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Sermon for Trinity V

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ July 25th, 2011

Sermon on St. Luke 5:1-11

Trinity 5

+ In the Name of Jesus +

Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men. – St. Luke 5:10

In today’s OT Lesson, Jeremiah promises OT Israel that they will return from Babylonian Captivity and resettle the Promised Land. And what does he promise as a sign of their return from captivity? The rebuilding of the Temple? How about the rebuilding of the city and its walls? These will come in due course. However, Jeremiah promises Fishermen as a sign of freedom and restoration. “Behold, I will send for many fishermen,” says the Lord, “And they shall fish [the lands].” Captives in Babylon did not fish. But God’s people, resettled in God’s own land, would fish and hunt and much, much more. In today’s Gospel Lesson, fishing becomes a metaphor for catching men alive in the net of the Gospel. For here we learn not just that the Lord orders the sea and all that dwells therein, but that He catches men alive in the net of the Gospel through preaching, repentance, and mission. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

Catching men alive means preaching. Just before today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (4:43). So departing from the synagogue of Judea, Jesus began preaching near the Lake of Genesaret, also known as the Sea of Galilee. We sometimes call this Jesus’ “open air” preaching. He preached in the synagogue, the Jewish place for the service of the Word. He preached in the temple, the epicenter of Jewish worship in Jerusalem. And He preached in the open air, as per the Sermon on the Plain or this sermon from the boat. St. Luke does not provide a transcript of the sermon, but we know that the task of preaching is to kill and make alive. So Jesus no doubt killed them by preaching the Law to expose their sin. And He certainly preached the good news that the kingdom of God was present in Christ, the One who would give His life into death for their sins and take it up again for their justification. So the boat became a pulpit, the shore became a pew, and the lake became a church where the word of the cross and resurrection was preached.

Here we see that catching men alive in the net of the Gospel always begins with preaching. Christ has died for all sin of all men. He is risen from the dead to conquer death. But it will not benefit anyone unless it is preached and believed. St. Paul put it this way in Romans 10[:14-15]: “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” Working this quote backwards, the following pattern emerges: Preachers are sent. People hear the good news that Jesus is Lord. The elect believe the Gospel and are baptized. And they begin to call upon the name of the Lord in Christian worship. Think about it: each and every one of you is a believer because the same preached Word that rang out over the Sea of Galilee in Luke 5 and has come all the way to your ears. And that is the greater miracle in today’s Gospel lesson. The catch of fish was quite a miracle, proving that this Jesus is both Lord and Christ. But the greater miracle is good news miracle that sinners would hear the word of the Gospel with their ears, believe with their hearts, and love the Lord their God with heart, mind and soul.

Catching men alive means repentance. When Simon Peter saw the great catch of fish, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Peter realized that he was a human fisherman, but Jesus was a Divine fisher of men. He was fallible. Jesus was infallible. Peter was dying and sinful flesh. Jesus was the living and ever-holy Christ of God. And how should sinners react when they realize that they are standing in the presence of their Maker and Redeemer? “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” One is reminded here of Isaiah’s vision and call in the temple (Isaiah 6:1-4). Recall that Isaiah saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up in the Jerusalem temple. The angels cried, “Holy, holy, holy.” And the foundations of the temple shook in the presence of God Almighty. And how did Isaiah respond? “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 te King, the Lord of Hosts!” So for Peter and Isaiah, for apostle and prophet, the appropriate response of sinful men to the presence of the Holy Lord is repentance.

So it is for us. Here we see the dynamics of Law and Gospel. The Law accuses you of the sin that merits your banishment from the Lord’s presence. The Law accuses you of fearing and loving yourself above all things; of saying “Oh, my god!” in anger instead of worship; of despising God’s Word by despising Bible study; of disobeying God’s ordained servants because you are autonomous; of hurting and harming your neighbor in body or in reputation by putting the worst construction on everything; and of coveting what God has not given to you. Yes, the Law says that you yourself are unholy, unrighteous, and alienated from God. What to do? It is only through repentance that you are able to stand righteous before God. To Peter, our Lord said, “Do not fear.” That is to say, “Do not fear to stand in my presence, for you have received repentance and faith. You, Peter, now stand in relationship to God as if you were Me – God’s own son!” To Isaiah, the Lord said, “Behold, [this coal] has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” And to repentant sinners like you and me, He says, “Behold! I have covered you with baptismal waters. I have absolved you of your sins. I have placed my body and blood in your mouth. So do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men alive as sinners repent of their sins and believe in the good news of full and free forgiveness.”

Catching men alive means that the Holy Spirit is hard at work in this Christian church to accomplish His mission. See the great catch of fish from the Sea of Galilee! They caught so many fish that their nets began to break. They called to a second boat for help. Then both boats were filled and began to sink! The Creator Himself provided daily bread for these fishermen. But see the greater catch of fish in the lively spread of the Gospel beyond its Jewish roots to the Gentiles. The inclusion of the Gentiles in the mission of the church is clear in the dragnet fishing of the day. Anything and everything might get caught in the dragnet. Good fish and bad fish. Seaweed and bramble bushes. Old tires and Coke cans. In the end, the fishermen will sort out the catch and separate the good from the bad. This stands in contrast to the modern practice of bait-and-switch fishing. Bait the fish with the promise of a good lunch. Then switch, in effect, from worm to hook and reel ‘em in. The church growth movement tried that a number of years ago. Bait the people with camaraderie, smiley faces, and the promise of successful living. While you’re at it, make visitor friendliness a new means of grace. And then, once they’re on the churchly hook, switch to good preaching and genuine sacraments. (Churches that attempted this method did not have any good preaching or sacraments, but that’s a different story.) No. Rather, the net of the Gospel sweeps through history, even for the Gentiles. There is no need to bait and switch, for the true church offers the entire Christ and all His gifts. Who could ask for anything more? For Christ Himself is in our churchly boat to abide with us forever, yes, even the Spirit of truth.

Fishing for men is the pattern of the New Testament mission of God. Luke’s Gospel “ends” with the ascension of Jesus and the promise of preaching, accompanied by signs (24:44-49). So the pattern of preaching and signs continues today in the mission of the church, which is precisely the mission of Christ Himself: to catch men alive in the net of the Gospel. Jesus still preaches through His pastors, calling sinners to repentance and faith. He preaches the Law through His pastors, causing us to fall on our knees with Peter and confess our sins. And He preaches the Gospel through the voice of His ordained ministers, giving and bestowing forgiveness and eternal salvation upon all who believe. And He still accompanies His preaching with signs: baptism and the Lord’s Supper, those modern-day miracles that show forth His presence. Baptism washes us clean of our sins and makes us righteous before God. And the Lord’s Supper feeds us His true body and blood, strengthening us in this churchly boat and guaranteeing safe passage through this life to the life of the world to come. So whether it’s Jesus’ preaching in a boat along with a great catch of fish or a pastor standing in the pulpit to lead us to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, it is the mission of Christ in its universal proportions: the mission of making the face of Christ present as the only hope for the world.

Jeremiah’s promise of fishing and hunting in the resettled Promised Land, then, may seem like a passing reference in his prophetic book. But in reality, the promise of outdoor for ancient Israel is loaded with richest and purest Gospel. It means that God fulfills His promises, from the promise of return from Babylon to the promise of the Messiah Himself. And it sets the precedent that fishing would continue throughout the Christian church – not with bait and hook for catching bass and trout, but with the net of the Gospel for catching men alive. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men alive.” Through preaching, repentance, and mission, He catches us alive in the net of the Gospel, where, as Luther’s “Flood Prayer” puts it, we are “kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian church.”

God grant it!  Amen.

Rev. Brian Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Bayside, NY

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