Luke 5:1-11 (5th Sunday after the Epiphany—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
February 7, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Lesson from Luke 5:
On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he 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.” 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. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
We have some fishermen and fisher-women in our congregation. Fishing for leisure can be very enjoyable, especially when something is caught. It could be frustrating when you’ve fished for hours with nothing to show for it, but leisure fishing is just that—something you enjoy doing whether or not you bring home the “big one.” If your income depends on a catch of fish, that’s a different story. If the fish aren’t biting, you have no fish to sell. If you have no fish to sell, you don’t make a profit.
So whose fault is it that you have no fish to sell? You’ve been out with your co-workers all night long. Your nets have been in the water waiting for the fish to find them. You’ve put down the nets here and pulled them back in—nothing! You’ve put the nets down there and pulled them back in—nothing! You and your team have labored all through the night and the results—nothing! That’s frustrating! It’s discouraging. It might even be worrisome if this no-catch thing has been happening more frequently than a big haul. After all, there are bills to pay and mouths to feed. But you can’t make the fish swim into your net, can you? You can only put the net out into the water and wait to see what comes along.
So we read in our Gospel lesson: When Jesus had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let your nets down for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” Jesus asked Simon Peter to do something that defies all human logic: after a long night of fishing without success to go back out into the deep and let down his nets for fish! How would you respond? Are you willing to do something that doesn’t make sense simply because the Master has spoken a word of command that is illogical to the human mind?
Peter was so willing. He had been struck by Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God. So at Jesus’ word, as seemingly ridiculous as it was, Peter cast off for deep waters and let down the net. Contrary to Peter’s expectations, Jesus shows him that fish are in abundance. The word of Jesus created the great catch of fish in a place where Peter least expected, in the place they had fished all night and found none! Peter, James, John and the others couldn’t make fish find the nets. But Jesus, the Creator Himself, could and did. The nets that could find no fish now found an overabundance of fish because of the word of Jesus.
The teaching of Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish brought Peter to his knees before Jesus. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” But God has come in Jesus not to condemn, but to forgive and to bring about a new creation. Peter wants Jesus to leave because Peter is a sinner. While being drawn to Jesus through the miracle, Peter also wants Jesus to depart from him, because he knows he is unworthy to be in Jesus’ presence. Notice Isaiah’s similar reaction in our Old Testament lesson, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of hosts!” But what did God do for Isaiah? He forgave him. “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his had a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’ And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.’” To Simon Peter Jesus says, “From now on you will be catching men alive!” Like Isaiah, so in Peter’s call there is both forgiveness and a commission to extend that forgiveness to others.
So what are we to make of this event? What are we as baptized believers in Christ to take home for our lives of faith-in-action this week? Martin Luther seemed to capture the significance of all the imagery in our text. He invites us to consider the sea as the world, the fish as people, the net as the preaching of the Gospel, and the boat as the Church. The nets are the means by which fish are caught and brought into the boat, so consider the net of the Gospel as the means of bringing people into the boat of the Christian Church. These Gospel nets are put into the water at Jesus’ own word. “Do not be afraid; from now one you will be catching men alive.”
Jesus asks us to do the same as He did with Peter. He asks us to do something that defies human logic and reason. Jesus wants us to let down the Gospel nets so that He can fill them with living people. As Jesus did with Peter and the fish, so He will do for you and me in His Church. Jesus will direct us to where to let down our Gospel proclaiming nets, even in places where we might least expect to find anyone who would be receptive, and Jesus’ word will create the great catch of people alive so that they are brought into the boat of the Church through the Gospel itself.
You see, the catch of fish happened because of the word of Jesus. The catch of people alive with the Gospel happens only because of the word of Jesus’ forgiveness that is extended to them. This is the miracle of making the unworthy sinner fit to stay in the presence of the holy God. It’s the miracle of the forgiveness of sins that happens because Jesus died for the sins of the world on the cross. Having won complete forgiveness for all sins, Gospel proclamation (or Gospel fishing, if you will) is Christ’s work done only through the power of His all-powerful, all-creating, all-redeeming, and all-sanctifying Word!
For example, consider again what happens in Holy Baptism. This morning Kierstin will be/was baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. At Jesus’ command she is baptized. It is at His Word that her sins are forgiven. It is at Jesus’ Word that she is rescued from death and the devil. It is at Jesus’ Word that she receives eternal salvation through the gift of faith in Jesus Christ created in her heart by the Holy Spirit. Through the Gospel Word combined with water in Baptism, the net is cast. Christ brings about the miracle of saving faith by His Spirit and brings Kierstin safely into the boat of His own Church. She is captured alive in the net of the Gospel through Baptism in order that she might be saved from sin, death, and Satan. She is brought into the boat of the Church to grow in her baptismal faith through the hearing of God’s Word. By the power of the Holy Spirit working through her baptism, Kierstin, as she grows, will be able then to confess Jesus as Lord and to so come before His Table receiving His true body and blood with the bread and wine for forgiveness, life, and salvation.
This is how the Church is created and formed and preserved. No, it’s not logical according to human standards. It’s by grace according to the Word of Christ. He has commissioned us, His baptized children, to go out and catch people alive and do what Jesus has already done to us—to preach the Good News of the Kingdom in Word and Sacrament and to forgive sins in Jesus’ name just as He has forgiven us.
Today, in the power of the same Gospel that saved us through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross, we stand together as the body of Christ in this place, ready to go out again in Jesus’ name and at Jesus’ command to drop the Gospel nets of forgiveness and eternal life wherever and whenever He give us the opportunity. It could be in a very unexpected place and at a very unexpected time that He uses you and me to share His Word of life—the message of our Savior Jesus—with someone. Through the power of His Word alone, that person may be brought to saving faith and join you and me in the safety of the boat of the Church. However, that person might reject the message of Jesus and choose to ignore it. It happens, just like fishermen don’t always come back to shore with the catch they were hoping for, even though they let down their nets all night long. Remember, Christ doesn’t ask you to make the “fish,” come to the net. He doesn’t ask us to make the people respond to the message. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see results. Jesus’ simply asks you and me to put out the nets and allow Him to work as the Lord and God that He is through the message of His cross and resurrection. Our task is to declare to people the Good News of the Kingdom of God in Jesus and let Him work on their hearts and souls and so create the great catch of “fish” for His Kingdom.
So we pray:
Almighty God, You have called Your Church to witness that in Christ You have reconciled us to Yourself. Grant that by Your Holy Spirit we may proclaim the good news of Your salvation so that all who hear it may receive the gift of salvation. Hear our prayers for those outside the Church. Take away their iniquity, and turn them from their false gods to You, the living and true God. Gather them into the boat of Your holy Church to the glory of Your name; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.