Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Powerful Word of God

[This was shared with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, earlier today.]

Luke 5:1-11
One of the recurring themes in the Bible is the mysterious, life-changing power of the Word of God. The preacher in the New Testament book of Hebrews speaks of this: 
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:12-15) 
The Word of God has the power both to lay us open, showing us our sin and limitations, and to give us the new life that God the Son, Jesus, died and rose to make possible for those who believe in Him.

This Word of God, imparted in the Scriptures, the sharing of the Gospel, the fellowship of the Church, and the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, creates faith in Christ within us. Not anything we do, only the Word of God. 

This is why the great commission, Jesus’ call to every Christian, to make disciples by sharing the Word of God--the Word of Jesus--is central to who we are as God’s people. Romans 10:13-14 reminds us, 
...'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 
Every Christian is called to share the Word, to be a preacher or proclaimer of the Word.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 5:1-11, we see how the Word of God, ultimately Jesus Himself, the Word, God in human flesh, creates faith. 

It takes place back in Capernaum, the setting of last week’s lesson. Take a look at what happens with me now, please.

“One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God.” (Luke 5:1) 

One of the things I’ve learned in doing premarital counseling through the years is that people like hearing the Word of God. 

I’m not talking about the rote recitation of passages of Scripture, though that may sometimes come into play. I’m talking about letting people see the heart of God through our own encounter with God’s Word, including our own personal relationship with Jesus. 

Whether they know it or not, people are hungry for this Word. Peter speaks for others who encounter the Word when he says to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) 

By the Lake of Gennesaret, also known as the Sea of Galilee or the Sea of Tiberias, crowds are hanging on Jesus’ every word. But they’re crowding Jesus, making it hard for everyone to hear.

The lesson goes on: “He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.” (Luke 5:2-3) 

On the shore near Capernaum, there is a series of inlets that create natural amphitheaters. Even today, I've read that a person can go out into one of the inlets and, speaking in a normal voice, be heard clearly by people on the shore. Jesus commandeers a boat owned by Simon, the fisherman in whose house He had earlier taught and healed Simon’s mother-in-law and sits down to teach.

Then Luke says: “When he had finished speaking, [Jesus] said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’” (Luke 15:4) 

Peter was an expert fisherman. He knew that the comb fish, the only large fish that swam in the shoals of these waters, couldn’t be caught in daylight hours. That’s why he and others who fished in this lake went out to do their work at night. 

Now, it’s generally true that only a fool fails to listen to experts. When my mechanic tells me that I need a new part for my car, I usually listen. When my doctor tells me I need a test, I listen. 

Jesus was no expert fisherman, but Simon listened to Jesus anyway. It seems that after hearing and observing Jesus on a few occasions, he’s beginning to think that Jesus is worth listening to and obeying.

Verse 5: “Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’” 

The word translated as master from the Greek in which Luke wrote his gospel is Ἐπιστάτα (epistata). It can mean things like commander or chief and carries the meaning of someone who has a higher status. Jesus, you’ll remember from last Sunday’s gospel lesson, taught as someone with authority. 

Simon recognizes that authority. But he doesn’t yet seem to fully understand who Jesus is. He understands enough though, to ignore that Jesus is no expert fisherman and simply take Jesus’ word as a command. So the nets are let down.

Verse 6: “When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.”

Listen: Even if you know that because of God’s deathless love for you, Jesus has come to save you from sin and death as a free gift you cannot earn and don’t deserve, encountering Jesus will still always bring with it awe and fear and a sense of the distance between you (or me) and Him
  • Jesus is perfect; we’re not. 
  • Jesus is omnipotent; we’re not. 
  • Jesus is eternal; we’re not.
  • Jesus is sinless; we’re not. 
No wonder after seeing Jesus command yet another impossible event into being, Simon fell at Jesus’ feet and begged Jesus to go away. Simon knew that as a human being, he had no intrinsic right to stand in Jesus’ presence or even to live.

Don’t you sometimes feel just this way? I know that I do. I read God’s Word or I pray, coming into God’s presence and realize again how unworthy I am of His love or attention or forgiveness I am, how small I am before the Creator of the universe. The Word of God--spoken, enacted, tasted, seen--can do that to us. 

As the preacher in Hebrews reminds us, it can lay us bare before the scrutiny of God and show us that we are wanting, that left to ourselves and our own devices, we are eternally dead in our sins, eternally separated from the God Who loves us and makes us.

But, this same Word can heal us and call us to new life. In Jesus, as that passage from Hebrews about the Word of God I mentioned earlier says, we “have a high priest who is [able] to empathize with our weaknesses,” Who has led a sinless life and died on a cross in order to be able to cover us with His goodness and eternal life. He gives us lives moving in a new direction, an eternal direction, lives infused with His grace and mercy. 

At the end of today’s lesson we read: “Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’ So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 10b-11)

Friends, the Word of God has come to us again this morning to tell us not to be afraid because Jesus has given us new lives and new missions, new reasons for waking up in the morning and facing the world with hope from Christ

No longer do we have to march to the world’s tune; Jesus sets us free to follow Him to life with God. 

No longer do our lives need to be marked by the futility of dying people looking out only for ourselves and our own; grace blows our hearts open to God and to our neighbor. 

Knowing that we are eternally in Christ’s hands, we can concern ourselves with the spiritual and physical needs of our neighbors, including those in our own homes, schools, or places of work.

Simon and the others who left their nets to follow Jesus had no idea what lay ahead. They didn’t yet know the truth that Dietrich Bonhoeffer identified in The Cost of Discipleship: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” 

They didn’t know that the repentance and faith in Jesus that leads to new life which they experienced on the lakeshore that day would be their lifestyle until God raised them to life in eternity

The Word of God sets us free to die to concern for ourselves knowing that we have resurrection life with Jesus that cannot be taken from us

This Word might also make us willing to commit ourselves to doing things that will bring us little or no apparent benefit, like 
  • going to Haiti on mission trips, 
  • tutoring at Chevy Chase, 
  • participating in Upward Sports, 
  • inviting friends to participate in small groups, or 
  • constructing a multipurpose facility to welcome the people of our community--the spiritually disconnected, the poor, the poor in spirit, those hungering and thirsting for God's righteousness--to encounter the Word of God, Jesus.
Simon Peter learned (and would have to learn again and again, just like us) that the Word of God, Jesus Himself, gives us new lives, lives with eternal purposes. May we, in the words of The Small Catechism*, always “gladly hear and learn” the Word of God. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

*The Small Catechism is one of the basic statements of the Lutheran Christian understanding of Biblical faith. It appears in The Book of Concord, also known as Concordia.

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