A Vision of the Bride
6th Sunday of Easter – C LSB #’s 397, 672, 673
Text – Revelation 21:9
Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues & spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
A VISION OF THE BRIDE
The epistle reading & the sermon title specifically, refer to the Bride of Christ. It is a beautiful picture that speaks of a joy which creatures of this broken world struggle to comprehend. What is missing from the appointed reading is the contrast that leads in to such a stunning picture, & it is the mother of all contrasts.
The epistle reading began with verse 9. To gain its full impact you need to hear verse 8: “But as for the cowardly & unfaithful & abominable people, & those who murder & sin sexually & practice witchcraft & worship idols, & all liars – they will find themselves in the lake burning with fire & sulfur; this is the 2nd death.” (Revelation 21:8 NET)
Thank you Jesus that the book of Revelation does not end there! Verse 9 transitions us from a vision of death to a vision of the Bride: “Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues…” He spoke to me saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
The grim picture of verse eight, & all that is wrong with the world, as we too often experience it, is there for the purpose of setting off & highlighting the holiness & the perfection to come. It’s similar to lighting a bright candle in the midst of the pitch-black darkness. The total absence of light prepares you to appreciate the beauty of the light.
The brokenness of this world prepares you & me to appreciate the beauty of the paradise to come. But too often we think of heaven only in terms of a place to be. We think of it in such narrow & limited terms, as the place with no more sorrow & no more tears. Paradise will be so much more than that. You remember the thief on the cross, the one who said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42 ESV) Do you recall how Jesus replied? “Truly, I say to you, today with me you will be in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Christ’s word order emphasizes that the former thief will be with Christ, & then Jesus adds, “in paradise.”
Heaven will be so much more than a place because there you will be with Jesus. Think of your best friend, & think of that relationship on the best day ever. No matter where you were, it would not have been the same if you weren’t there with your best friend. Heaven is not simply about where you will be, but also about whom you will be with.
If the absence of your best friend completely changes things here on earth, how much more would the absence of Jesus completely change things in paradise? Nothing in the entire universe is as glorious as the community of people who have fellowship with God. Here on earth that is marked & scarred by the effects of sin. In heaven, we will see & know it perfectly.
On earth, the Gospels of Matthew & Mark each record how both criminals that were crucified with Jesus mocked Him. Luke recorded that one of them finally repented & put his trust in Jesus. On this side of heaven that is our view of the Bride of Christ. The Church of God is marked & scarred by the effects of sin.
God had the book of Revelation written so that we’d also hear about the Bride of Christ from the perspective of paradise: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, & showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.”
From our current perspective of brokenness, the Church looks like a mess! God showed John a picture of the Bride in her heavenly glory so that he could describe it to everyone who reads the Book of Revelation. The Son of God knew that each of us, in our walk of faith, would need to be encouraged & strengthened for the spiritual warfare that goes on in this world. In Revelation we see the Church in glory. In the Gospels, we see the Church with all its marks & scars, yet the story that is told is the same story.
One of the thieves crucified with Jesus moves from bitterness to trust, from darkness to light, from rebellion to humility, & from death to life. Even while he was in that very process of dying, he was moving from death to life. Can you see there the glorious beauty of the Bride of Christ? Then you have faith in Jesus as your Lord & your Savior!
This glimpse of heaven coming to earth gives hope & encouragement when times are tough, when we get discouraged, when things look hopeless. The Gospel reading gives the picture of hopelessness: “One man was there who had been an invalid for 38 years.” (John 5:5)
“When Jesus saw him lying there & knew that he had already been there a long time, He said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’ The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, & while I am going another steps down before me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, & walk.’” (John 5:6-8 ESV)
“And at once the man was healed, & he took up his bed & walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.” (John 5:9 ESV)
Do you realize why that last sentence is there? Can you explain it? If you’re being healed after 38 years of being an invalid, does it really matter which day of the week it is? The standard explanation is that Jesus was proving to the Pharisees His Lordship of the Sabbath; that He truly is God in the flesh. But I think there might be another message there.
Could it also be that Jesus is telling us what the Sabbath is for? Could it be that Jesus is teaching us that the Sabbath is given to man for healing? Our presence in the house of God on Sunday morning is for our wounds to be healed. You see, compared to our spiritual wounds, our physical injuries pale in comparison. Remember what I said earlier in the sermon about verse eight of Revelation 21? One commentator referred to it as the harlot city, as compared to the bride city, which is the wife of the Lamb. It is the mother of all contrasts.
If our spiritual wounds are never healed we remain as members of the harlot city. “But as for the cowardly & unfaithful & abominable people, & those who murder & sin sexually & practice witchcraft & worship idols, & all liars – they will find themselves in the lake burning with fire & sulfur; this is the 2nd death.” (Revelation 21:8 NET)
But if we come to the house of God here we will find healing, because here God offers & promises life in His Word & in His Sacraments. Oh, you may never have entered this house as an invalid & walked out physically healed, but that healing pales in comparison to the spiritual healing your Creator offers you here.
Looking around this room you likely know some of the stories of brokenness. With your current eyesight the marks & scars are obvious, while there are certainly many others that yet remain hidden. In Revelation 21, God’s Spirit is showing us what the Church looks light from God’s perspective. On account of Jesus Christ, & what He did, God sees this church as holy.
The angel who is speaking to John proudly shows him the Church from God’s perspective: “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” That is the vision our Lord wants us to have when we look around the congregation, whether that’s on Sunday morning, or Tuesday evening, or any other time of the week.
Yes, we still see the darkness, but the glory of God’s Church, when we glimpse it here in this life, is all the more glorious for what our Savior is saving us from. Amen.
Within those walls of Zion sounds forth the joyful song, as saints join with the angels & all the martyr throng. The Prince is ever with them; the daylight is serene; the city of the blessed shines bright with glorious sheen. O sweet & blessed country, the home of God’s elect! O sweet & blessed country that faithful hearts expect! In mercy, Jesus, bring us to that eternal rest with You & God the Father & Spirit ever blest. Amen. LSB 672:2, 4.
 Revelation 21:10-11 ESV
Sorrow Turning into Joy
5th Sunday of Easter – C LSB #’s 685, 461:1, 5, 7-8, 818
Text – John 16:20
Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep & lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.
SORROW TURNING INTO JOY
It was the 1950’s & W. E. Sangster, a British pastor, noticed something that didn’t quite seem right in his throat, & his leg seemed to be dragging. He went to the doctor. Tests revealed that he had Lou Gehrig’s disease. His muscles would gradually waste away; his voice would fail, & soon, he’d be unable even to swallow.
He threw himself into his ministry, figuring that once he could no longer stand, or preach, he could still write. Later, he’d have lots of time for prayer. He wrote books & articles. He helped to organize prayer groups throughout England. He told people who pitied him, “I’m only in the kindergarten of suffering.”
As doctors predicted, his legs wasted away & he could no longer speak, but could still hold a pen shakily. On Easter morning, just weeks before he died, he wrote to his daughter. He said, “It is a terrible thing to wake up on Easter morning & have no voice with which to shout, ‘He is risen!,’ but it would still be more terrible to have a voice & not want to shout it.”
Even walking through the valley of the shadow of death of Lou Gehrig’s disease could not take the Easter joy from Pastor Sangster’s heart. Your joy, which also comes from Christ’s resurrection, cannot be taken from you either. You must surrender it of your own accord, because Jesus’ promise still stands, as recorded in the 16th chapter of John, verse 22:
“So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, & no one can rob you of that joy.” (NLT) No one can rob you of that joy, the joy of Easter morning almost 2000 years ago, but how often have you & I surrendered that joy on our own? As children of God we know that joy. You & I have felt it in our bones, but there are Oh so many times when that joy is really & truly difficult to believe. When divorce blows a family to pieces, & the effects of it continue on year after year, do you surrender the joy, or do you keep on believing?
When the diagnosis comes back that your disease is terminal & you aren’t even half way to 60 years, with several young children & a spouse, do you surrender the joy, or do you keep on believing? With just the people in this room we could make up a list of sorrows as long as this room. As children of God we know that too. You & I have felt it in our bones.
For the Gospel reading from John, we must flash back a little over four weeks. It’s Maundy Thursday. Jesus had personally chosen each of His disciples & then lived with them, & taught them literally, for three years. Everywhere He went they followed. As Peter once said, they gave up everything to follow Him.
The Gospel reading addresses His disciples in the upper room on the night when He was betrayed, the evening before He was crucified. Eleven of them had absolutely no idea what was going on. The 12th man, Judas, knew more than the rest, & yet he was completely deceived. Darkness was alive in his soul, & he would die even before Jesus was nailed to the cross.
No doubt thoughts like these were running through the minds of Jesus’ disciples, “What on earth is our Master talking about? I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them. A little while, & you will see me no longer; & again a little while, & you will see me.” What is going on here? John recorded some of the confusion for us:
…Some of His disciples said to one another, “What is this that He says to us, ‘A little while, & you will not see me, & again a little while, & you will see me’; &, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what He is talking about.” (16:17-18 ESV) Up to that evening, their entire faith in Jesus as Savior had been based upon His very physical presence with them. In less than 24 hours all of that would change, drastically. They were going to experience sorrow & fear, & they were going to feel it in their bones. Hopelessness, despair & surrender would be their constant companions over the next three days. One of them would go so far as to say:
“Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, & place my finger into the mark of the nails, & place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25b ESV) In the upper room on Maundy Thursday not a one of His disciples understood that Jesus was going to be raised from the dead. There was no Easter hope or joy in their hearts – only confusion & then fear.
When Jesus said, “A little while, & you will see me no longer,” He was saying that in a little while He was going to be betrayed, then tortured, killed & buried. Then, Jesus said, “& again a little while, & you will see me.” This meant Jesus would come back to them through His resurrection from the dead, & He predicts the joy they would experience.
Because our entire experience of Maundy Thursday & Good Friday has always been with the knowledge of Easter morning in mind, we cannot begin to grasp the horror & the despair that came upon the 12 disciples of Jesus as they realized their Master was dead.
And without that, we cannot begin to grasp the range of emotion they went through as they moved from being convinced Jesus was dead to being convinced Jesus had defeated death for all of eternity. In a little while this, in a little while that.
Regarding the death & resurrection of Jesus, we cannot fully appreciate the range of emotion through which His original 12 disciples went, however, we too live in a sequence – a little while this, then a little while that. We have experienced the judgment of God’s law upon our own sinful heart. We have felt it in our bones.
When loved ones, or we ourselves, have gone through the crucible of divorce, we’ve seen
& felt the depths of failure & despair that sin will bring into God’s good creation. We have seen, & experienced, what it is to surrender the joy of Easter morning. We know from the experience of divorce how really & truly difficult it can be to continue believing in the joy of Easter morning. That is experiencing the judgment of God’s law upon our own sinful heart.
Also, we have felt it in our bones as we grow old, where our mind & body betray us because they are growing old. If you are still young, you have seen & felt death encroaching upon those you love. As the infirmity of disease takes it toll upon heart & soul, we have experienced what it is to surrender the joy of Easter morning.
Disease, & growing feeble from old age, do, at times, make the joy of Easter morning really & truly difficult to believe. For that reason, the reading from Revelation 21 was given to us. Down through almost 2000 years of history the reading from Revelation 21 has been brought to your ears today. Your heavenly Father accomplished that for this reason:
It says in Romans 10, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, & the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (10:17 ESV) Here is that word from Revelation 21 which turns sorrow into joy:
“Then I saw a new heaven & a new earth, for the 1st heaven & the 1st earth had passed away… And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, & they will be His people, & God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, & death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. …Write this down, for these words are trustworthy & true.” (21:1ff ESV)
Looking back at the disciples of Jesus, we can see clearly how their sorrow was turned into joy. You & I have stories from our past where we see that our sorrow was turned into joy. Still, there may be times of sorrow from our past that are not yet resolved & remain painful. And the most difficult to see are the current struggles & sufferings. For them, it often seems totally incomprehensible that they could ever be turned into joy. The pain is too fresh & too raw, & it is too common that the world rejoices during our misery. Fortunately, Jesus does not sugar coat our future. He gives it to us straight: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep & lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” (John 16:20 ESV)
It’s the punch line that matters – your sorrow will turn into joy! In this life, God does patch things up at times. He heals & fixes relationships, at times. While Jesus was here on earth He raised people from the dead, but they died a 2nd time later. It is only at the Last Day when our healing will be complete. It is only then that we will be living a holy & perfect life.
Divorce, disease & death will continue as long as this broken world is still rolling along. Our hope is never located in this life, but always in the next. In this world we will have trouble. Jesus tells us that, & then He says, “Take heart for I have overcome the world.” He certainly is at work turning sorrow into joy, but that’s something we will not see clearly until the Last Day.
Until then, we get a down payment now & then, as relationships & diseases are healed; & as death is cheated through medical care. But the goal of Easter is not this world. It is the firstfruits of the next – heaven, where there will be no more sorrow, for all will be joy. Amen.
He lives to grant me daily breath; He lives, & I shall conquer death; He lives my mansion to prepare; He lives to bring me safely there. He lives, all glory to His name! He lives, my Jesus, still the same; Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives: I know that my Redeemer lives! Amen. LSB 461:7-8.
In This Way
4th Sunday of Easter – C LSB #’s 857, 851, 848
Text – Acts 20:35
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak & remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
IN THIS WAY
Upon entering a little country store a stranger noticed a sign, posted on the glass door. It read, “DANGER! BEWARE OF DOG!” Inside, he noticed a harmless old hound dog sound asleep on the floor near the cash register. So he asked the store’s owner, “Is that the dog folks are supposed to ‘beware’ of?” The proprietor answered, “Yep, that’s him.”
The stranger couldn’t help being amused. “That does not look to me like a dangerous dog,” he chuckled. “Why in the world did you decide to post that sign?” The owner replied, “Because, before I posted the sign, people kept tripping over him.” It seems that even a useless old guard dog will from time to time slow people down if they happen to trip over him.
Would people say that’s the kind of Christian you are? Do you want people to trip over you & only then discover that you are a watchdog for the Lord? Or, would you rather be alert & ready to point people to the true life that exists in Jesus Christ alone? How would you describe the life you lead as a follower of Jesus? Are you a sleepy old hound dog?
Those can be difficult words to consider. They challenge us & can easily be taken as offensive. Yet, the words of St. Paul also challenge you & me to be something more than a lazy old hound dog when it comes to following the Savior of the world. Long before the apostle Paul, the prophet Isaiah had some very challenging words for the kings & prophets of Israel:
“For the leaders of my people – the Lord’s watchmen, His shepherds – are blind & ignorant. They are like silent watchdogs that give no warning when danger comes. They love to lie around, sleeping & dreaming.” (Isaiah 56:10 NLT) That’s rather harsh, isn’t it? Then, Isaiah goes into more detail: “…They are ignorant shepherds, all following their own path & intent on personal gain. ‘Come,’ they say, ‘let’s get some wine & have a party. Let’s all get drunk. Then tomorrow we’ll do it again & have an even bigger party!’” (Isaiah 56:11-12 NLT)
It’s clear why God took the Promised Land away from the people of Israel. He’d blessed them beyond measure & they forgot how much they needed Him. Continued blessings would only have driven them further away. Discipline was now required if they were ever to return to their Lord. Sadly, that return never happened, in spite of many tears from the Apostle Paul.
God sent His only begotten Son, the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity, to take the place of the failed son – Israel. The prophet Isaiah wrote that Yahweh also sent His prophets to act as guards who would do more than sleep like lazy hound dogs. They should warn the people, & they should pray without ceasing for them such that God would get no rest:
“On your walls, Jerusalem, I will set watchmen who will never be silent all day & all night. You who remind Yahweh, don’t take any rest. Don’t let Him have any rest until He establishes Jerusalem & makes it a city that is praised in the world.” (Isaiah 62:6-7 AAT)
Don’t let God rest until heaven is established – that is the message of Isaiah the prophet. St. Paul picked up on that OT theme with his words in the book of Acts: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak & remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Jesus wasn’t simply talking about giving money. He was including blood, sweat & tears. Money is easy; you write out a check or get out your phone & pay with an app. Being a child of God is not all fun & games! Satan is attacking us from the outside through the culture & the media. He is attacking from the inside, through the church & through your own heart.
Not all of us are called to the office of pastor, but each of us is called to love our
neighbors as ourselves. Have you noticed – that is extremely difficult to do? If you haven’t noticed, you have not been trying! Our sinful nature is supremely selfish & always, naturally, looks out for number one! Once it realizes that eternal life is gift that cannot be earned, then it determines to keep all of our heavenly Father’s gifts to itself.
We don’t love our neighbor in order to earn our way to heaven. We love them because we already have heaven. Today we celebrate Mother’s Day because it is very difficult to raise children even without teaching them anything about Jesus. Once you start trying to lead them to a relationship with the Son of God, then the devil really gets busy.
St. Paul describes the work he’s urging us to as being similar to running a race. The course I trained on at seminary ended with our dormitory at the top of a hill. If I was not nauseous by the time I got to that “finish line” I knew I had not pushed myself as much as I could have. Can you see how that relates to what St. Paul is urging us to do?
“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak & remember the words of the Lord Jesus, …‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” In the verses leading up to this, Paul gives a general description of the sufferings he endured in order to help the weak:
“…with tears & with trials… testifying both to Jews & to Greeks of repentance toward God… the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment & afflictions await me. …after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
In the reading from Revelation, one of the elders described the results of the spiritual battle on earth by saying to the apostle John:
“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes & made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God… & He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, & He will guide them to springs of living water, & God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (7:14b-17 ESV)
Becoming a mature follower of Jesus is a process the Holy Spirit works in us. It’s a process that, because of the effects of sin, involves difficult & time consuming work – not work to become saved, but work that the saved do because God’s Spirit has made us new in Christ Jesus. Paul used to persecute Christians. Then, he suffered in order to save them.
If you are a child of God, you are no longer simply 100% pure lazy old hound dog. You are now, also, at the same time, watchmen who will never be silent all day & all night. There was a man named Joseph Campbell who studied & compared mythologies from many cultures. His most well-known work is his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
His studies led him to believe that heroes undergo a personal transformation during their journey. In every hero story, the hero starts out missing an important quality, usually humility, self-confidence, or a sense of his or her true purpose in life. To succeed, the hero must recover, or discover, this quality. Every hero story tells of a journey toward vast personal transformation.
A Franciscan priest named Richard Rohr has noted that hero stories inspire transformation in us all because they call us to transformation. That describes well what St. Paul is calling us to in the 20th chapter of the Book of Acts. He is calling us to continue the transformation begun in us, which will be completed in us, by the Holy Spirit.
The following is an old story, yet, it illustrates well the results of God’s work in us. “Ann Shindell, a victim of a series of paralyzing strokes in 1971, did not allow her condition to prevent her from doing what she could to rescue a drowning 81-year-old man.
Sergeant Sam Howe took the report where she stated that she heard the man gurgling & then saw him sink to the bottom of the pool. So she jumped in & pulled Mr. Winter up, & kept his head above water until she could call for help. Mrs. Shindell, a resident of Phoenix, can talk some & walk only a little bit, but she didn’t let that stop her. One of the board members, at the community where she lived, said that Mrs. Shindell is a tremendous person with a matching personality who is working hard to overcome her paralysis. He stated:
“Most people would have given up, but she really works at her therapy, her exercises & her swimming.” She couldn’t yell the word “help,” but she could yell. She couldn’t be expected to rescue the drowning man, yet she did, because the courage of compassion had compelled her to act. And she did not shy away.”
She was more than just a sleepy old hound dog. When the Holy Spirit offered to work His transformation in her, she did not say, “No.” Instead, by the Lord’s power working through her, she served her neighbor.
As you are one of God’s sheep, you too will hear His voice & follow Jesus. Yes, you are still going to sin. You are still going to fail. There will be times when you say, “No.” However, the child of God does not celebrate those times, but grieves over them. The good news is that, even when you fail, Jesus promises, “No one will snatch you out of His hand.” Amen.
Grant us hearts, dear Lord, to give You gladly, freely of Your own. With the sunshine of Your goodness melt our thankless hearts of stone till our cold & selfish natures, warmed by You, at length believe that more happy & more blessed ’Tis to give than to receive. 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. Amen. LSB 851:2, 4.
They Caught Nothing
3rd Sunday of Easter – C LSB #’s 490, 861, 689
Text – John 21:3
“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, & they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out & got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
THEY CAUGHT NOTHING
Since the temperature is very slowly warming up this spring, I thought I’d start this sermon with a story about ice fishing. Maybe that’ll improve your outlook on our lack of global warming. When I was about ten years old I had two cousins, brothers, that were a year older & a year younger than me, & we were good friends.
One cold winter day, their dad took us out ice fishing. Now, he was the type that really enjoyed fishing that way so he didn’t have a shanty to stay inside of & keep warm. The day we went along, each of us were sitting on top of an overturned plastic bucket, totally exposed to the wind & the cold.
As I recall, we spent about two hours out there & didn’t get so much as a nibble on any of our lines. At that point, frozen through & through, my cousins & I called it quits & hiked back to the car. Ever since I’ve suspected my Uncle Elmer of being just a bit unbalanced, & I have never gone ice fishing again.
We caught nothing, & my cousins & I weren’t the least bit happy. In the Gospel lesson from John, the disciples went out fishing one night & they also caught nothing. As they’re pulling in to shore, a man on the beach calls out to them, “Children, do you have any fish?”
It sounds as if he’s rubbing it in, because the man’s very question brings out the fact of their failure. All of us know, very personally, from our own experience, that failure is painful. We would just as soon not have anyone remind us of it & certainly do not appreciate it when someone advertises our failing. That’s our sinful nature. Failure is discouraging. It may cause us to lose hope or feel as if we’re no good. I remember the overwhelming sense of failure that struck one morning after a night of fighting a house fire. That sense of failure hit after we’d put out the fire & entered the house. It was then that two of our men found the bodies – a woman & her grandson. They were lying next to the window, so close to safety.
That discovery was a factor in the resignation of one of our firemen just a few months later. Death is the ultimate failure in this life, & that’s brought out very strongly in people who’ve had a dear friend commit suicide. They can’t help but feel somehow responsible for that person’s death – for that ultimate in failure.
Thoughts of, “If only…” haunt us when we’ve failed. Afterwards, it’s also common to lose confidence in one’s abilities. And then, the “Why bothers?” set in. Why bother looking for work anymore, no one will hire me. Why bother making friends anymore, they’re just going to leave. Why bother going to church if it’s going to die anyway.
Why bother with confirmation classes? You never see the children in church again once they’re confirmed. Statements of “Why bother?” are symptomatic of the lack of faith & hope in our hearts. And if adults believe there’s no reason to bother, what should anyone expect of a newly confirmed 14 year old?
Years ago I preached a sermon titled, “Because I Am A Sinner.” Peter spoke those words to Jesus once he realized what a great miracle God’s Son had just performed. In Peter’s mind, the miracle simply highlighted what a great hypocrite he was. That ties in with today’s sermon & you’ll see it in these words from St. Luke:
Peter answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night & haven’t caught anything. But because You say so, I will let down the nets.” (5:5 NIV) Do you hear the similarity? Peter had been fishing all night & caught nothing. Today’s Gospel reading is very similar where the disciples again caught nothing. Why bother? Our work as Christians so often brings the same question. Why bother? It’s bad enough failing at something, & trying to deal with the discouragement & frustration that follow, but then you just know that someone else is going to point out your mistakes. Can any of you explain why we should bother?
For one thing, Peter wrote the following words years after his failed fishing expeditions, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord, always being prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you the reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15) Maybe you have no hope to explain because in your own heart, you have not set Christ apart as Lord.
Maybe you have no hope, maybe you don’t bother, because you are afraid of failure. Is your pride so valuable you cannot endure the least bit of embarrassment for the Man who died upon a cross for your failures? Or don’t you believe in miracles, at least not in God’s ability to use a someone like you?
Twice, Holy Scripture records how Peter tried fishing & caught nothing. In each case, when Jesus merely speaks, the fish almost sink the boat & the net becomes too heavy to pull in. The Son of God was able to perform miracles using Peter & the other disciples. And that’s one reason, as Christians, that we do bother to trust in God & to serve Him.
We bother, because our Lord & Savior performs miracles, & He does so using ordinary failures like you & me. We have a God who has risen from the dead. Have you already forgotten what we celebrated just two Sunday’s ago?
Memory work & sermon notes might seem like a waste of time & energy. The effort spent on them may appear to have caught nothing. Attending church & confirmation classes often seem like a dead end because we seldom get immediate results. Three Sundays ago, Logan confirmed the vows made at his baptism. Last Sunday, Julian & Holden did the same, & one of our traditions is to ask the confirmands if they intend to be faithful, even unto death. That’s a huge promise to make, & I can guarantee that everyone who’s ever made that promise has failed! Just like the disciples failed to catch any fish. Just as our fire department failed to rescue that woman & her grandson.
There are many situations in life that bring us pain & suffering. When we encounter them, our spirits grow weak & we’d rather quit than endure. It’s our sinful human nature to do so. If the romantic love for our spouse grows cold, we’d rather quit than endure. If our faith is challenged by others, we’d rather go along with the crowd than endure its ridicule.
If our efforts to pass on the faith to the next generation are not met with resounding success, we’d rather take the easy way out & not bother to teach them at all. Or we trade the substance of the faith for glitz & glamour. We turn to entertainment & babysitting rather than discipline & instruction. When we catch nothing, we believe that even God cannot use us.
I was at a track meet one time, standing by the end of each runner’s leg of the relay. I watched as they gutted it out for the final 100 meters of their race. The pain & agony in their faces was visible as they struggled, not just to keep going, but to actually run as fast as they possibly could. None of them quit, & it was inspiring to see the effort they put forth.
Still, not one of them achieved that endurance without a lot of previous pain & doubt. It takes many hours, even years, to train one’s body for running a race. And the higher the level of competition – the greater the sacrifices necessary to finish.
Our spiritual lives are no different. Our faith doesn’t grow strong without testing. We can’t pass on that endurance in ten easy lessons. Teaching your children to love the Lord & to know Him personally, takes suffering on your part. It means sacrificing your own personal comfort & leisure for the good of your children. It often means taking two steps forward but one backward. It means enduring the humiliation of failure & acknowledging your own sins before God. When Jesus calls out to His disciples, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answer, “No.” They acknowledge their failure, & then Jesus performs a miracle.
He said to them, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat & you will find some.” They could have answered, “Why bother?” But they kept running the race, & found so many fish it was impossible for them to pull in the net. And it’s then, that they recognize Jesus. It’s then, that God reveals Himself.
He didn’t make it easy. He did not make it fun. If they had given up; if they had not thrown out the net, they would not have received God’s blessings. And when God blesses them, Peter is so excited that he runs ashore to greet his Savior, as grateful hearts are always eager to meet their Lord.
But their lesson isn’t over… As the boat arrives, Jesus tells them to bring some of the fish they’ve caught. He does so in order that they might sheepishly realize that the fish they bring aren’t even necessary. Jesus is emphasizing the point that He has already provided. There are already fish & bread cooking over the coals of His fire.
Likewise, even when we do catch something, when our efforts meet with success, God has already provided. If we understand that correctly, it means we have no reason to fear our failures. We can endure whatever problems come our way, because whether we succeed or whether we fail, our Lord has provided for us. He has prepared the way in advance.
The final outcome is already determined. Christ’s resurrection proved it, & we now have the joy of serving Him in complete freedom from fear or failure. The reason we then bother – looking for a job, making friends, attending church or even getting confirmed, is that those things please our Lord, & bring His blessings to us & to our neighbors. Like Peter, once we recognize Jesus as our Savior, we gladly go out of our way, we gratefully leave our comfort zone, in order to greet Him. We long to strengthen our relationship with Him.
For all of you who have confirmed the vows of your baptism, your confirmation was but one step along the way in that lifelong process. It’s a progression that’s been complicated by the sinful nature of everyone involved, so it will not always be neat, clean or pretty. The growth of your faith doesn’t come without time, effort & failure.
There’ll be many occasions in your spiritual walk with Jesus that it seems as if you’ve worked all night & caught nothing. Yet, be assured of this, your Lord & Savior performs miracles. He never fails, & will always provide everything you need for your spiritual life, even in those moments when everything seems hopeless & pointless.
Our heavenly Father is able to overcome any & all of our failures. With the eyes of faith you’ll recognize Jesus & see that He blesses you so greatly you can’t even pull in the net. Amen.
Christ be my Teacher in age as in youth, drifting or doubting, for He is the truth. Grant me to trust Him; though shifting as sand, doubt cannot daunt me; in Jesus I stand. Christ be my Savior in calm as in strife; death cannot hold me, for He is the life. Nor darkness nor doubting nor sin & its stain can touch my salvation: with Jesus I reign. Amen. LSB 861:2-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet