Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sermon on Luke 5:1-11, for the 5th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr Lectionary), "Live Caught for the Lord's Service"

**See also in the following post my new hymn composition to match this text: "Into a Net that Christ Prepares"**
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. After a long night of fishing in the Lake of Genessaret, or Galilee, and with nothing to show for it, Peter was likely ready for a good nap. But Jesus was pressed by the crowds nearby and needed a place to teach them from. Jesus was new to Peter—He had just healed Peter’s mother-in-law and other sick people in the neighborhood, shortly before this. No doubt Peter was thankful. So when Jesus hops into the fishing boat and asks for a short row away from shore, so Jesus has room to teach the gathered crowd from Peter’s fishing boat, Peter willingly accepts.
But when the sermon is over, Jesus asks something that is sure to make Peter look ridiculous to the other fisherman. Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch. It’s against all fisherman’s logic; and perhaps feeling a little embarrassed to do it, Simon Peter answers, with a hint of disapproval: Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” When we are tired and weary from fruitless labor, and hear God’s call to work again, or to serve, then we might protest a little too. When we are called into action, God is not always sympathetic to wait till we are well rested and eager to go. A parent caring for a little infant knows that love is expressed in their untiring duty—waking in the night, feeding round the clock, changing diapers and cleaning up messes. In many other areas of life, duty calls whether or not we are weary—the doctor on call, the worker who is called in for an extra shift, the teacher who works late hours to catch up on the piles of grading. For all these reasons, God has given us a commandment that we should work 6 days, but also rest and worship on the 7th. A commandment that does us good, but all too often we ignore. We need our rest—but whenever duty calls it is an expression of love and faithfulness to answer and obey.
It was Jesus’ word that prompted Simon Peter to go and obey: But at your word, I will let down the nets. What happened next was a miracle! A sinful man was netted and caught in His own fishing boat, and kept alive in the presence of the Holy God! And after that miracle of forgiveness, he was given a new purpose by Jesus. …Wait…what…you thought the catch of fish was the miracle I was talking about? Well, ok, that was truly a miracle too—but it really just serves as the appetizer to the main meal.
Let me explain. I’m not much of a fisherman, and I don’t know if you fish much. But have you ever caught a fish and looked into its eye? Or maybe it’s eyes seem to be looking at you, wondering… “Am I what’s for dinner??” or “I’m getting a bad feeling about this…”  Well, I think there must have been a certain resemblance between the panicked look in the fish’s eye, and the look in Peter’s eye, when against all his fisherman’s wisdom, and against his hint of scorn for Jesus’ command, and against all odds in fishing, he was looking up into Jesus’ eyes with a net-busting catch of fish in his boat. “Oh no, I’m cooked”  or “I’m getting a bad feeling about this…” or really, as Peter said in his own words, falling on his knees before Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Suddenly the world seemed crashing in on him, his pride and self-confidence in his own corner of expertise were all in shambles, and he realized he was on holy ground. Like Isaiah or Moses before him, he dreaded what the holiness of God might do to him—because it finally dawned on him that he was in the presence of real majesty. Unassuming majesty, yes, but Jesus was clearly no ordinary carpenter with a few great moral teachings. Peter changed his address from “master” to “Lord” in an instant—realizing he was in the presence of real greatness.
But the miracle I’m talking about, is the miracle of Jesus’ response. He looked at that panicked, fishy look in Peter’s eye—the one that said, “I’m toast—depart from me, a sinful man”, and Jesus answered, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” No Peter, don’t fear—you’re going to live—in fact I have a special purpose for you! Jesus had moved from a rather un-specific request for Peter’s help—to borrow his boat and row a bit—to a test of Peter’s faith and willingness to obey—to now a very personal and specific request, to follow Jesus as His disciple. Jesus had caught or netted Peter in his own fishing vessel, all while Peter was trying to show off his superior fishing wisdom. But the miracle was that Jesus didn’t want to punish, destroy, or humiliate Peter, but to invite him into His service. The other miracle, of the great, bursting catch of fish, just helped illuminate Jesus for Peter—helped him see who Jesus really was, and that Jesus’ power and authority extended over all things, even the fish in the lake.
Jesus has room for plenty more “live caught” disciples to enter His fishing vessel of the church. In fact, the miraculous God-directed catch of fish, would foreshadow for Peter and the Christians, the great Gospel catch that God was going to continue sending His church. After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter and the others had a déjà vu (John 21) as this happened all over again, with a great catch of fish, just before Jesus sent those “fishers of men” out to the real world with the message of His death and resurrection. Peter also needed an extra measure of forgiveness on that occasion too, before Jesus sent Him out to be his shepherd and fisherman.
Sometimes like Peter, we get a little over-confident in our own area of expertise, or we naively think that Jesus is happily confined to that neat area of my life called “Sunday morning”—but He doesn’t need to be messing around with my daily affairs—or rather, it’s none of His affair, what’s going on in my daily mess. But Jesus gently begs to differ. He gets involved, climbs in our fishing boat. It’s most puzzling, really, but He actually asks for our help. As if He needed anything from us—He who can fill a net of fish or multiply loaves to feed a multitude—it almost seems a little “rich” that He’s asking for our help. But it’s not like Jesus is just making up artificial requests. Just like asking Peter to row the boat and to fish, Jesus has a real use for your gifts and talents. What, you think God gave them to you for no reason? Or what, you think, what could God want with me, or use me for? Or what, you say, “Depart from me, I’m a sinful person Lord”? What’s that panicked, fishy look I see in your eye?
Jesus says to you, “Do not be afraid”. Jesus truly has a plan and purpose for each of you—young and old, weak or strong, successful or struggling to get by. Jesus asks for your help, not because He can do without your help, but because Jesus doesn’t want to do without you. Jesus is after the fish—live fish!—by which I mean, disciples. He’s not after your skill in getting them in the net! He’s got that covered! While you and I aren’t called to be apostles and to necessarily die for the faith like Peter eventually did, we can be fishers of men. We can “live catch” people into the same net of grace that Peter found Himself in—that you and I find ourselves in when Jesus casts His net over our lives. And surrounds us whole, with our gifts and uniqueness, and sends us splashing out into His mission—joyously alive, but free and with new purpose and courage.
Maybe you’re not even in a “full time or part-time ministry.” Most of you aren’t pastors or teachers. You all have your own vocations and callings. God has sent you out on all sorts of callings and occasions for service in this life, and even to your dying breath you can lift up prayers to Him for others—even if you can do no more. I kept asking myself, “Why does God ask for our help?”, and I believe that at least part of the answer is that by working in God’s service—living life in faith toward God and fervent love toward one another—God begins to shape us to become more like Him. When God calls us into His service, in whatever area of life, we cease to live for ourselves, and we begin to live for Him, and for others. And through this, He begins to shape us, little by little, into the true pattern He first intended for us. As we are transformed by the renewing of our minds—we fade from the selfish image of the world, and begin to show glimpses of the glory God made us for, and is making us for one day in heaven.
Just think how it must have flashed for a moment in Peter’s mind, on the jackpot catch of fish. It must have made them a ton of money, and you can just think, if living just for ourselves, how Peter might have imagined that he could “cash-in” on a big living, with Jesus’ secret fishing powers. If we’re living just for ourselves, we’re beneath the glory God made us for. Maybe that’s part of what scared and troubled Peter. Here was Jesus, who obviously had a radically different set of priorities—Jesus wasn’t interested in making big money fishing—though He obviously could—He was after other fish—disciples. Jesus wasn’t about living for Himself. And maybe that scares us too—maybe it seems too risky or embarrassing to live for others in a more radical way. Maybe we’re a little frightened by our weaknesses or terrified by our sins…trembling before an awesome God.
But then Jesus steps over to us, lifts our head, and says, dear child, do not be afraid. And with His Word, we are forgiven. With His Word, we’re drawn into the net, alive, forgiven, redeemed, and repurposed. Repurposed from self-centered ways, to live for Him. Redeemed from loose roaming days, to follow Him. Reborn from a sin-dead craze, to be baptized in Him. And together with Peter, we witness the glory of the Lord, the Son of God, when we see Jesus living for others—and most especially dying for others, on the cross. There on the cross it became unmistakable how completely He lived for others, and not for Himself—even to death and the grave—and beyond to His resurrection, Jesus lived for others. He lives for us! He lives to call you joyfully to follow Him, forgiven and redeemed, serving in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. What immediate, practical need drove Jesus to ask for Peter’s help? Luke 5:1-3. What had Jesus just previously done for Peter? Luke 4:38-39
  2. Why did Jesus’ instructions about fishing (Luke 5:4-5) seem doubtful to Peter? What is Peter insinuating that he thinks about this request? How does he address Jesus in verse 5? How does Peter address Him after the miracle, in verse 8? How had Jesus changed in Peter’s estimation?
  3. In our lives, where are the “boundaries” we artificially set for God’s work, influence, leading, or knowledge over us? In other words, how do we try to “compartmentalize” God’s role in our lives? How does He show He wants our whole life? Why is that such an uncomfortable reality for us?
  4. Why does God invite us to help Him? How can our gifts be used in His service? For what reason did Peter at first seem to refuse himself for the Lord’s service? Luke 5:8. What did he fear from Jesus? How do we sometimes do the same, or try to push God away?
  5. Jesus had “caught” Peter, in his own fishing boat, no less, but makes sure Peter knows this is not a “catch & release” or “catch to kill”, but a “live-catch,” and He wants Peter to do the same. How did Peter become transformed by Jesus’ call, into a servant for God’s purposes?
  6. How do we often misread God’s purposes in our lives, and so fail to follow His commands or listen to His call? What are God’s good purposes towards us? John 6:39-40.
  7. Why is God still sending us out to “live-catch” others? How does life change for those who follow His call? What are your own “callings” or vocations in life, and how can God work His purposes within them? What does God receive from your help? What do you receive from helping Him?

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