Sunday, February 7, 2010

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen. +

Text: Luke 5:1-11
Theme: Jesus Re-orders Lives

Dear baptized in the Lord Jesus,

Harvest thanksgiving is a celebration of conclusions. But how did we get here? Some things must happen first of divine necessity. God ordains it this way. The seed must be sown before it germinates. The sun must shine before it grows. The rain must fall before it matures. The agricultural cycle for the Israelites was a reflection of God’s greater ordering of existence. All things originate with God and He allots creatures their place in His dynamic of love. Sunday is the first day of the week. God first speaks. We listen. His word is planted. It takes root in our hearts. God gives. We receive. God forgives. We are forgiven. God empowers. We are empowered.

Today’s gospel shows this order is not to be taken for granted. God suspends His own laws (of nature) so that higher purposes can be achieved. The presence and will of God re-orders what we might think to be the natural order of things. Simon Peter exhibits the appropriate response to what he witnesses. He was an experienced fisherman. He knew the times, patterns, and techniques of successful fishing. He recognized at that moment that the catch Jesus directed was not the result of some conventional wisdom that only Jesus was privy to. He doesn’t say, “Wow, that’s amazing.” He doesn’t congratulate Jesus on the miracle or even thank Him. Peter is pulled right past the event itself- as impressive as it was- to its much more significant meaning. Peter is in the presence of the Almighty God. His reaction is the same as Isaiah’s. Isaiah doesn’t gaze in wonder and amazement at seeing the throne room of the Almighty. Immediately he says, “Woe to me…I am ruined!”1 Woe! Ruin! What type of response is this to seeing God’s glory?

It is the first response of the sinner. It echoes father Adam who hid in the garden. The sinful soul that is not convicted of unworthiness in the presence of the Holy Majesty has not yet grasped reality. But it should not be mistaken for a lack of faith. We could hardly call Isaiah and Peter unbelievers. Remember the demons too begged Jesus to depart from them when they encountered Him. They could not coexist peacefully in His presence. As confirmed enemies they could only fear His immediate retribution. But Peter and Isaiah were overcome by a different type of fear. They needed reassurance they would be permitted to endure in the presence of the God they understood to be so all-consuming in His righteousness that not even the smallest imperfection would be allowed near Him.

Both receive powerful assurance of absolution. Isaiah’s was by means of a coal from the altar brought by an angel; “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”2 Peter’s was via a declaration from Christ Himself; “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”3 The certainty of these absolutions was located in the event of redemption that was yet to take place. The cross was God’s own intervention to protect humanity from being consumed by His justice. We can rest in His presence because we have peace through Jesus’, blood. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”4 And His blood is not only the historical medium symbolizing our redemption. It remains as the sacramental means by which we receive His forgiveness.

The sacramental body and blood of Christ is the spiritual foodstuff that sustains the faith of the baptized. It’s timely to note today that the Scriptures also refer to it as the Eucharist or “Thanksgiving,” denoting the reception by the believer of the fruits of Jesus’ sacrifice given in this sacred meal. Ingratitude calls into question veracity of faith. Thanksgiving is surely one of the first expressions of viable trust. Faith without works is dead. Following the gift of faith the Holy Spirit immediately regenerates the believer’s life. The activity of faith- including the desire to know God’s will and follow it- happens without exception. Much like Jesus’ directive to Peter, faith takes us into deep water. It takes us right into the fray against Satan, evil, and mankind’s darkest schemes, yet still allows us to be thankful. The unbeliever has little concern for these things seeking mainly self-preservation and the protection of one’s own interests. But the believer now recognizes the gravity of the engagement and its consequences. The believer struggles against temptation and strives to turn from selfishness and serve others. Where these activities are not taking place true faith is not present. Sanctification follows justification immediately.

Of course sanctification can never be the cause of justification. Works without faith is hollow piety. It’s futility at best; at worst, it’s open idolatry. Jesus called the Pharisees white-washed tombs. The merit of Christ will not be set aside. God will not value us or receive us based on our own worth. Attempts to gain His favour by impressing Him with our devotion are not only vain they are an offense to Christ who has made the once and perfect sacrifice. Good deeds done by the unbeliever have practical value for temporal existence but are still sins before God. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”5

So there is finally no middle ground between the realities of faith and unbelief. God called Isaiah to be a prophet to a stiff-necked people. He called Peter to be a pillar of the apostolic church. He calls sinners out of darkness into the light of truth. Rejection of His grace and purpose for every individual is never without consequence. God cannot be an optional part of anyone’s life for which there will be no accounting. Even inactivity is not finally neutrality. There will be no neutral party on the day of judgment. The Spirit’s call to repentance is as serious as His declaration of forgiveness to the penitent.

Again, thanksgiving is one of the first fruits this forgiveness bears. Historically this had very concrete expression. The Israelites were instructed to bring the firstfruits of their harvest as an offering to the Lord. The purpose was clear: It cultivated an attitude of thanksgiving. It was a response to God as the Giver of all things needed for life. When the barely harvest began a sheaf of the first grain was brought to the priest who presented it to the Lord. The priest would raise it in a pubic ceremony on behalf of the nation. Important practical implications were involved. Only after that event could the Israelites eat any grain from the new harvest. This requirement synchronized the eating of normal meals at home with the sacred meals of the temple. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who met with His people over the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies sanctified the daily lives of His people no matter where they lived.

Charity was deliberately integrated into this regimen too. The bible says “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God.”6 This served both as a reminder that the people of Israel were once aliens in a foreign land and an expression of generosity to show that the blessings of the harvest were not to encourage selfishness or greed.

But most importantly grateful appreciation of God’s gift of harvest was a preview of and practice for God’s fulfillment in the Messiah. In describing Jesus resurrection Paul makes reference to the sacrifice of firstfruits. “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”7 His resurrection was a preview and promise of the resurrection of all believers to eternal life. The cross bears much fruit and will reap a great harvest. Today and always this is our chief reason for giving thanks. Amen.
+ in nomine Jesu +

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
7 February 2010 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Isaiah 6:5
2 Isaiah 6:7
3 Luke 5:10
4 Romans 5:1
5 Hebrews 11:6
6 Leviticus 22:23 7 1 Corinthians 15:20