Sunday, February 13, 2022

Jeremiah.17.5-8; Sixth Sunday after Epiphany; February 13, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; 5Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. 6he is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. he shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. 7“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. 8he is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:5-8 (ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
If you have ever been to court or been in a courtroom you have seen it happen. You have seen it on television, in one of a hundred dramatic courtroom episodes of courtroom drama. You have read it in newspaper and magazines: Laws are introduced by senators and made by legislators. But the law is applied in the courtroom. It is in the courtroom that verdicts are handed down and sentences given. Where justice in handed out. It is in the courtroom where the law is visible. That is where the law is used to judge people.
But in this text, Jeremiah says that God judges people, too. Jeremiah gives us a courtroom scene. God has laws and expectations of people. And based on those expectations he pronounces judgment. God’s verdict is either “Cursed” or “Blessed.” Only those two. The picture Jeremiah paints for us is bi-polar, only cursed or blessed, nothing in between. That is the verdict that was being handed down to God’s people through the prophet. It was as if they were all standing there before God in his courtroom.
It is no different for us. Jeremiah is talking to God’s people right now, right down through time, written in God’s word. God is still handing down a verdict to us. It is a frightening picture, too. You and me standing in God’s court room awaiting God’s verdict over us. God’s law is visible there. God’s standards are judging God’s people. So, what will the verdict be in your case? Are declared cursed or blessed?
Jeremiah lays out the case. “You can tell,” says Jeremiah, “because God pronounces his verdict of ‘Cursed’ or ‘Blessed’ under certain conditions. If this is happening, he says, then you are cursed; if that is happening, you are blessed.” So, which is which in your life?
You know that is just the thing with the God’s law. Since God is perfect, that is what he demands. We do not think it is fair because we can never live up to perfect, ever. We want to say that God only expects us to do the best we can, and that is good enough. But it is clear here: Trust in “man” or depend on “flesh” for strength and you are be cursed. Trust in man that is: depend on government, or your employer, your friends, or your spouse for the things you need in life, and you are cursed. Trust in your own ingenuity, your own strength, your own ideas, be self-reliant and you are cursed. Do these just once or many times, and you are cursed. And that is defiantly not what we want to hear. Especially here in the US where we applaud the virtue of being a self-made man, against all odds living up to his potential. But God says that if our attention, our hearts, our minds, our focus is not on him, always, we are cursed. Listen to it in the First Commandment: You shall have no other Gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love and trust in God above all things. Always, God first, above everything else. If not, we are cursed.
Just look at Jeremiah’s description of people who live with their focus not on God: he is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. he shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Shrubs alone in the desert. People having no real strength and living fruitless empty lives. Even if good comes they cannot see it because they are on the brink of death.
You and me, no matter how good we are, no matter how much we try, so very often our lives are just like that. Struggling just to get ahead, to pay the bills, feed the family, survive the next round of covid requirements. Depending on everything but God for everything. Living out there alone in the desert hoping for rain and rest that never seems to come. Actually, missing the good that comes because we are just too busy or too self-absorbed. To say it in a word: Cursed.
God pronounces his verdict on the blessed ones, too. Everything is different for them. They rely in him. He is where they find the strength they need in the day of trouble. Trees planted by the streams of water, never have to look for water, it’s always right there with them. Their roots are in contact with it all the time. No drought or trouble phases that kind of a tree. When I lived in Nebraska, we had irrigated farmland. The farmer gives water when it is needed. Iowa is mostly dryland farming. The crops depend on the rain when it comes. Nebraska for plants is the life of the blessed. According to Jeremiah, God has transplanted the blessed plants into a new place out of the dry desert, right near the streams of water. God does this though the Holy Spirit, his Word and Water. 3For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:3-7 (ESV)
That’s being transplanted from the old into the new. God’s word and water… Baptism… Its water applied that brings the blessed one into a vital relationship with Jesus Christ, a relationship of faith in what he has done. Listen again, to what’s out in the desert: foolishness, malice, envy, hate, and foolishness. But through water and the word, God brings goodness, loving kindness, renewal, and the assurance of eternal life. That’s exactly what it means to be blessed.
Well, that’s you and me, isn’t it? We are believers in Christ. We are blessed, not because we uprooted ourselves from the desert, but because God transplanted us. Jesus won the right for us to be right there by the irrigation. Jesus was always totally reliant on the Father for his direction and strength. Jesus was always focused on the Father’s will for people. Jesus who lived perfectly in every way, kept every one of God’s laws, from the first commandment through the tenth, and every other one. Every part of the law that we break every day, Jesus kept every day and in every way. He did it, where we fail.
Jesus alone deserved the blessing of God. But he was cursed, there on the cross when the Father turned away from him and allowed him to suffer and die. For him, it was being left alone in the desert, there was no rescue for Jesus on the cross. It’s not just that he was left alone there either. It’s not just that he himself was cursed. Jesus was cursed in your place. He was cursed in my place. All things that we should have received because of our “hearts are turned away from the Lord” were placed on Jesus. He received the curse of an entire world of sinful people. That curse brought him to death and the grave.
Jesus dealt with our curse by his suffering and death, and he deals with our blessing by his resurrection. Just as his death is our death, so also is his resurrection ours. That’s the transplanting. he was dead, now he is alive. We were dead, now we are alive. The water from the font makes it so. God’s promises to us at the font make it so. Baptism connects us to Jesus in death and in new life. 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4 (ESV)
Transplanted by the steams of water. Living in the blessing of God, instead of the curse.
Now when Jeremiah talks about bearing fruit, he says it never ends. It doesn’t cease. So, the fruit is there in your transplanted life. It’s that “walking in newness of life” that we just mentioned. You see, it’s a package deal. New life – bearing fruit. Every day you do what you do, as a transplanted tree. God uses your life to help the people around you. Parents raise their children and teach them. Through you, factories supply what people need to make a living, and farms produce what people need to eat, children learn what they need to learn, cars continue on the road, homes are heated, property is bought and sold. All of that is fruit, and it is a part of living your new life. There are other types of fruit, too. Caring for friends and relatives and even strangers who need help. Hospital visits, meals and so many other things. They are good things done, not to earn our blessings from God, but because we have been blessed by him.
And there is one more kind of fruit I want to mention. Out there, still living in the desert, are people who need to be transplanted or people who have forgotten what it means to know Jesus. Their hearts are turned away from him or turning away. It is not hard to find them; in fact, I have a list of members of this congregation who have not been here in years. In some cases, they are friends of yours, in some cases, relatives. Nobody is asking you to pound on stranger’s doors. Just be a friend and look for an opportunity to point them to Jesus again, look for a way for them to return to the life-giving water found here in God’s Word and Sacraments.
I asked earlier whether you were blessed or cursed. And the answer is clearly, blessed. Through faith in Jesus, through God’s Word and Sacraments you are that tree that is never thirsty. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, February 06, 2022

Luke.5.1-11; The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 6, 2022

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. (Lk 5:1-11, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” I wonder, really, what brought Peter to this point? I mean, I wonder what it is that makes a strong fisherman, whose nickname by the way, is “Rock”, I wonder what makes a man like that kneel among a mountain of fish in a sinking boat, and shout in fear, “Get out of here our I’ll die!” So, you get the full impact of what I’m asking I want you to place this scene in your mind. Peter is a workingman, very strong from dragging waterlogged fishnets out of the water. His skin is dark and leathery from a lifetime of water reflected sunburn. His hair is long, bushy and sun bleached. His eyes are dark and penetrating. Here is a guy who probably gets what he wants when he wants it. You might even imagine that if he were around today, he’d have tattoos on his biceps. Here’s a guy who has worked hard all his life to achieve all that he has achieved, a self-starter, a businessman who is very self-confident. He’s a family man, used to making a living the hard way, blood and sweat. That’s the man that St. Luke would have us believe is kneeling at Jesus knees, pleading to be left alone. And so, I’ll ask the question again. What makes a man like that do a thing like that?
“Well, isn’t it obvious?” You say. Just look at that load of fish they hauled in. Simon said himself that they had worked all night and caught nothing. A few moments with Jesus on the lake and they’re full to capacity and sinking, and not just one boat but two. There is nothing that will humble a man faster than to be a better fisherman than he is. Just ask any angler’s wife who’s had a good day of fishing at the expense of her husband. And everything Jesus tells them to do defies all fishing logic. No one fishes in the heat of the midday sun in deep water and expects to catch anything, especially in the kind of nets they were using. Those nets caught fish that swim near the surface of the water to feed. But Jesus did in minutes what Simon and his partners couldn’t ever do. And the thing I want you to see here is exactly how Jesus does this miracle (it is beyond a doubt, just that a miraculous catch of fish!) “And when [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” There in His makeshift pulpit when the teaching was done, Jesus gives a word to Simon and the other fisherman. And it’s a curious word. It’s a word that doesn’t make fishing sense. “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
Here already you may notice that Simon seems to be acting out of character. He doesn’t say, “are you crazy! We’ll never catch anything out there at this time of day!” Instead, he reacts to the word of Jesus doing exactly what Jesus says. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” He makes it clear that what he’s doing makes no sense, but Jesus words have their effect on him, and he does it anyway. “And when they had done this…” Luke tells us, as soon as they did what Jesus said, the nets were full to overflowing, and not just overflowing but to the point of tearing apart. The question to ask, the question that must have entered Simon’s mind, is “How is it that all these fish have come to this unlikely place at the altogether wrong time to these nets?” And the answer is; because Jesus spoke the words and the miracle happened. Simon was confronted with the reality that what Jesus had spoken to him wasn’t a command, “Put out the nets for a catch,” but what Jesus had spoken was a promise. “Put out the nets and you will catch fish.” When the work was done, when all the fish were in the boat, and water was slipping over the hull, threatening to plunge them all into the water, Simon turned to the source of miracle. He fell at the feet of the One whose spoken word could do exactly what it promised. Simon Peter, the man that is called “Rock,” crumbled at power of the Word of God.
In fact, that is exactly what this text is all about, the power of the Word of God. Look again at the first sentence. “The crowd was pressing in on [Jesus] to hear the word of God.” Notice also, that Jesus gets into Peter’s boat. In reality, he has a front row seat to Jesus Words. God’s Word spoken from the lips of Jesus struck Peter’s heart. When Jesus says, “put out your nets.” Peter responds. Jesus words were at work in Peter before he responded to Jesus. But even though, it’s easy to see the Word of God at work in calling the fish into the fisherman’s nets, because that’s a visible miracle, after all it nearly sunk the boats. But the important work of God’s Word wasn’t on the fish. The same miracle of God working through his Word that was shown to the eyes of Peter was at work invisibly as Jesus taught the people from the boat. God’s Word was there, crumbling hardened hearts of stone, convicting sinful people of their sin, removing mountains of doubt, creating, and strengthening faith. We see it in Peter’s words, “Master, at your word I will do it.” And we see it when Peter confesses his sins, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
What Peter was confronted with was the fact that the God whose Word created the universe, the God who controlled all nature, was seated in that fishing boat with him. The spoken Word of God showed him all his sinfulness and he knew what he deserved. It is evident the same reaction we see Isaiah’s words from the Old Testament reading for today. “Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips! I’m a dead man.” Peter and Isaiah were afraid of the awesome power they saw; the power of God that should have left them dead.
What did Peter see? What did he hear? What does God’s Word say to you? God’s Word often convicts us of our sin. That must be what happened to Peter. He heard Jesus preaching backed up by a miracle and he knew he was in trouble. What do you hear when God’s Word says to you, “You shall not commit adultery”? Do you hear the “you” as you or do you hear the “you” as someone else? Do you say, “at least I’ve never done that sin”? Do you hear Jesus says that adultery is a sin done in the heart first? Do you imagine that yours is free from it? Try to tell yourself that next week while you are watching the Super Bowl commercials with barely dressed young women, or when you wish the camera angle were just a little different when then cheerleaders are filling the screen.
How about “you shall not kill”? Are you very sure you have never done that? Maybe there’s no bodies buried in your back yard and no bloody knives in your dresser drawer. But Jesus says that this too is a sin in the heart. Tell yourself you are free from this sin when that negative comment about your neighbor, your ex-husband, or your ex-pastor, or even your worst enemy slips from your lips. Jesus tells you that any thought word or deed that diminishes your neighbor in any way is breaking this command. These are just the easy commandments to use, but we could go through all ten and it would be the same.
“I can’t help it!” you protest. And there you are right. You cannot help it. That is because Jesus is right. Sin is imbedded in the heart. There is a part of you, a sinful nature that never wants to follow God’s Word in any way or at any time. You cannot stop sinning. You cannot help it. You can’t stand in the presence of a holy and perfect God who demands perfection in every detail. He says that if you do, you are dead. That’s what Peter saw and heard. That’s what Isaiah saw and heard. The God who spoke to and commanded the fishes in the sea, sees right into your heart. And when he finds, what you know is there, he says, “The soul that sins shall die.” God’s Word is the same weather spoken from a boat on the shores of the sea of Galilee, or in this pulpit, is powerful. It cuts us open like a sword and displays our sinful nature. That Word causes us to speak to God like Peter. “Lord go away I’m a sinful man. I’ve sinned against you in thought, word and deed…”
Ah, but the most powerful words in this reading today aren’t Peter’s confession of sin. It is not Jesus words of condemnation. It is Jesus words of comfort and forgiveness. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus says instead of striking Peter dead on the spot, instead of dropping him in the deepest part of the lake. Jesus doesn’t punish. He doesn’t leave Peter in his sin and fear.
Peter knew why he should be afraid, because God, himself, in the flesh, was standing with him in a boat full of fish on the Sea of Galilee. What he’d have to learn later is why he didn’t have to be afraid. Really, it was the very same reason. God, himself, in the flesh, was standing with him in a boat full of fish on the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus the man at whose knees he fell face down was God who had come not to destroy him, but to destroy the sin he harbored in his heart. We talked about that sin, didn’t we? It’s the same as ours. It’s the same that we can’t get rid of. Jesus, Our Lord, takes ours away, too. One of our hymns says,
Nothing of my own I bring, simply to the cross I cling.
That’s where Jesus destroyed our sin and Peter’s. He put it to death in his body. The pain of pierced hands and feet; the suffering of suffocation; and most important of all the loneliness of being left there to suffer and die by God the Father.
Peter said, “Leave me!” But Jesus didn’t leave, even though it meant the cross. He instead was left alone to bear all of God’s anger and wrath over sin, all the punishment God had to give. Jesus suffered the punishment of eternal hell for the whole world on the cross. Empty crosses are fine. They show us where this all happened. But when Christians see a cross with Jesus body on it (we call it a corpus), we see our sin being destroyed and we see our Savior, saving us.
Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will be catching men.” Peter left everything and followed Jesus. It is Peter’s response to God’s saving Word. It is our response too. We leave this place after having received the Word of God, spoken into our ears, and placed into our mouths with bread and wine, and poured on our heads in Holy Baptism, and take that Word to where we live and work every day. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “Now do this.” He says, “you will do this.” That’s God’s Word working again, His powerful Word bringing about exactly what He says it will do. So, it happens sometimes even when we don’t know it. That’s just the way God’s Word works. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.