Sunday, June 26, 2016
Homily for The Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 5)
Luke 5:1-11; Romans 8:18-23; 1 Kings 19:11-21
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Fishing is a very different sport than most. It doesn’t require great strength or even physical fitness at all. While knowledge and experience are most certainly helpful, they do not guarantee success. You simply cannot make a fish take the bait and swallow the hook. No, rather, in fishing, you must have extreme patience. The fish must come to you. The fisherman offers an enticing bait and lure, and then he waits. There is no work to be done. Indeed, what you need to do is be still, watch, and wait until a fish takes the bait.
It might surprise you, then, that Jesus uses the example of fishing and fisherman to teach about how people are brought into the kingdom of God. It shouldn’t, however, for Jesus as a teacher continually calls you to see ordinary things in a new way. Fishing is so common that you likely take it for granted. Therefore, he catches you by saying that the kingdom of God is somehow like fishing. And, not fishing with bait and lures, mind you, but fishing with a net. You see, the difference with net fishing is that you don’t even cleverly lure the fish to the net, or trick them, but you simply let down the net and then pull it up, enclosing good fish and bad fish and seaweed and branches and whatever else there might be. There is no real human skill involved. Again, experience and wisdom will surely help, but sometimes you’re going to catch very little, and sometimes you’re going to catch a lot. And, when we’re talking about the kingdom of God, it is the Holy Spirit who does the catching through the net of the Gospel. All you have to do is let down the net, be patient, and let the fish come to you whom Holy Spirit calls.
Shortly before this Gospel account Jesus had announced, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And, so, that was precisely what Jesus was doing when He encountered some fishermen busy washing their nets. They had toiled all night fishing and had caught nothing at all. They were exasperated, disappointed, and exhausted. Jesus came to them with the Good News of the kingdom of God. He got into one of their boats and asked Simon to put out a little from the land. Then Jesus sat down and began to teach the people from the boat. Jesus was letting down His Net for a catch, and He caught Simon, James, and John, His first disciples. However, when Jesus told Simon to put out into the deep and let down his nets for a catch, Simon and the others must have thought He was nuts. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” Simon protested. He was right. And, that was precisely what Jesus wanted Simon to confess. Even our best efforts must fail without the Word of the Lord and faith. But, Simon had faith, if little faith. He had been caught in Jesus’ Gospel Net. “But at your Word I will let down the nets,” he replied.
And so, out they went, into the dark and into the deep, hopeless and tired, on faith and in trust in the Word of Jesus alone. They went, likely not expecting anything, but simply because of Jesus’ Word. So too, this is why we preach the Gospel. We do not use the Gospel like a tool that we skillfully manipulate to achieve out goals, but we proclaim it in faith and trust that the Holy Spirit will work through it when and where He pleases to catch new believers in Jesus to the glory of God. This Jesus taught also in the Parable of the Sower: The Sower simply sows His Gospel Seed without any concern as to the condition of the soil. Though only one quarter bears fruit, it bears a hundredfold. When it comes to the Gospel, you must put aside all human wisdom, ingenuity, skill, craft and cunning, programs, business models, and all other things of the world and the flesh and you must trust in the Word of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit. No man, be he a preacher, a teacher, an evangelist, or anything else has ever converted a soul to faith in Christ, but the Holy Spirit alone calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps those whom He wills to the one true, living, and fruitful faith. As one of my favorite bands, The Avett Brothers, puts it in their newest song released just this week, “There ain't no man can save me. There ain't no man can enslave me. Ain't no man or men that can change the shape my soul is in.” Only the Holy Spirit can do that through the Word of the Gospel. Glory be to God alone for faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus Christ.
“And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.” While all their natural efforts came up empty and fruitless, at a Word from the Lord the nets came back filled to the point of breaking, a hundredfold. At the Lord’s command, the hopelessness of sore backs and empty nets gave way to the greatest catch of fish they’d ever seen! Labor and hope. God desires these two things from us. This is why He says to Simon, “Put out into the deep and cast out your net,” as if to say, “Do what is required of fishermen.” “Labor and hope,” says the Lord, “and let me see to your sustenance.”
When Simon Peter saw it, however, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Jesus’ miracle had caused Simon’s conscience to open up, so that he became aware of his sins – his lack of fear, love, and trust in God. However, Jesus did not chastise Simon, He did not preach the Law to Him, but instead He absolved His sins and comforted Him saying, “Do not be afraid.” And Jesus gave Simon and James and John this charge, “From now on you will be catching men alive.” You see, fish die when they are caught, but the Gospel net brings men out of death and into life eternal.
By His Word, you were drawn from the waters of the baptismal font alive, reborn, forgiven, and into the Ark of the Holy Christian and Apostolic Church. The Net of the Gospel never breaks – men are saved by believing until the Church is complete. And just as, by the Word of Christ, the net brought so many fish that it could not contain them, so now by the preaching of Simon and his fellows would the fish of the world, that is, people of the world, be brought in to the Net of the Holy Christian Church by that power alone. As Luther teaches us to confess in the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. [Even as] He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
That’s how it works. It’s not by gimmicks. It’s not by catchy melodies. It’s not by changing the liturgy to be more user-friendly to the culture. It’s not by the best-laid plans of men, who try to make things just so to bring people into the Church by their best efforts. It is in spite of man’s best efforts that the fish of the world are drawn into the Net and that men are drawn into the Church. It is in spite of us, not because of us. It is because of the almighty Word of Christ and that Word alone. The Lord calls pastors to fish for men with the Net of the Gospel and bring them into the boat of the Church. However, once a fish has been caught he becomes a fisherman also. That is your Christian vocation in this world, to cast the Gospel Net far and wide, without discrimination, through the unique vocations the Lord has called you to: Husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, teacher, student, engineer, salesman, cook, waiter, butcher, baker, or candlestick maker. Out there in the world, in your lives, through your vocations, you are the hands, the heart, and the mouth of Jesus for all who will believe, not because of your efforts, but in spite of them, when you are forgiven, fed and nourished, equipped and strengthened for service in the Word and Sacraments of Jesus Christ.
“And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.” “Now, Pastor,” you say, “that sure sounds like they left their fishing vocation and entered full time ministry with Jesus, doesn’t it?” Well, there are two things to keep in mind here: Simon Peter, James, and John were called to be disciples and, later, after their training was complete, Apostles, Pastors to care for the Church after Christ’s Ascension until His Parousia on the Last Day. They, literally, were called to leave everything and follow Jesus. However, countless others were called to discipleship, but not to Apostleship, not to the Office of the Holy Ministry. And, their callings, their vocations, are no less important and necessary. The world still needs fishermen, and tax collectors, and tent makers, and butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. What we are all called to leave behind is our love and idolatry to worldly and fleshly things – to mammon. In other places Jesus teaches that you must hate you mother and your father, that you must hate your own life. Again, the point is that you must not love anyone or anything more than or above the LORD. This is nothing other than the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. No, Jesus does not call you to forsake your vocations, for they are holy vocations, necessary for life in this world and precious in the sight of the Lord when lived and worked in faith, hope, and love. Indeed, this is the work that you must do, not to earn merit or favor before the Lord, but as an extension and conduit of the Lord, His grace, compassion, mercy, love, and forgiveness. Labor and hope. God desires these two things from us. Do what is required of fisherman, what is required of Christians. Have mercy. Show compassion. Give. Forgive. Love all. Just do it. Labor and hope, and let the LORD see to your sustenance.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.