Epiphany 4 Sermon 2014 “Cast all your cares upon Him for He cares for you”
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 8:23-27
February 2, 2014
“Cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you”
In Nomine Iesu
Think what kind of a storm that must have been, that Peter and the others came to Jesus and said, “Save us, Lord! We perish!”
Navigating the Sea of Galilee was Peter’s job prior to becoming a fisher of men with Jesus. Such a man is not going to fall on his knees and start praying unless it is a storm that he is sure is going to destroy him. Peter and the others must have been absolutely terrified. It must have been a storm unlike anything they had ever experienced.
And Jesus? Jesus is asleep. How do you sleep in a storm about to tear your boat apart?
The chances are good that you are here this morning or listening on the radio looking for calm in the midst of a storm. You may face imminent disaster. Or it may be that the storm you’re in isn’t the worst you’ve ever been through; it’s just that there have been so many, and you’re tired. The sails of your boat are torn to shreds. The masts are broken. You’re constantly bailing out water.
And sometimes calm weather can be just as deadly. When Portuguese and Spanish ships started sailing to America that was one of the worst dangers—that they’d get caught in calm seas and just sit for days and weeks in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight and no wind to carry them, slowly running out of water and the sailors growing more and more ready to mutiny.
What is your storm?
Deteriorating health? Constant physical pain?
Worries about money? Difficulties at work?
People speaking evil of you, accusing you? Chaos or suffering in your family?
Grief? A lost loved one?
Sin? A guilty conscience?
The fear of death?
And in the storm, the wind howling, waves roaring over the deck, where is Jesus? Well?
It seems like He’s asleep. Either He’s asleep, or He’s not who we thought. If He’s not asleep, why is your boat being thrown around by the waves? Why is your boat, or our boat, about to sink? This isn’t happening to everybody. There are lots of boats with people who claim to have Jesus on board that are doing quite well. In fact, there are lots of boats who with people who don’t claim to have Jesus on board that are doing quite well.
Around 700 A. D. Muslim armies swept across the world. They conquered the ancient empire of Persia and huge parts of Christendom—Egypt, all of North Africa, Spain, until finally they were stopped in France. Then in the East they conquered the Holy Land, Syria, and most of Turkey—which meant most of the lands where the first churches were planted by the Apostles, including cities and regions whose names we know as books of the New Testament: Philippi, Colossae, Ephesus, Galatia. Centuries later the Muslim armies were still advancing, conquering Greece, Bosnia, Serbia. 150 years after the Reformation, almost 200 years after the discovery of the New World, the city of Vienna looked like it was about to fall to Muslim armies. The Muslims didn’t claim to have Jesus in the boat—not the Jesus we know. They said He was a prophet, a Muslim, but certainly not God and Savior.
The Muslims were often firm in their faith and ready to die for it. The Christians in the countries they conquered often were not so firm. There had often been plenty of unbelief and immorality and sin among their rulers, the clergy, and the people. So many of the people converted to Islam. For some the success of Islam was the proof that God was with them and Jesus was not who they thought—the Son of God. Others may not have converted to Islam but still lost heart. They still believed Jesus was the Son of God. They just weren’t sure that He cared for them. They looked at their defeat as proof that they were forsaken, and so they no longer had joy and courage in the face of their suffering. When we aren’t sure whether or not Jesus is with us and loves us, no wonder if we are gloomy, overwhelmed, afraid to risk anything, too exhausted to do anything to serve our neighbor!
The disciples were like this here, and it isn’t the last time. When Jesus is arrested, almost all of them run away. Peter denies Him. When Jesus is buried, they all lock themselves in a house and hide.
What is that but unbelief? To despair of God’s grace because your boat is about to sink? Or what if the disciples had started to fight each other about whose fault it was that the storm had come and they were in trouble? “You aren’t rowing hard enough, Thomas! If you don’t start rowing like you’re supposed to we’re going to toss you overboard!”
Who knows why the storms come? God knows. We aren’t wrong to realize that we or other people in the boat have sinned and deserve God’s wrath. Maybe the disciples had been slack in rowing earlier in the night. When storms come, we should examine ourselves, repent of our sins, ask God to forgive us and help us to do better.
Yet it’s foolish to think that if we just row harder everything will get better, and it’s foolish to think that just because the sun is shining on us and there’s no storms, just because Jesus is doing great wonders and large crowds are following Him—then we are pleasing to God, but not when our boat looks like it is going to sink.
What is that but unbelief? God is showing to us that often our faith is not in Jesus and His Word but in our thinking and seeing and feeling. If things go well on earth, then God is with us. If they go badly, then we aren’t sure. That just means we confuse earthly blessings and success with the true God.
Or if we have very moral lives, then we believe that God is with us, but if we continually struggle with sin we fear that He is angry? That means we confuse our good works, our sanctification, with the true God.
This is idolatry: whenever our trust is not in Jesus and His promise of the forgiveness of sins. When we trust in the fact that our lives are successful and not in a hole; when we trust in the number of people that come to our church and talk about how great things are here; when we trust in the holiness we see in ourselves as proof that God is really with us. Those things are all gifts for which we can thank the Lord. Yet one can have them and not have Christ. And we can have Christ while we have terrible weakness. Christ can be with us even though everybody leaves the Church except for two or three. Christ can be with us even though we see nothing in ourselves and feel nothing in ourselves but sin, death, damnation, and hell itself.
Yes, even if the whole world condemns us and calls us servants of Satan. Even if our own consciences condemn us, Christ can be with us in His grace.
Not only “can” but is. He is with us and He is for us, because He has promised to be. Not because we are faithful, not because we have been so successful at overcoming sin. He has promised unconditionally to be with us and save us. Whoever wants to be free of sin, He promises that we have it in Him.
That’s true not just when the sun is shining and great crowds are following. It’s true most especially when the sun is darkened and the stars fall from the sky. When we call and Jesus seems not to hear us—when He seems to be asleep, or dead, or to have rejected us forever.
He is with us, He is for us, He forgives us, saves us and leads us most especially when we feel lost and abandoned and as though God Himself is striking us in His wrath.
Think of poor Jonah. When the storm was terrifying the sailors, what was it like to be him? None of them knew who the true God was. They were idol worshippers. But Jonah did know who God was—and Jonah had purposely disobeyed Him and said, “No!” and run. And now this storm had come. God is angry at people who worship idols, even those who have never heard His Word. Yet at that time, Jonah must have felt himself to be the greatest sinner in the world. He knew God and he rebelled. “Throw me into the sea, and then the storm will go away,” he told them. And He was right. They threw Jonah overboard, into the angry sea. Then everything got calm. Tell me, who did God seem to hate more than anyone else in the world right then? His prophet.
Jonah probably thought it was the end. He went down into the depths, just like the disciples thought they were going to do. The depths of the ocean are symbolic of hell. The deeps swallowed up the whole world in God’s wrath during the flood; they rolled over Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea.
But Jonah was saved from the depths. God sent the great fish, who ate Jonah and spat him out on the dry land by Nineveh so he could preach repentance.
God does not prove that He loves us and is with us by keeping us from being swallowed up by the depths.
His wrath surges over us too. We hear the Law of God and it condemns us to death and hell. Yes, you deserve God’s angry sea to swallow you up. We are not just idolaters who have never heard God’s Word. We have heard the Word of the living God and known Him, and yet again and again we have not believed Him. We have not believed His promise to save us and to show us grace. So we have turned to our own ways and tried to save ourselves. We have done it by being afraid and depressed and refusing to go love our neighbor as He commanded us because we said, “If we do that, they will hate us, or cast us out, or kill us. Or we might fail and anger God by our failure.” We have done it by attacking our neighbor to try to save ourselves. When hell attacked and swamped our boat, we looked for scapegoats to throw overboard, because we didn’t think Jesus was going to wake up and help us.
But Jesus did wake up, and He still does. With a word He calms the roaring ocean. It’s not hard. He doesn’t break a sweat.
He doesn’t sleep and let the waves roll because He doesn’t care or because He can’t do anything. He does it to strengthen our weak faith. To trust in Him when the sky is dark, when everyone seems to be falling away. When all men hate us for His name’s sake. When even our sins go over our head so that we can’t see.
“Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” He says. Don’t you know that when God’s wrath comes over the whole world and even over you, I am the fish who swallows you and brings you up from the depths?
No matter how great God’s wrath seems against us, hasn’t it all flooded over Jesus our Savior, and our brother, our beloved, our guide?
Noah had to go through the flood too, and so did the people of Israel. But they went through with Christ.
Christ went through the deep flood of God’s wrath against all the sin of the world. It went over His head. They put Him in the tomb, and the disciples thought that was it for Jesus, and for them. And then He appeared in the locked room where they had locked themselves in despair and grief and fear.
He went down to the depths of hell and despair and God’s wrath and burst forth again into life.
And we have also gone down into the depths with Him. Not alone with our sins, but in Him—like Noah went through the flood in the ark and like Jonah went through the ocean in the fish.
We went through death and God’s wrath in Baptism. Jesus’ resurrection and your baptism into Him. That is your proof that God is with you when hell itself is breaking into your conscience, your heart, the church.
If you call to Jesus and He seems to be asleep, remember this story. He was asleep, but He had a good purpose in being asleep. It isn’t because He doesn’t care about you. It isn’t because He intends to destroy you forever.
He is against our old nature, but He is for you. He is sometimes silent when we are in pain, but He is with us. He lets the flood seem like it will overwhelm us to teach us to cling to Him and not to our reason or our senses.
He is still with us, even if He seems to sleep. He’s not just thinking about us. He’s become one with us and saved us by giving His own flesh and blood on the cross. And if everything in all creation speaks against us, in the ark of His church He will remain until the end of the age. His words will not change or be altered despite the devil’s rage nor fail us even though our unbelief is huge and our faith a mere smoldering wick. “This is my body, given for you. This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Those words are his last will and testament. They are God’s own pledge, signed and sealed with the blood of His Son, that He is for us, that He has justified us of our sins, and that HE is with us under our cross.
So we can cast ourselves upon Him like Jonah every day; even when He seems to have condemned us forever. We cast ourselves under His judgment and upon Jesus who received that judgment, and into the deep water of our Baptism, where He pledges that we have a share in His resurrection.
Lord, be our light when worldly darkness veils us; Lord, be our shield when earthly armor fails us. And in the day when hell itself assails us, Grant us Your peace, Lord:
Peace in our hearts where sinful thoughts are raging, Peace in Your Church, our troubled souls assuaging, Peace when the world its endless war is waging, Peace in your heaven. (LSB 659 Stanzas 3-4; “Lord of our Life and God of our Salvation.” )
The peace of God which passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.