The Fifth Sunday after Trinity
☩ IN NOMINE IESU ☩
“Depart from me for I am a sinful man.” In the face of certain death, as he is about to be swallowed up by the deep, Peter implores that the Lord of life would depart from him. The boat is sinking. Peter is dying. He thinks he recognizes the source. It was not the great number of fish that were bringing them down, but the Lord. And so he asks the Lord to be Jonah: “Depart from me.” Cast him overboard, and Peter will keep the fish and everything will be fine.
Peter was afraid of death, as all sinners should be. It is the wages of sin, the just reward for failing to keep the Lord’s Word. The Law worked terror in him, but not repentance. For he clung not to the Lord, but to the things in this world in which he continually found comfort. He turned to his work, to the fish, the fruit of his labor. He turned to something he could control, something he could wrap his head around, his hands around, and sink his teeth into. He turned away from God, from Jesus, and turned toward the things of creation. He couldn’t see that it was the fish that caused the sinking. He couldn’t see that it was the things of this world that betrayed him. He couldn’t see it because they had always come to his aid before. They always did the job before. They always delivered before. They always filled his belly, his pocket, his house with more stuff than he had before. He was addicted. It was his knee-jerk response.
He was a sinful man, and he didn’t want to die. But he didn’t want to lose such a great catch either. And so something has to give. Something has to be left behind. Something must be thrown overboard. And that something is Jesus. “Depart from me,” he said. The Law worked terror, but it didn’t work repentance. It didn’t create faith. Peter could not turn away from the lure of the fish, the stuff of creation where he put his hope and trust. The things of this world that demanded his toil, his blood, sweat, and tears.
Lutherans know what sin is. We confess that we are poor miserable sinners every week. We know that there are two kinds of sin. We know all about actual sin. This is the sin that we do against the Ten Commandments. But we also know that there is original sin. This is the sin that we inherited from our first parents Adam and Eve. This is the inbred, in born sin—the sin of the heart, the mind, and the soul. It is that inclination toward what is evil, the very need and desire to do what is evil because we believe it will help us get more good for ourselves.
God made countless good things when He created the world, but they all can be twisted into foundations on which to build little chapels of self-trust, self-hope, or self-love. They are personalized idols, things in which the semblance of self-sufficiency, safety, and control can be worshiped in the form of whatever we feel we need most at that moment. And rather than receiving God’s gifts with thanks, we misuse them in the worst possible manner: to replace Him. To throw Him over board all the while saying, “I a poor miserable sinner.”
This habitual use of the things of creation for convincing ourselves that everything is just fine is idolatry. And we are addicted to it. It is original sin. At any moment where a lack of control rears its beastly head, when the raging waters of this world pour into our boats, rather than being still and believing God is in control, we cast about for anything in our vast pantheon of stuff and forge it into a refuge, a god of momentary personal stability. And we cast overboard the only true God who can help. We craft these gods from bank accounts and careers, hobbies and family, eating, dieting, drinking, teetotalling, shopping, saving, sex, spending, being entertained, finding a cure—it doesn’t matter. We worship anything and everything that promises to give us the momentary high of happiness.
But this never works for long. As with the use of any other drug, sinners can’t get high on the same dosage of the same idol for very long. The more you look to the same substance for the same result, the more you build up a tolerance. Whatever fills our need for hope, trust, and control in this moment, whatever might get you spiritually high today, it is never quite enough to keep the hight going tomorrow. They betray us. They turn on us. They begin to control us because we become numb to their effect, but need them nevertheless just to function. Like Peter and his fish, we cast out our only true help and turn to that which is really killing us. And this terrifies us. It terrifies us to be out of control, to lose hope and comfort in the things that always seemed constant. And even though the Law has worked terror, it has not worked repentance. It has not created faith or trust in the only true God. for when we lose hope in one thing, it’s easier for us to turn to a new idol to try to get the same spiritual results we’ve grown to expect. In other words, we have grown comfortable with our own sins. And we pass them off with statements, “well, we’re all sinners,” “I’m only human.” We don’t even realize that what we are doing is killing us. That we are asking the Lord of life to depart in the face of certain death.
But do not be afraid. For the Lord is not leaving the boat. He is bringing it back to shore. And there He asks you to leave it all behind and follow him. Leave it all in the boat. Let it all drown in the water, and follow Him. That is how it went for Peter. That is how it goes for you. Do not be afraid. The Gospel is not in stuff. It’s not in things of this creation. It is in the Words and Promises of Christ. Do not be afraid. God is not angry. The sea can’t have you. By water and Word, you belong to Him. He came in peace to make peace, to give peace. So follow Him. Follow Him all the way to the cross, through suffering and death into eternal life. For He came to save you. This is what the true God does. This is the one thing that is necessary. Cling to Him. Trust in Him. He is faithful. He is in control. He is the author and perfecter of your faith. And He will not be taken away from you. He is remains with you always. Thus does He come to you again today. In Word and Promise, Body and Blood, to take your sin from you and replace it with His righteousness, His purity, His life and His peace. So come all you who are wearied and heavy laden with the empty promises of this world’s idols. Come, eat and drink with the only true God. Eat and drink of the only true God. He is here to lead you to your true home. And he will not leave you as orphans. Amen.