God is with us in Word and Sacrament

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Matthew 8:23–27


“What sort of man is this . . . ?” the disciples ask.  What sort of man sleeps through a storm, while they are about to perish? What sort of a man, when sought out for help as he himself has instructed his disciples to do, rebukes them for their weak faith? What sort of man, can say to the wind and sea be still and they listen? What sort of man is this? They ask.

Notice what lies behind their question. It isn’t curiosity. It is fear. They’re afraid of him. What sort of man can do this? Their questions almost assume the answer: “No man, only God can do this.” They’re afraid of Him. If he can do this to the wind and the wave, what can he do to us? What sort of man is this?

We ask something similar as the winds blow and the storms of our lives rage on around us. Only we flip it. We ask: What sort of God is this? Don’t you hear our pleas? Don’t you see our need? Are you asleep? Where are you?

Notice what lies behind our question. It isn’t just fear. It is fear lined with a touch of rage. We’re afraid of what is happening, and we’re angry that things are the way they are. We know what God is capable of. We know what he can do. And yet, we endure the fallenness of this world. We fight and fight and fight to gain ground here only to find out that we’ve lost it over there. We are tired. We are weary. Not just  by the battle, but by the fact that the enemy isn’t always clearly marked and the lines clearly defined.

And so we cry out: Save us, Lord, for we are perishing. Show your mighty hand. Bring us justice. Make things right.

There is no more important theological lesson to learn than this: God is not like us. He doesn’t submit to our ideas. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. Now I know it sounds like a copout, but it’s the reality—reality we don’t always like, but it’s the reality nevertheless. God is not like us. He doesn’t do things the way we think they should be done. He doesn’t considers appearances. He really doesn’t care what people think. Jesus is His own man in a way no one else is, that no one else can be. He is not concerned with doing the proper thing because whatever He does, whether we understand it or not, is the right thing.

But that idea requires faith, it requires trust, because He doesn’t seem to be doing the right thing. He seems to be sleeping, to be ignoring us. Wars and disease, hatred and greed, bigotry and addiction: these things don’t seem right. Families are falling apart. Babies are murdered in their mothers’ wombs. American soldiers die in foreign lands, while wives at home are unfaithful. Children cheat. Schools teach what they’re not supposed to and don’t teach what they are. Friends betray us. Pastors preach false doctrine.

And then, as if we weren’t already our own worst enemies, nature herself comes swooping down on us in hurricanes and tsunamis, in frigid temperatures, ice and snow. And all our efforts against them, all our little programs with grief and debt and pregnancy and marriage counselors, all our engineering feats and government money seem of little effect against the evil that lurks in the hearts of men.

Vanity. All of it vanity. It’s enough to lull us into the sleep of Jonah, the sleep of denial and avoidance. The sort of sleep we do when we don’t want to face our problems or challenges, when we try to run away from them, or just pretend that everything is alright. So we sleep, perchance to dream, hoping to find some solace and comfort in Utopian fantasies.

If Leave it to Beaver and the Cosby’s now seem cliché and transparent, if Hallmark seems obviously sappy and Martha Stewart just plain fake, then turn to any home improvement or cooking show. Check out the DIY blogs. They’re fantasies disguised as reality. No one lives like that. They’re simply barometers of our discontent. They show what we want but fail to obtain. Your answer doesn’t lie in gadgets or flower bouquets, in a beautiful home or a beautiful meal, even in happy, healthy, well-adjusted children. You won’t find salvation in human love. Spouses and children disappoint as surely as parents and siblings, as surely as we disappoint ourselves. Stick to your prayers. Submit in trust to the goodness of God and wait for the Lord. It will be revealed in time. The storms will cease. Jesus is with you.

And what if He rebukes you for your panic or anger? For your desire for safety, for your desperate little faith that thinks it is perishing? Thanks be to God! Thanks be to God that you still have a smoldering wick of faith and that it knows where to go, that it still prays, that it seeks salvation in Jesus’ Name.  Thank God you are weak. Because then, and only then, are you strong. He will not let you become dependent on your faith or upon your works. He will purify you with holy chastisement and will not let you ride out the storm in false confidence. He will keep you dependent on Him, and only upon Him.

And what if your conscience is plagued by guilt and regret, by doubt and fear? What if you are weary? Thank God for that as well. For it is faith, a living and vibrant faith, that stirs your heart. Faith causes you to feel sorrow and shame. The pain is proof that your faith is alive. Pray that you never lose that feeling until God relieves you of it on the last day. Pray that you are never comfortable in your sins, that you never think you’ve got Him figured out, that you can handle the storms on your own. Be rebuked again and again and again. Suffer His rebukes, and be broken by His Law. For in this way He empties you of yourself to fill you with His love. He breaks you to mend you. He kills you to revive you. For His sake we are killed all day long. We are counted as sheep for the slaughter. If we stop feeling the Law, we lose the Gospel. First comes the rebuke, then comes the calming of the storm. First comes the cross, then comes the glory.

Are we of little faith, O Lord? Indeed, we are unworthy in every way. But He has made a promise. He is our God. His Name is upon us. Thus we call out, “Save us, O Lord. Be our God, be our Savior. Deliver us from these present evils and from the Evil One. Count us among that fearful group on Lake Galilee. Let us be your failing disciples that you might show Your grace in us. We have no boast, no claim upon Your mercy. But we have Your Word and Promise. That is enough. For He is our Jonah. He calms the sea with His sacrifice. For He has gone into the belly of the earth and come forth again on the third day.

What sort of man is this? He is the Lord. And what sort of God is this? The only true God. For He rebukes us if He must. He sends the waves over the sides of the boat to make us desperate, full of fear, and even angry, that we learn to pray. And then, He gives us peace according to His Word. He gives us the faith we lack. He gives us the Holy Spirit, and He will bring us home. For He remembers His Word and Promises, while we wait for the Resurrection to come and the consummation of all our hope. What sort of man is this? He is Jesus, the God who saves. Amen.


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