Trinity 5 – Luke 5:1-11 – June 30th and July 1st, 2018
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
When we come across Simon Peter, he is at a low point. We see him and his partners cleaning up the nets after a long night of fishing, a long night that yielded nothing. Peter had spent the night throwing net after net over into the water, hauling wet rope up by hand, and gotten nothing. No fish. Nothing to sell. And after that back breaking but fruitless night, they are on the shore cleaning out the nets – because the seaweed and the junk has to get off of them and maybe when we are done we can just go home. You all have had rough days, you know how it is at the end of the day, you just want to be done and be done and be done. That's where Peter is – and I know when I'm there I'm tired and cranky and dour.
Then Jesus walks on up and drafts Peter for a bit more work. Push off from the shore, I'll preach from your boat. It makes wonderful acoustic sense – sound bouncing off the water, the shore forming a bit of a natural amphitheater... but it also means that instead of going home and getting rest, Peter is stuck there. Maybe he enjoyed listening to Jesus preach, maybe he didn't. I'm not going to pretend that all of you here are always just thrilled to be here and super-attentive to the sermon, especially if your week has been hard, or you're coming off of a night shift or something like that. Yet the preaching goes on – probably hours of it, and tired and sore Peter still waits, and waits... and then Jesus turns to Peter. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. This is stupidity. This is folly. You don't catch fish in the middle of the day, that was why they'd been fishing all night. And if they let down the nets, they'll just have to clean them up – but Peter resignedly says, “At your word I will let down the nets.” And then an unexpected victory – a catch so massive that the nets break, so big that they have to summon the other boat and they both begin to sink because they are just so full of fish. Peter's day has gone from lousy to unimaginably prosperous! You might think Peter would be overjoyed. But he's not.
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees saying, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.' Pause there and think about that. Depart from me, for I am a sinful man. Peter isn't a fool. Peter knows something divine, something miraculous when He sees it. This is a sign of God's presence and activity and this is Messianic – and he's afraid. He knows that he's a sinful man and God is here – so he begs Jesus to go. Does that seem strange to you? Why would anyone be scared of God showing up – oh, I don't know, do people even today get all happy dappy about Judgment Day or the End of the World? Because that is what Peter is seeing – the end point of all things. Don't think of this as “oh, Jesus my friend is here” - Peter would have viewed this as apocalyptic and fearful. The Messiah has come, the great and awesome day of the Lord has come... and there Peter is. A sinful man. And he had been looking God square in the face; he had been sassy and saucy (we toiled all night and caught nothing) with God Himself.
That got people killed in the Old Testament. Even Elijah, the greatest prophet, had to wrap his face and cover himself before talking to God – even Elijah wouldn't dare to enter the cave where God appeared but remained at a distance. Of course he did – sinful man doesn't do well in the presence of God! And there's Simon-Peter – and he'd been sassing the Messiah. And so he asks Jesus to go. And this isn't a sign of disbelief or no faith – no, Peter is a faithful man. But he is sinful, and he knows that sin and God don't mix, so the best he can hope for, the mercy he seeks from Jesus is this: Go away, and just don't smite me. That's what Peter thought mercy would be – God, just leave me alone.
Do you know what the real difference, the real impact of Jesus is in practical terms? We new testament folks have a hard time even conceiving of how anyone could possibly want God to depart from him. Oh, we still get mad at God when lousy stuff happens – Elijah grumbled in the Old Testament and we grouse at God about how things aren't fair today too... but when we grouse at God we just go ahead and grouse. We don't wait patiently on a mountain top and then humbly cover our faces – we look up to heaven and grouse. Kind of presumptuous, isn't it? That's how comfortable we are with God – because we are New Testament people – we are people who have been born and raised in the last days of the world. We see everything through the lens of Christ Jesus, God come to be with us in a way that we can handle, God come to redeem and forgive.
This is what it meant when Jesus said to Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Do not be afraid – whenever you hear that phrase in the bible that means that God is about ready to do something good for the sake of His people – He is going to show mercy and forgive and make things right. The punishments for sin will be taken away and sinful man is going to be forgiven instead of blown to smithereens. And we are the baptized, we live, we have our identity established in the fact that we have been forgiven by God. We are the people who live viewing God as their dear Father whom they can approach in prayer with confidence as dear children ask their dear father. We are those who have been given faith and are those who have been invited to Christ's table this day for strengthening of that faith. As St. Paul says, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.” We are caught men and women, we are those who have been caught and rescued from the world and brought into God's house by the power of the Word and Spirit.
And sometimes we can forget just how strange and wondrous it is to have faith. Many of us are just simply used to it – we can't remember a time when we didn't have faith. We can forget just how foolish our faith is. From our Epistle lesson, Paul is not wrong when He says that the Gospel, this forgiveness in Christ without any works on our part, it foolish and folly. We live in the world, we know how that works. If someone wrongs us, does something to hurt us, don't we EXPECT them to make it up to us? You messed up, how about a little “restitution”? In this world we live in “I'll make it up to you” - that's the wisdom of the world. And yet that's not how you relate to God – well, okay, sometimes in your sin that is how you try to relate to God – we will want to cut a deal, maybe at least I'll wash your back God and you can wash my back in this way sort of thing. But that's not how it works with God. God's approach to you is utterly foolish. He gives and gives without demanding anything back. Here you go Peter, have some fish, and no, I don't need a cut of the profits, no I don't need “free” advertising on the side of you boat. Here you go. Utterly free. And that is what God does for you – while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Oh, the foolishness of the Cross, to die for sinners! Jesus cries out for mercy for those who are crucifying Him, He cries out for mercy for you and me – a mercy that takes dead, dying, sinful people – people full of sin where everything is tainted and wrecked by selfishness and greed and hatred and lust and envy – mercy that takes people like you and me and dies for us. Dies to forgive and give live and save. Jesus going to the cross, according to the wisdom and logic and dog eat dog sense of the world, is the dumbest thing in history.
But that's who Jesus is. That's what your God is like. Just when Peter has a chance to corner the Galilean market on fish, Jesus calls him away from that. No, Peter, we're not going to be rolling in dough, that's not my goal. We're going to wander around and proclaim mercy and forgiveness, and even to people who will reject it and kill me – but as go, some of them will be caught up into faith. And even after Easter, as you go on your way you'll end up making disciples of all nations (even the races you don't like) by baptizing them and teaching them. And over the many generations, that's where we come in. We have been caught up in all this Jesus stuff. We have received His love and mercy – and we are even entitled to speak it forth. Foolishly. Stupidly. We have a boldness to forgive others who don't deserve it in the slightest. We have a boldness to love our enemies, and let them know that God Himself died to forgive them. We have the boldness to confront our own sin – because let's not pretend that we are perfect. No, we are bold to face down our sin and fight it down – that sin gets in the way of loving our neighbor or forgiving them so for their sake we need to fight it, and we do so boldly because we know that God is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That fight against our own sin will be the theme for the next few weeks, in fact. But all of this is seen and viewed through the astonishing love that God has for us in Christ.
Peter's day had gone from lousy to wondrous in a way he couldn't imagine. Didn't mean things were suddenly easy – but they were good. Christ saw to that. And this Jesus promises to make all things work for your good with His foolish love for you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.