24 July 2011

Homily for Trinity 5

[Trinity 5:  1 Kings 19:11-21 / 1 Cor. 1:18-25 / Luke 5:1-11]

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

What a bunch of hooey.  That's all those who are perishing think when they hear the Word of the Cross - the message about Christ our Lord triumphantly owning yours and this world's sin and bearing it to death on Calvary so that He might give you and all the world the gift of forgiveness and bestow upon all who trust Him a life that never ends, resurrection, immortality, adoption as children of God, and a place in the Father's house forever.  They can't but think it's a bunch of hooey.  Nonsense.  You'd have to be a fool to believe that one man's death - and such an ugly death at that - could do that.

So in our Epistle, St. Paul tells us the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.  But though they make think its hooey and and a pile of nonsense, for us who are being saved (note the BEING!), it is in fact the power of God.  God has His net.  His net by which He gathers up His elect children and brings them home to Himself.  That net never changes - it's always the Word of the Cross, the preaching of Christ crucified, the good news of what the God Man accomplished when He was carpentered up to the wood of the Cross and then smashed through the gates of death and the grave.

God's works and ways cannot BUT look strange to us - for His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways.  And that holds not only for those who are perishing, but also for you who are being saved.

You too struggle to make sense of what He's up to.
Take old Elijah in our first reading.  He'd had a glorious moment of triumph there on Mount Carmel.  Remember how he had taunted the worshippers of Baal as they sought to coax their fake god to deliver fire from heaven and absolutely nothing happened in response.  Remember how Elijah then called upon the living God, the God of Israel, and the fire fell from heaven and consumed the sacrifice.  How all the people had fallen on their faces and confessed that the Lord, Yahweh, He is God!  Remember how Elijah had prayed for the drought to end and how God sent rain in abundance and how in the strength of God he'd run before Ahab's chariot in the downpour.  But then when Jezebel sends word that she's planning on killing him - that his life is now forfeit - he panics.  He feels like his ministry has been for nothing.  He runs away and hides and finally comes to the mount of God.  And there when God asks what he's up to, what does he say?  "I've tried to serve you with zeal.  And it's been a waste.  I'm the only faithful one left and now they want to kill me."  God's ways are not our ways.  Doesn't make much sense to Elijah.  Doesn't make much sense to us.

God tells Elijah:  I've got a lot more people than you know about.  7000 no less who have not worshipped Baal, and you're work isn't over.  Off you go to anoint a new king for Syria, and a new king for Israel, and to meet the man who will be your successor in office - Elisha - whom you have to train up.  You're not done.  And I'm still God and still in control.  Now get moving.
God's ways not our ways.  His thoughts not our thoughts.  And so to the Gospel reading where Israel's God, come down in human flesh and blood, born of Mary, does an absolutely crazy thing.  After absconding with Peter's boat and turning it into a pulpit, when Peter and his companions had just finishing cleaning and stowing their nets after that fruitless night of toil out on the lake, Jesus tells them:  Okay, lads.  Let's hit the lake again.  The deep over there.  Let down your nets for a catch.

You can see the fishermen looking at each other.  What does this landlubber rabbi know of fishing?  Peter tries to explain:  "Master, we toiled all night.  We took nothing.  Don't know where the fish are, but they're not here."  Unspoken were the words:  "And you've taken over our boat, and we're tired and we just want to go home and get some sleep."  But the look in Jesus' eye must have shut up Peter for he finally concedes:  "Nevertheless, at your word we will let down the nets."  Again, I suspect he and the others were relishing the moment they could turn to Jesus and say:  "See, we told you so.  No fish."  But you know that's not how it turned out.

And then what?  Fish everywhere.  Glistening, flopping.  The Lord of the sea had commanded his creatures to fill the nets, to swamp them, to tear those newly mended nets under the sheer weight of the gift given.  "Good things that surpass all understanding" is how we put it in the Collect today.

Peter is floored.  He falls to his knees, begs the Lord of the Sea (and earth and sky and heaven) to go away:  "I am a sinful man, O Lord."  But the Lord had no intention of going away without him.  He does something even more nutsy than telling the fishermen to drop their nets into the sea for a catch.  He tells him:  "From now on you'll be catching men.  Don't be afraid."  He decides to take a bunch of fisherfolk and use THEM to cast the Gospel net that will haul in folks for the kingdom of God!  He takes Peter and Andrew, James and John, and as they follow Him He begins to put into their hands the net they will use to gather in God's elect children:  the saving Gospel that they were about to witness and whose witnesses they would be from one end of the earth to the other.  The Gospel that is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes it!

No, God's ways don't make a lick of sense to our fallen reason, but that's fine.  He has good things for us that surpass all understanding; promises that exceed all we can desire.  And He has the craziest way of forking them over to us:  a message of a man nailed to a tree for our forgiveness; a message of a man risen from the dead as the guarantee of our resurrection; places where He meets us to deliver all that and more:  a water where sins are left behind and you are wrapped in a holiness not of your own creation, but that is truly yours for you to grow up into all your days and through all eternity; a table where He feeds into His own His body and blood as the foretaste of the feast to come; hands laid on that wipe out sins - and suddenly you're inside the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and the Father's arms are wrapped around you in welcome; words in a book that go on giving faith, capturing hearts with a gospel net and hauling them into the Kingdom.  

The world will never NOT think that this is just a bunch of hooey and that we're deluded and deceived.  You know that you are not the ones who are deceived.  You are the ones who by the Spirit's gift can acclaim the marvelous wisdom and power of God - for His foolishness is wiser than our smarts; His weakness is greater than our power - and to Him alone be all the glory, honor, and worship, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and to the ages of ages!  Amen.


Unknown said...

A wonderful sermon, Pastor Weedon! But whenever there is mention of Elijah, the prophets of Baal, and the “sheer silence”, I cannot help but think that something appears to be wrong in this story. It first occurred to me that the spectacle of Elijah’s triumph over the prophets of Baal and the “sheer silence” stand in mutually exclusive contradiction to one another. One day we rejoice in the fantastic spectacle, and the next day we say, “of course, of course, He is in the sheer silence,” but we don’t see any inconsistency in that.

The verse (1 Kings 19:3), “Then he was afraid” (I know the Hebrew reads “when he saw”, but the Septuagint and some other versions read “was afraid”, presumably as a reason for “fleeing for his life”), immediately made me think of Adam after having sinned in the Garden. Why should Elijah be afraid, when he was fearless in facing the soldiers of the king, destroying them by his word? On no other occasion does Scripture record that Elijah was afraid. Did he realize he had done something wrong? Was the contest with the prophets of Baal his Meribah? Was it ridiculing the prophets, or killing them, or putting himself forward as the only one left as a prophet of God?

Then, after the “sheer silence” God tells him he is finished, “anoint Elisha … in your place.”

I have looked high and low but haven’t found anyone who has been troubled by this story. Can anyone help me with this?

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Sage said...

I'd be interested in knowing as well. It bothered me that Elijah did all that and when it was over God said, you are finished. Thanks for bringing that up George.

William Weedon said...

Perhaps I have misunderstood it, but I have taken Elijah's fear (after so much fearlessness!) to be an evidence of Elijah being a sinful man, after all. A great one - no question - but still afflicted with a common affliction of the saints: at times their faith waxes strong; at times it wanes to a weak glimmer of its former self. That God tells Elijah "it's over" - after he takes care of a bit more business - doesn't strike me as odd. He provides His prophet a wondrous ascension and welcome home, and it is very good for all of us to remember that there is only One who is indispensable to the Lord's great plan - and we are not that one, nor is the greatest of the prophets. Don't know if that's of any help, but that's how I think of the account.

Sage said...

I like that explanation. Sometimes we forget we all are human, including the prophets. Thanks!

Unknown said...

What you write is true of each part of the story, taken by itself. But I am still struck by the contrast between the huge spectacle on Mount Carmel and the “soft murmuring sound” (as the Rabbis say) on Mount Horeb.

Mount Carmel was where Samuel told Saul of the sin Saul had committed when he did not fulfill God’s command exactly, after he had defeated the Amalekites. So the place had some history. The story with Elijah and the prophets of Baal actually begins when (1Kings 18), “1 After many days the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, ‘Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.’ 2 So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab.” Was what happened after that what God wanted Elijah to do? I know God sent the fire on the altar Elijah had prepared, so you would think that it was in accordance with God’s will. But at Meribah water also came out of the rock, in spite of the fact that what Moses had done was wrong. Was the end of the draught dependent on the killing of the prophets of Baal, or was it a bit of do it yourself on the part of Elija?

Does the “still, quiet voice” have nothing to do with what happened on Mt. Carmel? Does God want both spectacle and the “still quiet voice”?

Taken by itself, the fact that Elijah was afraid is not surprising. But taken with everything we know about Elijah, even when he was in much more dangerous situations, it suggests something extraordinary was afoot here. Ahab, the king did not frighten him, but his wife did? I suspect that from the point of view of society at that time, that was truly humiliating. And that God gave him notice, so to speak, is also not surprising in itself, but right after his greatest triumph? Without having any connection to what happened just before? Were there any other prophets who had been told of the end of their mission before going to “be with the fathers”, besides Moses and Elijah? Moses for cause – and Elijah?

I know you have other things to do, so please don’t feel obligated to respond. It’s not as if I am doubting a major article of faith.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

William Weedon said...

I must confess: Jezebel frightens me more than Ahab ever did. Ruthless, wicked to the core, and Ahab more weak and wavering. He pouts; she assassinates.

Do you think that there might be a distinction in the two theophanies between Law and Gospel? I mean, Carmel was Law - and the Law kills. It brought death to the prophets of Baal and Asherah. It was the First Commandment writ large.

But finding the Lord not in the big things - but in that quiet whisper - is that the voice of the Gospel? After the fear, the terror, the lonely wandering, to be told that you are not alone. That God hasn't forgotten you. That His plan for you still goes on. That there is still a future for His people, His Church? This He never shouts at us in thunder or blazes at us in fire, but whispers like a Friend who is standing beside us and bringing us comfort?

Thoughts on that, George?

Sage, I just visited your blog - would you tell me your husband's Christian name so I can add him to my prayers. Strokes are vicious, nasty things.

Unknown said...

Somewhere St. Augustine wrote about the Christian’s spiritual discernment. He wrote to a friend to the effect that he had been told of some heresy, and he knew immediately that it was wrong, but he could not put his finger specifically on why (if anyone can find the citation, I will be very grateful; I read it years ago but didn’t realize its importance at the time). Later he found the proof texts. In a way, this is how I have been poking around this thing for years. I cannot get away from the feeling that Elijah knew he had done something wrong; therefore the fear (he didn’t fear before because his conscience did not bother him; it didn’t matter so much that Jezebel or Ahab were at the root of it). The contrast between the spectacle and the still quiet voice, I think, points to that error.

Although what we call Gospel is found in the OT, I don’t think that it was there in any meaningful way until our Lord came and said, (Luke 16), “16The Law and the Prophets were until John. Since that time the Kingdom of God is preached,…”). In other words, I don’t think that God wanted to demonstrate the difference between Law and Gospel here, but He definitely was saying that the spectacle was not His way. About 50 years earlier the angel of God spoke to Zechariah, 4: 6 “Then he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” Elijah should have known that.

In several instances God gave the command that people should be killed, but these were always direct, specific commands. For this reason, some think that when Moses ordered the killings in Exodus 32:27, that was Strike One for him, because God had not said that he should do this.

I suspect that to Elijah being alone was a matter of pride. He was probably disappointed and had to get over the fact that there were 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal. When he kept saying, “I only am left”, he was telling God how indispensible he was, not that he yearned for koinonia.

Nevertheless Elijah was there with Moses at the Transfiguration, and therefore one of the greatest of the Prophets.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart