Monkeys and Tuna being Caught
If the pastor has been preaching and you've been listening, you ought to come away from a sermon able to answer the question "What was the sermon about?" in a short sentence. Today you can say, "It was about monkeys and tuna being caught." But monkeys is spelled with two e's, the tuna is chicken, and you're the object of the catching.
The Monkees were a 60s rock band made up for a TV show. The sermon is about them because it's about a not so Pleasant Valley Sunday. "Another Pleasant Valley Sunday" was a 1967 hit song of the band. It's a song about the idealized not being ideal or maybe even real. And that's how some people come to church and even more stay away. They pretend to live in a pleasant valley where they aren't threatened by Sin, Death, or the Devil, but their valley is really not so pleasant.
They are "poor, miserable sinners." But they have a hard time confessing so because they don't feel that bad. Their valley is pleasant enough. But in the confession we're not confessing a certain feeling we have but state we're in. Imagine looking down from a height at 2 crowded passenger trains heading toward each other at a high rate of speed. You can see that in less than a minute there will be a head-on collision. You would describe the passengers as miserable. That would not mean the people themselves are feeling miserable but that they were proper objects of pity (God in the Dock, 121).
The confession that we are miserable sinners doesn't mean that we feel miserable but that if we could see our situation as it really is we are in fact proper objects of pity. Because of Sin we are on a head-on collusion course with Death, and the Devil's the engineer stoking the engine. We're the people not "living" in darkness, as the insert paraphrases, but literally "sitting" in darkness. Think of a power failure that lasts for days; how miserable it is. Think of a campout without fire. Think of not being able to light that one candle and being left with nothing else to do but curse the darkness. But that doesn't remove the darkness from the night or from the soul because your sin and sinfulness ever generate more.
Darkness is not even the worst of our not so pleasant valley. We're sitting in the land of Death ever under its shadow. Luther said that we'd faint in fear if we could see how many spears and arrows the Devil has aimed at us every moment. C. S. Lewis said we'd shake our head in pity if we could really see how we are rocketing toward the doom of Death. We're sitting - a present, active, on-going situation not in some pleasant valley somewhere but in the land of Death. The land where Death is king; Death rules; where everything and one dies, where Death casts such a long shadow that it's always night.
Death reigns here because of Sin. Because of your sin, my sin, our sins, Death owns us body and soul now and forever. The wages of sins is Death and Death is a fair employer. He always pays his wages. This little pleasant valley mirage of ours will disappear either by grace or by judgment. Everyone eventually wakes up to the fact that their sins have booked them passage on a long black train hurdling toward Death either at the moment of impact when it's too late or by God's grace before.
What can wake us up? Nothing less than the Chicken of the Sea. Chicken of the Sea is a tuna fish celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. It got its name because fisherman called albacore tune the "chicken of the sea' for its mild flavor and color. The actual name was used in 1930; the jingle that is playing in most of your heads dates to 1960 (http://chickenofthesea.com/100#our-history).
But why on earth would I call Jesus the Chicken of the Sea? The sea is an emphasized feature throughout the text. Jesus moves to Capernaum by the sea.' Zebulun and Naphtali are "the way of the sea," Jesus walks "by the sea" not into synagogues to recruit disciples; He finds Peter and Andrew "casting a net into the sea", and James and John sitting in a boat on the sea. But isn't calling Jesus the Chicken of the Sea a little much? That's how it appears. "When Jesus heard that John not had been arrested as the insert says but had been betrayed, He withdrew not returned to Galilee." Always when challenged "Give us a sign; prove Yourself; come down from that cross; Jesus withdraws. But isn't Kenny Rogers right? "Sometimes you gotta fight when you're a man."
Yet, look at this. This Chicken of the Sea says, "Come" and Peter and Andrew can no more stay than the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse could. And this Chicken of the Sea calls James and John and they can no more not answer than a struck bell not ring. This is dramatic, climatic, and totally unexpected. The Holy Spirit isn't being hyperbolic, isn't exaggerating; he's emphasizing. "At once they left their nets." "Immediately they left the boat and their father" and followed the Chicken of the Sea.
Sorry Charlie this doesn't seem possible or probable. Unless they knew they were on a train bound for nowhere on a collision course with Death in a not so pleasant valley somewhere. Then the Chicken of the Sea is the answer because He is the Fisher of Men and He is the Bait.
He is the bait for Satan, the train engineer, taking us carloads of sinners straight to Death, hell, and judgment at full throttle. Satan was told at the beginning of the world that the Seed of the woman would one day crush his head. So Satan watched and he waited. He tried to snuff out the Seed by the ridicule of Ishmael, the plotting of Esau, and the strife in Jacob's home. Failing that, Satan pounced on all the boy babies in Egypt in an attempt to kill the Promised Seed. When violence didn't work He tried idolatry. After successfully seducing Northern Israel, Satan did the same to Judea. God exiled Judea to Babylon bringing only a faithful remnant back. Time and again Satan tried to snuff out the life of the One who would crush His head.
Then God dangled the Bait in front of him in a way too enticing to ignore. God loaded Jesus with all the sins of the world, so much so that Paul says Jesus became Sin, so much so that David says He was a Worm and no Man. A dangling, helpless Worm on the cross was very tempting to the hungry fish Satan. Faster than a bass takes a floating plug, Satan rocketed from the depths of hell to swallow Jesus in Death.
This is what was supposed to happen on the cross once the perfect Jesus was loaded with the sins of the world. This is why before this Jesus withdrew from all those situations where He could have been killed. Jesus had to first keep the whole Law. All those Laws you can't do, won't do, pretend you don't know, and know so very well, Jesus had to keep. And He had to suffer the punishment those broken Laws demanded. He had to pay off the debt of sin the world owed started by Adam and added to ever since.
Satan by taking the life of a Perfect Man loaded with the sins of all mankind enabled the Man Jesus to pay for all sins. But there's more, much more. Neither Death nor Devil can swallow Divinity no more than a bass can swallow the metal hook the worm is dangling on. Death and Devil had to spit Divinity out of the grave. But ever since the Virgin's womb Divinity has been joined to Humanity. Where God the Son goes the Man Jesus goes with. Under the Law, keeping the Law, being punished for breaking the Law, in damning, dying, rising, and reigning both God and Man are there in Jesus, and in Jesus, God is always for Mankind.
Risen from the dead, Jesus is ready to go fishing for men. Our text, happens years before the cross and empty tomb; this shows that from the get go Jesus had been planning this fishing expedition. Jesus fishes for sinners in the not so pleasant valley of darkness, death, and frightful shadows with the Good News of Light and Life in His Name. You don't have to live in this dark valley any longer. You can jump off that long black train heading for certain Death and the damning judgment that follows.
Jesus brings a kingdom that scatters darkness and death. He brings a kingdom where since the Law is kept sins can't accuse and Death has no authority. Come out of that dark valley now. If it seems pleasant to you, that's because Satan has blinded you to the true nature of it. You are not on a train heading toward better things. You are on that long black train bound for Death and an eternal night of darkness. But Jesus, by shedding perfect blood, perfect sweat, perfect tears has paid for your passage on another train the glory train, the love train, the salvation train.
Jesus is fishing for you every Sunday. He does everything He can to wake you to the fact that you are living in a not so pleasant valley onboard a train rocketing toward certain death and judgment. He won't let you get comfortable in this valley of darkness on this train of death. In mercy He makes the blankets of busyness, friendship, hobbies you try to keep warm and cozy with just a little too small, just a little to thin, so you toss and turn because you're just a little too cold. And every candle you light to deal with the dark in your own way, whether it is work, family, drugs, alcohol, sex, power, money, success, Jesus blows out and the darkness creeps ever closer. The same with Death. You try to keep it at bay with health, with medicine, by not thinking about it, but like your shadow you can never get away from it.
But Jesus isn't tormenting you. He's chumming the waters so that you have a craving for the only Blanket that can keep your warm, the only Light that scatters the darkness, the only Life that swallows Death. Baptism is a blanket of Water that clothes you with Christ giving you the everlasting warmth of God's love. Absolution is the Light of forgiveness in Jesus' name and it scatters every dark deed your ever did, said, or thought never to be seen or heard from again. And in Communion you swallow the Body and Blood of the Life that swallowed Death and so you live forever.
So what did the pastor preach about today? He preached about the Monkees and the Chicken of the sea and I was hooked. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Third Sunday after Epiphany (20140126); Matthew 4: 12-23