Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Then when Jesus had finished speaking, He spoke to Simon: “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
Then answering Simon said: “Teacher, through all the night we have toiled to take nothing. Nevertheless, at your word, I will let down the nets.”
Jesus of Nazareth, son of a carpenter, itinerant roving rabbi preacher, albeit with large crowds following Him, tells Simon Peter, veteran Sea of Galilee fisherman with his own fleet of boats, how to do his vocation. He tells Simon to fish in the wrong place (the deep), at the wrong time (during the day) – and worse, after Simon and his fellow fishermen had finished cleaning and untangling their empty nets from a night of fruitless fishing. It would be like me going to the Bass Master’s Classic and telling the pro fishermen to fish with no bait, no tackle, just drag an empty hook on the end of the line and hope for a fish to latch on.
Now, when anyone tells us how to do something, even when we respect the person telling us, our fallen hard hearts naturally rebel and want to claim we know better. Especially if it goes against my experiences in life. The thought had to cross Peter’s mind: this cannot possibly work, I don’t believe it can work, why does Jesus give me this stupid command? I’m not going to catch fish this way. Teacher, through all the night we have toiled to take nothing…
Jesus still tells us to carry out our vocations in a certain way, today. Preach my Word, he says to pastors, and teach my Word, when it’s popular and when it’s not. Give the Sacraments in my name, says the Lord. The Holy Spirit and the angels at the end of time will gather a harvest, He says. But Jesus – why do you give what seem to be fruitless commands, on their face, is there not some method, some trick to catching fish I should try? Why does Jesus give such simple minded commands? No one catches fish that way!
Jesus tells men and women to carry out their family vocations in certain ways too. Wait for sexual intercourse until marriage, and keep the one flesh union for the procreation of children to raise to God’s glory within the bond of marriage. Raise up children to God’s glory and teach them God’s Word at all times. Trust God for daily bread even if it seems to be lacking. But isn’t there better ways the world approves of and promotes? Why does Jesus give such old fashioned, backward commands? No one catches fish that way!
A longtime and well known Christian author of many books just this week said much the same thing regarding homosexual behavior and other such sins – he’s given in to what the world has constantly told him and all of us, so he decides with the culture to accept that which God says in Scriptures is not acceptable. To paraphrase the author Eugene Peterson, “The world catches fish this new way now, so it must be okay with God, even though I know what the Bible actually says…” Jesus, he was essentially saying, ought not to tell him how to fish anymore from that antiquated thing called the Bible.
You get the point. We cannot stop those thoughts from rising up in our hearts, infected by sin as our hearts are. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, living as baptized children of God, we can control what we say; we can confess back what God’s Word says and hold fast to His truth. We can say what is true, even if we don’t “feel” it on the inside, even if our eyes and ears tuned to the images and voices of this world try to deceive us into believing otherwise.
…Nevertheless, at your word, I will let down the nets.
Peter acts in spite of himself. He doesn’t wait for pure inner motivation to act in his vocation as a fisherman. If he did, he would never have thrown out those nets in the deep part of the lake, in the heat of the day. The nets came up bursting at the seams with fish. Jesus is Lord of earth, sky, and sea. He created all things, at His Word, and created and gives to each of us our daily vocations.
Today’s Gospel shows our Lord at work in His creation, in both of His realms, or kingdoms. God’s heavenly kingdom come upon earth through His Word and Sacraments, the Church; and the earthly Kingdom, the kingdom of secular politics and how civil society runs each day on this earth. But some make the error that never the twain should ever meet. But today Jesus is Lord of them both in our Gospel reading. He brings on the heavenly kingdom through preaching and raising up more preachers like Peter to follow Him, and He blesses and sanctifies the earthly vocations of the men He calls to follow Him.
Put out into the deep water and let down your nets… from now on you will catch men alive…
The kingdoms of heaven and earth are to be distinguished from each other, because God rules them both in different ways and Christians, citizens of both kingdoms, live in them in different ways.
God is hidden in the Earthly Kingdom, where He providentially cares for His whole creation, including those who do not know Him. He rules it by His moral Law (Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch! we might paraphrase) which is applicable in the world and remains a standard by which earthly rulers and institutions can be judged. Christians are to do good works in the world – to work for justice, care for the poor, and battle the evils that are part of the fallen human condition.
In the Heavenly Kingdom, in contrast, God is revealed in His Word, and Christians are under the Gospel of God’s grace and the forgiveness of sins through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Do not fear. From now on you will catch men alive.
God sends Christians out into the world to live out their faith in their worldly vocations. Not just their economic work, but their callings in the family, the church, and the state. In our Gospel, by its end, Jesus has called Peter to each estate – to be a fisherman and support his family and fellow fishermen, and to be a fisher of men, a catcher of men alive, and an apostle. All as a citizen living under the jurisdiction of the Roman Empire. That’s what he is called to be. He is those things, at God’s calling. Those vocations then create obligations to others.
In all of their vocations, Christians are to love and serve their neighbors. Vocation is the place where good works are done – the meal is prepared, the diapers are changed, one goes to work on time, one brings home one’s paycheck, etc. And they are where spiritual growth occur, hearing the Gospel, studying the Word, meditating on God’s commands, and, as Christians endure the trials and tribulations that their vocations bring, suffering the crosses of life. In their vocations, they co-operate with God as He governs His world, acting as His hands in the world.
Your vocations are what you are, what you are called by God to be. Baptized child of God adopted by Him through the water of Holy Baptism. Father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, employer, employee, etc. What you do doesn’t define you. It is what you are called to be that defines you. Duties, responsibilities, obligations – good works – flow from that calling, from your identity that God gives you. Sometimes those vocations hurt, sometimes they bring suffering and untold sadnesses, and sometimes earthly vocations dear to us are taken away in God’s unknowable wisdom and timing.
Do not make the mistake, again, that what one does defines who one is. That is the mistake of the church leading up to the Reformation. Monasticism taught that spiritual perfection required vows of celibacy (rejecting the estate of the family), poverty (rejecting full participation in the economy), and obedience (in which the “religious” person had to obey the laws of the church but was exempt from the authority of the state). Dr. Martin Luther taught from Scriptures, like today’s Gospel, that God calls us to vocations in family, church, and state, and to live in both the heavenly and earthly kingdoms as Jesus’ disciples, who trust His Word. Nevertheless, at your word, I will let down the nets... And after returning the boats to the shore, they left everything, and they followed Him.
With Peter, James, and John, follow Jesus and His Word, and be who God calls you to be in service to your neighbor. Find your life and sustenance in the vocations of others, and in service to others. Remember that you receive blessings and help for each day from God through the vocation and duty of others. The police and fire fighters keep us safe, the armed forces and border guards and intelligence services keep our nation secure. The grocer makes sure we have food to purchase on the shelves; the farmer raises the food for those shelves. Husbands and wives love, honor, and nourish each other, and their children. Good workers please their masters, and bring home daily bread for their families. Pastors are raised up by God to catch men alive in the blessed net of the Gospel, bestowing the forgiveness Christ has earned and desires to give in His Church. You are called to readily support that preaching of the Gospel with your first-fruits tithes of offerings and time and help. Acknowledge and bless God for these and all things that come from His wonderful hand.
Most of all, remember that God the Father called His only-begotten Son to redeem the world and make you, in your various vocations, holy, for He called His Son to go fish in the deep end of this lost and darkened world, and to cast down the net of His sacred body and blood deep through this world, to catch men alive who by faith receive His forgiveness of sins and are gathered to live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Jesus did not count the cost, He did not question the call, He simply humbled Himself, gave all of Himself for the life of this world, for your life and mine. Now having called you by the Gospel, having redeemed and cleansed you by His blood, you have your lives and being, here in time, and there in eternity. Thanks be to God.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +