Saturday, July 3, 2021

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 5)



Luke 5:1-11; 1 Peter 3:8-15; 1 Kings 19:11-21


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

You come to church. You say your prayers and read your Bible. You try to keep the Ten Commandments in your day to day lives. You strive to be patient, kind, compassionate, charitable, and forgiving with others, even those who treat you poorly. And what do you get for it all but grief, thanklessness, and suffering, while countless others who have no regard for the Word of the Lord seemingly prosper and have a great time? I think we can all relate to Elijah’s desperation when he cried out, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” I think we can relate to Peter’s frustration when he cried out, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”

“At your word.” There is the key. Left to our own devices, reason, wisdom, and strength, there is good reason for despair and hopelessness. But we have the word and the promises of God which can never fail. The word of God and His promises remain true no matter what we should experience or suffer in our lives and in our world.

The disciples had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Fishing was their livelihood, and they were frustrated, exhausted, hopeless, and despairing. It must have seemed as if the fish were swimming away from them and that their work was both futile and foolish. In contrast to that, however, a crowd was pressing in upon Jesus to hear the word of God. While the fish were fleeing the disciples’ nets, the crowds were flocking to Jesus to hear the word of God. The disciples’ experience, reason, and wisdom considered it foolishness to go out and fish again. However, it would not be experience, reason, and wisdom, or even boats and nets, that would win for the fisherman a great catch of fish, but it would be the word of God and their faith and trust in it. This was a transformative moment for the disciples, as Jesus Himself indicated by saying, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

Those men were the crowd pressing in on Jesus to hear the word of God. They were out there, hungry, ready to be caught. In this case, they were not fleeing from Jesus, but they were coming to Him. Jesus’ command to “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” was instruction for ministry. The deep is the world. The nets are the Gospel. The catch are men and women hungering and thirsting for the Word of God, ready to be caught in the Gospel net and brought into the boat of Christ’s Church. Fishers of men are first and foremost the called and sent pastors of Christ’s Church, but you are also fishers of men through your callings, your vocations, in which you are the hands, heart, and voice of Jesus in service of those whom God causes to cross your path.

Now, let’s be honest, the fishing can be a daunting task much of the time. From the perspective of human experience, reason, and wisdom, not to mention business and marketing models that are very successful in other fields, the ministry often seems ineffectual, hopeless, and an utter failure. Pastors, church leaders, and laity in their vocations are tempted to despair and hopelessness, to throw in the towel and give up. Or, and just as bad, if not worse, they are tempted to acquiesce to worldly values and methods and “give the customer what they want” in a desperate desire to grow the church by their own reason, wisdom, and devised methods. While this might seem the sensible, wise, and reasonable thing to do, and the result might produce numbers and wealth and resources in the short term, this is not the way of the Lord and it will bear bad fruit in time to come. Faithfulness cannot be measured in numbers. The goal of the Church and her Ministry is not to count the fish, but to let down her nets for a catch, and let the Lord go to work. The counting and sorting will be done at the Judgment. For now, we preach Christ crucified, a message that is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, the power of God.

As Queen Jezebel had set herself to destroy the prophets of Israel, Elijah had even more reason to despair and hopelessness in his ministry than did the fishermen apostles. Hiding in a cave, the LORD spoke to Elijah, not in mighty wind, not in a powerful earthquake, not in a consuming fire, but in a low whisper. Once again, means that would impress human experience, reason, and wisdom are eschewed by the LORD and that which is humble and unimpressive, a whisper, is the means through which the LORD comforts Elijah and promises him success. There will be a new king in place of wicked Ahab, and a new prophet to succeed Elijah. And there will be seven thousand faithful preserved, a remnant. Now, the population of the Northern Kingdom of Israel at that time was approximately two and a half million. Seven thousand was a very small group, relatively speaking. However, that group consisted of those who had never worshiped Baal, and so it was undoubtedly more than Elijah would have imagined. Once again we are reminded that God’s ways are not our ways, and that the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom.

God has prepared for we who love Him good things that surpass all understanding and that exceed all that we can desire through Jesus Christ. What are we to do? That is the wrong question. Rather, we should consider, what is the Lord doing? We are to trust in the Lord and in His word and promises as we let down the Gospel net for a catch, not considering the numbers or the apparent foolishness of the means, but trusting in His word as the Lord does the work in and through us, drawing men, women, and children through the waters of Holy Baptism into the boat of His Church. And, in the safety of the Church the Lord binds up the wounds of the faithful applying His word of forgiveness. He nourishes and strengthens our faith through His word. He feeds us with His body and blood. And He equips and sends us, making us fishers of men, to the glory of His holy Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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