In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Dear brothers
and sisters in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in his masterful Lectures on Romans, our
forefather in the faith, Dr. Martin Luther, makes this profound and pertinent statement – he
writes: “Our nature has been so deeply curved in upon itself on account of the viciousness of
original sin that it not only twists and turns the very finest gifts of God in upon itself and
enjoys them evilly (as is evident in the case of legalists and hypocrites), indeed, it even uses
God Himself to achieve these crooked aims, but it moreover seems to be altogether ignorant of
this very fact, that in acting so iniquitously, so perversely, and in such a depraved way, it is
even seeking God for its own sinful sake. Thus the prophet Jeremiah says in chapter 17: ‘The
heart is perverse above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?’ In other
words,” Luther says, “the heart is so curved in on itself that no man, no matter how holy, can
even begin to understand it.” Now St. Augustine in a previous century referred to this precise
wicked tendency on the part of sinners as the homo incurvatus in se – the Latin phrase for: “a
man curved in on himself.” Dear faithful, our sin is so inherent, so ingrained and entrenched,
that we take even the best of things given to us by our Father in heaven, those good and perfect
gifts from above, and we curve them inward, taint them with our selfish cravings, and warp
them by our impulse toward pure narcissism. And as Luther confesses, we do this even with
God Himself. It’s true. And it’s shameful. And it is our reality as fallen creatures.
I mention all this today because our Gospel lesson picks up where we left off last week.
After our Lord lavished His overabundant care and concern, His love, upon the crowds in
healing their sick and fattening them with a miraculous quantity of carbs and freshwater
protein, Jesus was then forced to retreat to a desolate mountainside for the sake of some
semblance of peace and respite from the overexcited multitudes. Now St. Matthew does not
record this particular part, but St. John does in his gospel account, where he writes that right
after Jesus fed those thousands, He immediately sensed the devious machinations, the
mischievous scheming of their collective heart and He knew that the crowds intended to
capture Him by force and claim Him as their king…
– an involuntary bread king, as it has been so called, apprehended against His own will. You
see, they wanted to bottle this bounteous miracle, the excess of free bread and an unearned
meal, and keep it for themselves in utter self-service and self-conceit, even if it meant
kidnapping the Messiah in order to so, to have Him on hand, ready to perform this trick at their
every wish. The incurvatus in se on full display – taking the best gifts and curving them inward
– even the gift of God incarnate and the bread of life. This is man’s nature, I’m afraid to admit.
And so, may this all be a warning to us here today. The feast of the altar here at Bethlehem, for
instance, the miraculous feeding still going on, while it is for us, and for our forgiveness, it
does not belong to us – and neither does our Lord, not His body nor His blood. He does not
belong to us. Rather, we belong to Him – we are His body – we are His possession. And our
presence at this table, at His table, the Lord’s table, is by His invitation and His invitation
alone. We have to bear this in mind frequently, friends, lest we, too, curve the Holy Supper
But that evening, two millennia ago, our Lord, in spite of what had happened, He held
no grudge against His would-be-kidnappers with their inwardly-curved hearts. Instead, He
merely retired once more to the side of the mountain to pray in quiet. How I wish we knew
what exactly that holy prayer was like… Yet our narrative swiftly shifts elsewhere, doesn’t it?
Out onto the lake where the disciples were sailing toward Capernaum. A strong wind began to
blow, we are told, with the boat greatly buffeted by the waves. It isn’t stated explicitly in our
given passage this morning, and I’m no sailor, to be certain, but Sts. Mathew and John’s
accounts imply some degree of danger involved with the ship on those precarious waters. As it
happens, in St. Mark’s telling of the story, we clearly find out that the disciples were in fact in
distress when out on the waves. And Jesus, their Lord, at this point no doubt thoroughly
exhausted, terribly tired, being fully man and subject to the sheer infirmity of a man’s body,
and having only recently narrowly escaped capture by the exact same crowd He suffered to
help, Jesus nevertheless abandoned His much-deserved solitude and rest and He went out to
assist His beloved disciples in their distress. St. John a bit later on, right before the Passion
narrative, he records that our Lord, having loved His own who were in the world, loved them
unto the very end. How true and beautiful these poetic words are.
And how true they were that night, in the wee hours of the morning, before dawn, when the
disciples feared for their safety out at sea in a tiny boat rocked back and forth by the
unseasonably fierce waves.
Our Lord loved His own, He still loves His own. He headed out to the disciples in the
darkness of night, walking on the water, as we hear. This was a marvel to them, of course, a
mystery, a miracle. But to us, it is nothing surprising really. Our Lord is God, Jesus is God, we
know this, and that early morning prior to dawn, God incarnate, in the flesh, decided to stroll
along the waves of the very sea He once made, like a man without a care in the world, but like
a God with every care in the world, He sauntered atop the wind-rushed water. And the
disciples, seeing a figure roaming seemingly carefree on this now-savage sea of Galilee, they
cried out in complete terror. St. Matthew reports they were worried it was a ghost out there.
They fretted. They’d already seen plenty of miracles, but how quickly they forgot and
faithlessly thought it was but a strange, spooky specter out on the dimly-lit water.
Our Lord turned to them straightaway though, He began to approach that humble vessel
of a ship and He urged them: “Dear friends, be of good cheer, it is I: be not afraid.” Such
words of comfort and consolation. But St. Peter, the most extroverted and opiniated of the
bunch, was determined at that time to test the Lord though: “If it is you, Master, bid me to
come out to you on the water – only then will I believe.” And Jesus responded, with patience,
in His surely soft but confident voice: “So come to me then, my son. Come on.” And Peter
stepped out of the boat, began to walk, like His Lord and Teacher, on top of the waves, against
all reason and common sense and science. However, a ways past His Lord, yonder in the
distance, he saw the ferocious wind nearby. And he worried. He was afraid, anxious. He
stumbled. He began to sink. His trust faltered and his body was soon submerged. And yet
immediately God’s hand was right there, yanking him from a watery death. God grasped His
hand firmly, saved Peter from himself and from his foolish fate, and then asked He with a
divine sincerity: “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt? Why do you doubt?” And they
both thereafter took shelter in the little boat and headed on, with the wind dying down, having
been calmed by its very Creator. All the disciples then worshipped Jesus, we are told, saying:
“Truly you are the Son of God.” And that is our story this morning.
Our God is so patient, isn’t He? Merciful and understanding. And still, how often we,
His children, doubt Him. Why do we doubt, brothers and sisters? Why do we fail to fear, love,
and trust in our God? Why do we take the gift of faith and curve it, twist and turn it, distort it
into doubt? How many times has He saved us from a figurative watery death just like Peter?
How many times has He healed us and fed us and wiped tears and snot from our messy faces
like a loving, selfless mother, and protected us from dangers we justly deserved? But we
nonetheless doubt Him. Lord, we believe but help our unbelief!
I do wonder though: what does your doubt and unbelief look like, friend? That’s the
question I pose to you as individual Christians this day. We all doubt. But what does yours
look like? Does it manifest itself in a general lack of prayer, for example? Do you pray every
day? Or does your doubt take the disfigured and discontented shape of a morning routine
without a single moment of spoken gratitude for your Father in Heaven and for His endless
generosity? Or is it however many days a week you go without once cracking a Bible – is that
what it looks like for you personally? Or maybe you constantly cling to your pet sins? Maybe
they are more of a companion to you than God’s gracious forgiveness. Or heaven forbid,
maybe you actually doubt His forgiveness. Perhaps you embrace not the pleasure of present
sins but the self-pity of ruminating over sins from years past – from wrongdoings and offenses
long since forgiven and forgotten. Do you feel unworthy of His absolution? The absolution I
speak to you here, do you have confidence in it? Or do you neglect to confess what you know
good and well His once for all sacrifice was more than sufficient to satisfy? What secrets still
lay hidden underneath the floorboards of your life? And do they lead you to doubt and distrust
and disbelieve? If so, know this: nothing is hidden from God. You are not invisible or veiled
from the One Who sees everything. St. Paul writes in the Epistle to the Hebrews that not a
thing in creation is hidden from God’s sight. Not a moment of your life is concealed from the
One Who made you, Who formed you in the womb. So what use is there in doubting Him?
Why dispute His forgiveness? He wants to forgive you – and He is ready to forgive you. So get
over yourself already. He has purchased you, paid your price. All that’s left to do is confess
and receive His grace with thanksgiving.
Or maybe you doubt because sometimes, when all is quiet and you’re alone, you long so
much simply to see Him, you yearn deeply to hear Him, to witness His face and listen to the
sweetness of His voice, but you are unfortunately met with nothing but silence, a blank stare
with nothing staring back. Your death, like all our deaths, it is imminent, friend, and you know
it, don’t you? You feel it in your bones, its impending reality, and as your mortality becomes
more and more apparent and palpable to you with the passing of days, weeks, months, and
years, maybe you worry and fret that at that last moment, at this life’s end, that there will be
nobody at all there to take your hand and to save you from the darkness of fading out and
fading away, from nothing but the nothingness. We all have those moments. I would be lying
to you if I were to suggest that they weren’t just as much a concern for clergymen, as if we
were somehow immune to the occasional dark night of the soul.
When you really get down to it, we are all of such little faith. But that’s okay, dear
faithful. Our God’s saving hand, thankfully it is not dependent on the little faith we can muster
but on the sure faith He freely gives to us – on the faith worked in us by the Holy Ghost, His
faith, which can indeed move mountains. If you doubt, if you need to hear God speak to you in
order to know with absolute certainty that He is there with you always, then all you have to do
is open your Bible. Read the Word of God out loud. God works through means, I say it so
often and will say it once again – He works solely through means, and God is present with us
in and through these things. When you read the Bible aloud, yours is the voice of God – just as
mine is when I read His Gospel to you in this service and preach His Word. Or do you want to
see God? Is that it? Is that your desire? Do you desperately wonder what exactly He looks like?
Well then open your eyes, open them wide, gaze upon the host and the chalice here presently,
because that is our God, that’s what He looks like for us now, the One Who not only bears
Himself before your human sight, but offers Himself up onto your tongues and into your souls.
Or do you ever think to yourself: God could never forgive this specific sin of mine. It is
too great. Neither can I confess it before a minister of the Lord. He wouldn’t understand. No, I
am not deserving of God’s salvation. I am not worthy of being redeemed. There can be no
room in the kingdom for someone like me. Should this ever be your thinking, then I beg you, I
implore you, quiet your doubt, distress, and dismay for just a moment.
For one brief moment, try your best to stifle it – and think instead of your baptism. Remember
your Holy Baptism, friend. You once sank in those waters and were then yanked out by the
hand of God. You died with Christ, were buried with Him, so how dare you now doubt the fact
that you shall be raised with Him, too. Hear this sermon – hear me preaching – heed God’s
Word from this pulpit – I am preaching you out of the grave of those sins. You are free. For in
fact, you have already been raised. In a very real sense, you are already resurrected. You are a
new man, a new woman, in your Holy Baptism and in the Word proclaimed to you. So repent
once again and believe, confess and be forgiven. And trust it. Trust the words of absolution.
And then let the past go. Shake it off. And if the devil won’t leave you alone about all the
wrong you’ve done, then all you must do is just keep pointing that luckless loser to this here
font, where your death and your resurrection once became a reality and remain so. Hush the
satanic foe, who, we must acknowledge, is so cunning at times that he makes his own hellish,
deceitful voice sound an awful lot like our own. But silence him, won’t you? Because he
deserves nothing save our disdain and derision.
Here’s the thing, dear children: you are saved. You are redeemed. Period. You are
preached right out of that grave. It’s spoken and done. And you will soon be fed with God’s
own body and blood. You get to hear your God speak within these walls weekly and are
invited to witness His form and taste His mercy at this rail. So do not be afraid of Him, nor
should you fear yourself and your sins. Only believe. Take courage and believe. Do not doubt.
But trust your Lord and His goodness. Trust that He loves you and will love you unto the very
end and beyond. You are a sinner, this is true and unavoidable, and you will remain a sinner
until your final earthly breath. Regrettably, you will continue to curve even the most perfect
gifts of God inward, even God Himself, to your own selfish advantage. That is our despicable
nature. But our God, He holds no grudges, fortunately. When He speaks His forgiveness, that
forgiveness won on a cross by unimaginable affliction and grief, He well means it. And when
He forgives you, your sins are blotted out, it’s not just talk – they are forever removed from
you as far as the east is from the west, as the psalmist, King David, once sang. God loves you
despite all your consistent mistakes and your fallen nature. Yes, you deserve eternal wrath.
Yes, you deserve that harrowing justice long ago meted out on an innocent Son at Calvary.
But His death for you, in your place, in your stead, has taken all that away – it’s gone now –
His passionate suffering has atoned for all that you rightly earned. Our Lord, the One
ransomed, now gladly captures, kidnaps the sinner’s fate from you, and as a free gift, God
gives you His grace, mercy, life and salvation in return. What an exchange! So be not afraid of
Him. Come out onto the water to greet Him. Ignore the waves of this present life, that’s only
the devil kicking and screaming in defeat until the Last Day, like the pathetic baby he is. But
look to your God instead, keep your eye on Him, as He’s walking out on the water to you,
coming to you this day, making up the distance Himself, for you, in order to safeguard you
until that time when He at last takes you home for good.
There is no reason to doubt, dear faithful. But be of good cheer always – rejoice at all
times – for your salvation lies outside of you. Trust me in that. And remember your baptism
every single morning, look to the Blessed Sacrament here where the true God resides, and put
your faith in His Word. Again the prophet Jeremiah inquires: “The heart is perverse above all
things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” Well God does, beloved. He
understands. It doesn’t matter that you cannot fathom the iniquity of your own blackened heart
and its miserable abyss. Because He already has, and for the sake of love, for the sake of
mercy, He has reckoned your weak, pitiful little heart righteous on account of the merits of His
only-begotten Son, the Christ. God knows you. He sees you. That’s what matters. And He still
desires you, notwithstanding all your many blemishes – He longs for you – each one of you,
He wills your personal salvation. Therefore, do not doubt Him any longer. But come and kneel,
in faith, in worship, receive the body and blood of your Lord, what cannot ever in truth be
doubted. Maybe your minds wander here and there in this service, but your senses, your eyes
and tongues, your catechized bodies, deep down they good and well recognize Who God is
after all these years. So come on down, be forgiven one more time. This meal of redemption
and supper of salvation is just for you, prepared for you, you blessed sinner and saint. Our Lord
Jesus Christ, He is not a ghost, nor a specter faintly felt. No, He is really and truly here, right
now, soon again in the flesh, with us gathered on this ark of faith, the ship of this life – all
thanks to the Holy Ghost. What a miracle that is. And Jesus calls to you now like He once
called to Peter: “Come to Me, My child. Come taste and see.” In His Name. Amen.