Fisher of Men

Sermon, Trinity 5, July 16 2017

Gospel, St. Luke 5: 5-11


Any Bible story that has the apostle Peter in it is going to be a compelling story, for Peter was a man of action, a man of passion, a man of conviction. He was an all-or-nothing personality.  There was nothing wishy-washy, or half-way about him. He was never cool, nor lukewarm, but fiery. Especially in the Gospels we see him as a man of extremes.  Peter does not hide his feelings. We see him one moment boldly confident and the next moment sunk in despair. One moment he proclaims that he is ready to fight and die for His Lord, even if all the other disciples desert. But a few hours later Peter does deny Jesus, when a serving girl accuses Peter of being one of Jesus’ followers.  Peter is a larger- than-life character. He would fit well in a Shakespeare drama or an opera by Verdi. The scenes of the Gospel in which he appears are intensely dramatic. Today’s reading of his calling by Jesus is one such drama.

In the reading from the fifth chapter of Luke, Simon Peter, a fisherman by trade, has just come back to the shore of the Sea of Galilee after fishing all night in his boat.  He and his partners had worked hard, using all their skills learned over a lifetime, but they have come back with no fish. The sun is now up, but before they can home to eat and rest, they must first clean and put up the nets. As they are doing this necessary chore,  a large crowd appears near them. People have come to the shore of the sea of Galilee to see Jesus. They have heard how he heals the sick and drives out demons with just a touch or a word. They are bringing their sick and demon-possessed to Jesus. But in their excitement to be near Jesus they are crowding around Him and pushing him, so that only a few can see or hear Him.  Jesus sees Simon’s fishing boat and steps into it. Have you ever wondered why Jesus took this liberty of entering Simon’s  boat before asking his permission?  It helps us to know that in the Gospel of Saint John, we are told that Simon was first introduced to Jesus by Andrew, his brother. So this is not the first time Simon has met Jesus.

After Simon was introduced to Jesus by Andrew, he probably had had many opportunities to talk with Jesus, to eat with him, to listen to him teach and  preach, to see Him heal and exorcise. Maybe He noticed  that Jesus took a special interest in him. But why? Jesus would not want Simon to follow Him, would He? Simon was a simple fisherman, not educated,  not a priest, not a scribe, not a holy man, but a sinful man, with sin in his past, and in his present.

Now Jesus steps into his boat and tells Simon to cast the boat off a few yards from the shore. Simon immediately stops cleaning his nets. He calls to his partners to join him, and does as Jesus commands. After the boat leaves the shore, Jesus then sits down, and teaches the crowd, and the fishermen in the boat who are listening too.  Jesus finishes teaching and tells Simon to take the boat not back to shore, but our to the deep part of the lake and let his nets down again. Simon, as we said, was an expert fisherman. He knew the deep part of the lake was not the place to catch fish, nor was it the right time to catch them. He tells the Lord that the men have fished all night and have caught nothing, but if it is Jesus’ will, if it is Jesus’ word, he will obey. Peter’s reason and experience tells him that this will come to nothing. What does this carpenter’s son from Nazareth know of fishing? But Simon also knows that this man Jesus is not a fool. He has something important to do.

They cast their nets and the drama shifts into high gear. The nets fill with fish immediately– so full that they begin to tear. Peter calls his partners’ boat over to help. The men pull the fish into the boats, loading down the boats, lowering them in the water to the point where they are in danger of sinking.  Then it hits Simon. With all  his skill, and all his effort, he could not catch one fish. This man Jesus, by a word, fills the boat. This is no mere holy man. This is no mere philosopher or healer. This is a prophet, no more than a prophet, this is….who,the Messiah, God Himself? And as the people in Scripture do when they realize they are in the presence of God or His messengers, he falls to his knees. He kneels before the One who, by a word, created  all the living, including the fish that swim in the sea.  This is when Simon most acutely  feels his unworthiness, his sinfulness. Whatever Jesus had in mind for him, he knows he is neither worthy nor able to do it.  He begs Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Of course, Jesus already knows that about Simon. He knows what is in the heart of men. He knows that all have fallen short of the glory of God, of His glory. Though Simon does not fully understand it yet, it is precisely for sinful men and women and children that Jesus has come. Paul, the last apostle, learned this too. He wrote in his first letter to Timothy, ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.’” And in our story, Jesus has come to save a particular sinner–Simon, to call him, with James and John, other sinful men, to follow him– to be his disciples, his students, and  his apostles.

Jesus looks with love at Simon fallen at his knees and speaks these wonderful words to him. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” As if to say, “You think this is amazing? You have no idea what you’re going to see and do with me!”

The fishermen are wealthy now. This gigantic haul will take care of them and their families for a long time. They leave it all behind for their families as they go to follow Jesus, knowing that He can and will provide for them and their loved ones.

Jesus would provide for them so that they could devote themselves during the next three years to learning at His feet. He would see to it that  their needs of body and soul were filled, for He is Lord of all.  He would show them by example how to become fishers of men, for He planned to use them, as they had used their nets, to call sinful men and women to repentance, so that they too, like the apostles,  might receive forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, the author of life.

In our Gospel story, we are told that the men had worked all the night before with all their skill and experience, but came up with nothing. Jesus tells the fishermen to lower their nets. He could have made the fish jump into the boat without the fishermen doing anything, but Jesus wanted them and us to see that, although we  use our skills and experience and brains in our callings, our vocations, it is the Lord who ultimately provides. He uses our vocations as fishermen, farmers, ranchers, to feed the people of the world. This is how He has chosen to act in this world.

As Jesus added his word to the work of the fishermen in our story, He adds his word to our daily work, and we and our neighbor are filled.  The sons of Adam earn their bread by the sweat of their brow. But it is God who provides. And if he delays sometimes in providing, if sometimes the nets of the faithful come up empty, He is still providing, testing and strengthening our faith through these trials and tribulations. God does not want us to worry about how we will feed ourselves tomorrow, or fret about whether we will have enough to pay our bills. He wants us to go about our vocations, working, if we are able-bodied, trusting in His promise to give us our daily bread.

God also does not want us to doubt the salvation He has promised us in His Word and delivered in His Sacraments. He has promised it, and we simply believe and  fulfill our calling as Christians by holding preaching and His Word sacred, and gladly hearing and learning it, as Luther explains the third commandment in the Small Catechism. We fulfill our calling as saved sinners by daily remembering that we are baptized into Christ’s death. We remember that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance by drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and  that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” We fulfill our calling as Christians by sharing with our brothers and sisters in the church a portion of what God has graciously provided us, and confessing our faith before the world.

As Luther wrote in his first sermon on this text,“If one believes, God gives him so much that he is able to help all people, outwardly with his property and gifts; and from within he breaks forth, teaches others and makes them inwardly rich also, for such a person cannot keep silent, he must declare to others what he experienced; as Ps. 51:10-13 says: “Create in me a clean heart, O God. and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from in thy presence; and take not thy holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.”

          Simon Peter learned how to become a fisher of men. He learned from the master fisher, Jesus Christ. He saw how Jesus spoke the Word of the Law and Gospel. He witnessed the Holy Spirit of Father and Son working through the Word and Sacrament, to bring men, women, and children into the boat of the church, which is where we get our word nave, which means boat.

After Jesus ascended into heaven, His apostles threw His net of Word and Sacrament  into the world, beginning with Jerusalem, where on Pentecost, Peter preached to those who witnessed in amazement the miracle of the disciples of Christ speaking of Him in their own languages. When they asked Peter what this meant. Peter threw his net. He began fishing.  He preached to them how their sins brought Jesus to the cross. He said,


“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  


Then Peter proclaimed the Gospel to them:


He said to them, o“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 gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2: 36-39, ESV)

Those who received his Word, that is, those who believed, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in the word of God preached by Peter, were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. Peter had become a  true fisher of men and he was no longer afraid. He had seen the risen Christ, who spoke the word of peace and forgiveness to him on Easter. Later Jesus told him, and by extension, all who are called to the Holy Ministry, “Feed my sheep.” “Feed my flock.” And finally, to all the apostles he spoke, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all that I have commanded you. And behold, I will be with you to the age.

God brought you into his boat by the Word of the Gospel, by Baptism, as He did this morning with Everette Kaiser.  He will bring you safely to your heavenly destination in this boat, whose sails are filled by the gentle wind of the Holy Spirit. You are safe here.  He has caught you, and will not let anyone snatch you out of His hand. You are His forever. Let us give thanks to the Lord we have caught. Amen.  

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