You can imagine that storm at sea . . . the howling of the wind, the crashing of the waves, the water filling up the boat and threatening to sink it. Consider that the disciples on board are full-grown men, not only capable adults but experienced fishermen; and yet, they are in danger of perishing. They are scared to death and panicking, because their whole world has been thrown into chaos.
You can imagine that storm and that utter chaos, even if you’ve never been out on a boat at sea. Because you’ve got your own storms to contend with, your own chaos. Howling winds, crashing waves, water up to your neck and rising, and your whole world on the verge of shipwreck.
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void, and darkness covered the face of the deep. By His Word and Spirit He brought forth light out of the darkness, and He established a beautiful and brilliant order throughout His Creation. It is still by His Word and Spirit that He creates and gives life and upholds all things in their proper place. Whereas, apart from His Word and Spirit, creation collapses back into chaos.
There is such chaos in the world on account of man’s sin. For the Lord God, who made the man in His Image, also gave the man dominion over the creation. By the Word of the Lord, the man was to exercise authority over the earth, to govern it according to the good order that God had put into place, and to act as God’s own agent and representative. Thus, for example, it was the man who gave names to all the animals. So, too, the man and his wife were to fill the earth with their children, and to subdue it, not as tyrants, but as a godly king and queen over God’s good creation. When the woman and the man deviated from God’s Word and reversed the order of His creation, they opened the floodgates to the deep dark waters of chaos: Real storms that drown and destroy on land and sea, and in the air, and a host of metaphorical storms that rock and roll your world.
Now, man still attempts to exercise dominion — and you should do so, in keeping with your place in life, your office and station, according to the Ten Commandments. The chaos of sin and death is undone by the right logic of the Word of God, by the keeping of His good and acceptable will. When you fear, love and trust in God above all things, and you listen to His Word and call upon His Name, and you honor your father and mother, and you faithfully love and cherish your spouse, and you do no harm to your neighbor but help him in every way that you can, then the light shines in the darkness, and the chaos gives way to a beautiful order and form.
Yet, man attempts to exercise dominion, not by living under the authority of God’s Word, but by imposing his own will against his neighbor, and by pitting his own strength against the challenges and dangers of life in a fallen world. He sets his own wisdom, ingenuity and skill to the task of survival. He takes on the chaos like an exhilarating adventure. He thrills at the prospect of riding the storm out and forcing it to serve his purposes. He harnesses the wind and dams the water.
It can be an invigorating contest, up until the point when it all goes horribly wrong and becomes life-threatening. Then it’s no fun anymore, but scary. Not only the danger that threatens your body and life, but the overcoming of your will, that is the most disturbing chaos. The danger can be a thrill, but not the realization that you are powerless, that you are at the whim of wind and wave — that is when the chaos rolls over you completely and drags you down into its depths of darkness.
The external chaos is bad enough, whether it be a destructive storm, an oppressive boss, unruly children, or financial calamity. Those outside forces make you angry or afraid, or both, and they can fill your days and nights with anxiety. But even more alarming and disarming is the chaos within you, which drives your thoughts and feelings, your words and actions. You like to believe that you’re in charge of those things; that, whereas others may push you around and refuse to listen to you, at least you have your own mind, your own will, and you’re still your own man or woman. Except that the storms inside of you are tossing you about and threatening you as much or more than those that rage against you on the outside. Even there, within yourself, you’re powerless to take control. Lustful thoughts seize your mind, no matter how hard you try to resist them and shut them out. Envy and jealousy drive you against or away from the neighbor you are called to love. Bitterness and resentment cast long dark shadows across your heart, no matter how pleasant your outward demeanor may be. Disappointments and regrets rob you of any confidence or ambition.
Your addictions call the shots, instead of reason or sound judgment: You spend money you don’t have on things you don’t need. You eat and drink things that you know will be harmful to your health. You waste endless hours of your time on frivolous pursuits, instead of doing your duty.
These are the howling winds and the crashing waves that threaten you and overwhelm you from the inside out. Chaos and confusion reign within, and you are powerless to save yourself.
But of course, there is Jesus, who has come to help you, and who is here with you. Right? He who is the Christ, the Son of God in the flesh, with His Word brings peace and calm to the Creation. He undoes the chaos and orders all things rightly. Even the winds and the waves obey Him. For He is Himself the Word by whom all things are made, and He is also the true Man who exercises godly dominion over Creation. You have heard the evidence of that in this familiar Holy Gospel.
So, why are the disciples even more afraid when Jesus has quieted the wind and stilled the waves than they were of the storm in the first place? That is what St. Mark has described: Before, they were afraid because they were perishing, but afterwards they are very much afraid. Why? And why are you so afraid of the good and right ordering that Jesus obtains and gives by His Word?
Such fear is, again, a part of the chaos inside of you: It is the fear of sin and death, instead of faith and love. For in your fallen state, the power and authority and right ordering of the Word of Christ Jesus can only be perceived and interpreted as the force of the Law, as the imposing of His will upon all that is contrary to His Word. So, yes, all that chaos in the world that threatens you must obey Him and submit to Him. But so is your own chaotic and sinful behavior confronted by the authority of His commands, and your own stubborn will is silenced and stilled before Him.
That perception of the Lord and of His authority, according to the power and judgment of His Law, is even more frightening than the chaos that rages all around you. For it presses upon you and challenges your will, and in a single stroke it undoes all your sin and all of your self-righteousness.
That’s what you hear when Jesus speaks and the winds and waves obey Him. And that’s what you hear when the Lord speaks to Job in response to that poor man’s worries and complaints. That’s what you hear in response to your own sufferings, your struggles, and your sorrows. Who are you, O little man, O little woman, to call into question or complain about the judgments of the Lord?
But God is not backhanding Job with chastisement when He speaks. He does not add yet another crushing blow atop the assaults and accusations of the devil. He does not compound the chaos, and neither does He calm things down by constraining and compelling Job to “shut up.” Rather, He quiets Job with comfort and consolation in his suffering. The Lord reveals the mysterious truth that suffering is not a mark of His displeasure, nor is it foreign to His good and gracious purpose.
It is true that the Law reveals the good and right order of God’s world, as He intends it to be and to live. But there is a deeper and different authority of the Law than its demands and prohibitions, than its threats and punishments. All of these confront you and accuse you, and weigh so heavily upon you, but only because your heart and mind, your body and spirit, and the whole sinful world around you, are out of order and chaotic with sinful unbelief and stubborn disobedience. At the heart of the Law itself, however, is the harmony of faith and love, the peaceful unity of the Holy Triune God, who lives in perfect freedom and acts in perfect love, who gives life to those who are His own creatures, to those whose very existence is brought about by His free choice of grace.
Which is really to say that the foundation and good order of Creation, as also the fulfillment of the whole Law, is nothing else and nothing less than Christ and Him Crucified. He is the Cornerstone, not only of His Church, but of the heavens and the earth and of all things, visible and invisible. From before the foundation of the world, this Lamb was slain for the life and salvation of all flesh, and God’s good Creation is then brought forth in the Resurrection of this same Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. His Self-sacrifice upon the Cross is the Self-giving Love of God, the divine grace, by which and for which whatever is made has been made.
It is not only in view of the Incarnation of the Son of God that man was made in the Image of God, but specifically in view of the Cross, in the likeness of the Resurrection of the Crucified One.
Was not the man taken out of the earth, as Christ is risen from the grave? Was not the woman taken out of the side of man while he slept, as the Bride of Christ is borne from His riven side?
Therefore, as the Lord established His Creation upon the dying and rising of Christ Jesus, He does not now renew Creation and bring it into peace and quiet by imposing His sovereign will upon it, by forcing and constraining it to obey the rules and behave, but by entering into it, becoming part of it, and establishing the good order of His Word and Will in Himself, that is, in His own flesh. And this, again, was not an emergency “plan B,” but the founding intention of the Holy Trinity.
The Son of God enters the waters of St. Mary’s womb, and He is born from those waters under the Law, in order to redeem those under the Law. He then enters the waters of St. John’s baptism in the Jordan River, thereby submitting Himself to sacrificial death as the Lamb of God for the sins of the world, and from those waters He emerges to make His way steadfastly to the Cross. So does He also embark upon the sea, in order to cross over with His people — through death into life — and He too is found on the boat in the chaotic storm, amid the raging winds and thrashing waves.
He is on board “just as He is.” He has flesh and blood like you. He sleeps because He is true Man. That means, not only that He has gotten tired and must sleep, just as you must take your rest, but also that He lives by faith, as you are called to live. Only, where you often cannot sleep, but toss and turn at night, He rests in peace and quietness while the winds and waves toss the boat about. It is neither exhaustion, nor laziness, nor a lack of care and concern for His fellows, but faith and trust in His Father, that enable the Lord Jesus to sleep in peace, even with all the chaos going on.
He lives as true Man by entrusting Himself entirely to His God and Father, in order to live entirely from Him. This is how all of Creation, and man in particular, is created to live. So that is how Jesus lives, and that is how He dies. For not only does He lay Himself down to sleep in the peace of His Father, but so does He lay down His life, even unto death, in the confidence of His Father’s love and care for Him. So there is this striking contrast between His peaceful sleeping and His panic-stricken disciples, who wonder whether He even cares that they are perishing. Are there not times when you likewise question His care for you, when the storm rages and your Jesus sleeps?
And yet, it is in His sleeping, even unto death upon the Cross, that He fully sets Himself, His faith and His love, against the chaos of sinful unbelief. His voluntary suffering and death, in faithful obedience to His God and Father, atones for all of man’s sin and remedies the brokenness of the Creation. So, too, it is in His rising from the dead that all of Creation is fully restored in peace, as life and immortality are brought to light through the preaching of the Gospel. That is what you have heard: When He wakes and rises from His sleep, He speaks, and all becomes perfectly calm.
It is in His dying and rising that the Lord Jesus Christ receives the authority to exercise a godly dominion of love over all of Creation. Because the one true God has become true Man, and He has given Himself for all men, and He has risen from the dead, the whole earth is full of His Glory.
Nowhere is that Glory of God more clear than in the Holy Communion. There the Lord exercises dominion over His creation by taking bread and wine, and giving them to you as His own Body and Blood, crucified and risen, as meat and drink indeed for your own body of flesh and blood. He uses His dominion to bless and sanctify creation, to love and to give life by giving Himself. And right there, in His Body and His Blood, is the heart and center of His Peace. For the Peace of the Lord, the Pax Domini, is with you in this Sacrament, given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins. With this forgiveness, the winds and waves are hushed and stilled.
This, then, is how He truly cares for you: in all things, in body and soul, both now and forever. Not by enslaving you, but by feeding you with Himself, with His own flesh, and by forgiving you.
It is true that He rebukes you for your doubts and fears of unbelief. He calls you to repentance and to faith: to fear Him, yes, but not to be afraid of Him; to love and trust in Him; to die and rise with Him, in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection. To be at peace in His love for you, and so to exercise dominion in the place where He has put you, not as a tyrant, but in mercy like His own.
Beloved of the Lord, you are on your way. You’re in the midst of the sea, in the midst of crossing over. You’re not yet to the other side, and meanwhile there is much that rages against you, both from without and from within. For you have gone into the waters of Holy Baptism, and, make no mistake, those are deadly waters. In those waters you are drowned and destroyed with old Adam; and you are put to death and buried with Christ Jesus. But now, consider what that means: If you are baptized into Christ, then you are in the boat with Him, and He is in the boat with you, that is, within the Holy Ark of His Church. And herein you are safe in the midst of the storm, even though you are sometimes so afraid, and even though it seems as though your Lord were sleeping and not very much concerned about you. He has laid Himself down to sleep in flesh and blood like yours, in order that you may find your peace and rest and quiet sleep in Him. Just as He has died for you, so that, by your dying with Him in the waters of Baptism, you may also rise and live with Him.
Dear child of God, here you are safe. You really are. Your doubts and fears and lack of faith do not make the One who loves you any less faithful. You may wonder what is going on, and whether He will ever help you, but He is here with you, and He will not let you perish. Oh, to be sure, your body will die, just as He has died, but so shall your body be raised to be like His own glorious body, and you shall live forever and ever with Him in body and soul. No hurricane or tidal wave on earth can drown or blow away that sure and certain hope, which has already been accomplished in the Body of Christ Jesus, your Savior. In His sleeping is your Sabbath Rest, even in death. And in His rising from death and the grave, you are saved unto life everlasting. In Him, God the Father has already given His “Amen” to your every need and every prayer. Therefore, call upon the Name of this Lord Jesus. He will hear and answer. And with His speaking, you shall have His Peace.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sermo Dei: Populus Zion
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