Saturday, January 29, 2011

Epiphany 4 Sermon

January 29-30, 2011
Epiphany 4
Matthew 8:23-27

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

Jesus can sleep through anything. He has no fears, no guilt, no worries. Sometimes it seems as though He sleeps through our prayers. In any case, He rarely behaves the way we think He should. Why was He sleeping while the storm raged? Why was He not with His disciples? Teaching or praying or comforting them? Why wasn’t He helping? And why, when they came to Him looking for salvation, did He rebuke them when He had praised Gentiles for the same request?

Perhaps there is no more important Theological lesson to learn than this: God is not like us. He does not submit to our ideas. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. We live by faith not by knowledge or understanding. Unlike every other man Jesus never considers appearances. He really doesn’t care what people think. He is His own man in a way no one else is, that no one else can be. He is not concerned with doing the proper thing. He simply is. And whatever He does, whether we understand it or not, is the right thing.

But that idea requires faith. Because He doesn’t seem to be doing the right thing. He seems to be sleeping, to be ignoring us. Wars and disease, hatred and greed, bigotry and addiction: these things don’t seem right. We are plagued with crime and poverty. Families are falling apart. Babies are murdered in their mothers’ wombs. American soldiers die in foreign lands. Wives at home are unfaithful. The government lies. Children cheat. Schools can’t be trusted. Friends betray us. Pastors preach false doctrine. And then, as if we weren’t already our own worst enemies, nature herself comes swooping down on us in hurricanes and tsunamis, in killing frigid temperatures, in ice and snow. And all our efforts against them, our little programs with grief and debt and pregnancy and marriage counselors, our engineering feats and government money seem of little effect against the evil that lurks in the hearts of men or the waters that fill Lake Michigan, are futile, like wrapping gauze over the top of a volcano to stop the lava.

These vain efforts of men would lull us to Jonah’s denying sleep. They would placate us with Utopian fantasies. If Leave it to Beaver and the Cosby’s now seem clich√© and transparent, if Hallmark seems obviously sappy and Martha Stewart seems just plain fake, then turn to any home improvement show, or even to a cooking shows. Those are pure fantasies disguised as reality. No one lives like that. And they are barometers of our discontent. They show what we want but fail to obtain. Repent. Your answer doesn’t lie in gadgets or flower bouquets, in a beautiful home or a beautiful meal, even in happy, healthy, well-adjusted children. And there is no such thing as Andy and Opie either. You won’t find salvation in human love. Spouses and children disappoint as surely as parents and siblings, as surely as we disappoint ourselves. Repent. Stick to your prayers. Submit in faith to the goodness of God and wait for the Lord. It will be revealed in time. The storms will cease. Jesus is with you.

And what if He rebukes you for your panic? For your desire for safety, for your desperate little faith that thinks it is perishing? Thanks be to God! Thanks be to God that you still have a smoldering wick of faith and that it knows where to go, that it still prays, that it seeks salvation in Jesus’ Name. Thank God you are weak for then you are strong. He will not let you become dependent on your faith or upon your works. He will purify you with holy chastisement and will not let you ride out the storm in false confidence. He will keep you dependent on Him.

And what if your conscience is plagued by guilt and regret, by doubt and fear? What if you are weary? Thank God for that as well. For it is faith, a living and vibrant faith, that stirs your heart. Faith causes you to feel sorrow and shame. The pain is proof that your faith is alive. Pray that you never lose that feeling until God relieves you of it on the last day. Pray that you are never comfortable in your sins, that you never think you’ve got Him figured out, that you can handle the storms on your own. Be rebuked again and again. Suffer His insults. Be broken by His Law. For in this way He empties you of yourself to fill you with His love. He breaks you to mend you. He kills you to revive you. For His sake we are killed all day long. We are counted as sheep for the slaughter. And His thoughts are not our thoughts. If we stop feeling the Law, we lose the Gospel. First comes the rebuke, then comes the calming of the storm. First comes the cross, then comes the glory.

Are we of little faith, O Lord? Indeed. We are unworthy in every way. But You have made a promise. You are our God. Your Name is upon us. Save us, O Lord. Be our God, our Savior. Deliver us from these presents evils and from the Evil One. Count us in that rag-tag, fearful group on Lake Galilee. Let us be your failing disciples that you might show Your grace in us. We have no boast, no claim upon Your mercy. But we have Your Word and Promise. That is enough. You will be our Jonah, O Sleeper. You will calm the sea with Your sacrifice. For You have gone into the belly of the earth and come forth again on the third day. Rebuke us if You must, send the waves over the sides of the boat, make us desperate and full of fear, teach us to pray. And then, O Lord, give us peace according to Your Word. Give us the faith we lack. Give us Your Holy Spirit and bring us home. Remember, O Lord, Your Word and Promises even while we wait for the Resurrection to come and the consummation of all our hope. Save us, O Lord. Save us.

In + Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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