Friday, July 10, 2020
From the point of view of the fish. . .
Last Sunday we heard the gentle call of Jesus “come to Me and I will give you rest.” We might be tempted to see today’s Gospel in the same romantic and soft terms. But we would be wrong. Though we typically see the call of Peter and his fishermen partners as something wonderful, it all depends upon your perspective.
Unless I am mistaken, fish do not want to be caught. And the only fish that jump in a boat are those Asian Carp that nobody wants. From the fish’s point of view, fishing is brutal and violent. The hook cuts into the mouth of the fish and pulls him from the water. The fish knows this and fights against the pull of the line with all his might. We call it sport but it is a struggle of life and death for the fish.
It is no less brutal and violent when fishing with a net. The net is thrust into the water and pulls many fish from their calm and familiar lives in the water to the boat and an uncertain future. The fish show their desperation with mouths opening and closing and bodies wriggling to return to the water and to their normal lives. We never think about it that much because we like fish and some of us like fishing.
In Luke 5, this brutal and violent enterprise is compared to the Kingdom of God. God fishes for men with nets, ripping them from all that was familiar and routine into the unknown that requires absolute faith. The Lord does not ask for reasoned consent but the Holy Spirit is the great disrupter of lives that have become very comfortable – even without the confines of sin and its death. In case you have not noticed, people are not flocking into the Church. They weren’t before this pandemic and even now some of the baptized are fearful of coming back to the Lord’s House.
We call the Church on earth the Church Militant – the Church fighting and at war. But we are not merely at war with the devil, we are in a battle with the world and its allure and with our sinful selves that loved the life we were ripped from in baptism. God cannot separate us from this world without pain. Luther once suggested that if the baby knew what was happening in his baptism, he would cry out even louder against it. For in baptism God is literally ripping the person out of one life and planting that person anew in a life that is strange and unfamiliar and can only be lived by faith and trust.
We are the fish in the net. We come kicking and screaming, scratching and fighting against the work of God to save us. We do not jump into the net. God must rip us from our old but familiar lives and steal us to Himself. Baptism gives life but not before first killing the old life in us. That old life does not want to die. The Church is not militant simply because we have enemies on the outside. The Church is militant because we are fighting against God and His purpose and grace every day of this mortal life until the old Adam is fully dead in us and only Christ lives in us.
For all his bravado, Peter got this and was a coward in the face of God’s call. He says to Jesus Depart from me for I am a sinful man. Hidden in those words is St. Peter admitting that he wants to stay a sinful man rather than surrender to the new and uncertain life to which Jesus was calling him. So Jesus’ response is not to explain the kingdom to Simon Peter but to comfort him. Do not be afraid. Jesus is promising a new life beyond St. Peter’s imagination but it is a new life that must be lived by faith and not by sight. No reasoned mind will trade the old life which you know for this new life that rips you from everything familiar. No, only the Holy Spirit can intervene to lead the fish to leave behind the water of their death for the water of life.
And so the Church continues to do violence to the fish living blindly in the water of death. The Church reaches out with the net of the Word to call, gather, and enlighten the fish and mark them for the new life that God gives in Christ. This new life is not easy or painless but hard and filled with sacrifice. We bristle against the net of God’s Word and promise and we find ourselves suffocating like the fish lying on the deck of the fishing boat. Every day we want to jump back into the old water that hides death and every day God’s Spirit must work in us to keep us in the new water of our baptism and in the new life we live by faith.
Remember how Israel complained that Moses had led them by God’s call away from Egypt. How quickly they forgot their slavery and how easily they remembered the onions and garlic of their past. They would have returned to it in a minute except for God’s power and grace. Are we any different? People do not come to Church because they love it so but because, like St. Peter admitted, we have no other place to go. There is life only here and only in Christ. There is forgiveness only here and only in Christ. The net of God’s grace chafes against us because the old Adam still lives within, the old desires are hard to kill, and the old life is hard to forget.
There is not a husband or wife who has not from time to time wondered what possessed them to marry. There have not been parents who have not wondered if their lives would have been easier without children. Is it no wonder than that our old Adam still fights against our new lives in Christ and tempts us with regret when life presents its disappointments and trusting the Lord is put to the test?
God has fished us by the net of His grace for a new life we live by faith, fed and nourished by His Word and Table, destined for the future He has prepared in Jesus. The Church cannot bait and switch people into God’s Kingdom. You cannot lie them into that Kingdom by telling them it is painless and easy. You cannot make them jump into the net. Only God can call and gather us. And that is exactly what He does. The big and small, the fighting predators and the lazy bottom feeders, the fish the world has deemed valuable and those the world would throw away. God nets them all, you and me, by His grace and favor. The old flesh senses a trap and rightfully so but we are being trapped not by for harm but for salvation, not for condemnation but forgiveness, not for destruction but for everlasting life.
It is no wonder the world hates Jesus and hates Jesus’ fishermen. My friends, let us not be foolish but wise in faith, acknowledging that caught up in the net of God’s grace means a daily battle, not only with the powers out there but with the desires in our hearts. We hold onto the future God has prepared not with eyes that see but with hearts that believe. We are kept in this faith not by reasoned argument or rich and rewarding experiences but by the voice of absolution that forgives our sins, the words of the God who continues to speak His Word into our ears, minds, and hearts, and by His flesh hidden in bread and His blood hidden in wine, that we the baptized might do His bidding today and dwell with Him eternally. Amen.