Trinity 5 – Matthew 5:1-11 – June 30th, 2013
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
I’m not sure if we understand just how foolish our Lord’s instructions to Simon Peter, the instructions to cast out his nets, must have sounded. We are used to the story, we know what happens, so it seems so clear, but pause for a moment, and consider what Simon Peter’s day had been. He had been up all night, working, toiling, for nothing. Empty net after empty net, doing nothing but hauling by hand wet, rough, net. All night long. A lousy day. And then, when he is tired – Jesus commandeers his boat, and then Jesus sits down and teaches from the boat. So after a long day of work, then you get a morning’s worth of teaching – a trip to Church as it were. And then, Jesus tells Simon Peter to cast out the nets. In the daylight, when the fish would be swimming deeper to avoid the heat – when it was foolish to try to fish – which is why the fishermen had been out all night. And you can almost hear the sigh that Simon Peter must have given. Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your Word I will let down the nets. Tired, worn, and weary, Peter casts out the nets again. Do you know what this would be like? Imagine that we had an evening service here during the middle of harvest, and one of our farmers has just finished going over a field that was a complete loss. Nothing on it. And after the sermon I were to say to him, “Why don’t you go run your combine-thingy over that field again.” A completely stupid and foolish idea. I highly doubt that any farmer would humor me on that – and as well they shouldn’t – I’m not God. But Simon Peter does cast down the nets at our Lord’s Word, and we know what happens – the miraculous catch of fish – miraculous in terms of size, in terms of time and timing – a number of fish that is unbelievable.
What we see here is a perfect and wonderful demonstration of a truth that impacts everything. The wisdom of God seems utterly foolish to sinful man. Plain and simple. Quite often what God plans, what God says, seems to us like sheer stupidity. This is true of both God’s Law and Gospel. Consider God’s Law. What does God teach us to do? Love your enemy. Put your neighbor’s need ahead of your own. Turn the other check. Never take advantage of your neighbor in business deals. Always give of yourself. From the world’s perspective, from the perspective of our sinful flesh, these are all utterly foolish – these have absolutely nothing to do with looking out for number 1! And when we are tempted, every temptation is nothing more than Satan slithering on up to us and saying, “Look, this stuff that God wants you to do – doesn’t it just seem so foolish?” To sinful man, God’s law looks foolish.
Same thing with the Gospel. Same thing with the Cross. That God Almighty would come down from heaven and suffer for the very people who spurned Him and rebelled against Him, who constantly sin and flout His commands. And more than that – the fact that this is given freely, the fact that we are forgiven for Christ’s sake and that we don’t have to do anything, indeed, that we can’t do anything, that there is no way we could make it up, and more over God doesn’t even want us to think about making things up to Him – that God would say, “No, I Myself will handle this, I will take your sin from you and Crucify in Myself and restore you unto Myself.” Do you see why St. Paul can say that the world views this as utter folly? It’s so opposite of what the world expects. And yet, by faith, we know God’s acting for what it is – the power of salvation.
Simon Peter, in that moment when he sees the nets full of fish, when he sees the wisdom of the world so utterly and completely throw upon its head, knows that he is in the presence of God. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O LORD.” Simon Peter doesn’t call Jesus “Master” anymore; he doesn’t just humor a slightly nutty preacher – rather, this Jesus is LORD, is God Almighty, is Jehovah. And Simon Peter knows he is a sinner, and Simon Peter knows that he’s got no business being this close to a Holy God. . . by rights, by all earthly wisdom, there should be nothing for sinful man but punishment and wrath, condemnation and the curse of death, nothing but the wages of sin, the burden of the expulsion from the garden to come crashing down on Simon Peter right then and there. But again, Jesus in His utter and true wisdom decides to do something the world would see as foolish.
Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Put away your fear. Do not worry about any punishment, do not worry about any judgment coming from Me against you. Do you hear how foolish that sounds. Why, even to American Christians – we love our fire and brimstone sermons. The most famous sermon in American History, and a classic of literature, is “Sinners in the Hands of Angry God.” You turn on the TV and you hear preachers shouting until they are blue in the face about how there will be Judgment for this, for that, watch out, God’s gonna getcha because He’s Holy and Hot to Trot to put the smack down upon your sinful backside! And there is one of those sinners – right in front Christ – expecting the worst – thinking the best he can hope for is that God will go and leave him alone. Think about that – Peter’s only hope was that Jesus would go away. Depart from me! And what does our Lord say? “Do not be afraid. I’m not going anywhere – in fact, you will be coming with Me. I will be with you and you will be with Me, and I will forgive you and make you My servant.”
Do you see, do you understand who God is? God is no longer out to get you. God is not seeking to punish you. Why? The Cross. Every sin ever was carried by Christ to that Cross and done away with, punished. God’s wrath was completely and fully poured out upon Christ – there’s no wrath left for you, there is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. God really and truly isn’t out to get you – Christ stepped up to the Cross and took that bullet for us. And so He can say even to us today, “Do not be afraid. Know my forgiveness. Your sins can no longer condemn you, for I have borne them for you.” Do you realize that, do you understand that – there is no sin that you do that can condemn you – the only thing that condemns is unbelief, is spurning the Cross, is saying, “No thank you” to God and His mercy. Believe, trust in God by the gift of faith, and there is salvation. No belief – and there is damnation. That’s it. The only thing that gets anyone to hell is rejecting God, not believing Him, spurning the cross – the only thing that can condemn is someone’s own stupidity and unbelief – literally.
But here is the wonder and joy that we have. God has called us to faith by His Word, we have heard the message of Christ Crucified, and by the Grace and power of God we know it for what it is – our salvation, our hope, that to which we cling. And we know how God bolsters that faith, by the gift of Holy Baptism, by the repeated preaching of that same Word, by His repeatedly giving us His own Body and Blood to strengthen us. By the fact that Christ has created His Church, has over and over called men to be fishers of other men, to cast out the Net of God’s Word and Sacraments to catch and bring people into Church.
And again, this is a place where the wisdom of God is so much greater than the wisdom of men, and this is something we always need to bear in mind. I will be honest with you – there are a lot of worldly ideas out there about how to grow the church, how to “catch men” as it were. And they are creeping into the Missouri Synod – and the bureaucrats who simply sit and an office and see nothing but numbers and dollar signs, who think like worldly businessmen are taking a strong, strong liking to them. Some of the stuff that comes down the pike is utter worldly, utterly stupid – treating people who don’t know Jesus like they are mere consumers ready to buy something. Let’s market this, let’s advertise this. I’ve been out in the parish for 9 years, and it seems like some stupid new plan or model shows up every 2 years, and three years later it’s outdated and cliché. Utter stupidity. What is forgotten is that the Church of God is not a business of the world, and it doesn’t run by the world’s dog eat dog rules.
How does Simon Peter catch the fish? Is it because of his hard work? He’d been fishing all night and hadn’t caught anything. Is it because of his wonderful plans? They had fallen flat. Was it a neat 7 step plan, or 40 day commitment to fill in the blank? Nope. But at Your Word I will let down the nets. The catch comes simple and solely because Christ said so – because of God’s Word. If Simon Peter becomes a great fisher of fish by God’s Word, doesn’t it stand to follow that Simon Peter will be a fisher of men by. . . God’s Word? And what do we see Peter doing on Pentecost? He’s. . . preaching. He quotes, and then even later on ends up writing, Scripture. When he’s good he’s all about the Word of God. The same thing is upon us. The Church has always been about the Word of God, Law and Gospel, and when we abandons that Word, we are no longer Church. We, as long as we desire to remain “Church”, must be devoted not to our plans, not to our goals, not to what we’d like to see, not to dreams of full pews and fuller offering plates, not to how many people show up at the latest pep talk or concert that pretends it’s Church – rather this. We must be devoted solely and only to Christ and His Word, to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified – to be in the Word and to proclaim that same Word and nothing else to others. And then we will dwell in the House of the Lord all our days. As for others, the folks out there – hopefully through our lips God’s Word will work upon them – if not, the Holy Spirit works when and where He wills. We remain in the Word, we continue to trust in His Wisdom while the world laughs at our folly – for we know God’s Word for what it is, we know the Cross for what it is – the power and wisdom of God for salvation. While others will demand signs in the pocketbook and nifty plans – we will preach Christ Crucified, that stumbling block and folly to the world, and rest securely and comfortably in His love, His forgiveness, His righteousness. He has told us that we need not be afraid – all that remains then is for us to receive the Supper and give thanks. O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy to us, in spite of the blustering of the world, endures forever. To God alone be the glory. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +