The Experts Have Nothing on Jesus

Common sense often has very little to do with the Christian faith.

Here’s what I mean.

If you recall the text from Luke 5, the fishing night, the time when fishing would be accomplished successfully had passed. Jesus had traveled to Lake Gennesaret (which is also the Sea of Galilee). He’s been followed by crowds of people pressing in around Him, and as the text says so succinctly, they are doing this because they want to hear the Word. It’s there by the shore that Jesus meets Peter, along with James and John. They’re fishermen, and they’re calling it quits just as He approaches—washing their nets and packing up their boats and tools with nothing to show from a long night of work.

Jesus climbs into Peter’s boat and asks him to push out into the shallows. Strange, and as I chatted about it with Pastor Heckert last week when I went to visit him at home, perhaps even rude, especially knowing that Peter had been fishing all night. Most likely he was tired, and if he’s anything like the rest of us (and I know he is), he just wanted to go home and rest.

But so strangely, Peter doesn’t resist Jesus’ request. Perhaps out of respect for the Rabbi, he does what he asks. No big deal. What’s another hour, right?

With that, Jesus preaches to the people, and as He concludes, He turns to Peter and his assistants and stretches the boundaries of their hospitality a little further. Jesus tells Peter to let down the nets into the deep water for a catch. It’s at this point in the story that I can almost hear Peter give out a sigh as he thinks, “Wait a minute. I’m tired. We’re tired. We worked all night and caught nothing. The best time for fishing has long since passed, and with that, we’re done. And you saw us packing up and cleaning our nets, right? Do you honestly expect us to go through the trouble of dragging them out and casting them again, especially during the most inopportune time to fish? Don’t you realize what a colossal failure that would be?”

A colossal failure. Sounds and feels very familiar to me. Why? Because I’ve had my share. And I often find myself convinced that with a little bit of common sense, I can avoid future failures by doing this or that. In one sense that’s true. But in another, it couldn’t be any further from the truth.

This carries us back to what Pastor Heckert preached with regard to the power of the Gospel. As believers—people converted and convinced by the Gospel—we are those who live and die trusting in the powerful Word of Jesus of Nazareth, who, when He speaks, does not give empty words even as we recognize that His Word won’t always jive with what we are thinking needs to be done in a particular situation. You, the people of this congregation, are living proof to this wonderful trust. So often you continue in Holy Worship—Sunday after Sunday—no matter what the secular world may try to tell you, no matter how tired you are from the previous day’s efforts, no matter what common sense might urge as a better use of your time and resources. You are here because the Gospel Word of Jesus has power and it has changed you. It is for you the greatest story ever told, and it is message of hope and deliverance you can trust even when it seems to drive us toward scenarios where we are to drop the nets in the deep waters when common sense and experience tells the experts there won’t be any fish.

The Gospel had this very same effect on Peter. He’d been carried to a point where it would have made sense for him as the fishing expert to seize control of the situation and advise the Lord in a better way. But he’d heard the preached Word of the Gospel before Jesus called for the impossible. Peter, a man who had been cultivated by Jesus’ preaching, could not end his sentence to Jesus about the long day and the cleaning of the nets with a response of refusal. Instead, he says so simply, “We have fished all night and caught nothing… but at Your Word, I will let down the nets.”

And then we watch Peter very closely. We watch what the world would call foolishness. Peter will trust the Lord, and he will witness the catch of fish and then he will fall to his knees in confession, asking the Lord to leave his presence because Simon is a sinful man and unworthy of being near Him. And still, thanks be to Jesus, He doesn’t agree to Peter’s common-sense advice. Instead, He stays with him and absolves him, “Do not be afraid, Simon. From now on, you will be a catcher of men!” In other words, you are forgiven, and now by the power of the Holy Spirit in this same Gospel, you will preach a Word that matches the backward events of this day. You will preach the powerful Gospel of Christ crucified!

It wasn’t that many years ago that someone warned me that this church and school, like so many other churches and schools, would almost certainly be closing her doors in six months. But here we are many years after the prediction. Sure, we have our struggles, but one thing is for sure…

The so-called experts have nothing on Jesus.

Even better, when I think on these things, I’m glad that this particular reading from Luke 5 occurs during the leaner summer months. I need to hear it and remember. I’m even more satisfied that it lands near the beginning of the church’s annual budget cycle. This reading is a Gospel-filled encouragement to continue in faithful stewardship with the gifts the Lord provides, trusting Him and seeking only faithfulness to Him, even as the world around us continues to tell us that we need to do this and that, to use the Law to frighten and bring guilt and shame to motivate givers and attenders. The Lord doesn’t say that kind of stuff. Instead, by His Word He preaches, “Keep Word and Sacrament in this place, and keep it pure. That’s what makes Christians. From that, be strengthened, be patient and teach my people to be Christians. Raise them up by the Gospel of forgiveness that they may know not only the joy of giving back to the One who gave everything for them, but they may know My love, that they would share this love, that they would seek first the Kingdom in all things, and they would be with Me in the eternal joys of paradise.”

So, with that, I say “Thanks be to God that there are Christians in this place, who when their trust is called ‘foolish,’ their first inclination is to smile and say innocently, “You should read Luke 5, because so is fishing in broad daylight in the deep water.”

At Your Word, dear Jesus, I will continue to trust you even when it doesn’t make sense. And by the power of the Holy Spirit through Your Gospel, I will let down my net for a catch.

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Some of you probably already knew this, but Emily Dickinson is one of my favorite poets. She had an incredible grasp of language; and not only that, but she could string together a necklace of words with such uncommon precision, and pair nearly every phrase with incredible rhyme schemes, that it’s hard not to appreciate her skill. I have her entire collection of works, and I must say, I visit with it often. And even as I read her poetry knowing that she wasn’t necessarily a Christian—although she grew up in a Christian home and was influenced by Christian tradition—her words ring true in many ways, whether she realized it or not. For example, a personal favorite of her lyrics goes something like this:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

I like that. Hope perches in the soul and never stops singing its song. Sounds like the hope we have in Jesus, if you ask me. By the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, hope lives and breathes and moves within us even as we face days of both sunshine and rain, of blue skies and clouds. Or as Saint Paul says in Romans 5:1-5: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

One more time: “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God” (v. 2).

I like that. It speaks of hope as it flows from God’s glory. You and I know by the Holy Word that the truest form of God’s glory is seen on the cross in the death Jesus Christ for our forgiveness—at least that’s the way Jesus talked about it (John 12:23-33; Mark 10:36-38, and others).

And I like this, too: “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Here Paul makes sure we understand that our hope in the suffering, crucified, and risen Savior is never to our shame, but rather it is the wellspring of God’s love that actually pours into our hearts to steady our resolve and sturdy our grasp of the only One who can save us—Christ, the Son of God!

May this hope continue to be yours as the summer days roll in. Remember to hold fast to the means by which God feeds and sustains this hope—Word and Sacrament ministry. You need this stuff. I need this stuff. The whole world needs this stuff. Why? Because it has what sets hope in the soul where it can sing and sing and sing, never growing tired of its joyful song of salvation.