Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Readings: 1 Kings 19:11-21 | 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 | Luke 5:1-11

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Persecution was a daily reality for third-century Christians in Rome. And in 258, the Emperor Valerian began another massive round. He issued an edict commanding that all bishops, priests, and deacons should be put to death, and he gave the Imperial treasury power to confiscate all money and possessions from Christians.

In light of the news, Pope Sixtus II quickly ordained a young Spanish theologian, Lawrence, to become archdeacon of Rome. The important position put Lawrence in charge of the Church’s riches, and it gave him responsibility for the Church’s outreach to the poor. The pope sensed his own days were numbered and therefore commissioned Lawrence to protect the Church’s treasure.

On August 6, 258, [Emperor] Valerian captured Pope Sixtus while he celebrated the liturgy, and had him beheaded. Afterwards, he set his sights on the pope’s young protégé, Lawrence. But before killing him, the Emperor demanded the archdeacon turn over all the riches of the Church. He gave Lawrence three days to round it up.

Lawrence worked swiftly. He sold the Church’s vessels and gave the money to widows and the sick. He distributed all the Church’s property to the poor. On the third day, the Emperor summoned Lawrence to his palace and asked for the treasure. With great aplomb [poise], Lawrence entered the palace, stopped, and then gestured back to the door where, streaming in behind him, poured crowds of poor, crippled, blind, and suffering people. “These are the true treasures of the Church,” he boldly proclaimed. One early account even has him adding, “The Church is truly rich, far richer than the Emperor.”

Unsurprisingly, Lawrence’s act of defiance infuriated the Emperor. Valerian ordered his death that same day via grilling on a rack.[1]

            To the unbelieving ear, it would sound as though Lawrence, featured on our bulletin cover today, was mocking the great Emperor. When he had demanded treasures, he was expecting to find gobs of money swindled from unsuspecting people in service to their foolish deity. But St. Lawrence made a “fool” out of Valerian by showing him that the foolishness of God is wiser than him.

            Who in our world have been the biggest fools for the longest time? Is there anyone else as foolish as a Christian who takes their faith seriously? We’re a punchline because of what we confess. We’re a bad joke that the world has long since gotten sick of, because we hold onto our Scripture. Our faith is a scandal of the highest order. And it always has been because of Jesus’ cross. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

            When St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the fact that Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, died on a cross was absolutely crazy. He called that fact a stumbling block to the Jews. We actually might understand it better from the Greek word Paul used, σκάνδαλον (skandalon). It was scandalous that the most holy and perfect God, Creator of all things, would ever be found on a cross, because to be crucified meant that you had obviously done something so bad that you had been cursed by the Lord. After all, it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” (Gal. 3:13) Even if it wasn’t what the Romans you were accused of, God still let it happen to you. So obviously, you must have done something terrible. To say that this was God hanging here? That was unthinkably scandalous. Blasphemous, in the worst of ways!

            Likewise, it was absolute foolishness to the Greeks. The Greeks had grown up with all the stories about Zeus and the like. And it wouldn’t be a big deal at all for a god to come down looking like a man, and do all kinds of amazing miracles. And it wasn’t even surprising that such a god could get into trouble as well. Those weren’t the problems they had with Jesus. The problem was that Jesus died. Our God died. Silly Christians! Gods can’t die! Whoever heard of something so foolish in all their life? At the point of death, the gods would pull the mask back and show who they really were. And their immorality and power would be on full display. If your God dies, then He can’t be much of a God now, can He?

            If you’re going to put the Messiah on the tree, then He’d better give a powerful sign, like coming down off of it, if you wants us to believe in him [Matt. 27:42]. If you’re going argue that God dies, then you’d better get some wisdom, and argue for something else. Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block [scandal] to Jews and folly to Gentiles.

            In two thousand years, some things have changed. And yet, nothing has changed. It may no longer be a scandal that Jesus was found in the place of sinners when He hung on a tree. But there is not much that is more scandalous than the Cross. The scandal now is that God would glorify such violence, and let His people celebrate it. If us Christians were truly good, we’d hide that cross away where no one would have to see it again.  Is that cross you wear around your neck beautiful because of the artist’s design or because it is where God shows His wisdom and love?

It may no longer be foolish to believe that God dies (after, think of Friedrich Nietzsche words, “God is dead…and we have killed him,” which have been used as a soundbite to justify and describe secular philosophy[2]) But the cross is still the height of folly. For only a great fool would believe that a man killed on such a cross could ever rise from the dead on the third day. The dead stay dead. Death is permanent. Everyone who knows anything knows that. And so, the world laughs at us. And when they’ve had their fill of it, they then get angry with us. Our belief, our confession, our faith in such a cross has gotten old. And it’s time to grow up.

            And you know what? We want to follow the wise. We want to be written about by their scribes. We want the debater of this age to debate on our behalf instead of against us. We want to be where they are. We crave their approval. And to get that approval, we must stop with the scandal and the folly. We must stop with this Cross. Only then will the world finally recognize us. Only then will the world finally pay attention. Only then will we get the world to come through our doors and hear us.

            The cruel irony is that those who gave up that cross in order to get the world’s approval, never actually got it. Instead, they lost their very reason for even existing. It turns out you don’t actually need to go to Church to be a nice person. You don’t need to go to Church in order to help people in your community. You don’t need to go to Church to sing your favorite music. You don’t need to go to Church to feel good about yourself. And you certainly don’t need to go to Church to be spiritual.

            However, there is only one place on the whole earth that preaches Christ crucified for you. And that is the Church, wherever she is found. And to us who are being saved [that Word of the cross] is the power of God. In fact, that’s how you know where the Church is. We confess that “The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.” (Augsburg Confession, Article VII) It’s the Gospel itself which delivers to us that immense foolishness of God that is His cross.

Listen to how the Church father, Origen, explains it:

The name of the cross is thought to be a stumbling block. But if someone opens his ears to the word of God and to grace, he will see that this too is a great mystery [Eph. 5:32]. Even the Gentiles hand on traditions that severe plagues or heavy rains or droughts often ceased when a person sacrificed himself for the sake of the community. Why, then, does it cause amazement that, when the whole world was suffering a plague of error, it was necessary for one man to die [John 18:14] in order to end this plague of ignorance, darkness and destruction? But who could undergo this sacrifice? Not a prophet, not an apostle, not any other righteous person. It was necessary for a divine power to descend from heaven, a power capable of taking upon itself to die on behalf of all [2 Cor. 5:15] in a way that involved public shame, so that through that death a victory over the devil might be won. And in fact, worldly victors who lead their enemies in triumphal procession (see Col. 2:14-18) are accustomed to set up trophies of victory over the defeated in the form of a cross. The cross, then, is a sign of victory over Satan.[3]

            There is no other worldly way to describe the actions of Christ except as utter folly. Who would ever leave a perfect heaven in order to take part in my suffering? Who would surrender perfect holiness in order to bear my sin? Who would think that taking nails in His spotless hands and feet would ever rescue me from the hell I’ve earned for myself? Who would ever exchange His eternal life for my death? Who would ever believe that the sheer proclamation of these events to me could ever save me from my fate? Jesus has indeed come down from heaven. Incarnate by the Holy Spirit. Born of the Virgin Mary. Was made man. All for you. Jesus has indeed left His holiness behind in order to become sin on your behalf—to become your sin. And as such, He endured hell itself on that cross for you. Jesus has indeed taken those nails in His hands and feet for you. And by them, He has pulled you out of the depths of hell itself.

            And even though those scars will remain on him forever, so you will remain forever with Him. Jesus has indeed sacrificed His life in order to put an end to death forever. Death is beaten. It cannot hold anyone for long, even though it does its very worst. Yet, it cannot stop the resurrection on the Last Day from coming. And He is indeed on His way with it soon. But here is the most foolish promise of all: That simply by speaking the report of these events to you, you actually receive them in their fulness.

            And in this way, God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. The foolishness of a cross. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. the weakness of a man nailed to a tree. God chose what is low and despised in the world. A man condemned to death. Even things that are not, like a dead God, to bring to nothing things that are. Sin brought to nothing. Death brought to nothing. Hell brought to nothing. All througph the utter folly of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus…. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Brandon Vogt, “St. Lawrence and the True Treasures of the Church.” Word on Fire, August 10, 2016. (accessed 5 Jul 2023)

[2] The context of the quote is a lament where Nietzsche is reflecting on our common denial of God, on the lips of a man who is dubbed mad for calling people to account for this: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?” (The Parable of the Madman, 1882)

[3] Claude Jenkins. “Origen on I Corinthians.” Journal of Theological Studies 9 (Jan 1908): 235.

Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Confirmation of Landon Carter & Gwendolyn Zorko

Readings: Genesis 50:15–21 | Romans 8:18–23 | Luke 6:36–42

Text: 1 Peter 3:8-15

St. Peter’s first epistle to the Church is beautifully appropriate and informative for the Church today.  It was first written to the Christians who were scattered after persecution grew more severe, and it was clear just how at-odds the Christian Gospel was with, not just the Jews, but the world in which they lived.

In our day, we are still recovering from the generations when it was okay to be a Christian in public, and actually meant that you were a respectable member of society.  Sometimes today, it feels like being a confessing Christian is swimming upstream against a waterfall.  Holding a biblical worldview is increasingly rare.  It’s a rare thing to belong to a Church body that publicly confesses God’s supernatural work in six days of creation, the God-given sanctity of human life, the good creation and distinction between male and female.  How uncommon it is to see people live out this Psalm verse: “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.” (Ps. 119:46-47)  We hold to these truths not because we are traditionalists, but because we belong to the true God.

This Epistle in particular comforts us by teaching that the suffering and rejection that we experience in the world is actually not surprising.  After addressing matters of how a child of God will find themselves living as strangers in society, how those who are married are to live together, St. Peter turns to every Christian—how appropriate on a day where two young Christians are confirming the faith God has given them!

They are nervous because today is being treated differently from other days.  But please allow me to take the spotlight off of them, and shine it on all of us equally:

Finally, 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.

Alienation is not something that stops after you graduate from high school.  For Christians, our alienation begins at our Baptism: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born [from above] he cannot see the kingdom of God.”…That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:3, 6)  There in the waters of Baptism, we receive a new birth that marks us as different, set apart, “holy to the Lord.” [Exod. 39:30]  And wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Lord would just take us home, or at the very least, give us a nice colony where we could be around just other believers?  But that isn’t how it works.  He leaves us as we are in the world, with this birth from above and the vestiges of our unspiritual flesh.  We don’t fit in with the world—we can’t fit in—but we still have our flesh that wants to fit in and does what the rest of the world does.

Our birth from above gives us the light and power to walk in the Spirit, and not follow after the way of the flesh.  The way of God’s child is to have unity of mind, not division by earthly distinctions—skin color, ethnicity, language, social group, or wealth.  The way of God’s child is to sympathize with one another, not close our hearts to cancel others and say I’ve got one less problem without you.  The way of God’s child is love for our brothers, not a thin tolerance that gives each other only the bare minimum.  The heart of God’s child is the work of God Himself: Compassion and humility—both qualities our Lord Jesus Himself displayed: “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless” and “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” (Matt. 9:36, 11:29)  He has a heart that is vulnerable for others.  Compassion means to be moved in your guts—to grieve with those who grieve, rejoice with those who rejoice, and share the burdens of those in need.  Lowly means to abase yourself, choosing to consider the needs of others before your own.  It’s no easy task when the messages around us encourage us to take care of ourselves first, and isolate from those who are different or cause us pain.  Rather than “everyone for himself,” our lives as God’s children are for the purpose of blessing others.

10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” [cited from Psalm 34:12-16]

These are not empty human words, a motivational speech to spur us into better living.  This is God with us, who has given us the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5)  God is with us as we walk through this world, bringing His blessing to our friends and enemies alike.

But, as God well knows, His blessing often not well-received:

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 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.

Blessing those who curse us, but in that suffering, we are actually blessed by God.  Fear is removed, because we do not live by the acceptance of others; we live by the acceptance of God through His Son.  Our identity in Baptism—where God knew us before we were born and here in time named us with His own Name, bestowing faith, peace, and an eternal future on us—is firmer than the fickle favor of society.  It endures even when the closest of family ties are strained.  The bond we have in the Spirit is closer than we have with even our friends who we’ve known the longest and the most.  This is the rock upon which your life is founded—your ground of being.

Christ the Lord is holy to us, even as He has set us apart to be holy to Him.  He is our highest good here in time and there in eternity, because He has loved us and blessed us with the gifts of forgiveness, joy, peace, and hope that outlast this world and its trouble.

Christ our Lord desires this life for every human.  People not a discardable entity, an accident, a hot mess, or a dumpster fire; each person is a sacred creation of God the Father, whom He values so much that He shed the blood of His own Son to save from the devil, rebellion, and eternal destruction.  He blesses our fellow human creatures by putting His Word on our lips.

So, I’d like to come back to what we’re doing today with this rite of Confirmation.  In the words echoing from Luther’s Small Catechism, “Was ist das?” / or as we know it, “What does this mean?”

There are several misunderstandings about Confirmation that should be cleared up first.  In case you didn’t know, Confirmation as a rite was never specifically commanded by the Lord.  The result of confirmation certainly happened: Peter and the other apostles were beaten for preaching Jesus, but they were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41)  Paul suffered for the sake of Christ’s Name, nevertheless “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities… purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech… through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise…10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (2 Cor. 6:4-10) (Acts 9:16).  And Timothy, who “fought to food fight of the faith, [taking] hold of the eternal life to which [he] was called and about which [he] made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Tim. 6:12)

But in practice Confirmation often takes its cues from our own imagination.  For some, it’s nothing more than a coming-of-age ceremony, since it happens usually in middle or high school.  Then it becomes little more than a reason to have cake and receive unexpected gifts, and now you’re free to either come to church or forget everything and live like everyone else.  This is the rationalist side of it, that just sees the outward, the material.  This is also where the graduation analogy haunts pastors and members of the congregation, as they see these confirmands today, but rarely ever again, as if the pews and parish hall were as inappropriate to revisit as your high school once you had diploma in hand.

Confirmation can also be misunderstood in the other direction: That it gives you some additional grace which you did not previously have.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “By Conformation, Christians, that is, those who are anointed, share more completely in the mission of Jesus Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit…By this anointing the confirmand receives the ‘mark,’ the seal of the Holy Spirit” (CCC, 1295).  But to this, I ask, where is the Scripture which backs this up?  Where does Scripture teach a specific grace given beyond what is already bestowed in Baptism, besides the various gifts of the Spirit which manifest themselves as we serve God and our neighbor?

It also might be misunderstood that after today, these two young people become “full” members of the congregation, where before they were some kind of 2nd class passengers, because today they are welcomed to the Lord’s altar.  It’s understandable, if we see the Lord’s Supper as a privilege we earn by our studies.  I’ll save this topic for another sermon, but suffice to say now, confirmation is not a prerequisite for beneficially receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus in the fellowship of this altar. But more on that another day.

But what is confirmation to be?  It is the point where you have been called by the Gospel in your Baptism, matured in your own faith and study, and are able to articulate your faith and understand why you are a Christian and why you make this confession.  Confirmation is where you assume the responsibility of being a public Christian.  And how great this responsibility is in these last days!

For such a great task, we need, first of all the Holy Spirit’s grace, who our Lord promises to send in our need: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26) and “Do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12)

You need support in the Body of Christ, because from here on it will only get more complicated and difficult.  “Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love and in steadfastness.  Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine.  They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and subordinate to their own husbands” (Titus 2:2-5)   This congregation is not a club, but one piece of the Body of Christ here in Lebanon, and if we are to endure the blessed sufferings of belonging to Christ, we need to do so together, caring about and caring for one another.

And finally, we continually need to pray for one another.  We already do, every time we beseech our Father as His Son taught us. But I would urge you to pause in your praying of the Our Father, and put a name to your brothers and sisters that they would hallow God’s Name in their lives, or that His Kingdom would come to more people in this world, or for whatever trials we bear that God’s will is done, that He forgive us when we sin, that He aid each other against temptation, and when His purpose is fulfilled for each of us, that He take us to Himself in eternity.

Landon and Gwen, and all the saints gathered here, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thess. 5:23-24) In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Fifth Sunday after Trinity (1 Kings 19:11-21, 1 Cor. 1:18-25; Luke 5:1-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Fifth Sunday after Trinity + July 21, 2019

Text: 1 Kings 19:11-21, 1 Cor. 1:18-25; Luke 5:1-11

I think we would all agree that God is higher and greater than us. (After all, we wouldn’t be here if we were convinced otherwise.)  As He explains in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  But sometimes it’s hard to remember that in our daily lives.  We’re going to take a closer look at each of the three readings and focus on how this truth comforts and guides us in our lives.

Before we do, I’d like to turn our attention to the Collect of the Day (which we will pray in a little bit).  The purpose of the Collect is to collect the common lessons from the Scripture assigned for the day, and then put it in the form of a prayer.  So, we pray:

O God, You have prepared for those who love You good things that surpass all understanding.  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; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Old Testament: Putting God above our observations.

Now, turn over your bulletin and follow along with the lessons.  First, in the Old Testament lesson from 1 Kings 19, a little background: Elijah is a faithful prophet.  But there isn’t much market for a faithful prophet, because Israel is being ruled by Ahab and Jezebel, who have embraced pagan worship and tried to supplant or at best synchronize worship of the Lord with the Baals (manmade deities).  In the previous chapter, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest of offerings, to see whose was the true God.  The Lord vindicated His might before Israel and Elijah had the false prophets put to death.  But that got him in hot water with Queen Jezebel, and she wanted him gone.  Elijah fled from her into the wilderness, and even asked that God take his life, “saying, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’”  So, Elijah had gone from a great, visible success in his ministry to the depths of loneliness and despair.  He was to be no better than the prophets who were rejected before him—Moses, Samuel, or the company of brothers who had preached in vain to wicked kings before him.

This is the background for the Lord’s lesson in our text (1 Kings 19:11-21).  Elijah is struggling with his jealousy for the Lord, and the rejection and persecution he’s gotten in return for it. He’s weary from fighting.  His conscience won’t allow him to just go along with the crowd and take the broad and easy path, because that would be unfaithful to His Redeemer, the Lord.  But all that remaining true to God has seemed to have gotten him is scorn and alienation.

But God teaches Elijah by four illustrations: a great wind, a great earthquake, a fire, and finally a whisper—a “still, small voice.” (NKJV)  The impressive and powerful things it says, “the Lord was not in” them.  But He was in the seemingly weak and ineffectual—a whisper.  Here, God is teaching Elijah that His ways are not to be judged by human observation and reason, but by His Word and faith.

This had been a continual lesson for God’s people, in their battles—Pharaoh’s army drown in the Red Sea (Exodus 14), the walls of Jericho falling at the sound of the trumpet and a mere shout (Joshua 6), and the 120,000 Midianites defeated by Gideon’s 300 men (Judges 7-8).  God is at work even when the visible and immediate seems to be just the opposite.

Can’t you relate?  The immediate seems impossible and hopeless.  How could there be any reconciling after months or years of wrongs?  What hope is there for that wayward grandson to ever know the Lord?  Who could survive when the doctors say the chances are so low?

When we witness the world around us, and see how degraded it’s getting, it can wear us down.  Living as a faithful (not nominal) Christian is only getting harder and more unpopular.  When we are convinced from God’s Word of right and wrong, we run contrary to hordes of people who are caught up in the times.  Masses of people could care less what Scripture says, and the plethora of churches that were planted 60 years ago now struggle to be self-supporting.  Visibly, outwardly weak.

But God is greater than our observations, and He is still at work.  Sinners do hear the word of God and turn from their wickedness.  Parents do make worship and Bible study a priority for their family and make the time.  And He even gives us eyes to see the signs that this world is passing away, and the Great Day is surely drawing near.  As the hymn says, “Though hidden yet from mortal eyes, His Gideon shall for you arise.  Uphold you and His Word.” (LSB 666:2)

Epistle: Putting God above our expectations of Him.

Next, we turn to the Epistle lesson from 1 Corinthians 1:18-25.  Jesus is not the Savior people want Him to be.  He doesn’t fit into our human reason.  He also doesn’t open the ground to swallow His enemies or make manna appear on the ground anymore.  Not that He doesn’t reveal Himself through these things.

He gave us reason and language so that He could relate and interact with His creatures.  He is a God of the Word, and He inspired the very words and language syntax so that we might know Him.  His Word reveals clear truths that can be communicated and placed in categories.  But on the other hand, there are things that we cannot know about Him through reason—how His Son can be the sacrifice for the sins of the world, and yet many are not saved, how He created the world and sustains it by His Word, how He is one God in three Persons, how Jesus Christ is able to be bodily present everywhere His Body and Blood are eaten and drunk.  These things defy our love of reason.  We want to have everything figured out and understood.  The first temptation into sin came with the promise that we would become wise, but it was in fact filled with evil and actually blinded us to God’s truth.

He also used to reveal Himself in signs and wonders.  We ought to be fully convinced from His Word that He did turn the water of the Nile into blood (and it was no red algae bloom), that He did truly part the waters of the Red Sea and Israel passed through on dry ground.  We should not doubt that Jesus healed the sick with a touch, cast out ferocious demons, and raised the dead.  We can further believe that the apostles spontaneously spoke in other languages, that they were able to heal the sick, and on one occasion raise the dead.  But we should also be content that the time for those supernatural, visible signs has passed for the most part.  It’s not like God isn’t capable of doing them, and in cases where it’s needed He does.  But to seek and demand these signs is to despise the places where He has promised to be for all people in every generation: in the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins, the holy and saving signs of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.  The sign that He is living and active, upon which the rock of the Church is built, is the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:15-19).

The lesson here is that our expectations of God should not come from our darkened hearts, but from His own revealing of Himself on His terms.  Be sure that He does reveal Himself when and how He knows best!  A religion that “makes sense” in every point might be appealing, but it’s also the sign of manmade snake oil.  A blinding sign from heaven might be frightful to unbelievers and encouraging to believers, but the true work of God is what Jesus says in John 6: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  It is His work that we give up our expectations of a reasonable faith and a God of signs and wonders.  “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”  It is through Christ crucified that we sinners are put in our right mind and see heaven open before us.

Gospel: Putting God above our unworthiness and weakness.

Finally, in the Gospel, Luke 5:1-11, we hear of the first disciples meeting Jesus.  By virtue of hearing these stories many times, and through the fog of history, it’s hard to understand why Peter reacts the way he does.  Though the sign that Jesus does, it’s revealed to Peter that he is standing in the presence of the living God.  His reaction is not unlike Isaiah, who cries, “Woe is me!” when he is suddenly up-close and personal with Holy God.  There’s nothing that Peter can hide, as he finds himself veritably naked before God.

We’re often not aware how true this is.  God is omniscient, knowing our thoughts, words, and actions truly and completely.  Nobody is able to hide from His gaze, no matter how well we cover it from others.  So Peter, like us, cry out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

But thanks be to God, He doesn’t listen to that request.  Jesus, the Crucified One, the physician of sinners, instead forgives Peter: “Do not be afraid” because where God removes fear, He has removed the guilt and condemnation.  These are words of the Absolution.  The God who fully knows your sin has brought it to your attention and yet His divine judgement is: Not guilty because the Lamb of God has been sacrificed in your place.

And here the lesson is that we put God’s Word above our own unworthiness and weakness.  It truly is His desire to come and dine with you, in a house of sinners like this.  He earnestly desires to receive you.  When we think about worthiness, we must put His judgement above our own.  In preparation for the Lord’s Supper today, the Catechism asks, “Who receives this sacrament worthily?  Answer: Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words ‘for you’ require all hearts to believe.”  What makes us worthy is a true and faithful confession, as John writes,

If we say we have fellowship [communion] with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:6-10)

It’s true that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and thanks be to God for that, because it’s in those ways that we believe His Word and through His Son we are saved.  Amen.