Trinity 5 2019

Trinity 5
July 21, 2019 A+D
St. Luke 5:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The account of Peter’s call to be a disciple, in the context of the miraculous catch of fish, illustrates some things about the Church Militant that are often overlooked. The Church Militant is a net that is separating Christians from the world. It is violent and painful. Baptism kills. You cannot serve two masters. So also life inside the net, in the Church, is often violent and painful. We come up scratching and kicking. The Church Militant fights not only against the world from which it is sundered; it also fights among itself. Nonetheless, despite us, apart from our own reason or strength, the Lord Himself joins us in the net and takes our abuse and our punishment in order to rescues us from death.

To be sure, there are places in Holy Scripture where life in the Church is described in more idyllic and arcadian ways. Christians are holy people who love one another and live together in harmony and peace, without strife or jealousy or betrayal and failure. The righteous are rewarded and the wicked are crushed. We glimpse something of that life from time to time. In those mountaintop experiences we are filled with joy and peace, we revel in God’s bodily presence for us in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, in the goodness of His Absolution which drives off our guilt and shame and proclaims God’s acceptance of us despite our sins, counting us as righteous for His sake. We rejoice that belong to God and to one another, and sometimes we even like one another.

But if that is all we see in Scripture we are not reading closely. The Church is also typified as the beggar Lazarus covered with sores and starving, as David losing his child after his affair with Bathsheba, and as Joseph in prison hated by his brothers. All parents with more than one child know that brothers and sisters fight, sometimes vehemently, brutally. So also the Church is conformed to Christ her Lord who, though innocent, laid down His life not only for His friends but also for His enemies, in obedience to His Father.

The good life, as depicted in many places in Scripture, is largely hidden from us. Sometimes that is because it is covered in suffering, like Christ on the cross, and sometimes it is because we don’t want to be sundered from our sin and are afraid that we will miss out.

G.K. Chesterton has a delicious little poem about this where he pokes fun at himself for his foolishness. Chesterton is a Christian but he fantasizes about being free from the constraints of the Law and reveling in heathen excess. He should know better, but he keeps forgetting. Then he looks at Higgins the heathen and how caught up he is in useless legalism to the wrong things and sees that he isn’t missing anything. There is no fun to have in sin that is why Higgins sins without delight. The Law is not a burden for the Christian but a joy. It sets up what is good. In missing sin, we miss nothing but disappointment, pain, and shame.

Here is the poem.

The Song of the Strange Ascetic
By G.K. Chesterton

If I had been a Heathen,
I’d have praised the purple vine,
My slaves should dig the vineyards,
And I would drink the wine.
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And his slaves grow lean and grey,
That he may drink some tepid milk
Exactly twice a day.

If I had been a Heathen,
I’d have crowned Neaera’s curls,
And filled my life with love affairs,
My house with dancing girls;
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And to lecture rooms is forced,
Where his aunts, who are not married,
Demand to be divorced.

If I had been a Heathen,
I’d have sent my armies forth,
And dragged behind my chariots
The Chieftains of the North.
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And he drives the dreary quill,
To lend the poor that funny cash
That makes them poorer still.

If I had been a Heathen,
I’d have piled my pyre on high,
And in a great red whirlwind
Gone roaring to the sky;
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And a richer man than I:
And they put him in an oven,
Just as if he were a pie.

Now who that runs can read it,
The riddle that I write,
Of why this poor old sinner,
Should sin without delight-
But I, I cannot read it
(Although I run and run),
Of them that do not have the faith,
And will not have the fun.

Don’t ask God to depart so that you can sin. The wicked aren’t really prospering even if it seems that they are. It is a delusion. The net feels constraining and suffocating like a life jacket on the topside of a boat with the sun beating down, but it is absolutely necessary when you are tossed overboard.

Thanks be to God that He does not heed our cry that He depart, any more than He heeded Peter, nor does He conform the Church to our image and fantasies but to His own. He is faithful and steadfast where we are unfaithful and impetuous. He pulls us to safety – against our will and even if it is gentle, like toddlers throwing temper tantrums, it feels to us like murder. What we cannot and would never do by our own reason or strength or choice, God does by His Gospel: He makes us His. He claims us. He comes and gets us. He who has made atonement for us, paid the ransom for our sins in His own Body, declares us righteous and puts His Name upon us. He doesn’t simply draw us out of the Nile to spare us from Pharaoh’s wrath, but He takes our place. He is in the net with us – even now, here in the Church, among sinners, fighting brothers, weak pastors, lustful boys. He is unashamed to be one of us though He is without sin and we in no wise deserve Him. He not only takes the punishment we deserve but He suffers our abuse, our scratches and bites and constant complaints about missing the cucumbers in Egypt. And right here in the net, He speaks calmy to us, telling us to not be afraid, restoring us to His fellowship by grace, and gives us His Body and His Blood as food for immortality and drink that cleanses sins.

Do not listen, O Lord, when we lust for pleasures of the flesh or foolishly ask you to depart, but abide with us and remember our Baptisms. Draw us out, O Lord, no matter how much we protest. Teach us and give us the good life of your holy Law and bring us home by your saving Gospel.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.


Before we get there we must acknowledge that the details of this miracle are packed with significance beyond the historic reality. Our Lord sends the disciples out to fish, at the wrong time and in the wrong place, with the wrong technique, and then He nearly kills them with fish. He does not merely to demonstrate His power, but in order to instruct both them and us in something of the character of His Kingdom and their Ministry. We know this beyond a doubt because in nothing the Lord does is arbitrary or accidental. We also know that the Holy Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit which means that every word and nuance is given by the Spirit on purpose and is never simply the creativity or agenda of the human author. If we believe in the inspiration of Scripture, then the details matter and the Spirit speaks in those details. So also Our Lord Himself ends this episode with a significant and powerful metaphor that is meant to explain the miracle. He doesn’t say, “Bow before My Power. I can pull a rabbit out of a hat and make chickens do math.” He says to Peter: “From now on you fish for men instead of for fish.”

The elect are brought into the Church by the Gospel. From the perspective of our fallen flesh, the Gospel is indiscriminate. The difference between those who are saved and those who are not? Faith. The elect hear the Word of God and believe it. But faith does not come from within but without. It is not an act of the will but a gift of God.

The elect do not enter the Kingdom by their own reason or strength. This befuddles us, glargely because we have been heavily influenced by an entrepreneurial culture and the Second Great Awakening. We have this Satanic idea that we need to sell the Gospel. We think that our efforts will change the number of the elect. If we don’t tell people about Jesus then they will go to Hell. If we do, then we will cause heaven to swell and make God proud. This is wrong. In fact, in our sinful flesh, we don’t quite trust God to actually keep His promises. In fact, He will not let any of the elect be snatched from His hand. He will go out, seeking, and not one will be lost. Your failures, laziness, and pride will not keep anyone from heaven.

The apostles didn’t fish the way we do. They didn’t use bait. It wasn’t a trick, a deception. The fish weren’t promised a tasty meal or some spectacle and then given a hook in the mouth and a box of offering envelopes. The net was dropped without discretion, in stupid places, even after the best of man’s wisdom had been brought to bear and it had failed – like casting seed on a rocky path or into weed-infested ground. The net was dropped not because the fishing was good, but because the net was good, well-designed and built for its purpose.

The net encloses all in its path: good and bad, young and old, expensive and junk fish. They are all drawn in. It encloses other creatures as well, bringing crabs and bugs, poor and noble, sharks and guppies. The net is indiscriminate. It does not care what is caught. The Lord has said to enclose and imprison and so it does.

Our sinful flesh recognizes a trap. The Gospel is dangerous. Our life is at stake. Though we might squirm against it, the reality is there is no getting out of it alive. We will either be drawn out of the chaos of sin, dead to our trespasses, wounded like Jacob, or we will be thrown back in, given over to our baser desires, so that having known God but rejected Him our foolish hearts will be darkened and instead of the glory of God we will be handed over for destruction to our own vile affections.

The net is the voice of God in the words of the prophets and apostles recorded in Holy Scriptures. God speaks and we know Him. Faith comes by hearing. The flock knows its Shepherd’s Voice. The net is also the Church. It holds all these diverse fish and strange creatures of the sea together – even when they are natural enemies. The lion lies down the Lamb and Russians and Native Americans and Kenyans kneel side-by-side at the communion rail.

But Peter and the Sons of Thunder didn’t fish with bait and hooks. They fished with a net. The fish weren’t lured in. They were simply enclosed. They weren’t deceived or conned into it. They were surprised by it and then actively resisted it.

There is a Evangelism is, that is, its purpose and how it is done, and secondly, what life in the Church is like,

Catching men for the Kingdom of God is more dangerous than catching fish.

When Peter the fisherman finally obtains the catch of a lifetime of the Sea of Galilee, it nearly kills him. The fish are sinking the boat. “But don’t be afraid,” says Jesus, “these fish won’t kill you. You are done with them. From now on you will be catching men. And they will hate you for it, and kill you, even as they hated Me and killed Me.”

For this, three years of being the Lord’s foil and a constant example for us of impetuous, rash behavior, for a life of sorrow and ultimate martyrdom, Peter leaves everything and follows Jesus.

There are places in Holy Scripture where life in the Church is described according to God’s perspective. Christians are holy people who love one another and live together in harmony and peace, without strife or jealousy or betrayal and failure. We glimpse that life from time to time. We have those spiritual mountaintop experiences when we are filled with joy and peace, when we revel in God’s bodily presence for us in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, when the words of the Holy Absolution drive off our guilt and shame and proclaim God’s acceptance of us, when we know we belong to God and one another, when we bask in bearing God’s Name and Word. But that is life is largely hidden from us. We live by faith, not by sight.

And so there are also place in Holy Scripture where life in the Church Militant is described.

Finally, the Office of the Holy Ministry is dangerous to the office holders. Sometimes it costs them their life and even when it doesn’t, it costs them something. All of that can be used by Satan to tempt us to believe that we’d be better off in the world, back in the sea among the unbelievers. The life of a Christian is a life of suffering. Following Jesus always means bearing a cross. Nonetheless, life in the net is the good life, not an easy life or a life of pleasure, and not simply “a” good life but, in fact, “the” good life. It is the good life because it is a life lived with God, in His grace and by the forgiveness of sin, life at its fullest, as we were meant to live.

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