Fishing with the Word

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity based on Luke 5:1 – 11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Peter knew how to fish. It was his life’s work. Through years of experience he and his partners knew where to fish, how to fish, and when to fish. But on this night, they had fished all night and caught nothing.

Jesus told Peter to go out into the deep and let down their nets. Simon Peter answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” Since Jesus said it, Peter did it.

The result of Jesus’ Word was that the nets got filled with fish. They got filled to the point that they were breaking. Help was needed from the other boat to haul in the catch. And even so, the boats were so full that they began to sink.

But Jesus wasn’t giving Peter a fishing lesson. Jesus wasn’t teaching him a better time of day to fish or a better location to fish. Jesus was teaching Peter the power of His Word. At Jesus’ Word, the nets were filled with fish to the point that they were breaking. What these fishing experts would have least expected to be successful, was extremely successful. In fact, it could not have been more successful without completely breaking the nets and leaving the boats at the bottom of the lake. And that would be no success at all.

And then, Jesus called Simon Peter to follow Him saying, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Again, Jesus wasn’t teaching Peter to fish. He was teaching Peter to catch men. Peter would be sent out as an apostle to fish for men. But how? With what? That’s what Jesus was teaching Peter. The power to fish for men is Jesus’ Word. That is the Word Peter was to preach.

Preaching is in some ways like fishing. Sometimes we’ve fished all night and caught nothing. We might be tempted to change our fishing strategy. Let’s use bigger nets. Let’s get bigger boats. Let’s use some new lures. This might work for fish, but it doesn’t work in the church.

In the church it sounds like this: Let’s add more razzle dazzle to our Sunday mornings. Let’s get rid of the liturgy and the liturgist and get some entertainment. Let’s get some catchy beats and a great big screen. Let’s get a band that uplifts the mood. Let’s not preach the Law that kills or the Gospel that makes alive, instead let’s talk about things that make us feel good about ourselves – that’s what people really want to hear.

But this is all wrong. The focus with all of this is on us and what we do. It completely ignores the power of Christ’s Word. We don’t need attractions to draw people into the church. The power is in the Word of God.

Sometimes to us, it might not feel so powerful. There are many congregations that are shrinking. Some are closing. All are struggling in one way or another. The question is: Is God’s Word being preached in its truth and purity? If so, then it is being done right, and we wait patiently. God will provide the catch. We should not get impatient and desire to find a new fishing strategy. If we start to try and draw people in through attractions and entertainment, then we are no longer bringing people into the church, but rather into an entertainment venue that cannot compete with other forms of entertainment.

But we have the Word of God; the Word of power. St. Paul writes, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).” This Word is folly; it is foolishness to the world. It is the foolishness of dropping your nets into the deep after having fished all night and catching nothing.

To those who are perishing, the Word of forgiveness is foolishness. Those who are perishing look for what is attractive and successful. What’s attractive and successful about a church that is greying and shrinking? What’s attractive about pouring water over the head of an infant? What’s attractive about a little wafer of bread and a sip of wine? To those who are perishing, these are foolishness; they are utter nonsense.

In the ancient world, the cross was shameful and offensive. Only criminals and disobedient slaves were crucified. Yet the cross is the centrepiece of the Christian Church. God’s Son came to earth in order to be charged as a criminal. God’s Son was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver – the price of a slave. Christ took the form of a slave and died as a criminal – for you! This is foolishness to those who are perishing.

But to you who are being saved, the word of the cross is the power of God – the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). God’s Word has the power to save because it does what it says it will do. When God says I make you my child in Baptism, then you are His child. When God says He forgives your sins through the word of Absolution, then you are forgiven. When He says, “Take eat, this is my body,” and, “Take drink, this is my blood for the forgiveness of all your sins,” then you are forgiven, because God’s Word does what it says it will do.

Peter was called to preach that folly, that foolishness; the foolishness of the cross. Because the word of the cross is the power of God unto salvation. There is no power for salvation in entertainment or in razzle dazzle. There is no power for salvation in our ideas, bright or dim – none of those can save a single soul. There is power only in the word of the cross.

And our witness to the world is then through the world calling us fools. We are considered fools by the world for trusting in God for every need of body and soul, whether rich or poor, whether in joy or grief. We are considered fools for relying on the Word of Christ. But as St. Paul writes, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world (1 Cor. 1:20)?” “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor. 1:27 – 29).”

The world can think the word of the cross is foolishness, but it is the word of the cross that saves from hell. The Word that filled Peter’s nets with fish is the same Word through which the universe was created, and it is the same Word by which you were baptized, and by which you are absolved and communed.

At Jesus’ Word, we do what He has instructed us to do, knowing that His powerful Word has caught us in the nets of His Church and will bring us safely to our eternal home. His Word will do it all, so we cling to it and trust it to do what Jesus has promised us it will do. His Word will save us eternally. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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