Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
February 7, 2010
Text: Luke 5:1-11

How does Jesus, the Lord and Master of the Church, go about making disciples? The scene St. Luke paints in our Gospel lesson shows our Lord Jesus mobbed by a great crowd of people, pressed in on every side. So eager is the crowd to be in His presence, to be near Him, to get a piece of Him, that He must get into a fishing boat and push out a ways from shore. And what is it that is drawing the people? Why are they crowding around Him by the Lake of Gennesaret? Our text does not say that Jesus is performing miraculous healings, though that certainly would draw a crowd. No, this crowd is not drawn by the miracles. St. Luke tells us that “the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God” (Luke 5:1; ESV [emphasis added]). So eager were they to hear the preaching of Jesus that they gave Him no breathing room, wanting to be as close as possible so as to catch every word of teaching. They practically push Him into the lake! Jesus came to preach, as we heard last week. He came to preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God (4:43). And with His preaching, Jesus caught His hearers like fish in a net. They were utterly captivated by the Gospel, holding the Word of God sacred, and gladly hearing it and learning it.

It is in this context that Jesus calls His first disciples, the apostles (literally “sent ones”) to be fishers of men (5:10). And notice how they are to catch these men: They are to preach! They are only given one tool by which to make disciples: The Word of God. They are not given some kind of slick commercial program to gain adherents. Jesus doesn’t tell them to do anything and everything to get people in the front door (the old “bait and switch” method). Jesus never defines evangelism that way. There is no synodically mandated movement afoot here, as if the cleverness of men could ever be more effective than the Word of God. The hook is not the preacher’s personality. And as important as friendliness is, Jesus doesn’t mention it here. Jesus says nothing of coffee bars and big screens and contemporary worship. He certainly never advocates capitulation to the prevailing whims of the culture, and He never capitulates Himself. The hook, line, and sinker in evangelism are the Word of God alone. The Word of God alone is the vast fishing net that scoops up the elect unto salvation by faith in our crucified and risen Lord Jesus. The evangelism program of Jesus is simple: Proclaim His Word. Proclaim the Gospel of Christ. Confess Christ. It’s so easy, a child could do it. And children do do it. They do it every time they sing a hymn or speak a prayer or talk about Jesus. Children don’t spend millions of dollars to sit around and talk about evangelism and missions all the time. They never talk about it. They do it. They just talk about their Savior. And it shouldn’t go unnoticed by us adults how willingly they invite their friends to church with them. The evangelism done by our children is the most effective, because they only make use of what God has given them for the task: His precious Word.

Jesus preaches the Word, and the crowds press in upon Him. Then He calls Simon Peter, James, and John, fishermen all, to speak that same Word, and so catch men. The Word preached and read in Scripture, and the visible Word that is the Sacraments, are the only means, the only tools of the trade, that our Lord gives these apostles, the only means He gives His Church, for making disciples. He reinforces that point shortly before His ascension into heaven when He says to His apostles (Matt. 28:19-20), “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” … Sacrament, visible Word of God… “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” … Preaching, audible Word of God. And our Lord promises that in this way, through these gifts, these means of grace, Word and Sacrament, He Himself will be present with His disciples. “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” And just in case the disciples and the Church doubt the power of the Word, and the Word alone, to make disciples, our Lord gives here an object lesson: At the Word of Jesus, Peter, James, and John are to let down their nets once again. Even though they’ve been fishing all night unsuccessfully, at the Word of Jesus, they are to try one more time. When these professional fishermen make their best effort, with all of their knowledge and experience, they catch nothing. But what happens when they rely on the Word of Jesus alone? The nets are full to the bursting! They are so heavy with fish that two boats, working together, begin to sink. The point is not that Jesus can cause a miraculous catch of fish. He certainly can do that, for He is the Creator and Lord of the universe. But the point is that if Jesus can do this with fish by His powerful and effective Word, He can certainly do it with men.

Now, we must regard this miracle rightly. This is not to say that every time we preach the Word of God, the masses will fill our building to capacity. It would be a false theology of glory to believe that. It would puff us up, and lead us away from reliance on the Word alone to trust in our own efforts and methods for success. We preach Christ crucified here in this place called Epiphany Lutheran Church. We proclaim the Word. And yet, we’d all like to see more people in the pews. God grant it, for Jesus’ sake. But God nowhere promises that every preaching of His Word will bring in a miraculous catch. He does promise this: My Word “shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is. 55:11). The Word of God is always powerful and effective, it always accomplishes what God sends it to do. Where the Word is proclaimed, there the Holy Spirit is busy and active, creating faith, calling by the Gospel, enlightening with His gifts, gathering the Church, sanctifying, and keeping His Christians in the one true faith of Jesus Christ. This is an article of faith, not sight. And so while the Church often appears to be anything but bursting at the seems, we yet confess that God is faithful in His Word, and that He makes disciples by the same. And certainly when we regard the Christian Church in her totality, including the saints who have gone before us and are now in heaven with Jesus, the Church never shrinks. It is always getting bigger and bigger. Every Baptism is church growth! Beloved in the Lord, we are not called to grow the Church. God does that. It is His work. But we are called upon to preach the Word, to confess Christ. And that Word is mighty, always performative, always living and active and accomplishing great things.

Peter is astounded by the power of God’s Word, and we should be, too. Falling to His knees, he confesses, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). It is not unlike Isaiah in our Old Testament lesson, who confesses his great unworthiness. Seeing the Lord sitting upon His throne, the prophet declares, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Is. 6:5). Then a seraph flies to Isaiah. He has in his hand a burning coal. So hot is the coal, even this angel must use tongs to handle it. And the seraph touches Isaiah’s mouth with the coal and says, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (v. 7). We, like St. Peter, are sinful men and women. We are unworthy of the presence of our Lord. We, like Isaiah and the people of Judah, are a people of unclean lips. Were it not for the Lord’s great mercy, we would all die in His presence. But He has touched us with the burning coal of His Word. So powerful a Word is it, that even the Seraphim must treat it with reverence. And yet it is near us, so near as to touch our lips and fill our mouths with the Word of God, with Christ Himself. And so being touched, we are cleansed. For the Word of God is a Word of absolution, forgiveness of sins, in Christ Jesus. The Word brings us all the benefits of the cross. The Word conveys the death of Christ. The visible Word, Baptism, conveys the death of Christ and His resurrection, and washes away sin. The visible Word, the Lord’s Supper, conveys Christ’s true body and blood for our forgiveness and strengthening. The Lord cleanses us, forgives us, renews us, gives us new life, so that we, as His people in this place, can speak His Word. And so we need not fear, as Jesus says to Peter. “Do not be afraid,” which is always an absolution on Jesus’ lips; “from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10). From now on you know how the catching of men will be accomplished: By the Word, and by the Word alone. Programs may have their place. Strategies may or may not be useful. But the Word alone is the important thing; the Word of God concerning Christ, the Savior.

Beloved in the Lord, do you want to be a missional congregation? Do you want to be an evangelistic Christian? Take a lesson from our children. Don’t talk about it all the time. Just do it. Talk about Jesus. Invite your friends to Church. Because in so doing you utilize the one and only tool that Jesus has given His Church to make disciples: The Word of God. And you yourselves, be like the crowds in our Gospel lesson. Hang on every Word He speaks. Be so eager to hear the Word of God that you press upon Jesus, that you delight to be where He is, to be near Him, to get a piece of Him. He is here to be pressed. He is here for the taking. “Take, eat; take, drink,” the tangible Word of forgiveness. He is here to preach. His Word is powerful. It is powerful unto the salvation of all who believe (Rom. 1:16). It is powerful to catch you into Jesus’ net, and deliver you unto eternal life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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