St Luke 5.1-11 Trinity 5
St John's Ev LC, Victor, IA 2013.6.30
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Being a fool for Christ. Is it wise? / And is there strength / in weakness?
Elisha left everything / and went after Elijah and assisted him in the prophetic work of the Lord. The story goes like this:
“So [Elijah] departed from [the mountain] and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. And [Elisha] left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me [first] kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.
Elisha was only a farmer, what did he know about all this prophet stuff? And who would want to be troubled with such suffering and persecution? For what? You know what happens to prophets? Elijah himself declares that prophets get killed, that is there end. People will hate you, Elisha, why do you follow Elijah? Why leave everything you've work for, everyone you love, including your mother and father, why assist Elijah when it means death for you? It's foolishness.
The disciples left everything / and followed Jesus.
It was the greatest catch that the Lake Gennesaret (also called the Sea of Galilee), it was the greatest catch of fish that lake had ever seen. Business was booming; at an early age this young man, Peter, had made a name for himself. Okay, so it wasn't the most pleasant of occupations, fishing in ancient Galilee, but Peter was good at it, and so were his partners, the sons of Zebedee, James and John. They had a good life there. Why throw it all away? So much potential in these young entrepreneurs. / One day, they just left it all behind. The story goes like this:
Jesus said to Simon [Peter], “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
And their stories aren't unique. We've heard it all before: the story was the same for Abraham, for the Israelite nation when they came out of Egypt, for Ruth, for Rebekah, for Paul, and these are just a few of the Biblical examples. There are also the multitudes of believers who would come after: Polycarp, disciple of St John who followed Christ even to a crucifixion of his own in the early second century. And in the 4th century, there was the brilliant and young lawyer and rhetorician Basil of Caesarea—he was so successful that even the Emperor knew him by name; but here is what he said about all that learning and studying:
I had wasted much time on follies and spent nearly all of my youth in vain labors, and devotion to the teachings of a wisdom that God had made foolish. Suddenly, I awoke as out of a deep sleep. I beheld the wonderful light of the Gospel truth, and I recognized the nothingness of the wisdom of the princes of this world.
On to the sixth century now, there lived one Mary of Egypt who, after God miraculously/supernaturally somehow put up a barrier and blocked her from entering a church one day, she repented of her successful life of prostitution and lived out the rest of her life devoted to constant prayer. Now to the sixteenth century, Martin Luther and the other Reformers who left everything they knew in the Church of Rome to follow Christ into new and distance and dangerous evangelical truths. Now to the nineteenth century, there was CFW Walther, missionary to America and founder and first president of the LC-MS, who left the comforts and security of Germany and the German state church. / And even now in our day the story is still the same: Daniel Johnson, former LC-MS pastor at Redeemer in Marshaltown / now Catechist and Missionary to Siberia and the Baltics; Jeffrey Horne, former pastor in Garrett, IN / now missionary in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.
The story of Christians throughout the ages is the same. Foolishness. Christians are leaving places and things and people / and they are going; they are following Christ. Some stories are more dramatic than others, but it's all the same story, nonetheless. Christ calls, His sheep hear, they leave all / and follow Him...usually through personal financial and physical devastation and loss, sometimes even to death. Foolish sheep.
Do a risk/reward or pros/cons analysis of the Christian life, and the result will be clear: the Christian life is foolish, and the Christian is weak. If you are after comfort and pleasure in this life, the Christian life ain't for you, brother. If you are seeking a life that is well-organized, controlled, and predictable, the Christian life ain't for you, sister.
The Christian life is hard and messy; it goes against social norms; it goes beyond and runs deeper than family ties. The Christian life disrupts every day life / and makes relationships and conversations awkward.
And if that's not enough, listen to this contradiction: the Christian life is not for the strong, but for the weak; it's not for the wise, but for the foolish.
Listen carefully to St Paul's words from the Epistle reading:
to those who are called...Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
God called out to Elisha / and Abraham and Ruth and the disciples and Luther and Rev Johnson. It was God's invitation that caused them to leave all and follow Him to the ends of the earth. His call / was to live foolishly / and to become weak.
And this same invitation goes out to you, today. Just as it goes out to you from this pulpit and from that lectern and from that altar every week; the invitation is this: come and be a Christian, come and live a Christian life. I don't just mean live a moral life—though that is certainly part of it. I mean leave everything / and follow Christ. Leave your popularity at school and among your friends, just leave it / leave your reputation and success at work, / leave whatever it is that God calls you personally to leave (and it's different for all of us; for Peter it was fishing, for Mary of Egypt it was a promiscuous life, for Rev Johnson it was being a parish pastor) / whatever it is for you, leave it and become weak; live foolishly / with Christ.
Ask yourself: are you weak enough to do that? Are you foolish enough to do that? / In other words, have you gotten to the point in your life yet / when you're just sick of it all, fed up with yourself and know that there must be more; / are you seeking after a Source of strength that you just can't find here in this world; and a Source of wisdom that is more than philosophical and logical? // Then what you are seeking after / is Christ—the Power of God and the Wisdom of God.
Now the point is not just that we become weak or that we become foolish. The point is that when you are full of yourself, / then there is no room for God. When you are full of your own strength, then there is no room for God's divine strength; when you are so intellectually advanced, when you are so full of your own brilliant ideas / then there is no room for God's divine wisdom.
On the other hand, / to follow Christ, means that you die to this world and you live to God; it means that you stop running after worldly pleasures and earthly stuff, and instead / seek God and find Him to be your greatest joy; it means that you repent of yourself, and turn toward Christ, the Light; it means that you empty yourself / and become full of God, full of His life, His strength, and His wisdom. It means that you stop being so proud and ask Him for help, saying, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. I am too weak for this situation, give me Your strength...Lord, help me, I am too foolish to handle this situation, fill me with your wisdom.”
And He does. After all, He is the One who invites you to live in Him. He will give you what you need, when you need. Trust Him, because you know His story, / how He was weak, too. [point to cross] And how He was foolish, too, don't you remember?
He was emptied. But He is full now / of eternal life. In fact, He is overflowing. He has more than enough. And so He invites you to follow Him. To leave everything—to empty yourself, and to be filled with His life, strength and wisdom.
Now a regular speech would end with a “now here's what's so great about it.” // It's not like that for the life in Christ. It's kind of like trying to answer someone who says to you, “now what's so great about being part of your family?” or “what's so great about being married to your husband or wife?” Certainly there are hard times, as there are for every Christian, too. But the good stuff, the greatness of having God's strength and having God's wisdom, the benefit of living in Christ: / there's no describing it. And for me to try and describe it and try to convince you of it would be a disservice to you.
So, my sermon will end like Christ's sermon, and like Paul's and like the Church's sermons since. It ends with an invitation: Come and see. Repent and receive Christ. Do not be afraid, for there are many who have gone before you / and there are many who will come after. Come and share in the one story of all who together follow Christ into His Kingdom, the eternal Kingdom of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.