During my seminary studies in the Spring semester of 2019 at Concordia Seminary in the class, Teaching the Faith, we were assigned to preach a kerygmatic sermon in class. As such, the intended audience of this sermon are men who are preparing to be pastors, yet any preacher or teacher of the Word reading this can also apply the content of the message to their vocation.
Date: May 6, 2019
Text: Luke 5:1-11
Preaching Occasion: Concordia Seminary, “Teaching the Faith” class
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
As men preparing to be pastors, we’ve all read this text many times. Indeed, we’ve likely heard it preached many times. Yet allow me to personalise it for us today.
In Luke, miracles function as visitations of God—through miracles, God makes Himself known and He performs salvific acts. Before this miracle event, Jesus had just finished His 40 days and 40 nights of fasting in the wilderness, having resisted the temptations of the Devil. Immediately after this, Jesus officially began His earthly ministry beginning in Galilee, where He was rejected by His hometown, Nazareth; and He performed many healings and preached in synagogues.
So, by the time Jesus journeys to the lake of Gennesaret, He’s already famous in the Galilean region. At this point, Jesus and the many wonders He’s performed are mere rumours for Peter and his fellow fishermen. They have not yet experienced the visitation of God in Christ themselves.
As the crowd at the lake are beseeching Jesus to preach the Word of God, Jesus notices Peter and his fellow fishermen. He sees two boats, and He sees the fishermen washing their nets. Jesus also notices this was no successful fishing trip. Their nets were empty. Perhaps He saw their looks of disappointment, exasperation, and frustration on their faces. This is not difficult to imagine; any fisherman would be upset to have an empty net after a long morning of fishing.
Interestingly, Jesus walks over to Peter’s boat, asks him to put them out into the water a little bit, sits down in the boat, and begins preaching to the people on the lake.
This is rather odd. I’ve been to this lake, which is more commonly known as the Sea of Galilee. The lake is surrounded by mountains. Jesus could’ve stood on top of any one of those mountains for the people to easily hear Him preach the Word of God. Instead, He gets into Peter’s boat, asks him to move them out into the water a little bit, and began preaching from the water as His voice easily carried over the waters and into the people’s ears.
After Jesus is finished preaching, He then performs His miracle for Peter and his fellow fishermen, who begin catching so many fish that their boats begin to sink! It is at this moment that Peter and his fellow fishermen encounter God’s visitation in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and Peter responds, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
This is the common response for the men whom God calls. Remember Isaiah’s call? When he saw God sitting on His throne with seraphim above him, to which he cried out, “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, Yahweh of hosts!” [Isaiah 6:5]
It is a humble thing to receive God’s call. We will all experience this two years from now when we receive our first calls to our first congregations. We have already experienced a taste of this on Call Day when we received our vicarage assignments. Call Day—and the eventual move to our vicarage assignments—is filled with excitement, anxiety, even fear. Maybe some of you are like me, “Who am I, a sinful man, to go out and serve?’
I have asked myself this question numerous times. Ever since I was 20-years-old—I’m 29 now—I’ve always wanted to be a pastor. When people ask me the inevitable question, “Why do you want to be a pastor,” I give them my honest answer: “Because I know the burden of being broken in my own sin, and suffering the brokenness of others; but I also know God’s turning my brokenness into wholeness through the redemption of Jesus Christ.”
Yet in my second year of college during my pre-seminary studies, and again during my first year here at seminary, I had serious doubts and fears about this inner call. I made up many excuses why I was not eligible to be a pastor: “I’m too introverted. I’m an addict. I’ve done dome pretty bad sins against myself and others. So many other guys are better at theology than I am. I’m not that smart.”
But the reality was: I was afraid… I was afraid of my future financial situation, afraid of rejection, afraid of failure to God, failure to the seminary, and failure to my future congregation…
Yet God assured me that the pre-seminary programme at Concordia University-Ann Arbor was where I needed to be, and a couple years later He assured me that Concordia Seminary is where I need to be. He did not come to me in a revelatory dream. He used the pastors, friends, family, and even random encounters with people in my life to encourage me.
When I was doubting in college, several students I was tutoring asked me, “Are you going to be a pastor? You’d be a good pastor.” And they didn’t even know I wanted to be a pastor. When I had discussions with friends and family on sensitive matters, they said, “Wow. You’re gonna’ be a good pastor.” And they didn’t even know I was suffering with doubts. This happened to me enough times that I said, “Okay, God. I get it. I won’t be afraid. I will trust You.” …
What does Jesus say to Peter here? “Do not be afraid… from now on you will be catching men.” … Do not be afraid, brothers. You and I are sinners, yes. And yes, you and I have weaknesses. But do not be afraid; from now on you will be fishers of men. “But being fishers of men is a weighty task!” Of course it is, but you are not alone.
Peter was not alone in his discipleship and apostleship. Peter was with Jesus, Peter received the Holy Spirit, and Peter had his brothers who carried the weighty task of preaching the Word with him.
So, too, you and I are not alone. You and I have the Holy Spirit given to us in Baptism; thus, Christ is with us wherever we go. We also have one another to whom we can go for comfort, encouragement, and mutual learning.
Do not be afraid. You are not alone. Jesus brought you here; trust that He is with you wherever else He brings you, and do not fear, for Christ does not abandon those whom He has called. Amen.