Lord, I love the habitation of Your house and the place where Your glory dwells. In the multitude of Your tender mercies prepare our hearts that we may enter Your house to worship and confess Your holy name, through Jesus Christ, our God and Lord. Amen. (PCC #145)
Amen. God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Christians have something in our worship that no other religion has: the presence of God. Quibblers might say that since God is everywhere, He is also in the services of pagans and idol-worshippers. For that matter, He’s in the homes of atheists, too. But there’s a difference between His omnipresence and the way He is present when two or three Christians gather to worship Him. On the fifth Sunday after Trinity, we consider that difference. God is present in the worship of Christians to bless us by the cross of Jesus. Today’s Gospel leads us into our study.
On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 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.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
These are your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us through the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.
Dear fellow redeemed:
In our OT today, Elijah starts out in a state of frustrated burnout. He had fled for his life from the murderous queen Jezebel after serving God in one of the most spectacular acts of judgment against the false prophets of his time. Somehow, it hadn’t been enough to save him from fleeing the queen.
Elijah’s story stands out. Nobody else had done those things he did. Yet many believers share his fears and his frustration. We give what we think is our best, but end the day exhausted and frustrated. Despite God’s victories, enemies still threaten. You might also have considered fleeing. Those thoughts bring shame, and even faithful Christians begin to feel guilt that God’s kingdom seems powerless against its enemies.
So in today’s OT, God showed Elijah something to teach him and us about God’s ways, and what happens when Christians gather to Him. In his frustration, Elijah would like nothing better than for God to send a tornado and tear Jezebel to shreds, or for an earthquake to swallow her whole, or for a cleansing fire to scour her from the earth. But God set him out on the mountain to experience God’s presence himself. There was indeed a wind, an earthquake, and a fire. But God was not in any of them. Instead, Elijah perceived His presence in a whisper, the sound of quiet speech, the utterance of words. Those words invited Elijah to air his frustrations in prayer. They gave him what he needed at that time: a direction and purpose in his calling, and the promise of rest at the end.
Our Gospel is similar. Jesus taught from Simon Peter’s boat, then commanded the tired and frustrated fisherman to try once more in the deeper water. Peter heard the words and did not think they were wise. He knew fishing better than any rabbi. But Peter still did as the words said, and caught more fish than his nets or even his partners could handle.
Peter encountered Jesus in two ways at the same time. The words that Jesus spoke, and the fish that kept piling on his deck.
The catch of fish is like the wind, the earthquake, and the fire that Elijah witnessed. They are all acts of God in the sense used by insurance agents and pagans: interesting to talk about, but alarming to witness. In pagan stories, things like this happen when you come in contact with the gods. But the gods are fickle. If you read the Odyssey, you’ll see they even fight against each other, with mortals always suffering the most. So wiser pagans want to avoid the gods whenever possible.
Peter’s reaction was similar to the way many pagans would react to seeing an “act of God.” But Peter’s reason for it was unusual. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” It wasn’t only mortality on Peter’s mind, but sinfulness. For the Jews, they are one and the same, because death entered through sin, which rebels against the Law of God.
See how quickly Peter’s mind turned from tired frustration at not catching anything overnight into real fear of Jesus. That’s the effect of God’s Law, and God’s Law is built into what insurance agents and pagans consider to be “acts of God.”
Maybe you think pagans are hard to find these days. Consider what they are. Pagans worry about what suffering the future may bring them if they don’t band together to change their behavior in specific ways. They may tell themselves they’re satisfying the hunger of some god or appeasing its wrath. But even pagans really just want to live in peace, with prosperity, and security for their future. They want the gods off their backs, to avoid winds, earthquake, fire, an overload of fish, heat waves, or climate change. Their gods have different names, but pagans are still everywhere.
Encounters with the power of God in nature always have the flavor of the Law for sinful man, because our consciences are always trying to stand in our own righteousness apart from God. They can’t stand, so we fall, and as Paul wrote to the Romans, our consciences are always busy accusing or excusing us. The better we know the Law, the better our consciences work. Peter’s worked very well, for he knew that his sin stood between him and Jesus. What sin? Every sin. Every departure from true devotion to God. Words spoken in anger to his wife or his mother-in-law. Thoughts about his fruitless job. His thirst to forget about it with a few cups of wine. Every sin stood between him and Jesus. The same is true for you. Every sin stands between you and Jesus.
But He doesn’t grant Peter’s request, “Depart from me.” Jesus has something else for those who confess their sin. “Do not be afraid,” He said. Every time He says this, it means, “Your sins are forgiven.” That’s the still, small voice that Elijah heard. This is where we may find God in safety. This is how He comes to you today, in His Word and Sacrament.
It doesn’t make sense to the pagan and heathen world. Our Epistle describes the difference as a matter of two opposite kinds of wisdom: earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom.
It’s “the word of the cross,” describing the act of God in which He entered Creation and took upon Himself the guilt of all sins, including the just punishment for them. This is utter foolishness in worldly ears, so St. Paul contrasts this “folly of what we preach” with what it really is: “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
We can see both sides. The flesh cares nothing about the cross of Jesus. It squirms and protests when we ourselves suffer. We understand the heathen perspective on life: that man has the power to create himself and live in any way he likes. Instead of humility before our Creator, the flesh thinks that not even God should tell us how to live.
The cross of Jesus seems foolish and weak because it’s just a message to us. It’s a whisper. It can’t compete with the fury of a tornado, earthquake, or fire. Before the power in Jesus that controls even nature, Simon Peter fell to his knees in fear. He was moved to prayer, but it was along the lines of “I don’t want to be here.”
But see what Peter and company did at the end of the Gospel. “when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.” The catch of fish brought fear and trembling. The word of forgiveness changed their lives.
This is the power of Christ that gathers His Church together from week to week. He is present with us: not to condemn, but to have mercy. He does. He has forgiven you. He cleanses away your guilt and shame and leaves you with His own righteousness. He restores you by the power of Holy Baptism and leads you toward the meal of His everlasting sacrifice. God’s wisdom means salvation, inspiring us in our worship to a better prayer: “Do not leave me or forsake me, O God of my salvation.”
Yes, it seems utterly foolish for us to spend the time and effort it takes to gather here weekly. Waste of time, unsafe, deluded, ignorant, weak, whatever. As long as Jesus is with us in His mercy, this is where we need to be. He says, “Don’t be afraid.” And…
We will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea… (Ps. 46)
Soli Deo Gloria