Now it came about that while the multitude were pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them, and were washing their nets. And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the multitudes from the boat. And when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." And Simon answered and said, "Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at Your bidding I will let down the nets."
And when they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish; and their nets began to break; and they signaled to their partners in the other boat, for them to come and help them. And they came, and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus' feet, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men." And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.
Sermon for Fifth Sunday After Trinity 07/04/21
Success Is the Lord's
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
One of the interesting developments in home video stuff in the past few years has been the DVD. When it came out, the producers of DVD's promised great wonders, which they have failed to deliver, but one of the small things that I get a kick out of is the "Special Features" on some DVD's. They promised great stuff in the Special Features that they have rarely produced, but even some of the inane stuff is interesting in its own way. I am thinking of those features that talk about how they make a movie. The movie, "The Day After Tomorrow", the an old environmental horror flick, had a feature in which they showed the layers of sounds added to the photography that made up the scene. They took us from a silent film of the scene to where they had added the conversation, the sounds of the helicopter, the sound of air rushing by, the background noises, the radio transmissions just at the level of noise you would notice, and so forth. It was interesting to note how the scene wasn't quite right until all of the sounds were in place.
If I had to choose, I would have trouble deciding which sounds were more important to the realism of the scene on the screen. The little noises that I might forget about, if I were assembling the scene, were just as important as the voices of the characters, or the sound of the helicopter rotors turning through the air. In a way that is analogous to the assembling of a scene in a movie, every part of the world around us is significant as well. Every person has a role to play in the plan of God - particularly His holy people. That is the focus of our attention this morning as we look at the Gospel lesson about Jesus preaching, and the miraculous draught of fishes. Our theme is, Success is the Lord's.
Our Gospel opens with Jesus teaching. He has quite a crowd - a multitude - gathered around Him. You know how crowds are, they gathered too close to Jesus for effective communication with the whole group. His voice was lost in the press of bodies and clothing right next to Him. It is helpful to remember that the personal space of the middle-east culture is a lot smaller than ours today in America. We like people with whom we are having a private conversation to be at least a foot and a half away, sometimes just a bit farther. We are not comfortable when people invade our personal space without our explicit invitation.
In the Middle East, people tend to talk literally nose-to-nose. Imagine, then, the crowd gathered around Jesus. Luke tells us that they were pressing around Him, and we can imagine that with personal space measured in inches, rather than arm's-lengths, His voice would be easily absorbed by bodies and clothing around Him, so, to teach the whole crowd effectively, He needed to put some space between Himself and the crowd – just like the space between the pulpit and the first row of pews here.
To accomplish that, Jesus climbed into Simon Peter's boat and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. The choice of that boat and His presence at that particular place on the shore were not coincidences, although it probably appeared that way to everyone else. Jesus had Peter in mind, and He led his multitude to this spot to accomplish what He was intending to do. So, He climbed into the boat and had Peter put out a couple of yards from the shore, and He sat down in the bow of the boat (probably), as a teacher in those days would do, and began to teach from the boat.
There was nothing random here. God doesn't do random. Every detail was part of His plan, although no one but Jesus was probably aware of how deliberate each element of this scene was. When Jesus was done with teaching the lesson for the day, He simply asked Peter to put out into the deep water, and let down His nets for a catch.
Mind you, fishing of this sort was traditionally done at night and in the shallow water. Peter and his brothers and partners had been at it all night and without a catch. It was likely quite unusual to fish all night and catch absolutely nothing, but that is what they had done last night. Peter kind of complained that they had already spent the night fruitlessly, but, at Jesus' request, he would put down the nets one more time.
He already knew that Jesus was something special. Not only had he heard Jesus teaching that morning, but in the previous chapter of Luke, Jesus had healed Simon's mother-in-law of a high fever, had driven out demons that cried out that Jesus was the Son of God, and had healed many people of various illnesses in the presence of Peter and, possibly, his brothers. Peter wasn't a full-time disciple yet, but he had seen Jesus at work, and knew He could do amazing things, so he let down his nets.
You all know what happened, because I read it as the Gospel lesson this morning. Peter immediately enclosed in his nets a great quantity of fish, so great, in fact, that the nets began to break and Peter had to call for the guys in the other boat to come out and help him. When they came out, there were so many fish that they filled both boats with fish to the point where the boats began to sink - they were swamped with the success of the fishing. It was a very profitable morning indeed. Peter recognized the truth of our sermon theme - Success is the Lord's - and he realized again that he was standing in the presence of someone who was more than merely a man. He could see that something divine was there, and he fell down before Jesus, which actually means that he began to worship Jesus, and he said, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!
Peter understood at some level that he was standing in the presence of the holy God, and the first reaction he had was to become suddenly aware of his sin. Peter was beginning to learn about Jesus - who He was and what He could do, and what He could accomplish. Success is the Lord's, and God gives it where He chooses, for His own reasons.
What we often do not pay attention to is the night before. I mean, why would we pay attention to that? Jesus wasn't there yet, and nothing happened. It was a singularly bad night of fishing.
And yet, if it had been a great night of fishing, or even an average night of fishing, Peter and his brothers would have doubtless been less impressed with the catch Jesus gave them. The contrast between nothing and the unimaginable abundance makes the point that Jesus wanted to make so much more pointed. So, why do you think that they caught nothing the night before? Ever thought of that? Do you think that it was just coincidence?
Remember, God doesn't do random.
Success is the Lord's - not just great success, but appalling success - also known as failure. I don't want to blame God for every human endeavor that fails to accomplish something, but wherever God's people are, there He is. He is with them, guiding them, blessing them, and granting them success. When we are the Lord's, and we are faithful, we cannot fail.
God tells us that His Word never returns to Him without accomplishing that for which He spoke it. When we preach it, or tell it to someone else, and see nothing happen, we must conclude that either God isn't done doing what He spoke His Word through us to accomplish, or we have witnessed what His Word was intended to accomplish, although we see nothing we would call success.
Remember the movie scene at the beginning of the sermon? Just as every sound, no matter how soft or seemingly insignificant, was important to the completed scene, just so, every one of us, and all of our faithfulness is important to the plan of God, to what He is doing in us, and around us, and through us. The hours of fishing with no catch played a vital role in accomplishing the plan of God for that day for Peter and his brothers and the work of Jesus. In the same way, our time spent with no visible results, our faithful worship and our confession of the Lord day-by-day, and our inviting one person after another who ignore our invitation, plays an important part in the plans of our Lord for us and for those among whom we live and confess the faith.
It is important that we keep in mind that our salvation rests on what appeared to be defeat and failure. Jesus' enemies triumphed over Him. They arrested Him, humiliated Him, abused Him and then executed Him under false pretenses. On Good Friday, Jesus looked to be a failure, the one man in Israel who had no friends, no ability to play the system, and not even a tomb to call His own. Measured by any human standard, Jesus was a failure on Good Friday.
And yet, we know that Jesus scored His victory, and ours, on Good Friday. He accomplished precisely what He had come to do. He died, although innocent and actually deserving eternal life. He carried our sins instead, because He had none of His own. He paid the penalty and set us free from sin and death and hell and the power of Satan, by dying in a way that appeared so helpless and defeated. By His stripes you are healed, and because He suffered for your sins, you are forgiven! We all are!
Success is the Lord's. We may feel insignificant. We may judge our own efforts as futile and ineffective. It may seem to us and everyone around us that our faithfulness is foolish - and pointless - and inconsequential. They may point at our congregation and say, "Your congregation is insignificant and small and destined to close one day!" The devil will certainly suggest it to us, and invite us to despair. But success is the Lord's.
We are God's holy people, and, as such, we cannot fail. God Himself is with us to bless us, and guide us, and keep us. He doesn't ask us to know, or to understand every moment or every detail of His plan. He calls on us to be faithful. He invites us to believe His promises, to trust in Him with all our hearts, to let down the nets even when we have spent the night fruitlessly working and have nothing to show for it, and to remain faithful.
Some have despaired and given up. Only they have failed. Jesus has not failed, nor has He broken His promises to us. He never promised it would be easy, or fun, or impressive in the estimation of the world around us.
Individually, we don't get to see everlasting life until we die.
But the promise of Jesus is, "Be thou faithful until death, and I will give thee the crown of life."
Besides, in the middle of that long night of fishing without a catch, we cannot see what part it plays in the plan, or how God is working through us. Our sicknesses, our pains, our sorrows - they are all parts of life, and yet because we are God's people we not only know that we do not go through these things alone, but God has a reason for letting these tribulations come to us, and when we are faithful, we cannot fail, but we succeed, and accomplish what God sent us to accomplish - or, better yet, what He set out to accomplish through us.
Success is the Lord's. He cannot and He will not fail - ever. While we stand with Him, we cannot and we will not fail - ever. So, listen to the voice of Jesus inviting you to drop down those nets again, this time for a catch. Be faithful, and do not give up hope. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall make your paths straight.
Success is the Lord's.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)