Fifth Sunday after Trinity
St. Luke 5.1-11
21 July 2019
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
For [Simon Peter] 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.” (St. Luke 5.9-10; ESV)
When today’s Gospel begins, the disciples of Jesus are back fishing again. This seems to contradict an earlier account in John’s Gospel, where these same men, Andrew, Peter, and probably John, had encountered Jesus at the Jordan River where John the Baptizer was preaching, and had begun to follow Jesus. But now, we find them fishing again. They actually go back to fishing even after the death and resurrection of Jesus. They had not as yet forsaken all to follow Jesus permanently and continuously. The reality of men being called to follow the Lord, but not yet forsaking all things to do so, is scarcely unique. The honest truth is that such a state of things is fairly typical of Christians in general.
But today’s Gospel shows our Lord at work, fishing for the souls of men. He doesn’t give up on the Galilean fishermen. He comes to them again, bringing His kingdom to them.
Now, interestingly enough, Jesus does not curse their vocation as fishermen, so that they would drop it and do His work instead. No, He blesses their fishing work with His Word.
We should remember that Jesus is the ruler of two realms, two kingdoms. God’s heavenly kingdom comes upon earth through His Word and Sacraments, the Church. The earthly kingdom, the kingdom of secular politics and how civil society runs each day on this earth, Jesus rules through rulers He raises up, beginning with your parents. Some make the error that never the twain should ever meet. We are very poor off, don’t you think, when parents do not rule their home by God’s Word, when rulers do not govern by God’s Word. The kingdoms of heaven and earth are not to be kept separate, but are to be distinguished from each other, because God rules them both in different ways and Christians, citizens of both kingdoms, live holy lives in them in different ways.
Jesus brings on the heavenly kingdom through preaching His Word to men, and calling more preachers like Peter to follow Him and “catch men” with His Word. He also blesses and sanctifies the earthly vocations of the men He calls to follow Him when He gets in their boat, and tells them to fish the deep water one more time.
God is hidden in this temporal realm, where He providentially cares for His whole creation, including those who do not know Him. He rules it by His moral Law (Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch! we might paraphrase) which is applicable in the world and remains a standard by which earthly rulers and institutions can be judged. Christians are to do good works in the world – to work for justice, care for the poor, and battle the evils that are part of the fallen human condition – to love God and to love the neighbor.
In the heavenly kingdom, the Church, in contrast, God is revealed in His Word, and Christians are under the Gospel of God’s grace and the forgiveness of sins through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. This is so because our Savior followed the call of His Father to go fish in the deep end of this lost and darkened world, and cast down the net of His sacred body and blood deep through this world, to catch men alive who by faith receive His forgiveness of sins and are gathered to live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him. Jesus did not count the cost, He did not question the call, He simply humbled Himself, and gave all of Himself for the life of this world, for your life and mine. Thus He can say, Do not fear. From now on you will catch men alive.
God sends Christians forgiven on account of His Son out into the world to live out their faith in their worldly vocations. Not just their economic work, but their callings in the family, the church, and the state. In our Gospel, by its end, Jesus has called Peter to each estate – to be a fisherman and support his family and fellow fishermen, and to be a fisher of men, a catcher of men alive, an apostle or “one who is sent.” All of those, while living under the jurisdiction of the Roman Empire. That’s what Peter is called to be. He is those things, at God’s calling, at His Word. Those vocations then create obligations to others.
In all of their vocations, Christians are to love and serve their neighbors. Vocation is the place where good works are done – the meal is prepared, the diapers are changed, one goes to work on time, one brings home one’s paycheck, etc. And they are where spiritual growth occur, hearing the Gospel, studying the Word, meditating on God’s commands, and, as Christians endure the trials and tribulations that their vocations bring, suffering the crosses of life. In their vocations, they co-operate with God as He governs His world, acting as His hands in the world.
Your vocations are what you are, what you are called by God to be. Baptized child of God adopted by Him through the water of Holy Baptism, justified and made holy by the blood of Christ, and fellow member of the body of Christ with all other Baptized Christians, and especially those closest to you in the Christian congregation. Then you are father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, employer, employee, etc.
What you do doesn’t define you. It is what you are called to be that defines you. Duties, responsibilities, obligations – good works – flow from each calling, from your identity that God gives you. Sometimes those vocations hurt, sometimes they bring suffering and untold sadness, and sometimes earthly vocations dear to us are taken away in God’s unknowable wisdom and timing. Sometimes, it takes incredible faith to stare at the crosses ahead and around and yet respond as the disciples did that day at the Sea: Nevertheless, at your word, I will let down the nets… And after returning the boats to the shore, they left everything, and they followed Jesus.
With Peter, James, and John, follow Jesus and His Word, and be who God calls you to be in service to your neighbor. Find your life and sustenance in the vocations of others, and in service to others. Remember that you receive blessings and help for each day from God through the vocation and duty of others:
The police and fire fighters keep you safe, the armed forces and border guards and intelligence services keep our nation secure.
The grocer makes sure you have food to purchase on the shelves; the farmer raises the food for those shelves.
Husbands and wives love, honor, and nourish each other, and their children.
Good workers please their masters, and bring home daily bread for their families.
Pastors are raised up by God to catch men alive in the blessed net of the Gospel, bestowing the forgiveness Christ has earned and desires to give in His Church. Christians gather together to receive that forgiveness, look out for each other’s needs, especially for the widowed and the orphaned, and console and comfort each other as a family in Christ.
You are called to readily support that preaching of the Gospel with your first-fruits tithes of offerings and through being generous with your time and help.
Acknowledge and bless God for these and all things that come from His wonderful hand.
It seems the disciples had been called by Christ before, but had returned to their work. And no surprise, their work that night had been in vain. But at the word of Jesus, they filled both boats so that they were sinking. Our work each day God gives to us is nothing without Jesus’ Word. Everything is sanctified by the Word of God and by prayer, including our lives and labor. When we face the work we have to do, we see it is all in vain, unless Jesus directs us with His Word, unless He is with us.
And it is only in recognizing all you do and are each day as being God’s singular holy work that Jesus gives you the proper fear (as Peter says, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man), including confessing your sins, so that your courage to follow Jesus is born not in your own labor, but in Christ’s forgiving word, His mercy towards sinners like Peter, towards sinners like you.
Some say that sanctification, or God making us holy, is “getting used to our justification,” that God has declared us not guilty for Christ’s sake. What made the disciples leave all and follow Jesus? The fear of their enemies, the fear of the unknown, the fear of giving up on their own desires and their own understanding of their identity and vocation was replaced with the mercy of Jesus, so that the saying was fulfilled in the disciples, “There is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared.” God grant it to be fulfilled in us!
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +