Grace, mercy, and peace …. To get us into our meditation, let me share a short itinerary of the Lord’s work in the gospels leading up to the text I’m using.
First, let me speak to the campaign that comes to a close today. Three years ago a capital campaign was begun with the high ideals of we the members of St Matthew. Those ideals were motivated with a vision of providing much-needed funds for repairs,(1) educational benefits for our school children,(2) benefits and much needed pay increases for our staff,(3) and government-imposed facility upgrades.(4) This capital campaign was built around the prospect of the ministry our Lord has given us as we perceive it. The vision was stated this way: Moving Our Heritage in Christ Into the Future. [SLIDE 1] It was forward looking, positive, and optimistic.
In some ways I truly think our optimism was a lot like the disciples as they followed Jesus around the countryside, being awed by the healings, the raisings of the dead, the words He spoke to them personally, and just being close to Him, as they were right there in His presence day-after-day. Let me provide just a few snapshots of that day-to-day presence.
· The Lord blesses five loaves and two fish and the disciples feed over five thousand people.
· The crowds of people who were fed want to exalt Jesus to be their earthly King.
· But Jesus tells His disciples to get into a boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
· While He goes off to be by Himself to pray.
· The disciples fight the wind and waves of the sea.
· The disciples then see Jesus walking on the water.
· And Peter wants to walk on the water too so he asks, “Jesus, call me to come to you on the water.”
· Jesus does call Peter with a simple word “Come!”
· Peter walks on the water toward Jesus but seeing the tumult around him, begins to sink. [Look at the footsteps of our visual. If we consider those footsteps the footsteps of the campaign. Why did they stop? Why did Peter begin to sink?
· Even in that stormy and momentous malaise Peter still has the sense and the eyes to see Jesus and cry for help.
· A wonderful phenomena occurs in a rather staccato fashion next: Jesus immediately reaches out to Peter
· And immediately they are in the boat.
· Immediately and miraculously, the winds and waves are calmed and stilled. Peace settles over the sea.
· Immediately the boat lands on the shore near Gennesaret.
That brings us to the point and theme of our meditation: THE BOAT HAS LANDED, Jesus is With Us! The text for our meditation follows the sequence of events just mentioned and is taken from Matthew’s account of what follows when the boat landed at that place Gennesaret.
Matthew 14:34–36 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35And when the men of that place recognized him, [Jesus] they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick 36and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.
Now doesn’t that look like a successful ministry? People hustling all around, brining others to where they could be in the presence of Jesus. People maybe even struggling to just touch the fringe of His garment, the outer cloak He wore. Why? Because they expected something for their effort. They had heard about Jesus, the feedings, the healings, the teachings, and now it was their opportunity to be with Him and to receive whatever He might do for them. And as the scripture says: “as many as touched [the fringe of his garment were made well.” Success! Right! … But wait till you hear the rest of the story. Multitudes turned away at Jesus’ teachings which are harder to digest than the food and drink and the healings.
What follows all the good in Gennesaret is Jesus saying to the multitudes who were following him: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (John 6:26–27 ESV) I’d like to pose this question for all of us to think on if I may. Q: “Are we following Jesus simply because we want Him to satisfy our temporal, earthly desires?”
Again Jesus said to them: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 ESV) We have all heard the saying, “Never say never.” Yet Jesus says that here, and he means it. The question that raises in human hearts and minds is, Q: “Do I truly believe this?”
Probing into the darkness of human hearts is bound to stir trouble. Sure enough Jesus stirs trouble when he teaches the people this: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53–58 ESV)
The darkness in human hearts says, “Cannibalism!” How can he give us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink? We are back to the first question. Q: “Are we following Jesus simply because we want Him to satisfy our temporal, earthly desires?”
If so, we are numbered with those who said: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60 ESV) and when they had said it, they left Jesus. The footsteps stop! …
Likewise here. We can look at all the good things that have occurred in the past 50 years right here at St. Matthew Lutheran Church and rightfully say, “Those were great days!” Indeed, those days are marked by a strong evangelism outreach and teaching ministry that built this facility we worship in. The school served as an evangelistic tool to further populate the congregation and grow God’s kingdom. Many, over the years have been moved by St Matthew Lutheran Ministries to undertake a vocation of serving the Lord as professional church men and women. Many here today have, and some still are volunteering many hours at no pay as a way of using themselves to serve the Lord in the best way they can and know. And what else can be said of the LWML, the Mission teams, and ECC, the schools, and, well, you get the point. All of these things are as if Jesus had landed right here at our doorstep and allowed us to touch the fringe of His garment. By His grace we have all been healed, enfolded into his outer garment, made righteous by his blood and challenged to follow him. We have all tasted the bread of heaven and drank of that precious cup through the written Word and His commanded Sacraments that carry with them the promise of forgiveness and power and strength for godly living.
Even so. Even for all the good that has come out of this congregation, the Step Out … Pass It On capitol campaign comes to a close with what some might call a total failure. If we count success by the numbers, I suppose that might be correct. But isn’t that trusting in dollars and cents, numbers and temporal earthly things? Let’s thank God for what has happened and bring this Step Out … Pass it on campaign to a blessed end, and say, “To God be the glory!” THE BOAT HAS LANDED, Jesus is With Us! Amen.
The end of Step Out … Pass it on is not the end for St Matthew Lutheran Ministries. Like Jesus in Gennesaret, there are still people all around that are in need, THE BOAT HAS LANDED, Jesus is With Us! We are not alone. We are not without hope. His mission and ministry is never stagnant, never stale, never without change or challenge. His disciples simply go where Jesus goes to do what Jesus does. Even though the multitudes turn away because Jesus’ teachings are too difficult, they will never change. Thank God for that! The world and all that surrounds us will always be changing, but our God and our Savior and His Word remains steadfast, inviolate, and faithful to the purpose for which it has been given.
We are here like the disciples of old in this regard, assured and content by His presence with us. What will come next, only He knows! Therefore, let us always seek His way and His will as we go about doing our work in the world today. We live in a broken world that needs healing. That’s our purpose as the body of Christ, as the Church of God, as people moved from the status of death to that of life. That’s our mission here at St. Matthew Lutheran Church which is stated in our own mission statement: “To Know Jesus & to Let Him Be Known.”
Like the apostles, after Jesus ascended into His glory and poured out His Holy Spirit on all His disciples, every believer has the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. This is precisely why we do not measure success by dollars and cents, or numbers large or small. Success is measured by one thing only, the presence of Jesus!
· [SLIDE 6] When people hear the gospel of salvation so that they might come to faith in Christ, that’s success! That means there can be new growth on the true vine, and new birth by the Spirit of the living God. That’s how God measures success.
· [SLIDE 7] When God’s Word is proclaimed in its truth and purity in a public place like this, that’s success! Praise be to God when receptive hearts dwell read, mark, and meditate on that Word.
· [SLIDE 8] When the water and word of Holy Baptism is administered according to Jesus’ own command, that’s success! Praise be to God when it takes hold of a soul by faith.
· [SLIDE 9] When the eternal word made flesh comes to His people in His own Body and Blood to forgive, nurture and nourish their faith in Him, that’s success! For by it they can grow in the grace and favor of God and man, just like Jesus; and that regardless of their age.
It is the Word of God that motivates believers to action. But just hearing the Word won’t do a thing, even though “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17 ESV). With faith there is the realization that trust in God also acts. Faith always arouses obedience and obedience always arouses faith. That’s the point Paul makes in verses 10 and 11 of today’s epistle lesson: “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:10–11 ESV).
THE BOAT HAS LANDED, Jesus is With Us! In Christ Jesus we have died to sin and are alive to God. That means a new status, a new life, not because of our holiness and righteousness, but purely and solely because He who is with us is Holy and Righteous.
Therein is our life, our purpose, and our heritage. It is all in Christ! It is He whom we serve as His forgiven and honored children. We are the ones who have touched the fringe of His garment and have been brought from death to life, from darkness into light, from sin into righteousness, if, we feed the Spirit living in us, and not the flesh. THE BOAT HAS LANDED, Jesus is With Us!
In His sermon last week our pastor challenged us to act out our faith. I believe he did that not to lay a burden on us that God has not intended, but for Jesus to lay more blessing on us that God certainly has intended. This is how he challenged us:
“Christians today are still unpacking these inexhaustible Christmas gifts from our heavenly Creator. Like Mary, we too should treasure up all these things in our hearts. In that vein, I’m challenging each & every one of you to make it your New Year’s resolution to give up the six Wednesday nights of Lent to Jesus so you can attend the worship services here.” THE BOAT HAS LANDED, Jesus is With Us! Let us hear Him!
Our pastor as any pastor worth his salt would, went on to say:
“Pray about & anticipate the blessings & fellowship Christ will deliver to you, here in His Father’s house. Pray that He will give you a greater ability to understand Jesus, & the love He has for you. Pray that you will be healed of the damage caused by your own sins, as well as that caused by the sins of the people around you. Then he spoke this prayer: “O Lord, the answer to our poverty is not wealth. The answer to our sicknesses is not health. The answer to our sadness is not happiness. The answer to everything that life & death can throw at us is Jesus, & Him alone.”
Here in a very real way, the fringe of our Lord’s garment is still exposed for any who we might bring to him. His footsteps will not stop until he has accomplished all things written in the scripture. We are His footsteps for He is dwelling in us. [SLIDE 10] THE BOAT HAS LANDED, Jesus is With Us! Amen! The peace of the Lord …
Pastor Dean R. Poellet