Sunday, July 24, 2016
Luke 16:1-13; 1 Corinthians 10:6-13; 2 Samuel 22:26-34
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ spoke these words to His disciples but a little before today’s Gospel text. The point is this: What will you do throughout this time of your life in which you have been given management over His blessings and goods? And, what will you be found doing when He returns at a time and an hour you cannot know? Do these questions unsettle and distress you? If so, repent of your pride and idolatry, for you have clearly forgotten that all you have, even your life, your reason, and your strength, are not yours, but they are the Lord’s, over which you have been given management, stewardship, throughout the days of your life. In truth, you have often made these gifts and creations of the Lord to be your idols and gods, and you have lusted and coveted for them, and have greedily clung to them, placing your fear, love, and trust in them before the LORD who has given them all to you.
No, Jesus’ Gospel should not unsettle and distress you, but it should bring you great comfort, contentment and peace. For, Jesus is the “faithful and wise manager” whom His Father, the Master, has “set over His household.” Jesus has done all things necessary and well that you may cease from your striving to acquire and to preserve and to protect what you have, both material and spiritual. Jesus has set you free from slavery under His Father’s Law to live in the freedom of the Gospel, freely showing mercy and freely giving of what you have freely received, to all, without distinction, without loss or resentment or sorrow. For, the one who humbles himself and is merciful will be exalted, and the one who loses his life in this world will keep it in eternity.
The Parable of the Unjust Steward, if it is indeed a parable at all, is one of the most challenging of Jesus’ teachings that we have. Let’s face it, it is challenging to understand Jesus’ meaning in commending a man who squandered his master’s wealth and then dishonestly reduced his debtor’s bills in order to win their favor and save his own skin. What could this possibly mean? Well, here is a case when the titles we have given pericopes (stories) in the Scriptures often do us a disservice. Truly, this parable is much less about honesty than it is about showing mercy. Indeed, one of the most important details in this pericope is that, when He learned that his manager had wasted his possessions, the master did not cast His manager into prison, but he merely terminated him from his position. Thus, this parable is very much like the account of our First Parent’s sin in the Garden when the LORD gave Adam an opportunity to confess his sin and be forgiven. The LORD did not destroy Adam and Eve, but He banished them from the Garden and from access to the Tree of Life. This was an act of mercy on the part of the LORD then, and an act of mercy on the part of the master now.
As in the Parable of the Prodigal Son – another misnamed parable – both of the main figures in the story do unexpected things. The prodigal son shockingly treats his father shamefully, but his father, even more shockingly, forgives him and restores him. In today’s parable, the dishonest manager shockingly cuts deals with his master’s debtors, and the master, even more shockingly, commends him. What is going on here? Well, first, we must consider the actions of the dishonest manager. This man had been caught red-handed squandering his master’s possessions. In fact, the very same word, squandered, was used also in regard to the prodigal son. He knew that he had no way to rectify his situation with his master and that he deserved imprisonment or worse. He was soon to be out on the street and penniless, a pariah among his peers. Holding no faith or trust in his own works and aware of his own weakness and inability, he confessed that he was not strong enough to dig and that he was too proud to beg. Like the prodigal son, he had hit rock bottom. But, that’s when he came up with an idea – an idea based, not upon his own works and merit, but upon his master’s goodness and mercy.
The manager went to each of his master’s debtors and told them to sit down and quickly write a fraction of the debt they owed. He had them do this quickly so that they would not think that he was the one granting them the reduction, but his master. The manager was counting on two things: By showing mercy to his master’s debtors, he was hoping that they in turn might show mercy to him when he was penniless and unemployed. And, he was counting on the goodness and mercy of his master, that, because his debtors would think well of him, he would honor the reduced debts. What he was not counting on, however, was that his master would commend him for his shrewdness.
But, why did the master commend his dishonest manager? Jesus explains saying, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you in to the eternal dwellings.” The manager is not being praised for his dishonest and illegal activities. Rather, he serves as an example of how one may use unrighteous wealth to make friends for oneself. We are all managers, stewards, of unrighteous wealth – the material, monetary, and even spiritual “stuff” of this life and world. None of it belongs to us, but it is all the Lord’s and we are but managers and stewards of the Lord’s goods.
We are the manager in this parable [as we are the prodigal son in that parable]. We have been entrusted with the Lord’s possessions to manage, to steward, on His behalf. But, we have squandered and wasted them. We have managed them poorly. We have put our fear, love, and trust in them before our LORD who created them and us, and have made them into false gods and idols. We have greedily sought to acquire them and have fiercely clung to them. We have covetously desired those things that belong to others and secretly wished that we would have them and that they would not. It is not that we have been dishonest with our management, but we have been utterly merciless, and that is by far the greater sin.
The Prophet Samuel confesses, “With the merciful You [O LORD] show yourself merciful, with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you deal purely, and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.” The LORD desires mercy from you before obedience and sacrifice. The LORD desires that you show mercy to others as He has been merciful with you, for mercy is faith, hope, and love in action, and love is the fulfilling of the Law. When you show mercy, you show love for the LORD and for your neighbor. Mercy is also faith, hope, and trust because the merciful love not their lives or the things of this world more than they love the LORD and their neighbor, and they are free so to do because their hope and trust are not in men or in possessions, but in the LORD alone.
However, while we are the manager in this parable [and the prodigal son in that parable], there is someone who is the manager and the son with us, and before us, and in our stead, and that is God’s Son and Steward Jesus Christ. Jesus became these men for us and redeemed them, and redeemed us. As God’s Manager and Steward, Jesus didn’t merely reduce the debt we owed to our God and Master, but He paid it off in full in His own holy, innocent, shed blood. Therefore, our God and Master has commended Him and has given Him all authority in heaven and on earth and the Name that is above every name. And, as God’s Prodigal Son, Jesus took all of our sins upon Himself and placed Himself into the mercy of His Father who has restored Him, and us in Him, to full and complete Sonship and has blessed us with an eternal inheritance. “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?” That one is Jesus.
We are called as managers, stewards, to use what has been given to us to help and to support our neighbors in need. By aiding them with our financial and spiritual resources, we make friends of them. But rather than being received into their houses, as the manager had hoped, we will be received into the eternal dwelling of our heavenly Father on the day when unrighteous wealth fails, that is, death. What will you do throughout this time of your life in which you have been given management over His blessings and goods? And, what will you be found doing when He returns at a time and an hour you cannot know? Show yourself merciful as you have received mercy from the Lord. Keep yourself blameless and pure in the absolution of Jesus’ blood. Humble yourselves. Die to yourselves and to the passions of your flesh. Live in the freedom of the Lord’s mercy and grace and permit these to flow through you and from you to your neighbor. This is what it means to be a manager and a steward of the Lord’s possessions. This is what it means to be a Christian.
And, do this quickly. Do it now! Do not procrastinate as men are want to do. For, a day is coming when you will be called to account for your management of the Lord’s possessions. But, do not be afraid! You are not asked to give of anything that you have not freely received, only not to fear, love, and trust in it so that it becomes your idol, your god, and you become enslaved. That is to say, be as shrewd in your use of unrighteous wealth in the service of others as you are tempted to be in service to yourself. In this way you serve your true Master, your Lord and your God.
Yet, you cannot serve your neighbor, and consequently your Master, Lord, and God, unless you are first served by Him. Therefore, also be as shrewd in obtaining the heavenly things of forgiveness, faith, and the Spirit as you are in obtaining material wealth, for the heavenly things are certain and do not fade away, while the things of this world are perishing day by day. And, behold, your Master’s Steward and Manager Jesus is here now to forgive your debts anew, to strengthen your faith, and to equip you for service in His kingdom to the glory of His Father. Jesus summons you and proclaims to you that your debt is paid in full. To God alone be the glory.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, July 10, 2016
Mark 8:1-9; Romans 6:19-23; Genesis 2:7-17
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The crowd had been following Jesus for three days. However, it wasn’t until the third day that anyone expressed concern that they just might be hungry, and that wasn’t someone from the crowd, but it was Jesus Himself. Now, why is that? It is because the crowd was being fed all along with the Bread of Life, the Word of God, proclaimed to them by the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. You’ll remember that Satan once tempted Jesus to assuage His forty-day hunger by turning stones into bread. Then, Jesus answered Satan saying, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” For three days Jesus had been feeding them the Bread of Life – the very Word that proceeds from the mouth of God – identifying the lies they had been following, calling them to repent of their sinful dissatisfaction, forgiving them of their sins, and thus delivering them from the lies to the truth that gives real satisfaction and everlasting life in the kingdom of Heaven.
For, the trouble with us sinful people is that we always want to eat what isn’t good for us, what doesn’t bring nutrition, health, and life, but only malnutrition, illness, and death. It’s about what we take into our bodies and into our souls, what we feed on, what we trust in, and what we derive life from. That is why the LORD uses the analogy of bread to describe the importance and centrality of His Word for our life. Bread is a staple, a fundamental source of nourishment, energy, strength, and life. Like our First Parents before us, we flee from the wholesome food of the Bread of Life, God’s Word, and instead we fill our ears and our souls with junk food, with garbage, lies, and deceit. Truly, St. Paul’s prophetic words have been fulfilled today even as they were in His own time, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
Yet, the crowd following and listening to Jesus those three days hadn’t expressed that they were hungry – which is quite amazing if you think about it! Still, Jesus had compassion on them. That word compassion in the Greek is a wonderful word splachnizomai. It literally means a churning of the bowels. Splachnizomai is a gut-wrenching feeling of empathy for the suffering of another. That is what Jesus felt for the people that had followed Him three days listening to His Word and teaching. That is what it means that Jesus had “compassion on the crowd.” Jesus knew their need even before they did. He knew that they needed physical nourishment just as much as spiritual nourishment. Thus, Jesus also taught them, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
Thus, what is revealed in today’s Gospel is not only the necessity and the priority of the Word of God, the Bread of Life, for true life with God, but we also see Jesus’ humanity and union with us, the meaning of His Incarnation. We see God’s love and compassion for us, how He knows us so intimately, as only a Creator can truly know His creatures whom He has made and formed and knitted together in our mother’s wombs, whose days He knows before ever one came to pass. This is what it truly means to have compassion: to suffer with, to suffer alongside of. For, inasmuch as the crowd had been listening for three days, so too, had Jesus been teaching and preaching for three days. He was in the same boat as them, so to speak. He was hungry too. He felt compassion – He felt what they were feeling – and so He was moved to act. However, knowing their need, personally, Jesus also knew their weakness personally. And, later, in His own time of need, Jesus would say to His disciples in Gethsemane who were heavy with sleep, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
The disciples demonstrated the weakness of their flesh in their answer to Jesus, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” No doubt if they were in the village or city they would have been assured at the presence of bakers and fishmongers, but, seeing nothing but barrenness and desolation, their assurance was gone and their hope lost. Therefore, Jesus gently taught them to trust not in the flesh, or in material things, what their eyes saw, and what their human reason and wisdom expected, but to trust in the Word of God. Jesus asked them how many loaves they had. It was not because He did not Himself know, but it was to bring into the light the meagerness and the insufficiency, the hopelessness of their own provisions. For, until we are able to confess our sinfulness and our inability to restore ourselves, we are unable to receive the benefit of the Gospel, the Good News, that we have been forgiven and restored to a right relationship with our God and Creator through faith in Jesus Christ who has redeemed us and has set us free. Then Jesus directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. It would not be by their works, by their reason, by their strength, or even by their faith that their bellies would be filled, but it would be by the Word of God, now pressing their meager offerings into life-giving and life-sustaining service.
Jesus caused the disciples and the crowd to become aware of their hunger and their insufficiency. When you feed your bellies with junk food and garbage, you have the sensation of being full and satisfied, while your bodies are literally starving to death for nutrition. Our ears and our brains and, consequently, our souls are so filled with the junk food and garbage of the world’s wisdom, values, cares, and anxieties that we, too, would be spiritually starving to death were it not for our frequent eating, hearing, and receiving of the Bread of Life, the Word of God. When they became aware of the meagerness of their provisions, their first reaction was that of unbelief, hopelessness, and despair. But, the Lord took their meager provisions, seven loaves and a few small fish, and with them fed them all until they were satisfied, and then collected seven baskets full of leftovers. When the LORD fills your cup, it overflows in abundance. Only consider these words of promise that He gives you: “Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.” “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Whenever the LORD gives, He gives in abundance. His mercy and His generosity are far greater than our actual needs, as is His love far greater than our sins.
The LORD’s miracles of feeding His people are plenteous throughout the Holy Scriptures. From the very beginning, in the Garden, the LORD provided food for nourishment of the body to which He attached His Word that nourished the soul. The Passover meal was a sign of His providence as He led His people out of slavery and bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. He provided manna, quail, and water to sustain His people forty years in the wilderness. In the sacrifices of the tabernacle and the temple, the LORD attached His Word of promise to bread and meat, oil and wine, to show His favor and blessing upon His people. The LORD sustained Elijah, the widow, and her son throughout the drought and famine, the jar of flour not being spent nor the jug of oil empty. Jesus had already fed over five thousand with bread and fish before performing this miracle again in the feeding of the four thousand, indicating that He may have done this several more times throughout His ministry. And, the night on which He was betrayed, He pressed meager bread and wine into divine and holy service in the Last Supper, promising through His Word, that those who ate and drank received Himself in holy communion for the forgiveness of sins, the strengthening of faith, and life that cannot die. Our Lord Jesus Christ continues to press our meager provisions of bread and wine into divine and holy use in the Sacrament of the Altar where we eat His flesh and drink His blood in His promise that, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Like Martha, we too easily become distracted by worldly and fleshly cares and anxieties. We see violence, warfare, and bloodshed in the world and we are fearful. We are tempted to think that we are alone and must solve these problems on our own or suffer in isolation. Likewise, we similarly despair at our meager provisions to support our congregation and the ministry in this place. We see empty seats and less and less money in the plate, and we know that people are not beating down our doors to come in. And so, we are tempted to believe that we must do something, we must fix things, or slowly decline until we have to close our doors. “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asks. Yes! Confess the meagerness of your provisions, your inability to dig yourself out of your self-made sin-hole, your grave, your death, and look to Jesus, the Bread of Life who provides you daily bread, all that you need for your body and your life. He takes up our meager provisions and He presses them into service to feed and to nourish, to strengthen and to protect, and then to send you out into the world, to your neighbor, through your vocations, to share the Bread of Life you yourself have received in superabundance.
Come, taste of the bounty of Eden restored in this Feast of the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. His flesh is true food, and His blood is true drink. “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.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, July 3, 2016
Matthew 5:17-26; Romans 6:1-11; Exodus 20:1-17
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Law and Gospel. If you’ve been a Lutheran Christian for a long time, you’ve undoubtedly heard about Law and Gospel and how it is very important to properly distinguish between the two. In fact, Lutherans pretty much wrote the book on the topic – well, at least one particular Lutheran, C. F. W. Walther, “The Proper Distinction Between the Law and the Gospel,” which is required reading in our seminaries before the student sits down to write his first sermon. Martin Luther himself famously stated, “Whoever knows well this art of distinguishing between Law and Gospel, him place at the head and call him a doctor of Holy Scripture.” Luther never claimed to have perfected this art himself, but there is a Doctor of Theology who has, and at whose feet we all must sit, and listen, and learn – Jesus Christ.
For, that is precisely what Jesus was doing in today’s Gospel lesson – distinguishing between Law and Gospel. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” You see, you must not conclude that the Law is bad and that the Gospel is good, or that the Law is old and the Gospel is new, or that the Gospel supersedes and replaces the Law – No! Both the Law and the Gospel alike are the Holy Divine Word of God. And yet, they are distinct and they have distinct purposes and uses.
The Law is the perfect, holy, righteous, and just will of God. The Law is the unflinching, unbending measure of all that we think, say, and do. However, because God’s Law is perfect, holy, righteous, and just, and because it is unflinching and unbending, St. Paul rightly confesses that, in it’s light, “there is no one who is righteous, not even one,” and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” You see, the Law was not given to us that we might be justified and righteous before God by doing it and keeping it, but the Law was given as “our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” The bottom line concerning God’s Law is that it cannot save us. We cannot be justified by obeying it, by doing the works it commands and by avoiding those works it forbids. It was not given for that purpose, but it was given to set God’s holiness, goodness, and righteousness before us and to turn us in repentance at the realization that we do not keep it, and cannot keep it, perfectly as it requires and demands. “The Law is but a mirror bright to bring the inbred sin to light that lurks within our nature.” Or, as I regularly teach our catechumens in Confirmation, “The Law always S.O.S. – Shows Our Sins.”
In contrast, the Gospel is the pure, unconditional, free proclamation of God’s grace to sinful mankind in and through and because of the faithful obedience and works of God’s Son Jesus Christ and His suffering and death upon the cross for the sins of the world. The Gospel makes no demands upon us as to what we must or must not do, but it proclaims to us always what God has done for us all in Jesus Christ. “Yet as the Law must be fulfilled or we must die despairing, Christ came and has God’s anger stilled, our human nature sharing. He has for us the Law obeyed and thus the Father’s vengeance stayed which over us impended.” Or, as I regularly teach our catechumens in Confirmation, “The Gospel always S.O.S. – Shows Our Savior.”
The Pharisees in Jesus’ day plainly failed to distinguish Law and Gospel. They taught the Law, but incorrectly, and they failed to proclaim the Gospel at all. For example, the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder.” The Pharisees taught that, so long as you have not physically killed someone, you have kept the Law. Similarly, they taught concerning the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” that, so long as you have not had physical sexual intercourse with a man or a woman to whom you are not married, that you have kept the Law. Thus, the Pharisees prided themselves that they kept the Law of God so exceedingly well. They considered themselves righteous because of their obedience and their good works according to the Law. However, while they taught the people the same, they harmed them in two different ways: First, they taught the people to trust in their obedience and works according to the Law just as themselves. Second, they offered no mercy, no grace, no Gospel to those who, being more honest with themselves, realized that they did not keep the Law of God very well. That is to say, the Pharisees directed people to find comfort and peace in their obedience and works instead of in God’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. This is why Jesus once rebuked the Pharisees and called them “whitewashed tombs,” for they appeared clean and holy and righteous on the outside, but on the inside they were filled with “dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”
The Pharisees lowered the bar on God’s Law and made His commandments more do-able so that they could justify themselves. However, Jesus called them out on this and pointed out that, not only do they not keep the letter of the Law, but, worse, they knew not the spirit of the Law – love. Already in Deuteronomy had the spirit of the Law been revealed to God’s people, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” and in Leviticus, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The Fifth Commandment is not merely a prohibition against physical murder, but it is a command to love your neighbor, even your enemy, as you love yourself, to “help and befriend him in every bodily need.” Likewise, the Sixth Commandment is not merely a prohibition against adultery, but it is a command to love your neighbor, to love all people, with honor, dignity, and respect for their bodies and to treat your own body with honor, dignity, and respect. However, what the Pharisees taught was the lowest, physical obedience to the Law – obedience in which they took comfort, believing they were justified and righteous – while they neither taught, nor practiced, the spirit of the Law, which is love. They were the epitome of Isaiah’s prophecy, of whom Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”
Today, men still honor Jesus with their lips while their hearts are far from Him, and even the best of us must take care to resist the temptation to relax God’s Law to appear righteous in the eyes of men or to win their favor. Jesus did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. The Law has not, will not, and cannot pass away, but it remains forever, for it is the perfect, holy, divine will of God. However, our race and our culture are so mired in sin that God’s clear and holy Law sounds out of step with modern wisdom and values, even discriminatory, bigoted, and hateful. In the Church, we are tempted to relax or to bend or to explain away the uncomfortable rigidity, universality, and unchanging nature of God’s Law concerning numerous moral, social, and intellectual issues such as evolution, divorce, homosexuality, abortion, capital punishment, war, and countless others, effectively answering Satan’s question, “Did God really say?” with a tremulous, “No, He didn’t.” Truly we must still hearken to Jesus’ words, “Truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
God’s Law has not, will not, and cannot pass away. But, it has been fulfilled; therefore, our relationship to God’s Law has changed, for we have been changed. Since the Law cannot pass away, Jesus willingly, out of love and obedience to His Father, did what was necessary to fulfill it and to set us free from its curse. That has changed our relationship to God’s Law. No longer do we see it as a terrible taskmaster to be obeyed grudgingly out of fear of punishment, out of coercion in order to justify ourselves, but we see it as it truly is – holy, righteous, good, perfect, and true. Our hearts, which had been far from God, are once again near to Him and we see His Law as it is and always has been instead of through sin-corrupted reason and wisdom. Since the Holy Spirit called you out of darkness and death into light and life through the Gospel marked by the sign of Holy Baptism, not only do you not physically hurt or harm your neighbor, but you desire to help him and befriend him in his bodily needs. Not only do you not desire to take what belongs to your neighbor, but you desire to help him keep, preserve, and protect what he has. Not only do you not lie about, slander, or denigrate your neighbor, but you seek to speak well of him and always put the best construction on his words and deeds. The Law has become for you, no longer a loathsome and fearsome rule, but a holy guide for the life of a Christian. The Church calls this the Third Use of the Law. The Third Use of the Law recognizes and confesses that the Law of God has not, will not, and cannot pass away, but it has been fulfilled; therefore, our relationship to God’s Law has changed.
“What shall we say then?” St. Paul asks rhetorically. “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” St. Paul goes on to explain that we, who are baptized into Christ Jesus, have died to sin, have died to our old sinful ways, have died to fear, loathing, and hatred of God and His Law and our neighbor, and have been raised in Christ to walk in newness of life. We have been changed, already now! “We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” Dear Christian, you were a slave under the Law, but now you are free. You were a slave, but now you are a son, and if a son, an heir. So you must consider yourself every day of your life. When you are tempted to view God’s Law the way a slave does, you must remember that you have died with Christ and have been raised with Him, that you are a son and an heir with Him of God the Father. Never permit yourself to be placed under the Law again as a slave, for if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed. Live in His life and liberty – true liberty, true freedom – and freely love all, no matter what, as you have been freely loved, forgiven, restored, and adopted as sons of God.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, June 26, 2016
Luke 5:1-11; Romans 8:18-23; 1 Kings 19:11-21
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Fishing is a very different sport than most. It doesn’t require great strength or even physical fitness at all. While knowledge and experience are most certainly helpful, they do not guarantee success. You simply cannot make a fish take the bait and swallow the hook. No, rather, in fishing, you must have extreme patience. The fish must come to you. The fisherman offers an enticing bait and lure, and then he waits. There is no work to be done. Indeed, what you need to do is be still, watch, and wait until a fish takes the bait.
It might surprise you, then, that Jesus uses the example of fishing and fisherman to teach about how people are brought into the kingdom of God. It shouldn’t, however, for Jesus as a teacher continually calls you to see ordinary things in a new way. Fishing is so common that you likely take it for granted. Therefore, he catches you by saying that the kingdom of God is somehow like fishing. And, not fishing with bait and lures, mind you, but fishing with a net. You see, the difference with net fishing is that you don’t even cleverly lure the fish to the net, or trick them, but you simply let down the net and then pull it up, enclosing good fish and bad fish and seaweed and branches and whatever else there might be. There is no real human skill involved. Again, experience and wisdom will surely help, but sometimes you’re going to catch very little, and sometimes you’re going to catch a lot. And, when we’re talking about the kingdom of God, it is the Holy Spirit who does the catching through the net of the Gospel. All you have to do is let down the net, be patient, and let the fish come to you whom Holy Spirit calls.
Shortly before this Gospel account Jesus had announced, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And, so, that was precisely what Jesus was doing when He encountered some fishermen busy washing their nets. They had toiled all night fishing and had caught nothing at all. They were exasperated, disappointed, and exhausted. Jesus came to them with the Good News of the kingdom of God. He got into one of their boats and asked Simon to put out a little from the land. Then Jesus sat down and began to teach the people from the boat. Jesus was letting down His Net for a catch, and He caught Simon, James, and John, His first disciples. However, when Jesus told Simon to put out into the deep and let down his nets for a catch, Simon and the others must have thought He was nuts. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” Simon protested. He was right. And, that was precisely what Jesus wanted Simon to confess. Even our best efforts must fail without the Word of the Lord and faith. But, Simon had faith, if little faith. He had been caught in Jesus’ Gospel Net. “But at your Word I will let down the nets,” he replied.
And so, out they went, into the dark and into the deep, hopeless and tired, on faith and in trust in the Word of Jesus alone. They went, likely not expecting anything, but simply because of Jesus’ Word. So too, this is why we preach the Gospel. We do not use the Gospel like a tool that we skillfully manipulate to achieve out goals, but we proclaim it in faith and trust that the Holy Spirit will work through it when and where He pleases to catch new believers in Jesus to the glory of God. This Jesus taught also in the Parable of the Sower: The Sower simply sows His Gospel Seed without any concern as to the condition of the soil. Though only one quarter bears fruit, it bears a hundredfold. When it comes to the Gospel, you must put aside all human wisdom, ingenuity, skill, craft and cunning, programs, business models, and all other things of the world and the flesh and you must trust in the Word of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit. No man, be he a preacher, a teacher, an evangelist, or anything else has ever converted a soul to faith in Christ, but the Holy Spirit alone calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps those whom He wills to the one true, living, and fruitful faith. As one of my favorite bands, The Avett Brothers, puts it in their newest song released just this week, “There ain't no man can save me. There ain't no man can enslave me. Ain't no man or men that can change the shape my soul is in.” Only the Holy Spirit can do that through the Word of the Gospel. Glory be to God alone for faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus Christ.
“And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.” While all their natural efforts came up empty and fruitless, at a Word from the Lord the nets came back filled to the point of breaking, a hundredfold. At the Lord’s command, the hopelessness of sore backs and empty nets gave way to the greatest catch of fish they’d ever seen! Labor and hope. God desires these two things from us. This is why He says to Simon, “Put out into the deep and cast out your net,” as if to say, “Do what is required of fishermen.” “Labor and hope,” says the Lord, “and let me see to your sustenance.”
When Simon Peter saw it, however, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Jesus’ miracle had caused Simon’s conscience to open up, so that he became aware of his sins – his lack of fear, love, and trust in God. However, Jesus did not chastise Simon, He did not preach the Law to Him, but instead He absolved His sins and comforted Him saying, “Do not be afraid.” And Jesus gave Simon and James and John this charge, “From now on you will be catching men alive.” You see, fish die when they are caught, but the Gospel net brings men out of death and into life eternal.
By His Word, you were drawn from the waters of the baptismal font alive, reborn, forgiven, and into the Ark of the Holy Christian and Apostolic Church. The Net of the Gospel never breaks – men are saved by believing until the Church is complete. And just as, by the Word of Christ, the net brought so many fish that it could not contain them, so now by the preaching of Simon and his fellows would the fish of the world, that is, people of the world, be brought in to the Net of the Holy Christian Church by that power alone. As Luther teaches us to confess in the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. [Even as] He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
That’s how it works. It’s not by gimmicks. It’s not by catchy melodies. It’s not by changing the liturgy to be more user-friendly to the culture. It’s not by the best-laid plans of men, who try to make things just so to bring people into the Church by their best efforts. It is in spite of man’s best efforts that the fish of the world are drawn into the Net and that men are drawn into the Church. It is in spite of us, not because of us. It is because of the almighty Word of Christ and that Word alone. The Lord calls pastors to fish for men with the Net of the Gospel and bring them into the boat of the Church. However, once a fish has been caught he becomes a fisherman also. That is your Christian vocation in this world, to cast the Gospel Net far and wide, without discrimination, through the unique vocations the Lord has called you to: Husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, teacher, student, engineer, salesman, cook, waiter, butcher, baker, or candlestick maker. Out there in the world, in your lives, through your vocations, you are the hands, the heart, and the mouth of Jesus for all who will believe, not because of your efforts, but in spite of them, when you are forgiven, fed and nourished, equipped and strengthened for service in the Word and Sacraments of Jesus Christ.
“And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.” “Now, Pastor,” you say, “that sure sounds like they left their fishing vocation and entered full time ministry with Jesus, doesn’t it?” Well, there are two things to keep in mind here: Simon Peter, James, and John were called to be disciples and, later, after their training was complete, Apostles, Pastors to care for the Church after Christ’s Ascension until His Parousia on the Last Day. They, literally, were called to leave everything and follow Jesus. However, countless others were called to discipleship, but not to Apostleship, not to the Office of the Holy Ministry. And, their callings, their vocations, are no less important and necessary. The world still needs fishermen, and tax collectors, and tent makers, and butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. What we are all called to leave behind is our love and idolatry to worldly and fleshly things – to mammon. In other places Jesus teaches that you must hate you mother and your father, that you must hate your own life. Again, the point is that you must not love anyone or anything more than or above the LORD. This is nothing other than the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. No, Jesus does not call you to forsake your vocations, for they are holy vocations, necessary for life in this world and precious in the sight of the Lord when lived and worked in faith, hope, and love. Indeed, this is the work that you must do, not to earn merit or favor before the Lord, but as an extension and conduit of the Lord, His grace, compassion, mercy, love, and forgiveness. Labor and hope. God desires these two things from us. Do what is required of fisherman, what is required of Christians. Have mercy. Show compassion. Give. Forgive. Love all. Just do it. Labor and hope, and let the LORD see to your sustenance.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.