Monday, August 29, 2011

Proper 17 of Series A (Jeremiah 15:15-21)

“I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the Lord.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the fifteenth chapter of the prophet Jeremiah. Dear friends in Christ, Jeremiah’s life stunk. He was called upon to be a prophet of the Lord in one of the most difficult times in Israel’s history; he would live to see Judah carted off into exile and Jerusalem burned and utterly destroyed. He stood as an island in the midst of a sea of idolatry, ungodliness, and rebellion. He had words to preach that no one wanted to hear, and they blamed the messenger for his terrible message. Before our text, Jeremiah had pleaded with God for mercy upon His people, but God refused. He instead responded with an even stronger declaration of judgment. God will not relent. And so Jeremiah does what he often did when confronted with a message too terrible to bear: he offers up a complaint to his Lord, a plea for aid. “O Lord, you know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance take me not away; know that for your sake I bear reproach.” He needs deliverance, he needs God’s vengeance on his enemies, for the Word of God has become a terrible burden, a source of indignation, isolation, and reproach.

It was not always this way. In the beginning, Jeremiah found God’s Word to be the most wonderful thing in the world. “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.” The Word of God is truly an amazing gift! It declares to you the One who created you, who lovingly formed man from the dust of the earth, who similarly formed you in the womb of your mother. The Word declares to you Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Word made flesh, who came into this world for your salvation. The Word speaks to you of the cross and the empty tomb, it tells you of the deliverance that Christ won, the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life with Him in the new heavens and the new earth. But the Word of God does much more than simply tell you about salvation. Jeremiah declared with joy, “I am called by your name.” The Word of God calls you by God’s name when it is joined with the waters of Holy Baptism. There at the font you were called by God’s name, the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Word has given to you nothing less than eternal salvation through Jesus Christ. Every Christian can therefore say with Jeremiah, “Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.”

Jeremiah says that he ate the Word of God; in the book of Revelation, Saint John has a similar experience, he is invited to eat a scroll. “And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter.” Jeremiah quickly learned what John discovered that day: the Word of God may taste sweet to the mouth, but when we take it in, the Word becomes a burden, it very often makes our lives bitter. “I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because your hand was upon me, for you had filled me with indignation.” The Word calls on you to live differently from the world, it calls on you to summon this world to repentance. The people around you don’t like it when others refuse to join in their life of sin, they don’t appreciate being told God’s Law. Bearing the Word means reproach, it means indignation, it means isolation. The world despises Christians; it pokes fun at you, it persecutes you by word and by deed. Jeremiah felt alone, isolated from his family and friends. They had abandoned him, for He bore the Word of God, a Word that condemns sin, and people like living in their sin. Jesus declared, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” We cannot fully understand those words unless we realize what Jeremiah teaches us, that the Word of God is a cross, it is a burden. Bearing the Word of God means that you will lose your life in this world for the sake of Christ, you will give up everything for His sake.

Jeremiah is weary of bearing this burden, and so he cries out to God: “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?” God’s Word initially brought such joy, but in Jeremiah’s mind, it was like a stream that promised refreshment and delivered only mud. This burden and cross has cost so much that he is ready to give up. When faced with that same burden, Peter declared, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” He didn’t want Jesus to bear that burden, because I think Peter realized that if Jesus bore the cross, he would have to as well. It seems so much easier to give in to the world and cast off the burden of the Word. Why should I continue to suffer the reproach and indignation of my friends, family, and neighbors? Why should I go to church while they sleep in? Why should I try so hard to follow God’s law? All it’s earned me is scorn, dirty looks, and the cold shoulder. How often are you, like Jeremiah, at the very edge of giving up, of casting off that cross and abandoning that burden? Maybe you crossed that line a long time ago, maybe you have already decided that the cost of following Christ is too high. Maybe you are only a Christian when it’s safe, and the rest of the time follow the ways of the world. Maybe your complaint has already led you over the edge.

God wants us to pour out our complaint to Him; He invites us to cry out even with words as harsh as Jeremiah’s. But now that we have spoken, it’s time for us to sit down and listen, for God has an answer. “Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them.’” In other words, ‘Repent!’ Repent of your desire to cast off the burden of the Word, repent of your desire to join in the ways of the world! Return to me, God declares; come back from the edge! Do not utter the worthless words of this world, but instead the precious Word of God, whatever the cost. As Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Christ has called on us to take up our cross, but although we may feel like Jeremiah that we bear this burden in isolation, we are not alone. “And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the Lord.” This world will fight against you, for it hates you and everything that you stand for exactly as it hated Jesus and all that He stood for. But the world will not prevail against you. For with you stands our God, who gives you the most wonderful promise that we find in the Scriptures, “I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the Lord.” You are not alone, for God boldly declares, ‘I am with you!’ No matter how isolated you feel in this world of sin, the Lord is with you. He is with you to save and defend you; the world will not overcome you, no matter how hard it tries. That is your confidence, your support as you bear the burden of the Word in this world of sin: ‘I am with you!’

How do we know this, how can we truly have confidence that God is with us? He proved it, God made this promise a concrete reality by taking our human flesh and becoming man. Jesus truly is God with us, Emmanuel come to save. It is only because of Him that this world cannot overcome you, for He has overcome the world. “I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.” He does this by walking the path that you are called upon the walk, the path of the cross. Jesus suffered reproach, indignation, and isolation; He suffered everything that you face in this sinful, hostile world, and He faced it for you. He bore the reproach and indignation of His very own people as they spit in His face, as they cried out ‘Crucify, crucify!’ He was isolated, separated from all people, indeed He was abandoned by God Himself as He hung upon the cross. Jesus took on Jeremiah’s cry as His own: “I sat alone, because your hand was upon me, for you had filled me with indignation.” Jesus faced the reproach and indignation of God and the world for our sin. He suffered all for your redemption, He endured all for your salvation, He delivered Himself into the hand of the wicked so that you may be rescued from their grasp. The world can rage against you all it wants, it can even take your life, but the empty tomb means that nothing in this world can prevail over you. Even death itself has been defeated; this world has no weapon that can destroy God’s saints, those claimed by the blood of Jesus. You are redeemed, delivered, saved, by God with us, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

That was God’s promise to Jeremiah as he bore the burden of God’s Word in a world of sin, the same promise that He gives to you again this very day. “I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the Lord.” This promise stands as firm today as you bear your cross as it did for Jeremiah as he bore his. Jesus is with us, to comfort us, to strengthen us, to provide for us as we carry the burden of His Word. He came to you once again in His Word today to forgive your sins; He will come to you again next week as He did last week in His Body and Blood, providing food for the journey, nourishment as you bear the cross. And He promises you that one day you will lay down that cross and receive the promised rest, the eternal salvation that He won for you when He bore His cross for your salvation. In the Name of Emmanuel, God with us for our salvation, Amen.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Proper 16 of Series A (Matthew 16:13-20)

“Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Dear friends in Christ, even though November of 2012 is still more than a year away, we are in election season. As you know, I grew up in Nebraska, and the thing about living in Nebraska is that the presidential elections often seem like a far off phenomenon. For a variety of reasons- small population, electoral votes that haven’t changed hands in decades- no one campaigns in Nebraska, it really seems like no one cares whether we vote for them or not. But in Iowa, they do care. And they show that they care by calling your house at least seven times a night. If you accidently answer the phone one evening, you may hear a campaign advertisement, but it is just as likely that you will have the opportunity to participate in a survey. This survey will ask you about yourself, about what you want in a candidate, and most importantly, who you would vote for. After asking hundreds or thousands of people the same questions, the campaign organization or news outlet can analyze the numbers, statistics that can make or break a campaign. Surveys are vitally important, because they tell the candidate and the world what people are thinking.

In our text for today, Jesus gives His disciples a survey: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” In a sense, Jesus wants the same thing that a presidential candidate calling your house wants; He wants to know what the general idea about Him is, what kinds of opinions are floating around. What are the people thinking? “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Everyone seems in agreement that this Jesus guy is special, a prophet of some sort, but they can’t quite put their finger on exactly who He is. The results of this survey aren’t encouraging, but it’s much better than what we would encounter today. Who do people in Deloit and Kiron say that the Son of Man is? Some would say a good teacher, some would say a fraud, some would say a basically nice guy, and others would say that we can’t really know. This is tragic, because this survey question is the most important question that a person will ever answer in their life, and it is a question we cannot escape.

“He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’” Jesus turns the tables; the disciples are not just commenting on what everyone else thinks, they are now to answer the question for themselves. They are now part of the survey, a survey much more vital than any campaign phone call. The answer to this question determines eternal one’s eternal destiny: answer correctly, and you have salvation; answer incorrectly, and you have eternal condemnation. This question is about heaven or hell. It is posed to all people- no one can escape it. We all have to take a stand one way or another. Jesus demands confession, He demands that we tell Him who we think He is. This seems strange to our world, and indeed it seems strange to many in the Church. Creeds and confessions are not much in favor these days. People find them divisive and strict, not allowing any wiggle room. And that’s the point; Jesus wants us to clearly declare before and against the world what we believe about Him. The answer to this question will be divisive, because it divides those who answer correctly from those who answer incorrectly. A good confession divides truth from error, and that is what Jesus calls us to do: confess the truth about His person and work.

This question comes to us each and every day, in every situation we find ourselves in. Who do you say that Jesus is when you are here at worship? Is it the same answer as the rest of the week? Who do you say that Jesus is when you are at work? Who do you say that Jesus is when you are at school? Who do you say that Jesus is when you speak with your friends, your families, your neighbors? Most of the time, our problem is that we don’t say anything at all; we too often fail to confess Jesus before the world, we fail to boldly declare before others the person and work of Christ. Our words and actions instead give the answer that Jesus is someone who doesn’t matter that much to my life, that He’s a guy who doesn’t care what I do the other six days of the week. It’s easy to boldly confess within the walls of this Church; where we fall short is in bringing that confession out into the world. This survey question comes up much more often than we realize; each and every day we have opportunities to confess Jesus before others, and even if we do not give a wrong answer, it’s often only because we have failed to give an answer at all. But Jesus won’t let us get away with that: He demands confession, He demands an answer.

“Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In contrast to all of the other false opinions of Jesus floating around, the wrong answers people were giving to the survey; in contrast to the silence of the other eleven disciples, silence that we too often share, Peter confesses. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter heard the question that Jesus poses to each and every person on this planet, and he answers, he confesses with power, he confesses with boldness. Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah promised from of old. He is the Savior, the One sent by God to deliver us from sin, death and hell. He is the Son of the living God; the One who created all things has sent His Son to redeem all things. Peter doesn’t quite yet understand the consequences of His confession; in next Sunday’s Gospel lesson we will learn how Jesus will do this, what He has been anointed to do. Jesus is anointed to suffer and die, to rise again in victory over the grave. He is the sin-bearer, He is the Christ because He has been anointed to take our sin to the cross and pay the price for it there. Even though Peter may not fully understand it yet, Christ’s person and work is contained in just ten words: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

Peter has stepped forward, boldly answering the most important question ever posed, and he doesn’t have to wait long to see whether he has answered correctly. “Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” In other words, yes, Peter, you’re right, but don’t stick out your chest; you didn’t come up with this confession on your own, instead it came straight from God. The Greek word for confession means ‘to say the same thing.’ That is what confession is: God reveals Jesus to us and we speak back to Him and to the world the same thing He has told us. Confession has its source in God Himself and what He has said to us. We cannot confess on our own power, but only through the very power of God Himself; as Saint Paul declares, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” Jesus demands confession, and it is a demand that we cannot fulfill on our own. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit, working faith within us, can we confess who Jesus is and what He came to do.

It is precisely the divine origin of our confession that gives it great power. Jesus declares, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Peter and the other disciples will take this bold confession out into the world, and Christ will establish His Church upon that foundation. Saint Paul tells us, “You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone.” The confession of the apostles is our solid foundation because it is the confession of Jesus Christ; it declares who He is and what He has come to do. The Son of the living God has taken on human flesh and is anointed to die for our sins and to rise again to conquer death. Jesus died for you, bearing your sin, winning forgiveness for every time that you fail to make the bold confession, and indeed for every one of your sins. This confession stands firm against the very gates of Hell because it is declares victory over Hell’s power. The Church is built on that foundation, the confession that will never fall. What an amazing promise! Congregations will close, denominations will decline, steeples will fall, but the holy Christian Church will endure, for it has an eternal confession to proclaim. The Church will never die, for it confesses the One who has defeated sin, death, and Satan for us.

Because of that victory, this confession has the power to unlock heaven. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Peter and the apostles, along with all who have followed them in the Office of the Holy Ministry, exercise the keys, binding and loosing by means of the confession of Jesus Christ, declaring the verdict that has already been made in heaven. To those who reject this confession, they declare the verdict that heaven is closed to them, they are still bound to their sins. But to those who make the bold confession through the power of the Holy Spirit, they declare the verdict that heaven is open to them, their sins have been loosed. As Saint Paul declares, “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.” Thanks be to God that He has opened heaven to you by working faith within you that boldly confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” In the Name of Jesus, whose bold confession is the foundation of the Church, who alone protects that Church from the very gates of hell, the One who unlocks heaven for you through His death and resurrection, the Christ, the Son of the living God, Amen.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Proper 15 of Series A (Matthew 15:21-28)

“Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Dear friends in Christ: the year was 1546. Martin Luther had spent the last three decades serving Jesus and the Church as a reformer, as one whom God raised up to proclaim the Gospel freely again to all people. His former life as a monk had ruined his body, and a career spent in high pressure situations, confessing the faith before priests and kings, hadn’t helped; now it seemed like the Lord was ready to call him home. He would die on February 18th, but shortly before that time he would scribble a short phrase on a scrap of paper, a phrase that epitomized his own life, and in his opinion, the life of every Christian: “We are beggars, it is true.” In those simple words, Luther wasn’t trying to make a social or economic statement, but instead, he wanted at death’s door to define the Christian’s relationship with God. “We are beggars, it is true.” Our human sense of pride revolts at those words. A beggar has nothing to give, he can place no demand on anyone else, but instead stands openhanded, simply receiving whatever is given to him. A beggar asks for aid, but has no right to expect any response, much less a positive one.

“And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’ But he did not answer her a word.” If we are beggars, then that means that we have nothing that we can give God, it means that God doesn’t owe us anything. We don’t deserve an answer to our prayers, we don’t deserve help, healing, or even salvation. The Canaanite woman called upon Jesus to help her, and all she found was silence. And why should she expect any different? Why should we expect any different from God? Does God owe us anything? What have we done to merit an answer to prayer, to earn help or healing? Nothing; and indeed we have all done much to discourage such mercy. We are unclean, corrupted completely by the filth of sin. We live as if we mattered most, and as if God or our neighbors mattered little at all. God doesn’t owe us anything. We are not entitled to grace, nothing we do can answer for the sin that fills our lives. We are beggars, it is true, beggars with no reason to expect bread.

“And [Jesus’] disciples came and begged Him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” Strike two. Not only are we sinful, corrupted from birth, but we are not even part of the covenant people of Israel. Now the Jews were hardly perfect (just read the Old Testament), but Jesus was sent through them and to them, to find the lost sheep and bring them back to their God. As Gentiles, we are even less entitled to God’s grace and mercy than the lost sheep of Israel were. The woman in our text was a Canaanite, part of that ancient, idolatrous people that inhabited the Promised Land when Joshua crossed the Jordan. She lived in the region of Tyre and Sidon, two cities that were the epitome of pagan debauchery in the Old Testament. She was in the same boat as you and me; unless I am mistaken, we don’t have any Jews here, and so we are all Gentiles, separated by birth from the covenant people of God. The Messiah came through Israel; the Messiah came to Israel. Gentiles deserve nothing from God but destruction. If anyone deserved salvation less than the lost sheep of Israel, it is the Gentiles, you and me. We are beggars, Gentile beggars with no claim on a Messiah that wasn’t sent to us.

The Canaanite woman is persistent; she has two strikes but she is ready to chance a third. “But she came and knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ And He answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’” Calling someone a ‘dog’ isn’t a complement today, and if anything, it was even worse in biblical times. The bread belongs to the children, to the people of Israel, not to the unclean, sinful, corrupted dogs that lie beneath the table. The children are given the bread, even if many refuse to eat, not the Gentile dogs, you and I, who have no claim on God, no right to even ask for this bread. We are beggars, it is true, beggars who seem doomed to die of hunger.

But then something remarkable happens. The Canaanite woman has struck out; she has asked for help and has been called a dog, told in no uncertain terms that the bread is not for her. In the face of all that she doesn’t storm off, she doesn’t start arguing, she agrees! “She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’” This Canaanite woman, far from believing herself to be entitled to anything from God, instead agrees with Jesus that she is a dog. In great humility she confesses herself as a sinner, as one to whom God owes nothing. She declares and understands what we say at the beginning of every service, “I, a poor miserable sinner…” She doesn’t just say the words; Jesus has made sure that she comprehends them, that she has completely understood that her standing before God has nothing to do with her own merits. She is a beggar, it is true, and she admits it here. But she doesn’t wallow in despair; instead she confesses another, even greater truth. She confesses that remarkably, the mercy of Israel’s Messiah overflows even to the Gentiles.

Jesus Christ came first to the lost sheep of Israel; it is only right, for they brought forth the Messiah, they were God’s people chosen from of old. Saint Paul declares in our Epistle lesson, “I ask then, has God rejected His people? By no means… God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.” The Gospel first came to Israel, for Jesus is Israel’s Messiah. He preached to them, He healed their sick, He called His followers from among them. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table. Jesus doesn’t owe Gentiles anything, but yet He still delivered us, He won salvation not only for Israel, but for all people. Isaiah prophesied this in our Old Testament lesson: “The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.’” God loves His rebellious people, though they abandoned Him again and again, and that same love is extended even to the Gentiles, even to you and me. We have even less of a claim on God’s grace and mercy than the lost sheep of Israel, but the redemption of Christ flows even into our lives. We eat from beneath the table, a table overflowing with grace and favor.

For the abundance of the Gospel is far beyond our comprehension. Christ died for the lost sheep of Israel, and He also died for Gentile dogs. He died for you and me, those who had no right, no entitlement, no reason to deserve such grace. While we were still sinners, while we were still dogs, Christ died for us. He faced the wrath of God in your place, He suffered the very punishment of hell so that you will never have to. He took on your sin, your impurity, your corruption, all that kept you away from God, and He paid for it on Calvary’s cross. His death was your death, and His resurrection is yours as well. Jesus didn’t owe you anything, but He gave you everything. He gave you His own outpoured blood, the life He offered up into death and then took up again on Easter morning. You are a beggar, and He pours into your empty hands forgiveness, life and salvation. He died for sheep that love to wander, for dogs that deserved nothing but punishment. That shed blood, that redemption, fills the Lord’s Table in abundance, and the crumbs that fall from that table are enough to satisfy our deepest needs. Think about it: the crumbs of God more deeply satisfy than any other feast on earth. We satisfy our greatest need, the need for salvation, the need for deliverance, the need for forgiveness, from the overflowing bounty of the Lord’s Table. Yes, we are beggars, beggars who have been given all things in abundance.

“Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for your as your desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” Christ’s grace and mercy poured into her life, for God had worked faith in her heart. This corrupted, sinful woman, unclean in every respect to people like the Pharisees, demonstrated with her words that she clung to Israel’s Messiah. She had inner purity through faith that meant so much more than her outward uncleanliness. It is the same way with you and me. We appear unclean, corrupted with sin, but through faith in Christ, we are clean. We are covered with the robe of Christ’s righteousness; the Gospel has overflowed from the Lord’s Table into our lives and has cleansed us, purifying us to stand before our Father for eternity. God doesn’t owe us anything, but He gives us everything through the redemption of Jesus Christ. He pours His grace out in abundance to those who by no means deserve it, but instead have been claimed in mercy by the blood of His Son. We are beggars, it is true; beggars redeemed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We never stop being beggars. All people are beggars from the moment they are conceived to the moment the leave this earth, but the difference is that Christians acknowledge that fact and confess it. We confess, like the Canaanite woman, that we have no claims upon God, that we stand empty-handed before Him, with nothing to give Him but our sin. And He takes our sin and forgives it, giving in its place forgiveness, life, and salvation. Though to the world we wear the rags of sin, to our Father in heaven, we are clothed with Christ’s own righteousness. We are beggars, it is true; beggars who eat the crumbs from the table, who feast on the abundance of Christ’s redemption. In the name of the one who fills the beggar’s empty hands with the overflowing abundance of His table, Israel’s Messiah who redeemed the Gentiles, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, Amen.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Proper 14 of Series A (Matthew 14:22-33)

“And those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God!’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Dear friends in Christ, the disciples didn’t want to get into the boat. Listen to the first verse of our text again: “Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds.” He made them, He forced them, He compelled them to get into that boat, because they simply didn’t want to go. It wasn’t fear that held them back, nor was it even fatigue; no, instead it was a thirst for glory that made them want to stay. They had just watched as Jesus used five loaves and two fish to feed thousands of people; what else was possible for a man who could multiply food without breaking a sweat! They wanted to bask in the glory of that great miracle, perhaps some even wanted to make Jesus their ‘bread king,’ the one who could provide for all their physical needs in abundance. When you fill hungry stomachs, you have a captive audience, but perhaps for the wrong reasons.

Jesus doesn’t want any part of this, and so He acts, ‘immediately,’ to get the disciples going one direction, and the crowds in another. His followers have received a taste of the glory, but now they must go out onto the lake. And the lake is hardly a place of glory. Instead, it is a place of danger, of struggles, of opposition. “The boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.” The day that you became a child of God was a glorious day. The Lord poured water upon your head, claiming you as His own, delivering to you the very gifts of salvation. Each and every Sunday is a glorious day, for we come to this place to receive the great gifts of God; forgiveness, life, salvation. We receive His very Body, His true Blood, on this day for the forgiveness of all our sins. You are given here today in the Divine Service the very benefits that Christ won on Calvary’s cross! But yet, just like the disciples, at the end of this service you must go out onto the lake. Jesus compels you, He makes you get into the boat. He sent you out from the font on your baptism day, He sends you out from this altar today, and like the disciples in our text, you are sent into dangerous waters, where the wind is against you. Each and every day you encounter those who oppose your Christian faith, who try to lead you into sin and unbelief. Some are at work, some at school, and some uncomfortably close to home. The wind is against you as you struggle to pay the bills, as expenses continue to mount. In our current economy, you know what it is like to fight against the wind and the waves, trying to keep your family afloat. The wind blows hard as you sit in the doctor’s office, hearing discouraging news about yourself or a loved one; it gusts in your face whenever death invades your life. You are struggling at the oars, but it seems too often like you aren’t getting anywhere.

The disciples thought that they had to face the wind alone. “And after [Jesus] had dismissed the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.” It seems like Jesus has simply abandoned them to face the wind and the waves by themselves, on their own efforts. He doesn’t seem to care, or if He does, He isn’t anywhere close. He’s simply watching from far off, observing as His people struggle with sin and death in a dangerous world. This is the classic idea of the absent God, something believed by many in this world, even Christians. And you can hardly deny that you have thought the same thing; you too have felt abandoned by God, left alone to fight against the wind. You have wondered if God even cares, if He even listens to your desperate prayers.

However, appearances are deceiving: our God isn’t absent, He has not left you alone; our God is the God who comes to us. “And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.” Our God is Jesus Christ, who came to us in our own human flesh for our salvation. The same Jesus who became man, born of the Virgin Mary, comes to you and me in our distress, just as He came to the disciples as they struggled with the wind. The problem is that we often don’t identify our Lord. “But when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear.” The disciples thought He was a ghost; we often fail to see Jesus in the work of a doctor, the comfort of a friend, the support of our spouse. Jesus works through means to help us in the midst of the storm, He uses people as His chosen instruments of comfort and assistance when we struggle against the wind. But as important as those instruments are, He has not left us without His own comfort. The disciples thought that Jesus was a ghost; we often fail to see Jesus in the Words of Scripture, in the Absolution of a pastor. Jesus addresses our needs with the power of His Word. “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.’”

Jesus doesn’t calm the storm for the disciples, nor does He always calm the storms in your life. Instead, He calms trembling hearts. “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” He gives the assurance of His presence, the promise that He has not abandoned you, but is at your side as the wind blows. He promises that He will deliver you from evil when He takes you to be with Himself, that He came to die so that the storm would not triumph, but instead you would reach the other side in safety. “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” You hear these words in the midst of the storm when a pastor declares: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Christ’s blood-bought forgiveness is yours; sin, Satan, and death have no hold upon you. Christ died to defeat the storm, to silence the wind. His Word proclaims to you the comfort of His victory, and His Word is enough. It is enough to know that the Lord of heaven and earth, who has authority over the wind and the waves, who shed His blood for your sin, cares for you and stands with you as the storm rages, promising to bring you ultimate deliverance when He takes you to be with Himself.

But is this assurance really enough? For many of us, this is a bit disappointing. We want more than mere words, we want miracles, we want glory! We want Jesus to end the storm, or else we aren’t going to believe that He’s really with us. That was Peter’s problem. “And Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’” It is hard to imagine how Peter could have the gall to say this to Jesus. Christ had just walked on the water, declared “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid,” and now Peter says, “If it is you.” If it is you. If is a word of doubt, a challenge to Jesus. Peter is putting our Lord to the test, challenging Jesus to perform some great miracle. He remembers the feeding of the five thousand, and now he wants to see more glory. It is easy to condemn Peter here, but Christians, including you and me, do this all the time. “If you really exist, you will heal me of my cancer.” “If you get me through this, I will start taking my faith seriously.” “If you are truly with me, nothing bad should happen to me.” If, if, if. Words are not enough, we demand miracles! We don’t want comfort in the storm, we want the storm to end! We, like Peter, are searching for glory, for a God that fulfills my needs when I want them fulfilled, a ‘bread king’ that gives us what we want.

Peter wants to travel on the glory road; He wants Jesus to do something even more amazing before he will believe in Him. And remarkably, Jesus agrees to Peter’s suggestion. “He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and waked on the water and came to Jesus.” So far, so good. Yes, miracles do happen; they happen each and every day. Our Lord does choose to act in the lives of people with great power and glory, healing disease, delivering from distress, stilling storms. Many of you have seen this in your lives or the lives of others. Jesus invites us to boldly pray to Him for deliverance from every storm, to pray for healing, to pray for miracles. But do we make miracles the condition of our faith in Jesus? Do we put our Lord to the test? Can the glory road sustain us in the storm? “But when [Peter] saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” If we stand in the storm demanding a miracle of our God as a condition of belief, our faith will fail; we will sink. And if there was ever a man that didn’t deserve rescue from drowning, it was Peter. He put Jesus to the test and mocked His words of comfort. But yet, Jesus does save him. “Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.” We demonstrate our little faith, we doubt our Lord in the midst of the storm, like Peter we don’t deserve any sort of rescue, but in His grace Christ provides it. He rescued us from sin and from death by giving up His own life into death for us. The storm raged against Him, indeed it killed Him, but in doing so the storm itself was defeated. Jesus died for you, to take you to a new heavens and a new earth where the wind will not rage against you, where you will live in peace forever.

And so we daily cry out for deliverance from the storms of this life, knowing full well that this deliverance may only come on the day Christ takes us home. We pray knowing that Christ has already won the victory, that His shed blood covers each and every one of our sins. We pray knowing that He has promised His presence and comfort even in the midst of the storm: “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” In the Name of the One who has authority over the wind and the waves, the Creator who came to His creation to deliver it, who provides comfort in the midst of the storm, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.