Sunday, July 01, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 5 - 2018

1 July 2018

Text: Luke 5:1-11 (1 Kings 19:11-21, 1 Pet 3:8-15)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“From now on you will be catching men,” says our Lord to Simon the fisherman.  

This promise of our Lord is both humorous and serious, both joyful, and somber.  For on that one morning after a night of failure as a fisherman, Simon’s life will change.  Even his name will change to “Peter,” which means the rock-man.  For he was to become the leader of the Lord’s disciples, and the world itself will change as the rock-man and his friends will become the foundation of the largest institution in the history of mankind, an worldwide organization that will not only change the world, but will bring about the salvation of those very men being caught in the net that the church will cast at the command of Jesus: the net of the Gospel.

Fish resist the fisherman’s net and try not to get caught, because they do not want to give up their lives.  We fallen men resist the net of the Gospel for a similar reason: we do not want to give up our lives either.  We foolishly think that life apart from Christ, apart from the Gospel, apart from the church, is real life, when it is, in fact, the process of dying a slow death.  True life, abundant life, eternal life is found inside the net, dear friends, for Christ doesn’t gather us in to devour us, but to exchange the fallen life in this world for eternal life.

We often hear people talk about “safety nets” – a desire for institutions of society to protect people from ruin.  And that, dear brothers and sisters, is what the net of the Gospel is all about.  

Think about a tall building that is on fire.  The horrible dilemma is whether to stay inside to be burned to death, or to jump and fall to one’s death – unless there is a savior waiting to catch you in a net.  This is the net that the fishers of men bear, the net of Christ.  We are escaping the fire and ruin that is our fallen world, our broken humanity, our rotten natural state.  We take a leap of faith because Jesus calls us, saying: “Do not be afraid,” as He bids us to follow Him – and in following Him, we are caught in His net.  And while we have to leave behind a sinful, broken world, a life of ruin and devastation, an eternal death and the fires of hell, we land in a safety net – a net woven together in the shape of a cross, fashioned by the very body and blood of Christ, a net that draws us up through baptismal water – water combined with the Word of God that saves us from death and hell.

Peter and his associates “left everything and followed Him.”  For as Peter would later say to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  What else can a fisher of men do but cast his nets to save men?

Following Jesus, taking that leap away from our comfortable but fallen world, is a frightening prospect.  When Peter realized that He was face to face with something and someone that he could not understand, that transcended the ordinary in this world, “he fell at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’”  He saw the miracle of the fish, and was “astonished.”  To be in the presence of such power is frightening, especially as we reflect on our sins, knowing what we deserve.  But again, dear friends, our Lord says, “Do not be afraid.”  He has come to forgive us.  And He has work for us to do: whether we are preachers of the Word, or hearers of the Word.  For whether we are casting the nets, cleaning the nets, repairing the nets, making the nets, or purchasing the nets – we are all engaged in the saving work of the church, that is, the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For whether we are preachers or hearers, we are all confessors of the Word.

St. Peter truly took our Lord’s invitation, “Do not be afraid” to heart.  For we heard anew from St. Peter’s epistle, from him who was to suffer and die for his own confession of Christ, to urge us on even in persecution.  St. Peter says the same thing as our Lord: “Have no fear of them.”  He adds, “Nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

This “defense” – which in Greek refers to defending yourself against accusations in court by means of your words of testimony – is an important part of the net cast by Christians to save others who face the doom of a world destined for fire.  We Christians are attacked by people who don’t even realize that they are in a burning edifice.  And it is part of that “sympathy” and “brotherly love” and “humble mind” that St. Peter urges us on to when we respond to the hatred of the world with love.  Our calling as Christians is not to win arguments, but to win our brother – even when our brother is our enemy.  We are called to invite others to take the leap with us from the fire into the safety net, and we need to articulate a reason why they should.  

We should train ourselves in order to “be prepared to make a defense” for our faith – for eternal salvation is at stake.  They will ask us why we believe the Bible is reliable, why we believe Christianity isn’t just one more religion, why we believe that all lifestyles are not equal, why we believe in objective truth and things like good and evil.  We are called to give a defense of the cross, of the forgiveness of sins, of the holy sacraments.  And we are called to “make a defense” against things like evolution, the claims that the Bible is filled with contradictions, and false narratives that Christianity is just a retelling of myths, that our faith is the invention of kings and politicians to control us, and we must respond to the nihilistic belief that life has no meaning or purpose: the culture of death that is ravaging our civilization.

And that last belief, dear brothers and sisters, is especially common and dangerous today, as modern people live lives of emptiness and depression in a vain, self-obsessed pursuit of some kind of meaning in entertainment and pleasure.  The net we bear is the net of love and joy and purpose.  It is the net that draws people out of sin and death and into righteousness and life.  People are dying to find such a net – and we have had it all along.

There are times when we, like the prophet Elijah, seem overwhelmed by the world’s hatred and unbelief.  We are increasingly outnumbered as our culture teeters on self-inflicted destruction.  As hopeless as things seemed for Elijah (who was hunted and stalked and vilified by those in power), there was indeed a remnant of those who did not bow the knee to the false gods.  And the true God raised up Elisha to succeed Elijah, even as Jesus raised up St. Peter, the unlikely bishop, to lead the small band of apostles in casting the net of the Gospel around the world.

Indeed, dear brothers and sisters, let us be “prepared to make a defense to anyone” regarding why we have hope even as we dwell in our fallen world and in our own sinful flesh.  Let us boldly and joyfully cast our net, knowing that this is what our Lord calls us to do, knowing that those who are captured by this net are saved from death, from the flames, from the father of lies, confident that the nets catch men not because of our own skill or worthiness, but rather, by His Word, the same Word that brought forth Peter’s miraculous catch.  For the net we cast is the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And let us also humbly confess our sins and fall down before Jesus, like St. Peter, knowing that our Lord will not, in fact, depart from us.  Let us confess this reason for the hope that is in us: our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, the one whose net saves us and redeem us, the one who invites us by His might and by His mercy, by means of His Word, saying: “Do not be afraid.”  Amen.

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

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