Trinity 5 – July 24th, 2011 – Luke 5:1-11
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
The night was long and hard and backbreaking. There were no machines to keep pulling in the empty nets like on Deadliest Catch, it was simply the muscle power of Simon Peter and his fellow fishers. Thick, heavy rope, waterlogged, grating over callous hands – cast out, pulled up from the depths, over and over and over again. And all for nothing. A full night of toil, and no fish to be seen. And so, weary and worn, the fishermen pull into the shore. No rest yet, there are still chores to do. The nets must be washed and mended – seaweed cleaned off, frays picked up during the night repaired. And all with no catch, without even the prospect of getting a little cash as a reward for the hard labor.
And then Jesus, the teacher comes. Simon Peter sees Him. What will this Jesus do? He will put Simon Peter to work. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. Ah, yes, you there, cleaning the nets, would you mind waiting on that and driving me around in your boat for a bit? Think about that for a moment. Put yourself into Simon Peter’s shoes. You are tired, you are worn. You’ve had a rotten day. And just as you sit down, think you are about done – suddenly this Guy who is bright eyed and bushy tailed wants to go out on your boat. And it wouldn’t be just a brief time – this is Jesus the Teacher – and He’ll probably be teaching for quite some time. It would be the last thing I’d want to do if I were Simon. Yet Simon goes – tired and worn – and Simon sits there, at Jesus’ feet, learning, hearing the Word of God. Now, that kind of puts us to shame, doesn’t it? Simon, tired and worn as he is, listens to God’s Word. No excuses – no “It’s too late for devotions tonight, I’ll just catch up tomorrow,” no “can’t you find someone else” – no excuses. Simon simply puts out onto the lake with Jesus in the boat.
And then, in the boat, Simon is put to the test. And when [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your Word I will let down the nets.” Now, Simon isn’t dumb. He’s tired, he’s worn – and he knows what Jesus’ request will mean for him. More work. He’ll have to re-do the clean up. Hours of more work. And Simon is a little put out – we already worked all night – but we’ll humor You. And so, the nets are cast. 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. A big catch – enough to nearly swamp two fishing boats – more than they would expect on the best night of fishing, right there.
So – what will be Simon Peter’s reaction to this? Will he say, “well it’s about time – you know I’ve been a good little boy and it’s about time something good happened to me”? Does Simon think he’s earned such wonderful blessings by being a good fellow? Will it be, “Maybe we should get this Jesus to come out fishing with us all the time, He could really grow the business”? Are his thoughts upon money and cash, his pocket? No. Listen. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
That is an astonishing response, is it not? Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. Let’s ponder that for a moment. How many of you are blessed? You all are, quite blessed. I suppose I could pause here, tell you to count your blessings, maybe go over a list of all the ways in which you are blessed – body and soul, house and home – all those things you memorized when you learned the meaning to the 1st Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism. There are countless blessings right in front of you all the time – and what is your response to them? Now, normally, if there is a sermon that deals with blessings, we all expect it to be about thankfulness where the Pastor wags the finger and says, “You need to be more thankful.” That’s not the point today – you should be thankful, yes – but listen to Simon’s response again – Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
Do you see Simon Peter’s humility? Do you hear it? Here Christ lays out a fantastic blessing before him – and what is Simon’s response? I’m not worthy. I don’t deserve any of this. In fact, I am a sinful being, and from God I deserve only wrath. This can almost seem a strange reaction – but it shouldn’t. Simon Peter is spot on here, he hits the nail on the head. He isn’t worthy, he doesn’t deserve any of the blessings God gives him. In fact he deserves only God’s wrath. Do we ourselves think that way? We say it – we confess that “I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your . . . temporal and eternal punishment.” We confess in the Catechism that all that we have received from God comes to us “without any merit or worthiness in me.” We say the words of humility, but are we humble – or are we proud? We say that we deserve punishment – but do we get downcast and upset when we don’t have things go our way? Are we proud or are we humble? Do we tell God that we ought to have more and more because we are just so gosh darn good people – or do we as Christians ever more and more realize just how completely undeserving we are of any and every blessing God gives us? Simon Peter here reminds us and teaches us. He could have looked to what a kind person he was – he could have said, “well, I’m a good little boy who did what Jesus said, of course I should get a bunch of fish” - he could have turned this into some Televangelist spiel on the Bible Way of growing your business. But Simon is not brash nor is he proud, and he doesn’t care about that. No – Simon sees God’s blessing, and He confesses that as a sinner, he doesn’t deserve any of it.
And then, hearing Simon Peter’s humility, hearing his confession, Christ speaks. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” We know this verse – it’s one we learn when we are little – I can tell, because in my head I’ve got the old style “fishers of men” memorized. And so often we skip to the end of the verse – we jump to that fishing men, catching men part. The sermon then normally twists into a giant law bomb about how you need to be out there catching men, how you need to do more for Jesus! And that misses the point – listen to the first thing Jesus says. Do not be afraid. That’s the key. Christ Jesus sees Simon Peter before him, sees a man who knows that he is a sinner, knows his own flaws and weaknesses, knows that he has failed in living as he ought. And what does Jesus say to Simon Peter? Do not be afraid. Jesus forgives him. Jesus says, “do not fear because of your sin – I forgive you all of your sins.” Christ handles the problem. I will not depart from you, Simon Peter. Instead, I have come down from heaven, was born of the Virgin Mary, precisely so that I can suffer and die and put to death your sin, so that you may be with me forever. The sin that separated you and Me, the sin that has separated man from God ever since the garden, ever since your first parents hid in fear – I will put an end to it, I will forgive it. And so our Lord says to Simon – Do not be afraid.
This is the same thing that our Lord cries out to us over and over in service. Do not be afraid – I forgive you. Do not think in fear that you need hide from God – The Lord be with you. Do not be terrified and all aflutter – peace be with you. Your cries for mercy do not go unheard. Your Lord forgives you – and that truth is central to everything that happens in this room, in this sanctuary. You, dear friends, are forgiven.
Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men. So, how is Simon Peter going to be catching men? How? What does he do? Now, if we look around at the world, we get a lot of modern, spiffy ideas about how to catch men. Nice billboards and flashing signs will pack them in. Neat programs will draw them. Good advice for living, that will do it. An entertaining “experience” full of bells and whistles. Is this what Simon Peter used? When Simon Peter went about the business of catching men that the Lord said he would – was it social programs and the like? No. Not at all. It’s not some massive, complicated undertaking. In fact, it’s not about what Peter does, but what Christ has done. Peter simply proclaims the same thing that Christ has said to him – do not be afraid. Repent of your sins and believe in Christ Jesus and His forgiveness. Simple as that. All about Jesus. That’s what Peter preaches on Pentecost. And Peter said to them, “repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the Holy Spirit.” Look, your sin is forgiven by Christ, you are restored to God – in fact, the Holy Spirit will be with you. Or when Peter speaks in front of the Jewish Council – This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Or his first epistle – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Totally focused on the fact that Christ Jesus had come, has won salvation. Everything focused on Christ – always and over and over Peter proclaims the same thing - repent and be forgiven on account of Christ’s death and resurrection. It is as simple as that, and in truth that is the only way in which men will be truly caught. The proclamation of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.
And that’s what this place is about. That’s why this Church still stands – so that God’s forgiveness might be proclaimed to us poor sinners who gather here desperately in need of it. That is why this Church still stands – so that people can hear of God’s love for them – not in terms of getting more stuff, because things come and go and stuff here isn’t going to last; not in terms of being entertained, because Jesus knows that our true problems in life aren’t that we are bored but that we were born sinners who need forgiveness. No – this place still stands so that all people, you, me, your friends, your neighbors, strangers you’ve yet to meet, all of us have a place set up and established where can hear of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus – that He sent His only Son to die for us, and for His sake forgives us all our sin. Here in this place, knowing God’s forgiveness, we learn to approach this life as people who are humble, who have learned to rejoice in God’s blessings, whatever they be, great or small, so that as Christ’s humble children we might approach the trials of this life without fear, not being afraid, knowing above all that we are forgiven by Christ Jesus. The same words which He speaks to Simon Peter are the same words He speaks to you today, and will continue to speak to you here as long as His Church here stands. Do not be afraid – you are forgiven. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.