Posted on June 27th, 2016
June 26, 2016
I think my first conversation with Pastor-elect Rogness was down on the blacktop at Oktoberfest. Imagine my surprise when I find out we both grew up in the same neighborhood: Hopkins, MN, a working-class suburb of Minneapolis. The memory of that place, as it was in the 1970’s, is a happy one; life was simple – for me. But not for my dad. I will forever associate the smell of oil, grease, and sawdust with him, and with how hard he worked.
My dad worked with trees: trimming, topping, or cutting them down and removing the stumps. He was up early in the morning, hours before me, and in the summer would work for as long as there was daylight. Being in that kind of business means that the work is far more than just the trees. He had to keep his trucks, his chainsaws, his aerial bucket and hydraulic loader all in operation. He did a lot of the work himself.
And in that kind of business, you don’t earn money in a steady flow. So it’s stressful when you’re not getting paid.
That’s what’s going on with Peter in today’s Gospel. He’s exhausted, he’s worked hard all night, but he’s not getting paid. There are no fish. He has employees he has to pay, but where is that coming from? And he still has to wash the nets, cleaning off the underwater muck, and repairing any tears.
Jesus commandeers Peter’s boat, so he can more easily preach to the large crowd that’s gathered. But then Jesus tells Peter to push out and go fishing again. And it’s all the wrong advice: deep water, morning – nope, that’s not where the fish are.
Peter lets Jesus know that it’s a dumb idea – but he goes along with it.
Our spiritual life is a lot like that. We pray, but are uncertain if anyone listens. The amens are half-hearted. Have you ever looked at the water in Baptism and said, “What can that do?” Have you ever looked at the bread at Communion and said, “It still just seems like bread to me”? The Word of Jesus seems like it does not, will not work.
All problems in the church today stem from this one truth: we do not believe that God works by His Word, we do not trust that the means of grace, God’s Word and Sacraments, will do what God purposes for them. Like Elijah in the Old Testament lesson, we look for God in the big and dramatic things instead of the Word, which seems like a quiet whisper compared to where the world looks for success.
But despite his doubts, Peter follows the Word of Jesus. And he is overwhelmed by success. There is such a catch of fish that his boat begins to sink. His business partners, James and John, come quickly, and their boat, too, is soon swamped with fish. The boats are sinking.
This isn’t the main point of today’s Gospel, but it’s worth observing that success often destroys people. Those who pursue wealth, fame, pleasure, are undone by the things they worshipped. You can be rich and be saved – but Jesus says it’s about as likely as a camel going through the eye of a needle. My friend John Pless says that it’s possible for a camel to go through the eye of the needle, but it will be very hard on the camel. Holy Scripture teaches us to pray,
Give me neither poverty nor riches—
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
9 Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God. (Pr. 30.8-9)
But praise God for Peter’s example here to us: overwhelmed with success, a big payday now flopping all around his boats, Peter does not revel in his riches. He drops to his knees: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
Peter confesses two things here: his own sin, and that Jesus is Lord.
That is where your life as a Christian begins. It’s the pattern of the Divine Service: we confess our sins, then we hear about Jesus, our Lord, and confess Him.
Noah, this is the foundation of our work as pastors. It is never our word or person that we extol, and nothing is based on our own authority. Like the first leader of the disciples, we are sinful men not worthy to occupy the pulpit, not worthy to scoop the water in our hands or lift up the Lord’s Cup. If our work is blessed it is because it is His work, His Word, His gifts given to His people. It is not our boat but His, it is not our church but His.
The church is founded on confession – confession of sins, and confession of who Jesus is.
So the church is founded on confession – confession of sins, and confession of who Jesus is. That’s true of pastor and people. Yesterday was the anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession; on June 25, 1530, the Evangelical princes gathered before the Emperor in the city of Augsburg and confessed the Catholic faith, against the abuses of the pope and the errors of scholastic theology. Today you pledge allegiance to that Confession because—quia—it agrees with the Scriptures. Your whole life is now a ministry of confession: confessing your sins, and pointing those who likewise confess to Jesus their Savior. And you confess the Faith delivered to you. Forget your own ideas, don’t get involved in fads or new movements; they’ll soon be as dated as the yellow refrigerator my parents had back in Hopkins. Stick to the Scriptures, confess the Confessions, teach them to the people, point them always and only to Jesus.
And what does Jesus do? He commissions Peter not as a “fisher of men,” nor even as the NKJ has it, as one who will “catch men.” It is literally “save men alive.” Fish you catch and eat, but not so with men. Peter, James, and John; Christopher and Peter, Robert and Gregory, Jonathan and Noah, the work is done with the Word, and by the Word of Jesus men are saved alive.
By birth we are as dying men. We destroy ourselves with food and drink, obsess over money and sex and stupid games that glorify violence, idiotic shows that revel in what is base and obscene.
From all this, and from death itself, the Lord Jesus comes to make all things new. His Word, His gifts, save men alive. Praise God who gave us His Son, praise His Son for sending His Spirit, praise the Spirit for still leading pastors by the Word, praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for forgiving us all our sins and saving us alive. +INJ+