The Fifth Sunday after Trinity: Blessed by the Grace of Christ

Teaching from a Boat and Fishing
Jesus teaches a crowd from the boat and enables Peter and his companions to catch a large number of fish (Luke 5:1-11). From Martin Luther’s Church Postils (sermons), published in 1563.

Lessons: 1 Kings 19:11-21, 1 Peter 3:8-15, Luke 5:1-11
Hymns: LSB 869, 750, 685, 609, 718

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      There was an older lady who prayed every day that she would win the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes. She really felt God would bless her some day with that winning. She wanted to give most of her winnings to her church to help the church gain solid financial footing. But obtaining a windfall does not normally result in happiness or better living. And few give their winnings away to good causes.

      Who among us has not desired or daydreamed over or even coveted to obtain a large sum of money? Who has not prayed for financial stability or even the amount to pay the bills that are now due? Who has not wished for greater possessions or more material goods?

      It’s a common desire. Consider the men in today’s Gospel who were out fishing all night and caught nothing. They weren’t fishing for pleasure, though their work may bring them satisfaction. They were fishing so that they could bring in an income. They didn’t have large savings accounts or government entitlement programs to back up on. No fish likely meant that soon there would be no food on the table. Life was difficult. The world was merciless. The life expectancy was short. Hardships abounded.

      Being Christian, these fishermen would have prayed. They would have prayed for a bountiful catch. They likely daydreamed to catch the largest fish and the most fish. They probably desired to have a better living through higher prices at the market or catching lots of fish to sell. Maybe then they could get bigger, stronger boats. Maybe then they could do what most couldn’t do in those days—retire. Maybe then they could circumvent the seemingly inevitable hostilities they faced in their dry climate, Roman rule, and pervasive diseases.

      Sometimes, though, when we get too much of a good thing, it can become another burden in life. Those who win large sums of money tend to wreck their lives. As we obtain more stuff, we get buried by our possessions. What was supposed to bring momentary pleasure now brings pressing weight and increasing anxiety. When we see clutter surrounding us, it weighs on our emotions and diminishes the motivation to do good.

      When we desire to buy that next piece of junk from the dollar store, we need to ask ourselves if it will really bring satisfaction, how soon it will end up in the landfill, and if we should spend our money (or donate it) on something more worthwhile.

      The men fished all night and caught nothing. Their labor resulted in no income. It certainly would have been disappointing. But at shore, they were met by a Preacher. The crowd was listening intently to Him. As the fishermen were washing their nets, the crowd was pressing in on Jesus to hear His Word. So Jesus got into Peter’s boat and asked him to be put out a little from the land. Jesus sat down, which was the posture of authority, and He preached from Peter’s boat. When He finished speaking, Jesus said to Simon, “Go out and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter knew this did not make any sense. They had just washed their nets. The ideal time for fishing had passed. It’s time to go get some rest. But Peter replies to Jesus, “Master, we worked all night and caught nothing. But at Your Word, I will do it.”

      Miracle of miracles! Peter set his reason aside and listened to the Word of God. Even though Peter was a professional fisherman, he listened to the Son of a carpenter, who would normally have no business telling fishermen how to do their jobs. But Peter, knowing Jesus can do amazing things, does what Jesus says. He witnessed Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law. He heard how, years earlier, Naaman, Jeremiah, and Hosea all did what they were told, even if it didn’t make sense. So, they went fishing. Suddenly they were catching so many fish their nets were breaking. They called for the other boat to come help them. As they pulled in their giant catch of fish, their boats struggled to stay afloat. Suddenly their lives were in jeopardy.

      This was the moment they probably all dreamed about and perhaps prayed for. Yet it is bringing about trouble and danger. Breaking nets, sinking boats. The abundance of their catch was proving to be not so great after all.

      This, my friends, should serve as a lesson for us. The sudden receipt of an overabundance often results in more harm than good. And let’s not think that we are somehow better managers of overabundance than the average person. We have all inherited the same sinful flesh. The things we desire may rule over us, they may hurt us, they may even destroy us. Remember, the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature are seeking to mislead us and deceived us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.

      Peter, upon landing such a wondrous draft of fish, falls down at Jesus’ knees. You’d think he’d be expressing heartfelt—even tear-filled—words of thanksgiving. You’d think he’d be so happy to have his dreams finally met. You’d think he’d be telling Jesus all the wonderful things he would do when he cashes in on all that fish. First, he’d give a tithe to the Lord. Next, he’d get a bigger fishing boat. Then he’d help some people out. The good works would abound.

      But Peter does none of these things. You see, there were two other dangers that Peter became keenly aware of—first, his sin and, second, being in the presence of God. Instead of looking ahead in great anticipation over what his future would bring over his newfound wealth, Peter’s sinful past flashes through his mind. Sins of his youth. Vulgar words out of his mouth. Stinginess and greed, selfishness and gluttony. The same Peter in our Gospel wrote our Epistle lesson. Perhaps Peter was thinking of his own past as he wrote that epistle to the Church, thinking of times when he was guilty of fostering disunity instead of unity, or failing to express brotherly love or a tender heart, or not having a humble mind, or when he repaid evil with evil.

      How could a poor, miserable sinner stand in the presence of God? How could a wretch like Peter take such a large gift from God when he had been so poor to his Lord? How could Peter even live before God?

      And so, Peter, filled with fear of God and recognizing the wrath God should have upon him, gets down on his knees and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

      Peter is correct in confessing his sin. Many would brag about how they caught so much fish, how they deserved this great catch, how wonderful they are to the rest of humanity. No so Peter. Convicted by the Law, he knew his guilt.

      But without understanding the Gospel, he asked Jesus to leave his presence. Now, if God had only given us the Law, we would all stand before God condemned. We would all want God to leave our presence, for we would remain in our sin and there’s nothing that could be done to change it. But God did not just give us His good Law. Instead, He sent His only begotten Son to bear our sin in His Body. Jesus shed His innocent Blood as the sacrificial payment for our many sins. Jesus died to redeem us, cancelling out the debt of sin, and purifying us of all unrighteousness. Though our sins are like scarlet, we shall be as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our sin from us (Psalm 103:12).

      When Peter, James, and John were on the mount of Transfiguration, they became afraid upon hearing the voice of God. They fell on their faces. But when they looked up, they saw no one but Jesus only (Matt. 17:1-8). It is only through Jesus that we can have access to God. Only through Jesus do we escape eternal death. Only Jesus fulfilled the Law perfectly. And only through Jesus are we now credited with keeping the Law perfectly.

      And so, we can stand before Jesus. We can confess our sin. Instead of saying, “Depart from me, Lord,” we say with the Emmaus disciples, “Stay with us” (Luke 24:28-35). We draw near to Jesus on bended knee, saying with the Syrophoenician woman, “Lord, help me” (Matt. 15:21-28). Soon we will approach Him at the altar to receive the Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. We come as God’s family, for we are adopted by God through Baptism.

      And so, we desire to be in our Lord’s presence. We remember our baptisms as we daily confess our sin to the Lord. We read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest His saving Word. We receive the Lord’s Supper frequently. For through these means, Christ comes to us and blesses us.

      Peter serves as an amazing example to us when He said, “At your Word, I will do it.” For God’s Word is truth. The Lord helps and sanctifies us by His Word.

      Jesus absolved Peter when He said to him, “Do not be afraid.” We are absolved by Jesus when we hear our Pastor speaking words of forgiveness to us—as we hear at the beginning of the Divine Service—and when we receive Holy Communion. This is as valid and certain as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.

      Our Gospel lesson closes with one more miracle. Jesus calls this sinner to be a disciple. Peter brings his boat to land, leaves everything, and follows Jesus. He doesn’t first cash in on all those fish to secure his retirement or make a name for himself through a large contribution to charity. He leaves everything to follow Jesus. In fact, he lost nothing and gained everything. For there is nothing in this life worth comparing to the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. No riches will buy those things, just as no riches buy happiness or contentment. Peter’s true joy was found in Christ his Savior. Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen