I’ve found it interesting that, even during the season of Trinity, when the focus is on our growth as Christians, that the church’s lectionary switches themes each week between how we live out our faith in the world (third use of the law), and how it is that God continues to shower us with his mercy after our Baptism (Gospel). Today is an example of the latter (last and next week are examples of the former). Even when we are training in righteousness, we never move far from the source of our life and righteousness – the Lord Jesus and his sacrifice for us on the cross. Hopefully that comes through in the sermon:
Today Jesus calls Peter James and John as disciples. It must have been quite a sermon he preached – After a night of fishing without a single fish to show for it, Peter throws his newly cleaned nets back in the water at Jesus command. What did Jesus say to so impress Peter? We don’t know. Luke doesn’t record the sermon. We must be content with just two short sentences from Jesus. But they are packed with meaning. The first commands a miracle. The second does even more.
Jesus is teaching the people. The crowds are so great that there is nowhere for him to stand on shore – he gets in the boat and teaches from just off the shore. It can be fun to play the what if game – what if Luke had recorded that sermon that so impressed Peter? But, the Holy Spirit did not record it. We have the events around the sermon to consider today, not the sermon itself.
Peter was having one of THOSE days – terrible horrible no good very bad. Up all night trying to earn his living. Not a single fish to show for it. One more cast with the net… probably a few times as the sun came up until he had to admit, a lost days wages. Clean nets, try again tomorrow. But instead of cleaning nets, he ends up using his boat serve as pulpit for Jesus. Then the command – put out into the deep and cast your nets into the water. Wrong spot, wrong time of day, and now he can reclean those nets. But, because it is Jesus asking, he will do it.
Peter has what Jesus later refers to as faith as small as a mustard seed. Tiny faith – huge nagging doubts and unbelief. And yet, even this small amount is sufficient. “At your word we will let down the nets.” And what a word! He casts the net into the water. The nets so full they begin tearing. Too many fish for both boats. Jesus turns a useless night into the greatest day of profit Peter will never see. Because they leave it all behind. Maybe friends and family came and finished it for them. Maybe servants did the work. Peter doesn’t care by the end.
But we aren’t quite to the end yet. Peter sees all this, and tells Jesus “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Peter recognizes what happened and what’s going on. It’s a rare gift – to actually see what’s going on around you and notice in real time not just the event itself – but the story behind it. Peter sees that. He sees that he was filled with doubt about throwing in those nets, even though he knew who Jesus was. And he sees that Jesus is more than mere man. He is the Son of God – he commands the fish of the sea and they obey. But he didn’t even speak the command to the fish. He didn’t command the net. He instructed Peter to let down the net. That was it. It was more than enough. Peter sees beyond what’s happening around him and to what’s really going on. Peter fears the Lord. That is the beginning of wisdom, and it is the only way to wisdom.
But our version of wisdom only gets us so far. If we really observe, and consider, we can get to where Peter was – recognizing that God is greater than we are, that we are as nothing before him, and that as sinners, we can’t even come before him. Even knowing this is too great for us. Our sinful nature is totally blind to our own sin, to the righteousness of God. Instead we rationalize our actions, we try to justify ourselves in all that we do.
Peter is farther along here than most. He knows his sin. He knows standing in the presence of God is impossible for the sinful man. “Depart from me.” He says.
But even though Peter is farther along than most, he still doesn’t – can’t understand the full majesty of God on his own. Jesus shows him that. Fear not. Jesus absolves Peter of his doubt, of his unbelief. He forgives, and strengthens and renews, and then turns it all around. “From now on you will be catching men.” And Peter walks away from the nets, the boats, the miraculous catch. He leaves it all to follow Jesus.
And even though we don’t have the sermon Jesus preached, there is a lot for us to learn today from Jesus. And it’s all good news. Peter doubts Jesus – Jesus strengthens his faith. Peter isn’t really that excited about throwing the nets back in. He is filled with doubts. Jesus removes those doubts – in an unmistakable way. So many fish the nets break. Peter’s faith is restored, strengthened filled to the brim. But then, recognizing what happened, Peter is afraid. He doubted the word and command of God! He should die for this. Commandment 1. No other gods – especially not your self and your own opinions. Peter falls down in fear, tries to send Jesus away. What else can he do? He isn’t worthy. Jesus responds to Peter by not leaving. Jesus sees Peter’s fear, and comforts him. Do not be afraid he says. You are not going to be destroyed, but forgiven. Jesus has not come to judge, but to suffer the judgment, to give forgiveness to all who repent of their sin. And so, even as Peter confesses his sin, Jesus absolves him. Your sin is taken away, your guilt atoned for. And now, instead of fish, you will catch men.
Jesus knows who Peter is. He knows he will be an apostle. Saint Peter, the great confessor. Oh, it won’t all be easy going. There will be that terrible moment of denial. But Peter will be restored, he will not be lost. And Peter will be the one to make the great confession, you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Peter will be the one who preaches on Pentecost, and 3000 are baptized. Jesus has a use for Peter – even as weak as he may be, as sinful as he is, as fearful, as doubtful.
Jesus takes all of that, and now Peter is a wonderful example to us of the grace and mercy of God. Jesus has come into the world to save sinners – to save you from your sin. And when you doubt, he strengthens your faith, and replaces your unbelief with believe. When you are afraid, he comforts you with the promise of absolution, forgiveness of sins. When you try to send him away, he says, “I have claimed you as my own in Baptism.” He does not abandon you in your fear and despair, but continues to seek out the lost, to comfort and strengthen. And to forgive your sin. To carry you in his arms, to return you to the sheepfold, to being you back into the grace and mercy given in your Baptism.
And he even feeds you. Yes, with food for this world. He does that and we don’t even notice a lot of the time. But he feeds you spiritually, and strengthens you through the promise of his body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins.
Peter leaves it all behind – boat, net, fish – to follow Jesus. Because he recognizes that Jesus – the forgiveness life and salvation which he gives – is greater than anything this world has to offer. And today, this word of God still comforts and strengthens us in times of trouble. He will not leave or forsake us, but will continue to forgive continue to comfort with the forgiveness of sins.