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.
The reason we as Christians are especially tempted to despair from all of these things is because the heathens, the atheists, the agnostics, the “nones” in our world have made peace with this world. They don’t have the same struggles we do because they have embraced the culture. They have embraced immorality, or, at the very least, the idea that it doesn’t matter how you live as long as you recycle and support the ASPCA or the Shriners Hospitals. They have changed the definition of what is good and desirable. All around us we are bombarded with the messages of tolerance, compromise, and peace at all costs.
The Old Testament gives us a good look at other Christians who can commiserate with us. This morning we heard from Elijah. These Biblical examples are good for us. We see that they were real people with real sins and doubts. We aren’t the first people to go through these things! And through them we see how God interacts with His children. We see God’s character through their examples and we can regain hope in His promise.
So, let’s look at Elijah. He battled with powerful kings, false prophets, communicated directly with God, saw signs and wonders, he was an instrument of God for mighty miracles—like food appearing for the widow and Zarephath, raising the same widow’s son, calling down fire from heaven, and the like. Yet today we see how he is human just like you and me. He is whining and complaining. He’s disappointed in himself and everyone around him. He cries out to God, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God is hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And how does God respond? Essentially, He reminds Elijah that God’s plans are bigger than he is. Even though he feels alone, God will take care of him, He loves him, and He will be with the generations to come. The Lord sends him on his way, tells him to anoint successors. And He promises that Elijah will not be left alone. He will preserve a faithful remnant who will not become idolaters who abandon God’s Word and give into the culture. In other words, it’s going to be okay.
And Simon Peter shows us the same thing. Instead of fighting Jesus, telling Him that he knows better, that taking God at His Word is useless, a waste, etc., he listens. He probably thought he was going to show Jesus how wrong He was, but instead the Word did it’s job. It converted him, showed Peter that God is in control, and Peter believed it and it was counted to him as righteousness.
So, these Words are for you this morning. God is in control. He is the Creator, who controls the sea, the fish, the winds, the earthquakes, the floods, the droughts, and the heat index. He is in control over presidents, dictators, generals, and armies. He is more powerful than millennials, baby boomers, and Gen-Xers and will still be in control when these groups are nothing more than afterthoughts in history textbooks. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists.
And more than that, He is the Savior. The God of heaven and earth is your Lord and shares your flesh. He is the Redeemer of all who believe. He came to earth for you, was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died on the cross, was buried, and rose again on the third day. He ascended into heaven to prepare your way there. He has promised to be with you always, and has promised to return for you on the Last Day. You are not the only one for whom He does this, but He loves you like you are. He never leaves you. He will not allow you to fall away. In every temptation to despair and temptation to walk away, He provides the way out. He never leaves you without His gracious Word, His unbreakable promise. He speaks to you through the Scriptures, cleanses you in Holy Baptism, feeds you in Holy Communion. He sends Pastors to be fishers of men, men who remind you of these promises of God, men who speak the unfailing Word to you.
So, when the world around you, the stress in your own life, the doubt in your own mind and heart are fighting with your spirit, trying to lead you to despair and disbelief, listen to your Lord Jesus, who never leaves you, even if you think He should because of your unworthiness. He has overcome all these things—the world, the devil, and your sin. Heaven is yours. He keeps His Word, as implausible as it may seem. Be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.
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.