devot[ing] themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). And we have him, his very Spirit, who lives within us, calling us upward every day, every moment.
Even so, in these present days, may Grace Lutheran Church—each one of you—be that home to God who makes his dwelling among us.
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in his Christ. Stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. He stands with you. Amen.