Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity, July 1, 2018
Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center
Rev. Michael Larson
Even among Christians there is a hesitancy about being up front with the reality that we live in a fallen world. This whole creation, the world you live in, is subjected by God to decay as a consequence for man’s sin. There is tremendous suffering. And so women experience pain in childbirth and the rearing of children. Oh sure, the delight and joy is extreme – but so is the sadness. So is the guilt and the exhaustion.
Man’s work is difficult and dangerous too. For Adam and his sons, the ground is cursed and so we eat bread by the sweat of our face. Work is really hard. We have expectations we can’t fulfil. We have personal weaknesses which are crippling. Mental and spiritual breakdowns are not so much the exception as they are the rule. Marriages are strained. I’ve never heard a Christian wife say that her husband is emotionally supportive in every possible way. Children suffer as well, and so if at a point they need to see a therapist or psychologist, they are not totally off base to spend all their time talking about their parents, the let downs, and misfortunes they received from them. Sin is a family problem. The Scriptures teach us that sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death spread to all people, because all sinned.
So God has subjected the creation to decay. This results in human suffering, disease, earthquakes, and other natural disasters.
Simply put, life is extremely difficult! It’s extremely dangerous. Life is actually really, really hard. For some trivial proof you live in a fallen creation, just take your July 4th cabin and lake getaway – your bragging rights of a 20lb walleye, not so much. You’ll probably come back only to confess you sunk a couple dozen worms and were eaten alive by mosquitos.
So whether it’s childbirth, troubled children, marital strife, trouble at work, or failure to find work. Whether it’s depression or anxiety – breakdowns, or trying to navigate the needs of aging parents, or a day at the lake getting devoured by mosquitos or unsuccessful fishing trips – in one way or another it all bears witness that this world is fallen – and so are we.
And so we shouldn’t be surprised that our Lord calls his first disciples amid total failure. They had been toiling and fishing all night without any success. So when Jesus tells Peter to row out to the middle of the lake and throw the nets in for a catch, he can hardly believe it. For the fisherman out there know the basics: that you fish from the shore and that morning and dusk it really where the action is at. But Our Lord, as he often does, works contrary to human reason. Peter, though frustrated and maybe even a little annoyed, provides a beautiful aspect of faith for us to imitate. Glorious words! “At your Word, I will let down the nets” He is obedient to the word of the Lord, and contrary to reason, follows it.
And you know what happens next. A massive haul of fish. The nets are filled and breaking. The boats are loaded for bear.
Now the spiritual meaning here is significant. The Lord calls fisherman to be fishers of men. The sea is the world. The Gospel is the net. We are the fish. And the boat is the church. Many sermons have been preached on this.
There is also some very nice – very practical encouragement and comfort to be found in the Gospel lesson.
Our lives, so often look, and we experience them a bit like an unsuccessful fishing trip. We lean into things. We give it our all. And all too often come up short.
We experience what Peter did. Failure. We toil all night and catch nothing. We become anxious, grumble, and become discouraged. We’re tempted to run away or wave the white flag and give up.
This was really the situation with Elijah in our OT lesson this morning. The prophet is fearful, running scared, exhausted, depressed, and wanting to die. Elijah essentially says “Lord, I’ve done what you’ve told me to do, but it’s just not working out. I’m the only one left around these parts worshipping You, and I’m just done. I am through. Take me home. It’s over.”
So the Lord took Elijah to a high mountain and broke the rocks in pieces with his breath. The earth shook and the Lord brought fire. But that’s nothing compared to his Word – a low whisper in which the Lord gave new marching orders “Elijah, you’re not through. Here’s what I have for you to do next. Give Syria a new king, give Israel a new king, and train up the prophet who will replace you. You’re not done till I say you’re done! And by the way, your math is wrong. I’ve still got 7,000 left even in this idolatrous land of Israel who have not been faithless to me. Let me take care of the results, you just do what I tell you. Now, get moving.”
We learn a wonderful lesson this morning. To resist temptation, to remain at our post, and let God do all the worrying. Peter and Elijah provide a fine example of holding tightly to God’s Word and refusing to let other thoughts and doubts lead them astray.
If you’re struggling at a job that is less than always fulfilling, you can say, “hey, the Lord has placed me here, at least for the time being, so I’ll serve to the best of my ability. I’ll love my neighbor, and commend it all to God.” If the work is all far from pleasing, you can remember God’s Word and say that my work, done with faith in Christ, is nevertheless pleasing to my father in heaven.
For Christian mothers nursing and raising children, exhausted by expectations, changing diapers, and cooking and cleaning – all the while worried that your children will forever be ruined by your shortcomings – just say to yourself: God’s Word and His will are present in my life. So I’ll just go ahead, I’ll throw out my net, and I’ll let God worry about the rest.
Just as Peter had the word to throw out the net, so also we have God’s Word and command to work at whatever our calling requires. Quite simply, Christ will never let you Christians labor in vain! His Word and His will are too powerful and so his blessings are with you in your daily work. If your mundane life, with ordinary work, in service to God and your neighbor, is not enchanting to you – it certainly is to his holy angels. And so, you can go confidently and cheerfully forward, trusting in His Word.
But where does that confidence and cheerfulness really come from? That’s what we learn in the second part of today’s Gospel. When the miraculous catch of fish came up, Peter hit the deck. He threw himself on his knees. He recognized that that this new fishing partner was the Lord in his boat. “Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” he cried out. Well Peter is at least half right. He’s right to recognize his sin but horribly wrong in focusing on his own worthiness or unworthiness. It’s the same problem you have really. The devil gets you thinking “hey I’m a sinner, how dare I approach God!”
Lutherans poke fun at Roman Catholics on their doctrine of penance and then we turn around and make the same error: thinking a few more little spiritual victories, and then maybe I’ll be ready for the Lord. Well you know how unsuccessful that whole enterprise has been!
Christ in the boat comes to the aid of Peter, “Don’t be afraid Peter.” Don’t even look at your sins – they’re forgiven. Keep your eyes on me and my word. I’m not here to harm you. I just want to be gracious to you.
And not just to you, but through you I also want to do a great miracle. You are to catch men for the kingdom of heaven – to make righteous people out of unrighteous – to bring sinners righteousness and holiness and blessedness. All in my name – fear not, it is the father’s good pleasure to give you this kingdom – and to bring all who trust in this word safely there.
And the Lord Christ did it. He toiled from the wood of that boat to the wood of the cross to make all things new. To reconcile sinners to God by his glorious death and resurrection. To take a fish like you, in the murky deeps of sin, and to call you out of darkness into his marvelous light and make you a real prized catch – all through the waters of holy baptism – that cleanses, forgives, and beautifies.
Consider two lessons of great comfort today. First, life is really hard. We are fallen creatures in a fallen world. This reminds us of our great need for a Savior. Wherever God has placed you, venture everything upon the Word of God. In Christ, your labors are not in vain.
Second, don’t be afraid. The Lord is not impressed by feigned humility – don’t overdo it. God does not want to be kept at arm’s length. He likes to step into your boat. He loves you. He welcomes you. He gives you his body and his blood to eat and to drink. Go confidently and cheerfully to the altar knowing that you have a gracious God. Christ’s Word of forgiveness is to be enjoyed.
The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Everything depends upon this word. Venture everything upon it and you won’t be disappointed. So let’s go. And let your nets down for a catch. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
GENERAL PRAYER OF THE CHURCH – 1
Almighty and most merciful God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we give You thanks for all your goodness and tender mercies, especially for the gift of Your dear Son and for the revelations of Your will and grace. Implant Your Word in us that, with good and honest hearts, we may keep it and bring forth the fruits of faith.
We humbly implore You to rule and govern Your Church throughout the world. Bless all those who proclaim your truth that we may be preserved in the pure doctrine of your saving Word and that faith in You may be strengthened, love toward others increased, and Your kingdom extended. Send forth laborers into Your harvest, and sustain those whom You have sent that the Word of reconciliation may be proclaimed to all people and the Gospel preached in all the world.
Grant health and prosperity to all who are in authority, especially to the president and congress of the United States, the governor and legislature of this state, and to all those who make, administer, and judge our laws. Gant them grace to rule according to your good pleasure for the maintenance of righteousness and the hindrance and punishment of wickedness, that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty.
According to Your good pleasure, turn the hearts of our enemies and adversaries that they may cease their hostilities and walk with us in meekness and in peace.
Comfort, O God, with Your Holy Spirit all who are in trouble, want, sickness, anguish of labor, peril of death, or any other adversity. Especially we remember Your servant Lou as he undergoes surgery. Bless him with faith in Your loving kindness and protection. Endow the surgeon and medical team with ability and skill that according to Your will, his strength and health may be restored. Hear us also for Tom and Karen in medical testing and for all in illness and treatment.
Grant courage and steadfastness especially to those who suffer for Your name’s sake that they may receive and accept their afflictions in the confidence that You will acknowledge them as Your own. In regions torn by terrorism and threatened by tyrants protect the faithful and give outward peace according to Your merciful will.
Although we have deserved Your righteous wrath and punishment, yet, we ask You, O most merciful Father, not to remember the sins of our youth nor our many transgressions. Out of Your unspeakable goodness and mercy defend us from all harm and danger to body and soul. Preserve us from false doctrine, from war and bloodshed, from plague and pestilence, from all calamity by fire and water, from hail and tempest, from failure of harvest and from famine, from anguish of heart and despair of Your mercy, and from an evil death. In every time of trouble, show Yourself a very present help, the Savior of all, especially to those who believe.
Cause all needed fruits of the earth to prosper that we may enjoy them in due season. Give success to the Christian training of the young, to all lawful occupations on land, sea, and air, and to all pure arts and useful knowledge, crowning them with Your blessing.
Receive, O God, our bodies and souls and all our talents, together with the offerings we bring You, for by His blood Your Son has purchased us to be your own that we may live under Him in His kingdom.
These and whatsoever other things You would have us ask of You, O God, grant us for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your only Son, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.