Fishing with the Word

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity based on Luke 5:1 – 11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Peter knew how to fish. It was his life’s work. Through years of experience he and his partners knew where to fish, how to fish, and when to fish. But on this night, they had fished all night and caught nothing.

Jesus told Peter to go out into the deep and let down their nets. Simon Peter answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” Since Jesus said it, Peter did it.

The result of Jesus’ Word was that the nets got filled with fish. They got filled to the point that they were breaking. Help was needed from the other boat to haul in the catch. And even so, the boats were so full that they began to sink.

But Jesus wasn’t giving Peter a fishing lesson. Jesus wasn’t teaching him a better time of day to fish or a better location to fish. Jesus was teaching Peter the power of His Word. At Jesus’ Word, the nets were filled with fish to the point that they were breaking. What these fishing experts would have least expected to be successful, was extremely successful. In fact, it could not have been more successful without completely breaking the nets and leaving the boats at the bottom of the lake. And that would be no success at all.

And then, Jesus called Simon Peter to follow Him saying, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Again, Jesus wasn’t teaching Peter to fish. He was teaching Peter to catch men. Peter would be sent out as an apostle to fish for men. But how? With what? That’s what Jesus was teaching Peter. The power to fish for men is Jesus’ Word. That is the Word Peter was to preach.

Preaching is in some ways like fishing. Sometimes we’ve fished all night and caught nothing. We might be tempted to change our fishing strategy. Let’s use bigger nets. Let’s get bigger boats. Let’s use some new lures. This might work for fish, but it doesn’t work in the church.

In the church it sounds like this: Let’s add more razzle dazzle to our Sunday mornings. Let’s get rid of the liturgy and the liturgist and get some entertainment. Let’s get some catchy beats and a great big screen. Let’s get a band that uplifts the mood. Let’s not preach the Law that kills or the Gospel that makes alive, instead let’s talk about things that make us feel good about ourselves – that’s what people really want to hear.

But this is all wrong. The focus with all of this is on us and what we do. It completely ignores the power of Christ’s Word. We don’t need attractions to draw people into the church. The power is in the Word of God.

Sometimes to us, it might not feel so powerful. There are many congregations that are shrinking. Some are closing. All are struggling in one way or another. The question is: Is God’s Word being preached in its truth and purity? If so, then it is being done right, and we wait patiently. God will provide the catch. We should not get impatient and desire to find a new fishing strategy. If we start to try and draw people in through attractions and entertainment, then we are no longer bringing people into the church, but rather into an entertainment venue that cannot compete with other forms of entertainment.

But we have the Word of God; the Word of power. St. Paul writes, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).” This Word is folly; it is foolishness to the world. It is the foolishness of dropping your nets into the deep after having fished all night and catching nothing.

To those who are perishing, the Word of forgiveness is foolishness. Those who are perishing look for what is attractive and successful. What’s attractive and successful about a church that is greying and shrinking? What’s attractive about pouring water over the head of an infant? What’s attractive about a little wafer of bread and a sip of wine? To those who are perishing, these are foolishness; they are utter nonsense.

In the ancient world, the cross was shameful and offensive. Only criminals and disobedient slaves were crucified. Yet the cross is the centrepiece of the Christian Church. God’s Son came to earth in order to be charged as a criminal. God’s Son was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver – the price of a slave. Christ took the form of a slave and died as a criminal – for you! This is foolishness to those who are perishing.

But to you who are being saved, the word of the cross is the power of God – the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). God’s Word has the power to save because it does what it says it will do. When God says I make you my child in Baptism, then you are His child. When God says He forgives your sins through the word of Absolution, then you are forgiven. When He says, “Take eat, this is my body,” and, “Take drink, this is my blood for the forgiveness of all your sins,” then you are forgiven, because God’s Word does what it says it will do.

Peter was called to preach that folly, that foolishness; the foolishness of the cross. Because the word of the cross is the power of God unto salvation. There is no power for salvation in entertainment or in razzle dazzle. There is no power for salvation in our ideas, bright or dim – none of those can save a single soul. There is power only in the word of the cross.

And our witness to the world is then through the world calling us fools. We are considered fools by the world for trusting in God for every need of body and soul, whether rich or poor, whether in joy or grief. We are considered fools for relying on the Word of Christ. But as St. Paul writes, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world (1 Cor. 1:20)?” “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor. 1:27 – 29).”

The world can think the word of the cross is foolishness, but it is the word of the cross that saves from hell. The Word that filled Peter’s nets with fish is the same Word through which the universe was created, and it is the same Word by which you were baptized, and by which you are absolved and communed.

At Jesus’ Word, we do what He has instructed us to do, knowing that His powerful Word has caught us in the nets of His Church and will bring us safely to our eternal home. His Word will do it all, so we cling to it and trust it to do what Jesus has promised us it will do. His Word will save us eternally. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Word of God

Sermon for Judica based on John 8:46-59

Dear hearers of the Word of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Speaking to the Jews, Jesus addressed Himself with the divine name, “I AM.” This is the name God revealed to Moses in the burning bush. Moses asked God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM who I AM.” And He said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex. 3:13-14) Jesus said to the Jews, “Before Abraham came to be or was born, I AM.”

There never was a time that God the Son did not exist. He never came into being. He is eternal. Before Abraham was born, He is. He always has been. He always is. He always will be. He is the eternal God worthy to be held in reverence by all people everywhere.

Instead of bowing down to worship Him, the Jews picked up stones to kill Him. The hostility of the Jews toward Jesus increased until it culminated in His crucifixion on Good Friday.

We see that it is nothing new to claim to be a believer, but to actually be a child of the devil. These Jews claimed to be God’s people, children of Abraham, disciples of Moses, and children of the kingdom of heaven. But here Christ says that they are ungodly people, rebellious children, disobedient disciples, and children of damnation, for they followed neither Abraham nor Moses, but their father the devil (Spangenberg).

Children of God hear God’s Word, receive it with a believing heart, and conform their lives to it. Children of the devil cannot hear God’s Word. They reject it with a hard heart and do not conform their lives to it. They may appear godly and holy before men, but they are bound for the depths of hell. They may be nice and friendly and cheerful, but when they hear the Word of God which convicts them of sin, instead of repenting, they get angry and hostile to God’s Word and to the messenger speaking it.

Such hostile people, filled with hatred and spite, wrath and fury oppose Jesus’ Word. It only makes sense that such stony and stubborn hearts would pick up stones to kill Jesus and crucify Him not much later.

It is a very common thing to claim to love God and yet oppose His Word. They essentially say: “I love God but I don’t like what He says about this or that topic. I am a Christian, but I reject what God has revealed about Himself in His Word. I believe in God, but not what the Bible says about sin.” This is nothing other than creating a god in your own image and rejected the true God. It is creating an idol, a cult, a false religion.

Jesus says to them concerning God the Father, “You say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known Him. I know Him. If I were to say that I do not know Him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know Him and I keep His Word.”

You cannot know God apart from His Word. God does not speak to you apart from His Word. Faith does not exist apart from the Word of God. God’s Word is the difference between truth and lies, between faith and unbelief, between life and death.

Thus Jesus says, “If anyone keeps my Word, he will never see death.” This means that those who claim to love Jesus but reject His Word will see eternal death. Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’.” (Matt. 7:21-23)

Cling to the Word of God and you will never see death. Hear God’s Word, receive it with a believing heart, and conform your life to it.

This does not mean that we will not die from this life. We will die from this life, but it will be a slumber and a departure in peace from which Christ will awaken us to live forever. Clinging to the Word of God means that we will not die eternally, but will live forever in the joys of Paradise.

How can words have such power? How is the Bible so powerful? It is because it is God’s Word. The same Word with which He created the heavens and the earth. The same Word which commands the wind and the waves, and life and death. The same Word which became flesh and dwelt among us.

Only in the Bible do we learn of the peace God’s Son won for us by His suffering and death. This is the Gospel that has the power of God to save (Rom. 1:16). It saves us because it tells us that we are not left by God in our sin. We are not left on our own to face the accusations of our conscience, of the Law, and of the devil. Christ Jesus has taken all those accusations and died for them.

Jesus asked the Jews, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” He asked this to show that they had no accusations against Him. They could not convict Him of sin. He lived a perfect life of obedience to the Law of God. Yet, on the cross, He was found guilty of our offences. Our lust, our greed, our laziness, our indifference was charged to Jesus. He who never sinned was charged with all our sins and all the sins of the whole world.

This is the power of the Gospel. It lifts you up from despair. You need not fear punishment for your sins. You need not fear Judgment Day. You need not fear hell. Christ our Lord has conquered sin, death, and the grave. He had barred the gates of hell for all those who cling to His Word.

The eternal Son of God has sent His eternal Gospel into all the world so that everyone who believes in Him will be saved. He is the great I AM who has always been opposed by the world and who has always been loved by His children who hear His Word and keep it.

Cling to the Word of God and you will never see death. Hear God’s Word, receive it with a believing heart, and conform your life to it. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Truth Sets You Free

Sermon for Reformation Day based on John 8:31-36

Dear sons of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Truth, even in the church, seems to be in short supply. There are thousands of different denominations in the world, all of which teach what they say is truth. There are dozens of churches with the name Lutheran, which teach conflicting doctrine, but all claim they are teaching the truth. Within our own confession, Lutheran Church-Canada, we have conflicting doctrines being taught in various places, and everyone claims to be teaching the truth.

It is easy to become indifferent about doctrine. It is easy to stop caring about what is true and what is not. It’s easy to give up and say, “Hey, there’s only one God, we’re all worshiping Him, so don’t worry about the details.” It’s easy to throw the hands up and say, “At least my children are going to some church.” It is easy to be frustrated and say, “If pastors who are supposed to know this stuff can’t agree, what point is there for me to even concern myself with it?”

Jesus answers this question by saying, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Concern yourself with and care about the truth, because the truth will set you free.

Free from what? Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” You are a slave to as many masters as you have vices. You cannot set yourself free from sin. You cannot set yourself free from sin because sin is stronger than you are. You cannot simply choose the good and avoid the evil. You do not have free will. It sounds good, but it’s not true. Your flesh is corrupted by sin and has every sinful inclination. How do you know this? Because that’s what God’s Word teaches. We heard in our epistle lesson that God’s Law finds all of us guilty so that every mouth is stopped, and we are all held accountable to God.

Only the truth will set you free. What truth is that? The truth that if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Only if the Son sets you free from sin, will you be free. Only if the Son sets you free from death and from the power of the devil, will you be free.

The Son has set you free from sin. He fulfilled your obligations under the Law that you are unable to do, and He did them. He fulfilled the Law for you in thought, word, and deed. He took your sin onto Himself and took your guilt, your shame, your punishment. He has thus set you free from sin.

The Son has set you free from death. He suffered and died for you, so that you will not die eternally, but will live eternally. His cross meant suffering and death for Him, but eternal life for you. He has thus set you free from death.

The Son has set you free from the power of the devil. When He ascended into heaven, He threw Satan down so that he cannot stand before God’s throne to accuse you of your sin day and night (Rev. 12:7-12). His mouth has been stopped. Hebrews two tells us that through His death, the Son has destroyed the one who has power over death, that is the devil, and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (2:14-15). Thus, you are not a slave, but a son. The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever. Thus, you will remain forever with God as a son, and the Son, Jesus Christ, has set you free from the power of the devil.

This is the truth that sets you free. This is the truth that incited the Reformation; the truth which Luther taught and for which he was willing to die by the hand of the pope.

But we don’t believe this because Luther taught this. We don’t believe it because we were raised in the Lutheran church or because we went through adult confirmation. We believe it because God teaches this. We believe it because it is what God’s Word says. Thus, it is not an opinion or a feeling. It’s not wishing or thinking.  We can say we know the truth.

This flies in the face of what the world says about truth, that there is no way to know what is true and that we can all hold our own so-called “truths” even when they contradict each other. But there are no maybes. There is no uncertainty. That’s what Jesus said. “If you abide in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth.”

It doesn’t matter how many denominations teach how many different doctrines. It doesn’t matter what the world says or what we ourselves think or feel. We are called to abide in God’s Word so that we will know the truth. What God’s Word says is what matters.

Our life as Christians is abiding in God’s Word. It’s not about patting ourselves on the back since we don’t follow the pope. It’s not about seeing how we are better than other denominations or other Lutherans. It’s not even about looking at other congregations in our denomination and seeing where they are wrong, or at other people in our pews. Our life as Christians is about abiding in God’s Word and asking where have I wandered from the truth? Where have I followed the world in my thinking? Where have my feelings and emotions been hurt by God’s Word, so that I have hardened myself to hear it? Where have I lifted up my reason to deny what God says in His Word?

See, we need reformation. We need correction. We need repentance.

You have not been abiding in God’s Word as you should have, so you have wandered. You have lived as if God’s Word did not matter and as if you mattered most. Your Lord’s name you have not honoured as you should; your worship and prayers have faltered. You have not let God’s love have its way with you, so your love for others has failed. There are those you have hurt, and those whom you have failed to help. Your thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin (LSB Individual Confession and Absolution).

This is why Jesus, the Son of God, took on your flesh. He didn’t come to earth thinking that He was coming to people that needed a just little bit of help to do better. He came, knowing the greatness of your sin to rescue you from it. He came to save you from the slavery of sin that He knew had you in its grasp. He came with forgiveness and healing because He loves you, His creation. He shed His blood for you to save you from your sin. He came to set you free from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

He came to make you a son of the Father, adopted through Baptism. He keeps you a son of the Father through His Word in which He admonishes you to abide. He strengthens you as a son through His very body and blood through which He forgives you all your sin and nourishes you to your promised inheritance of everlasting life.

Abide in Jesus’ Word. Abide. Dwell in it. Live in it. Meditate on it day and night. If you abide in Jesus’ Word, you are truly His disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note to readers: We will se using the One-Year Lectionary starting in Advent]

Ceremonies: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 7:1-13

Dear reverent worshipers: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

It is good and important that we have ceremonies. Ceremonies serve good order and help to teach. Bowing your head to pray is a good ceremony, because it is a posture of humility before God and helps you not to be distracted by what is around you. Kneeling takes that even further and puts you on your knees before God, acknowledging your status as a humble beggar before God. We do after all approach God not based on our own merits, but the merits of Christ.

Certainly, the Divine Service is full of ceremony. The pastor faces you when he speaks God’s Word to you and faces the altar when speaking to God. Thus, he faces the altar to confess his sins along with the congregation and turns to face the congregation to speak absolution to the people in Christ’s stead and by His command.

Ceremony ensures that our worship is pious, ordered, careful, solemn, reverent, and liturgical. This is because we believe that Jesus is telling the truth when He tells us that wherever two or three are gathered in His name, there He is (Matt. 18:20). We believe that Jesus is telling the truth when He says, “This is my body… this is my blood… do this in remembrance of me.” (Matt. 26:26,28; Luke 22:19) Jesus is here, so we behave like He is here.

Our ceremonies reflect what we believe. We believe that the Word of God and the sacraments are the greatest gifts of God to us, because through them He gives us the forgiveness of sins. We thus treat them with reverence and respect and don’t turn our worship into chaos and disorder or have an attitude of irreverence or indifference. We treat holy things as holy.

Yet ceremony is just ceremony. You do not get the forgiveness of sins from ceremony. You can go through the motions of ceremony without believing or caring one way or the other. Let us not forget that Scripture tells us the antichrist sits in the temple of God (2 Thess. 2:4). The wolf puts on sheep’s clothing. Luther’s great Reformation hymn talks of the heretics and false teachers who parade with outward show and lead people to and fro, in errors maze astounded (O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold TLH 260).

This was the case with the scribes who criticized Jesus’ disciples for not following their ceremonial washing of hands. This hand-washing was not for reasons of hygiene. It was a ceremony that was supposed to remind them of the need to be cleansed by God, to receive forgiveness, and to remind them that their food and sustenance came from God (from Rev. David Petersen). But they had become superstitious. They departed from following God’s Word and held to empty ceremonies they themselves invented. They abandoned God’s commandments and replaced them with their own made-up commandments

Jesus said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

Jesus uses the example of the Fourth Commandment. The Fourth Commandment commands you to honour your father and mother. This includes honouring “them by your actions, that is, with your body and possessions, serving them, helping them, and caring for them when they are old, sick, feeble, or poor; all this you should do not only cheerfully, but also with humility and reverence, doing it as if for God.” (LC IV.111)

However, the scribes had invented a special offering, called Corban. Instead of supporting their elderly parents and taking care of them, they would give this special offering and not help their parents. It was a sham. They pretended to be piously giving God extra offerings (no doubt with lots of nice attendant ceremony), but it was all a ruse to break the Fourth Commandment and not fulfil their obligations to honour and support their parents. Their made-up commandments and ceremonies made void the Word of God and taught people to break God’s Law and follow the commandments of men.

The chief thing here is to avoid confusing the Commandments of God and the commandments of men. It is thus important to know and study what exactly it is that God commands and to question everything that man commands.

It is also important to understand the importance of ceremonies, why we do them, and how they provide reverence, piety, and solemnity to the Divine Service and to our daily devotional lives. Those who do not understand them are quick to dispose of ceremonies that the church has done for two thousand years.

What we must remember is that ceremonies are just ceremonies. Ceremonies do not save or give us the forgiveness of sins. The Word of God saves and gives us the forgiveness of sins. Baptism saves and gives us the forgiveness of sins. The Lord’s Supper saves and gives us the forgiveness of sins. Ceremonies don’t even help God’s Word and sacraments save and forgive sins. Rather, ceremonies serve to prevent distraction and prevent your attention being drawn away from the Word and sacraments.

For instance, I use the ceremony of holding up the body and blood of Christ for the congregation to see after the consecration while saying, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” Whether or not I do this, you receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. However, the ceremony draws your attention to the body and blood of Christ just consecrated. Here it is. This is for you. It is concrete and real. Christ has His promises attached to this bread and this wine, for they are His body and blood.

This goes together with the words, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” How is it that you get peace? Through the body and blood of Christ you are about to receive. Christ gives you peace that the world cannot give.

Christ showed His pierced but resurrected hands to His disciples, the hands with which He earned them peace and said, “Peace be with you”. So, the pastor stands in the stead of Christ and holds the body and blood of Jesus with which He earned you peace, and says the same to you.

Christ’s body and blood give you peace with God because Christ died for you. He gave His body to be beaten and crucified and He gave His blood to be shed for the forgiveness of sins. He gives you that forgiveness in His body and blood.

You don’t need some hand-washing ceremony that points to purification and cleaning. You receive Jesus’ body and blood which purify you and cleanse you of every stain of sin. You receive Jesus’ body that strengthens you to life everlasting. You receive Jesus’ blood which washes away your sin. Through eating and drinking His body and blood, Jesus will grant you to partake of the greatest ceremonies of all in the feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note for readers: Beginning in Advent, we will begin using the One-Year Lectionary.]