Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Not far off. . .
If we have doubts about God, about death, about heaven, about life, about what it all means – what about the disciples? The empty tomb was not enough to ease their fears and erase their doubts. They discounted what they had seen and heard and doubts gnawed at their faith. How trustworthy is the resurrection? What you hear? What you see? Though Jesus had bid them leave their nets and become fishers of men, in the midst of their uncertainties, they returned to what was most familiar to them. Like the fishermen they were, they took their doubts and fears and went fishing for answers. They were not far off from faith but they were not quite there yet either.
"I'm going fishing," says Peter. And they followed him but a whole night left them with no fish and no answers. On their own and left the power of their nagging doubts and fears, they found it impossible to believe, to be convinced of what they had heard and seen. They were tired of the whole thing and headed for shore defeated when a voice from the mist asked them, "Did you catch anything?" Without recognizing Jesus, they grunted their disappointment. "No, we ain’t got nothin! No fish. No answers."
Jesus told them where to look for fish and in doing so He told them where to find their answers. The boat almost sunk because of the great quantity of fish and so they looked at the One who had clued them in on the honey hole. "It is the Lord!" John shouts out. Peter dove in to pursue Jesus. The fish and the answers are with Jesus. You cannot meditate or reason or feel or doubt your way to faith. Jesus is the One who imparts faith by the Holy Spirit. Jesus commanded them to bring their catch to Him. "Come and eat," He offered. They did not dare ask any more questions for they knew it was the Lord and that He was the answer to everything.
He too the bread gave it to them and the fish... and they knew Him! Like the Upper Room, the disciples on the Emmaus Road, the miracle of fish and bread to feed thousands... Their questions, their fears, their doubts, their hunger – all were met in Jesus. He ate with them and showed He was no ghost or angel. But it was not simply what they saw or heard that worked its miracle of faith in their hearts, it was Jesus.
We are not much different from those disciples long ago. We are not far from the Kingdom of God but we are not quite there yet either. We tend focus more on our doubts and fears than we do our confidence. We tend to take our doubts and fears and go off on our own to think things through and come up with our own answers. Such fishing is fruitless. None of us can reason or meditate or feel ourselves into the Kingdom of God. Faith is the work of God by the power of the Spirit. Faith comes from being close to Jesus and not alone with our fears.
We come here week after week – not because it is great fun or great entertainment but because here is where Jesus is. Here is where we find the fish, the answers to calm our fearful hearts, the forgiveness to ease our guilty consciences, and hope to bolster our weary hearts. We speak the familiar words of the liturgy, of the creed, of the Our Father not because they are magical words but because they speak of Jesus who gives courage to our fears, faith to our doubts, and food for our souls.
We speak here the mystery of the faith over and over again. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. We repeat these words not because they are magic, but because this is the miracle and mystery of the faith. We preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. If Christ be not raised, you are still in your sins and there is nothing else.
How often have you gone off on your own for answers? Looking for a faith that seems far off... Trying to reason out an answer to the mystery of life and of faith... Like the disciples of old, none of us will find an answer by going off on our own. Neither solitude nor fishing gives us answers or nurtures faith. Jesus does. We come here to see Him more clearly, love Him more dearly, follow Him more nearly as the old prayer says. The answers lie not in our hearts but in Jesus and Jesus is in His Word and in His Meal.
The Church bids us come not because we have the answers but because Christ is here. Here is where fishing for answers and courage and forgiveness and hope finds the big catch. Here we come weekly to reclaim the promise, to exchange the rags of our unrighteousness for the perfect clothing of Christ's holiness, to be renewed in hope, to be restored from our detours and dead ends, and to be sent forth again to live as God's people doing His bidding in the world.
I find the end of the gospel reading so deeply profound. They had finished eating. Jesus turns to Peter – the Peter whom He had called to be a fisher of men. “Do you love Me” he asks of Peter three times. Each time and a little more frustrated, Peter responds, “You know I do.” So Jesus tells him to “feed His lambs... tend His sheep.” In other words, to do what Jesus had called Him to do and to leave behind his former vocation.
There are words there for us as well. We may have come here for answers, come here to be forgiven, come here to be raised up from despair... but the answers always lead us back out into the world where our baptismal vocation is to be lived. We love God by loving our neighbor and we serve God by serving our neighbor. Christ does not lead us to comfortable place where life revolves around us. Like He called to Peter long ago, Christ leads to faith and hope that we might love and serve as He has loved and served us. Notice what are the last two words of the Gospel – Follow Me!
This is the easy part. Coming here and having Jesus tell us where the answers, the forgiveness, and the hope are... But here we do not stay. In a few moments we will walk back out those doors and what we do then is no less significant than what we do here. Christ comes to us that we might go with Christ to the world. It starts at home, at work, at school, in the neighborhood, in the community... “Follow Me!” Amen. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!
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Dear Rev. Peters: You write, “We are not far from the Kingdom of God but we are not quite there yet either.” Then you list some of the sins we are prone to, which gives the impression that “being there” means perfection.
Our Confessions clearly state that the Kingdom is nothing else than the Church. I submit that in this Church we are “fully there” as St. Paul writes, Colossians 1: 13”He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” I think the problem is that, following Luther’s explanation of the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, many think that the Kingdom continually “comes to us”. This is a confusion of Sanctification and the Kingdom. While we are fully in the Kingdom, our sanctification continues. But to imply that we are somehow only partly in the Kingdom is to deny Scripture and to cause the faithful to doubt.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart
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