Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sermon: Trinity 5

22 June 2008 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.

God’s Word is most often a big disappointment. Imagine how the crowds on the shore of Lake Gennesaret must have felt, having gathered, in the words of the holy evangelist, “to hear the word of God.” This mighty prophet Jesus has come to say something profound, or to perhaps move mountains with His speech. Now, St. Luke does tell us almost after the fact that Jesus did teach the multitudes, but what does he actually record our Lord saying? What miracle would the people see on this day?

Luke reports that Jesus says: “Row out further and drop your nets.” That’s it. No moving mountains, no dead men walking, no stirring up of the Pharisees on this day. Thus says the Lord: “Put your net in the water.” This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

And instead of the lame walking and the blind seeing, we see the miracle of the successful fishing trip. Of course, Peter sees in a profound way what has just happened. This seemingly foolish preaching by Jesus, these seemingly insignificant words about fishing, had the power to call Peter to repentance: “Depart from me” he prays, “for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” And our Lord not only receives Peter’s confession and forgives him with those familiar words of absolution so often pronounced by Him who has power over all things in heaven and on earth: “Do not be afraid,” our Blessed Lord also gives Peter a new vocation as a preacher, one who would catch men in the net of the Gospel, using that same seemingly foolish Word of Jesus to draw men to repentance and everlasting life.

Of course, to the casual observer, this just looked silly. The preacher tells the fisherman to cast his net. The fisherman does what the preacher says. The fisherman catches some fish.

Where are the miracles? Where is the great philosophy?

This speech about throwing a net in the water is all foolishness. For to the Jew, as Paul tells us, these words of Jesus are silly. For they seek a sign, a wonder, a miracle. They want to speak in tongues, or handle snakes, see a guy in a wheelchair dance around, or watch the preacher blow on people and they fall down. To the Jews, these preachers are a dime a dozen, and they expect a good show.

And to the Greek, as Paul also tells us, this is still foolishness, for the Greeks want wisdom. They expect the preacher to be an Aristotle, a Homer, a Euclid, a Solon, or even an Archimedes.

But what does Jesus give them? Wisdom about fishing and a sign of His authority in the form of a command to toss a net. No magic and no oration, only the forgiveness of sins and the still, small voice of God, a voice, a word, a message that carries with it the power that called creation into being.

And those who reject God, those who want something more profound, the wisdom-seekers, the scribes, the disputers of this age, are not impressed with this kind of preaching, the preaching of the cross, for is all so much foolishness in the eyes of the world, and utterly juvenile waste of time. But to those who are called, those like Peter, James, John, and all Christians, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ Himself is “the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

A beautiful preview of our Lord Jesus’s preaching, of the way that preaching is received, and of the preachers who would preach this folly in the eyes of the world, is shown in our Old Testament lesson, in the person of the prophet Elijah.

God’s prophet was given a vision of raw power. In the wake of God walking by, Elijah saw a fierce wind that ripped boulders off a mountain. He saw the earth quake and rumble. And finally, he saw a devastating fire. And yet, God’s Word was not to be found in such awesome displays of might, displays the world would respect. Instead, the Word of God came to Elijah in something the world would mock: a “still small voice.”

The power of the Word of God is in the content, not in the delivery. The might of God’s Word lies in the fact that it is God’s Word, not in the mastery and bravado of the preacher. And Elijah was that preacher, and as a sign of his ministry, he wrapped his mantle around his face, not unlike the way a pastor wraps his stole over his shoulders.

And in spite of the fact that so many people did not want to hear the Word of God, in fact, at every turn, Elijah found people who wanted to kill him, he was nevertheless sent to preach. And not only that, but Elijah was to ordain a new preacher. For Elijah’s still small voice would not sound forth upon the earth forever. He was to hand off the mantle to Elisha, to figuratively place the stole around the neck of a new pastor, so that “still small voice,” that “message of the cross,” that Word of God – that fishes for men, calls to repentance, forgives sin, and gives everlasting life – might continue, in the still, small words of Jesus, “for the life of the world.”

For no matter what the unreceptive and unrepentant world thinks, no matter how disapproving those who do not believe are, no matter how small the remnant of those who have not bowed the knees to Baal, God’s “still small voice” continues to proclaim the scandal of the cross, the “foolishness of God” that is “wiser than men,” the “foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”

This is why the Lord came to Peter on that day at Gennesaret. He came not only to save him by His Word, but also to call him to likewise preach that word. It was our Lord Jesus who would be Elijah to Peter’s Elisha, and it would be St. Peter whom the Lord would give not a mantle, but rather the keys of the kingdom and the Holy Spirit, with the promise that “if you forgive anyone his sins they are forgiven, but if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” And Peter and all the apostles and their successors would use their own “still small voice” to proclaim the Word of God, to fish for men, to cast the net of the Gospel into the deep, and to pass along the mantle to each new generation of those called to preach the foolishness that redeems us, the cross that saves us, the very Jesus who gives us everlasting life.

May we have ears to hear this still small voice, hearts simple enough to receive this foolishness of God, and lips unafraid to confess this “folly” before the wise of this world. “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Amen.

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

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