Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Fishing with a net. . .

Sermon for Epiphany 4B, preached on Sunday, January 24, 2021.

     Net fishing is not sport fishing.  Those who fish with a net are in the business of fishing.  They have contracts to keep and quotas to fill and food to deliver to the fish mongers and dinner tables of people around the world.  These fishermen do not fish because they enjoy it.  I imagine that they hate their jobs just as much as the people who pick up our garbage or harvest under the hot sun or clean our clothes are tired of their daily dirge.  They are not after one fish or even a single great fish.  They fish for the numbers, for filet’o’fishes at McDonald and Gortons fish sticks as well as the lemon sole or Chilean sea bass of better restaurants.

    In the same way, the Church does not fish for men for the sport of it.  We do not fish because we love the fishing.  It is our business.  It is our job.  We fish because we have been made fishers of men.  It is what we do.  It is not romantic or exciting and even when you manage a good haul in the net, there are too many bad ones that get thrown back or swim back on their own.  It is the job we love to hate but we have our evangelism committees and our greeters and we share the Gospel with those around us because this is what God has given us to do.

    We don’t fish with bait.  We are net fishermen.  We extend the great net of the Gospel preached and God hauls up the catch.  We don’t bait a hook to trick a fish into biting.  We don’t deceive them with the promise of a meal only to hook them in the mouth and pull them from their watery home for the fun of it all.  When Jesus says, “You will be fishers of men,” our Lord has in mind the great boat of the Church extending the net of the Gospel through its faithful preaching.  Not a pole, a baited hook, and someone on the other end excited about the prospect of reeling one in.

    We drop the net not because the fishing is good but because the net will accomplish its purpose.  It is a good net.  And the Lord is the power behind it all.  We don’t use fish finders but simply drop the net – we preach the Gospel where we are.  In the end, it is disappointing because with the occasional good fish, you also end up with too much that must be thrown back or swims away on its it.  We have good fish, bad fish, big fish, small fish, and a host of other debris along with all kinds of bottom feeders who just hitch a ride in the net.  We extend the net of the Gospel and we pull in the net when God commands.  And God sorts through the catch.  We don’t.  God does.  We extend the net.  God sorts through what the net of the Gospel gathers up.  It is not our job to decide what is good and worth keeping.  That is God’s.  We throw out the net in faithful preaching and teaching of Christ crucified and risen and God does all the rest.  And the catch lives side by side in the Church till judgement day.  
Our call is not the catching but the fishing – what ends up in the net is God’s business.

    How easy it is to forget this!  How tempting it is to believe that we must bait the hook with something to entice the unsuspecting to give us a second look.  How quick we are to think we are the ones who sort through the net to decide who is a keeper and who gets thrown back.  But the Church will not grow with a bait and switch mentality, when we use tactics to engage people that are odds with who we are as Christ’s holy church or we attempt to be different on the outside than what we believe, teach, and confess.  Yet this is exactly what churches do, even Lutheran churches.  We try to program success, to win people for the Kingdom instead of casting the net of God’s Word and trusting Him.

    At the root of this is a lack of faith.  Andrew and Peter knew everything about fishing.  They were not sportsmen who went for a day of fun on the water but businessmen whose livelihoods were built upon figuring out where the fish were and who know how to cast out their nets and get the fish into the boat.  But they knew nothing of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus did not need to teach them much about fishing for fish, but Jesus had to teach them everything about being fishers of men.  So it is for us.  We do not need to be taught how to run a business but we know nothing of how to bring people into the Kingdom of God.  The Church is God’s domain and our business is the business not of marketing a product to unwitting consumers but of casting the net of the Gospel into the world and trusting that God will do what God has promised to do.

    God does not consulted with us on how to grow and build a church.  God has called us to speak the Gospel and show forth this Gospel in works before the world.  God will grow and God will build His Church and He does not need us to tell Him how to do it or what will bring fish into His net.  What God calls us to, what Jesus called Peter to, was a life of faith.  Peter and Andrew, James and John, were fishermen.  Jesus called them to a live of faith where they left behind what they knew for trust in what Jesus knows.  The shock of it all is that they did.  They left behind their nets, their boats, and the catches of fish that fishermen live to tell about, in order to live by faith and trust in what they did not know or see or understand.

    God brings His elect into the ark of the Church by the Gospel.  St. Paul says how it works – faith comes by hearing the Word of God.  We know this but find it hard to believe.  We fear the Gospel is not enough and the Lord needs us to tell Him what to do to grow His Church.  We think you can argue people into the Kingdom or make the Gospel palatable or make it easier to believe or no one will.  We think that people are brought into the Kingdom and kept there by a warm welcome, a friendly atmosphere, comfortable amenities, the latest technology, hip music, relevant preaching, and the like.  But the way of the Kingdom is faith.  They hear the voice of the Word and believe it.  The Spirit is at work in this hearing and believing.

    Nobody enters the Kingdom of God by their own reason or strength.  The Gospel is not a product to be sold and the Church is not an idea people must be convinced of.  The problem here is faith.  We do not trust God to do what He has promised.  We fear the Word is not enough.  We think every age or generation must reinvent the wheel and figure out what this generation of people needs and if we do this, the Church will grow and Jesus will be happy with us.  It is a crisis of faith.  Jesus calls us to believe His Word, to keep it in faithful hearts, and when to do what He has called us to do, promising to do all the rest.

    My friends, the Lord is still calling to leave behind our entrepreneurial ways and to repent of turning the Church into a store and the Gospel into a product.  The Lord calls us to live by faith.  He is calls us to leave behind our nets and all the homespun wisdom of an earthly kingdom for the spiritual witness of a heavenly kingdom, in which God is at work doing what He has promised to do.  I am not sure if the times now are more difficult than the days of St. Peter and the fishermen turned disciples who were with him.  I do not know if it is harder to address the world around us with the Gospel than it was in other generations.  But this I do know.  The Lord keeps His promises and does what He has said He will do.  I know that the lives God still calls us to are lives we live not by sight but by faith.

    You are not here of your own decision or choice.  The Lord has called you by the Gospel, gathered you by the Spirit into His Church, enlightened you by that Spirit with faith, and is now at work in you sanctifying you – making you holy and righteous. What is true of YOU, is true of those yet to be called, gathered, enlighten and sanctified.  This is not a dog eat dog business we are in but an endeavor of faith.  We will do God’s bidding and God will find His success by trusting the Lord and doing what He has promised.  This is what St. Peter found out when the Lord called him to be fishers of men.  Though he might have looked back from time to time and wondered if it would not be easier to remain with a job that he knew and knew how to do, in the end St. Peter admitted he had no where else to go – only Jesus has the words of eternal life.

    From time to time we get a little weary, when the day is hard and the future is uncertain.  We might wish for an easier life with results easier to predict.  But the life of faith is the only life at all.  In the end, we echo this in the words of St. Peter that we sing in the Alleluia Verse:  Lord, to whom shall I go?  You have the words of eternal life.  Friends this is the good life not because this life is good but because the Lord is good. 

1 comment:

Timothy Carter said...

Beautifully preached, Pastor.
I love to hear the Liturgy..the Word of God preached and Sung in it's entirety. Hearing that the Holy Spirit plants faith in God and Jesus the Christ by the Means of Grace is such a comfort.
Timothy Carter,
simple country Deacon.
from my lonely Fortress of Solitude in the wintry, Misty Mountains of Appalachia.