Tuesday, February 12, 2019
Throw out the fish. . .
Have you ever read something so often and then suddenly read it like you had never read it before? This text jumped out me with a detail that I had missed so many times before. You know the story. The disciples had fished all night with nothing to show for all their efforts. Jesus, the carpenter and not the fisherman like Peter and Andrew and James and John, tells them to put out the nets one more time. You can positively hear the frustration in Peter’s voice. “I would not do it for anybody but You, Jesus.” They put down the nets waiting to be disappointed when the nets began to break under the weight of so many fish. They called to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. Instead of helping, both boats were so overloaded with fish that they began to sink. And then what happened? What does Peter say?
Peter does not order the fishermen to throw back the fish to save themselves. Peter tells the Lord to get out of the boat. Depart from me, he says. Peter does not see the fish as the problem but Jesus. It was instinct that led Peter to see things this way but it is the same instinct we have. The things of this life we get, understand, and desire but the things of God seem foreign or less essential to us; the fish are not the problem. Jesus is the problem. In the fear of that moment, St. Peter reveals the instinct of the sinful heart. Given a choice between your best life now and eternal life to come, we all chose our best lives now. In the panic of the moment, St. Peter is faced with a choice and will give up Jesus before he gives up the fish. Isn’t that you? I know it’s me!
None of us wants to give up anything for Jesus. Instead we are ready to give up Jesus every time something shocking or hurtful or painful or disappointing happens. I cannot count the number of people who have left the church because somebody has hurt them or because their lives are too full of other things or because they were shocked to find sinful pastors in the pulpit and sinful people in the pews. We look for every excuse to tell the world how disappointed we are in God, in the Church, in pastors, in Christian people. We are ready at a moment’s notice to blame God for every bad thing that happens and when everything falls apart, we kick Jesus out of our boats. The problem is never the fish – the good things in this life – the problem is always God, the Church, and those who call themselves Christians.
But guess what? The fish cannot save you. It does not matter how full your boat, how well lived your life, how much you have, or even how much you have suffered, none of these things can save you. Your best moments in life cannot save you nor can your worst moments in life kill you. The storms of life can sink you but they cannot save you; that requires letting go of the things of this life and do the unthinkable! Hold onto Jesus and throw back the fish. Your hope does not lie with earthly justice or the recognition of people or good politicians or a smart retirement plan or a lifetime of good memories. Your hope rests with Jesus. Cast your lives upon His mercy. He is the only one who can save you – even if it might mean throwing back the fish or even jumping off the boat.
What does the Lord say to us more than anything else? Do not be afraid. It was the first word the angel spoke to Mary and it has been the most frequent word the prophets delivered to God’s people. It is the word Jesus spoke more than any other word and it is the word He now speaks to you. Do not be afraid. Do not panic. Do not lose your head and throw out Jesus thinking that you can save your board or yourself. Do not give up heaven for a better today. Do not give into temptation because you may never get the chance to sin again. Do not blame God when you boat is sinking. And do not send God packing when faith becomes complicated or life a struggle. Do not be afraid.
The ridiculous thing is that it sounds reasonable to give up hope in order to save it. We make it sound logical that God is at fault for the bad things we think, say, and do but we reserve credit for all the good. We believe the most sane thing is to keep the fish and stay in the sinking boat rather than trust in God. I cannot tell you how many people have told me that they had to exit the church to save their faith. It is the biggest lie of all but still we believe it – as if leaving the faith will save you or leaving the church will renew your faith. We forget that panicked people say and do stupid and life threatening things that they would say and do only because they live in fear and have surrendered to panic.
If God be for us, who can be against us? That is what St. Paul presses home to a people who want to blame God for all they did wrong or judge God by the sinful ways of the world. The answer is to throw the fish back and look at the cross. Let go of all that seems so valuable but will be consumed by moth, rust, and inflation. Throw the fish back. Let go of the bitter complaints that so easily roll off your lips and learn instead to speak honest confession of your sins to God who already knows them – but wonders if you do. Let go of your rash judgments about how you can’t take any more, your are at the end of your rope, and look to the cross. Stop trying to find fault with God and the Church, look in the mirror, confess your sin, and rejoice in the God who forgives you in Christ. Let go of your fake dignity and your fake integrity and admit to the Lord what He already knows – you are weak, you are sinful, you are unclean, you are fearful, you are a liar, you are prideful, you are arrogant, and you are so attached to the things of this life that you would give up eternal life for just one more great day. At the end of the day, it is not about these things or even about you but God and what He has done in Christ to save you from sin and its death.
If it takes sinking your boat to save you, that is what God will do. He will do it not because He delights in your suffering but because sometimes the only way you will see the truth is to have the lies stripped painfully away from your life. Thanks be to God we have such a Savior. Thanks be to God we have such a God who will kill us to make us alive forevermore. For that is exactly what happened in baptism. A new you sprang forth from those baptismal waters. That new creation still must wrestle with the old instincts and the old ways for now. The new you created in Christ Jesus must fight the temptation to ditch Jesus in order to hold on to the present – no matter how foolish or stupid that is. The new you created in Christ Jesus must daily battle the fears that would direct you away from God and His eternal kingdom. Look not at the fish or the boat but at Jesus.
Fear kills the mind, kills the heart, and kills the soul. It will be your undoing and mine – just as it was the undoing of Peter who was faced with a choice between a boat full of fish or Jesus. In the end, when the boat was safe ashore and they had a minute to survey all that had transpired, Jesus says it again. “Do not be afraid.” Then He bids them to follow Him. “From now on, you will catch men.” At that moment, when faced with what God had done in their midst, the fish did not seem so important after all. Their fears could not keep them for the unknown future that awaited them following Jesus. They left everything. For then they saw that there was only Jesus.
Come, beloved children of God. Surrender your fears upon this altar. Leave your sins at the foot of the cross. Cast aside your best life now for the life death cannot overcome. Give up the hope of a well lived life for a life that will not end. There is only one thing that is forever. That is the mercy of God in Christ, the steadfast love of God that died for you so you might life and now lives in you that you might never die. Don’t throw Jesus out of your boat. Leave the fish behind. Follow Him. He sinks the boat so that you will trust only Him, then He takes your hand and leads you past your regrets into the future He has prepared and into the perfect peace that passes all understanding.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.