Sunday, February 24, 2019


Luke 8:4-15; 2 Corinthians 11:19 – 12:9; Isaiah 55:10-13

In the Name of the Father and of + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Parable of the Sower is surely the best known and probably the most beloved of all our Lord’s parables. It appears in each of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) as the first of Jesus’ parables and in each Gospel it serves to introduce His parabolic teaching in general. In fact, the Parable of the Sower is so familiar that I imagine most of you could stand up here and tell the story in your own words and capture it reasonably well. However, our familiarity, combined with this parable’s unexpected sublimity, actually serves to keep us from understanding this parable which we think that we know so well.
The Parable of the Sower, once again, is a parable about the Kingdom of God, or, the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus explained this to His disciples when they asked Him what the parable meant, He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God.”The word translated as secretshere is actually μυστήρια,mystery, for the Kingdom of God is in actuality a mystery, and even a parable necessarily falls short of capturing the fullness of the mystery of the Kingdom.
Perhaps the first mystery in the Parable of the Sower is the Sower Himself, who is He? I think that most Christians assume that the Sower is our Lord Jesus Christ. This seems to make sense to begin with, Jesus being the itinerant preacher of God’s Word, later empowering His disciples to do the same, and then even His Church. Even Christian artwork and iconography seems to imply that the Sower is none other than Jesus Himself. However, a closer hearing of the parable reveals that this cannot be the case. For, Jesus explains that the Seed that the Sower sows is the Word of God. And, we know from Genesis and from the Prologue to St. John’s Gospel, at the very least, that the Word of God is God the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity who became flesh and made His dwelling amongst men as the Man Jesus the Christ. And so, our Lord Jesus is not the Sower, but rather He is the Seed that is sown by His Father, the Sower.
It is God the Father who so recklessly and indiscriminately sows the Seed of His own Son in the field of this world of men. He sows it on the hardened path where it is trampled upon and becomes food for the birds of the air. He sows it on the rocky soil where it can gain no root. He sows it even amongst the sowings of the Enemy, where weeds, tares, and thorns grow up alongside and choke out the new growth. And, yes, He sows it upon good soil where it grows and yields mature fruit in abundance. And, here is another mystery: In the case of the seed sown upon the good soil alone is mature fruit said to be borne. Why then does the Sower bother to sow His Seed in the weed and thorn infested soil, in the rocky soil, and upon the hardened path at all?  What kind of wasteful, inefficient Sower is this?
Remember, the Parable of the Sower is a parable about the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, therefore it is a parable about grace. God the Father’s grace is such that He gives it freely, unconditionally, no matter whom you are, what you have done or haven’t done, what you believe, or what kind of soil your heart’s condition is most like. The Sower sows; His reckless love scatters abroad the goodly seed, intent alone that all may have the wholesome loaves that all men need.Further, more important than good soil is good Seed. The best soil in the whole world won’t bear a single fruit if the seed is not good. Well, the Seed that the Sower sows is the Good Seed of His Word, even His Son. The Seed is Good, always; it is always life-giving, creative, and efficacious, let there be no doubt or confusion about that. That is why, even when the Seed is sown in the worst kinds of soil, under the worst conditions, it still sprouts and grows. Even when it is trampled upon on the hardened path and eaten by the birds of the air, the Good Seed gives life to the birds who very likely deposit it somewhere else that it might create life there. God is like that. The Kingdom of God is like that. Grace is like that. Love is like that – and that is why love is the fulfilling of the Law of God. In loving others as He has loved you, you are most like Him. Love always gives and never takes. Love always thinks of the welfare of others first. Love always puts the best construction on things. Love never harms a neighbor, but helps and befriends a neighbor in every need. The Sower knows that much of what He sows will not bear mature fruit, but He sows His Good Seed anyway, everywhere, saying, “Oh, what of that, and what of that?”
In the beginning, our God, Father, and Heavenly Sower sowed the Seed of His Word into the nothingness and it brought forth light and life and all creation. And, in the new beginning, He sowed His Word-Seed into the virgin-soil of Mary’s womb, and the Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us. Lastly, He sowed His Word and Seed made flesh, His Son, Jesus the Christ, into the soil of the earth in death that He might bring forth fruit a hundredfold –Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Dear Christians, the fruit of Jesus’ incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension is not good works or some instruction on how to live the Christian life, but the fruit that He gives and causes to be borne is like Him – life and light. He is the true vine and you are His branches; by remaining in Him you will bear much fruit. That fruit cannot be anything other than what He the Vine enables you to produce, for an apple tree does not produce pears and a grape vine does not produce berries. The Christian faith and life is first about remaining in Jesus and second about bearing fruit. The point is, if you remain in Jesus, He has promised to remain in you [and note, He is going to do that anyway, even if you don’t remain in Him! You can’t undo in the Incarnation!], and He has promised that you WILL bear much fruit. How much?That doesn’t matter; that’s up to God! What kind of fruit?Again, that’s pre-determined; you’ll bear Christ-fruit: love, mercy, grace, peace, charity, kindness, humility, and the lot – you know, life and light fruit!
But, what about the different kinds of soils, the rocks and the weeds, the thorns, the hard-packed ground, and those devilish birds of the air? Well, these are realities in your life, to be sure, and they are the result of sin, but, remember what Jesus said in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, “An enemy has done this.” Sorrow, grief, and suffering, temptation, trial, and tribulation, these are a very real part of our lives as we grow and mature in fruitfulness in the field of this life and world; this is why we have in today’s Epistle Lesson the record of St. Paul’s tribulations. St. Paul prayed fervently and repeatedly that the LORD would remove the thorn in his flesh that afflicted him, even as we prayed together in the Collect a little while ago, “O God, the strength of all who put their trust in You, mercifully grant that by Your power we may be defended against all adversity.” God’s reply to St. Paul is His reply to you as well, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”For, there is no greater example of God’s power being made perfect in weakness than in the incarnation, suffering, and death of His Word-Son-Seed Jesus the Christ. In the seeming weakness of Jesus’ death, the power of death was destroyed and the gift of life was given to all the world.
And, just as a sown seed splits open and dies and then shoots forth in new life, sucking up nutrients from the soil, nutrients that are themselves the result of death and decay, and transforms them into food, fuel, and nourishment for growth and fruitfulness, so too all the evil in the universe, whether from the devil or from us, is now and ever shall be just part of the divine ecology. The Parable of the Sower says this. The seed eaten by birds is as much seed as the seed that produced a hundredfold. The snatching of the Word by the devil – and the rejection of it by the shallow and the choking of it by the worldly – all take place withinthe working of the kingdom, not prior to it or outside of it. It is the Word alone, and not the interference with it, that finally counts.
To you it has been given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God.And the mystery of the Kingdom is this: Boundless love; reckless grace; power in weakness; glory in humility and sacrifice. Each Christian is all the different kinds of soils at different moments in their life, sometimes even in the same day! But, your life does not depend upon what kind of soil you are, how good your works are, how strong your faith is, how much or how little you sin, but, your life depends on the Seed, your Savior Jesus the Christ. He is the life and light of this world, the life and light that darkness, sin, death, and devil cannot overcome. He has overcome all these tyrants so that they all serve Him and His purposes. Receive Him, believe Him, and remain in Him in patience – He will never leave you or forsake you – and you will bear the fruit that He desires and you will have all that you need for today, for as many tomorrows as there may be, and for all eternity.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, February 17, 2019


Matthew 20:1-16; 1 Corinthians 9:24 – 10:5; Exodus 17:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Outside those doors is a world ruled by man’s wisdom and reason, knowledge and intellect. In that world men are in competition with one-another, much less for survival than for the amassing of power and wealth, material possessions, and for the admiration, envy, and fear of other men. Outside those doors men use political philosophies, business and marketing strategies, coercion, threats, and even force to gain one-upmanship over one-another, to advance the self, and to squash all competition or opposition. That’s what lies outside those doors from whence you came this day. But, when you come through those doors into this place, you must leave all those things behind, check them at the door. For, such philosophies, strategies, and means have no place within the walls of God’s house, and they must find no voice amongst God’s children. And we must not attempt to use them to grow, to maintain, or to defend the Church of Christ, for they are of, and they belong to, the world outside those doors, and, though the Church of Christ is within that world, She must never be, or become, or desire to be, part of that world.
Indeed, in His parable today, Jesus is not describing what lies outside those doors, but He is describing what is inside those doors, the kingdom of heaven, a reality of which our humble assembly in this place is but a dim reflection. It is a parable about a Master who hires laborers to work in His vineyard and who, at the end of the day, pays them exactly what He had promised each of them regardless of how long they had worked or what they believed that they earned, deserved, or merited. To be sure, if Jesus’ parable were enacted as a socio-political philosophy today, neither the capitalist nor the socialist, nor even the libertarian outside those doors would agree or be pleased, for the first principle in Jesus’ parable is grace, which, by definition, cannot be earned, deserved, or merited. For, you must remember, this is a parable about the kingdom of heaven, and not a parable about the crumbling, rotting, selfish, and wicked kingdoms of men.
And, notice this, there is no “go and do likewise”teaching from Jesus here. For, the kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of grace – period. In the end, you are either in the kingdom of God’s grace, or you are outside of it; you are either on this side of those doors, or you are on the outside. Those on the outside of the kingdom of God’s grace will be there by their own choice alone, for the Spirit of the Lord will continue calling laborers to work in the Lord’s vineyard even unto the eleventh hour of this world, and those who enter last will receive the fullness of God’s grace in Jesus Christ even as the first. The only question that is asked of those who enter the kingdom at the eleventh hour is “Why have you been standing here idle all day?”Do not begrudge the Lord His generosity.
Indeed, there is more for you to check at the door when you enter this place than merely your socio-political philosophies and your worldly wisdom and fleshly desires, for you must check every sense of merit, worthiness, and deserving as well. For, you come into the kingdom of heaven much in the way that you came into this worldly kingdom – naked, helpless, and with nothing to offer. Worse than that, you come as damaged goods, broken, selfish and self-centered, envious, greedy, and filled with every corruption. That’s the way you come into the kingdom; but that’s not the way you leave. For, there is not one in the kingdom of heaven that does not receive a 100% share of the Lord’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness for the sake of Jesus Christ. And, there is not one in the kingdom of heaven who is not made to be holy, innocent, and righteous in the atoning incarnation, life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Outside those doors, many men are concerned only about preserving, keeping, and defending what they believe they have rightly earned, deserved, or merited, while, many other men are concerned only about providing for those who are either unable or unwilling to earn, deserve, or merit much of anything at all. As the former may be tempted to self-concern and selfishness, so the latter may be tempted to take, by coercion or by force, from those who haveto distribute it to those who have not. But, that is outside those doors. For, inside those doors, in the kingdom of heaven, no one earns, deserves, or merits anything at all, and yet all receive equally and fully of God’s rich grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness for Jesus’ sake. Again, there is no “Go and do likewise”teaching here, but, nevertheless, you are sent back out through those doors into the world, but not of the world. And, you go out into the world differently, as a child of God, as a recipient of God’s boundless grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness, to show and to share to those in the world that they might come through those doors and enter the vineyard kingdom of heaven as well. No, you will not be perfect in your efforts outside those doors; you will pick up some of the old habits, and thoughts, and sinful ways of the flesh. But, when you return, you will leave those things at the door once again and return to the kingdom of heaven in repentance and humility, where you will find that, though you strayed, the kingdom was never far from you, and that you will be restored and renewed in God’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness once again for the sake of Jesus Christ your Lord.
For, while the way into this place may be through those doors, the way into the kingdom of heaven is not through those doors, or the doors of any building, but the way into the kingdom of heaven is through the font. For, the font is the womb of the Church, the place where the children of God are conceived and born through water and the Word. And, from the pulpit and the lectern the children of God are nourished and strengthened in faith by the faith creating and sustaining Word of God. And from the altar the children of God are served the finest of meats and the choicest of wines to eat and to drink, that Christ may dwell in you and you in Him. For, as St. Peter has written,“our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”
And so it is, dear Christian, that you live your life in two kingdoms – the kingdom of this world outside those doors, and the kingdom of heaven inside those doors. And, as much as the world out there must not influence, change, or affect life in the Church of Christ, so likewise, it is not the mission or the purpose of the Church to conquer and to rule in the world. Rather, you are to be like leaven in the world, you are to be like salt in the world, and you are to be like light in that world of sin, darkness, and death. That is to say that you are to take the grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness that you have received from God in Jesus in His kingdom of grace and you are to live it, to speak it, and to do it in the world, in your vocations, to your neighbors, as God has freely lived, spoken, and done to you in Jesus Christ.
And, as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, you must not seek to use the government or politics or force to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth, for grace does not force itself on anyone, but it is freely given and it must be freely received. Likewise, Jesus nowhere teaches that the children of God should utilize government, politics, or force to take what belongs to one and give to another. Instead your Lord teaches, “Give, as it has been given to you”and “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.”You search the Scriptures in vain for a socio-political philosophy, for Church growth strategies and marketing techniques, for such things are of the kingdom of the world outside those doors, while Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. But, you are the Lord’s laborers in His vineyard, and, notice, there is no description of the kind of work that you do or even of the limits of your work shift, for, the conditions of your hire are a relationship of faith and trust in the good will of your Lord and Master, and the work that you do is to live your life outside those doors in faith and trust in Him and in loving service to your neighbor. Put not your trust in princes, they are but mortal, but put your trust in Jesus Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth. He offers His grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness to all, to the last as to the first. Let us not begrudge His generosity but share it in life, word, and deed to the glory of God the Father, in His most Holy Son, in the love of His Holy Spirit.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord

Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Exodus 34:29-35

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Moses once asked to see God’s glory. The LORD told him matter-of-factly, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” Nevertheless, the LORD did permit Moses to see His backside. After that, the LORD once again gave His Commandments on two tablets of stone to replace those Moses had smashed on the ground in anger at Israel’s rebellious idolatry in making the golden calf. When Moses came down the mountain after talking with the LORD, his face was glowing from even this mediated encounter with God’s glory, but he did not know it, and the people were afraid because Moses’ face was glowing. Therefore, whenever Moses came down the mountain after talking with the LORD, he put a veil over his face, for the people could not bear even this mediated encounter with the holiness, righteousness, and glory of the LORD God of Sabbaoth.
On the Mount of Jesus’ Transfiguration, there stood Moses, and Elijah, no longer veiled or viewing the LORD’s glory from the backside, but basking in it shining through and located in the person of Jesus. This time it was Jesus’ disciples, His friends, Peter, James, and John, who were terrified and fell on their faces as though dead. For, they too wanted to see the glory of God, but they didn’t realize that they had been in the presence of God’s glory all along, in the flesh and blood body of their Master, their Teacher, and their friend Jesus.
The Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus is the culmination of the Church’s observance of Epiphanytide. Since the arrival of the Wise Men and the presentation of their priestly and kingly gifts, little by little through the Word of the Gospel Jesus has been manifested and shown forth to be the Son of God and the express icon of His glory in human flesh. At His baptism in the Jordan by John, heaven was opened and the Father proclaimed, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Today you have heard the Father’s proclamation yet again, this time with this command, “Listen to Him.” Listen to Jesus, because He is the new and greater Elijah, indeed, the Great Prophet and fulfillment of all the prophets. Listen to Jesus, because He is the new and greater Moses who leads His people out of slavery, captivity, and bondage to sin, death, and the devil, through death into the true Promised Land in the presence of God in His glory, the New Jerusalem, Holy Zion in heaven. Listen to Jesus, because He is the Word of God incarnate and the only Way to God the Father, God’s Truth, and God’s Life.
But, take heed today of what God’s glory truly is, what it means, and where it is located. Do not be like Peter before Jesus’ resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Awed by the glory of Moses and Elijah and Jesus’ shining face and clothing, Peter wanted to preserve that mountaintop experience here on earth by erecting tents to house the holy trio. No doubt Peter envisioned a glorious temple upon the holy mountain to which the faithful would stream from all of Jerusalem, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. No doubt he envisioned a packed hall full of worldly wealth and all the things men count as glorious, a restored nation of Israel, a powerful and shining light upon a hill. However, that is what men count as glorious, not what God counts as glorious. When God spoke on the Mount of Transfiguration, God revealed His glory in the flesh and blood body of Jesus, the carpenter’s son and lowly itinerant rabbi from backwater Nazareth. God’s glory is not in a temple made by human hands but in a man, the Man, the New Adam, the Son of God, Jesus, and when Jesus reached out and touched His disciples saying, “Rise, and have no fear,” they lifted up their eyes and saw no one, but Jesus only. And, Jesus told them to “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”
That’s not very glorious, they must have thought. Truly, God’s ways are not our ways, and the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. Jesus led them down from the mountain of glory to go to Jerusalem. Along the way a demon-possessed man met them, and Jesus taught them about His impending betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Again, not very glorious, they must have thought. Then the disciples began to argue about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus placed a little child before them saying, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Not – very – glorious.
Truly, the way of Jesus’ disciples, the way of God’s adopted children, the way of the Holy Christian Church, is not the way of mountaintop experiences and worldly glory, but it is, as Jesus taught, the way of humility, selflessness, sacrifice, and suffering, the way of the cross. When God spoke to Moses on Sinai, the people below were terrified. Yet still, how quickly did they turn aside and create a god of their own to worship. The Word of God seemed weak and foolish, compared to a shining graven image of gold. When the Word of God became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us in Jesus, people rejected Him because of His lowliness and humility. Still today, men scorn the Word of God and His Sacraments, believing them to be weak, foolish, and not – very – glorious. They desire the mountaintop experience and not the cross of Jesus Christ.
Whereas Peter and the disciples once were attracted to worldly glory, riches, and power, after Jesus’ resurrection, and particularly after Pentecost, they changed their tune. Indeed, in today’s Epistle Peter recounts his mountaintop experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, the honor and the glory of God shining forth from Jesus and the voice of the Father spoken concerning Him. However, instead of desiring to enshrine that glorious moment on the mountaintop, Peter now can say, “We have something more sure, the prophetic Word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.” God help us by His Holy Spirit to pay attention to, preserve, and keep the sure and certain Word of God no matter what pressures and temptations we suffer from men and the world’s culture and pursuit of worldly glory. For, Peter continued with this warning, “False prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Epiphanytide now draws to a close and we descend the mountain of glory with Jesus down into the valley where we are given to live our lives. In this valley, the shadow of death surrounds us. Here there is the temptation to make idols of created things. Here there are deceitful voices that speak contrary to God’s Word and tempt us to call evil good and good evil. And, here there is our Good Shepherd, Jesus, who is present in this place with His Words and Wounds to comfort, heal, and forgive us anew, to feed, nourish, and strengthen us, and to equip and send us bearing His life and His love, His mercy and Peace with God in this world for the sake of those for whom He died. The LORD has given us a foretaste of His glory that will be revealed when Jesus returns that we might have faith and persevere until He comes. And the LORD has also given us His Body and Blood, a foretaste of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom which has no end, that we might be preserved in faith until He comes. Jesus is God’s beloved Son with whom He is well pleased. And, you are His adopted children in Holy Baptism. Together we listen to Him and are saved.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany of Our Lord (Epiphany 4)

Matthew 8:23-27; Romans 13:8-10; Jonah 1:1-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Why do bad things happen to good people? You might be surprised to learn that God’s Word does provide an answer to that question, but you’re probably not going to like it. The answer to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people,” God’s answer to that question, is that there are no good people. Remember the words of St. Paul to the Church at Rome: “All have sinnedand fall short of the glory of God,” and “there is none that is righteous, not even one.” And, remember Jesus’ own words to a rich young man who called Him good teacher; Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is goodexcept God alone.” Therefore, instead of asking the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people,” perhaps you should be asking, “Why don’t bad things happen to me continually?” Truly, you shouldn’t wonder why a terrible thing has happened to this person or to that person, but rather why you, who are just as deserving as they, have, by the grace of God, been spared. That’s the true mystery of it all, the mystery of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
The so-called “Problem of Evil” isn’t really a problem at all when you take God’s Word and your sin seriously. In the beginning there was God, period. God created all things that exist, including humankind, and it was good; in fact, it was very good. There was no evil in God’s very good creation. There was only God, who is good, and the good creation He created. However, God gave us a free will, that is, a will that was free to reject Him and His goodness and choose something else, something other – evil. So, why is there evil in the world? It’s not because God created evil, but it is because His free creatures, man and woman, chose to reject God, to rebel against His goodness; it is because God’s free creatures chose evil over good. Because of mankind’s free choice of evil over God’s Word and goodness death entered the world. This was mankind’s choice and doing, not God’s. While it may be incorrect, and certainly unhelpful and unkind, to suggest that any person’s suffering is the direct result of his or her sin, it is not incorrect to say that suffering and death in general are the result of sin in the world, sin and death that came into the world, not by God’s choice, but by man’s. And so, the storms of life often encompass us and threaten to destroy us. But, we need not fear, for God is still good, and He is still God, and that means that He is in control. Though He did not create the evil that afflicts us nor introduce it into His good creation, He is still LORD of all, and He will restore all things, in His way and in His time, to order, goodness, and perfection once again.
The LORD commanded Jonah to go to wicked Nineveh and preach His Word, His Law and Gospel, that they might turn in repentance and find salvation in Him. But, Jonah didn’t want to go. More importantly, Jonah didn’t want to go, not because he feared the Ninevites or that God’s Word would be ineffective, but quite the contrary, Jonah fully believed that the LORD’s would was powerful to turn the Ninevites in repentance so that they could be saved. Jonah didn’t want that to happen; he felt that this was too good for those wicked people, and that they shouldn’t have the opportunity to receive forgiveness. So, Jonah made a choice; he chose to reject God and His goodness and to run away and hide from God. He charted a freighter and sailed off for Tarshish, hidden and fast asleep in its hold. The LORD permitted a ferocious storm to come upon the ship. The wind roared and the waves buffeted the ship striking terror into the hearts of the sailors that they would be overcome and perish. Now, storms and gails, trials and tribulations, come and go upon us all. They are not of God, who is good and the rule and measure of all that is good, but they are under His control and He permits or prevents them from befalling us according to His good and gracious will.
Jonah knew this fully well. When the sailors awakened him in their terror, Jonah confessed that this was God’s doing, and that it was because of his sinful rebellion that He permitted the storm to afflict them. He told them to throw him overboard and that the storm would cease. Whereas before the storm Jonah refused to obey the LORD and preach His Word to the NInevites that they might repent and be saved, now Jonah was willing to die that the pagan sailors might be saved. And so, they threw Jonah into the see, and the storm was stilled, and many of the sailors believed in the LORD who made the sea and the wind and is their Master. But, then the LORD did something more; He sent a great fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish where he prayed fervently to the LORD that He might save him. Though his sin was his own and he justly deserved death and eternal torment, the LORD heard and answered Jonah’s prayer and, demonstrating His power and authority once again, this time over the beasts of the earth, the LORD caused the great fish to vomit Jonah out on dry land. And the LORD commanded Jonah a second to time to go and preach repentance to the Ninevites. This time Jonah obeyed. He preached repentance to the Ninevites, and the Holy Spirit worked contrition in their hearts and they cried out to God and were spared His impending judgment. Truly, the LORD works all things together for good, even the rebellious and evil things that we and other men do, for the good of those who are called according to His purpose.
So often it seems that God’s ways are not our ways. What we count as foolishness may we come to see as wisdom by His Holy Spirit through His Word. For, it appeared foolishness that the people of Nineveh should be forgiven. And, it appeared foolishness that the LORD would use a wicked, rebellious man to bring this Word to wicked people. And it appeared even greater foolishness still that this man should be thrown overboard and swallowed by a great fish in order to make this happen. Thus, when the scribes and Pharisees demanded a sign from Jesus in order for them to believe Him, Jesus answered them saying, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”
Indeed, Jesus had performed many great and miraculous signs, and still they did not believe Him. Heaven was opened, God the Father spoke, and His Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at His baptism in the Jordan. He changed water into wine at a wedding in Cana. He healed men of leprosy and disease and of paralysis, and even raised several from death to life by the power of His life-giving and creative Word. Jesus had demonstrated His authority and control over the forces of nature on land, and then He demonstrated the same over the forces of nature at sea. As in the story of Jonah, Jesus was at sea with His disciples when a terrible storm came upon them and the disciples were terrified that they would perish. All the while Jesus was sleeping. Shaking Him awake in their terror, they said to Him, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” Jesus arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. Then He rebuked His disciples saying, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”
Why are youafraid, O you of little faith? Does your life seem to be out of control? Are there forces and powers at play that affect you that are indifferent to your suffering or need? Does it sometimes feel as if the Lord is sleeping, is powerless to help, or doesn’t care? Repent. Perhaps the LORD is causing your idols to be stripped away, those persons and things in which you have knowingly or unknowingly placed your fear, love, and trust over, above, or in place of Him. Repent. It is good that they be tossed overboard and buried in the depths of the sea. When you are tempted to cower in fear, hopelessness, and despair at what is befalling you and the world, and when you are tempted to flee from the presence of the LORD and His will, remember that He is awake and active, upholding heaven and earth and the laws of nature and all things for you, His beloved.
God permits storms and trials to come upon you, but He also rescues you in them so that you may see clearly His protection. Jesus’ kingdom, His Church, is strengthened and grows by sorrow and trial as by these the LORD calls you to turn your attention away from yourself and back towards Him. The LORD uses storms and trials to perfect your faith and to strengthen your weak and little faith. Your Lord is present with you always, even if unseen or seemingly inactive and asleep. He is in this place, this boat, this ship, this ark, His Church, commanding the natural elements of Word and Water, Bread and Wine to serve you, to absolve you, to strengthen you, to equip you and to send you. Do not be afraid. Your LORD, Your God, is present to save you.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.