Transfiguration Sunday – C LSB #’s 414, 918, 537
Text – Deuteronomy 34:10-12
And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs & the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh & to all his servants & to all his land, & for all the mighty power & all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.
GREAT DEEDS OF TERROR
Vladimir Putin certainly is not Moses, but like Moses did thousands of years ago, Putin is currently unleashing great deeds of terror. If you are on the receiving end of those deeds it can be extremely difficult to consider the motive behind them. Suffering is suffering, & in those moments, it is all but impossible to look past our pain.
As we are seeing in the nation of Ukraine, if evil men are to be stopped, it’s not uncommon that they must be overpowered by force. Asking them nicely only makes them laugh & enjoy all the more the terror they cause. Evil does not stand down because it cannot. That’s why people are anxious about the events in Europe – evil has no power to stop itself.
That’s why no evil will be allowed in heaven. Hell is the ultimate quarantine. There, evil shall be contained for all of eternity, &, unlike our human efforts in 2020, that quarantine will never fail. However, the glorious paradise in eternity has not yet been fulfilled. The Word of God in Deuteronomy was given to us for the life we live here in this vail of tears.
Given the atrocity of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, WWIII is not off the table. Even the current war is likely to have a tremendous effect upon our economy & lifestyle. The world we have become accustomed to since the death of Adolph Hitler has drawn to a close. How are we to deal with the anxiety that comes from human political failure?
Obviously, in all circumstances, the answer is to trust in the Almighty God to care for us. We are certain that He loves us because Jesus died to pay for the sins of the entire world, even those committed by Vladimir Putin. However, that answer is looking at things from 30,000 feet. How does the answer look at the ground level upon which you & I live? For that, I’m going to take you back to the great deeds of terror done by Moses. That’ll help us understand what our Lord was doing through him & how it impacted the Israelites & their enemies at their ground level.
How many of you have heard of the 10 plagues? The early ones weren’t so much deeds of terror as deeds of nuisance. First their source of water turned to blood. Then frogs covered the land, even entering their beds, ovens & cooking utensils. Pharaoh’s magicians were allowed to replicate these feats so Pharaoh was not impressed.
Then came the gnats & next came the flies. They covered man & beast & the Pharaoh’s magicians could not replicate this, so they told Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” “But Pharaoh hardened his heart… & did not let the people go.” (Exodus 8:19 & 32 ESV) God escalated things with #5 & all the livestock of the Egyptians died, but none of the Israelite’s livestock did.
Then came in succession, plagues of boils, hail, locusts & darkness. After these, God tells us that He hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not allow God’s people to leave. Before the plague of locusts:
“…the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart & the heart of his servants, so that I may perform these signs of Mine among them, & that you may tell in the presence of your son, & of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians & how I performed My signs among them, so that you may know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 10:1-2 ESV)
It may seem counter intuitive to us, but God is clearly saying that He worked great deeds of terror through Moses so that people might know that Yahweh is Lord. If you trust in Jesus as the One who saves you from sin then you must know that God’s motives are always good. He wants us to know Him as our Lord & as our Savior. In spite of all our doubts Yahweh always knows what is best for each of us, not just in a perfect world, but even in a world broken by sin. Vladimir Putin also wants people to know that he is lord. So do you & me. That’s what are sinful nature is, the desire to be lord. Mr. Putin just happens to have a lot more power at his disposal than we do. And much of the world is now well aware that his motives are not good.
Finally, after hardening Pharaoh’s heart through the 9th plague, God crushes him with the 10th great deed of terror. Then, Pharaoh allows the people of God to leave.
“And that night at midnight, the Lord struck down all the firstborn sons in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sat on his throne, to the firstborn son of the prisoner in the dungeon. Even the firstborn of their livestock were killed. Pharaoh & all his officials & all the people of Egypt woke up during the night, & loud wailing was heard throughout the land of Egypt. There was not a single house where someone had not died. (Exodus 12:29-30 NLT)
Great deeds of terror are highly unsettling because they all too clearly demonstrate our utter helplessness. That is true in the face of evil, & it is true in the face of good. The sinful nature in each of us wants to be god, yet it is entirely incapable of being so. Every now & then, for our own good, we need to be reminded of that.
I believe that Putin’s deed of terror is being used by God as a ‘wakeup’ call to the people & to the leaders of the free world. I also believe that the bravery & heroism of President Zelenskyy & of the Ukrainian people is also being used by God as a ‘wakeup’ call to Christians around the world.
Every day Satan is waging war on us. That battle is raging all hours of the day & night, & he doesn’t use such obvious weapons as tanks & fighter planes. When you wake up each morning, it would be wise to put on the spiritual armor that our Savior paid for with His own life.
And if you remember, as soon as the people of Israel had crossed the Red Sea, escaping certain capture at the hands of the Egyptian army, they needed a wakeup call: “Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, & they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness & found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” (Exodus 15:22-24 ESV)
They had just seen the entire Egyptian army destroyed before their very eyes yet three days in they’d already forgotten the almighty power of God. And what did they do? They questioned His motives, & we’re no different. At least the Israelites did not have proof of God’s love in the crucifixion & resurrection of His Son. We do & we still question God’s motives.
Pastors sometimes lose sight of the fact that it is not easy to live by faith instead of by sight. Pastors need wakeup calls too, but when any of us are on the receiving end of great deeds of terror it’s understandable that we have a difficult time considering the motives behind them. The truth is that God is always able to use those deeds of terror to fulfill His plan.
The crucifixion of Jesus is again the ultimate example. In the Roman world there was no more terrifying way to die than crucifixion, & still Jesus resolutely made His way to Jerusalem for that very purpose. His death on the cross is what He & Moses & Elijah were talking about at His transfiguration:
“And behold, two men were talking with Him, Moses & Elijah, who appeared in glory & spoke of [Jesus’] departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:30-31 ESV) His departure is His death on the cross, which Jesus accomplished in order to pay for all the sins of all people throughout all of history.
That good news is what makes it possible to confess & repent of our sins, because they will not harm us. Only refusing that forgiveness, which is already accomplished, causes separation between us & God, between us & eternal life. And that refusal, that unbelief is a stubborn disease to root out. Sometimes it takes great deeds of terror to wake us up to the danger that we are in without Christ as our Lord & as our Savior. I appreciate what Martin Luther wrote concerning the book of Deuteronomy:
“Moses beautifully repeats & edits into brief compass the whole history, the good deeds & the wonders of God, at the same time mentioning also the deeds of godless men. He intends to declare the glory & magnificence of God & thus to coax the people to trust the divine goodness & to fear His wrath, so that, taught by experience, they might become ready to receive His [instruction] from the heart.”
Job received that instruction from God after what we could certainly describe as great deeds of terror. All his children were killed, all his sheep & cattle were stolen or destroyed, & his wife told him to curse God & then die. Yet, he remained faithful through it all & famously spoke these words: “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him…” (Job 13:15 ESV)
If we remain faithful to God & hope in Him to the end of our days, we will join Moses & Elijah & Jesus in transfiguration glory forever & ever. Amen.
Guide me, O Thou great Redeemer, pilgrim through this barren land. I am weak, but Thou art mighty; hold me with Thy powerful hand. Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more. When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside; death of death & hell’s destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side. Songs of praises, songs of praises I will ever give to Thee. Amen. LSB 918:1, 3.
 American Edition 9:16.
7th Sunday after Epiphany – C LSB #’s 766:1-5, 851, 766:6-9
Text – Luke 6:35
But love your enemies, & do good, & lend, expecting nothing in return, & your reward will be great, & you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful & the evil.
LOWERING YOUR EXPECTATIONS
What did you expect? It’s the kind of phrase you hear when circumstances have not met your expectations. Since the winter Olympics are ending today, maybe you’ve decided to take up ice skating. Then, you fall as you attempt a triple axel & someone says, “What did you expect? You’ve never even gone ice skating before today!”
Attempting a triple axel on your first time at the ice rink would be a case of expectations that are too high. Nevertheless, in the United States, it’s common to hear this message, “Aim high! Reach for the stars! You can be anything you want to be. If you aim for nothing you will hit it!” It’s taught that the key to success is high expectations.
Aiming high is especially taught in sports, & the business world preaches that message as well. Motivational speakers can earn a lot of money in our culture, & many TV evangelists are essentially motivational speakers in religious disguise.
It may seem counterintuitive then that some research shows the key to happiness is low expectations. In The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, he identifies two buckets of people: “satisficers” & “maximizers.”
Satisficers are people with low expectations. They’re the ones who make a choice by thinking, “That’s good enough.” Then, they move on with their day.
Maximizers are people with high expectations. They’re the ones who think long & hard about their decisions in order to make THE BEST decision. People seem to naturally assume that maximizers are awesome & they are the winners at life. However, as it turns out, in their pursuit of “the best,” Maximizers are always disappointed. They second-guess themselves & never feel certain that they made the right decision. They’re paralyzed with a constant case of the “what if’s.” For example, “What if I had done some stretching exercises before I tried that triple axel? What if I had chosen the other college, or the other career, or the other church?”
Maximizers set the bar so high, they can never reach it. In real life, you’re rarely going to make the best (or the right) choice every single time. You have incomplete information, insufficient time, & all sorts of other distractions.
Satisficers are happier in the long run. When you have lower expectations, you are far better equipped to survive the bumps along the way, rather than being derailed by them as Maximizers often are.
Because sin corrupts everything, high expectations often become the very chains that enslave us. Our high expectations can end up enslaving the very people whom we are trying to help. People with high expectations tend to make the destination the entire focus of their living. As a result, much of the time they completely miss the journey.
Following Jesus is not just about the destination no matter how glorious heaven will be, & no matter how important it is. Following Jesus is also about the journey, about the life that we live in the here & now.
So, if low expectations are the key to happiness & high expectations are the key to success, how do children of God reconcile the two? How do we combine low & high expectations in our day-to-day decisions of life? How do we help those we love without enslaving them? Some of the words of Psalm 37, in the Introit, show us the way:
“Be still before the LORD & wait patiently for Him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way. (37:7 ESV) Delight yourself in the LORD, & He will give you the desires of your heart.” (37:4 ESV) Rather than living in constant criticism, of ourselves & others, always trying & failing to achieve high expectations, Jesus teaches us to be still & wait for the Lord to achieve our success. If we delight ourselves in the Lord rather than in our efforts & accomplishments, then God will give to us the desires of our heart.
The sermon text tells us, “But love your enemies, & do good, & lend, expecting nothing in return…” That last phrase, ‘expecting nothing in return’ is the ultimate in lowering your expectations. You can’t get any lower than nothing!
And loving your enemies isn’t much higher than nothing – especially as we hear the loud noise of the cancel culture in our day. That culture is constantly critical of anything that isn’t exactly as they wish it to be. They expect everything in return & are never satisfied. Happiness is something they’ll never know.
Following Jesus means that we lower our expectations of sinful human beings, ourselves included. It also means raising our expectations of Christ, who is the new Adam – the human being without sin.
The Gospel reading began, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, & from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.” (Luke 6:27-29 ESV)
Those sound like very high expectations, but in them, Jesus calls us to look beyond ourselves to the One who was poor for us, who hungered in the wilderness for you & me, who wept for His creation as He entered Jerusalem. Jesus received the hate, the insults & the exclusion for all sinful human beings who can never live up to those expectations.
Jesus calls us to look beyond ourselves to Him, so that we don’t get hung up over our
failures & give up trying to follow Him. Being saved from sin is our destination, but our life doesn’t end as soon as we come to faith. People often live long lives here on earth with countless opportunities to love God & to our neighbor as ourselves. Those opportunities are not the destination but they are the journey & they are important too.
Our Father in heaven does not call us simply to be Christians who never need to be in God’s house. He calls us not simply to the destination, but to the journey as well. And in spite of all the struggles, there is much joy in the journey, in being alive in the moment. High expectations of ourselves normally obscure the moment as we focus on accomplishing our goal.
Jesus wants us sinful humans being to know that He accomplished the goal for us, so that we can be aware of the journey & the moments of our lives. We don’t need special skills to be a Christian. Having received mercy, we offer mercy. We don’t need to surround ourselves with only successful people.
When confronted with anger, disparagement & rejection, we suffer, as Jesus suffered. When coming across those who are homeless, helpless & hopeless, we love as Jesus loves through us. We continue to live in the world, but we do so fully invested in our daily lives because we know that the kingdom of God is present already here.
Anytime & everywhere, moments of mercy can break out in our world. The beauty of this is that moments of mercy can be quite powerful. God can use a moment of mercy to change a person’s life. The Father sent His Son into our world to be the spring of His bountiful mercy. By his death & resurrection, Jesus opens a fountain of mercy that has a never-ending stream.
Just as water can awaken life in soil that has been dry & dead for years, so too God brings life in the wilderness of our world through moments of mercy. That is part of our journey & we receive it from God’s hand as He chooses. No work or effort on our part can cause God’s blessing to come. All this is important because we live in a world that has lost sight of mercy. Our culture is changing. We are becoming a cancel culture. In a cancel culture, if a moment of sin or error is uncovered, then the one who committed that sin is canceled.
A text message from twenty years ago containing a racial slur is enough to cancel the career of a sports announcer. It doesn't matter that a teenage boy can grow & change & even repent of his earlier actions. The world’s answer to sin is cancelation – not forgiveness - & certainly not restoration.
In a cancel culture, the cure actually kills the patient. Cancellation purifies by exclusion. It sanctifies by silencing. And soon our streets will be filled with people who don't matter.
Into such a world, Jesus speaks these words to his people. He awakens in our lives an echo of his grace. Repentance, forgiveness & new life are foreign concepts in a culture obsessed with canceling. But in the kingdom of God, these are the ways of God's working. So, it is a blessing not only for us but for our world that Jesus comes and speaks these words today.
He reminds us that the kingdom we live in is a kingdom of grace, with moments of life-changing mercy breaking out around our world. It is best if we lower our expectations for what we can do & raise our expectations for what Jesus is doing. Amen.
Lord of glory, You have bought us with Your lifeblood as the price, never grudging for the lost ones that tremendous sacrifice. Give us faith to trust You boldly, hope, to stay our souls on You; but, oh, best of all Your graces, with Your love our love renew. LSB 851:4.
6th Sunday after Epiphany – C LSB # 912, 704, 729
Text – Jeremiah 17:5 & 7
Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man & makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.”
CURSED OR BLESSED
Are you cursed or are you blessed? PAUSE
“The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock & above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, & dust you shall eat all the days of your life.’” (Genesis 3:14 ESV) That is a verse familiar to many who follow Jesus. Cursed by God, Satan is, because he tempted Adam & Eve to sin.
‘Cursed’ is a strong word when used by the Almighty God, & He uses the exact same word in reference to any man who trusts in man. By definition, that means anyone whose heart turns away from the Lord is cursed just as Satan is. Strong language that is, the kind frowned upon in our culture especially when spoken from a religious context.
People who practice religion are supposed to be nice & kind & gentle & certainly not at all judgmental. And yet, the Lord God wants to know how you answer this question, “Are you cursed or are you blessed?” The Creator of heaven & earth is asking because He loves you, & because He is concerned about the state of your soul.
Satan wants you to believe that God does not have your best interests at heart. Satan wants you to feel like God is only concerned with judging you. The devil wants you to ignore or to discount the fact that Yahweh sent His only begotten Son to die for your sins. Lucifer wants you to forget that there is now nothing separating you from your heavenly Father.
The great deceiver knows that faith in Jesus as Savior is always imperiled on one side by despair & on the other by optimism. Of the two, optimism is the more dangerous. Optimism & self-sufficiency go hand in hand. Optimistic people believe in their nation, in their culture, in the goodness of people. They believe in the capacity of human reason for infinite growth. They believe in the scientific progress of mankind & in the human ability to shape a government or civilization that will be free of evil. Human pride is one root of human failure.
Cursed are those who trust in people, even if they are pious people. Cursed are those who trust in the visible church. Even God’s people are sinful & the church they build is always a very fallen human institution. The visible church is directed by the sinful ambitions & the faulty insights of people just like you & me – sinners struggling with being forgiven.
“Are you cursed or are you blessed?” Even for children of God, the answer seems to be yes. Suffering under the burden of sin certainly feels, on many occasions, like we are cursed. The good that we want to do we don’t do, & the evil that we do not want to do that we keep on doing. And our despair in that, can certainly endanger our following of Jesus.
However, we now live in a culture that knows nothing of sin as the heavenly Father defines it. In general, the people of our nation no longer consciously fear God. Our culture is living in optimism when it comes to the spiritual realities of life. Again through Jeremiah, this is what the Lord says to His people about mankind’s spiritual optimism:
“…Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; & to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” (23:16-17 ESV)
Satan wants you to believe that we are blessed no matter what we choose to do. Jeremiah tells us honestly where some of our choices will leave us, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man & makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, & shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.” (Jeremiah 17:5-6 ESV) Our culture tells us that we are free to choose & no matter the choice all will be well. The reality – our choices have consequences, not just for us, but for our neighbor as well.
Any choice that involves trusting human beings over God will always have negative consequences. Adam & Eve chose to trust in themselves rather than in their Creator & the entire creation was brought to ruin. Two years ago, when churches across the United States closed due to the pandemic, it was a choice based upon human wisdom.
For a time, it was reasonable given our complete lack of knowledge about the new virus. Within months it was obvious that trusting in the wisdom of God was far better than trusting in the wisdom of man:
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love & good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, & all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV) Meeting in person in churches, has not caused the deaths of thousands of people.
Ultimately, even the virus must surrender to the sovereignty of God. We find these words in the 14th chapter of Job: “How frail is humanity! …We blossom like a flower & then wither. Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear. You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, & we are not given a minute longer.” (14: 1-2, 5 NLT)
Yahweh has created us, for a time & a place. When our purpose on earth is over, He takes us home, unless we refuse to be with Him. Nevertheless, our days are numbered & no mask or vaccination or quarantine, & no amount of science, will lengthen those days. Do you remember what the Word of God tells us on that? “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men…” (1 Corinthians 1:25 ESV) In other words, even if God is playing the fool He is still far wiser than any human wisdom, & He is in control of whether we live or whether we die. That truth doesn’t bother someone who trusts in the Lord, but it certainly does bother anyone who trusts in man.
Remember the strong words of the sermon text? “Cursed is the man who trusts in man & makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.” (Jeremiah 17:5, ESV)
Our culture, & our sinful nature, want people to believe that we can be self-sufficient when it comes to the spiritual realities. When it becomes clear that we need help all too often we then turn to other human sources of wisdom. In the worst case scenario we just end up digging the hole deeper & deeper. It’s a long & winding road to actually turning to God.
As we heard in the Gospel of Luke, “…woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn & weep. Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (6:24-26 ESV)
Often, in our sinfulness, we go through a long & winding road of woe before we finally turn back to the Lord for guidance, comfort & strength. Yet, in this morning’s Introit we heard: “Blessèd are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! Blessèd are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with their whole heart.” (Psalm 119:1-2 ESV)
That is good news because the Son of God took on human flesh in order to live the blameless life here on earth that we never will. Jesus kept the Lord’s testimonies perfectly & sought His heavenly Father with His whole human heart, because He knew that we never would. Then, all of Jesus’ perfection is credited to us in Baptism & Holy Communion & in the Word.
Through those means of grace, the Holy Spirit reconnects us to the holiness that we lost
at the Fall into sin. The Holy Spirit puts us back into a forgiven relationship with our Creator. The Holy Spirit strengthens us to keep our trust in God against all the attacks & temptations of Satan. Yes, we still sin even after Baptism & Communion & hearing the Word of God, but our saintly nature, kept alive by God’s Spirit, turns back to Him in repentance.
Our heavenly Father sends curses upon us in this life, not to damn us to hell, but to wake us up & to turn us back to Him. As we turn back we receive the blessing of forgiveness & healing from the effects of our sins.
If you’re following this, you may be thinking, “Then we’ll need to repent a lot of times.” That is certainly true. Martin Luther believed that the essence of the Christian life is to be one of repentance, constantly, because that is how often we sin. The forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross is unlimited. When God dies for sin that covers it all.
“Are you cursed or are you blessed?” As Lutheran pastors discuss that sort of thing, we often say, “The answer is yes!” Both are true, but in Jesus Christ we have life for eternity, & once we get to heaven, there will be only blessing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Renew me, O eternal Light, & let my heart & soul be bright, illumined with the light of grace that issues from Your holy face. Remove the power of sin from me & cleanse all my impurity that I may have the strength & will temptations of the flesh to still. Create in me a new heart, Lord, that gladly I obey Your Word. Let what You will be my desire, & with new life my soul inspire. Amen. LSB 704:1-3.
5th Sunday after Epiphany – C LSB #’s 609:1-4, 833, 411
Text – Luke 5:7
They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come & help them. And they came & filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN SUNK?
This goes back to my days as an electrical contractor – the 11 years before I began my studies at seminary. I was working in the attic of my cousin’s garage, cutting a hole in the ceiling to install an electrical outlet for a garage door opener. About half of the hole was cut when I had this very distinct feeling that is best described with the words, “Aw oh!”
The next thing I knew I landed solidly on the cement floor 9 feet below. I was looking up at a hole in the ceiling about 6 feet in diameter. It was now plenty large enough to install the metal box for the electrical outlet. The board I had been standing on, in the attic, was not nearly as solid as I had thought. By God’s grace I did not break a single bone.
Have those words “Aw oh!” Ever crossed your mind? Then you know what it’s like to be sunk! An uncle of mine was going ice fishing, riding his snowmobile onto the frozen expanse of the Saginaw Bay. He came upon a stretch of thin ice & before he knew it he was sunk. He lived, but had to pay for removing the snowmobile from the water.
Have you ever been sunk? Have the words, “Aw oh!” crossed your lips once or twice? The time of our lives is mostly filled with the normal routines, waking & sleeping, doing the 9 to 5, raising the children, just trying to get by. However, every now & then something very unusual occurs – like falling through a ceiling or driving a snowmobile into the lake.
At those times God is seriously trying to get our attention. By nature, we are terribly indifferent when it comes to God. The 1st disciples exemplify this, & how easily we could play their role. We too, go busily about the tasks of each day, our working or playing, shopping or studying, never once giving a thought to God, or to His plans for us. We even come to church & do not notice Jesus speaking to us through His very words. We sit & stand & sing & pray while in our mind we are washing the nets of our lives. “[Jesus] saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them & were washing their nets.” (Luke 5:2 ESV)
You & I are indifferent to the heavenly Father, but thank God He is not indifferent to us. At Lake Gennesaret the crowd was pressing in on Jesus to hear the word of God, but Peter, James & John are busy washing their nets. So Jesus takes the initiative by getting into Peter’s boat & asking him to put it into the water. Jesus wanted to teach the pressing crowd from there.
Jesus also had another motive. He wanted to get the attention of those three fishermen. The Son of God took the initiative & barged into the daily routine of their lives. And just like this event in the Gospel reading there are times when God barges into our lives to disrupt our daily routine. For your benefit He strives to gain your attention.
When Peter saw the abundance of fish, it was clear to him this was not a normal fishing event & he falls at Jesus’ knees in fear. He knew it wasn’t just the boats that were sunk. He was finished as well. God’s power always gives sinners cause for fear.
As the boats are sinking under the weight of the fish, Peter realizes that his sinful being is in the presence of something holy & almighty. He hasn’t a leg to stand on. Fear overwhelms him. In the face of God’s effortless power, both our sinful & saintly nature tell us, we can never feel free & easy trying to rule our roost. We are certainly not #1.
In sports, to succeed at the top levels, you have to experience the crippling fear of possible failure. The moment you feel that fear you have to embrace it & take on the challenge. Then you can move to a higher level. In a similar way, to grow in faith often involves experiencing the crippling fear that on our own we too are doomed to fail. When it sinks in that, of our own power & wisdom, we are sunk, at that moment there’s every reason to embrace Jesus as Savior. If we reject our Lord we end up like the people to whom Isaiah was sent, & we will hear words like these from the OT reading:
The voice of the Lord said, “Go, & say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’” (Isaiah 6:9 ESV) Then Isaiah said, “How long, O Lord?” And He said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, & houses without people, & the land is a desolate waste.” (Isaiah 6:11 ESV)
That’s what people choose when they refuse to surrender to Yahweh’s mercy. He chooses us for a perfect life in the hereafter, but if we refuse that choosing, the fact is we are refusing eternal life & we are choosing eternal death in its place.
The Gospel reading illustrates that, in a small way, by the difference between the disciples fishing all night on their own, & their fishing at Jesus’ request the next morning:
“Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night & took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.’ And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, & their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come & help them. And they came & filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.” (Luke 5:5-7 ESV)
They caught no fish on their own. At Jesus’ word they almost sunk, but in this case, the sinking did not come from their sins. It came from God’s blessing. In heaven, which God freely offers to us, our lives will be so blessed that we will figuratively drown in His gifts. Yet, apart from God we will receive nothing.
God’s power always gives sinners cause for fear, yet, our Lord doesn’t go away from His world, retreating to a far-off corner of the universe. If He did, our planet would disintegrate, but its continued existence means that God is still here. The most important message in this text is not that God can cause a miraculous catch of fish. When the fisherman got to shore, they left all that miraculous catch behind to follow Jesus. The most important message in this text is that, when Peter tells Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinner,” Jesus did not. In fact, the Son of God gives Peter good news, “Do not be afraid…”
Whenever the words, “Aw oh!” cross your mind you do not have to respond in fear, because Jesus came to save the world, not to condemn it. The holy, sinless, almighty God does not withdraw from sinful, hesitant, rebellious people. Jesus does not abandon sinners, or even those who are sunk. Rather, He calls out to them, “Do not be afraid.”
Sinners by nature run short of faith & act in fear. You & I are not able to manufacture trust in our Creator. We cannot even, on our own, rely on Jesus or commit ourselves to Him. Yet, in His power, the Creator has interrupted our lives & called us to Jesus. He has called sinners to find life, not in the things of this world, but in His mercy.
There alone we find rest from the brokenness of sin – sin in our own lives & sin in the life of our neighbor. Our indifference to Jesus can only be healed by the Holy Spirit. Recognizing that, without God, we are sunk is the first step on the path to that healing, but God is faithful, & He will even barge into our lives if necessary in order to rescue us.
May there be many such “Aw oh” moments in your life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Jesus gave His mandate: Share the good news that He came to save us & set us free. Let none be forgotten throughout the world. In the triune name of God go & baptize. Help us to be faithful, standing steadfast, walking in Your precepts, led by Your Word. Listen, listen, God is calling through the Word inviting, offering forgiveness, comfort & joy. Amen. LSB 833.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet