Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2014

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: Matthew 14:27
Theme: “Take Courage!”

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Christ is present with His people. Our confidence should be no less than that of the disciples on the lake of Galilee. It was no magician’s trick as Jesus walked on the sea towards their fishing vessel. His divinity was soon to be definitively verified by His resurrection.
It wasn’t the first time they had witnessed Jesus’ command over nature. Previously they saw Him calm the storm at sea and they marveled and questioned what kind of man He could be. Now their response is much more resolute- they bow down and worship Him, they confess Him to be the Son of God. Though it will falter in days to come, their faith is strengthening.

Jesus bid Peter to come out to Him on the water. What would you have done? The rest of the disciples remained huddled in the boat. Who dares to claim the courage and audacity of Peter! Yet faith is not constituted by its owner, but by its object. Our command from God, though lacking the immediate context of Peter, is no less authentic. In the midst of the chaos and turmoil of the world and while the storms of life whip up winds and waves all around we are told to remain tethered to the anchor. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”1

Easier said than done! Especially when we’re eager to play around in deep water out of sight of the shore or the boat! The untamed sea has always been a biblical symbol of a world gone feral because of sin. In this fallen world right and wrong, truth and falsehood, good and evil can only be distinguished by the declaration of God. We can debate all we want about appropriate values and ethics for a free and democratic society. We can seek consensus on those things that contribute to the common good. It is necessary that we do these things. But all agreements and conclusions cannot ease the conscience of the believer if they conflict with the clear word of God. Neither strength of sentiment nor degree of popularity trump the decrees of the Almighty.

We must face the truth, for instance, that there is pressure to change the definition of marriage partly because Christians have long since been complicit in the abandonment of fidelity in marriage. Perhaps the handwriting was on the wall and we didn’t see it. We can hardly complain when the sanctity of life is not honoured when we stand by as euthanasia, abortion, and violence gain legal protection. Sinners sink in an ocean of sin just as Peter sunk in a sea of water. For these failures we are called to repentance.

Peter had an experience reminiscent of his baptism. Baptism involves a drowning of the sinful, doubting nature and a rising of faith that finds new life in Christ. Every time we cry out to God in repentance, every time we petition Him for deliverance, we return to the baptismal promise. Jesus’ rescue of Peter is immediate. He chastises him for doubting but he doesn’t let Him drown. The Holy Spirit will never snuff out even the most tenuous flicker of faith.

Dear friends, our faith does not rest on the mere possibility that Christ may one day be summoned before us to prove His divinity. Nor does it rely on a mental image of God appearing to us. Nor is it contingent upon our efforts to prove God’s existence. We have the Word. We have the testimony of many witnesses. Christ has been raised from the dead. The Messiah that was foretold was sacrificed for the sins of the world. He bore the penalty of all humanity’s guilt. The Holy Spirit connects us to the benefits of this redemption through the word and sacraments. Through the same Spirit we confess a suffering Saviour who went to the cross.

Consider carefully the words of the apostle. “The righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “Who will descend into the deep?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”2

Such confession has connotations of a public witness that has very tangible and serious consequences. The more Christianity gets pushed to the fringes the more courage it will take to confess Christ. A believer is never a strictly private being. The heart is moved and the mouth speaks. The heart is moved and the arms reach out. The heart is moved and the feet stride forth. The righteousness of Christ dwelling in an individual by faith is like a beam of light that cannot be completely concealed because it will bounce around actively and vibrantly until it finds an angle to shine forth.

The more Christianity gets pushed to the fringes the more courage it will take to confess Christ. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at the decline of the churches over the recent decades. It’s comfortable to associate with things that aren’t opposed or questioned by the majority in society. That is no longer the case for Christian truth. Is the Holy Spirt purging Christ’s church? Is He doing so to make it stronger in the face of what’s to come? In a warning to the church at Laodicea Christ said, “Because you are lukewarm- neither hot nor cold- I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”3 There weren’t may half-hearted Christians in the centuries of the Roman persecutions. There probably aren’t many half-hearted Christians in Iraq or Syria today.

The Bible contains a catalogue of testimonies of people throughout the millennia who faced harrowing circumstances. Hebrews says they were, “destitute, persecuted and mistreated- the world was not worthy of them.”4 But we have more than the encouragement of the saints; we have the promise of Him who is the victor over death. This truth keeps everything in perspective, as the Psalmist says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation- whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life- of whom shall I be afraid?”5And Isaiah the prophet says, “Do not call conspiracy everything these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it.” The Lord Almighty is the One you are to regard as holy, He is the One you are to fear, He is the One you are to dread.”6 “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”7 He will not fail us.

Come illness, injury, or loss; accident, incident or misfortune, persecution or suffering; come what may, still, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Finally, we can be intrepid though the prospect of death looms over us. Humanly we may tremble and our faith may near the limits of its elasticity but the truth to which that faith clings cannot be moved. “We are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.”8 The Scripture says, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”9 Those arms that were stretched out on the cross for us will embrace us for eternity. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 Hebrews 12:2 2 Romans 10:6-9 3 Revelation 3:17
4 Hebrews 11:37-38 5 Psalm 27:1 6 Isiah 8:12-13
7 Luther’s Small Catechism 8 Hebrews 12:28 9Deuteronomy 33:27

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
10 August 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt