But when Simon Peter saw it he fell at Jesus' knees and said, “depart from me for I am a sinful man O Lord!" Luke 5:8
In today’s epistle lesson the “fisher of men” admonishes us to: reverence Christ in our hearts as Lord, a tall order indeed! Not because the Spirit is unwilling, but because the Flesh is weak, and so reverence for our God is not something that comes naturally to us. We might hold great artists, or athletes, or statesmen in awe, but we are not inclined to do the same for Jesus. For that we need to hear Peter’s inspired words. For that we need hymns such as “Renew Me O Eternal Light” where we pray, “Create in me a new heart Lord, that gladly I obey Thy Word…”
When St. Peter wrote this admonition in his first epistle he wasn’t talking through his hat, but instead was teaching the church what he himself discovered in a most dramatic way. As he listened to what Jesus said that day, using his boat as a pulpit, he was electrified. His ears began to tingle with gladness, and his heart with new found joy. He realized that this was no ordinary Man who was speaking but someone special and amazing. He still did not know that Jesus was God incarnate, but he was impressed enough, so that when the Savior instructed him to head out into the deep and cast out his nets, Peter’s infant faith overcame his doubts. He did as Jesus instructed, and what a discovery he made! We don’t know the content of the Lord’s sermon that day but whatever He said He now confirmed by a miracle so astonishing that it caused the salty old sea dog to turn to jello. He fell at Jesus’ feet in reverent and humble awe, and begged the Lord to leave him, a request that Jesus would never honor, but possibly the most amazing feature of Peter’s experience is that he no longer called Jesus Master, but now names Him Lord, because that is what He is! There are many people who would speak well of Jesus today, especially if they can use Him to support their own particular cause. But in order to reverence Jesus in our hearts as Peter teaches, we must first confess that Jesus is Lord and believe it with all our strength.
The next part of reverence is to confess our sin and repudiate our own hollow righteousness as Peter did so thoroughly and completely that day. When we are baptized our sins are forgiven and we are cleansed of the pollution we inherit from Adam. However, because the Old Man can only produce the works of the Flesh which St. Paul lists in Galatians chapter five, we are in regular need of Simon-like confession. This should be done in our own private prayers each day as Luther teaches in the morning and evening prayers. More importantly it should be done in church, formally, as we do in the general confession, where along with the confession we also hear the sacramental absolution which the church administers at her Lord’s command. Even more notably, we must return to our roots as Lutherans and re-discover the blessings of private confession; where we speak the sins that trouble us most into the sacramental ear of God, which is attached to the pastor’s head. And then hear the absolution spoken by God Himself, through the sacramental lips of the pastor. This is God’s way, and by His grace, when we are situated in our new sanctuary we will provide regular opportunity for this forgotten sacrament.
But confessing our sins is never enough. Judas confessed and was utterly grief-stricken over his! But unlike Peter, who also wept bitterly, Judas did not believe that Jesus would forgive him. He did not believe that the death Jesus was about to die was for his sins and so he felt the need to die for himself, but suicide is utterly un-necessary because there is one who hung for you, one who died for you, one who anguished in blackest darkness for you on the cross, to give you the Light of Life! So when Jesus says from the pulpit of the cross, “it is finished,” be certain that it is! And when the pastor, based on the Lord’s eternal sacrifice, says, “I forgive you your sins,” or “take eat the body of Christ for the remission of your sins” understand that neither sin, nor death nor the devil can ever harm you again, and that you will reign with Christ in endless day. By such faith in the church’s absolution we reverence Christ in our hearts as Lord.
Also a vital part of Peter’s lesson is the word Reverence itself, which is the trademark of Christian worship, but reverence is under fierce attack in our generation. If it could, the false church would re-write Peter’s maxim to read, “be casual in your hearts towards the Lord,” but that will never do, not for this Lord, not for this Savior! Peter knew it, and we must learn it too. Not only must we reverence Jesus in our hearts, but also with our bodies, as Peter did in the fishing boat that day. When he fell to his knees before Jesus he was only doing what was perfectly natural for a sinner exposed to the grace of God, so there is good reason that carefully planned movements, and thoughtful gestures have always been part and parcel of Christian worship. There is good reason why we move slowly, sit quietly and kneel humbly in God’s house. There are rational grounds that lead us to bow at the name of Jesus, fold our hands when we pray, and make the sign of the cross. As the most basic rule of society is: be polite, the most basic rule of worship is: be reverent. And it works both ways. Our inner faith informs our outer movements, and our outer movements stimulate reverence within, so let us hear Peter’s words and always be reverent before our Lord.
Finally we reverence Christ as the Lord when we faithfully practice the virtues St. Peter teaches us in today’s epistle lesson. He writes, “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind.” These are the outward signs, and living proof of the reverence and faith given us in holy baptism.
No, the reverence St. Peter calls for here does not come to us naturally and there are many obstacles in our path, but with God’s mighty Word richly dispersed among us, we obtain the renewed heart we pray for in the hymn, and find fresh courage to strive against our flesh and blood. Amen.
~Rev. Dean Kavouras