1 Corinthians 1:18-25
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
And lo and behold the Christ is right! So many fish are to be caught that the nets can’t contain them! They are broken, ruptured, signaling that Peter might just have to change jobs. So he calls to James and John his partners, “Come help!” They rescue him and save all the fish, overflowing both their boats, endangering them both so that they might go under the waves at any moment, they are so loaded down.
Now we, focused on earthly things, think, “Cool. Neat. What a bounty of coin in their pockets when they sell all those fish. Isn’t Our Lord powerful?” Yes, He is. But what is His point? He tells us right away. “Your nets are broken. Your boats barely made it to shore. Your lives as fishermen are over. I have caught you with My Word and from now on you too will catch men with My Word.” So they leave their broken nets, their waterlogged boats, their earthly livelihoods to follow Jesus.
Why? Because they were caught? By what? By forgiveness. Peter had confessed when seeing this teacher’s power over creation, “You are the Lord—which is the Jewish word for God. For Peter this is no longer just some, “Chief,” this is the Lord. No more humouring the nice teacher. No more doubting who He is. “You are the Lord. Get away from me. For I am sinful and if there is one thing all the sacrifices in the temple have taught us: sinful men can not be in the presence of the holy God without death and blood.”
But Peter, focused on himself misses the point. Jesus is not here to scare him, to condemn him, to kill him. He is here to offer His own life and blood to the Father so that He might catch Peter alive. Alive, and called to something different. His old life is over. His new life is about to begin. For in repentance we die to sin and in forgiveness we rise as new people, free of guilt, free of fear. Caught in Our Lord’s net of forgiveness, we are no longer afraid to be in God’s presence. That’s what Jesus came to do. “Do not be afraid,” He says, imparting in that one statement a righteousness not Peter’s own that makes him able to stand in God’s presence. “From now on, just as you have been caught alive, so you will catch men alive. Freed from sin, and hauled into the Boat of the church, you are separated from the masses of unbelievers. But,” Christ says, “I Myself will sustain you. For you are now fish out of water. Dead men alive in Christ. Given the gracious calling by God to be fish who catch fish, men who catch men.” And that is true of us all: we are catchers of men according to the callings God gives you. Pastors catch anyone the Lord brings to hear their preaching. Parents catch their children, by teaching them of Jesus and having them baptized. Spouses and friends catch each other by sharing their saviour with one another, etc.
But we remain sinful. And Peter’s confession of sin creeps back up on us, tempting us to cry, “Depart from me Lord, I am sinful.” This is the temptation we must all guard against: the Lord will only use me according to my goodness, my rightness, my worthiness, my skill. No. The Lord uses you despite your unworthiness. By His call to you He declares you right with Him, equips you with the tools you need, His Word, opens your lips to speak of Him just as we do here, and sends you in His name with His protection.
Do you remember that old song, “I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men. I will make you fishers of men, IF you follow me.” The song inaccurately hangs the whole thing on us, on our following. But it is not IF we follow Him, THEN He will make us fishers of men. It is simply, He will do it. He does it in you when He calls you. Your following Him is a result of being caught in His net. His Word of forgiveness created faith in you. You can’t help but do as He calls you to do for He has changed you from the inside out. Raising a new man in you where once an old sinner lived.
And after Jesus’ death and resurrection Peter, who had betrayed the Lord three times wanted to say to Him again, “Depart, I am a sinner.” Foolish, arrogant Peter. Your sin can not get rid of the Lord. It can not drive Him out. Instead He drives out your sin. That is why He has come.
As we sung in our sermon hymn, there are Peter and the other fishermen back in Galilee, back to what they know. Fishing fish, not men. Again they are having no luck. Again a miracle of a mighty catch of fish. So many they can’t haul them into the boats. But this time the nets don’t break. This time the Lord already has all He needs and feeds them with fish and bread from his own fire on the shore. It is as if to say, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore, as you are going make disciples by baptizing and teaching them all that I have spoken to you. And lo, I will be with you even to the end of the age.” Jesus says to them, “I have all you need. You don’t need to fish. For I will provide for you. You just catch men. Catch them with My Word of the cross. Catch them with My Baptism. Catch them and haul them into My Church, My boat where they will keep hearing My Word, where they will receive My Sacraments, where they will be fed the bread of life. This is what I have called you to do on earth my disciples.”
Well, here 2000 years later I am your preacher, your fisherman who casts the Lord’s nets. That’s what I’ve been called to do. But as the Lord catches you alive, as He puts in you His Word, His faith, His forgiveness, He calls you to cast your nets in the lakes He has called you to as well as parents, spouses, friends, etc. For the preaching of the cross seems like utter foolishness, and the world mocks it, but it is the only thing that saves you, me, or anyone. Thus, the Church rarely seems to grow by leaps and bounds. When we see some church somewhere growing we should listen. Listen to what they are preaching. If it is Jesus Christ crucified for sinners then rejoice! But if it is 10 tips on how to be a better you, flee from such falsehood and deception, for the spirit of antichrist is in the world, even in the church, giving itching ears what they want to hear. And such ears do not want to hear of Christ, but rather like Peter want to say, “Begone Jesus, I like my sin. Don’t call me away from it.” For Jesus’ cross is the net that all true believers are caught in, the net that hauls them safely into Christ’s boat, the Church, by which He will get us safely to our heavenly home and bringing many more with Him.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON