Sunday, July 26, 2015
Matthew 7:15-23; Romans 8:12-17; Jeremiah 23:16-29
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“You will recognize them by their fruits.” Why does this statement of our Lord trouble you? It’s merely common sense, isn’t it? How do you know that you are looking at an apple tree? Is it not because the tree produces apples and not pears? How do you know that you are looking at a grape vine? Is it not because the vine produces grapes and not figs? And, how do you know if the tree or the vine that you are looking at is good or bad? Is it not because the good tree produces good fruit and the bad vine produces bad fruit? And, so, “You will recognize them by their fruits.”
Still, I know that this saying troubles you. This saying troubles you because, when you hear it, you hear it according to the Law. You think that you now have to do something - you have to produce good fruit. And, so, you fret and you worry if you are doing it, and if you are doing it right, and if you are doing it enough. You see, the Law directs you to yourself and to your works, so that you either take comfort in your works, which is self-righteousness, or you find your works wanting, which leads to hopelessness and despair.
However, that is not what our Lord teaches, is it? Jesus does not teach that you must work in order to bear good fruit, but Jesus teaches you simply that you must produce good fruit. Now, producing good fruit is not a work for a tree or for a vine, but it is simply what a tree or a vine does: An apple tree produces apples. A grape vine produces grapes. Whether the fruit is good or bad does not depend upon how hard the tree or the vine tried, but it depends upon the nature of the tree or the vine itself: is the tree itself good or bad? Is the vine itself good or bad?
Now, when it comes to you, living, animate, sentient creatures of God, made in His image, you are something quite different from trees and vines, aren’t you. You have wills, and you make good and bad choices. However, the goodness or the badness of the fruit that you produce doesn’t depend upon your will or your choice at all, but it depends upon your nature. And, now you should be troubled! For, what does the Lord have to say about your nature after man’s fall into sin? Nothing good, I assure you. In fact, our Lord Jesus teaches that, “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” Therefore, if it is by your nature, and the fruits produced by your nature, that you will be judged, what hope is there for you? There is none. Best prepare yourself for the chopping, and for the fire that is to come. For, if you are to stand alone, naked, in your fallen nature, with your fallen production of fallen fruits, then you are cut-off, condemned, and damned. The Lord will not recognize you, because He will not recognize your fruits. You will be like a thorn bush or a thistle, producing no grapes or figs, fit only for the fire. For, apart from the LORD, you cannot produce anything that is good.
And, that is why you must not, you cannot, stand alone, naked, before the LORD. And, that is why you must not, you cannot, offer the produce of your fallen nature, naked and alone, to the LORD. For, the fruits produced by your naked nature alone are no fruit at all. But, take heart, your Lord Jesus has died and has risen that you may be fruitful once again! He who makes “waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert” can make fruitless thorn bushes and thistles to be fruit bearing vines and trees! But, you must be grafted into Him. You must be grafted into Jesus so that you draw your life from Him, so that His life flows through you, His branches. Then, as He has promised, you will bear much fruit, and good fruit – fruit, not from your fallen nature, but fruit from the holy, innocent, obedient, and faithful nature of Jesus. Then you need not be troubled at the Lord’s words, “You will recognize them by their fruits,” for your fruits will be seen as only good in the eyes of the LORD, for they are the fruits produced through faith in the True Vine, Jesus Christ.
Still, there is another problem; your flesh likes to take credit for its fruits. And, worse still, there are plenty of folks out there who will play on this fact, and who will encourage your flesh, and your fleshly reason, to trust in your works and in your fruits, to just try harder and be a better person. Jesus calls them false prophets, and wolves in sheep’s clothing. And, the LORD warned Israel through His prophet Jeremiah centuries before Jesus, saying, “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’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you’.” Who are such false prophets? How will you recognize them? The Lord says also that, “You will recognize them by their fruits.”
So, what are the recognizable fruits of a false prophet? Well, your Lord teaches that they will be as recognizable as fruitless thorn bushes and thistles. That is to say, their fruits – or, fruitlessness, really – will be contrary to the fruits of the LORD’s Word. For example, if someone calls evil good, and good evil, that is the recognizable fruit of a false prophet. If someone bends, twists, annuls, repudiates, or directly contradicts the Word and the commandments of the LORD, that is the recognizable fruit of a false prophet. And, if someone directs you to your works, to your trying harder, to your manifesting spiritual gifts, or even simply to thinking positively, in place of, or above, the Word of the LORD, that is the recognizable fruit of a false prophet.
However, false prophets do not think of themselves as false. Moreover, they do not want you to think of them as false. Therefore, they wear disguises. They attempt to pose as faithful prophets. They will offer you enough of the LORD’s Word to make themselves sound credible, but they will combine it with false teaching, or they will offer you only part of the LORD’s Word on any given matter, withholding His full counsel. You know who was really good at doing this? Satan. Satan knows the Word of the LORD better than you do, and he knows how to bend it and twist and distort it just enough so that, if you are not paying attention, or if you do not know the LORD’s Word well yourself, you will take the distortion at face value as truth. Consequently, many false prophets arose who filled the people with “vain hopes” that they could justify themselves by their works of sacrifices, prayers, and praise. This was demonstrated well when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest between the LORD and their false god. When Baal did not respond to the prophet’s prayers, they began to cut themselves and to thrash about wildly – they believed that they had to do something to merit their god’s attention. Likewise, the Pharisees were exceedingly well versed at the same. They minimized the Law of God and lowered the bar of its expectations and demands, they bent its truth in order to make it more palatable and more do-able, and they taught others to do the same.
Thus, your Lord warns you to beware of them. But, how will you know? “You will recognize them by their fruits.” This means that you must know the Word of the LORD well yourself. No, you don’t have to have every verse and word memorized, but you need to keep His Word and commandments at all times; they must be precious and holy to you. You must meditate upon them and draw from them wisdom and truth. The chief way that you do that is not by doing, but by receiving – by being here in Church, and by receiving the LORD’s words and sacraments with the community of the faithful. You do this by exhorting and being exhorted by your brothers and sisters in Christ, your family of faith, and your pastor and teachers of the Lord’s Word. And, you do this by keeping the Word and the commandments of the LORD in your homes, father and mother teaching them to your children, and the whole family praying together and studying and sharing the Word and the commandments of the LORD. For, you are all of one family, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, children of our heavenly Father, heirs with Christ of a kingdom that cannot be shaken.
But, you must bear good fruit. No, I am not saying that you must try harder, or behave a certain way, or think more positively – that’s what the false prophet’s will preach to you – but, I am saying that your fruit must be good, always. And, the only way that you can produce good fruit is if you are grafted into the True Vine, Jesus Christ. He is the Vine, and you are His branches; if you remain in Him, He has promised to remain in you, and you will bear – not just a little, but much, and good, fruit. For, “a healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit,” and you are a healthy tree, because you are in Christ, and Christ is in you, and the fruit that you bear is Christ’s fruit – fruit that can only, and always, be good.
Jesus said to His Church, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that day is now! Our resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus offers you the fruit of His tree, His precious body and His holy blood, for the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, and for life and salvation evermore. By eating and drinking of the fruits of the True Vine Jesus, you remain in Him, and He remains in you, and you will bear much fruit. And, because you bear the fruits of Jesus, His Father recognizes you by these fruits, and He loves you, and He calls you His children, even His Son.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, July 19, 2015
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.
Our Old Testament reading sets the stage: God is the actor. He designs the set and then furnishes it. He selects the actors, and He gives them their roles. He writes the script, and He gives the directions. All is ready and in order. The lights dim, and the play begins. There is one God. There is one man. And, there is one rule: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Now, of course, you know how that play went. The one rule was quickly broken. The one man did not fear, love, and trust in the one God above all things. He took and he ate the fruit of the forbidden tree and, in so doing, he plunged himself and all of creation into sin and corruption and death. However, ironically, because God is good, the man’s fall was not the end of the story, but it was the beginning of a new story. For, the man’s rebellion and fall was quickly countered by the LORD’s Gospel promise: Once again He would set to work to redesign and furnish the set, a new creation, to select the actors, Abraham and the children of Israel, and to rewrite the script. This time, the climax would not be man’s rebellion and fall from grace, but, this time, the LORD Himself would become an actor in His own play. He would plunge His hands into the stuff of His creation, fallen, broken, and corrupted by sin, and become one of His own creatures, so that He could re-create, renew, and restore His fallen creation from the inside out. “And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us.” “And His Name shall be called Emmanuel, ‘God with us’.”
It was Emmanuel, “God with us,” who was present in the garden with our First Parents. The one rule was to trust in Him. The forbidden fruit was merely the necessary ramification of there being a rule at all. When you have a rule, you either keep it or you break it. You either fear, love, and trust in God above all things, or you don’t. Yes, it’s truly that black and white. No, there truly is no fence straddling, no shades of gray. You see, the righteous will live by faith as much before the Fall as after. Will you fear, love, and trust in God above all things, or not?
Likewise, it was Emmanuel who was present in Egypt, providing food and shelter for the children of Israel during the great famine through His servant Joseph. And, it was Emmanuel who was present in the wilderness providing food and shelter for the children of Israel as they made their pilgrimage to the promised land. And, it was Emmanuel who was present in the tabernacle and, later, in the temple, dwelling in the midst of His people. And, it was Emmanuel who marked the division between the good kings of Israel and the bad. And, it is Emmanuel who is the Bread of Life of which a man may eat and live. And, it is Emmanuel who is your bread for the day. For, the righteous will live by faith, then, now, and always – faith in Emmanuel, the one who is present, “God with us.”
Likewise, it was also Emmanuel who was present at the feeding of both the 5,000 and the 4,000. What had they to fear? Emmanuel, God, was with them. Would they fear, love, and trust in the LORD above all things? Or, would they fear hunger and fainting? Would they trust in their own abilities to procure food? Would they love fleshly, worldly, and material things more than the LORD and His Word? The disciples and the crowds already knew of the long and steady history of God providing for His people, often in the direst of situations and in miraculous ways. In fact, our Gospel reading today about The Feeding of the 4,000 follows shortly upon the even more miraculous Feeding of the 5,000! When will we learn? When will we finally believe and trust? The righteous will live by faith, always!
“Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall [a woman], who is ninety years old, bear a child?” “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” “Who then can be saved?” “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” Do you see how all these questions are the same question? They are all questions of doubt and unbelief, questions of weak and little faith. They are questions that arise when you think that you have to solve your own problems yourself, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get to work, and be independent and self-sufficient. They are questions that you ask when you believe that you are on your own and that no one can, or will, help. Therefore, you either fool yourself into believing that you truly are alone and on your own, and that you are quite capable of solving your own problems, or, and more likely, you fall into hopelessness and despair, because you realize that you cannot make it on your own. Either way, your fear, love, and trust is not in the LORD, but it is in yourself. You have become your own god and you have transgressed the First Commandment of the true and only God.
And, when you are so very busy worshipping the god that is yourself, you cannot see and worship the true God, Emmanuel, who is present in your midst to help you. Jesus’ statement about the crowds and their hunger was meant to evoke a confession from His disciples: “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way.” The disciples immediately looked to their own meager provisions and abilities, and they despaired: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” Their fear, love, and trust was not in the Lord in their midst, Emmanuel, but it was in themselves. They were so very busy worshipping the god that was their self that they could not see and worship the true God, Emmanuel, who was present in their midst to help.
Once again, the Lord Jesus took their meager provisions, blessed them, and offered thanks to His Father, and distributed them to the crowd. Once again, the crowd ate and they were satisfied. And, once again, the disciples collected the leftover fragments of bread, this time seven baskets full. They ate and they were satisfied because God was present in their midst. Truly they had no need to fear. While the LORD may not always provide what you want, He always provides what you need – and what you need is not always what you think you need, but what you truly need, that is, what serves you and preserves you for life with Him. It is the end that matters. What, then, is the end – that is, the result and goal – of your fear? What, then, is the end, result, and goal of your works? What fruits do they bear?
St. Paul addresses these questions in our Epistle reading today. Paul says that when you were slaves – that is, when you were slaves to sin, which is the sinful fruit of your self-idolatry – you bore the fruit of unrighteousness. Paul provides a lengthy list of these fruits in chapter one of his epistle to the Romans: fornication, wickedness, covetousness, envy, murder, deceit, pride, boasting, disobedience, lack of mercy, lack of charity, and lack of compassion, etc. It’s not difficult to see how, when you are afraid of losing, or not having, you can fall into these sorts of sins. Your fear of losing, or not having, bears the fruit of making you greedy, covetous, and envious, proud, boastful, and unmerciful, etc. For, when you are afraid of losing, or not having enough, you are focused upon your own needs and upon your ability or inability to procure them. However, the LORD would have you not think of your own needs first, but of the needs of others. And, the LORD would have you not trust in your own abilities first, but in the LORD, Emmanuel, who is present in your midst to help.
“But,” St. Paul continues, “now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus has set you free from your idolatrous worship of your self. You are free from the fear of having to provide all things for yourself. You are free from the fear of losing, or not having. You are free from being you-centered so that you might be Christ-centered – which is to be neighbor-centered, as you see Christ in the weakest of your neighbors and brothers.
For, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be world without end: There is one rule – You shall have no other gods – not even yourself. What does this mean? You shall fear, love, and trust in God above all things. And, when you truly fear, love, and trust in God above all things, then you will have no fear of losing or not having. You will be free – free to love and to serve and to give without fear. By dying to yourself, you are free to live to God in Christ Jesus. And, this is life, indeed.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, July 12, 2015
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.
“Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” You see, that’s what it’s like to live under the holy and righteous Law of God. It’s kind of like trying to pay off your credit cards, or a student loan, except that it isn’t, because, at least, if you keep on paying the minimum amount due, you will in, say, twenty or thirty years or so, pay them off. But, not so with the Law of God. No matter how good you are, no matter how well you strive to keep His commandments and His Law, you can never, and you will never, pay back God for the debt you owe Him, the debt of your sin and your guilt. No, you will never, ever pay Him back. So, what, then, should you do? Ok, here it is; listen up: “Stop trying!” “Stop trying to pay God back for your sin and your guilt. Stop trying to earn and merit God’s favor. Stop trying to assuage God’s wrath by obeying His Law. It’ll never work. You’re bound to fail. It will only end in tears, and weeping, and gnashing of teeth.
Jesus knows this, and He wants you to know this too. That’s why He assures you that His Father’s Law will never, ever, pass away. You see, a lot of folks today – heck, a lot of folks in Jesus’ day – want to relax the Law, to minimize the Law, to lower the bar on the Law and make it more do-able. But, Jesus actually expands the Law. Well, He doesn’t really, though He appears to, but what He does is He throws off all the attempts men make to relax, minimize, and lower the demands of God’s Law. So, what Jesus really does is that He shows the Law for what it really and truly is – unflinchingly holy and righteous and perfect – such that, unless a man keep it absolutely one hundred percent perfect every single millisecond of his life from conception to death, and that’s not even addressing the very real problem of original inherited sin, he will surely, most certainly, and without a doubt die, not just physically and temporally, but also spiritually and eternally.
Jesus says, “You know that Law ‘You shall not murder?’ You actually think that you keep it, don’tcha? Well, here’s news for ya – ya don’t. I say to you that if you are angry with your brother – you know, seething with fury and hatred in your thoughts, cursing him with your words, hoping, even praying that the thing he did that ticked you off so much comes back to bite him in the rear – if you are angry with your brother, and you do not help him and befriend him in his bodily needs, you have broken the commandment of my Father and, unrepented of, you are going to hell.” The same goes with adultery. Listen closely: Any sexual relations outside of the lifelong marriage of one man and one woman – you know, the way my Father instituted it in the beginning with the first man and woman – any sexual relations outside of the lifelong marriage of one man and one woman is a transgression of my Father’s commandment – period! That means heterosexual sex before marriage. That means co-habitation without marriage. That means homosexual sex which cannot possibly be within marriage. And, that means cheating on the spouse that you’re married to. Yeah, that even includes divorce. And yet, there’s more! If you have lustful thoughts about a man or a woman that you are not married to, that is a transgression of my Father’s commandment too!
You get the idea, right? Jesus doesn’t lower the bar of the Law, He raises it back to its proper place. Jesus doesn’t abolish the Law, but He fulfills it. And, Jesus says to you that, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Well, there you go, right? Might as well pack it all in and head home, right? Well, yeah, that’s right – that’s right if you actually could, or had, to make yourself righteous. That is an impossible task. You cannot possibly do it. “You will never get out until you have paid the last penny,” and, let’s face it, you’re spiritually penniless and broke. Yeah, prisoners often earn pennies on the dollar for their work in prison with which to purchase simple comforts – things like scented soap or a bag of sunflower seeds – but, not you; no, in the prison of hell you earn nothing but punishment, suffering, and death, for that is the wages for your sin. There is no way that you can pay off your sin debts or make yourself right with God – on your own.
Thanks be to God, in Jesus Christ, you are not on your own. Jesus has taken the debt you could not pay upon Himself, and He has paid it in full in His death upon the cross. Jesus has made amends for you with your accuser, with the perfect, holy, and righteous Law of God, by fulfilling it for you, in your place, perfectly, in thought, word, and in deed, and by then taking the judgment, condemnation, and penalty of your transgression – death – upon Himself. “I have not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them.” His alone is the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, and He credits it to you. That is to say, all that rightly belongs to Him, – righteousness, holiness, perfection, sonship with the Father – Jesus willingly and freely gives to you, no strings attached.
“You will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” That is the Law. It cannot save you. You cannot save yourself by doing it. It condemns you – period. My advice to you: Let it. Let God’s Law condemn you. Let it convict you. Let it kill you. Let it damn you to hell. But, then, receive the Gospel – finally – as the free, perfect, and holy gift of God’s grace that it is, no strings attached. Your debt is paid in full in the precious, holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus. Now there is no judgment and condemnation for you who are in Jesus Christ. Well, there is a judgment: Righteous, holy, not guilty – on account of Jesus.
So, what then shall you say? Keep on sinning? Keep on doing the sinful, lawless, godless things you were doing before? By no means! You have died to sin, right? How then can you continue to live in it? Oh, I see, you haven’t died to sin completely. In truth, you often like to sin, right? The point is this: Jesus has died to sin for you. Jesus has died for your sin. You are justified in Him, in His death and resurrection. So, if you will have this justification in Jesus, then you too have died to sin and must turn from sin from now on. Of course you are still going to slip and make mistakes, you are still going to sin in thought, word, and deed. But, from now on you are not going to give yourself over to sin. You are not going to willfully engage in what you know to be sinful and a transgression of the LORD’s commandments. You are not going to bless what the LORD condemns, calling evil good and good evil. There’s a big difference between a sinner who sins and repents and a sinner who refuses to acknowledge his sin as sin and therefore refuses to repent. Only sinners can be forgiven. Therefore, let the Law convict you, condemn you, kill you, and damn you to hell. But, likewise, receive the Gospel as the free, perfect, and holy gift of God’s grace that it is, no strings attached, in and through faith in Jesus Christ.
You have died, and you have been raised. In Holy Baptism you died with Christ, and you were raised with Him to new and eternal life. And, if you have been united with Him in a death like His, you shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. Your sin died with Him too. Likewise, your new life was raised with Him. Therefore, without Christ, you are a 100% sinner, wholly accountable for, and dead in, your sins. But, with Christ, you are a 100% justified, sinless, and holy child of God. Even your occasional sinful thoughts, words, and deeds cannot change that fact as you repent and receive forgiveness anew, again and again. But you must not, and you cannot, willfully and intentionally give yourself over to manifest sins. You are freed from your sins, but you are not freed to sin. “For,” writes Martin Luther in The Smalcald Articles, “the Holy Ghost does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so as to be accomplished, but represses and restrains it so that it must not do what it wishes. But if it does what it wishes, the Holy Ghost and faith are [certainly] not present.”
So it is that you live in this life in the dynamic tension between your sinful flesh and your new spiritual man. You are simul justus et peccator, at the same time both justified saint while also a sinner. This truth God’s Law and Gospel reveal to you: “You must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” If you were left to your own devices, your sinful flesh would succumb and fall. Even St. Paul struggled with his flesh saying, “The good that I would do, I do not do, while the evil that I would not do, that I continually find myself doing. Who will save me from this body of death?” Therefore, thanks be to God in Christ Jesus, you are not alone and left to your own devices. For this reason has Christ established His Church, that His Word and Blessed Sacraments would be administered to you to forgive your sins anew, to strengthen your faith, and to equip for good works and holy living unto the death and resurrection of the body and life everlasting. These gifts, these Sacraments, are not for the righteous who need no forgiveness, but they are for sinners who repent of their sins. Come, and receive God’s grace by receiving Jesus’ blood and righteousness. His blood covers your sin and guilt. His life and death have fulfilled God’s holy, righteous, and perfect Law for you. God looks at you through Jesus’ blood and He sees holiness and righteousness. God looks at you through Jesus and He sees only His child, His Son. For, you have died in Christ, and now you live in Him.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
HT: Donavon Riley for the chalkboard graphic
Sunday, July 5, 2015
Luke 5:1-11; 1 Peter 3:8-15; 1 Kings 19:11-21
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Your vocation is your God-given calling, but it is not your job. For example, to be a father or a mother, a son or a daughter, a husband or a wife – that is your vocation. But to be a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker – that is your job. Further, your vocation is quite likely not what you like or want to do, or feel especially gifted, skilled, and equipped to do, but your vocation is simply what God has given you to do in service to others to the glory of His Name. As a result, your Christian vocation is not normally a call to do something, but it is a call to be someone. Your vocation is to be the Christian you have been baptized to be in all the places, and in all the relationships, in which God has placed you.
Elijah had the vocation of being a prophet of the LORD. Arguably, neither Elijah, nor any of the LORD’s prophets, wanted their vocation or believed themselves to be especially gifted, skilled, and equipped to be a prophet of the LORD. Moses, for example, made all sorts of excuses to get out of his vocation, claiming that he had a speech impediment and that he was ineloquent. Jonah fled the other direction when the LORD called him to go to Nineveh. Jeremiah protested that he was too young. Doubting his own abilities, Gideon put the LORD to the test, not once, but three times.
For, the truth is that the vocations the LORD calls you to often do not seem attractive, and often you do not feel up to the task. Yet, still it is the LORD’s call, it is your vocation, and you must do it, you must go. A Mother is still a mother even if she doesn’t enjoy it or want to be. Still she has a service to provide to her children and they depend upon her to do it. A husband is still a husband, even if he is tired and distracted, and would rather be playing golf. He still has a wife and a family to serve who depend upon him to do what the LORD has called him to do. Your vocation is selfless and sacrificial, just as your Lord Jesus sacrificed all to save you from sin and death. And, there is peace and joy in doing your vocation when you recognize and confess that the Lord has chosen and called you to this work. It is a needed work. It is a good work. And it is a holy work.
Vocation is sacrifice, period. When Elijah’s vocation as prophet had come to an end, the LORD called Elisha to be prophet after him. Elisha was out doing his job, plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. And so, to demonstrate in a powerful and visual way the unchangeable and sacrificial nature of his vocation, Elisha sacrificed his oxen and boiled their flesh with the yokes and served it to the people to eat. There was no going back from the LORD’s call and his vocation. Elijah wasn’t even permitted to return to his father and mother to say goodbye. And so, to reiterate, God’s calling, your vocation, is a calling you have whether you realize it or not, whether you like it or not. And, yet, there is blessing in doing your vocation – blessing for both you and for those you are called to serve.
Similarly, Simon had just returned to shore after a long, hard, and disappointing day at sea, doing his job, catching fish. He had just finished cleaning and mending his nets and he was ready to go home to supper and to bed when the Lord Jesus called to him to go back out to sea and to let down his nets for a catch. Though he was tired and exhausted, though he thought it was foolish and he didn’t want to go, he submitted and he obeyed the word of the Lord and out he went and dropped his nets into the deep for a catch. And, what did he get for it? Such a great catch of fish that he was literally at risk of drowning! Other fishermen, James and John, came to help, and even their boats were beginning to sink! Exasperated and terrified, Simon thought, as you have likely thought before, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” He wanted to run. He wanted to hide. He wanted to be free from the danger of his vocation. He wanted to be anywhere other than there, and if that meant sending Jesus away, then that’s the way it had to be.
Often our vocations can be overwhelming. The responsibility can be terrifying. Simon was made acutely aware of his weakness and his frailty. His ship and his livelihood were sinking, the great catch of fish would be lost, and he himself was critically near death. His cry “Depart from me!” was not a confession of faith, but of unbelief. Simon knew his sin and his unworthiness, but he did not trust in his Lord’s providence, goodness, and mercy. Therefore, like Judas, he despaired and he prepared to die.
But, you can’t quit your vocation. To be sure, many try, but there are consequences in terms of guilt and fear and real-world ramifications – just think of Jonah attempting to shirk his vocation to preach to the Ninevites! The breadwinner of the family can change jobs, but she cannot quit working when her family depends upon her to bring home the bacon. A husband cannot morally quit fulfilling his marital vows to his wife, nor a father his fatherly responsibility to his children.
Therefore Jesus said to Simon, and Jesus says to you who are overwhelmed, fearful, and despairing at the responsibilities of your vocations, guilty in your failings and sins, and ready to chuck it all overboard, to give up and die – Jesus says to you, “Do not be afraid!” Jesus absolves you of your sin and guilt and He restores you. More than that, He blesses you and He equips you to do what He has called you to do. “From now on you will be catching men!” And, from that moment on, Simon and the others left everything behind. They left their boats and their nets and all the gear of their job, their profession, their livelihood. They left everything behind, just like Elisha, and they followed Jesus.
We all have vocations. We all have callings from God. Elisha was a plowshare, called to be the prophet of the LORD to succeed the prophet Elijah. Simon, James, and John were fishermen, called to be fishers of men. Matthew was a tax collector. Saul was a Pharisee. And, David was a shepherd. Still, a Christian’s calling is not normally a call to do something, but to be someone. Not all are called to be prophets, apostles, and pastors, but all Christians are called to be Christians in their various and numerous vocations. And, this can often seem an unbearable, unthankful, and a dauntless task. Therefore, St. Peter exhorts you, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” In your vocation, you were called to be a blessing. And, when you faithfully fulfill your calling – that is, when you do what you are called to do – you will be blessed in doing it. Quite often, when you help someone else, you will find that you also have been helped. But, do not do it in order to receive the blessing. Rather, do it because it is your vocation, your calling, and it is what you are supposed to be doing.
And, when you are doing what you are called to be doing, there is always the possibility that someone will notice. They might ask you, “Why are you being so kind to me? You don’t even know me,” or, “Why are you so kind to those who mock you and ridicule you for your faith?” or “How can you be so calm and at peace when everything seems to be falling apart?” Then you will have an opportunity to share with them the hope that you have in Jesus Christ. This is part of your Christian vocation as well.
Truly, our collect prayer today sums up vocation well: “O God, You have prepared for those who love You good things that surpass all understanding.” Here we acknowledge that God has called us to perform the works He has prepared for us to do before the foundation of the world. This is why your vocation, your calling, is holy and truly a good work, for it is the Lord’s calling and work that He has specially called you to perform. “Pour into our hearts such love toward You that we, loving You above all things, may obtain Your promises, which exceed all that we can desire.” Here we pray that the Lord would fill us with His love so that we might truly love our God-given vocations and serve our neighbors in love and joy and find that we are blessed in being a blessing, which is so much more than we could ever want or desire.
We pray this in the Name of Jesus Christ, who selflessly fulfilled His God-given vocation for the life of the world, laying down His own life in selfless, sacrificial service, even unto death, that we might live. Let us then, likewise, lay down our lives for others, knowing that in so doing we lose nothing, but all is gain. You are blessed to be a blessing. But, you can only fulfill your vocation if you trust in and receive Jesus. Therefore, your Lord Jesus comes to you, who are weak, weary, and burdened by the travails of this past week, fearful and anxious at what looms in the week ahead. Your Lord Jesus comes to you, to serve you with His very own precious and holy body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine of this Blessed Sacrament. Your Lord Jesus comes to forgive you, to commune with you, to strengthen you, to equip you, and to send you. This is His God-given vocation.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.