Called and Caught by Jesus
You know, I've been a pastor 15 years now. And in one sense I figure I know what I'm doing. I'm familiar with the liturgy, I can preach a passable sermon. I can give a decent off-the-cuff answer to a Bible question. I've done weddings and funerals, taught confirmation classes for years. I am certainly not perfect, but I know my trade. Just as you probably know yours.
Now imagine if someone tried to tell you how to do your own job. Someone with no experience whatsoever. Someone who didn't know the first thing about doing whatever it is you do day in and day out. And imagine if their unsolicited advice was just crazy. You've learned the hard way not to do it how they're suggesting. But here they are telling you the business. As if they have a clue.
So begins the scene in Luke 5 when a Carpenter tries to tell fishermen what to do. They are washing their nets – packing it in after a hard and disappointing night's labor. Their experience tells them the fish just aren't biting. Come back another time. Get some rest. Cut your losses. But this carpenter turned preacher is giving out fishing advice – and it makes no sense at all.
You or I might be offended at being told how to do our jobs. Especially by this – whoever he is. But he's not just some whoever-he-is. And he knows more about fishing and men that anyone can imagine.
Put out into the deep water. I don't care that you're tired. I pay no mind that the fish aren't biting. Take your nets, which you've just washed and put away, and get back in your boat and cast them there in the deep again.
And for some strange reason, that also makes no human sense, Simon Peter responds in faith. He trusts the word of this carpenter-turned-preacher, he takes the unsolicited fishing advice, and he is not disappointed. In fact, he's terrified.
But why? Shouldn't he be overjoyed at the miraculous catch of fish? Shouldn't his eyes light up with the ch-ching of the money he would make selling these fish? Shouldn't he jump up and hug Jesus, thanks for the miracle, my friend?
No, instead, Peter senses the fearful presence of holiness. He may not be sure exactly who he's dealing with, but he knows that he is a sinner, and not worthy. He says as much, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
It's the same reaction Isaiah the prophet had when he beheld a vision of God's glory filling the temple. “Woe to me, I am ruined!” Isaiah said, “For I am a man of unclean lips...”
And it is the same reaction that you should have, as a sinner yourself, when confronted with the holiness of God. For you and I are also unworthy. You and I are also poor sinners. You and I are of unclean lips and hearts and minds and hands. And we don't deserve the miracles of God either. We think we know better than God's law, and act as if we are our own little gods. We'd so often rather play by our own rules, even though we can't win the game. But only when we admit it, when the law shows us our sin and we confess it, are we ready for the wisdom of God – the foolishness of the Gospel. I said I will confess my transgressions to the Lord...
Peter says, “Oh, I'm too sinful for you to be around me, Lord!” But Jesus hears none of that. He simply encourages, “Fear not.” “Do not be afraid.” And behind the simple “fear not” is much more: I'm not here to smite you. I'm here to save you, and all these others, too. I come not in judgment, but in grace and mercy, preaching a kingdom that is not of this world. I bring rest for the weary, love for the outcasts, healing, blessing, peace. I did not come to condemn the world, but to save it by my blood. I came to die, so that you might live. I came to destroy death, that you need never fear again.
Peter would soon learn all that is behind the “fear not” of Jesus. And even when in that dark hour of Jesus' passion, Peter would show just how big of a sinner he is by denying Jesus three times – still Jesus would return. resurrected, and meet Peter once again on the shores of this sea, and amaze him further with a catch of fish and a restoration. “Peter, do you love me? Then feed my sheep”
First the call to faith, the call to trust in the words of Christ. However crazy may seem and unsolicited they may be. However much it flies in the face of your own sinful self-pity. However much fear and doubt grip you and make your heart want to scream. However tired and weary from laboring all night with nothing to show for it. “Fear not,” he says. “With me, there is nothing to fear.”
And then the call to action. The call to serve. The call to put our faith to work for the love of neighbor. To be fishers of men, not just fishermen anymore.
But here too is a promise! Notice he doesn't say, “You better be good fishers of men.” or “get busy now, fishing for men”. He promises, “I will MAKE you fishers of men”. For even here, Jesus is doing the doing. He builds expands his kingdom. He builds his church.
But that doesn't mean you don't have a part in it. That doesn't mean he leaves you out of the fun. Christ calls us all, in various ways, to take part in the great casting of his Gospel net. Some may tend the nets. Some may cast them out. Others row the boat. And still others haul in the catch.
In other words, some are pastors fishing waters and streams nearby. And some are missionaries, pushing boats out to waters far away, even across oceans. Some are public proclaimers of Christ crucified for sinners. Some support this proclamation with prayers and gifts. But also called to the fishing industry of Christ are teachers and parents, friends and family. Some give their shoulder to cry on, or change diapers and wipe runny noses. Some invite others to come and be caught in the promises of Christ, and all are witnesses of what he has done for us.
You and I have been caught by Christ. Caught out of the deep water of our sin and cleaned, washed in the holy water of baptism. Fed with the body and blood of Christ. We are safely carried in the ark of his church through the dangerous waters of this world, until our ship comes in to the final port of life eternal. And along the way he catches us again and again as we confess with Peter, “I am a sinful man!” and his word of forgiveness answers, “Fear not!”
He who created fish and men and wood for boats and water to float them on – he knows his craft. He knows what you need, and comes to catch and keep you in his net of salvation, by his Spirit in his word of promise. So fear not, forgiven sinner. Fear not, in Christ. Amen.