P.O.W. (Promises Open Windows)
Rev. S. D. Spencer
There’s a story that use to be told at many church gathers. It was about a man who lived on a flood plain. One day the weather man reported that an unusual amount of rain was going to cause flooding in his area. Some neighbors came over to warn him of the impending disaster but the man said, “I’m just going to trust God”. And the man cried out to God for help. And the water continued to rise and soon was up to the height of the man’s porch. A truck with high ground clearance pulled up outside the man’s house and those inside it urged the man to come along to safety. But again he said, “I’m just going to trust God”. And again the man called out to God to deliver him. The water continued to rise and soon the man found himself sitting on the roof of his house. A boat came to him and those inside begged him to join them. But again he said, “I’m just going to trust God”. And in deep concern he again prayed to God. A helicopter flew overhead and saw the man standing on the very crown of the roof and lowered a basket for him. But the man waived them off while saying, “I’m just going to trust God”. Soon he was ankle deep water. A tree, large enough to park a car on, floated by and nearly knocked him over so he pushed it away. Of course the man drowned and found himself in heaven. There he stood in front of the Lord and asked what happened? I cried out to You 3 times and you didn’t answer. And God replied to the man, “Didn’t I send some to warn you?” Didn’t send a truck to preserve you?” “Didn’t send a boat to bring you to a safe place?” “Didn’t I send a helicopter to snatch you from destruction?” “And didn’t I send a tree to save you?” In the story God provided the way but the man refused deliverance.
In our Old Testament text we see something very similar happening. Naaman the Commander of the Syrian Army was man with leprosy. Through the mouth of God’s servant Elisha, Naaman would receive the promise of God. He would be healed if he would wash seven times in the Jordan River. But when he heard what was necessary he rejected the promise. The promise of God would do him no good since he lacked faith in the promise. It was only after others with faith convinced him to act upon the promise that he was healed. Why, because God remains faithful to His promise.
When King Saul went to the witch of Endor seeking to know God’s will, Saul focused his faith where there was no promise from the Lord. And where there is no Divine promise, there’s no blessing, no matter how much faith one has.
The "Apology of the Augsburg Confession" states this truth like this: "It is by faith that God wants to be worshiped, namely, that we receive from Him what He promises and offers" (IV:49).
Our Gospel lesson today proclaims this truth.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word became flesh and the Word came to the people who stood by the Lake of Gennesaret. Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God, got into one of the boats, which was Simon Peter’s, and asked him to put out a little way from land. Our Lord God Almighty sat down and taught the multitudes from that boat.
Jesus stopped speaking and said to Simon Peter, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch”. Did you catch that? What did Simon Peter just receive? He just received a Divine promise, one specifically designed for him on that particular day. “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch”. Great! That’s wonderful. Peter has this promise from God. But, at this point, has it done him any good? Does he have what the Word of God promises? No! What does Peter do? Peter has just heard the Words as he and those other fishermen were cleaning their nets. Listen to the first word from Peter’s mouth.
"Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! This statement isn’t one of doubt but of fact. He is informing this teacher from Galilee of the past events ... things that this man might not have known. Peter didn’t know that Jesus had been with them during the darkness. "Teacher, the truth is that we have been working all night and caught nothing. Our good works have been of no benefit. All our well-intentioned deeds done during this world’s darkness have yielded nothing. All this work yielded and nothing to show for it but filthy nets - nets now needing to be cleaned.
But Peter, despite the fruitless night of fishing says, “at Your word I will let down the net.’" Human reason might be asking, "How can deep water do such great things?" It’s not the deep water indeed that yields a catch of fish, but the Word of God which is in and with and under the deep water, and faith, which trusts such Word of God in the water. That Promise that opens windows of opportunity P.O.W. But none of this happens without faith.
In Holy Baptism, God has promised salvation and deliverance from sin, death and the devil, and He grants eternal life to all who believe God’s Word and promise. The faith to believe God’s Word and promise is also a gift. The faith required to receive the promised blessings is the faith that God gives, for faith "is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works less any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). For without the Word of God the water is deep water only and the fishermen will not net a single fish. But with the Word of God, they have His promise, and through faith which trusts such a Word of God, Peter and those with him, "when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net were breaking."
Promises open windows. Consider another example of a Divine promise that opens a window. "Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread; and when He had given thanks, He brake it and give it to His disciples, saying, ‘Take, eat; this is My Body which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.’ After the same manner also He took the cup when He had supped, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; this cup is the New Testament in My Blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins. This do, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.’" (Matthew 26:26-28)
This is a Divine promise of God and its benefits are wonderful, the benefits that Jesus earned when He suffered and died on the cross for the sins of the entire world. The promised blessing is the remission of sins, and where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also eternal life and salvation. That’s God’s promise. These are given through this Word of God and he that believes these words has what they say and express, namely, the forgiveness of sins. This shows the need for God’s gift of faith to trust such a Promise of God.
"‘At Your word I will let down the net.’ And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking." Notice what Peter and the others did. "At Your word ... and when they had done this." They had the promise of God’s Word and they heeded it. They didn’t say, "Look, we don’t need to go into the deep. We can cast our nets right here next to shore. In fact, we don’t need nets. We can jump in and catch the fish with our bare hands." Naaman the Leper made that sort of stupid blunder. His promise of healing was in the water of the Jordan River. He thought that the rivers of Damascus had better water. That may have been true, but the promise of God was attached to the Jordan River. Only there was to be a cleansing from his leprosy. Naaman could have spent a year in one of the rivers of Damascus and he would have never been cleansed. The promise was attached to the waters of the Jordan.
Today, we baptize people with common water. Why, because God’s promise is connected to common water which is combined with God’s Word for the forgiveness of sin. Forgiveness of sins and salvation come by what God provides not by what we provide. It’s not by our works, our pious personalities or by our contribution to salvation. It’s not by some sort of man made decision to be a follower of Jesus. Isaiah 64:6 reminds us, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” We gain salvation by utilizing the promise that God has ordained in the means He has provided.
In His Name we are gathered and permitted into the very Presence of the Lord God Almighty. So we don’t celebrate the Lord’s Supper with cookies and coke, or with Wonder Bread and Welch’s. Why? Because, God has not spoken His promise in connection with these things, it’s bread and wine and the Word. We commune with Jesus true body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine. Jesus is truly locally present according to His promise.
Simon Peter realizes this Presence of the Incarnate Lord. Through the Word and work of the Lord, it’s revealed to Peter that this Jesus is the Lord. "He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’" This sinful man is now in the presence of the Holy God. He has come to Simon Peter and the natural reaction of man’s sinful nature is to depart from God’s presence and hide from Him. The Incarnate Son of God is in the boat and permits Simon Peter to live in His Presence. It’s the same today here in this place; He permits you to enter His Presence with thanksgiving. In fact, He wanted Peter to live in His Presence just as He wants you to reside in His Presence, even as you are doing right here and now.
So what, then, does the Incarnate Word say to Peter? Listen carefully to this promise and trust in this absolution from the lips of your Savior, "Fear not." "And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Fear not. From now on you will catch men”. We’ve heard those words before, "Fear not." God spoke to Adam and Eve giving them animal skins to wear after they sinned. He said, "Fear not." Here is the coal that touches Isaiah’s lips. "Fear not." Mary, "the Lord is with you." "Fear not." This is the promise of the angels to the shepherds watching their flocks by night, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you Good News of a great joy." God is with you. "Fear not." Christ is risen and with you always. He will never leave you nor forsake you.
The person who believes these words has what they say, namely, no need to fear being in the Presence of the Lord and of having the Immanuel, “God with us” even to the end of the age.
"And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Fear not. From now on you will catch men.’" It is as if Jesus had said, "I have demonstrated to you the lesser miracle in this catch of fish. You are going to be involved in the greater miracle — namely, of taking My Word of Promise and casting it as a net into the world and bringing babies, children, youth, adults and elderly into My Presence here in My Boat (the church) now and in My Paradise for eternity. Jesus’ promises open windows of opportunity. P.O.W. s
“So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him”. The promise is accepted by faith; it is free and excludes our works. It is offered by Him alone. For He alone paid the price for our salvation with His very own blood. And He promises to be with you always even unto the end of all days. That’s His promise to you for He has opened the window of salvation to all who believe. A gift of God, a gift paid with His life, His death and His resurrection a gift of salvation. And that’s a promise you can trust. In Jesus name, Amen and Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, AMEN.