Trinity 5 July 23-24, 2011 Luke 5:1-11 Fishers of Men
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It seemed like the fisherman's dream come true: a net full of fish. Isn't that what they had desired all through the night? Didn’t they pray for this very thing? Then the nets were breaking. Their partners came to help. Suddenly both boats were sinking. What had seemed at first to be a blessing became a curse. They wouldn't take the fish to shore and financial reward. These fish would take them to the bottom of the lake.
Then the fisherman's dream shifted. Peter no longer desired a great catch or to be rich. In the face of death by drowning, he simply wanted to stay alive. It was not the fish that were sinking him and his friends. The Lord who stood in his boat was sinking him. He fell down at Our Lord's knees. He begged like the demons, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” The presence of the Lord is dangerous. He kills fishermen and sinners of all sorts, for the wages of sin is death.
But. . . the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus Our Lord. “Do not be afraid.” He says. “You're dead already. You caught the fish you thought you wanted. You will not keep them. You will not sell them. You are coming with Me. Your life, as you knew it, is over. Now you will catch others. You will put them to death and raise them to life, even as you have been caught.”
For the past 200 years, the American Church has been obsessed with the idea that Christians are made the way customers are made. The preacher, or Christian, makes a sales pitch. He can appeal to tradition or emotions. He can apply peer pressure or set up an impending event, like judgment day. Christ’s goal is get the hearers to buy it. He might use a soft sell or a hard sell. He might talk about the extended benefits and reducing risks. Whatever he does he turns conversion to some sort of a decision to buy or sign on. This was the explicit purpose of tent revivals and itinerant tent preachers. It is that which plays such a large role in our national opinion and thinking about Christianity. It is also the purpose of almost all Christian TV programming.
What may not be so obvious is that this is also what stands behind many LCMS evangelism programs, past and present. We train people how to make a sale for Jesus, how to convince people that it is to their benefit to believe in Jesus. Sometimes there is even talk about what kind of bait to use to catch the unchurched, such as nursery schools, coffee shops, a good youth program, or a sermon series about giving. The idea is that we can attract people with something they think they need, like day care or marriage counseling; the way fishermen throw bloody meat into the water to attract sharks. But fisherman do that in order to spear, snag, or hook the sharks for their own use.
Our Lord didn't fish with bait. This is key. Our Lord fished with nets. There was no soft sell, no hard sell, no luring, or befriending, nor were there any clever speeches or marketing devices. The fish were scooped up alive out of the water. They caught good and bad fish, clean and unclean. Everything in the path of the nets came up. Notice then that Our Lord did not stand in the Zebedee boat and explain to Peter how He could be a better husband, how he could raise his children to be honorable men and women, how he could find peace and comfort and certainty in this broken world. He just started sinking the boats. It wasn't so much an impending event as it was the removal of Satan's veneer. Death is the reality of all fallen men. Jesus pulled back the corner of the curtain and exposed the pretend wizard. That is why Peter wants Jesus to leave. Jesus is killing Him. Peter wants to go back to his fantasy, to his ignorance.
That is how disciples are made. They are killed and made alive. They are exposed. They are caught in unexpected places. If the Lord had done a demographics study he would have learned that the only way to catch fish in deep water at that time of day is if there was a miracle. It is hard to plan on a miracle, unless, of course, you are the Lord. Zebedee was a fishing expert and a successful businessman. His crews had brought their best efforts and experience to bear already, but were skunked and it was over. Casting nets out into deep water in the morning was like shooting an arrow in the sky and expecting it to fall randomly into the heart of a deer. That is no way to bring home meat or design an evangelism program (unless, of course, you are the Lord). Remember, this the Lord who advocates the business practice of paying laborers who do no or very little work as though they worked all day and of giving away the farm to tenants who kill your son as their reward. There has never been an Evangelism program based on the parables or the miracles of Jesus. No one can build an Evangelism program that looks anything like Our Lord's Ministry because it is too crazy, unless, of course, He is the Lord. I know. The PR for every program claims they are based in Biblical principles and such, and I suppose they are, in that they are based upon the Law. However, they're not based upon Our Lord's own evangelistic efforts or His teaching. Imagine the Evangelism expert who took a whip into Wal-Mart, started knocking down shelves and threatening violence against the cashiers, or who went into the marina, starting sinking boats, wasting the catch of the day, and threatening the lives of the sailor, or walking into the IRS and dragging the employees out by the ear.
Here is another thing. Remember how Our Lord refused to reason with Herod or Pilate? Did He miss an evangelism opportunity there? Was it not the very definition of a once-in-a-lifetime event in the public square? So why didn't He preach like Stephen did at his martyrdom? Because Our Lord was not on the pavement in Jerusalem to talk people into His religion. He was there to put death to death. He was there to face the last enemy, to draw out all the forces of Hell that they would fully engage Him. He does not storm their gates. His Father hands Him over to their desires. He submits to the will of the devils and they have their way with Him. They do their worst to Him. They empty their arsenal upon Him and they kill Him. They have their day.
The irony is that they are utterly spent in the action. They gave their all and were consumed with their hatred. They are destroyed by their own lust, seduced by their own temptations. They used every last bit of energy or strength on Him because they hated Him. Then there is nothing left. There is nothing that they can throw at us. They used it all on Him, and it killed Him. He was dead. His lifeless body was laid to rest in the ground in the common lot of men. They used everything up and there was nothing left, nothing left for them to us on us! There is no one left to accuse you. There is nothing left for Hell to say to you. It is finished. The Lord of Life was pulled under by the weight of the fish He caught. He was pulled under by the weight of Peter, James, John, you and me. We all go free and are unharmed, rescued from those dark waters, not to return there ever again, but to stay safely in the boat. He goes down to pay the ransom for their and our liberty.
Still it is not done. His Gospel is a Gospel of conquest. He does not win disciples by convincing them or winning friends. He takes them, like fish in a net. He proves Himself to be the Giver of Life. Death cannot hold Him. His Word is true. The Father is well-pleased with His sacrifice. Death has no more to demand. It has been paid in full. Jesus lives. He rises from the dead; the Victor over Hell, Death, and the Devil, order arises out of chaos. But Hell, death, and the rest do not rise. They stay dead. They have nothing left. But He rises. He rises that He might be with those He loves, with those He rescued, with fish turned into sheep turned into children turned immaculate and beautiful, the beloved of the Lord.
James, John, and Peter left everything to follow Jesus. But what about Zebedee, the father of James and John? What did he do? Perhaps the other fishermen there weren't Christians. But Zebedee was. He stayed fishing. Was he less a believer than, or not as good of a Christian as, his sons? No. The call to leave everything is not a call to faith, but a call to the Ministry. We have often misapplied that and thus caused great confusion. We often make a similar mild error with Our Lord's commission to the eleven on the Mount of Ascension. Similar to the call to Peter, James and John contrasted with the call to Zebedee is the call to Matthew contrasted with the Zacchaues. Matthew left tax-collecting because he was called to the Ministry. Zacchaues was called to the faith and he was generous because of it. He wasn't called to the ministry. He kept working. Now here is the thing: not everyone is a minister. The ethical standards are different. So are the sacrifices. The work of Zacchaues and Zebedee is essential to the Mission of the Church. They pay the bills. They serve the Lord and neighbor in the first place, not by joining evangelism teams and telling people about Jesus, but by carrying out their duties at home and supporting the Ministry. That is important work and shouldn't be pooh-poohed, otherwise we wind up back in the Medieval error that the Lord prefers priests to laymen. The work of the laymen is essential to the Church and is pleasing to the Father. You do not have to be a minster to be loved by or valuable to God.
So do not be afraid. There is no one here to eat you here. There are no sharks and no camouflage or tricks. The Lord has provided. You are His, and you are His hands in this world. Your good works beat back the darkness; restore order and beauty to creation. Your good works support, encourage, and enable the Office of the Holy Ministry, the preaching of the Gospel, the giving of the Lord's Body and Blood to His Children, the pronouncement of the Holy Absolution upon the penitent and the like.
Thanks be to God. The Lord has provided for us through the Ministry of St. Peter and those who follow in that Office, and so are we saved. In + Jesus' Name. Amen.