IN NOMINE JESU
Imagine the shock and awe on Peter's face. He just saw the almighty God manifest His glory in front of him. After a night of fishing in vain, the Lord leads him to an immense catch in an unlikely location, a catch too large for him to bring in by himself. Peter waves to his partners, asking for help. The nets were beginning to break. Peter knew who supplied the fish, and that Person was with him in his boat. As St. Luke notes, "When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!'" (v. 8). Peter realized that the Lord had established His holy presence in the boat of this lowly fisherman. The Lord was often found in a boat, frequently teaching the crowds gathered to see and hear Him, as Luke says, "the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God" (v. 1). They came to hear Him, and He catechized them from the floating pulpit of Peter's boat.
The early Christians remembered where the Lord often established His presence and taught the people, and when church buildings were constructed, they called that part where the congregation is—where you are—seated the "nave." In the nave of a ship or boat the people would find shelter from the wind and waves. In the nave of the Lord's house you are here to ask for protection from the forces of evil that blow through this sinful world. It is here in this shelter that you also behold the Lord as He establishes His holy presence in your midst. From this nave He teaches you. From this nave you hear the word of God. From this nave you hear the words of our Lord that Peter heard in the boat: "Do not be afraid" (v. 10b).
The Lord was gracious to Peter, even though Peter begged Him to depart from him, for he (Peter) was a sinful man. The Lord is gracious to us, revealing Himself and, therefore, His grace to us in His Word, and we, by the Holy Spirit, pray, "Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me." In our Old Testament reading, the prophet Isaiah believed he would die for having seen the full glory and majesty of the Lord Almighty in a vision. Isaiah cried out in utter despair: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts" (Is. 6:5). An angel of the Lord took a coal with tongs from the altar and touched Isaiah's lips, saying, "Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged" (Is. 6:7b). We have seen the King as He comes to us in His Word, we who are of unclean lips, and we have prayed, "O Lord, open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise."
Like Isaiah, we are people of unclean lips, dwelling in the midst of a people of unclean lips. Like Peter, we are sinful creatures. Like both Peter and Isaiah, we do not deserve the Lord's grace and favor. The Lord has come to us, and the sinners that we are want to run away from Him. We want nothing to do with our great and gracious giver God. Even right now the Lord is calling each and every one of us to serve Him, to proclaim the year of the Lord. He wants us to tell others the good news about Jesus, but we let our unclean lips stop us from doing what the Lord asks of us. In last week's Old Testament reading, the Lord called Jeremiah, who sought to excuse himself from being the Lord's prophet on account of his youth. The Lord told him that the Lord Himself had set Jeremiah aside to be His prophet, that He would give Jeremiah the very words he was to speak. He sent Isaiah, the man of unclean lips, to go for Him. He came to Peter and made him a fisher of men. He comes to us each time His Word is read and proclaimed, and He calls us to gather people into His house, that souls may be added to the Kingdom of God. The Lord wants us to cast the net, but all we do is offer up excuses for not answering His call. We claim we are not good enough for such a mission. By and of ourselves, this is true, for we are by nature sinful and unclean, spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. Left to ourselves, our tongues are lethal weapons. Rather than building up one another in the body of Christ, we cut one another down with our tongues. We have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. We do not love the Lord with our whole heart, and we do not love our neighbors as ourselves. We care not for one another; we are fixated on ourselves. We say to ourselves, "As long as I'm here, that's all that matters." You see, we do not want to cast the Lord's nets, lest some stranger be brought into our congregation. We are to be fishers of men, but we do not want to be if that involves bringing in someone that is not "one of us." We are not interested in the mission of the Church. We do not care about evangelizing, telling the good news about Jesus right where we are. This is because we have no regard for the Word of God, and, therefore, we care precious little for the Word who became flesh, the Author of Scripture. We do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things—or even anything. Since we lack this proper First Commandment relationship with God, we are still truly people of unclean lips. We are also people of unclean ears, minds, and hearts. In short, we are sinners, sinners who do not deserve to hear the Word of the Lord, sinners who do not deserve to behold the Lord as He comes to us in His Means of Grace, sinners who do not deserve to be restored, forgiven, and made whole.
But if the Lord did not come to us at all, He surely would not have come full of grace. Our God is a God of grace. Our Lord is a Lord of love. Grace is nothing other than undeserved love, and grace is what our Lord brings here to His house today, in your very hearing. He brings to you this day His very words of forgiveness. He brings to you this day His very words of restoration. He brings to you this day His very words that make you whole. He restored Moses, a man slow of speech, and called Him to lead the Israelites. He restored Isaiah and cleaned his lips. He restored young Jeremiah before the prophet was even born. He restored the sinful Simon Peter and called him to be a fisher of men. He said to Peter what He says to us, "Do not be afraid." Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Peter all encountered the Lord and were not destroyed but restored. We too have beheld the Lord as He manifests Himself in His Word. But we have not been destroyed. We have been restored, for the Lord tells us to not be afraid. We have been restored because we have already been destroyed…at the font, and we are daily being destroyed, for in Baptism "the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever" (Baptism IV). We indeed were overcome by waves in the Lord's house—three of them, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Old Adam in us is being destroyed daily, for we are baptized into Christ's death. The new man daily emerges and arises, for we are also baptized into Christ's resurrection. "Therefore," St. Paul writes, "we were baptized with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe what we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all, but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord … For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace" (Rom. 6:4-11, 14).
We have been freed from the shackles of sin through the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Moved by the Holy Spirit and with the thrice-holy Name of our Triune God soon to be placed upon us once again, we have the opportunity and the privilege to cast the Lord's nets and be fishers of men, for the Lord has set us aside to do His work. Our heavenly Father has declared us holy for the sake of His Son. Though we still sin and confess our sin, our gracious Lord still forgives us. He still sends us His Holy Spirit to equip us for the task. He gives us the means to be Christians, fishers of men, through our words and our actions, through our living our God-given vocations. Martin Luther said the following in a sermon on our text: So learn now what a holy, spiritual life is. It is not living in a monastery, but believing in Jesus Christ and being faithful to your calling, in faith and in accord with God's Word. Be sure, first of all, that you believe in Christ and are baptized; then look to your vocation and calling. I have been called to preach. When I now preach God's Word, pure and undefiled, it is a holy work, with which God is pleased. If you are a father, or a mother, and believe in Jesus Christ, you are a holy father and a holy mother. Examine your children (in the catechism) each morning and have them pray; rebuke and punish them when they are disobedient, observe what is going on in the house, how the servants are cooking and doing their work. These works are holy, for you have been called by God to do them. It is a holy life thus to carry on in God's Word, and in the vocation and calling entrusted to you. [1534?]
Through the work God has given us to do, and through the Word he has given us to speak, and by the Holy Spirit continually at work within us as we speak and within others as they hear, it is our hope and prayer that those who have not known Christ Crucified would be drawn to this, His holy house, where they may be fed on the Word of God as it is preached in our midst, as Luther teaches us in another sermon on this text, where he gives us a model for preaching, the model taught at our seminaries: The order everywhere indicated and observed by Scripture is this, that sin must always be acknowledged and fear of God's wrath be realized, through the preaching or experience of the Law, before there can be such comfort as proceeds from forgiveness, the purpose of this order being that men may be led to long for grace and be made fit to receive the comfort of the Gospel. Those, therefore, who are yet without any fear of God's wrath, who are secure and hardened and unyielding, must be strongly admonished and urged to repentance by the threats and terrors of that wrath, that is, to them no Gospel is to be preached, but only the Law and Moses. On the other hand, no law is to be preached to those whose hearts it has wrought its purpose so that, through the realization of their sins, they have become terrified, faint-hearted, and fearful. To such as these nothing is to be preached but the Gospel and its comfort. For it is really the purpose of Christ's coming, and of His command to preach the Gospel to all poor sinners, that they should believe that it abolishes and does away with all the accusations and fears and threatenings of the Law, and puts a prefect comfort in their place.
Saint Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase" (1 Cor. 3:6). In the early Church, the first Christians knew that of which Paul wrote. As one commentator (a former professor of mine) noted: There is a "pattern of mission" suggested by this movement from one boat where Christ and Peter are to boats of other apostles (carrying out the same work). In the early church, Christians gathered in house churches. When a house church (fifty to a hundred people) reached full capacity and was overflowing, a group of the baptized split off from that church and formed another house church in another house (another boat). The foundation of this house church would be those who had been hearers of the Word and had been brought across the boundary between paganism and Christianity through the net of preaching, catechesis, and Baptism. These were always Eucharistic communities of the baptized, who would then go out fishing for those who were lost in the deep and needed to be brought over that same boundary in that same net. The life of these churches centered in this catechetical movement around Baptism and Eucharist. [Just]
For us, on this Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Four, we too have a pattern of mission. We get to cast the nets to gather those lost in the deep waters through our works of Christian love and through our speech, planting the seed as we invite them to come here to this boat, to this nave, to this house of the Lord, where I get to water them with the Word in Holy Baptism, feeding them also on the Word of the Lord in preaching and catechesis, and God the Holy Spirit works to bring about growth in the faith. This is how the Mother Church begets her children and raises them for her Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is how we, her children, get to bring her more children to beget so that this family of believers would increase in number and, by the grace of God, in faith. You see, the heathen in our midst are no better and no worse than we are, for we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But in His grace He declares us worthy of His gifts and of carrying out His mission, just as He eagerly desires to do with those who do not yet know Him, that by the Holy Spirit they too would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord both here and in their vocations, for God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4), and to accomplish this, "to capture people alive is to declare to them the kingdom of God in Jesus and bring them into that kingdom through catechesis, Baptism, and Eucharist. Peter's commission to catch people alive is to go out and do what Jesus has just done to him…to preach the kingdom and absolve. This is how the church is created and formed and preserved" (Just). God continue to grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake. In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Pr. Mark Schlamann, Our Savior & Redeemer Lutheran Churches, Pettibone & Woodworth, ND
[The Bride said,] "Bestman..., please listen to me quite carefully. If you have been faithful in your service, then never apologize for having fed my children and having led me in the Great Dance. The Bridegroom does not require you to be anything other than faithful. Believe me when I say that I would rather have my daughters and sons fed by a clumsy, stuttering bestman who is faithful to the Bridegroom than by a deceiver who leads them away from the coming wedding. As for the forgiveness you ask, please remember that you are one of my children too. The essential theme in the writings you read and the message you speak and the Great Dance that you lead is intended for you as well as for the others."--from _The Bestman, the Bride and the Wedding_ by the Rev. Michael L. McCoy
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