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“But at Your Word”
Luke 5:1-11


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany—February 3, 2013

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

Have you ever seen that sign in a mechanic’s garage that says something like, “Price per Hour—$25.  If You Help—$50”?  No matter what your area of professional expertise, there is nothing more irritating than someone else, especially someone outside your profession, trying to tell you how to do your job.

At first glance that seems to be the situation with Peter and Jesus in today’s Gospel Reading.  In order to teach the large crowds on the shore of the Sea of Galilee one morning, Jesus commandeers Peter’s fishing boat, has Peter put out a bit from the shore, and Jesus converts that boat into the first Christian pulpit as he preaches the Word of God to the crowds on the shore.

At the end of the sermon, Jesus adds a personal sermon illustration for Peter to demonstrate the power of his Word, in the form of an unusual request: “When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’”

For an experienced fisherman on the Sea of Galilee like Simon Peter, that was a very odd request indeed.  Still to this day, fishing on the Sea of Galilee takes place only at night.  And the best fishing is not in the deep water but along the shore.  And so Peter answers, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.”  No doubt Jesus is an excellent carpenter, and certainly he is a wise rabbi and a powerful preacher, but as a fisherman, his advice to an experienced professional like Simon Peter is totally off the mark. 

“But at your Word,” Peter continues, “I will let down the nets.”  Peter heeds Jesus’ odd request because this is not the first time that he has encountered Jesus.  Already he has seen him perform many miracles, including the healing of his own mother-in-law and many others in his own house at Capernaum.  Already he has heard Jesus preach, including the sermon given that very day from his own boat.  So, even though the fishing advice this carpenter and rabbi gives him goes against everything he knows as an experienced, professional fisherman, he will do what Jesus says, because he already knows Jesus is much more than a carpenter, maybe even much more than a rabbi.

“‘But at your Word, I will let down the nets.’  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.  When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Depart from me, O Lord; for I am a sinful man!’  For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken.”

This miracle brings forth a two-part confession from Peter.  First of all a confession of faith that Jesus is the Lord, God in the flesh: “Depart from me, O Lord.”  As he would later confess, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And this miracle also brings forth from Peter a confession of repentance, that he is an unworthy sinner: “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

We have that same two-part confession in our worship service.  Like Peter, we confess our faith that Jesus is the Lord, in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds.  And we begin our worship with a confession of repentance, like Peter, that we are “poor, miserable, sinners.”  “‘Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man!’  Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid.’”  With these words, Jesus pronounces Absolution upon Peter, like the Pastor announcing, “in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins.”

“Do not be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”  The purpose of this personal sermon illustration Jesus gives Peter in this miracle is to demonstrate to Peter and to us the power of his Word.  Jesus wants Peter and us to understand that even though his Word may go against all human reason and logic and experience and expertise, yet his Word has a power and a truth beyond our comprehension. 

Does it make sense that a Pastor, a mere man and himself a sinner, can actually forgive your sins in the name and the stead of Jesus?  But Jesus promises, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven them.” 

Does it make sense that a ritual of washing with water while some words are pronounced could actually be used by God to wash away our sins and give us his Holy Spirit?  But Peter says in Acts, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children.” 

Does it make sense that an infant really can have active, personal faith in Jesus as his or her Savior?  But Jesus himself says they can when he describes infants as, “These little ones who believe in me.”

Does it make sense that in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, Christ gives us his very body and blood?  But he himself says plainly, “This is my body . . .  This is my blood,” and Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”

Does it make sense that collection of 66 ancient books, composed by dozens of different human authors over thousands of years, is the very Word of God, inspired and inerrant?  But Peter says, “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” and Paul declares, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.”

Does it make sense that God’s own Son should come down to earth and himself be punished to pay for the sins of the world?  But Paul says, “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things . . . by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. . .  God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not counting men’s sins against them.”

“‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.  But at your Word, I will let down the nets.’  When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.”  We learn from this miracle that even though God’s Word may go against all human reason and logic and experience and expertise, yet his Word has a power and a truth beyond our comprehension.

In our everyday lives we are confronted with so many situations where we are tempted to doubt or disobey what God says in his Word.  Respond to those situations like Peter: “But at your Word, Lord, I will do as you say.”  As the book of Proverbs says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Amen.

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