Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sermon: Trinity 5

12 July 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 5:1-11 (1 Kings 19:11-21, 1 Cor 1:18-25)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Jesus calls his disciples in a strange and supernatural way. He doesn’t rely on a human resources expert to tell Him who will make a good disciple, someone who can assist Him and stand in His place to preach the Word of God. Jesus makes no use of any synodical programs, psychological analysis, or spiritual gifts inventory forms.

Instead, He goes to a small group of fisherman who have failed to catch anything all night, tells them to try again, and miraculously fills the nets to the point of breakage.

He then observes Simon Peter’s reaction.

Is Peter so impressed that he signs up for a one-year trial membership to the Jesus Organization, so he too can learn to be a self-actualized and confident fisherman? Does Peter grab Jesus’s coattails hoping to rise up the ladder of success, maybe even starting a franchise of his own one day? No indeed.

Peter is shocked and horrified – not with the mysterious Rabbi’s miracle, but with his own sinfulness: “Depart from me,” he says, “for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” This is because, as the Evangelist reports, Peter and his cohorts were “astonished.” These were seasoned fishermen, and they knew that this was not a natural phenomenon. This Jesus had lordship over the forces of nature itself. There is something divine about this Man, something holy and otherworldly – which serves to remind Peter of his own uncleanness which stands out by contrast.

And notice that far from disqualifying Peter from the apostolic ministry, it results in our Lord dismissing his fears, removing his reproach, and calling him into service: “Do not be afraid,” He says, “from now on you will be catching men.”

Peter’s recognition of his sinful state is just what Jesus was looking for in a “fisher of men.” Peter, for all of his faults, is honest. He can see his own unworthiness based on his own merit and power. He can see his own weakness, and in his sincerity, bids the Lord to leave rather than allow his own uncleanness to defile this holy Man.

There is a candor about Peter’s plea, a humility and a melancholy acknowledgment of exactly what the Lord Jesus has come to fix: sin. And in his failure to be perfect, Peter passes the test. For had he claimed to be perfect, he would have been a liar, deluding himself about the very issue Jesus has come to fix. Coming to grips with the destruction of sin is something that will make Peter a good “fisher of men.”

Our Lord dismisses Peter’s sins and forgives him with one little word: “Do not be afraid.” For Peter, the forgiven sinner, the follower of Christ, no longer has anything to fear as a result of his sins. The powerful Word of the Lord has spoken, and has done far more here than make a lot of fish jump into a net. This is why there is no reason for Peter to shrink from Jesus in horror. For the Son of Man has come not to condemn, but to save. And He has come to save by the “word of the cross” – which is “folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The Lord has come to die on the cross, to forgive us all our sins, and to reanimate us. This new life comes from the same source of power as the miraculous catch of fish – the very Word of God.

We are told that just before this miracle, just before calling the disciples, our Lord stood at the side of the lake, and “the crowd was pressing in on Him.” And the reason they were doing this was “to hear the Word of God.” They were hungry to hear this Word of life.

For this Jesus taught with authority, unlike their lawyers and preachers of self-righteousness. This Man’s Word was different. It had power. It could work miracles. It could indeed catch men in righteousness with the ease by which great numbers of fish can become entangled in a fisherman’s net.

The Word of Jesus is indeed powerful, and it does what it was sent to do – to forgive us, draw us into itself like a net, drawing us to our loving Father, all in order to forgive us, make us new, and give us everlasting life. But this Word, the mighty “Word of the cross” needs mouths so that the Word may take flight, may be proclaimed, may be heard, and may win men to the gospel even as a net ensnares its prey. And this is why the Lord calls ministers and preachers – to “catch men” by this preaching of “Christ crucified…. Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

Preaching is not the transmission of information. It is not a message. It is “the power of God.” It is the Church’s holy vocation to proclaim the Gospel to all the world. For we do not preach our own opinions, our own sorry attempts at wisdom. We do not preach a wealth and prosperity cult. We do not preach a political utopia or a “social gospel.” We do not preach in order to be clever, controversial, famous, or loved. We do not preach to win the favor of men or the approval of the government.

We preach, rather, the Word of God, the Word of the cross. “We preach Christ crucified” – and that preaching is seem by some as an offense, and by others as stupidity. This kind of preaching is mocked, discouraged, treated as of little consequence, and ignored. But this is the preaching the Lord calls his ministers to do. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

St. Peter and his band of fishermen-turned-preachers would see far greater miracles than a strange and mysterious catch of fish. They would likewise look at their own sinfulness in horror again and again, as they lived out their lives in the flesh in the fallen world. And yet, through it all, their Lord was with them, preaching to them, and through them, telling them not to fear, urging them to resist the devil, imploring them to continue preaching that Word that is both hated and loved by the world, the Word through which we are saved and have eternal life.

And this Word is sufficient for us in this life, dear brothers and sisters. For even as St. Peter and the apostles gave up everything to follow Jesus, all for the sake of the Word, we too are called to be disciples.

Some of us are called to preach the Word, some are called to hear the Word – but we are all called to be drawn into the evangelical net of the Word of God, the Word of the cross, the Word of Christ – “the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

For this Word is our very life. All else is worthless when set next to this mighty and life-giving Word. For Peter and the disciples “left everything and followed Him.”

Then let us follow Christ our Lord,
And take the cross appointed
And firmly clinging to His Word,
In suff’ring be undaunted.
For those who bear the battle’s strain
The crown of heav’nly life obtain.


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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