Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
We’ll explore this morning’s gospel text from St. Peter’s point of view. We’ll pretend he’s with us this morning. He begins by telling us about the importance of fish and the fishing business in our Lord’s day. “The Sea of Galilee was free to everyone,” he tells us. “Anyone who wanted to could fish there. Fish was one of our favorite foods: people ate fish whether they were sick or in good health, on any day of the week, and especially at our Sabbath meals. A lot of people worked in the fishing business. You could get fresh fish or dried fish or fish that was pickled. We made sauces out of fish. Some folks were experts on the subject. They claimed they could tell where a fish came from by its flavor. We had plenty of legends about fish. We used to tell stories about a great dinner where 300 varieties were served and about the king of a neighboring country who ordered 600,000 barrels of sardines every week for the people who took care of his fig trees. We never believed these stories, but they were fun to share, especially if you happened to be out in your boat for a long time without catching anything.”
Peter then tells us something about what Jesus did during this early period in his ministry. “He was baptized in the Jordan River, you will remember, and then the devil tempted him in the desert for forty days. He went back to Galilee after that and taught in our synagogues, where people praised him. You know about the time he went to the synagogue in Nazareth and declared that a well-known prophesy in Isaiah applied to him. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he read. “He has appointed me to preach good news to the poor, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Everyone in the synagogue marveled at the wonderful things he said. How could a carpenter’s son, they asked, be full of so much grace and wisdom? And then there was a spot of trouble. He said that people in his own country wouldn’t accept him, but that others, outsiders, would, and so there was anger in the synagogue, and the people drove Jesus out of his own city and tried to throw him down the cliff that Nazareth is built on, but he saved himself without any trouble and went down to Capernaum. This episode in the synagogue, by the way, encouraged him to preach outdoors, by the lake and on hillsides, rather than in our usual places of worship.
“After he left Nazareth, he drove out demons and healed numerous diseases. He even came to my house once, when my mother-in-law was sick with a bad fever, which he rebuked so that it left her and she got up right away and began to serve Jesus and the people with him. He went to a quiet out-of-the-way place later that day. People followed him and begged him to stay with them. He said that he needed to go to other cities – in particular the southern part of the country and preach the good news about God’s kingdom. Even so, people in our town urged him to speak God’s word to us. Then he saw our fishing boats and got into mine to use as a pulpit.”
Peter draws our attention to this morning’s gospel text. “The story of what happens next isn’t just narrative,” he says. “Jesus’ life on earth had a meaning and a purpose and if you were paying attention you saw a lot of what’s special about Jesus in this one brief episode by the Sea of Galilee. He brought God’s kingdom to the earth, and this is what he showed us by his preaching and his healing and when he cast out demons. God and his kingdom had come to us, as he had promised would happen long ago. He wanted us to believe in him and to trust him. He would always keep his word; whatever he promised would come to pass. He used a small example to make a big point. After he finished preaching about the kingdom and the power of God’s word, he turned to me while everyone was watching and asked me to move out to the deepest part of the lake. He wanted me to trust him – that he would lead us to enough fish to fill our nets. Think of it! A carpenter was telling us professional fishermen how to carry out our trade. He wanted to give us a demonstration of the power of God’s word that everyone could see and to show that whatever he said would take place. If he promised to heal, healing would happen. If he said he’d die and rise again, that would take place, too.
What’s more, he called John and James and me into his service, and to show his love and care for us, he gave us something we very much wanted and could use in our daily lives – boat loads of fish. He had greater gifts in mind for us, but he didn’t neglect everyday things and what’s down-to-earth. He didn’t give us something better than fish that we wouldn’t understand. He gave us fish. And because he gave us an abundance of what we wanted and needed, we could also trust him when it came to bigger things – like our salvation and living every day in God’s presence.
Anyway, I should tell you something about the way I felt when the carpenter told the fisherman to move to the most unlikely spot for fishing and at the very worst time of day. I didn’t really believe him, despite the miracles he’d performed, including the healing of my mother-in-law; I didn’t trust that he really knew where to find a great school of fish. But I went along with him, because it was he, and I didn’t want to make him unhappy. Willingness and a desire to please, you see, aren’t the same things as the faith that trusts. Willingness says – what else can I get? What have I got to lose? Best not to give offense. Trust doesn’t ask a lot of questions and dives in wholeheartedly. We’d had a long and frustrating and disappointing night. I’d about given up on God. But I’ll tell you something – God didn’t give up on me. He never gives up. He sent me and my partners out to the middle of the lake and told us to let down our nets. What a powerful and generous God. Our boats were filled, and so I understood that if the physical world obeys his command so must the world of the spirit that we can’t see. So must life. So must death. I felt giddy for a moment and full of vanity, and I told myself that I’d hook up with this man forever and ever. Then I looked at Jesus, and new thoughts and feelings overcame me – of the sort I’d never had before. I knew who he was and also who I was. It was a much more powerful experience even than when he healed my mother-in-law. The Lord of the universe who controls everything and is on the side of life rather than death was right there in my own fishing boat. He was perfect and I was anything but, so I fell to my knees. People have told me they didn’t understand the way I acted. It was because I’d had an experience that most people never have; I had a glimpse of the depth of my sin and error. We mostly glide over the surface of life, not thinking very much about the meaning of what’s happening or who we are or why we do what we do, but just then a marvelous insight came to me – a revelation, and so I fell to my knees. You’d have done the same if you’d been there – or at least I think so, because you seem to be the sort of people who are attuned to God and his word.
Anyway, I was astonished, amazed, thunderstruck. I told Jesus to go away from me. I wasn’t worthy to be in his presence. Besides, you’ll remember that Moses said that we can’t look on God and live. Again, you see, I was both right and wrong at the same time. I was right to see my sinfulness to repent. I was wrong to tell Jesus to go away, which he didn’t do in any case. He knew what was right for him and also right for me. God came to earth in Christ to make his home with us. He took on our flesh. He didn’t sin, but he lived the way we do. He worked; he ate; he slept; he laughed; he socialized. He also preached and performed miracles and brought the word of God to everyone who would receive it. He didn’t come into the world only to leave it. And when people did succeed in making him leave the world for a short time, he turned this shameful episode into a great benefit for mankind by using it to pay the price for the sins of the whole world. Everyone who trusts in him receives everlasting life and the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is tenacious and persistent; he means what he says. He came back to the earth, as you know, in a resurrection body to proclaim his victory over his enemies and over death and the devil and to give his people a preview of the wonderful life that lies ahead for them – perfect bodies, perfect minds, and perfect, never-ending happiness in the presence of Christ.
“Now, I want to digress for a moment and call to your mind one of our savior’s resurrection appearances. Seven of us disciples were by the Sea of Galilee again. I said to the others that I was going fishing and they came with me. We fished all night, but we didn’t catch a thing. Just at dawn, though we didn’t know who he was, Jesus was standing on the beach. He asked if we had caught any fish. We had to say no, and then he invited us to drop our nets onto the right side of our boat and then we would catch some. He spoke the truth. Our net was so full that we couldn’t haul it into the boat. Then we recognized Jesus. He invited us to have breakfast with him. He shared his bread with us and some fish he’d been cooking on a charcoal fire. He went to a lot of trouble – didn’t he? – to convince us that he was God and that we could trust his promises. If he knew how to find us an abundance of fish and how to come back from the dead to be with us for a short while, we could also trust his words about salvation and redemption from sin, about the friendship of God and life everlasting.
“Now, I want to make one more point,” Peter says, because he enjoys talking with us and he is delighted that God has kept us in his kingdom of grace and mercy, “please remember the last thing Jesus said to us in your gospel reading this morning. He said that he would empower James and John and myself and the other disciples to be fishers of men – and women, too, of course. The word that our Lord used for “catch” doesn’t mean ordinary catching, but to catch alive. Our fish died almost as soon as we caught them. They flopped around in the nets but not for long. When God’s word catches a person that person lives – and has life to the full, and not just an abundant earthly life, but fullness in eternity as well. I believe that God has caught you and that he intends to hold onto you. He catches you for life and for more life. He knows that you have times of trial and stress, and perhaps even deep discouragement. These are parts of life on earth for everyone. All such moments pass away. He commands you to trust his promises to you – as the other disciples and I learned to trust, for he has in mind the solution to all current and eternal problems. Keep onto him now; his word sustains you. Trust him. He has caught you alive.” AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. Amen.