The Fifth Sunday after Trinity & Installation of Vicar – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 5:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who gives fullness to the empty and faith to the fearful, dear fellow redeemed:
The brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John, were fisherman. That means they knew the lake of Gennesaret—most commonly called the Sea of Galilee—better than anyone. These fishermen knew the best places to fish and the best times for fishing. But when we meet them in today’s text, they had just worked through the night without success. All they had to show for their efforts were nets full of weeds. As they washed out the nets, they were tired, discouraged, maybe even irritated. Who can pay the bills with weeds?!
But their attention wasn’t totally on their nets. They watched Jesus come down to the shore accompanied by the crowds that were always with Him these days. And as they worked, they listened. Some of these men had met Jesus before. Andrew and probably John were two who had gone to hear the preaching of John the Baptizer by the Jordan River. They were present when the Baptizer pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (Joh. 1:36). So they and their brothers knew about Jesus, that He was someone significant, a Teacher unlike the scribes.
This is why Simon Peter was willing to take Jesus a little ways from shore in his boat, and why he was even willing to let down the fishing nets in the deep. Conventional wisdom said that this was neither the time nor the place to fish, and Simon said as much, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” But he listened and did what Jesus said. And then Simon and his companions hauled in a catch of fish like they had never seen or probably ever heard of.
Now suppose Simon had not fallen to his knees in fear. What if as he was pulling more and more fish into the boat, he hadn’t thought about his sins but only thought about the profit that this boat-load would bring? Or about the notoriety and glory he would have? He would be famous for miles around! People would write songs about this day! Simon would be a somebody!
That’s always the temptation, to take the glory that belongs to God alone, and to want to apply it to ourselves. We do this when we have success at something, and all we can think is how hard we have worked, how gifted we are, how much we deserve the recognition we receive. When things are going well, when times are good, we don’t thank God—at least not first of all. We might remember to thank Him eventually, but even then, our “thanks” can sound like the Pharisee’s: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luk. 18:11).
Simon was not wrong to fall at Jesus’ feet and confess his sinfulness. That was a totally appropriate response when he realized he was in the presence of the holy Lord. We can learn something from this. In the greatest moment of his professional fishing career, Simon did not bask in the glory of his accomplishment. He was humbled. He saw the gift he had been given, and he knew he didn’t deserve it.
But where Simon went wrong was when he asked Jesus to leave him, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” If Jesus were to leave, Simon would still be a sinner. He might be less aware of his sins, but he wouldn’t have less sins. He needed Jesus to stay. He needed Jesus to save him. Jesus wasn’t about to leave. He had big plans for this big sinner. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”
Colin, you are embarking on this same mission. It is your desire to cast the net of God’s Word into the sea of this world and catch souls for the Lord. You are ready to apply all your talents, all your abilities, all your ideas and strategies, to this task. You want to be a good fisherman. You want to see the nets fill up with fish.
But there’s a problem: You are a sinful man. And there’s another problem: The one who is assigned to help you with this fishing, who is even now casting out the nets—he is a sinner too. What are we to do? I’d like to tell you to “Follow me!” “I’ll show you the ropes!” “I’ll teach you everything I know!” “I’ll make sure that when the year is up, you’ll know how to fish!”
If that were the case, then theoretically I should be able to teach anyone to fish. I should be able to teach anyone how to be a pastor in God’s church. But I do not think that, or if I do think it, I should be ashamed. The fact of the matter is that even our best efforts fail apart from Jesus. I could be a great speaker. I could be an expert administrator. I could have all the tools for success. But if Jesus doesn’t give the blessing, the nets go empty.
The pastor’s calling is not to say, “Follow me,” as though he can save anyone, as though he can get anyone to heaven. The pastor’s calling is to speak Jesus’ Word, to point to Jesus. The nets weren’t filled because of Simon’s skills. He and the others fished all night and caught nothing. The nets were filled because Jesus said, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Jesus filled those nets, and He filled them by the power of His Word.
Every one of you here is a living testament to the power of Jesus’ Word. You didn’t find your own way into the net of His Church. He caught you in the calm, clean waters of Holy Baptism. Through those waters, He cleansed you of your sins, He claimed you as His own, and He covered you in His righteousness. As long as you remain in the water of your Baptism by faith in Him, you will continue to be a healthy fish, full of life. The baptismal font is your fishbowl—not to keep you from experiencing what the world has to offer, but to protect you from it and to give you what the world cannot give.
Jesus promises to continue feeding and strengthening His fish through the ongoing preaching of His Word and the administration of His Sacraments. This is why every fish needs a pastor. Now a fish could possibly survive without one. We hear so many say that today, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian!” But a fish does need to stay in the water, and it does need to eat. A Christian needs to return to Baptism through the confession of sin and the absolution the pastor speaks. And a Christian needs to eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus, which the pastor is called to distribute.
Whether or not a Christian strongly feels the need for a pastor, Jesus feels strongly about it. That’s why He called Simon and Andrew, James and John, and all the rest of the disciples to follow Him. That’s why after His resurrection, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (Joh. 20:22-23). And that’s why before His ascension, He commissioned them to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:19-20).
Christians have pastors because Jesus wants them to have pastors. And because He wants them to have pastors, He still calls sinful men to follow Him. No man has the power in himself to save even one soul. But Jesus through His Word saves many souls. He fills His Church with fish. The power is His, and the glory is His.
The pastor’s or the vicar’s responsibility is to proclaim His Word. Jesus’ Word does the work. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Co. 2:2). In the same letter, he criticized them for putting too much focus on the person of the preacher. “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (3:5-7).
Colin, it will be my duty to remind you this year that you are nothing, just as I am nothing. Jesus is everything. He is the Savior of us sinful men, and of all the sinful people we serve. Without Him and His Word, all the nets of our efforts will come up empty. But with Him and His Word, our work cannot fail because His Word never returns to Him empty (Isa. 55:11). I know you are ready to dive in, and so am I. “Follow Me,” says Jesus, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Mat. 4:19).
Jesus does not turn any of us sinners away from Him. He does not depart from us in disgust when we fall again and again. He speaks words of assurance and peace to us. When you hear the absolution from the mouths of His fishermen—“I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”—that is Jesus speaking. Those are His words. He does not reject sinners; He forgives them. And He calls each one to follow Him in repentance and faith.
It is His Word that filled the nets with fish and His Word that fills our hearts with hope. It is His Word that changed the disciples’ priorities and His Word that gives us purpose. It is His Word that saved the sinners of old and His Word that saves sinners today. “Follow Me!” says Jesus. And He gives us the faith and the courage and the will to do it.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture of the miraculous catch of fish by Raphael, 1515)
The Fifth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 5:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who did the work we had hardly even begun and were not about to finish, dear fellow redeemed:
A relative of mine once gave a ride to a man looking to head west. Along the way, the man shared details about his life, which might be described as “professional homelessness.” He decided at some point that he would rather beg than work a paying job. And whenever he had built up enough money, he would spend it on an airline ticket to Hawaii. He had done this multiple times. It takes work to beg, so it wasn’t that he would not work. What he rejected was honest work. In the end, I think my cousin may have regretted offering the ride.
It was wrong for this man to take advantage of the charity of others when he could have easily gotten a job. He did not see the value in this kind of work. On the other hand, some place too much value in their work. They are constantly seeking to climb higher on the corporate ladder and improve their life with greater riches and nicer things. They may even neglect their family and friends to do this. They will let nothing get in the way of their drive to succeed.
But in the end, what good is an attitude like this? Does a person ever get to the point where he is satisfied with what he has? And what will happen to those precious belongings when he dies? The wise King Solomon pondered these very questions. He considered all that his hands had done and the toil he had expended, and concluded that “all was vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecc. 2:11). He said that “there is more gain in wisdom than in folly,” but in the end, “the wise dies just like the fool!” (vv. 13, 16). He also recognized that everything he had worked for would one day be turned over to another to keep and manage, “and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool?” (v. 19).
When Jesus visited the fishermen by the lake of Gennesaret, they understood better than ever that work is meaningless apart from Jesus. These men fished not for leisure but for their livelihood, which made a night’s work with no return especially frustrating. We might have expected Simon Peter’s response to be a bit saltier than it was when Jesus directed him to row to the deep part of the lake and let down his nets. For one thing, it was not the right time of day for fishing. And the deeper parts of the lake were probably not the best places to find fish. But Simon replied respectfully, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your word I will let down the nets.”
It wasn’t long before the fishermen saw the nets start to drag along as though they were filling up. In a short time their nets were so full, that two fishing boats could not handle the load. So much for all their fishing wisdom! This stranger Jesus came along and prompted the greatest catch of fish they had ever seen! Now they were keenly aware of a power in their presence that was much greater than their own. They did not doubt that they had just witnessed a miracle, which meant Jesus was either a prophet of God or God Himself. Simon fell to his knees and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
What Simon had forgotten at that moment is something that we lose sight of too. This is that we are always in the presence of God, and that we cannot prosper in work without His blessing. So often we experience some success at work and are praised for what we accomplish, and we think of this as well-earned recognition. We worked hard for this and did what others could not do. It is not wrong to take pride in a job well done. But it is wrong to take full credit for it. If you are a farmer, who is it that sends the sun and rain for your crops? If you work for an employer, who gave you the mental and physical abilities you have? If your kids grow up to be reasonably responsible citizens, who granted you the patience and care you needed to raise them?
To act as though God has nothing to do with our successes—which is what every unbeliever thinks—is to greatly dishonor Him. Unbelievers see their success as entirely dependent on themselves and even flaunt their riches in God’s face, as though He had nothing to do with it. But unless He opens His merciful hand and gives His blessings, no creature could live. He satisfies the desire of every living thing, as the Psalm says (145:16).
But we do not always feel satisfied with His gifts. Sometimes, like the disciples, we work hard and come up with nothing. Why is that? Why do we wear ourselves out and lose ground while the unrighteous appear to prosper? Has God forgotten our need? It is easy to question God when we are struggling, but it is just as easy to forget Him when we prosper. This may be why God sometimes gives us more and sometimes less—to remind us to trust in Him.
No matter how hard you work, if your work is not done to the glory of God, it is empty. No amount of money and goods will satisfy you without Jesus in view. Peter, James, and John recognized this. Even after the greatest catch of fish they had ever seen, they left it all behind. “[T]hey left everything and followed [Jesus].”
They followed Jesus because He called them to a different kind of fishing. Now they would be “catching men” for God. But they were not prepared to help fill God’s net until they were caught themselves. When Simon saw the great catch of fish, He begged Jesus to leave him, because he was a sinner. What sin do you suppose was on his mind? Was it that he doubted any fish would be caught when he “put out into the deep”? Or was it just a general awareness of his sinfulness as He stood before his Lord? The prophet Isaiah reacted in much the same way in the presence of God in heaven, “Woe is me! For I am lost” he said; “for I am a man of unclean lips” (Is. 6:5). But the last thing Simon Peter needed is what he requested. When he said, “Depart from me,” he should have said, “Save me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
Being in the presence of God and hearing His Word forces us to reckon with our sins. We hear the standard that God sets and realize how far we fall short of meeting it. But instead of crying out to Jesus, “Save me!” we try to make things better on our own. We know that the sin we have fallen into is condemned by God, and we want to stop doing it. But instead of trusting in Him, we put our trust in ourselves. “I am strong enough to overcome this,” we think. “I know I am better than this, and I will prove it!” And what happens? We fall again and again. And eventually, we lose the will to fight anymore. Sometimes we continue in the sin despite the conflict we feel in our conscience, or we begin to justify the sin in an attempt to rewire our conscience.
Our flailing attempts to get free of God’s accusing law are like a bird caught in a fishing net. The harder it tries to get away, the more tangled up it becomes. This is how it was with Martin Luther. We focused on his life and work last week at camp. Luther had tried to get right with God by his works. He even gave up a promising career in law in order to become a monk, so that he could dedicate his life to righteous living full-time.
But the harder he worked, the more his net of righteousness came up empty. He expressed this painful realization in a hymn verse which the campers memorized this past week: “Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay; / Death brooded darkly o’er me. / Sin was my torment night and day; / In sin my mother bore me. / Yea, deep and deeper still I fell; / Life had become a living hell, / So firmly sin possessed me” (ELH 378, v. 2).
It wasn’t that Luther was more sinful than the common man. But he was more honest about his sinful condition than many are. No matter how hard you and I try, we are still sinners, who deserve death. “[T]he wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23).
By God’s grace, Luther eventually understood that the righteousness God requires of sinners is supplied by Jesus. To try to get to heaven without Him is to come up empty. But to place one’s entire life and being in His hands through repentant faith is to obtain everything. By faith in Jesus, your net is filled with forgiveness for your many sins, with eternal life for your death, and with salvation from your enemies. Faith receives such abundant blessings from God that you sink beneath their glorious weight. God’s grace surrounds you and covers you, so that your flimsy attempts at righteousness can no more be seen. All that is now in view is the righteousness of Jesus and His cleansing blood.
That is why we follow Him. He gives us what we could never get on our own. Our Constant Toiling Nets Nothing without Jesus. Romans 4:5 declares, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” It is not your work that justifies you before God, but faith in Jesus. Do not in willful disobedience ask Him to depart, but in humble repentance beg Him to stay.
And He will stay. He worked hard to save you, and He isn’t about to let that hard work on your behalf go to waste. This is why He comes to you still and continues to work in you through His Word and Sacraments. There, He supplies forgiveness whenever your God-given work falls short, and He grants the strength that you need to carry out your work to His glory alone.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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