Sunday, July 25, 2010

Homily for The Eighth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 8)


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.

Defining the term “religion” can be quite a challenge today. People regularly interchange the terms religion, faith, and spirituality, and they use these terms inconsistently. So, you will commonly hear someone say, “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual,” and you are left wondering, “What do they mean?” Nevertheless, we charitably assume that they mean something. It’s clear that they are making a distinction between religion and spirituality and that, in weighing the two, they have decided in favor of spirituality. But, why the negative view toward religion?

Arguably, a religion is an organized system of beliefs and doctrines and explanations for why everything is and for the way things are, a worldview, if you will. But, a religion does not necessarily have to include God, or gods, or any sense of divinity, thus, even atheism and agnosticism can be religions, environmentalism can be a religion. By definition, however, a system of beliefs and doctrines holds its adherents to certain expectations, rules, and laws. Adherents to the religious system, themselves, are, at once, bound, even as they bind others, with the expectations, rules, and laws of the system. Understanding this, perhaps we begin to see more clearly why someone would claim to be spiritual and not religious; perhaps they object to the expectations, rules, and laws of the religious system.

We should not, however, be too quick to cast off objections to religious systems as mere rebelliousness or immaturity, for religious systems are constructed by sinful men and, therefore, they are the fruit of man’s sin-tainted reason, wisdom, and will. Some religious systems need to be rejected. But, how do we judge? How do we know if a religious system and its prophets is good or bad? “You will recognize them by their fruits,” says our Lord Jesus. “Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” So, what do the adherents of the religious system believe, teach, and confess? What do they say and do? These are particularly important questions to ask when evaluating religious systems and their prophets claiming to speak for God. How do we judge? What criteria do we use? Again, what are the fruits of the religious system and its prophets? Do they honor and obey God’s Word, Will, and Commandments or do they defy and deny God’s Word, Will, and Commandments?

It is helpful, perhaps, for us to take a moment and reflect upon the nature of trees and their fruit. A healthy apple tree, for instance, produces good fruit, apples. The apples, in fact, are the criteria for judging the tree healthy. Any apple tree that fails to produce apples is judged unhealthy, diseased, or dead; it’s cut down and thrown into the fire. Further, an apple tree only produces apples, never grapes, or pears, or figs; you know it is an apple tree by its fruit – apples. But which came first, the apple tree or the apple? Well, according to the Word of God in Genesis which we believe, teach, and confess, the apple tree came before the apple, just as mothers and fathers come before sons and daughters, dogs come before puppies, and, yes, even chickens come before eggs. [There, solved that one for you!] And, as the fruit is indicative of the kind of tree we are observing, so is the health of the fruit indicative of the health of the tree – “You will recognize them by their fruits.”

But, Jesus isn’t really talking about trees in the Gospel lesson today, is He? No, He’s talking about false prophets, those trying, by deception, to sell you a false religious system. How do you recognize a false prophet of a false religious system? The same way you recognize good and healthy trees and diseased and dying trees – by their fruits. Jesus says that false prophets come to you disguised as sheep, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. That’s kind of like an orange famer painting the fruit of his trees red so as to deceive you into thinking that the orange trees are apple trees. Just because, to the eye, the red-painted oranges might look like apples, does not make them to be apples or the trees that bore them to be apple trees. “Beware.”

There are a lot of false religious systems and false prophets in the world today. Some of them are quite easy to identify, but many others look appealing to the senses and even human reason and wisdom. Still, that does not make them good, healthy, or true. Hear again the Word of the Lord from the mouth of His prophet Jeremiah: “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.’”

There are false prophets of false religious systems today who tell their followers to kill the infidel. Even though the Word of the Lord clearly condemns murder, these prophets say to their followers that it will be well with them, even pleasing to God, that God will reward them. Other false prophets of false religious systems tell their followers that it is okay, even good, for a man to lie down with a man and for a woman to do unnatural things with a woman. Even though the Word of the Lord clearly condemns homosexuality, these prophets tell their followers that it will be well with them, even pleasing to God, to bless and to legitimize such behavior and unions. Such false prophets as these are fairly easy to recognize – their fruit is radically different than the Word, Will, and Commandments of the Lord.

But, Jesus warns us, however, that the most deceptive false prophets will be much more sly and cunning and that they will arise from within the ranks of the Christian Church. They will call Jesus Lord and they will claim to preach in His Name, but still, they will be known by their fruits. Generally these false preachers fall into one of two camps: Legalists or Antinomians.

The legalist preaches heavy on the Law, often adding to it the law of men, and he preaches righteousness by works according to the law. He preaches peace to his followers apart from repentance in their hearts so long as they perform the works of the law. Such preaching causes hearers either to fall into hopelessness and despair, because they cannot do what the law commands, or it causes them to become proud and self-righteous, believing that they observe the law quite well enough. In both cases, however, the hearers are lead away from trust in Christ alone for righteousness, either to trust in one’s self or to despair of righteousness at all. “Beware.”

The antinomian preacher, on the other hand, minimizes the Law of God by teaching that, since Christ has fulfilled the Law for us, no longer must we observe and obey it. For many antinomians today, they understand Christ’s teaching, that “Love is the fulfilling of the Law,” to mean that all the things previously forbidden are now permissible according to the law of love. They seemingly disregard or interpret away, however, Jesus’ clear teaching that, although the Law is fulfilled, the Law does not pass away.

As the Law does not pass away, is it truly loving, then, to permit a brother or sister to engage in acts condemned by the Law? Is it truly loving to permit a brother or sister to commit adultery by having sexual relations outside of marriage, to murder an unborn child, to steal what is not theirs through fraud and deception, to slander and gossip about another? Is it truly loving to permit brothers and sisters who are under the influence of false prophets, adhering to false religions that permit and condone acts and beliefs in opposition to the Word, Will, and Commandments of the Lord, to remain in sin: homosexual relations and marriages, women pastors, abortion, indulgences, meritorious works and penance, believer’s baptisms, the non-presence of Christ’s body and blood in His Supper, an unbiblical working of the Holy Spirit apart from the appointed means of Word and Sacrament, the belief that salvation can be attained apart from faith in Christ if only one believes whatever they believe fervently, that worship is about what we bring to God rather than what God graciously and mercifully gives to us, that God helps those who help themselves, etc.?

No, it is not loving to allow a brother or sister to remain in sin. The fruits they are eating are bad and they are diseased; and the trees, the prophets and religious systems they come from, are bad and are diseased. They may look and sound good on the outside, calling out “Lord, Lord,” but they are workers of lawlessness; they do not do the will of the Lord and they teach others to not do the will of the Lord. On the Last Day Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” How can we judge? How can we know? “You will recognize them by their fruits.”

Now, I know this is a hard lesson teaching to hear, especially in our day and culture where the chief religious system is tolerance. Yes, tolerance is a religious system and it has its prophets and its followers, its expectations, rules, and laws. And, it’s fundamental, overarching law is that “All things are tolerable except intolerance.” And guess who and what is perceived to be intolerant: You, and the Word, Will, and Commandments of God that you love and strive to obey in love.

To be sure, tolerance is fine and good, that is, when tolerance is understood as being different than acceptance. Perhaps a better definition of tolerance, at least in terms of the Christian faith, is endurance. Christians, in love for God and for neighbor, are the most tolerant and enduring people on the planet. However, part of what it means to love God and neighbor is to not accept that which is in discord with God’s Law and will. Christians cannot and must not tolerate false teaching, it must be exposed and brought to light, that is the only faithful and loving thing to do. But we do, however, endure as false prophets and religious systems surround us and infiltrate us, knowing that such has been from the Fall in Eden and will be until the return of our Lord in glory.

Until then, we cling to and we cherish the good fruit of the True Tree Jesus Christ - His Word, His Body, His Blood - for forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. In Him alone is righteousness; in Him alone is fruitfulness. He is the Vine and we are His branches, and, remaining in Him, we bear good and much fruit. Only the fruit that comes from Him through us, His branches, will He recognize. Beware of the false prophets who tell you to be satisfied with other fruit, or with no fruit, or to trust in your own fruit and your works. For, the Law of God does not pass away, but it is fulfilled for you in Jesus that you may do it in love for the Lord and for your neighbor to the glory of God in Christ Jesus.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Homily for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 7)


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.

Food. Now there’s something we can all agree upon. Everybody likes food; everybody needs food. Today, culinary programs pepper our television screens teaching us how to prepare food, evaluating restaurants and chefs that prepare and serve food to us, and taking us to exotic locations where we can enjoy unique and unusual food. We’re concerned about low fat food, high fiber food, food that’s organic, food that’s all natural and not processed. Everybody enjoys food and everybody needs food to survive, thus food appeals to us both on an emotional and sensory level and also on a fundamental basic needs level.

Moments after birth, the newborn infant’s reflex action to suck, to eat, is activated. The infant’s need for food is natural and moms are equipped with a natural supply of food. And, without food, natural, formula, or otherwise, the infant will get weak, then sick, and will soon die.

Moments after His creation of man, God created a lush garden filled with fruit bearing plants and trees that the man may eat and live. All that Adam needed to support his body and life were supplied by his Creator and Lord. The Lord gave Adam to eat of every tree in the Garden of Eden, even of the Tree of Life, save the one, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In connection with that particular species God gave His Word, “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Life and death, that’s what food and eating is all about. In the Garden, food literally rained from the trees and fell into the mouths of God’s creatures; Adam and Eve didn’t have to break a sweat to eat and live, all was provided by the grace of their loving Father.

Now, let us consider the catechetical question: How can bodily eating […] do such great things? And, here we get to the crux: It is not the eating, or the drinking, or even the food itself that gives life, but it is the Word of God connected to it that gives life. Consider the two specifically named trees in the Garden of Eden: The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If we suppose that these trees and their fruit were good and evil in and of themselves, we are incorrect and we entirely miss the point. There were many different trees, plants, and other flora in the Garden; the only thing that made these two different and special is the Word that God gave concerning them: The Tree of Life gave life because the Word of God said so. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil brought death because the Word of God said so. And so, Moses rightly warned the Israelites not to forget God in times of prosperity saying, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” And you will remember that our Lord Jesus replied with this same Word of God when tempted the devil in the desert to eat and satisfy the hunger of His flesh.

Our First Parents succumbed to the devil’s tempting; they rationalized away God’s Word concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “It looks good to eat.” “It’s good for making one wise.” “What harm could there be in it?” And so they ate, and they died; no, they didn’t die physically, not immediately, although that process began at that moment, but they died spiritually in that they lost the image of their Creator and were separated from His holy presence. The substance of their eating, the fruit of the tree, really had nothing to do with their fall; it is disregarding and disobeying the Lord’s Word that leads to death.

There are many lessons for us in the Fall of our First Parents, but for now let us consider only the temptation to subtly twist and misinterpret the Word of the Lord. The devil did not speak unfamiliar words to Eve. She undoubtedly knew these Words well, having learned them from her husband and pastor Adam. But the devil tempted Eve by causing her to question and doubt how she understood God’s Word. “Did God really say…?” the devil tempted, and, as the tempting began to work its way into her heart, Eve reinterpreted and rationalized God’s Word to make the eating of the forbidden fruit permissible, even approved by God! Pastor Adam, who was with her, heard the same beguiling words and he ate too. Their actual sin was merely the fruit of their unbelief.

After the Fall, food does not come so easily. One of the fruits of sin and unbelief is that we are cut off from God’s direct holy presence. Nevertheless, God is gracious and merciful, allowing us to receive the blessing of His presence through means. No longer does the earth readily supply us daily bread, but by the sweat of our brows and hard toil we must till and weed the fields, battle insects, drought, and blight to put food upon our tables and into our hungry mouths. And, still we die; for, no earthly food, no bread alone, can feed our spiritual starvation or nourish our souls; still, only the Word of God can do that.

So God did the unimaginable, He veiled His holy Word in human flesh in the incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ. In Him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead and His glorious presence, hidden, so that God and man might once again walk and talk together. Jesus is food sent from heaven for all hungry hearts that a man may eat and live and may drink and never thirst again.

Jesus has compassion upon the multitudes in this desolate place where there can be found no food that truly fulfills or truly gives life. The disciples despaired of their meager providence, seven loaves of bread and a few small fish, that there would not be enough for everyone. But, it doesn’t matter, because it’s not about the bread and the fish, it’s about the Word of God. Jesus took the loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people. They ate and were satisfied, because the Word of God attached to those humble elements is what gave them sustenance and life. There were more than four thousand present that day, more than five thousand on another occasion, and in both meals, basketfuls of leftovers were gathered after all had eaten and were satisfied.

Those hungry souls had been with Jesus three days. They had listened to His teaching, observed His works and miracles, and followed Him wherever He went. They were hungry and in a desolate place with no food for them to eat. But on that third day, Jesus renewed the bounty of Eden, there in that most unlikely of places, freely granting an abundance of bread to the four thousand.

So also, our Lord Jesus, having endured the burden of our sin, was raised on the third day to bring us back to Paradise. He now miraculously turns the bread of death into the Bread of Life in this holy Sacrament, giving you His very body and His very blood for the forgiveness of your sins. This free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Sixth Sunday of Trinity (Trinity 6)


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.

The past three Sundays we have listened to the Holy Scriptures, we have prayed the prayers, we have sung hymns, and we have heard the Word of God proclaim to us the grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness of God our Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, in His most Holy Spirit. Today we turn, necessarily, to how then we shall live. Thus, we have listened to the Holy Scriptures this day recount to us the Law of God, the Ten Commandments. We have listened to St. Paul exhort us, baptized and forgiven, to “Go, and sin no more.” And we have heard the Word of our Lord Himself say to us that “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Does it seem to you that, after having the Gospel lavished upon you so richly, you are now thrown under the condemnation of the Law once again? That is the result of your bad conscience. For, the Law of God is good and it is wise, and our Lord Jesus teaches that it will not pass away until He returns and this world is no more. That means, of course, that our lives in this world are lived under the Law and they are normed by the Law, from our first breath until our last. “You shall have no other gods before me.” “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” “Honor your father and your mother.” “You shall not murder.” “You shall not commit adultery.” “You shall not steal.” “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet you neighbor’s wife, […], or anything that is your neighbor’s.” This is the Law of God, and it is not given to you that you may know how to please God and earn His blessing; the Law is given to you that you may know what your Lord commands and demands of you and that you may know that you do not and cannot do it, that you may despair of pleasing your Lord and receiving His blessing. The Law of God always shows our sins: it makes demands of us and commands us in things we are simply incapable of doing always, perfectly, in thought, word, and deed.

Rightly do you despair of being righteous by obedience to the Law, but, do not give yourself over to bitterness, resentment, and anger, thinking the Lord a strict master who asks the impossible and has neither grace nor mercy, for He does not desire your obedience out of fear, but because of love. He will not take away His Law from you, but He has fulfilled it for you in His Son and has given Him and His merit to you as a free and perfect gift of His grace that you may obey His commandments freely, in love, without coercion or fear.

And, neither should you puff yourself up with pride, thinking that you have kept His Law well, at least better than most, you Pharisee! Then you have your reward! For the Pharisees indeed did keep the Law of God well, better than most any others. Their prayers were devout and punctual. Their tithes were public and of the first of their fruits. Their Sabbaths were kept with great reverence and intentionality. But, in these their works did they place their trust, and by them they judged themselves righteous, so they could not receive the gift of grace that you have received in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But, when the Law has done its holy work and achieved its divine purpose, then there is hope for the hopeless and comfort for the distraught in the soothing balm of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. For, the Gospel makes no demands of you nor issues commands upon you but always shows our Savior. The Gospel proclaims to you “It is finished, complete, fulfilled. You are free from your bondage to the Law by God’s love showered upon you in Christ Jesus. Love is the fulfillment of the Law, and the perfect love of God has been revealed in the gift of His Son for you.”

How then shall we live? Do we continue to live as though we have not known such love, as if we were not forgiven? By no means! Now that you have been loved and forgiven, you must learn to love again. St. Paul compares this change in us to death and resurrection to new life saying: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? […] For one who has died has been set free from sin. […] So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Love is the fulfilling of the Law. This is to say that “The new life in the Kingdom has a new motive. The old was an obedience driven by fear, the new motive is love inspired by grace.” It is the love of God in Christ Jesus that is the fulfilling of the Law for you, and it is the love of God in Christ Jesus that is the new life you live. For, the Law has not passed away, but it has been fulfilled and it has been changed into a new commandment: Love. “Love one another, as I have loved you,” Jesus says, “so you must love one another.” “Love does no harm to a neighbor, thus love is the fulfilling of the Law.”

The Law is not to be relaxed in any way, but no longer is it a heavy burden and harsh master. Those set free from the Law by love are set free to love without coercion or fear. This is the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees: The love of Christ Jesus for you, with which you love one another. The scribes and the Pharisees obeyed the Law exceedingly well, but they did not love. They knew God only as a harsh master to be obeyed out of fear and coercion. They did not know the love of God or their need for grace; likewise, they did not love or show grace and mercy to others. Jesus teaches, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” If you look to yourself for this righteousness, then you will surely despair, be filled with anger, or be puffed up with pride. But if you look to Jesus for this righteousness, then you will have it, and you will be free to love with His love with which He has so lavishly and richly loved and forgiven you.

The Law of God commands, “You shall not murder?” Jesus interprets this Law to mean that you must not be angry with your brother or speak harsh words against him in addition to harming him bodily. The Law of God commands, “You shall not commit adultery?” Jesus interprets this Law to mean that you must not look at a woman with lust in your heart in addition to approaching her physically. The Law of God commands, “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy?” Jesus interprets this Law, not that you should not do work on the Sabbath, but that you should remember God’s love for you and love one another in the same way. Love is the fulfilling of all the commandments; love is the fulfilling of the Law, for love does no harm to a neighbor, but helps and befriends all to the glory of God.

In Christ, your righteousness does indeed exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. It is into Christ you have been baptized, and in Christ you have died to sin and have been raised in His new life. The Law does not pass away, but it is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. You are now raised with Christ to walk in newness of life and to share in His resurrection on the Last Day. And, for now, He sustains your new life in His own by absolving your sins and by communing with you, flesh and blood, by means of this sacred feast of His love, which is a foretaste of the feast to come.

In the precious and holy + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 5)


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.

There were two boats. Jesus, the Messiah, came to fill one of them and to leave the other boat empty. Our Lord chose Simon’s boat. He stepped into it, had Simon push out a little from the land, and then He sat down and began to preach.

There were two boats. One remained tied to the land and worldly concerns, empty, while the other floated on the water like an ark, tossed about by the wind and the waves; but it was not empty, it carried the Lord of the wind and the waves and of all creation, the Word of God that gives life to the world. The first boat is the church of the Law, the synagogue. The second boat is the Church of Christ, the Church of the Gospel, the ark of salvation, in which the Lord saves His children from death in this wilderness world and from the depths of their guilt and sin.

After teaching the masses on land, our Lord prepared His Church for service to the world. Jesus commanded Simon to put out into the deep and let the nets down for a catch. Simon, having just finished cleaning his nets, weary from the night’s profitless labor, did not want to do as His Master had commanded; everything that his experienced wisdom informed him and that his own eyes beheld told him that this was senseless and fruitless. Nevertheless, out of respect for his Master, more than love or faith, he obliged to Jesus’ Word. And, soon the pair were hauling in more fish than either their nets or boat could bear! They called to their idle companions, James and John, to come and help. And, soon their nets and boat were filled to breaking and overflowing too!

How is this possible? When men have exhausted their efforts and abilities and are ready to throw in the towel, defeated, in the most foolish of times and of places, in the most unlikely of situations, they find that they are catching fish wholly despite their own weaknesses and failings. Indeed, our Lord often puts us in such predicaments so that we can see that it is not we who are doing the catching of fish at all!

Simon had an epiphany; his eyes were opened and he knew who it was that stood before him, the Holy One of God, the Messiah. And Simon knew who he himself was, a poor miserable sinner who should not live in the presence of God’s holiness and glory. And, he was correct. Thus, Jesus absolved Simon, He forgave him his sins saying “Do not fear, but know, you are no longer merely a fisherman, but you will catch men lost in the depths of sin and death and unbelief.” For, no one has an encounter with the Lord of Creation Jesus the Christ and walks away unchanged. You may receive Him in faith to your great blessing, or you may reject Him in unbelief to your judgment, but you will be changed. And, you have been changed.

For, Jesus takes the stuff of His creation – common boats and buildings, common people and their common vocations – and He transforms them into powerful tools and instruments in His work of seeking and saving the lost. The boat was a common fishing boat, now it is a symbol for the ark of salvation, the Church. The net was a common fishing net, now it is a symbol for the Means of Grace, Word and Sacrament, by which men are caught out of sin and death and brought into the safety of the Church. And Simon, James, and John were common fishermen, now they are fishers of men, preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They knew that everything had changed! So, they brought their boats to land, left them, and followed Jesus from that day forward.

But, why does the Lord work in such mysterious ways? Why all the hiddenness and symbolism? Why doesn’t He just come out with powerful works and convince everybody that He is God in human form, the Messiah and savior of the world? Well, sometimes He did. Many people witnessed Jesus’ miracles first hand: The feeding of 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish. The stilling of the storm. Walking on the water. Even raising several persons from the dead! Was everyone convinced in Jesus’ day? Did everyone believe? Does everyone believe today? No. For, as Father Abraham replied to the rich man in hades, so is it true today: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets [the Word of God], neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'"

For, the Word of God is not a very flashy thing before the eyes of men. We are much more impressed by bright lights, loud noises, and big shows. Not unlike many in the Church today who look at Her declining numbers and seeming irrelevance in the world and are disheartened, so too the prophet Elijah was disheartened in his day, saying, “The people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down you altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” To put that in layman’s terms, Pastor Elijah observed that God’s Church was in shambles. No one kept the Lord’s commandments. No one made the Lord their first priority. No one tithed, but they gave grudgingly of what was left rather than of their firstfruits. They wanted to throw out the prayers (the Liturgy) and the sacrifices (the Means of Grace) and even the pastor who faithfully insisted that these must be kept. So, today there are many pastors that would voice Elijah’s despair and there are many churches that resemble the people of Israel. The boat and nets passed down to us from our forefathers seem foolish, antiquated, and irrelevant in today’s culture with its high-technology, visual-orientation, and fast pace, we sometimes feel like screaming: “We’ve fished all night with these boat and nets and have caught nothing!”

“But at Your Word we will let down the nets.” For, it is not by man’s power, reason, or will that fish are caught and men are saved; it is by the power of the Word of the Lord in His ark of salvation, the Church, working in and through our humble and common nets of water, word, bread and wine. These humble elements are transformed into powerful Means of Grace by the Word made flesh Jesus Christ who is present in His Church in, with, and under these elements for the life of the world. He is not in the great and strong wind. He is not in the mighty earthquake. He is not in the raging fire. But He is the still small voice, even a whisper, saying, “I Am the Word of God made flesh, crucified, died and buried, risen from the dead, ascended to the Father, reigning, returning for you. Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men.”

And, the Word of God is powerful and efficacious; it brings about what it says. For, by the Word of God you have been caught and called and pulled into the ark of salvation; and by the Word of God in your Holy Baptism and faith you have been transformed to catch others with the Gospel Word in your holy vocations. St. Peter teaches you how to do this: “All of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 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. […] Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.