Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
At Your Word I Will – 1 Kings 19:9-21, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, Luke 5:1-11
Talk is cheap, or so it is said. At first, I was going to make that, ‘or so they say,’ but part of the problem of talk being cheap is the hearers not knowing who the talker is. “Or so they say’ is not helpful. Is ‘they’ everyone, or the authorities, the experts, or some gal who talks so much she seems like many people? Or, am I saying ‘or so they say’ sarcastically, putting down the value of the saying, by repeating an overused expression? To use ‘or so it is said’ isn’t much better, but at least I’m admitting I don’t really know who is speaking.
Because talk really isn’t cheap. But rather its value depends very significantly on the identity of the talker. Who is speaking the words I hear, and whether I know that identity, these two facts go a very long way to helping me understand how much stock I should put into the words I hear.
Take for example, the statement: “Sally loves Billy.” That sounds good to Billy, but who said it? Did that punk Jimmy, who can mimic Sally’s handwriting, put those words in a note and pass it around biology class? Or did those words come through the soft lips that are part of the same beautiful face as Sally’s incredible green eyes? Did Sally, who is a pretty good judge of what Sally thinks, look Billy in the eyes and say, “I love you”? Or did Billy, in his lovesick, fevered mind imagine she said it, imagining those words so often, he’s convinced himself it’s true? Or is Sally loving Billy just what ‘they say,’ the baseless opinion of the crowd, which knows neither her heart, mind or words?
We tend to think talk is cheap, because so much of what we hear is unreliable. And yet we also know that very often talk is the most valuable thing, the most cherished thing, like the value of hearing the voice of a loved one you thought was lost or injured, saying, “I’m o.k.” Or there’s the value of the talk of Sally and Billy, thirty, forty, or even fifty years into their life together, a husband and wife who practice the boring and yet also priceless habit of telling each other, every day, face to face, “I love you,” words backed up not by perfection, but backed up by consistency, service, humility and forgiveness.
We cannot perfect our love, nor our consistency, service, humility, or forgiveness. But we rightly cherish these things in our relationships, because they are shadows of the perfect love that we all innately desire. They are also words that bring to mind the Lord and God who is revealed in the man Jesus Christ. The importance of words and their source is for us a shadow of God.
When you think about it, words, patterns of waves created in the air that strike our eardrums, sounds that only have meaning by common consent, such lowly things ought not have so much importance. But they do. They say, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” but ‘they’ are dead wrong. Words are powerful, the greater power being found in the greater speakers. If we could work our way back up the ranking of speakers, from the least to the greatest, we would at the end find ourselves before the Word of God.
Which is what happened to Elijah, and Paul, and Peter. We poor, miserable sinners cannot work our way up through the ranking of speakers to find God, so God sends His Word down to us.
Elijah was hiding on Mt. Horeb, also called Mt. Sinai, the mountain of God, the same place God met Moses in the burning bush, and also gathered Israel to give them the Ten Commandments. There on Mt. Horeb, at the entrance to a cave, the prophet Elijah came face to face with the Speaker, with the Word of God, who came not in a mighty rushing wind or an earthquake, or in the fire, but in a small whisper, speaking words of comfort and promise, and commission.
Paul, heading down the road to Damascus to arrest and perhaps kill more Christians, came face to face with the Word of God, the ascended and glorious Christ, asking Paul “Why are you persecuting Me, by persecuting My people?”
Simon Peter, having heard the teaching of Jesus and having followed the simple instructions to try one more time for a catch of fish, realized he was in the presence of the Word of God and fell on his knees in the boat, begging pardon for his sinfulness. And Jesus said, “Fear not.” Jesus assured Peter his sins would not be held against him, that Peter had been chosen by God and would be used by Him, to teach and preach the very same Word that had just given comfort and peace to his terrified heart. “From now on, Peter, you will be catching men.”
We base our teaching and confession on Scripture alone, because Scripture is the Word of God, the Word of Jesus, and the Word of Jesus is reliable. ‘He said’ is completely reliable when the ‘He’ is God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. For Elijah and Peter in our readings this morning, the ultimate basis of that reliability was as yet a future event, centuries in the future for Elijah, about three years for Peter. The Word of God to Elijah and Peter was true, and powerful, but it was not fully revealed, not fully accomplished before the eyes of humanity.
But for Paul in our Epistle today, telling the Corinthians about the Word of the Cross, as also for you, the ultimate foundation of the authority and reliability of the Word, the reason you can and should stake everything on the Word of God, is a revealed and accomplished-in-human-history fact. For the Jesus who spoke to Paul, converting Him to Christianity and making him into the Church’s greatest missionary, is the Jesus who bears the scars of the Cross in His own glorified body. The Jesus who spoke to Paul, and who speaks to you today, is the Jesus who delivered on all the threats and promises of God, not by wreaking destruction and woe on us sinners, but rather by accepting all the wrath of God onto Himself, dying once for all, so that in His resurrection, you can believe, and rejoice, that the Word of God to you is “fear not.” The Word of God in Christ is “God loves you, forgives you, is with you now and looks forward to having you with Him, face to face, in joy and glory, forever.” This is not what “they say.” This is “Thus sayeth the Lord.” This is what God has said, and done.
Peter does an amazing thing in that boat turned into a pulpit. Peter says: Master, at Your Word I will. Peter gives us the good example, showing us how to live. Peter makes time to hear the Word of Jesus, setting aside his work, literally loaning his workroom to Jesus as a place from which to preach. Then Peter sits, and listens to Jesus. Well, I assume he sat, since standing in a boat is tricky. Regardless, sitting or standing, something in the Words of Jesus made an impression on Peter. And so, despite the seeming foolishness of Jesus’ suggestion that they let down the nets and try again, Peter hears the Lord’s command and says, “At Your Word, I will.” Convinced by Jesus’ Words that the foolishness of God is wiser than men, Peter lets down the nets, and receives a miraculous catch of fish.
We too, need to set aside our work, and sit, and listen to Jesus, as we have done today. And, at the Word of Jesus, we should say ‘I will,’ and do whatever God tells us. But we don’t. Not fully, not very often. We can’t quite trust enough. We usually falter at the edge of action. We really want Sally to love Billy, like she promised, and for Billy to love Sally, like he promised. We want to see that love lived out, and Sally and Billy want that too. But we all know how hard that is in the long run. If they don’t have a well of forgiveness to draw on, the risk is high that Billy and Sally’s words and love will not endure. And this, sadly, applies to every promise we make. In promising to do what we say, especially in promising to do the will of God, our talk is cheap. We should still make and keep promises, but we cannot completely rely on anyone’s promises.
Except One. There is One who said it and did it, every time. There is One who heard the Word of God, who heard His Father say, “Put down the nets for a catch,” and replied, “At Your Word, I will.” Jesus shares His Father’s will from eternity, so, when He heard the command, “Go, catch me a great catch of fish,” Jesus did it. Jesus did it, and does it today, and will continue doing it until the boat of His Church is completely filled. Jesus is the Fisherman. The net Jesus casts is His own Body, arms spread out on the Cross to catch all our sins. Jesus spread out His arms because the catch the Father desires is sinners, sinners in need of forgiveness, dying people in need of new life.
The result? After all the casting of nets, which is the proclamation of Christ, and after all the squirming of those fish, which is our ongoing sin, after all the Word of Jesus is spoken, for however long it takes, then comes the harvest of salvation, forever and ever.
Jesus has been speaking His Word to Makyya and Milanya, and they were publicly caught into the net of His Body today, through Holy Baptism. Sorry to say, they will wiggle and squirm and try to get out of God’s net. They will still sin, and suffer from sin in their lives. But the Fisherman, the Talker, Jesus, the One whose Word is completely reliable, is drawing them in, and He will not stop. When they sin, when you sin, when I sin, Jesus speaks to us again, calling us on our sin. Jesus reproaches us and warns us of the punishment our sin deserves. Do not think you can hide your sins from Jesus. Do not think that because the world says something isn’t a sin, Jesus goes along with what “they say.” God hates sin, and so when you sin, when you ignore and break His Law, you are in danger of squirming out of His net, and back into the sea of condemnation.
God hates sin. But He still loves you, so Jesus speaks to you again, granting you repentance through His Law. Jesus by His Holy Spirit brings you to repentance, brings you to sorrow for and fear your sin, and to desire to do better. Jesus brings you to repentance, so that He can then deliver once again to you His salvation, delivered through His Gospel, the Good News of the Absolution, the completely reliable forgiveness of God, delivered to you through His Word.
Fear not, God has caught you. In Jesus, the Word made flesh, the Word of God to you is “I love you, forever and ever,”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.