Sunday, June 26, 2016
Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity - Lk 5:1-11
Over the years, I have preached and taught in a number of different settings. When I was a student at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, you were assigned to a field work church for the first two years. In this setting you began to lead parts of the liturgy, to teach Bible class and to preach for the first time. The third year was vicarage, when you were assigned to a church somewhere in the U.S. and worked there for a year under the oversight of a pastor as you learned and gained experience.
When you returned to the seminary for the fourth year, there were no longer any requirements on Sunday. You were free to attend church wherever you wanted. During this time, many seminarians took part in pulpit supply – they would fill in and preach in Missouri and Illinois congregations in order to gain experience and make a little money. During that year, and then the next year when Amy and I were both doing graduate work I did this quite a bit. And then while I was doing doctoral work in New Testament studies I continued to preach and teach in north Texas congregations.
I have preached in old pulpits where the surface for the sermon manuscript was so small that I had to take scissors and cut off all of the margins of the sermon so that nothing but the words remained. I preached at a pulpit that was nothing but plexiglass and it felt more like I was on a spaceship movie set than at a church.
I have preached from raised pulpits, and in settings where the raised pulpit was directly above the altar. Some of these settings had balconies and I always found it odd to look down on most of the congregation and then look my right and left at people who were exactly at eye level with me. And then recently when I was up in Canada I preached at a church that was originally built as a monastery. There the pews were all set up in choir – they were on each wall facing one another. So when I looked straight forward where you would normally see the congregation there was no one there. Instead, in order to make eye contact I had to keep going back and forth from left to right looking at each wall. It was a very odd experience indeed!
Over the years I have taught in church basements and classrooms. I have taught in fellowship rooms and large multipurpose rooms. I have taught at the Concordia Seminary auditorium and in large hotel conference rooms. But in all of those experiences I have never been forced to improvise like Jesus does in our text this morning. I have never taught people along the shore of a lake while sitting in a boat. Jesus is forced to do this because a crowd is pressing in to hear him. When we look back at the end of chapter four that leads into our text, it’s not hard to understand why. Jesus had gone to Capernaum and was teaching there. Luke tells us, “And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.” People could tell that Jesus’ teaching was just different.
Then Jesus rebukes a demon and casts it out of man after it cries out, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” The people were left wondering: “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” And the word about Jesus went out into the surrounding area.
Next Jesus went to Simon Peter’s home, where his mother-in-law was ill with a fever. Jesus rebuked the fever and healed her. And then Luke tells us, “Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.” The people wanted him to stay – it’s easy to understand why! But Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”
In our text we learn that Jesus was standing along the lake of Gennesaret – another name for the Sea of Galilee - as the crowd was pressing in on him. We hear that Jesus saw two boats on the shore, with their owners cleaning the nets after a night of fishing. Our Lord got into the boat that belonged to Simon Peter and asked him to put out from the shore. And when Peter had done this, Jesus taught the crow on shore as he sat in the boat.
Considering what has just happened in Luke’s Gospel, it’s not hard to understand why Peter grants Jesus’ request. But then, our Lord tells Peter to do something that made Peter wonder. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
Now Peter made his living as a fisherman. He knew that on the Sea of Galilee you do your fishing at night when the fish come into shallower water. You don’t do it in the middle of the day. But it was Jesus who had told him to do this. So he replied, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”
At Jesus’ word, Peter did something that made no sense. The result was astonishing. The nets enclosed such a large number of fish that they started to break. In fact, Simon Peter signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and when they came and filled both of the boats to the point that they began to sink because of the weight of the fish.
And how did Peter respond? Did he rejoice at the tremendous catch of fish that defied all the normal rules of fishing? Did he get excited about the great money they would make that day from the sale of the fish? No, we learn in our text that he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
At that moment Peter recognized that he was in the presence of God at work. As he found himself in such close proximity to God he was overcome with an overwhelming sense of dread. All that he could perceive was that he was a sinner and he had no business being there with Jesus.
That’s the way it is in the Scriptures when people find themselves in God’s presence. When Isaiah found himself before Yahweh on the throne his response was same: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
The recognition of our sin is something that we try to avoid. We seek to minimize it by comparing ourselves with others. After all we don’t those terrible things. We seek to minimize it by defining away sin. And in this, the world pitches right in to help us. Breaking the Eighth Commandment by harming our neighbor’s reputation is not sin – that’s just the way you act on social media. There’s nothing wrong with looking at those images or video - after all it’s not hardcore porn.
Yet these attempted evasions do not change the fact that our sin is an affront to the holy God. They don’t help us to escape the consequence of sin. If we are honest, they don’t really help us to escape the knowledge that we are sinners before God.
Peter confessed what he was. He confessed that he was a sinner. And then in his response Jesus said two things. First he told Peter, “Do not be afraid.” Our Lord tells Peter not to fear because of who he is and what he had come to do. In the previous chapter Jesus began his public ministry by preaching at the synagogue in Nazareth. There he declared that these words of Isaiah were being fulfilled in his ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
Jesus came to proclaim the good news that through him there is release from sin. Jesus came to bring forgiveness – he came to bring release from all of the ways that sin has warped and twist us and our lives in this world. That’s what we see Jesus doing already as he casts out demons and heals the sick. He came to defeat sin by his death on the cross as he was numbered with the transgressors and offered himself in our place.
And then in his resurrection on the third day Jesus began the release from that final enemy – death. Because of Jesus the risen Lord there is no need to fear. Already now we have forgiveness and eternal life with God. And we know that just as our Lord rose bodily from the grave, so also he will raise us up to be like him on the Last Day.
The Lord Jesus told Peter not to fear. And then he went on to add: “from now on you will be catching men.” Jesus called Peter to be part of this saving enterprise. No longer would he use nets to catch fish. Instead, he would use the preached word of the Gospel to catch people for Christ. He would use the Gospel to bring sinners into the boat of Christ’s Church. And sure enough, Peter and his companions brought their boats to land, left everything and followed Jesus.
Jesus has not called you to the specific vocation of preaching the Gospel in the same way that he called the apostle Peter. But through baptism he has made you part of his body the Church. And this means that your life shares in the purpose of his Church. By what you say and what you do you are to live lives that look to draw in others.
This needs to become our mindset – the way in which we daily approach life. We seek to share Christ’ love with others through deeds. We look for opportunities to tell others about what Jesus Christ has done for them. We patiently live in this way because of what God has done for us in Christ. And then we leave the final results of the catch to God.