Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 10, 2019
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
There is this guy sitting by a lake with his line and bobber in the water. But he hasn’t been too successful. A buddy of his comes over and says, “You fishing?” And with some sarcasm he says, “No, I’m just drowning worms.”
In our reading about fishing from Luke 5 today it isn’t about poles and bobbers and worms, but about boats and a net, but the result was the same. The guys who made money by fishing – Peter, James and John – worked all night and hadn’t caught a thing. Just drowning worms.
But that is when something better, something higher was about to happen.
Sometimes life only gives us the lower things. Lower – the discouraging, the difficult, the hard. Lower – the profane, the dirty, the deceitful, that stuff that is not in the open but always hides in the shadows. When you come into contact with such things you just know that it isn’t right. The lower things bring no joy or anything that we could be proud of.
But God has something better for us. I’m calling it today, “Higher Things.” I don’t know much about fishing. I don’t have the bumper sticker that one of our members proudly displays, “Women want me and fish fear me.” But what I know is the last time I went fishing I did it wrong. I went with my grandsons down in Arizona. Now I was on vacation and we didn’t get going too early. We left the house about 10 and stopped on the way to get some lunch and some snacks and drinks. It was by early afternoon that we put the lines into the lake. Not a nibble. Now we ate a bunch a food and we drank a bunch of drinks but we determined there weren’t any fish in the whole lake.
But we didn’t fish at the right time. I’m told you have to go fishing early in the morning. But I was on vacation and we didn’t get there until the fish were taking a nap. But Peter and his buddies were fishing at the right time. In the dark. At the time when fish are around and can’t see the nets. But they didn’t catch a thing. That is, until Jesus said to give it one more try. “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4b) So they did. They caught so many fish that the nets were about to break. There were more fish than one boat could hold, so James and John got their boat and loaded it as well.
Here’s where the higher things come. Peter, witnessing this miracle, was overwhelmed with the greatness of Jesus. He asks Jesus to leave. There was no joyful jumping or hollering hurrahs. No high-fives to his buddies. No actions to show that they had just hit the jack-pot. No, just, “Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man.” (Luke 5:8)
It was just like what we read in Isaiah this morning. (Isaiah 6:1-8) Isaiah got to see God in His temple. Angels were flying around, the Temple was filled with smoke, the whole place started to move, God’s robe filled the floor of the entire temple. His feelings about seeing this? “Woe to me! I am ruined. For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)
God’s greatness and His purity and power were too much for Isaiah and Peter. It’s too much for us. We’ve been involved in the lower things of life, but God wants to bring us the higher things.
God’s higher things start with His forgiveness. Luther has a great quote on this, “The more you feel that you are a sinner, and the more you want to run away from God, just so much more you should press forward to him.” Jesus didn’t agree to Peter’s request. He stayed and said, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” (Luke 5:10b) Jesus didn’t leave. He stayed there. He gave him grace and His trust to do His work. Isaiah got a coal taken right from the altar of God and he was told, “See, this has touched your lips, your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:7) Higher things. God’s grace and forgiveness and cleaning is His higher work. When Jesus was crucified for our sins He was doing a higher work, a greater deed. I hope you know it and find every comfort in it.
Last Sunday I ditched church. At Ascension. I went to a church close to my house called Authentic Life Church. On the screens as you arrive in the sanctuary you are told, “It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done. Welcome Home.” That is the higher thing that only Jesus and His grace and His forgiveness can give you.
Higher things include taking Jesus at His word. Trusting what He would say even when we don’t totally understand why He would say what He said. Jesus told Peter that he needed to go back out fishing. They had already come on shore and had washed their nets, hoping to go out the next evening to have better luck. But after Jesus told him to go back out this was Peter’s response, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5)
There is something greater than our thoughts or our feelings or our decisions. The something greater is what God says and what God thinks and what God does and how God directs. “Because YOU say so…” How can Jesus wash away all sin? Because He says so. How can Jesus bring life to those who die? Well, He says that He can do it. How can our heart trust Him when we don’t understand where everything is going to end? A good word for us to say, even in the uncertainty of life is “Because You say so!!” That is one of those higher things. Forgiveness is a higher thing. Trust is a higher thing.
But higher things are more than what we get, it is also what we give. Peter, the recipient of Jesus’ reception (Remember Jesus didn’t up and leave that sinful man, Peter) was told, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” (Luke 5:10b) Last Sunday the lead pastor at Authentic Life Church preached about inviting other people to church so that they may come to faith in Jesus. They must be doing a pretty good job over there. That church had their first service in September, about 400-500 were there last Sunday.
Inviting, witnessing, evangelism are hard words. We don’t do them very well. The preacher said that only 2% of church members invite an unchurched person to church. So, 98% of church-goers never extend an invitation to another in a given year. That’s not very good. But 4 out of 5 unchurched people say they would come to church if a person they trusted invited them.
Higher things means that we have a higher purpose. “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” The literal words that we have translated “catching men” is “catching for life” or “catch alive”. These fisherman knew all about the purpose of catching fish. The purpose is that they would eventually die – become someone’s meal. But that is not the purpose of the invite, of speaking the faith, of leading someone to make a confession of Jesus – it is for life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
What we get to do, when God is working through us, is catching people for life – the life that God has in store for them. It is a life of cleansing and forgiveness. It is a life filled with hope and joy. God gives His new creation a higher purpose and a greater one – living in love for God and for everyone else. It is life that continues into eternity and lives for the final day – when our bodies will be raised in great power. God is catching them for life – abundant and full life.
God has higher things in store for us. See how He may use you and use me for the daily and eternal good of another. The higher things of forgiveness, trust and witness can be seen in Peter’s final action. It showed that he knew the gift of grace and wanted to be Christ’s vehicle to the world. “So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:11)
Peter wasn’t just drowning worms. God caught him and now Peter was going to bring God’s life to others. God caught you. Go and bring God’s life to others. Amen!!