SERMONS - JUNE 2021
6 June 2021 - Pentecost 2 - Mark 3:20-35
We usually do not look to Satan and his demonic hosts for an example that Christians should follow. But in today’s text from the Gospel according to St. Mark, there is a sense - a limited sense - in which we might do this.
With reference to our Lord’s casting out of unclean spirits, together with the other miracles he had been performing, some Jewish scribes asserted that Jesus was “possessed by Beelzebul,” and that it was “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” Christ responded in this way:
“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand.”
Jesus expected his detractors to know, at the very least, that Satan was smart enough and sly enough to understand the need, for himself and his minions, to stay “on task” in their self-appointed mission of opposing God, and of snatching away from God as many deluded human souls as they could.
Jesus expected the scribes to see that even the devil, as furious and enraged at God as he is, would still not deliberately work at cross-purposes to himself; and that the devil, as the prince of this fallen world, would not allow the fallen angels who followed him to do so either.
Those evil beings are joined together in a common purpose, and in a united effort. They cooperate in fulfilling their evil designs.
They are not a kingdom, or a house, that is divided against itself. Satan is their diabolical master. They obey him, as he coordinates their efforts.
The unity in purpose, and dedication to a common cause, that is evident in this supernatural demonic association, stands in marked contrast to the divisions and tensions that often exist in the human associations to which we belong: not only in our civil society, but also and most painfully in our families, and in our churches.
As far as the institution of the family is concerned, the kind of suspicions, disagreements, and uncharitable opinions that are reflected in Jesus’ family - as we get a glimpse of them in today’s text - can often be seen in our families.
We are told by St. Mark that when Jesus came back to his home after a preaching tour around the region, and when great crowds began to gather around him here too, his family “went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’”
There could be no harmony or peace in a family where one of its members was inaccurately thought to be insane, and was improperly treated as an insane person. In such a divided family, there would be no unity in purpose and affection.
And there are many other kinds of conflict that can cause disunity in a family. In our families, where we would hope to experience contentment and happiness, we are often afflicted instead by turmoil and stress: when those whom we love betray us, ignore us, or disappoint us in any number of ways; or when we, in our sinfulness, betray, ignore, and disappoint them.
Today’s lesson from the Book of Genesis reports that when sin corrupted our first parents in Eden, it also immediately corrupted their relationship. Adam did not take responsibility before God for his own failure to obey his creator, but instead he turned on his wife, and blamed her.
The Lord asked Adam: “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”
Original sin remains as a dark and dooming feature of the human race, passed on from generation to generation. Blame-casting and accusations also remain, as dark and dooming features of human marriage and family life.
When a family becomes dysfunctional because of such frictions and hostilities, it thereby becomes a house divided against itself. If these family relationships are not repaired and restored, that family will not be able to stand. It will fall.
And it can be just as bad, or worse, in a Christian congregation. On one occasion, as recorded by St. Matthew, Jesus told his disciples: “You have one teacher, and you are all brothers.”
Jesus, of course, is that one teacher in his church, and he teaches his people through the Holy Scriptures. But how often do his professed followers truly listen to him, and learn from him, as they should?
Churches are often torn apart by the pride and presumption of the clergy, of the laity, or of both. They are often poisoned by uncharitable and impatient attitudes among their members.
Factions oppose each other in selfish and uncaring ways. The voice of Christ in the church is ignored, and the true mission of the church is forgotten.
The larger world of Christendom, with the multitudinous departures from God’s Word that are evident in many denominations and church traditions, is already a kingdom divided against itself. But at the local level - even in congregations that should know better - carnal divisions also often arise, and bring ruin and destruction.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit no longer reign. The unholy trinity of the world, the flesh, and the devil now reign. When this happens, if those divisions are not repaired, these congregations cannot stand. They, too, will fall.
In today’s text from St. Mark, Jesus does show us, and give us, a way of healing and restoration: for our broken families, and for our broken congregations. It is the way of repentance and faith, and the way of divine forgiveness.
Jesus speaks very harshly against those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit, out of a hardened heart that attributes the workings of God’s Spirit to Satan. But there are also those who, in their human ignorance and weakness, may say wicked and foolish things regarding Jesus, and his words and deeds; and who themselves may do wicked and foolish things.
For them, this way of repentance and faith, and of forgiveness, is always open. Jesus says: “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.”
At least some of the members of the Ben-Joseph family of Nazareth had blasphemed against the Son of God in human flesh - that is, against their brother Jesus - when they told people that they thought he was “out of his mind.” Saying that God’s Son is crazy is, in itself, the sin of blasphemy - even if this sin was committed in ignorance.
But this sin will be forgiven them. This sin was forgiven them.
St. Paul tells us that Jesus made a special appearance to his brother James, after his resurrection. In the grace of Christ’s victory over death - for the sake of all humanity, and for the sake of the members of his own family - the criticisms, the uncharitable judgments, and the blasphemies, were forgiven.
The harmony, and unity of purpose, of Jesus’ family, was restored by the gospel. Jesus’ brothers never again thought that he was out of his mind.
But in time, the unbelievers around them no doubt thought that they were out of their minds, for believing now that their brother was actually much more than their brother; and for being willing to die for the sake of proclaiming that by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we can have life and hope, and the forgiveness of our sins.
James, the most prominent of Jesus’ brothers - who had become the chief pastor of the congregation in Jerusalem - was martyred in that city precisely for this reason, in the year 62 A.D.
Whatever pain and stress may be burdening your family now - and causing division within it - your family, too, can be healed by the resurrected Christ: who is here with you, in your struggles, and in your fears, to forgive you and to comfort you.
He is alive, and he is the bestower of a heavenly life, on all who look to him.
Jesus, from the right hand of God the Father, declares, “Behold, I am making all things new.” He can make all things new in your family, as the members of your family together trust in him, together receive his forgiveness, and together rediscover his love.
And this is what Jesus can and will do for a troubled and hurting congregation as well.
I am not aware of any serious problems of this nature in our congregation at the present time. But if such problems do ever develop in the future, or if it seems as if they might develop, I hope and pray that we will remember that we have one Teacher, and that we are all brothers.
In the New Testament, the church and its fellowship are often described in terms of a family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, adopted as children of God our heavenly Father, through the Spirit of his only begotten Son Jesus, who dwells within us.
And when we, as a Christian family, gather together in Christ’s name around the ministry of Word and Sacrament, we gather to be instructed in what God’s will for us is, and to allow our wills to be transformed and reshaped according to his will.
Jesus says in today’s text: “Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” And what is the will of God for us? In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus says:
“This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
St. Paul writes in his First Epistle to the Thessalonians:
“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”
“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
St. Peter, in his First Epistle, adds this:
“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God.”
And St. John, in his First Epistle, gives us this final thought:
“The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
The Small Catechism summarizes all of this very nicely in its teaching that “God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil counsel and will, which would not let us hallow His name nor let His kingdom come, such as the will of the devil, the world and our own flesh; but strengthens and keeps us steadfast in His Word and in faith until our end. This is His good and gracious will.”
None of this can be done in our human strength, of course. “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” as St. Paul teaches us in his Epistle to the Philippians. But God does work.
God was at work in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. God is at work in the means of grace, offering and giving to you his pardon and peace, whenever the message of his Son’s atoning sacrifice is proclaimed and applied, in sermon and in Supper.
God is at work in you - in your heart and mind - giving you the faith by which you receive this message, and receive him.
And God is at work in you and through you, making your faith fruitful: in relationships with fellow Christians that are characterized by harmony and unity of purpose; by a mutual commitment to the authority, doctrine, and calling of God; and by a mutual living out - among ourselves - of the compassion and kindness of God.
Jesus is not ashamed to claim us as his family - as his own beloved brothers and sisters - even though we are still weak in our faith toward him; and even though we do often falter in our love toward one another. Yet even in our weakness, Jesus looks at us, and loves us, through the lens of his justifying grace.
St. Mark tells us today that as Jesus looked about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
So too does Jesus look about at those who are seated around him here - around his Word and Sacrament, through which he is present among us in this place. And he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers!”
Jesus looks at you. Jesus sees you according to what his gospel has made you to be: washed clean by his blood, and covered with the garment of his righteousness. And Jesus says to you: “You are my brother, and my sister.”
The presence and promise of Christ truly can, and does, set us free from our conflicts and controversies, our striving and antagonism, our callousness and indifference. Jesus puts his people on a different path, and on a better path.
Through the gospel, and through the healing and restoring power of his Word, we are not a kingdom that is divided against itself. Through the gospel, and through the truth and clarity of his Word, we are not a house that is falling.
We are not divided, All one body we,
One in hope and doctrine, One in charity.
And we implore you, almighty God, that of your mercy you would strengthen us: in faith toward you, and in fervent love toward one another, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.
13 June 2021 - Pentecost 3 - Mark 4:26-34
In today’s Gospel from St. Mark, Jesus speaks this parable:
“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
A man scattering seed on the ground represents the spreading of the message of salvation in Christ, all across the world. St. Peter, who was present when Jesus told this parable, explains this to us in his First Epistle:
“Love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”
As a rule, people enjoy listening to an engaging and well-prepared speaker, and they usually shy away from a boring and disorganized speaker. This pertains to what goes on in church, too.
Pastors - through laziness and poor preparation - should not make it difficult for people to pay attention to them when they preach. It is a sign of disrespect for God’s Word, in fact, if a minister presumes to deliver his sermon carelessly and thoughtlessly.
But it is not the wittiness or eloquence of the pastor that make his preaching of the gospel to be powerful and effective. His message is powerful, in itself, if it is an accurate summary and application of the message of Scripture.
If his message is effective, and has a spiritual impact on people, it is because the Holy Spirit, from within the message itself, has supernaturally impressed himself and his truth onto the minds and hearts of those who are listening.
Some preachers are more reserved and soft-spoken. Some preachers are more exuberant and dramatic. Both kinds of preachers can serve their flocks faithfully, if the content of their preaching is sound.
The full forgiving and saving power of God’s Word is present and active in all cases where a preacher is a faithful sower of the seed of God’s Word. And that’s because God’s forgiveness and salvation in Christ reside in the seed that he plants in the souls of his listeners, and not in his particular method or technique of planting the seed.
This is also why lay Christians can be confident in their ability to help in fulfilling the great commission, even if they are not trained to be teachers in the church, or are not professional communicators. Whenever you privately share the message of Christ with your neighbor, you too are a servant of God, in planting the seed of God’s kingdom into the life of your neighbor.
Christians often hesitate to speak of spiritual matters with others, because they don’t think they have the skill or ability to participate in a deep discussion of theological topics. But even if that is the case, it doesn’t really matter.
When you tell your friend - in the words of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans - that “all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” something supernatural happens. A seed from God - which has its own life within it - has been planted.
And if your friend might get a little defensive when you speak to him of matters pertaining to his soul and his eternal destiny, and he asks you with a bit of an agitated tone, “Are you trying to convert me?,” you can answer honestly that you are not.
Nothing that flows forth from you - from your personality and style - can make a spiritually dead person come to life. If your friend does ruminate on what you said, and eventually is won over to believing it, it won’t be because of your rhetorical technique, or the persuasive energy you had put into the delivery of the message.
It will be because of the objective content of the message itself. The power and divine life that reside in the seed of God’s Word are what create faith, whenever faith is created. This is why St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Romans:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes...”
So, as a Christian who is called by your Lord to confess him before men, you have done your duty when you declare to the people you know what you believe to be true about the person and work of Christ, about God’s grace and redemption of fallen humanity, and about the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that God offers to all.
It is not you duty to try to make them believe it too. That’s what the Holy Spirit does, through the gospel itself.
Sometimes people believe the gospel in the first moment they hear it. Sometimes the gospel lodges itself in their memory, and works on them from the inside for years, before it sprouts, and they believe it. But in each case, it is the objective truth of the gospel - the potent seed of the kingdom of God - that produces faith, and the fruits of faith.
It is not only the message of grace and forgiveness in Jesus that has this kind of supernatural power, though. The kingdom of God is not spread by a God-given faith in the gospel, until a God-given repentance has been worked in people by the law of God - which comes before, and does its necessary preparatory work of showing people their need for the gospel.
Human persuasion can sometimes make people feel guilty and remorseful for the improper things they have done - ashamed that they got caught in their misdeeds, and fearful of the consequences of their misdeeds. We can each probably think of certain people in our family who are particularly good at making us feel guilty about things in this way.
But true repentance and conviction of sin before God - with an awareness of the damnable nature of all sin - is worked in us only by the Holy Spirit, through the message of the divine law.
The Smalcald Articles explain this. We read there:
“The foremost office or power of the law, is that it reveals inherited sin and its fruits. It shows human beings into what utter depths their nature has fallen, and how completely corrupt it is. ... This is something that they would not have believed before, without the law. Thus they are terrified, humbled, despondent, and despairing. They anxiously desire help, but do not know where to find it.”
But, “our help is in the name of the Lord.” Our help is in the Word of the gospel: the supernatural seed of God that he plants in a penitent and troubled soul, to reveal and apply to heart and mind the saving truth of his Son’s death and resurrection in our stead - which reconciles him to us, and us to him.
Regarding the law, a pastor - as a “spiritual father” - is called to do something that literal parents also often do with their children. As God’s representative and mouthpiece, a pastor preaches to his congregation, in effect, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
The force and authority of the law that I preach against your sins, and against the sins of the world in which you live, do not arise from my holiness and obedience. The law of God convicts me, too - even as I preach it - of my lack of holiness and obedience.
And that’s because the force and authority of the law reside in the law itself. The law, too, is like a seed, that contains within itself the power to produce what God wants it to produce - that is, to convict, and drive to repentance, all people in whom it is planted.
If a fellow Christian shares a rebuke or a warning from God’s law with you, regarding a certain sin or sinful pattern that has become a part of your life, your first reaction may be to ask: “Who do you think you are, to be criticizing me? You’re no better than I am!”
And you would no doubt be correct, that your friend who is warning you of the spiritual danger you have gotten yourself into, is no better than you are. But it’s all beside the point. The personal imperfections of a speaker of the law do not nullify or discredit the perfection of the law that he speaks.
The Large Catechism teaches us that “the authorities, fathers and mothers, and even brothers and sisters and other good friends, are under a mutual obligation to reprove evil wherever it is necessary and helpful.”
When your friend reproves you, he is simply doing his duty before God, in the fear of God, as a sower of seed; just as you are, when - on other occasions - it is necessary for you to reprove your friend.
The law of God always has the same convicting and curbing power, regardless of who speaks it. It is like the seed of the gospel in this respect. It’s power and authority are within itself, and do not come from the person who plants it.
And the reason why God puts his law into our conscience - to make us admit both our shortcomings and our transgressions - is not because he enjoys inflicting guilt on people. He does inflict guilt, but not as an end in itself.
He convicts us, so that he can convert us. He lays us low, so that he can raise us up. He implants the bad news of our sinfulness into our minds and hearts, so that we will recognize and appreciate the good news of our redemption from sin for what it is, as that good news is then implanted in us too.
St. James accordingly exhorts us in his Epistle to “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness, and receive - with meekness - the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
Of course, not everyone who hears God’s Word, does receive it. On one occasion, as St. John’s Gospel records it, Jesus admonished some of his angry Jewish opponents by telling them:
“I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.”
But when his Word does find a place in us, and is implanted in us, it unfolds and blossoms into a life of piety and peace that is continually fed and renewed by the transforming power that resides in this Word, and that continually flows out from this Word.
And so we read in St. John’s First Epistle: “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”
God’s Word, and the Spirit of God who lives and works through his Word, teach and lead us in heart and mind to believe and rest in Christ for forgiveness and salvation, and to confess his name joyfully before others. St. Paul writes to the Romans:
“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
God’s Word, and the Spirit of God who lives and works through his Word, also teach and lead us in heart and mind to pray confidently, to trust in God for the things we need from him according to his will, and to bear the fruit of his Spirit in lives of love and service. Jesus says in John’s Gospel:
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.”
And finally, according to the sacramental faith that God has revealed to us; and within the specific sacrament that Jesus has instituted for us, we can see yet another way in which God supernaturally puts a seed of life into us, which according to his good pleasure will someday germinate and burst forth.
The second-century church father St. Irenaeus explains how the now-resurrected body and blood of Christ are also like a seed that is planted in our bodies, and that will, on the Last Day, transform and enliven our bodies with the power and life of Christ’s resurrection. Irenaeus writes:
“When the chalice...and the bread...receive the word of God, the eucharistic elements become the body and blood of Christ, by which our bodies live and grow. ...”
“The slip of a vine planted in the ground bears fruit at the proper time. The grain of wheat falls into the ground and decays, only to be raised up again and multiplied...”
“In the same way, our bodies, which have been nourished by the eucharist, will be buried in the earth and will decay, but they will rise again at the appointed time, for the Word of God will raise them up to the glory of God the Father. Then the Father will clothe our mortal nature in immortality, and freely endow our corruptible nature with incorruptibility...”
Indeed, as Jesus says at the conclusion of today’s parable: “When the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” The day of resurrection will be the day of harvest for God.
The seed of God’s regenerating Word that was planted in God’s saints, nurtured throughout their earthly lives by his grace and forgiveness, will produce at the end of this world a full and immortal life that will never end.
It’s all about the divine seed, not the human sower. It’s all about the divine message, not the human messenger. It’s all about Christ, and the Spirit of Christ, as God himself, through the means of grace, builds up his kingdom within us, and among us.
“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows.” Amen.
20 June 2021 - Pentecost 4 - Mark 4:35-41
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” That exasperated declaration was spoken by the disciples in the midst of a driving storm on the sea of Galilee, out of a very deep fear.
But the fact that Jesus was calm and unafraid didn’t mean that he didn’t care about them. It simply meant that he knew more than they did.
And one of the things he knew - which they apparently did not know - was that he was in charge of everything that was happening, and that they would be safe as long as he was around.
It’s easy for us to sit in judgment on the disciples, and on their lack of faith, because from our vantage point we know how it all turned out. We know that Jesus did end up taking care of them and protecting them from the storm.
The disciples, in their fishing boat on the stormy seas, actually had no reason to be afraid, because Jesus was with them. They didn’t realize it at the time, but they realized it later.
And we realize it now, as we read this account. Or do we?
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” That might not be exactly how you would word it, but I’m quite sure there have been times in your life when you have said or thought something like this.
At those times in life when mortal danger is crowding in around us, or around those we love, we may very well begin to wonder where God is in all of it.
Last Sunday the epistle lesson from Second Corinthians taught us: We walk by faith, and not by sight. But when you are clearly able to see the threats that surround you, but you can’t actually see Jesus, you might begin to think that Jesus is not there - that he has abandoned you.
And I’m not just talking about threats that come to us from the outside. A lot of people deal with inner turmoil. They struggle with depression, with addiction, with debilitating health conditions.
Things like this wear us down, and discourage us. And they sometimes make us feel very alone.
In such loneliness, it’s easy to feel that nobody else really understands us, or knows what we’re going through. And in such loneliness, it can seem that Jesus is not doing anything about our problem, either.
Oh, we don’t necessarily think that he is contributing toward our pain. But it may feel as if he is ignoring us. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
And the worst, and most frightening storms that we experience, are the storms that rage in our conscience. When the disciples in today’s text were out in the middle of the storm, they felt for a time as if they were going to perish, and that there was nothing they could do to prevent it.
Your conscience tells you the same thing, when you become aware of two important facts: That God is pure and holy, and cannot ignore and tolerate the corruption and rebellion of sin; and that you have sinned against God - wilfully and deliberately - and have thereby called down upon yourself his just judgment.
King David was acutely aware of these frightening truths. In Psalm 88 he expressed this awareness in these words, addressed in a trembling prayer to the righteous God whom he knew his sins had offended:
“For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.”
“You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves.”
You overwhelm me with all your waves. That imagery sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The events on the Sea of Galilee described in today’s text, at the deepest level, serve as an illustration of the judgment of God against human sin.
As rebellious sinners who have defied God and his goodness, we have thereby placed our souls in a small, fragile “boat,” as it were - a “boat” that will not survive the Lord’s anger, but will be dashed to pieces by the waves of divine wrath - that is, unless someone who can save us intervenes, and prevents this from happening.
And this, my friends, is one of the deepest mysteries of who God is, and what God is like: it is God himself who intervenes, and who saves us from the storms of his own punishment.
According to his holiness, God cannot ignore sin. It offends him to the depth of his being.
But according to his love, God cannot ignore the fact that he created the human race in his own image, for the purpose of enjoying eternal fellowship with him. And so, God himself, in the person of his Son, entered into his beloved creation, and became a man.
As a man, he himself redeemed fallen humanity, and offered an atoning sacrifice for those whom he so deeply loved. In Christ, God placed himself between us and his own wrath.
He absorbed into himself all the raging storms of his own divine holiness. He deflects away from us the crashing waves of divine punishment, so that those waves will not destroy us.
In today’s text, the disciples, in their amazement, wonder out loud: “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” Who this is, is the eternal Son of God in human flesh!
He calms the storm that threatens us, and stills the waves that are crashing over us. That’s another way of saying that Jesus reveals to our conscience a God who forgives, and who does not only condemn.
Jesus reveals to our conscience a God who does not want to punish us, as our sins deserve, and who has therefore found a way to save us from our sins, and to cause us to be reconciled to him. St. John Chrysostom said it in this way: “His advent arrested the wrath of God, and caused us to live by faith.”
Ah, yes: “faith.” Jesus gently rebuked the disciples in today’s text because of their lack of faith.
He said to them: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And perhaps he needs to speak this gentle rebuke to us, too.
If you are afraid of the storms of this dangerous world that swirl around you, or if you are afraid of the storms of human suffering that well up within you, know, my friends, that Jesus is indeed in the “boat” with you.
The Lord has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And he has kept that promise. You will never face any threat or challenge alone.
In Christ, God is with you every step of the way. He is carrying you through every storm. He is bearing you up in the face of every crashing wave.
And when your conscience tells you that the storm of God’s wrath is bearing upon you, and that the waves of his judgment are on the verge of crashing into you, and crushing and swamping you, your first reaction should indeed be to admit that this is in fact what you deserve.
Your sins are not a small matter. They do stir up the anger and displeasure of almighty God. But then, immediately after this penitential honesty, please make sure you turn around, and by faith look and see that Jesus is actually in the boat with you already!
He united himself to you in your baptism. In your baptism, he brought you under the protection of his cross, where your sins were paid for. In your baptism, as the living, resurrected Savior, he came “on board,” and climbed into the boat with you.
And he remains as a part of your life, covering you with his righteousness, and turning away God’s wrath forever.
In today’s text, Jesus said to the sea: “Peace! Be still!” As often as he needs to do it, he still causes the storm to be at peace, and commands the waves to be still, in the forgiveness and reconciliation that are declared to you in the gospel in general, and in his Holy Supper in particular.
When Jesus says, “Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you,” he is speaking a word of peace, for the sake of your salvation. St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Colossians:
“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”
When Jesus says, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins,” he is speaking a word of stillness, for the soothing and healing of your heart. St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Romans:
“Since...we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
What the body and blood of Jesus did for you sacrificially on the cross, and what the body and blood of Jesus do for you sacramentally in Holy Communion, is wrapped up and declared to you, in the Lord’s Supper rite, in this simple yet profound declaration:
“The peace of the Lord be with you always.”
And then, with these powerful words of peace reverberating in your ears and in your heart, you receive Christ, your guardian and protector, as he comes to you in the bread and wine.
And when you receive him, you receive his gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Your fears are calmed, and your weak faith is renewed and strengthened.
And so, whenever you sense that you may be on the verge of perishing; whenever you feel that you are sinking in the stormy seas of worldly threats, inner discouragements, or the guilt of a troubled conscience; remember, and never forget, that Jesus is with you in the boat!
In the darkest hours of your human fear and weakness, he may seem to be sleeping, and indifferent to what you are going through. But he never is. He does care that you are perishing - or that you seem to be perishing. And he does something about it!
He is the eternal Son of God, who in his divine majesty and power never slumbers. He is always in charge of what is going on, and he always knows what he is doing.
And what he is doing, is saving you from these threats and fears:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Jesus, Lover of my soul, Let me to Thy bosom fly
While the nearer waters roll, While the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide, Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide. Oh, receive my soul at last! Amen.