O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Caught to Catch
Caught to Catch
Based on Mark 1:14-20
Preached on January 21, 2018
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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A reluctant court prophet who gets swallowed by a very big fish. Eschatological urgency on the part of the apostle Paul. And four fishermen who are called by Jesus to become fishers of men. How could these three readings possibly be connected? Stay tuned, and you’ll see.
First, there’s our OT guy - Jonah. Jonah was a court prophet, with a nice cushy job advising the king. Jonah would have kept the status quo – but God had other plans. He wanted Jonah to go and preach to the Ninevites, the avowed enemies of Israel - who were known for such cruelties as skinning their enemies alive. Surely, you can understand why Jonah decided that a little trip to Spain might be more to his liking. But then came a storm - stirred up by the hand of God, and Jonah gets pitched overboard by the sailors as a kind of sacrifice to the gods of the Deep. The storm quiets and Jonah gets “rescued” by being swallowed by a very large fish – who – on the third day - unceremoniously barfs Jonah on the beach. And the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. “Nineveh is that way, Jonah. Go and preach there.” When the Lord calls, you had better listen, and don’t plan any cruises to Spain.
So Jonah scrapes the seaweed out of his hair and heads off to those awful Ninevites and gets only about a third of the way through the city when lo and behold the whole bunch hear the Word of the Lord and repent. Can you picture this today? An entire city of unbelievers – hearing God’s warning – trusting it – and looking to Him for mercy and grace. Well, you would think this would make Jonah happy. It did not. He was hopping mad because he was hoping to see a major whooping from heaven (maybe something like his storm). But instead - all he gets is repentance and God’s turning away His anger from His enemies - these perennial persecutors of His people.
Now the glorious take home lesson from all this. Sincerity doesn’t count. At least not when it comes to the preaching of God’s Word. Jonah didn’t want his preaching to work – but it did – it reached these enemies of his – these enemies of God’s people - because the Word of God is not dependent upon the personality of the preacher much less his mood or general love for people. God doesn’t hang the hopes of His saving work on the shoulders of a sinners’ sincerity. If He did – I would be doomed. And so would you. No - The Word acts in spite of us. Let’s face it, if the only moment the Gospel could be spoken was when you or I happened to be in the right, gracious, loving mood, and the person hearing is in the same mindset - then there wouldn’t be very much Gospel spoken and heard, would there?
You see, the devil loves to play this trick on us – he insists that we need to be “sincere” in order to be effective. And the old Adam – our fallen human nature - goes right along with the program. “I’ll pray when I feel spiritual.” “I’ll tell someone about Jesus when they appear to be ready.” “Oh, I don’t want to tell those Ninevites the Gospel! What if they repented, believed, and starting coming to our church?” It’s like the pastor who decided to go to the local biker bars in his town to evangelize all the bikers. “Pastor - couldn’t you go where the nice people are?”
We think we need to be sincere, and that our sincerity will help God along, help His Word get through. So, if we don’t really feel like doing something, then we shouldn’t do it, right? That would be “hypocritical” and “insincere,” and we know that God’s Word can’t work unless we have our hearts completely in it, and so it would be better perhaps if we booked a ship to Tarshish rather than preach to those nasty Ninevites. This is called false piety.
The story of Jonah reminds us that the living and active Word of God does not return empty, even when the prophet’s heart really isn’t into it. So don’t hesitate to invite someone to “come and see” Jesus - even if you’re not feeling particularly “evangelical.” And don’t hesitate to pray even when you are not feeling particularly prayerful. In fact, pray especially when you aren’t feeling prayerful. Insist on it. Stop whatever you are doing and pray against your false piety, which is coming from the old Adam. And when you don’t feel like going to church and feel like you’re “just going through the motions,” go anyway. Go especially then. Go ahead and go through the motions, because the motions that count are not yours – but God’s – Divine Service to you - the Word delivered to you – It does not return empty.
The time is short. The urgency comes in the second reading. We think we have all the time in the world. The old Adam is a great procrastinator when it comes to the things of God. I’ll pray later. I’ll worship tomorrow. “The appointed time has grown very short,” the apostle Paul wrote. The Day of the Lord is closer today than last week, and creeping ever closer. Paul says, “From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none.” And stop right there, I know what you’re thinking. But he doesn’t mean go and act as though you were single, though unfortunately a lot of people, Christians included, seem to think that. No - he goes on to say that those who mourn should live as those who were not mourning, and those who rejoice as those who were not rejoicing, and those who trade as though they had nothing, and those who deal with this world as though they had nothing to do with this world.
The point is this: The present form of this world is passing away. Dying. Ending. You can see it – plain as day. The evidence is all around us – as old structures crumble and chaos creeps in. The old is passing away. Jesus is the new. And He has already come. And for those who believe this – it means a different set of mind – Paul says. Minds that are set not on earthly things - but heavenly things. You say it every week. Your heart and mind confess this truth – let’s have the kids remind us.
Kids, come on up here with pastor – right up here to the altar. We’re going to say that part of the Divine Service – the Service of the Sacrament – that St. Paul is reminding us about. Come on up here with me. “Hearts up” – we say in the liturgy. Actually the oldest document we have with this preface is from 200 A.D. penned by the early Church father Tertullian. It wasn’t “lift up your hearts” – but “Our hearts are on high!” and God’s people responded “We have them with the Lord.” We are looking past the temporal things – to the things eternal. We want the new! Not the old, which is passing away. Christ – the new humanity – our hearts are on high in Him. Thanks kids – you can go back to your seats.
How could anything – ever – get in between our hearts and this high height in Christ? The usual suspects. It’s the old Adam in us who is glued to the things temporal. He will let nearly anything get between us and Jesus – from hockey practice to Tupperware parties to whatever else occupies our present moment. What shall we wear? What shall we eat? What shall we drink? The unbeliever runs after these things, and your Father in heaven knows you need them. So He calls you, dear disciple, you baptized child of God, to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things, these temporal, passing away things, will be given you as well. Our hearts are on high.
Think of those four young men – Peter and Andrew, James and John – two sets of brothers working for the Zebedee family fishing business. One day Jesus turns up on the beach while they are tending their nets and says, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Did they feel like it? Did they know where the words “follow me” were going to take them? And what about Father Zebedee who was left there high and dry with his servants to run the family business while his boys went chasing off after this rabbi from Nazareth with questionable credentials?
It’s odd that Jesus should choose fishermen. Why not rabbinic scholars? (Oh, that would come later with Paul.) Why not civic leaders or people with great influence and power? But fishermen. Really? What kind of apostles would they be? Patient? Maybe not. Remember James and John, the “sons of thunder” who wanted Jesus to call down fire and brimstone on a town that didn’t roll out the red carpet for them? Not exactly patient – in fact – eerily similar to our reluctant prophet Jonah. Eerily similar to you and me with all our quirks and foibles, not to mention our sinfulness, still called to be a disciple of Jesus. He doesn’t appear to be choosing the most competent candidates. In fact, it would seem He thinks He can use almost anyone. And beloved - He can. He’s the Lord, and the power of salvation resides in His Word, not in these men. Certainly not in you – but make no mistake - He’s using you, with all your warts and blemishes and idiosyncracies. He’s chosen you. Spoken His Word in your ear - As surely as He chose Jonah or Peter or Andrew or James or John. You are His hand-picked disciple.
We need to make an important distinction here - between disciple and apostle. A disciple is a follower, an apostle is sent - one who is sent with authority by another. Jesus says two things to the fishermen. One is an imperative: Follow me. Those are the disciple-making words – that have also been spoken to you. The other is directed toward their future as apostles: I will make you become fishers of men. You are now fishermen, but you will become fishers of men.
I say this because you will probably hear interpretations that try to lay these passages on you in the same way, as though all of us are apostles like Peter and Andrew, James and John. But if we took those words literally and to heart, as though we were apostles - we’d all leave our jobs and families and go wandering around like a bunch of itinerant preachers. And that would be a mistake.
We are not so much fishers of men as we are fish caught in their apostolic nets. Peter and Andrew, James and John were destined to become apostles, sent with Jesus’ authority to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Jesus was weaving His own net, the dragnet of God’s kingdom that is cast to the ends of the earth and hauls literally everything ashore - to be sorted out at the Last Day. Jesus was going to die and rise, and Peter and Andrew, James and John were going to follow Him, to be eyewitnesses of what He was doing. Afterwards – He would send them out as His authorized representatives, the Twelve, the foundational pillars of His church and His holy ministry.
What about Pa Zebedee and the servants? Are they not saved because Jesus didn’t call them? Of course not! He just needed the boys. Zebedee and the servants could take care of the fishing business and the Lord would provide. Zebedee too had to trust Jesus enough to let the boys go, even if it put the family business at risk. Discipleship is always risky business when it comes to the temporal things of this world. That’s why the apostle Paul says we are to live in this world as if we are not of this world but looking forward and ahead to the coming kingdom. - - We sacrifice now for our future.
We are as fish caught in the dragnet of the kingdom of God, a net woven out of Jesus’ own death and resurrection, and net in which we die in order to live. And maybe that’s the best common theme among these three disparate texts this morning. Dying in order to live. Jonah died in the belly of the fish in order to rise and live as God’s prophet to the Ninevites of all people. Jesus Himself pointed to Jonah as the pattern for His own death and resurrection. “As Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish, so the Son of Man must spend three days in the belly of the earth.”
Dying in order to live. The apostle Paul counseled the Corinthians to live as though dead to the things of this world, because that’s what they truly were in Baptism. Dead to the old – to Sin and Self - but alive to God in Christ Jesus. That means that we hold the things of this world, and yes, even our marriages, with a loose dead hand of faith. Just like Father Zebedee let the boys go on their little adventure with Jesus. He held them and his fishing business with the loose dead hand of faith. What do the dead have to lose? Nothing. They are completely free. “Take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, let these all be gone. They yet have nothing won. The kingdom ours remaineth.”
Peter and Andrew, James and John, died that day to their vocation, their family ties, and their comfort zone, to embark on a journey whose end they could not foresee. When Jesus’ said “Follow me,” they had no clue as to where He was going.
This is you. To be baptized to is have the call of discipleship spoken to you. “Follow me,” Jesus said to you in your Baptism. And there in the water you were caught in the net of God’s kingdom, caught by a love that will not let you go, caught in His death that means freedom and life. All fish struggle to get out of nets. And rightly so. The net means their death and doom. Our old Adam always goes with a struggle. He doesn’t want to be netted, he wants to be “free” meaning a slave to Sin and Self. But the believer in you knows that this is a Gospel net, a good news net, that leads not only to death for the old - but also to resurrection and new life. Jonah illustrated it with his life. Jesus did it with His. - - And in this Word you hear – in your baptism – it is yours.
The kingdom of God is at hand. The call has never been more urgent, my friends. It is more urgent than when Jesus first said it. More urgent than when the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians. More urgent than the day you first heard that kingdom call and believed. Hear it again. Take it to heart. Repent and believe the Gospel. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr