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Sermon for Epiphany IV

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ January 31st, 2011

Sermon on St. Matthew 8:23-27

Epiphany IV

+ Jesu Juva +

What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him? — St. Matthew 8:27

We pray in one Epiphany hymn that Jesus is “Manifest in gracious will, Ever bringing good from ill” (TLH 134.3). In today’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus brings good (faith) from ill (storm). Who is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him? In the calming of the sea, He shows that He is the Lord of Creation, the Lord of Salvation, and the Lord of the Church.

It began with the disciples in the peril of death. Jesus entered a boat, and His disciples followed Him. Jesus was often found in boats during His ministry. Some of the disciples were fishermen, and quite accustomed to boating, no doubt for business (fishing), pleasure (sunset cruise), or even out of necessity (to escape the crowd). But there was something different about this trip: a storm arose, and Jesus and His disciples were caught in the tempest. In a day before Marine forecasts, the Coast Guard, and emergency radios, they really were in eminent danger. If you’ve ever been to the Holy Land, perhaps you’ve seen how quickly storms can appear over the hills near the Sea of Galilee. One might leave port on a beautiful day with a glassy sea, but then be caught in peril as the storms and tempest rise. So the disciples were beset by death, danger, and creation gone awry. One thinks of the story of Jonah in OT, where a crew of brave sailors feared death, threw Jonah overboard, and the sea became calm (Jonah 1).

Enter the Lord of Creation. See how He was asleep in the boat. To the disciples – weak, cowardly, sinful men – Jesus’ calm slumber was probably a sign of apathy. Perhaps they thought Jesus didn’t care? But there was a profound message about Jesus’ sleep that day. There was nothing to fear. No one ever succeeded in drowning or dying in Jesus’ presence until Good Friday. And even those few who did were raised from the dead! The King James translation captures their curt and desperate cries: “Lord, save us! We perish!” It’s called spontaneous prayer, recalling Luther’s prayer in time of trouble: “Lord! Christ! Help!” Perhaps you say these prayers when you are in peril or danger, too. But there was no need to fear in the presence of the Lord of Creation. He rebuked the sea, it immediately became calm, and the disciples marveled that He could command the wind and the waves.

What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey Him? He is the Lord of Creation, the same Lord who called all things into being in Genesis 1–2 and has come to earth to usher in a new creation, where sin, death, and danger are no more.

But here the disciples learned more than Jesus’ power over creation. For the Lord of Creation is also the Lord of Salvation. See how the shape of Christmas, Epiphany, and Lent paint a vivid portrait of the One who is “God in man made manifest” (TLH 134). One Christmas hymn puts it this way: “He whom the sea / And wind obey / Doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness. Thou, God’s own son, with us art one, dost join us and our children in our weakness” (TLH 81.2). Though this is certainly not the most popular Christmas text or tune in the repertoire, it might be the most profound statement of the incarnation in our Christmas hymnody. He who is God; He who ordered the entire universe; He whom the wind and sea obey when He tells them to be calm, yes, He has become man. He has come to earth to share our weakness, to be like us in every way (except without sin), and to share the dangers of this mortal life with us.

Epiphany builds on this incarnational theme to preach the good news that this Jesus is also God. This particular church year, we have a late Easter and, therefore, a long Epiphany. It’s an excellent time to pause and contemplate every aspect of Epiphany. One unique feature of Epiphany that especially relates to Jesus’ identity in Matthew’s Gospel is the placement of the baptism of our Lord (Matt 3:13-17) and His transfiguration (Matt 17:1-9) as the “book ends” of Epiphany. In many churches, the baptism of our Lord in the Jordan (another water story) is the lesson for the first Sunday after Epiphany, while the Gospel lesson for the last Sunday after Epiphany is always the Transfiguration. Both stories include this proclamation of God the Father on God the Son: “This is my beloved Son” (3:17; 17:5). So the first and last theme of the Epiphany season is Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, i.e., as the Lord of Salvation.

Lent builds on Jesus’ identity as the Son of Man (Christmas) and Son of God (Epiphany), leading the God-man all the way to the cross. Jesus’ Sonship was challenged (Lent I) by Satan in the wilderness (4:1-11), asking, “If you are the Son of God” (4:3, 6). But He overcame temptation for us, and stood firm where we ourselves have fallen into sin, lust, and even death. He cast out demons (Matt. 15:21-18 [Lent II]; Luke 11:14-28 [Lent III]) to show His power over Satan and to continue the precedent He set in His temptation, viz. the good news that God’s Son manifests the power of His Father for our good. And His identity as the very Son of God led Him to His Passion and death. The Son of God was forsaken by the Father and died under the crushing weight of our sins. No wonder, after His death and the cosmic signs in this creation, the centurion confessed at the foot of the crucified One, “Truly this was the Son of God” (27:54).

Who is this Jesus, that He should be called the very Son of God? He is the Second Person of the Trinity, who has come to earth to die for us and to rise from the dead, all that we might become the baptismal sons of God in Christ.

Finally, the Lord of Creation and Salvation is also the Lord of the Church. Through the years, the church has interpreted this familiar story as a snap shot of the church. Here we see weak and frail men, who cower in the face of death and cannot save themselves. But we also see the strong and able Christ, who is ready to save. It’s a perfect picture of the church, isn’t it? We are the ones who cower in the boat when the storms of this life arise. We are the poor, miserable sinners who face the storms of sin, death, and the devil; who fight against his tools of false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice; who give in to temptation and place ourselves in peril as sin leads to unbelief and unbelief leads to eternal death. We think, for instance, of the story of Noah, where eight souls were saved on the water, but they were also aware of death all around them and faced the lonely task of caring for and repopulating the earth.

Enter the Lord of the Church. As He saved the disciples in the midst of the storm, so He is with us in this churchly boat. Indeed, the word nave for the portion of the sanctuary where you are sitting, hails from a Latin word for boat. So also the word navy, i.e., the ones in the boat. Where the Lord of Church is the Captain, the boat cannot sink and its faithful passengers cannot die. And so He is with us in baptism, preaching, and the Lord’s Supper. Christ is present incarnationally, sacramentally, to save and to bless. Yes, He is the ever-present Lord of the Church, who is with us in the churchly ark, and whose presence is our light and our life.

What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him? He is the Lord of Creation, the Lord of Salvation, and the Lord of the Church. All three aspects of His Lordship teach us the good news that, though He often allows the storms to attack us in this life, He is with us in our churchly boat, and He is strong to save. Perhaps the Navy hymn puts it best:

“O Christ, whose voice the waters heard / And hushed their raging at Thy word . . .O hear us when we cry to thee / For those in peril on the sea” (LSB 717, alt. St. 2).

+ INJ + Amen.

Rev. Brian Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Bayside, NY

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