Sunday, July 16, 2006

Sermon: Trinity 5

16 July 2006 at Salem L.C., Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 5:1-11 (1 Kings 19:11-21; 1 Cor 1:18-25) (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

God is always acting in ways that surprise us. And this makes a lot of sense considering that our sinful nature often pictures God as something other than he is.

Simon the fisherman had no idea when he rose early in the morning to go to work at Lake Genneseret that he would be meeting God face to face that day, that he would be quitting his job and starting a whole new life. Certainly, he would never have imagined that a meeting with God would include the sign of a miraculous catch of fish.

As miracles go, this one is pretty low key. No blind men can see, no lepers are healed, no demons cast out, no dead men walking around in grave clothes. All Jesus did was fill Simon’s net with fish. And yet this quiet miracle was enough to reveal who Jesus is. And Simon reacts as everyone else in Scripture does when confronted with the presence of God: he feels sinful, unworthy, small, and in expectation of punishment. But once again, God defies expectation – for instead of condemnation and wrath, Simon finds an invitation to a new life and a call into Jesus’ ministry. Jesus uses the fish miracle as an object lesson to tell Simon Peter just what God’s will for him would be. And the second miracle of this lesson is Simon’s faith – his obedience to God in spite of his sinful self. The uneducated, impulsive, sinful Simon was to miraculously become Peter, the rock-man, whose confession of Jesus and whose apostolic ministry would become the rock upon which the Church was to be built.

No great storyteller: not O Henry nor Stephen King, not Shakespeare nor Dan Brown could have dreamed up a tale of fiction with such a surprise twist in the plot.

God is always doing the last thing we can imagine – which goes to show how little we really know him.

Notice in our Old Testament lesson how the Lord appears to Elijah in such an unexpected way. A wind gusts up that is so powerful that hunks of rock were peeled from the mountainside – and yet, the Lord was not present in this great and mighty wind. After this comes an earthquake, and though the ground shook and the plates beneath the surface of the earth scraped violently together in a frightening display of raw power – the Lord was not present in this earthquake. Next came a fire – and again, the Lord was not present in this attention-getting display of might. And then came a “still small voice.”

Who would ever expect the everlasting almighty King of the universe to be present in a whisper? But this is how God chooses to be present. For a whisper can do something that winds, earthquakes, and fire cannot do. A whisper puts forth a word – the very Word of God. For the power of God is not in the loud, the boisterous, the swaggering – but rather in the true. For when it is the Word of God, one little word, no matter how weakly uttered, is more powerful than the atomic blast of the sun or of all the military might of the worlds empires put together.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” St. John testifies. And that Word took flesh and lived among us. And the Word of God as recorded by Moses tells us that in the beginning, God created all things by speaking them into existence by that very same Word. This is the same Word that quietly calls Elijah and commissions him to preach the truth, the politically-incorrect truth, the truth that is getting prophets killed all over Israel. This is the very same Word that fills Simon’s empty net with fish in such a way as to reveal that this Man standing before Simon is none other than God himself.

The Word of God as found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in our epistle lesson also testifies to this unexpected way in which God works through his Word. St. Paul proclaims: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”

In the original Greek, it isn’t the “message” of the cross, but rather the “word of the cross.” Like that “still small voice” that speaks to Elijah, like the Word of Jesus who instructs Simon to cast his net, this proclamation of the cross is powerful - not by virtue of being loud, bombastic, or boisterous – but rather because it is the Word of God – whether amplified through a loudspeaker, or barely audible in a whisper.

The world observes the Word of God, the proclamation of the cross, and laughs. You Christians are foolish not only to non-believers, but also to other Christians. You gather here in this boxy little sanctuary and listen to a pastor in a pulpit. The pastor doesn’t wipe his brow, dance, scream, speak in words of gibberish, or walk around the sanctuary with a microphone. A preacher in silly old-fashioned robes stands in a pulpit and talks about the cross.

Instead of singing high-powered rock music with emotion-tugging choruses about how on fire we are for the Lord, you sing old-fashioned hymns that talk about the cross. Instead of seeing people get up out of wheelchairs, instead of dramatic direct revelations from God, instead of crowds of thousands of people – here you are reading a liturgy out of a book, making the sign of the cross, listening to Bible passages being read, and eating some bread and drinking some wine on your knees in front of a cross on an altar.

We are the laughingstocks of the world, even of the Christian world. We put our trust in an unimpressive ritual like baptism and are willing to tell our sins to a pastor so he can whisper words over us and sign us with the cross. And look around! There are only a few dozen folks here. We don’t have a state of the art TV studio, we don’t have thousands of people crowding into our church. Our congregation isn’t loaded with money, and your pastors aren’t flying back and forth on private jets visiting their numerous mansions. Politicians don’t get their pictures taken with us. Your pastors have no seven-step program for you to be healthy, wealthy, and living the good life.

But keep this firmly in mind, dear brothers and sisters – God’s presence does not depend on glamour and winsomeness, on wealth and a slick marketing package. Just because thousands of people will pack a stadium or a mega-church doesn’t mean God is there. For in all of the bombast Elijah witnessed, God was not there, but was rather to be found in the “still small voice.” God is present in his Word – which includes his sacraments. It is there, and there alone, that you will find God, hear him, and experience his presence. God has a track record of not working through great and mighty means, but rather simple and humble means – things that are ridiculed in this world. For as our epistle testifies: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Thousands of people are led astray by false prophets who use every means of technology and psychology to deceive and take advantage of the gullible. But you, dear children of God, have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit at your baptism to draw you to the true Word of God and to repulse you from the charlatan. God has given you Holy Scripture to arm you against these servants of the devil. The Good Shepherd has given to you minister-shepherds, to teach you, to feed and water you, to pray for you, and to defend you against the Satanic lion and greedy wolf, to lead you to the still waters of baptism and the green pastures of eternal life.

And even to this day, people seek signs and wisdom. People want to see showy miracles and they want to hear clever philosophy. The unsophisticated are taken in by the TV preacher’s vulgar displays of showmanship, and the sophisticated fall for the diabolical lies of so-called scholarship and conspiracy theories that deny the supernatural and seek to turn man into a god unto himself. “But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumblingblock” (literally, a scandal), “and to the Greeks foolishness. But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

For the incarnate Word of God is the ultimate surprise. For almighty God to be born of a human women, a poor, unmarried virgin, and to be completely helpless and vulnerable, to be a baby – is unthinkable. And for this God to suffer on a cross, to be tortured and put to death, to allow sinful men to bring him to shame – is likewise unfathomable. The very notion of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob dying as a criminal on a cross at the hands of an angry Jewish mob and under the brutality of a godless Roman tyrant is the very definition of foolishness by those who claim to have wisdom and sophistication.

And yet, this word of the cross is still proclaimed. Eternal life is still given out. The Gospel is still preached. The sacraments are still administered. And to us who are being saved, the word of the cross is the power of God. And so, “where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has God not made foolish the wisdom of this world?”

Thanks be to our crucified Lord, the one who speaks softly (and yet powerfully) to us the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. For we know that in Christ what appears to be weak is strong. We testify that what appears foolish is in fact wise. And we confess that in this foolishness and weakness, the sinful are made righteous, the mortal put on immortality, and the humble are exalted.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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