Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sermon for 1/30/11--Fourth Sunday After Epiphany (LSB 1-year)

Raging Storms

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The disciples really hadn’t been with Jesus all that long. These were simple men, though they were not completely ignorant of what the Old Testament said regarding the promised Messiah. But they found themselves early in their first year of seminary, so to speak, learning what they would need to learn to become pastors. They’d experienced their first lessons while listening to Jesus preach and teach and watching while Jesus performed miraculous acts of healing. But now they were leaving behind the stability of firm ground and familiar territory for solitude with Jesus, at the mercy of the wind and the water. Though they did not know it, their first test was approaching; and it was a tough one. Their pledge to follow Jesus was about to take on new meaning.

Literally, Matthew says, “There came to be a great shaking in the sea.” To simply call this a storm at sea misses completely what is happening. Matthew uses a word that he uses elsewhere to refer to earthquakes. This is not your “garden variety” storm at sea. It is probably safe to say that no one along the Sea of Galilee had ever seen anything like this. This was a storm of monumental proportions, a storm that was not only dangerous but deadly. And there they were with Jesus, right in the middle of it! These disciples were, both literally and figuratively, “in the same boat” with Jesus!

This raises an interesting question. According to His divine nature, Jesus knows all things. He sees everything that happens before it happens. Did He deliberately take His disciples into this dangerous and critical situation? The answer can only be, yes. But why? Why would He purposely expose them to something where one bad move, one way or the other, could be fatal? And, if this is what He did with these disciples, might He not also do the same with us? Perhaps you have been there—not on the Sea of Galilee, but at a place where you were hanging precariously between life and death. And maybe it wasn’t physical danger that you encountered, but rather a trial so severe, so oppressive, that the life of your soul was hanging in the balance. And maybe you have been there but have not fully realized it because of the Lord’s protection.

All of this breathes new life into those petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” doesn’t it? We don’t really know how insecure our hold is on the life of our bodies and souls. When we are face to face with such peril, the way out doesn’t always suddenly appear. Do you remember what the Israelites said to Moses after he had led them out of the bondage of Egypt, and they had spent some time wandering around in the desert? They said to him, “Why have you brought us out into the wilderness that we should perish? We should have remained in Egypt where there was at least food to eat.” Something similar may well have crossed the minds of those disciples as the waves threatened to sink their boat. We have probably addressed our Lord with the same question. ‘Is this what following You brings us to? Is this the best You can do for those from whom You demand nothing less than everything?’

When they awaken Him, Jesus calls the disciples “you of little faith”. If this is about faith, then we must ask ourselves, “What is faith?” You see, faith is more than intellectual assent. It is more than simply knowing that something about God is true. It is even more than repentance, that desire to turn around and bring about certain changes in one’s life. It is unquestioned confidence and trust in Jesus Christ with soul and spirit, will and body. But in the midst of the storm, Jesus was sleeping! How can we trust in Him when He’s sleeping at the time we need Him most? When the fears of His disciples were at their height, and their security was at its lowest point, Jesus was completely without fear; His security in the presence of the Father unquestioned. And that is just the point. That Jesus slept was not a sign of indifference on His part, as His disciples seemed to think. It was, instead, a picture of the hope and peace He would give them. It was the reason for which this fearful event was taking place. All around Him the storm raged away, and He slept as One who had all things in His power. So, too, the storms of life rage all around us. How do we react to them? Do we answer them with the peace and security of Jesus, or with that awful sense of hopelessness and loss?

The presence of Jesus at the very center of our helplessness does not keep the storm from occurring, as we would like, and certainly hope. In fact, it almost seems to provoke it. The presence of Jesus does provoke all the fury the world of unbelief can stir up. Even so, the Savior is neither worried nor alarmed. His profound peace comes to take over the place of their frantic despair. And you know just how this is. Time and again the word of forgiveness you have heard, the receiving of the Savior’s body and blood for the remission of sins, or even the mere image of Jesus suffering and dying for you, has washed over you like a cleansing flood. Only moments earlier, all was black and hopeless, and now everything is bathed in the light of God’s love and grace!

Jesus sometimes allows the situation to become hopeless, at least as we see it. But, we should not fear this; it really is for our eternal good. When all human effort and wisdom have been exhausted, He remains as our shelter against the storms of life. There are times when we must enter that terrible place of bottomless distress, when there is nothing stable to cling to; all that remains is the sure grip of His gracious hand. There are times when human know-how and ingenuity shrinks miserably in the face of sickness or persecution or hatred, and divine help seems far away; it is then that His voice of assurance and peace rings its clearest. Faith does not magically create a world of harmony where wishes suddenly become true. Faith does not show illness, perils, hatred, and violence to have been mere illusions. In a sense, faith makes us even more keenly aware of the pain these things inflict on body and soul. But it is just then that the grace of God turns sweetest. When Jesus says, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” it is no longer a rebuke, but a powerful admonition to trust Jesus, and Him only, and to receive from Him the peace that He would give, because it is still there when the storm rages within us, when everything else in life is breaking apart. The words of the Psalmist become our confession of faith: “They cry out to the LORD in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm, so that its waves are still.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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