Monday, February 08, 2010

Sermon on Luke 5:1-11, for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany, "Captain or Lord?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Recently the poem “Invictus” was prominently featured as the title of a movie about Nelson Mandela. These famous lines from that poem gave inspiration to Nelson Mandela while he spent years in a South African prison: “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” Those last words, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul,” capture the strong emotion of what many people feel about their life and destiny. I am the captain of my soul. I set the course for life, no one else is my master; I answer to no one. In today’s Gospel reading, we’ll see that Jesus leads us to a very different conclusion about who’s ultimately in control of our life, and who rules the soul. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thank God that the saints in Scripture were no flawless, pristine personalities, who never made a mistake or wavered in their faith. Thank God that the saints and disciples shown in the Bible were real, frail, and earthy characters like Simon Peter—someone we can relate to; who was a work-in-progress, like us. When we catch up with Peter in today’s reading, he’s come a few days past the miraculous healing of his mother-in-law, and so has a healthy amount of respect for Jesus. But he’s still got a lot to learn in his new faith, and his “catechism class” has just begun. Peter had just finished a long, tiring night of work, fishing all night, with no success. Ever had one of those days? Jesus is still sort of a curious figure to Peter. Probably not sure what to make of Him yet. Seems to be a powerful prophet and teacher. Has great wisdom and is bold to the crowds. When Jesus jumps in the boat and asks Peter to put out from shore a little, to make it easier to teach the crowds, Peter is willing to help. He didn’t yet notice that Jesus, a carpenter from the hill-country of Nazareth, had come into his boat to start “fishing for men.” Little did Peter know that he was going to get “caught” as well.

Jesus finishes teaching, turns to Peter and makes a request that would have seemed ridiculous. Using his fishing boat as a mobile pulpit was no problem—it wasn’t work hours anyhow. But put out into deep water for a catch in the daytime? This was laughable. Something a landlubber carpenter might suggest, but certain not an experienced fishing captain like Peter. Peter was the master of his trade, he was the captain of his fishing vessel. He didn’t need anyone telling him how to do his job. Even less, giving him bad advice. Everyone knew that the best fishing was at nighttime, when the fish were feeding, and in the shallow waters, not the deep. Also the fishing nets would be easily seen in the daylight, in the empty water.

Peter’s skeptical answer to Jesus is this: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” The title ‘master’ is the equivalent of ‘chief, captain, or commander.’ Perhaps a hint of sarcasm, as if to say, “Ok, captain, we’ll follow your orders!” Secretly knowing that no one can catch fish this way. Peter’s spiritual growth was at such a stage that he had enough trust, or felt obligated enough to obey Jesus at His Word to let down the nets. He was ready enough to accept that Jesus knew a lot about spiritual matters, but what did He know about my daily life? My profession is my area of mastery. He didn’t yet trust Jesus enough to concede that Jesus knew what He was doing and could steer him better in all areas of life.

Isn’t that like us? We all have some areas of life where we feel we’re the master. Sure, we can have Jesus in one compartment of our life—let’s call it Sunday worship—but the rest of my life is my own. After all, what does Jesus know about or have to do with the rest of my life? We’re afraid that we’ll lose our freedom if we give our whole life over to Him. What need does God have for my particular talents and skills? I’m not a preacher or a teacher. I don’t have all the answers. But Jesus found use for Peter’s strength of arm to row the boat so He could preach. He found use for Peter’s fishing abilities, though Jesus was going to show whether Peter really was the master of his own profession. Jesus simply asked Peter for his help, and had a genuine need for his assistance, so that Peter was drawn into a service with Jesus. A service where his skills were used, but eventually to a greater purpose. God wants to draw us into service too.

Maybe we’re reluctant to hand over the control of our life to Jesus; we may want to continue in the belief that we’re the master of our fate, we’re the captain of our soul. But whatever our skills and abilities, great or small, God has a purpose for them. He gave them to you for a reason, and you are part of His body that He desires to use in His service. How can our common life skills be transferred from the ordinary world to the service in the kingdom of God? The doctor who cares for the body can point people to the physician of our soul. The banker or accountant who manages people's earthly treasure, can teach people about the true heavenly treasure, and how God teaches us to be good stewards. The farmer, landscaper, or gardener who nurtures the life of plants can illustrate how God's Word works when it is planted, grows to bear fruit, is pruned and harvested. A caretaker of a building or home can teach what it means to be entrusted with what isn't yours, and be faithful in carrying out your duties. Do whatever your job is with diligence and consistency as a task entrusted to you for God’s glory.

When Peter finally did let Jesus take charge of his life for a moment, it was a stunning and frightening revelation. Up to this point, he thought he managed this area of his life pretty well. Then suddenly Jesus, who he thought didn’t know anything about fishing, filled his nets till they were breaking. At first Peter was focused on winning the fisherman’s jackpot. This kind of big haul would mean a big payday. But after signaling his partners to help, and finding that both boats were sinking under the weight of the fish—Peter became awestruck and terrified at Jesus’ power. Hear the emotion in his voice when his pride is instantly reduced to nothing. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O LORD!” All he thought he was master of in his life was suddenly shown to be a weight far beyond what he could manage. He thought he managed this task, but suddenly it was clear that he was just a sinful man, and he was overwhelmed to see the true master and Lord of the fish in the sea. Now there’s no hint of disbelief in calling Jesus “captain” or “master”—He is LORD! He expects destruction from one with so much power. One who could with a word display His Lordship over all that Peter had thought he conquered, and lay bare Peter's inexperience and foolish pride.

Finally he was like a fish caught in his own fishing boat. Here he was, netted by God’s Word—bare, exposed. All his thoughts, intentions and private life laid bare. He thought he was on his own turf, but was suddenly a fish out of water, gasping for air. He expected judgment—go away from me, for I’m a sinner! “I’m not fit to be around you LORD! Not this mess of a life. I’m lost and unworthy of you.” Have you felt the same? Won’t Jesus leave my sins alone? All the fears and failures, the doubting, the secret struggles and weaknesses? We’re not worthy of the Lord, and we fear His judgment. Despite our best efforts we’ve never given ourselves fully to Him. But instead of death and judgment, we receive a Savior! Jesus doesn’t fish to kill, but He fishes to catch alive. The net of His Word that catches Peter and us whole is not a net of judgment to bring us death. Rather it is a net of grace that captures our whole lives and brings us wholly alive out of sin and unbelief into God’s kingdom.

Jesus reassures Peter with the forgiving word, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men.” If there’s anyone here who will say together with Peter, “I’m a sinful person,” then let that person hear those same words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid.” God’s grace has netted you whole, and that means forgiveness for all your sins, and your life is now brought into His service. Your salvation comes not by how perfectly you gave your life to God, but how perfectly Jesus Christ gave His life for you and me. His death on the cross purchased us whole. Whatever abilities, talents, or skills you have are brought into His service. He sends us out as fishers of men, sharing the good news with other so they’re caught in His grace net. You too can catch people live, and teach them to breathe the air and freedom of life in Christ.

In that salty sweet air we can finally see life with clarity, and cast off the block and tackle of sin and guilt that trap us in fear. We’re no longer stuck in the delusion that we’re the master of our fate and the captain of our soul, thinking like Peter did that we control and manage our own life best. That path leads us to banging our head against the wall when we do everything our own way and making no progress because we haven’t sought the Lord’s help. However, once we’re caught and hauled up into that fresh air we make the big shift that happens when we’re catechized with the lesson that God is really in charge, and He’s no captain barking orders and rules and dealing out punishments, but He’s the Lord of all creation and our Savior. He’s the one who commands the fish and the seas with His Word, He’s the one who absolves our sin with His Word, He’s the one who dissolves our fear with His Word. He takes us whole into His boat and has a purpose and use for every one of us, however great or small we value our talents.

Jesus’ word: “Do not be afraid” pulls sinners close to Him at His cross, where He forgives us and commissions us to service under His Lordship. Rather than pushing Jesus away because we’re sinners, let Him draw near to you to forgive, and to call you into a new venture of faith together with Him as the Lord of your life and the captain of your soul. In Jesus’ name. Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. Is it true that we answer to no one, and that we’re the “captain of our soul”? Hebrews 9:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10

2. What was Peter’s assessment of Jesus at first? How did the title he first addresses Jesus with in v. 5 reflect this? What was the point at which Peter felt self-confidence or pride?

3. What area of life do you protect as “your own,” and try to keep separate from God? How did Jesus show a need for Peter’s help? How did he respond? What part of our life are we reluctant to turn over to God?

4. What are some of our talents and abilities (great or small) that can be turned over from ordinary purposes to service to God? What do you see in a fellow Christian that can be also?

5. Why did fear strike Peter after the miracle of the fish? God’s Word of Law acts like a mirror to show our sin. What response to this realization should we have together with Peter?

6. How does Jesus turn us forgiven sinners into live catch fishermen? Does the fact that we’re sinners mean that we should keep Jesus at a distance in our life? How does He accomplish forgiveness for us?

7. Who is the true captain—even LORD of our soul? 1 Corinthians 2:8; Hebrews 12:2; Romans 10:12.

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