Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sermon: Trinity 5

8 July 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 5:1-11 (1 Kings 19:11-21, 1 Cor 1:18-25)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our epistle reading speaks of power. Everyone understands power. It’s what makes electrical things go when you plug them into the wall. Power can also be understood as ability – a paralyzed person doesn’t have the power to move his legs. But most often we understand power as being in the position to lord over another person.

Wealthy people have power by being able to dangle money under the noses of politicians. Celebrities have power by having access to the news media and by wielding influence over their admirers. A criminal with a gun has power over his victims by having the control of life and death over them.

Most people seek power. Nobody likes to be powerless. We all know the corrupting influence of power, as Lord Acton said: “Absolute power corrupts, absolutely.” Julius Caesar was assassinated by men fearful that he was taking all power unto himself. The founders of the United States knew that power concentrated into too few hands could result in misuse of power.

Obviously, God has all the power in the universe. As Jesus told Pontius Pilate at His trial, even mighty worldly government officials have no power unless it is delegated to them by God.

As sinners, there are times when we need to see God flex His muscles. Pharaoh, who thought he was god, was made powerless in the face of the ten plagues. The only power Pharaoh had in that position was the power to repent. And even then, we are told the Lord hardened his heart, and his power to repent was taken away from him.

Jesus chastised his listeners more than once for demanding signs. They wanted to see Jesus’ credentials by a show of power.

But they didn’t realize what they were asking for.

God’s power is different than any other power on earth. Government power is compulsion. If you don’t obey, you will be forced to – even if you have to be shackled and put into a cage. The power of celebrity is an appeal to our own hollow vanity. The only power LeBron James or Paris Hilton have in making us buy certain products or influencing the way we speak is our own desire to be fawned over the way they are.

God’s power is different.

God wants us to be as He designed us and intended us to be: perfect, without sin, loving, willing to lay down our lives for others, content with a godly vocation, virtuous, set apart from the world, and in perfect communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While He could simply get us from point A to point B by sheer force, compulsion, a raw display of shock and awe – He instead gives us freedom – freedom we abuse. In our freedom, we worship other gods. In our freedom, we serve ourselves instead of our neighbors. In our freedom we hoard what he has given us to share. In our freedom we misuse his gifts and twist them into that which they were never intended to be.

Those who mock the Christian faith look at us pathetic Christians, so full of shortcomings, unable to carry out the most basic tasks given us by God, and they jeer: “Where is your God now?”

What these mockers don’t realize is that when they say this, they are quoting God. For the Lord Himself told us they would say these very words three thousand years ago through King David in Psalm 42.

The power of God is in the Word of God. God doesn’t operate by compulsion or by appeals to our vanity. God simply speaks, and reality happens. “Let there be Light,” He says, “and there was light.” The Word of God doesn’t appear powerful because it doesn’t huff and puff and pose and threaten. The world mocks because the Word of God appears weak. Paul, in our epistle, tells us the “Word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”

God operates by declaring things to be so. He declares you to be saints. He declares me to be His messenger. He declares our sins forgiven. He declares the Church to be holy. He declares Satan to be defeated. He declares that He will come back at the end of time to recreate the universe anew. The world looks at us and laughs. Instead of seeing mighty deeds, they see words in a book that they are free to ignore. Instead of armies of men with guns forcing them to comply with God’s law, they see preachers that appear to be unarmed and lacking any authority over them at all. They see evil seemingly running unchecked. They see the Church weak and full of flaws. And yet, the Word of God does what it says. It does so quite often without fanfare. Some people get it, while most do not.

In our Gospel reading, Peter got it. He saw Jesus, by uttering a few simple words, create a miracle of a great catch of fish. Jesus didn’t make the earth stop, or turn the fish into giant squids, or unleash the power of the atom – rather He told Peter where to cast His net, and provided for the daily needs of these men. But the Word of Jesus did something else – it drove Peter to repentance: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” While others witnessed Jesus’ great miracles – such as the feeding of the 5,000 – and responded by saying: “Let’s harness this power” and “what’s in it for me,” Peter responded by acknowledging his sin in the presence of the powerful God.

However, the powerful Word of Jesus did not leave Peter in a state of despair over his sins. For notice how our Lord again uses His Word to create reality: “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” He removed the source of Peter’s fear by absolving Peter of His sins, and additionally told Peter that he would preach the Gospel as a called and ordained servant of the Word.

That, my dear brothers and sisters, is the power of the Word of God.

Some who witnessed this exchange may have mocked Peter. They may have boisterously shouted out for Jesus to do more tricks. But what was really happening was the softly-spoken Word of God working powerfully upon one who was being saved. As Jesus is offering this gift, where are the smart-alecs? Where are the know-it-alls? Where are the clever debaters and mockers? They want displays of power as the world knows it. They seek special wisdom. But Jesus doesn’t give them these things. Rather he gives the world the Gospel, the “word of the cross” that the world considers foolishness. And “we preach Christ crucified” which most people in the world do not get. But once again, to those being saved, those about whom Jesus speaks of being caught in St. Peter’s net – the power of God to save, to forgive, to create anew, is at work. And it is mighty and powerful.

In our Old Testament lesson, the prophet Elijah was shown the true power of the Word of God. But first, he is shown the mighty rushing wind that is so fierce – and has the power to rip up houses and blow down levees and to destroy lives. But it is not the Word of God. In fact, it is nothing compared to the Word of God. Next he is shown earthquakes and fires. And though terrible in the force they exert over man and beast, are again of no consequence next to God’s Word. Finally, Elijah heard the Word of God in a “still, small voice.” For while these other loud noises and boisterous displays can tear down and destroy, only the “still, small voice” of the almighty Creator can convict the sinner of sin, bring the erring to repentance, save the lost, forgive us our trespasses, empower us to forgive others of their trespasses, provide fish to the fisherman, give us our daily bread, and make preachers able to catch men in the net of the Gospel.

In the Kingdom of God, power lies not in armies, wealth, or the ability to control others. Rather the boundless power of God is found in the Word of the cross and of the preaching of Christ crucified unto everlasting life, even as the “still small voice” proclaims, “I forgive you all your sins:

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

1 comment:

prayer2005 said...

Thanks for the Gospel, Larry.

Michael Frese
US Army Chaplain
Heidelberg, Germany