If there’s one emotion we as Christians know well, it’s despair. We can relate to Simon Peter in today’s Gospel. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” I worked my tail off and everything still failed. I gave my kids the finest Lutheran education, devotions every night, youth group events every time they were offered, and they still rejected the Faith when they got to college, and not just rejected it, but now they’re hostile about it! I saved and pinched pennies my entire working life and the recession in 2008 did in my retirement, and now a decade later when I’m ready to retire, I don’t know if the market has rebounded enough for me to be able to retire. I took vitamins, exercised, shunned red meat and fast food and I still have cancer. I read every assigned reading, thoroughly researched for every paper, and studied till all hours for every exam and still managed to end the school year with straight B’s. I gave my marriage all I had and we still got divorced. I increased my personal devotional life—prayer and the reading of Scripture and coming to church—and I still lust after one who is not my spouse, am given to fits of rage, am filled with hate. We all know well what it’s like to recite this litany of despair. We look around us, we look inside of us, and we see that there is nothing good, nothing but reasons to despair. We want to take Jesus at His Word—try again and see if the results are different. But everything comes up wrong, against us, and often, worse than it was before. But in these times when despair threatens to gain the upper hand, we have no choice but to cling to the Lord and His gracious promises. We have the example of Simon Peter. He doesn’t want to listen to the Lord, but he does, and finds out that the Lord always keeps His promises. And that is the same thing we find here in the Divine Service. Our environments, our emotions, our feelings, our reason all deceive us, so we must hear, over and over again, the Word of the Lord repeating the promises He has made from the beginning.
One of the greatest struggles we face as Christians is that between faith and unbelief. On one hand, we have faith—the belief in Christ as our Savior, the confidence that God has our eternal best interest in mind, and the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is with us always to speak to our hearts and minds the very Words of Jesus. But unbelief is never far away. It lives in our rational, fallen mind. It tells us that God plays no role in our lives. This unbelief thrives on pessimism and optimism, on failure and success. When things go wrong, we question if God cares, if He is really watching, and, at worst, if He really even exists. When things go well, we pat ourselves on the back, proud of all the work we accomplished all by ourselves. “Pessimism and optimism are human emotions. Where they rule, faith is falsified. For faith has nothing to do with emotions. [Rather, faith] is the unshakable trust in the unbreakable promises of God” (Sasse, Lonely Way 1, 72, emphasis added).
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.