Preached July 4th, 2010
1 Peter 3:8–15a
St. Luke 5:1–11
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today is the fifth Sunday after Trinity, and by coincidence it is also the 4th of July, American Independence Day. In our three Sunday sequence on “Grace, Mercy, and Peace from God our Father,” this is the third Sunday, and thus our focus is particularly on the Peace of God. It is interesting to think about how these two themes interact.
One of the many gifts of God to men is the establishment of the many nations and the division of the peoples of the world into those nations. Genesis 11:9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth. A patriotic love of our native country is natural, given by God Himself, and belongs to the citizens of every nation with respect to their own country. Thus is it that today, we as Americans, celebrate the founding of the United States, our country, the place where we live, our home. It belongs to us; it is ours; it belongs to no one else. We can say with the ancient psalmist, Psalms 16:6 The lot is fallen unto me in a fair ground; yea, I have a goodly heritage. We have been blessed in this land. We should pray diligently for our nation and its government, particularly that it may return to the ways of truth and righteousness, things sorely lacking in America today.
For most of us, our lives are centered much more in the local community than in the nation at large. We are grateful for the blessing of a nation that enables our local community, particularly our Churches, to be free to work and to worship freely, but few of us live our lives on the national stage. It is really the local community that is the primary concern to most of us.
In our Epistle lesson for the day, St. Peter is particularly addressing the Church. The Church is the earthly home of Christians, a home that is entered in peace in our baptism and that peace is continually renewed and restored through forgiveness in the ministry of absolution. The same sacraments that refresh our bond to Christ also provide the bonds of fellowship with other Christians. Thus the Church is not just a place of refuge and forgiveness, but it is the home of God’s family. Seen as a home, St. Peter undertakes to set out the house rules.
1 Peter 3:8 Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: In the Church, we are to live together as brothers, being of one mind even though there are different temperaments. This is exactly like the situation in any Christian household; there will be a variety of dispositions, and various opinions, but even so, all are bound together in love for one another. We all know the real difficulty in accomplishing this within our own households at times, but it is still what God requires of us in the Church. We need to see the Church as our extended family, and treat every member of it as such.
We all know that it is very easy to get along with someone who agrees with us on everything. On the other hand, one of the greatest difficulties for each of us is learning to disagree in a loving, civil manner. This is a place where I think society has regressed substantially in the past fifty years because we have ceased to focus on objective discussion, and in its place every disagreement is personalized. We are frequently told, “don’t talk about religion or politics, because those are divisive subjects, they make people upset or angry.” This bit of common wisdom has much basis in fact, but it must be overcome because we need to find a way to talk about many important topics in an impersonal, civil manner. There are deep moral questions in our society that are not being addressed because we cannot talk about these issues, and we have to find a way to do this without attacking people, without everything being seen as personal. This is difficult because another person’s perception is a major part of the problem, even when no attack is intended. Even so, we need to find a way to accomplish this. If we do, this will eventually be a great blessing to our whole society by restoring the ability to have honest discussions again. We have done better in the past, and we can do better in the future, God willing.
St. Peter then quotes Psalms 34:15-16a 15 The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. 16 The face of the LORD is against them that do evil. He is going on to describe the Church as a home of prayer, a place where the work done is work sanctified unto the Lord. This is a life of peace, safe from harm. Even if suffering comes, the blessedness that Christ spoke of in the Beatitudes in St. Matthew 5 does not depart, but rather remains for the Christian secure in the home of Christ’s people, the Church. Just as ancient Judah was told to be unafraid, Isaiah 8:12b neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid, in the same manner Christians are not to be afraid of what men may do either. Rather, just like Judah, we are to fear God, Isaiah 8:13 Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
As our Gospel lesson for today begins, the boats are empty and the fishermen are washing their nets, about to call it a day. It has been a disappointing night of fishing with no catch, and they are tired. They are ready to rest when Jesus calls on them to provide him a platform from which to speak to the crowd, a place where he can speak to the many who are lining the shoreline. Unlike the fishermen who are ready to rest, our Lord Jesus is constantly working, never resting. There are people that have not yet heard His message, and He must speak to them as well. This is the Jesus who said, John 5:17b My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Christians who are not working, working for the Kingdom of God, are not like their Master. Do you recall the question from last Sunday, “is he like the Master?” Today we must ask, “are we like the Master?”
Think for a moment about the many different places in which Jesus taught and preached. In His numerous confrontations with the Pharisees in the Temple, on the mountainside for the Sermon on the Mount, at the Wedding in Cana of Galilee, in the Upper Room, from the Cross, and many other places, including Peter’s boat as in our Gospel lesson for today. Each situation is different in many respects, but they all have the same essential features; Jesus, the Lamb of God, teaching and preaching the salvation of the world to people who otherwise were without hope. It was for this reason that Luke 5:1a And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God.
After He finishes teaching, Luke 5:4 b he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught, an invitation to catch some fish. You will recall Simon Peter’s comment about having toiled all night and having caught nothing, but “oh, well, if you say so ….” Jesus tells His Church to be brave and trusting and to leave the results to Him, not thinking that we are going to accomplish great things ourselves. The resulting huge catch of fish is not because of what Peter and his companions have done, but rather it is entirely because of the Master, Jesus Christ. Just as He is able to fill the nets to the breaking point and the boats to the point of sinking, He can also work miracles in the hearts of men. Many fish — the souls of men — are lost to Christ because of our failure to work at His command, our divisions, and our inability to work as a team for Christ.
A great part of the peace of God is humility. The most effective workers for Christ are those that are most aware of their own unworthiness to be in His presence, aware of the fact that all power belongs to Christ and not to themselves. Thus whenever the Church appears powerful, we see the Church failing in its mission because power and humility do not go together. Christ would have his disciples serve him “in all godly quietness.”
Our Saviour Jesus Christ gives peace to the fearful, to the man whose conscience accuses him, and promises success for all godly work begun in Him. Jesus has made us fishers of men, to catch all men for Him, not taking them by deception, but by employing their own reason and judgement. We are certainly not to trick them into something that their good judgement will disapprove, but rather to use their own reason and judgment to bring them to the net of Christ. Our difficulty lies in that men prefer their imagined liberty in the wide sea of sin and selfishness, thinking that this is really where their advantage lies. It is only through the power of Christ that this confusion can be overcome. Our job is the work of Christ, and the power we have for this work is the power of Christ. To recognize this fact is to give us the power to do our work in peace and without fear.
The peace of God is the quiet assurance that comes from knowing that we belong to God in Christ Jesus, and that our future is secure there, no matter what may befall us here. It is the recognition that we are but travelers here, on the way to our heavenly home, and that our passage, though possibly very difficult, will definitely end well. We are always able to come to God in the sacraments, to be restored in our relation to Him as we make our way toward our end, and we have His assurance that He hears our prayers and is mindful of each of us. We can ask no more than this.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.