1 Corinthians 1:18-25
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Peter by his own reason and strength could not believe in Jesus Christ. His common sense, his years of experience told him: the night is over. The fish are not to be found. This rabbi knows nothing about fishing. His own reason said, “No,” to the Lord’s command. Did you hear a tone of frustration or exasperation in Peter’s response? Nonetheless, the Holy Spirit called Peter by the Gospel through Our Lord’s preaching. It was the Holy Spirit which overcame his worldly wisdom. In faith after the exasperation Peter added, “But at your word I will do it.”
God works through what the world thinks is utter foolishness. The world says suffering is pointless. “Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness,” human fulfillment, “live your best life now,” this is what it is about! Yet despite the world’s constant chorus of self-help books life is not like that. Instead of rainbows and roses there is death and suffering. No one is free from it. The sun and rain fall on the good and the wicked alike. Does God care about our suffering? So much so that He united Himself to our suffering by the Son of God’s taking on our flesh. He suffered with and for us. Through His suffering He blesses you. Redeeming all humanity from all sin, He has redeemed not only all humanity but our suffering too. So that when you suffer He Himself blesses you through it. For you are His. United with Him in Baptism so that He unites with you in your suffering. You bear the cross He has given you. Through His cross your cross strengthens, blesses, heals, and shields you from the wicked forces that would crush you eternally. What can suffering do to we who are in Christ? Christ has redeemed it. Christ leads us through it. Even blesses us by it. He sets a table for us in the midst of our enemies. In the midst of all that Satan and this world throw at you your cup runneth over, for Christ has given you the crosses you bear not Satan. Christ knows just what will benefit you. He knows what will strengthen, teach, temper your steel, save you from worse fates, and train you to be a blessing to others in their suffering. Such ideas are utter foolishness to our world.
Yet, God makes the world’s wisdom useless, meaningless, of no effect by saving all humanity through suffering. His own and even your own. His own Son took on our flesh, though He was perfect, though He knew no sin, He suffered the full effects of sin. He became the curse of sin. He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted, was cut off from Father. The Father for whom and by whom all things are created, who created all things through His Son, without whom there is no meaning, no purpose in anything, cut off His own Son from His eternal presence, turned His back on Him at the cross, made Him anathema, rejected of God. For you. For me. That is a suffering like you and I have never known, like we will never know. For on this side of heaven all creation is full of His glory. Where can I go to hide from His presence? If I ascend into the heavens He is there. If I make my bed in the depths He is there. We know not this forsakeness of the eternal Son of God on the cross. This suffering was His and His alone. And because the incarnate Son of God is God and Man all things He experiences are experienced by both natures. As a man He experienced physical and spiritual agony for six hours on the cross 2000 years ago. But because He is God He experienced that forsakeness of God eternally. Fully. Completely. This is why the death of one Man—a man who is God—redeems the universe. No other man’s death amounts to a hill of beans. But this man’s death is the fullness of suffering. This suffering has eternal meaning.
Salvation, life, and meaning through death? It makes no sense to a world fleeing from suffering at every turn. In the world’s wisdom suffering is to be avoided at all costs, not gone in joy and glee. But that is what our Lord did. He bore our sins to the cross in joy. He did not spurn the suffering that would make you His. So carrying our crosses we Christians go to the Sacrament of the Altar with the same joy that He carried His cross. So that we might go to our death as though we are going to the Sacrament of the Altar. Through baptism into Son’s suffering you have died to yourself. Died to sin. The Sword of the Spirit has been plunged deep into your heart. It struck you dead to God. It raised up a holy saint in your place. Though you sin much daily it is the old you. The dead you. The you God has already judged a sinner and slain, whom God does not know and has forgotten the old you ever existed, for His Son put that old you to death and hidden your life in Him. Though the power of sin still lives in you causing you to struggle daily you are dead to sin and alive in Christ through Baptism. There you were declared righteous and fully alive in Christ to God. This is a wisdom that makes no sense.
Our experience tells us that though I call myself a Christian I am just as sinful now as I was before I was a Christian. Over the years I learn to control my sinful desires a little bit. Really, its just shame that strengthens in us over time the ability to hide our sins. For my sins are not less, they are merely more internal, more hidden, more subtle. But the force of sin just as powerful as ever in me. My desire to sin just as ripe now as when I was a teen filled with hormones and ignorant confidence in the power of my abilities. Such experience tells us we are not Christians at all for we are no better. We are sinners to the core. Evil. Awful. Miserable. Damnable sinners. The honest amongst us know this about ourselves. But we sinners are liars, every one of us. We lie to ourselves. We lie to God. We say, “No I am not an evil, awful, miserable, damnable sinner.” Aren’t you? According to your thoughts, words, deeds you are. According to Christ Jesus you are not. But who’s talking about Him yet? Right now, we are talk about us on our own apart from that glorious fool, the Son of God. His own apostle tells us, “if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” I have sin. If I think I do not, if I think there is anything in me to hold up before God I am liar. A fool. A miserable sinner. I can not by my own reason and strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him. For my reason and my collected wisdom is futile, foolish, meaningless, utterly sinful, corrupt when it comes to knowing God’s ways. But rejoice in that fact. For it is the cross you bear as a Christian. And by Christ’s cross you are redeemed.
For the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel. He has enlightened you with His gifts of His Word and Sacraments. Through the foolishness of water, bread, wine, and words He actually makes some good stuff come out of a dead sinner like you. For He has raised up Himself in you. And He keeps you in the true faith. Even though sin lives in you, even though you are dead to God He raises you. Animates you. Breathes the breath of eternity into you. He puts His Spirit in you. The spark of life. That is you. The true you. The real you. God’s you. A saint. The only you who will remain on the Last Day. Perfect in Christ our Lord.
In Christ you are a fool whose only hope is outside of yourself. You were captured in the net of the Word of salvation. That net that hauled you out of your own natural life. It killed you when you came out of the water of Baptism. Being hauled into that boat of the Church was death to your worldly life. This poor boat seems like its going down most of time. The world is always sure it is going to sink. There is so much dead weight of so many dead fish in it that you swear it is going to be hauled under by the weight of them. But in God’s wisdom those fish are no longer fish. They are finally and truly men. The men and women God meant them to be. In this boat they are being ferried across the raging of the world to the shores of heaven. It is utterly foolish. It defies worldly logic. You deserve to get to there. You did not do anything to earn it but die. Yet this wisdom of God is stronger than anything this ridiculous world has to offer.
For God’s Word causes the world to tremble. It breaks apart rocks. It causes the earth to quake. It devours forests and puts sin and sinners to death. It is more powerful than the wisdom or strength of this world. But God shows Himself foolish to the world by not working in such power, but in still small words. A still small word from Jesus Christ changes everything. His foolish word promises life to dead sinners unable to help themselves. It jumpstarts their dead hearts to grab onto its promises. For faith grasps hold of that promise that, sinner though you are, the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctifies you to love your neighbour and despite your continual failures keeps you in the true faith.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON