Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the fifth Sunday after Trinity, 7/9/2023. The service was broadcast live on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity5 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Fifth Sunday after Trinitythe Bible texts for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity, click here.
There’s more than one way to teach. And there’s more than one way to learn. Some of you like to hear a lecture; take notes; ask questions. And that makes Bible Study lots of fun.
Others need to see visuals. A picture or a diagram. We call them, “visual learners.”
When it comes to learning about tasks that you will actually perform, however, it works best when you can combine all of those things, and then, apply them. Practice them.
The whole event with the fish and the boat is really a teaching situation. Jesus is preaching and teaching the people, but also his soon-to-be Apostles; those who He will send in His Name.
Before this is over, Peter will be called to be a hearer of the Word, a catechumen, a disciple. He will be called to follow Jesus, and later to proclaim Jesus.
Peter and those gathered around are being called from darkness into light. We’re not told exactly what time it was when this occurred, but the implication is that it is morning, since they’ve just ended a night’s fishing, which was not a night’s catching.
That’s Jesus intentional timing. The labor of the night is over. A new day has dawned on them, and there is work to be done. But nothing can really be done until Jesus speaks.
We aren’t told exactly what the content of Jesus’ sermon was that morning, but we can learn from Jesus’ actions, which He frequently uses to instruct. Jesus is teaching the disciples about the kingdom of God, AND, Jesus is showing them how to preach and teach. But He does need to go first.
Jesus’ words must come first. Everything else that happens is a result of His Word. The crowding in. The casting off. The dropping of nets. Everything comes from His Word.
I don’t think they made the connection right away, but skip to the miraculous catch. What happens? The boat becomes the place where the miraculous fruits of Jesus’ teaching are gathered. We’ve seen this before. Remember Noah and his family being saved in the ark, which, spoiler alert, Peter later says in his first epistle, was a foreshadowing, a visual picture of Holy Baptism (3:20-21).
Because Jesus is in the boat, it becomes a symbol of the church, where His teaching and miracles take place. Thus, Pastor Luther once preached in a sermon on this text:
It is our comfort… that Christ, through our preaching, will lead His own into the boat. (Sermons, vol. 4, 165)
In that same sermon, Luther also sees the significance of all this fishing imagery. The sea is the world. The fish are people. The net is the preaching of the Gospel. The boat is the church. It’s a visual parable. So, notice the details that the Holy Spirit provides.
One such detail is that the nets are being cleaned. Nets would usually be cleaned after a catch of fish. But, they didn’t catch any fish.
The nets have, up until now, been their own tools, serving their own purposes. The disciples had been reliant on their methods, their wisdom, and their skill. But now they are to be God’s own instruments. Thus, their nets need to be cleansed.
If all you want to do is catch fish, all you need are nets and boats. But Jesus doesn’t want them to catch fish. He wants them to catch men… people. But there’s a catch.
Despite the translation, which is okay for its purpose, Luke doesn’t record Jesus saying that He wants the disciples to become fishers of men. There’s an qualifier built-in.
Plenty of false teachers can be fishers of men. Plenty of impure nets, not soundly established by the Word of God, will capture people’s minds. That is not evidence that they are preaching God’s Word.
So, what does Jesus want? Jesus said to Simon Peter,
Do not fear; from now on you will be catching men alive.
The word zogreo is a combination of the worda agreo (to catch) and zoos (alive). To catch fish all you need is a net and a boat. To catch menalive, you need God’s pure Word. You need Holy Absolution from Jesus. You need the commission to absolve others.
The commission to catch people alive is to go out and do what Jesus has just done to him, i.e. to preach the kingdom and to absolve sins. This is how the church is created, formed, and preserved.
The deep water into which the nets are cast is not understood to be happy, joyful place. The deep water was thought to be a place of brooding chaos and evil. That’s a pretty good depiction of the world. But Peter knows that he and the disciples can go forth in confidence, because it is Jesus’ own work, and He will make it work.
The task requires divine wisdom, and not human wisdom. Going into deep water at that time of day isn’t what experienced fishermen would do.
Jesus isn’t asking pastors to do or say what accords with conventional wisdom. Jesus isn’t luring anyone into the boat. In modern fishing, that’s the difference between using bait and using a net. And its a reminder that this all happens by grace because Jesus wants you.
When you share the Gospel with people;WWhen you proclaim Jesus’ love for them and desire for them, made known to us chiefly on the cross, you’re casting a net, not setting a hook.
It’s practically impossible for a Navy Chaplain to pass up comment on any illustration where Jesus employs seafaring imagery: boats, water, etc.
We’ve already established that the boat is a picture of the church. That’s why we call this room the “nave.” That’s the Latin word for “ship.” And so, many churches over time and space have structured their buildings that way. I don’t think our friends at the Back Bay Architectural Society would approve.
The thing is that boats – ships – are not meant to sit tied to a pier. They’re meant to be at sea. They need a mission.
This is why the worst time for any ship’s crew is when it is “in the yards.” That’s where the ship is repaired, updated, etc. No mission, just maintenance. It’s a time of boredom, apathy, depression, and restlessness. That’s not what ships are for. That’s not what a crew is for.
Every ship needs a direction.
Speaking of directions, The Navy has a way of orienting oneself on a ship that is helpful here… Maybe you know this already. Maybe not. Aboard a ship, we don’t even speak in terms of left and right. At sea, like in space, left and right are practically meaningless because they’re relative. You have to know which way you are going. For that you need to know the front of the ship and the back of the ship.
If you want to have any idea where you are; any sense of direction and purpose; if you want to know left from right, i.e. port from starboard, you have to know the difference between fore and aft.
Thanks be to God for the altar. That is where we are going. The altar, where Jesus comes to us with His Body as concretely as He stepped into Peter’s boat, is where we are headed. We are those who have been caught alive and brought into Jesus’ boat. We are meant to be with Him now and forever. That’s where we’re headed.
Eventually, when the lesson is concluded, and Jesus has made His points, there is one final matter of business. Peter leaves the boats and nets behind. Jesus is not only showing Peter where he is headed, but Jesus is taking Him there.
He who is called to hear is called to follow. Caught alive and brought into Jesus’ boat, spoken into to Jesus’ life, baptized into Jesus’ death, brought forth into Jesus’ resurrection.
That goes for Peter. And that goes for you.
So, this season, let’s clean our nets. Let us listen to Jesus and know His Word better – for ourselves and for others. Like all good fishermen, let us be patient – with the catch and with one another.
The church on earth is filled with those who are still confused, still learning. As we aid one another in hauling in the catch, let us do so with charity, humility, and thanksgiving.