Sunday, February 28, 2010

Coming to Terms with Jesus

Second Sunday in Lent
February 28, 2010
Luke 13:31-35

It seems that every time there’s a new study or survey that shows where people are at regarding their religious beliefs it’s presented as if it’s some big revelation. As if we wouldn’t have known what people really believe had the study or survey not been done. A recent one shows that young people are staying away from church and organized religion but are still religious. They still believe in God. They still believe in an afterlife.

I get a kick out of these because I can’t help but come to the same conclusion each time I see one. Something God in His Word said a long time ago. About, oh, three thousand years ago:

There is nothing new under the sun.

We certainly shouldn’t make light of the views and beliefs people express. They are entitled to them and we can respect the people who hold them and even engage them in their views and beliefs.

But do we really need surveys and studies to tell us what people think and believe when the Bible long ago has told us what they believe? Without a formal study done about what people believe would we really not know that they believe they don’t need organized religion or church or formal worship? Before there were ever surveys, the Bible has told us all along that people have felt this way ever since, oh, Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree. The people of today are not the first to think they’re so enlightened in holding to these views and beliefs.

It’s natural that these surveys and studies are done. People tend to look for trends. They look for the way things change, or stay the same, or go back to the way they were, or anything to try to get a handle on where people are at. That’s our inclination. We want to get a handle on these things. But it would be a mistake for us ‘in here’ to talk about how those people ‘out there’ believe when we don’t need any surveys or studies or experts to tell us where our own hearts are at. The Bible slices right through all the stats and trends and cuts right to the heart. We are no better than Adam and Eve. We are like every other human being in history, with the exception of Christ, of course. He doesn’t fit into any survey or study. No expert can find any trend with Him. He alone embodies true worship of God and belief in God. We don’t need any expert sources telling us that in contrast to Jesus we have fallen far short of His glory and His righteousness.

We care, of course, for those people ‘out there.’ As the Church, we listen to people and take them seriously and engage them right where they’re at in life. But we also look at that book that was written over the period of about 1500 years and two thousand years ago and take our cue from that as to where people are at and what they believe. To some this is archaic. The funny thing is, that’s what many people thought way back then as well. We don’t really need any survey to tell us that. To some it’s narrow minded. Wouldn’t you know it, the same charge was made back then as well. We don’t need anyone today to show evidence that this is true so that we can know it.

We already know it.

And that’s why we hear the Scripture read in the worship service. That’s why we hear it preached. That’s why we stand or fall on this book and don’t take our cue from what has just been discovered by a survey or study. We already know. God has shown us. He has given us His Word.

In the Old Testament reading Jeremiah wasn’t struggling with those people ‘out there,’ but the very people of God. In the Gospel reading Jesus was being warned about outside forces that were against Him, but Jesus knew better. He knew that the very people of God were no better than their fathers before them, the same ones that persecuted Jeremiah and the other prophets. That it wasn’t Herod the wicked king who would be the downfall of Jesus but that it would be the very people of God that would bring Jesus to the cross.

This is what no survey or study or expert can tell us. They can show us what’s on the surface. People believe this. Or that. Or some other thing. But they can’t tell you what is in the hearts of people. They can’t tell you that there is nothing good within them. They can’t tell you that while their mouths say they believe in God and have spiritually fulfilled lives their hearts are far from Him. And they can’t tell us that we are no different. Jesus longs to gather us to Himself, we won’t have any of it.

The people of God want to be religious but want their religion and spirituality on their own terms. Sounds a lot like a bunch of people interviewed for a survey. Jesus knows what is in our hearts. Jesus knew why the religious leaders were coming to Jesus. And He knew something they didn’t know. That He would die at their hands but for their very obstinacy against Him. He would suffer at the hands of sinners for those very sinners and for all sinners. Jesus didn’t take any surveys or do any studies. He knew what was in the heart of man and died for man anyway. He knew that His very own people would have nothing to do with Him and died for them for this very reason.

What those in the Gospel reading are trying to do with Jesus is the same thing those ‘out there’ who are surveyed try to do. Have their religion, their spirituality, their salvation apart from Jesus. They just know God loves them and they’re good to go. But what Jesus does with these people is force the issue. We must come to terms with Jesus. Religion, spirituality, salvation, apart from Christ is religion without God. And it doesn’t matter if you believe in an afterlife or not, religion and spirituality without Christ is eternity without God. You cannot have God or eternal life without coming to terms with Jesus.

But here’s the thing. The thing you and I know that those people out there don’t know. We know that coming to terms with Jesus does not mean judgment but forgiveness. We know that coming to terms with Him means that He is the one who transforms us into new people, sons and daughters of the eternal God. Coming to terms with Him is looking at God in view of the cross. At the cross Jesus is the one who is brought to judgment, we are brought to eternal life.

What that also means for us ‘in here’ is that instead of spending our time discerning what all those surveys and studies mean about what people believe, we can simply share with them what they don’t know about God: that He has given them His Son. His Son who has died for all of their sins, who wants to bring them not into an ambiguous afterlife but eternal life and glory with God. Amen.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lead Us Not into Temptation

First Sunday in Lent
February 21, 2010
Luke 4:1-13

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always thought it odd that in teaching us to pray our Lord told us to pray that our Heavenly Father lead us not into temptation. As if our Heavenly Father might just lead us into temptation so we’d better pray to Him that He doesn’t. God wouldn’t lead us into temptation, would He?

Sometimes I think ordinary Christians are the best theologians. When I was on vicarage an elderly woman, who when praying the Lord’s Prayer and came to the sixth petition, would always say it this way: “and lead us NOT into temptation”, as an affirmation that God indeed does not lead us into temptation.

Consider, though, what occurs in the Gospel reading for the First Sunday in Lent: Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.

There’s no question that the devil is the source of the temptation. But there also is no question that God the Holy Spirit is the one who led Jesus into the wilderness in order to be tempted by the devil, Matthew makes that clear. Mark is even stronger, saying the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to tempted by the devil.

Was the Holy Spirit leading Jesus into temptation? Was Jesus walking out to the wilderness praying, “Lead me NOT into temptation?” All joking aside, Jesus knew exactly why He was going out there. And He knew exactly who it was that was leading Him out there. He was being led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Even as the Scriptures teach that God tempts no one, at the same time they teach that God does indeed test us. They teach that God works all things for good for those who love Him who have been called according to His purpose. This includes temptation. God doesn’t tempt, but He uses temptation. He doesn’t lead us into temptation but He uses temptation for our good.

Temptation is the work of the devil. All the more better, then, that God uses it for our good. The devil is going to try to bring us down by tempting us. God builds us up through temptation, the very thing the devil is trying to bring us down with. What the devil brings about to harm us God uses to strengthen us. What the devil attempts to use to tear us away from God, God uses to draw us closer to Him.

What’s tempting for us here is to hear this and think that it’s ridiculous. Or impossible. Or what we would just as soon not have to go through. Temptation is by its very nature enticing. We’re tempted to do something we want to do that we shouldn’t do. But wrestling with temptation is miserable. You want to go through with the sin but you know you shouldn’t and you don’t want to go through with it but the urge is strong. And your mind is very good at rationalizing all kinds of ways of why it’s good to succumb to the temptation.
How does God use this for our good? How does He strengthen us through this?

We must look to see what He does in His Son. What He does in us is what He does because of what He has done in His Son. We are strengthened through temptation because of what Jesus endured and accomplished.

The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. This is vitally important. We really should not talk about temptation apart from the fact that God the Father wanted Jesus to endure temptation. Not for the kicks of it all. So that we may know there is victory over Satan. So that we may know that temptation can be overcome, because it has been overcome.

We are powerless against temptation. Not Christ. The devil meets his match in Jesus. Because that is so it is so with us. We have power over Satan because Christ does. We have the victory in Christ.

Christ did not veer. He did not succumb. He stayed the course. And not only did He battle Satan with the Word of God in the desert, Christ continued on His course all the way to the cross. He accomplished victory over temptation and the devil in suffering and dying for every one of our times we have fallen into temptation. Every time we have listened to the devil and heard his enticement as appealing and what we desire more than the Word of God.

Jesus’ final word to Satan was that you shall not put the Lord your God to the test. It’s not just an answer to Satan. It’s a word for you and me to live by. Otherwise we die. Succumbing to temptation leads to death. God will never lead us into that. What He will do is give us what we need in times of temptation. His Word. Strength when we are weak. This is all in His Son, the one who conquered Satan and his temptations. That’s why our Lord gives Himself to us in His Holy Supper, just as He gave Himself to the world in His suffering and death.

You might hear the voice of the devil questioning whether Jesus’ body and blood could really be given to you for you to eat and drink in simple bread and wine. When you hear this voice respond in confidence with the Word of God, Jesus’ words themselves: This is My body, this is My blood.

And when the voice of Satan comes right back at you, getting you to wonder what that really does for you—receiving the body and blood of Christ, how it could possibly help you in the time of temptation—come right back at him with word of Christ, His victorious words to you in direct combat to Satan: shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.

Jesus was led into temptation. He will lead you through it. The Holy Spirit led Jesus through the wilderness while Jesus was being tempted. You are Baptized. The Holy Spirit led you into eternal life when you were washed in those waters connected with the Word of Christ. The Holy Spirit leads you through the dark valleys of temptation. You have the victory in Christ. Rely on the Word of God. Pray in the fullest confidence the prayer your Lord has given you to pray: and lead us NOT into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Prayer (& Fasting) and the Cross of Christ

Ash Wednesday
February 17, 2010
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

During our midweek Lenten worship services we will be meditating on the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer our Lord has given us to pray and in it is contained everything we need in order to pray to our Heavenly Father. A lifetime of praying and meditating on the Lord’s Prayer is what our Lord has in mind for us in giving us His holy Prayer.

If you look at the Lord’s Prayer you will see that it is concerned with the things we need. What we need in order to live is what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer. If you look at what Jesus says in the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday you will see that what He is teaching us about prayer is nothing else than teaching us about what we need and about living out our lives in a way that is in consonance with His will.

So in the three things He mentions—giving to those in need, praying, and fasting—He is doing nothing other than teaching us how we ought to live our lives. Our lives are lives of prayer. Jesus begins His teaching on prayer by talking about practicing our righteousness before others. We are not to do it for the purpose of being seen by them. We are to do it in a way that doesn’t draw attention to ourselves.

It is in the verses between the ones of our Gospel reading where our Lord gives us His holy Prayer. The petitions He gives us to pray are for those things we need. The more we pray that Prayer, the more we ponder it, the more we will see that giving to those in need, praying, and fasting are things we need.

Those things focus ourselves outwardly. They get us to look beyond ourselves and to the cross of Christ. Giving to the poor is easily understandable because you’re helping someone out and looking beyond yourself. But when you pray isn’t it so easy just to focus on your own needs rather than the needs of others? And when you fast, aren’t your thoughts consumed with the rumblings and even the pain of your stomach and the weakness you experience from not having enough food to sustain you?

But this is why we need these things. Even in giving to the poor we tend to focus on ourselves, how good of people we are in helping others; or agonizing over what extra time and effort and money it’s costing us to help someone else. We tend to think more about our own needs than the fact that there is someone else who is in need.

But giving to those in need is not only for their sake but for our own. It’s not so much something we must do as it is an extension of who we are in Christ. Because of the cross we see others in need as an opportunity to serve rather than as a drain on our time and energy. Because of Jesus giving Himself wholly in His suffering and death we are ready and willing to give of our time and money in order to help those who are experiencing burdens.

When our prayers tend to revolve around our own needs or even our own wants what we need is the prayer our Lord has taught us. There we see what our true needs are. There we see that our wants need to be melded into what our Heavenly Father wants for us. He wants what is best for us. That is brought out in the Lord’s Prayer. Otherwise it would be filled with the things He gives us that help us out only in this life. Those things are wonderful and we need them and He desires we have them. But if that’s the main thing then we don’t have a very loving God—we have a God who cares for us only for a time. The things we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer are primarily the things we need for our soul, the things that last forever. There is nothing better to receive in this life than those things.

How do we know this? Again, the cross of Christ guides our view toward this. Jesus didn’t suffer just injury and harm in being crucified. He was forsaken by His Heavenly Father on account of the sins of the world. His suffering was enduring the punishment of hell we all deserve. His sacrifice was being counted as the sinner in our place. Giving His life was nothing else than suffering in our place so that we may have eternal life. Reading and meditating on and praying the Lord’s Prayer helps us see more and more that that’s what that prayer is getting at that we need in our lives.

Most Christians would think it’s odd if you told them that they shouldn’t give to those in need. It’s pretty clear that Scripture tells us to give to others. But do we need to be told not to pray in public? Many Christians would rather stand on their head than pray in public. And what about fasting? Outside of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, fasting to many Christians seems like a ritual that is better suited to those in a monastery or those in a church that is based on the Law where you do things in order to gain favor with God.

But Jesus doesn’t teach us about fasting for any purpose of what we must do or how to gain favor with God but rather for what we need. Where when we fast our minds are telling us that we need food—and really want food; and our stomachs are doing more than just telling; God is showing us that there is so much more to His gifts to us than just daily bread. That while our stomachs are craving to be filled the Word of God feeds us with eternal blessings that sustain us long after we again need another meal.

You don’t have to give to those in need. But you will be blessed when you do. You don’t have to fast either. But you will come to see that it’s true that man does not live by bread alone. And when you give to those in need you don’t have to make it an elaborate thing. You can be very simple about it: offer to help someone you know who needs help with their yard work or a ride to the doctor. Lend an ear to someone who is going through a rough patch or is grieving the loss of their loved one.

When you fast you can make it something simple, such as getting up on Sunday morning and reserving eating any food until after you have been fed by your Lord in Word and Sacrament. And if you have a particular condition that would make it prohibitive for you to abstain from food, then take something else in your life that you need or want in your daily life and cut a portion of it out. Put in its place meditation on the Word of God. Praying and meditating on the Lord’s Prayer. Reading and studying the Catechism. Pondering the suffering and death of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

It’s true that prayer is something commanded you by God. But it’s true because He commands things of you that are for your benefit. It’s true that humbling yourself, serving others, giving up things in your life that you crave is difficult. But the things we need, the things that are truly best for us come through difficult things. Christ on His cross was giving of Himself to those in need: you and me and the world. He was praying to His Heavenly Father on our behalf. He was fasting, not taking in anything of this life for help or benefit. That’s because He was giving of Himself so that we may be the dear children of our Heavenly Father in boldness and confidence. Amen.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Prayer and the Cross

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Last Sunday after the Epiphany
Valentine, Martyr
February 14, 2010
Luke 9:28-36

I hope that as I continue to teach the Word of God I will keep learning and growing. I always use teaching Confirmation Class as the test for whether I am. Since in Confirmation Class we’re dealing with the basics, the fundamentals, of the Christian faith, I could easily go through the motions; knowing the material well enough to just teach it without giving it any thought.

But it never fails to happen that I learn. I grow. I continue to be brought by the Holy Spirit to new insights in the faith and stronger growth in faith. It is that way in teaching the Word of God. There’s never a point where you can master it.

It is my prayer that as I grow and learn that I will seek to do it in the way that Christ Himself did it. It sounds odd, but Jesus humbled Himself to be much as we are, learning and growing as a man. The author of Hebrews says that Jesus learned obedience as a son. This is a remarkable statement. It’s hard to get your head around that one, as Jesus is true God of true God, fully divine. And yet, what He chose to do was to humble Himself. He chose to become a man, and even more, to submit Himself to authority. To learn. To grow. To be obedient.

This is what we need to learn in our prayer life, in our lives as Christians. At this moment in the Church Year we’re in a transition. We’re closing up the Epiphany season and preparing to enter the Lenten season. At the same time we’re not just thinking ‘transition’, we’re also focusing on a specific and unique event in the life of Christ, the Transfiguration.

In our celebration of the festival of the Transfiguration of Our Lord and in our transition to Lent and preparation for Lent we can use the event of the Transfiguration to help us understand where we’re going with our Midweek Lenten theme of “The Our Father and the Cross of Christ.” “The Our Father” is another name for the Lord’s Prayer. In conjunction with the annual Catechism Convocation our congregation joins in with several other congregations the Midweek Lenten worship services will focus on the Lord’s Prayer, which is the topic of the Catechism Convocation this year. The cross of Christ helps us focus in praying the Lord’s Prayer as well as in prayer in general.

How does the Transfiguration help us understand prayer in light of the cross? The Transfiguration of Christ has Him on the mountain in an array of glory and splendor. What appears to be shown on the mountain is the opposite of the shame and suffering of the cross. It is not because of the Transfiguration we pray. It is because of the cross. It is not through the glory displayed on the mountain that we bring our petitions to our Father but through the humiliation of the suffering of His Son.

Luke makes a point to tell us something that Jesus did often, and that was to pray. Matthew and Mark tell us of the Transfiguration but they simply say that Jesus went up onto the mountain. It is Luke who tells us that He went up there to pray. Matthew and Mark mention a few times that Jesus prayed. Luke emphasizes that this was an integral part of His earthly life. Since Jesus was all about the cross, in His Ministry heading to the cross we can safely assume that this is what His prayers were concerned with.

And while not praying to His Heavenly Father, when Jesus is talking with Moses and Elijah on the mountain they are talking about His departure, His suffering and death on the cross. He went up on the mountain to pray and ended up being transfigured before the disciples. He was displaying His glory and ended up having a conversation about His death.

Prayer was vital to Jesus’ Ministry. It was vital to His relationship with His Heavenly Father. How much more with us? We who are sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father but who are constantly struggling in this vale of tears and with our sinful flesh… if Jesus needed to pray, we more so. And as Jesus needed those times alone with His Heavenly Father in prayer, prayer always led Him to the cross. For Him it was always about the cross. His prayers were never separated from it. Even in His suffering and dying on the cross He was lifting up prayers to His dear Father in heaven.

Sometimes the Church Year and the calendar year intersect, although many may not realize it. Today, of course, is Valentine’s Day. Many think of it simply in terms of expressing love to their sweetheart. What many people may not realize is that the commemoration in the Church Year today of St. Valentine is the commemoration of his death. That doesn’t seem to fit with our American celebration of Valentine’s Day. But it actually fits better than we might think. His death is commemorated because he was martyred for his faith.

The Bible says that there is no greater love than a man lay down his life for his friends. Valentine, as with so many other Christians down through the centuries rejoiced in laying down his life rather than forsake his Lord. We would gladly give our lives to save our loved ones. How much more to give our lives rather than renounce Christ? On the day when Valentine’s Day, as well as the commemoration of Valentine, Martyr, coincide with the Transfiguration of Our Lord, it’s telling that the commemoration of Valentine is of his death—his martyrdom—and the celebration of the Transfiguration of Jesus has Moses and Elijah talking to Him about His death. It was because of the cross that Valentine willingly gave his life and by the cross that Valentine’s death brought him to life eternal. The cross is the substance of our prayers and our lives as Christians.

In our midweek Lenten worship services we will be meditating on the Lord’s Prayer, as it is the prayer our Lord has given us to pray. When we pray His holy prayer we are praying what He wants us to be praying for and for the things we need. But there’s another aspect to praying also.

We don’t pray simply by praying. We don’t learn to pray simply by praying. We learn to pray by listening. Specifically, by listening to Christ. God the Father on the Mount of Transfiguration said: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!” This is how we learn to pray. We listen to our Lord. We hear His Words. We focus on what Peter, James, and John saw when they heard the voice of the Father—Jesus. Luke says that “when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” When we pray it is because of and through Jesus alone. It is by His suffering and death on the cross that our prayers ascend to the throne of the Father.

Prayer is talking with God. Jesus begins this whole thing on the mountain that way. He’s talking with His Heavenly Father. Luke doesn’t tell us any of the words from the Father to Jesus. What he does tell us are His words to us: “Listen to My Son.” How we do that is the same way Peter, James, and John did—from the source. From Jesus Himself. They literally heard His words as He spoke. We don’t hear Him speak with His mouth and vocal chords the way they did. But we hear His words as they did. That’s why He had His Word written down. That’s why we hear it read. That’s why we hear it preached.

That’s how we hear Jesus. That’s how we listen to Him. That’s how we learn to pray. We listen to Him and He forms our prayers. We read and meditate on His Word and we are formed by Him to pray according to the will of our Heavenly Father.

We begin to see more and more that everything in the Scriptures is centered in the cross. That the Scriptures bring Christ to us and are mere words apart from Him and what He suffered on Calvary. That our prayers are meaningless even if well intended if they do not flow out of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary for the forgiveness of all of our sins. The words you say may not always seem to reflect that; sometimes you may not know the words to say; sometimes you may pray half-heartedly; but don’t fear and don’t give up. Lift your eyes as Peter, James, and John did, and see the One in whom is your salvation and hope. Talk to your Lord about what Moses and Elijah talked to Him about: His suffering and death on the cross for them, for you, for everyone.

And if it still seems hard after that, then dig more into the Word of God, where you will be hearing the Word of Christ, listening to Him. Remember daily those words spoken to you when you were transformed into a new creation: “I Baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Hunger and thirst for the proclamation of Christ’s holy Word in His House. Come often to His Table where you will hear His words spoken directly to you: Take and eat, this is My body, given for you. Take and drink, this is My blood, shed for you for your forgiveness.

Your prayer at that point may simply be “Amen.”


Sunday, February 7, 2010

From Night to Day

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 7, 2010
Luke 5:1-11

Until a specific point in time that would come soon enough, no one was able to point to Jesus and comprehend who He was as He was to be known. But there was something. There was something that brought those people to press in on Him. So that He had no breathing room. So that He had to go out on the lake in order to continue on with His preaching and teaching. They had come through the night in order to get from Him something they needed. Something unattainable through the long dark night of their lives.

They had seen the miracles, heard the preaching, listened to His Word that was authoritative. The word that spoke of something that they couldn’t get in any other way. They were darkened in their minds and hearts. The Holy Spirit accompanies the Word of Christ wherever it goes. Wherever it is proclaimed. Whenever it brings demons out of men, brings people from their sickness, gives comfort to the afflicted.

In this case the Word of Christ is Christ Himself. Jesus walking from town to town proclaiming the Good News, giving Himself to people who are in the darkness of sin and a fallen world. The night that turned into day on that particular day found them crowding Jesus to the point where He made use of boats that were for fisherman but were now to be used for the Man who created all things in the sea and on land.

The dawn that came over the lake of Gennesaret saw another light, a Light that shines in the darkness of people with darkened minds, who hear but never listen, who see but never understand. The Light that is Christ is more powerful than that darkness. And that Word—the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ Himself, the Son of the Living God, God Himself, very God of very God—now spoke. The Word proclaimed the Word. Jesus delivered Himself to the people who had overtaken Him.

Peter and his companions listened on. Weary from the night. Perhaps enjoying a break from the usual silence while they cleaned the nets in the hours after dawn. They were tired, but they could hear the words Jesus spoke. They were hearing of things that were more important than fish and their livelihood. It was a difficult job, cleaning those nets. They were big, they were wet, they were filthy. And they were tired. Exhausted from a long night of toiling on the sea. Of trying every trick they knew to bring in a haul. Even if it was a few fish. Something for their hard work. But they would go back home and go to bed awaiting the next night shift in which they’d try again.

Perhaps they were just finishing up cleaning the nets when they found that Jesus had one more thing to say: “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” They were the professional fisherman who hadn’t caught a thing. Even more, they had just gotten done with the grueling work of cleaning the nets. But now the preacher was telling them to try again. They had worked the night shift because that’s when the fish bite, not in the daylight, as Jesus was suggesting. Peter let Jesus know what he thought of Jesus’ request but acquiesced to it. Because You have said it I will do it. Jesus was in the process of bringing these people, and now Peter and his fellow apostles, into the day of the Light of salvation.

In bringing Peter from night to day Peter was seized with astonishment. Fear. Conviction. Peter was face to face with his Creator. He stood before the Holy God and saw in the multitude of fish that was brought in an awareness of the multitude of sins that darkened his heart. Isaiah stood before God Almighty in a vision, crying out, “Woe is me, I am undone, I am a man of unclean lips!” Peter stood face to face with the very same God, but in no vision. In broad daylight. What hope did he have? “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” One cannot stand in the presence of the Lord and live. There is no hope, you are done for.

This was Peter. Exhausted. Spent. Wretched. Mind and heart filled with greed and lust and envy and pride. A man of unclean lips and mind and heart. As unable to assuage his guilt as he was in his toil and labor to bring in fish that night in his vocation as a fisherman. What would Jesus say to him now? Was all the preaching and teaching, and for that matter the healings and miracles, all to show him that Jesus was the Lord Almighty and how Peter was weighed in the balance and found wanting? Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.

What would you say to your Lord if you stood before Him? Would you attempt to rationalize your sin and guilt? Would you strain for hope? Peter fell at Jesus’ knees. Jesus spoke volumes to Peter in His action of bringing in more fish than the fishermen could handle. But now Jesus spoke one more word. This was a word that brought home to Peter who he was as he prostrated himself before the God of Creation. It was the word of Absolution. The word of Forgiveness. The word of the Gospel. The word that does away with the effects of the word that convicts and condemns.

But this was not a mere word. It was not simply speech communication that came from the mouth of Christ. The word Jesus gave to Peter was the Word that has always been, the Word made flesh. The Word that is Jesus Christ Himself. He did not say to Peter, “I forgive you.” He simply forgave him by giving him Himself: “Do not be afraid.” The Word made flesh—Jesus Christ, the Son of God—is the Word of God that does not return to Him empty but accomplishes the purpose for which it is intended. That’s why Jesus doesn’t say, “I forgive you.” By saying, “Do not be afraid,” Jesus is speaking Himself into the heart and mind of Peter, delivering Himself into the life of Peter in which in that very act Peter is forgiven by his Lord, the darkness of sin banished by the presence and speaking of Christ.

There was nothing wrong with Peter working the night shift. That’s what he did. That was his calling, his vocation. That’s how he served his Lord, by serving his fellow man in catching fish so that others may eat. Everything was right about that. Peter worked hard. He worked hard to do his job well. What Jesus needed Peter to see is that without Him, that is, Jesus, all our toil is for naught. For this life it’s all well and good, maybe even great. But ultimately it leaves you standing before the Holy Lord of Creation with a sinking feeling that your best falls short and isn’t good enough, rationalize though you might. You are a sinful man and are done for.

What Jesus needed him to see is that the prayer of the man who stands before Him, instead of “Depart from me a sinner,” should be “Be merciful to me a sinner.” And you know who you stand before? The very same God. And you see that that very same God is the God of Jesus. The God of mercy. The God who brings about more abundant mercy and forgiveness than a multitude of sins. The God who breaks into the darkness of your life, your sin, your guilt, your fear, with the Day of His forgiveness.

Go from here in the joy that you are called by God to serve where you’re at. Whatever your vocation, you are serving the Lord Almighty. Don’t fear that you haven’t done enough. Be at peace in knowing that your Lord’s vocation was to become as you are, a man. To go into the heart of darkness and conquer there in the solitude of the cross the grip Satan has on creation, that your sinful flesh clings to. Jesus broke through the darkness of Good Friday with the Light of forgiveness and salvation. It was on Calvary that He accomplished a miracle that makes the catch of fish look like a child’s game.

It was at your Baptism that He called you to new life. He has come into your life to bring you from night to day. It is in His Holy Supper that He produces the miracle of giving His Body and Blood to you in bread and wine—a multitude of mercy to wipe out the myriad sins you have committed. You stand before Him in the light. His eternal word to you is Himself, His forgiveness of all of your sins. He brings you out of the darkness of your sin and guilt. He stands before you as your Lord, in mercy and peace. Amen.