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“What Must You Leave Behind?”
Luke 5:11


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany—February 7, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Today’s Gospel reading, the story of the miraculous catch of fish, concludes: “Then Jesus said, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.’  So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”  Is that what Jesus expects of YOU?  Does he require YOU to literally leave behind your job, your family, your home—your life as you know it—in order to truly follow him? 

It may be the Lord will require that of you.  It may be, as with those first disciples, that the Lord wants to use you for his kingdom in such way that it WILL be necessary for you to literally leave behind your job, your family, your home—your life as you know it.

But, on the other hand, Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “Each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. . .  Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him.”  So, the Lord also may want to use your for his kingdom right where you are.  The Lord may want you, as the saying goes, to “bloom where you are planted.”  To serve him IN your job, your family, your home—your life as you know it.

But, still, even then, there are two things you must leave behind in order to truly follow Jesus.

First of all, you must leave behind self-righteousness.  When Peter sees the miraculous catch of fish, he falls on his knees before Jesus and cries out: “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  The sin Peter is particularly confessing at that moment is the sin of doubt.  For, back at the shore, when Jesus said, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch,” Peter shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.  But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”  Peter didn’t really expect anything to happen, he knew the fishing business too well.  He knew the best fishing on the Sea of Galilee is at night, and if they didn’t catch anything all last night they sure aren’t going to catch anything today.  But, he will humor this rabbi, who obviously knows more about theology than he does about fishing. 

“When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.”

Some supposed Bible experts—who really don’t believe the Bible anyway—try to explain away this incident as a coincidence, a “strange but true” natural phenomenon.  There just happened to be an enormous school of fish that swam right into the disciples’ nets.  No miracle necessary.  But, Peter knows better.  Peter has too much experience as a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee to accept that explanation.  He knows what has happened MUST be a MIRACLE.  Then, suddenly, it comes to him, what this miracle means, who Jesus must really be, and therefore what a serious sin and offense it was to doubt Jesus as he did.

When he saw the miraculous catch of fish and realized his sin, Peter could have turned to Jesus and said, “Well, you have to understand, no one could have expected this to happen!”  “Okay, I admit it, I did doubt you this time, but next time I’ll do better.”  “You can’t really blame me, I’m only human.”  And all sorts of other excuses, rationalizations, and self-justifications.  But, Peter leaves behind any attempt at self-righteousness.  When Peter sees the miraculous catch of fish and realizes the sinfulness of his doubt, he instead falls on his knees before Jesus and cries out in confession: “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

That’s exactly what the Lord wants from YOU, in recognition of YOUR sin.  Not excuses, rationalizations, and self-justifications, but confession: humble, sincere, contrite confession.  “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  Like Peter, leave behind self-righteousness, and instead fall before the Lord in penitential confession. 

John says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. . .  and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from every sin. . .  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Like Peter, leave behind self-righteousness.  The Lord will lift you up, forgive you, and, like Peter, use you to serve him, use you as a fisher of men.

So, to be a disciple of Jesus you must first leave behind self-righteousness, and you must also leave behind the twisted priorities of the world.

Paul says in Romans, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.”  What a perfect description of us and our culture of conspicuous consumption: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.”

We tend to think of those first disciples as poor fishermen, virtually destitute.  But, in fact, they were probably comfortable, if not downright wealthy.  In the 1st century A.D. fishing on the Sea of Galilee was a very lucrative line of work.  For some unknown reason, fish from the Sea of Galilee came to be considered a great delicacy, in big demand with the nobility.  They could conveniently be preserved with salt from the nearby Dead Sea, and salted fish from the Sea of Galilee was the caviar of the Roman Empire. 

And the Gospels tell us that James and John, for example, were in business with their father Zebedee, an established family business they would inherit.  So, these fishermen were really successful small businessmen, who owned some very expensive equipment, their boats, and especially their nets, which were hand-woven and very valuable.

Of course, they also had the troubles and pressures that go with running a business, especially the tax situation.  We may complain about our taxes and the Infernal Revenue Service, but in the Roman Empire it is estimated the effective income tax rate was 80%.  That kept things pretty tight, and Peter, James, John and the others probably operated their fishing businesses on a slim margin.  So, this one catch of fish could make all the difference; two boats so full they’re about to sink, two boats of pure profit. 

“Then Jesus said, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.’”  How would we respond?  Would actually seeing this miracle and realizing who Jesus really is be enough for us to overcome our materialism?  Or, would we blinded by the dollar signs flashing before our eyes? 

“Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men”?  “Well, uh, that sounds great Jesus, but don’t you see all these valuable fish?  First we’ve gotta get them to market; then will see about being fishers of men.”  “Maybe we can even pay off the mortgage on the boat and expand the fleet a little.”  “You know, Rabbi Jesus, you seem to have quite a knack for fishing.  Now, I’ve got the boats, and you know where the fish are.  If, we could work together . . .”

That is how we would probably respond.  But, how do the disciples respond?  “So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”  Just when things are getting good, they leave it all: boats, nets, and the largest single catch in the history of the Sea of Galilee.

The lesson to be learned is NOT that Jesus necessarily wants you to abandon your job, your business, your worldly goods and possessions.  But, to be Jesus’ disciple, you must leave behind the twisted priorities of the world, and put possessions in proper perspective, no longer worshipping and serving created things, but rather the Creator. 

Jesus put it this way:  “No man can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”  Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “From now on . . . those who use the things of the world should live as if not engrossed in them.”

What must you leave behind to be Jesus’ disciple?  Like Peter, leave behind self-righteousness; like those first disciples, leave behind the twisted priorities of the world.  “Then Jesus said, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.’  So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”

Amen.

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