5th Sunday after Trinity + Luke 5:1-11 + June 26, 2016

Jeremiah 16:14-21
1 Peter 3:8-15a
Luke 15:1-11
Collect for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity
O God, Who hast prepared for them that love Thee such good things as pass man’s understanding, pour into our hearts such love toward Thee that we, loving Thee above all things, may obtain Thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.  
Sermon on the Holy Gospel

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         The multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God.” These faithful people crowded Jesus so that He had to climb in Peter’ small boat and use it as His pulpit. He has Peter cast off into the water so that He might teach the multitude undisturbed. During this time, Peter hears Jesus’ Word about the kingdom of God which has come near in this man Jesus. His ears are filled with the teaching that sin should be repented of and that God desires to be merciful to sinners who are humble and contrite. When Jesus stopped preaching He said to Peter, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” He does not tell Peter to try again. He does not tell Peter that he might have better luck next time. He promises to provide for Peter, “let down your nets for a catch,” for the fish will find their way into your net. Peter does so according to the Word of the Lord and “caught a great number of fish” so that his net was breaking. Peter at once sees the miracle. He knows that the fish are the direct result of the Word of Jesus. It is in that moment that Peter realizes that his preacher passenger is not a mere man, for what man can control the creation at a whim? This man is God Himself, the author of creation, who said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures.” Being confronted by God, Peter’s conscience slays him on the spot so that all he wants to do is flee as far from Christ as he is able.

2)         In this, Peter is a perfect picture of the evil conscience. An evil conscience is one that is burdened with its guilt and can only think on its sin. An evil conscience cannot be remedied by hiding from it, for it is omnipresent. When the conscience becomes evil, it can only contemplate its sins against God and neighbor because is darkened with guilt and remorse. The evil conscience sees only the wrath of God against sinners, so it seeks to run as far as away from God as possible, though in reality the sinner can never escape God. The Lord says in Jeremiah 23:24, “Can anyone hide himself in secret places, So I shall not see him?" says the LORD; "Do I not fill heaven and earth?" says the LORD.” Peter here realizes that his boat is much too small for two people, especially when one of them is God in human flesh. Peter can only see his sinfulness. In fact, it isn’t even a specific sin that he confesses, as if he only had one sin which would separate him from God. He cries out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” He confesses his total sinfulness. It isn’t simply that he’s a liar, or lazy, or a glutton, or a fornicator, or an idolater, or anything such thing. He’s a sinful man, meaning that He is full of sins, that his heart is impure according to divine standards, that he is by nature sinful and unclean. So he wants to run away from Christ just as Adam and Eve hid in the garden of Eden, their nakedness covered by fig leaves and themselves hidden among the trees. Peter, unable to go anywhere, trapped by his sin and fully aware of his guilt, follows the prophet Isaiah, who said when confronted with the vision of God Himself, “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” (Isaiah 6:5).

3)         Because Peter is trapped with Jesus in the boat, there is no way in which Peter can salve his conscience or suppress it, so that he can ignore it and just get along with the fishing and get this man Jesus back to the shore. Humanity has become adroit at salving consciences with its own good works. Too often people, when the evil conscience strikes, imagine that they can placate it its nagging guilt by offering up their good works. They rely upon their imagined goodness and their outward fulfilling of the law to pacify their guilt. Too often we do the same thing, for the sinful flesh still sticks to us and will until we die. Too often we find ourselves trying to pacify the evil conscience by saying, “I’m not that bad of a person. I don’t do that anymore. I’ve gotten better. At least I’m trying to be better.” But the reality is that none of these will salve the evil conscience because its smarter than that. The evil conscience understands that God’s wrath is not appeased by trying harder, or getting better. God does not want sinners who rely upon their own imagined goodness. The Lord does not want sinners to get better. He wants them to be new men altogether. Still there are others, who will stop at nothing to simply suppress their conscience, as St. Paul writes in Romans 1:18 when he speaks of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” So sinners to their best to deflect their thoughts from their deeds and stymy their sinfulness until one day they have managed to suppress the conscience entirely, so that “their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2). But Peter cannot do this. He is confronted with God Himself in human flesh. He can only feel his sin and its deserved wrath.

4)         But Christ has not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. The evil conscience cannot believe, and will not believe that. Even though he wants to hide from Jesus as Adam and Eve did, Peter does not recall the sure mercies God gave to Adam and Eve in the first gospel promise. Even though he only sees his own destruction, as Isaiah had, Peter does not recall the grace shown to the prophet so that his lips were cleansed of their sin by God Himself. Peter had forgotten in that moment that God condemns sinners so that He might forgive them and bring them to the new life of faith. Jesus, in His mercy, does not do as Peter ask. Peter begs Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” But Jesus will not go. This is the reason Jesus has come, to preach the gospel to sinners so that they might believe and live. Instead Jesus says, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” With these two sentences Jesus summarizes the entire gospel. He says, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus knows the fear which possess Peter. He understands the depths of darkness to which Peter had sank because of the guilt of his sin. Jesus knows that Peter can only see God’s wrath and he fears that. Jesus hears Peter’s confession and knows the fright of the soul who can only see Hell beneath it. Jesus knows that fear so He tells Peter, “Do not be afraid.” It is as if He said to him, “You have nothing to fear from me, because My Father has sent me redeem sinners. You have no reason for such fright, for I was sent to atone for the sins of the entire world, and you are part of the world, therefore I have come to atone for your sins and sinfulness as well! Place your trust in me, for in me there is no wrath of God left. Believe in my gospel, for I will endure everything you fear on the cross and yet live. I am the propitiation for your sins. I am that which turns away God’s wrath. I am your Redeemer from sin.”

5)         Having forgiven Peter’s sinfulness and preaching to Peter that he has peace with God through Himself, Jesus then says, “From now on you will catch men.” Again, this is great gospel for Peter. God takes him from his sinfulness and gives him a holy task, just as He took Isaiah and made him a prophet to the nations, so the Lord Jesus takes Peter, cleanses him of his sin, and gives him a holy vocation of being a fishermen of men. It is as He were saying to Peter, “That which you have done today, with these fish, I command you to do with men instead. And just as it was I that brought these fish into your net, so it will be I that bring men to me by the net of your preaching.” Christ had brought this great multitude of fish in Peter’s net, and Peter and the others had brought the great catch into his small vessel. So it will be for Peter and all the apostles. They are to fish for men with the net of the Holy Gospel. They are to cast their net into the sea of the world, across all peoples, and the Lord will bring men’s hearts to the gospel. By this Peter and the Apostles will bring a great multitude of men into the small boat, which looks forward to the true church, which is small and looks insignificant in the eyes of the world. So it is that Christ forgives Peter, casts away his fear, and places him into a holy calling.

6)         In this we seek a picture of what Christ still does with sinners. He makes them aware of their sins through the preaching of the law. He directs them away from their own works and their own goodness, but drives sinners to the point of confession that they are indeed sinful men who have no hope within themselves. Christ often allows the evil conscience to cover sinners like a pall, so that they see the depth of their sin and their utter hopeless before God. But it is not Christ’s will that you remain in such a state. It is His will to rescue you from the grip of the evil conscience. He says to you what He says to Isaiah, “Thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged,” (Isaiah 6:7). He says to you what He says to Peter, “Do not be afraid.” He absolves sinners who confess their sins to Him, for “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Jesus casts out the fear which holds our conscience in its grasp. Jesus bids all sadness and remorse cease by presenting us with His own suffering and death for sin and says, “Do you see? There is no reason to torment yourself. I have taken the condemnation the world rightly deserves and I have died with it. I have endured all God’s wrath that He has for sin and sinners. Only cling to me in faith, believe in in my promise. Your sins are forgiven you and removed as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).

7)         And having absolved you of your sin, He then sets you in a holy calling. Not all are called to be fishermen of men. That title was for the Apostles and for those who through the history of the church are called by God to catch men with the net of the Holy Gospel and Sacraments. But you are placed into vocations that are just as holy in God’s sight. He absolves you of your sin whenever you confess it and believe the gospel, then sets you back in your vocation as husband or wife, father or mother, and grandparent. He puts you back into the vocations to which He has called you, and desires that you now love your neighbor with all your heart in those vocations. And you work at your vocations, whatever they might be, with all your might, as if for the Lord and not for men, joyfully, knowing that you have a God who is gracious to you in Christ Jesus, who forgives all your sins and daily loads you with every blessing you need for this life and for the life of the world to come. Amen.

May the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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