Sermons, Uncategorized

Cast Your Net Again!

The Second Miraculous Draught of Fish
“The Second Miraculous Draught of Fish” by James Tissot

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As day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered Him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish (John 21:4-6).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

This last week, both of our LC-MS seminaries held their call services for new candidates in the ministry. I’m pleased to announce that Jesse Baker received a call to Zion Lutheran Church in Hardwick, MN. We thank God for providing a pastor for Zion and we look forward to working with him in our Pipestone Circuit and Minnesota South District.

Call days tend to get pastors reminiscing and/or commiserating about their own call night. An almost universal disappointment seems to be the sermon for the placement service. I suspect that this might be in part because pastors—especially those just coming out of the seminary—tend to be the sharpest critics. It may also be that the preacher realizes this may be his only chance to straighten out these novices before they get in the congregation, and so the sermons tend to be long and heavy on the Law. It might also have something to do with fact that the intended audience of these sermons is more interested in finding out where they will be going to spend their next few years of life and ministry than anything else at this point. Candidates for the ministry probably don’t listen to the sermon on call night much better than the couple listens to the sermon in their wedding service.

This prompted one pastor, Rev. William Cwirla, to offer his own advice for the sermon on call night.

Simple. 10 minutes max. Basic outline:

  1. You’re incompetent.
  2. Christ is your competence.
  3. Go where you’re sent; Christ will bless you.

It’s a good suggestion. A fitting outline for candidate placement services and for impromptu breakfasts at the beach and for Divine Service in little congregations in small towns in southwest Minnesota.

In last week’s text, John wrote what seemed to be the perfect ending for his Gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). Perfect conclusion, end of story.

But then, curiously enough, there’s one more chapter in John’s Gospel, our text for today. The seven disciples seem to be asking themselves, “What are we going to do now?” Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” It doesn’t take much coaxing to get the others to join him. After all, they are in Galilee, waiting for the Lord to come as He had said He would. They’re right next to big lake on which most of them had made a living before being called by Jesus. So, they set out by boat for a customary night of fishing. But they don’t catch anything. As my Uncle Warren would say, “They got skunked!”

Just as the day was breaking, Jesus comes and stands on the shore. He calls out to them much like one fisherman might call out to other fishermen. “Hey guys, you haven’t caught anything to eat, have you?” “No,” they answer, but they haven’t caught on yet that it is Jesus. When Jesus tells them to cast their net out again, this time on the right side of the boat, they do so without much thought of how silly this advice is to experienced fishermen who have worked these waters all their life, the whole last night without any success, or about whom it is who is telling them to do so.

But when the catch is so big they can’t haul the net into the boat, their attention turns back to the man on the shore. John, perhaps remembering that earlier catch of fish when they began to follow Jesus, says to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”

Peter wastes no time. He puts on His outer garment and throws himself into the sea so he can swim to the beach ahead of the rest. This is a big change! Do you remember what Peter did the last time Jesus enabled the disciples to make a great catch? Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” That was the natural reaction of a man who had not yet seen the cross, one who had not experienced Jesus’ forgiveness in the shadow of that cross.

How different it is this time! Peter jumps into the water. He can’t wait to be near Jesus. This is the natural reaction of those who have believed in the cross and resurrection. See, by this time, Easter has happened. Believing in the crucified and risen Christ creates a completely new nature. Now inside is a person who knows he’s forgiven, loved by God. The new person inside knows he’s going to be with God forever in heaven—and he can’t wait to be with Him. And because he believes that, there’s this whole new nature that’s eager to do something for Christ.

So what’s he going to do? We’ll get to that, but first, let’s finish this story.

The others follow Peter in the boat, dragging the net full of fish with them about a hundred yards to shore. When the disciples reach the shore, they see breakfast is already cooking, fish on a bed of coals and bread to go with it. It appears they are surprised to see the fish cooking, although no one asks Jesus where He got it. Instead, Jesus tells them take care of the catch, sort out the “keepers” from the small ones, and He’ll get breakfast ready.

Peter, ever quick to oblige the Lord, climbs into the boat. Although the net is too heavy to lift into the boat, he manages with the help of the others to drag it onto the beach. It is loaded with 153 large fish but doesn’t tear, unlike the net from the miraculous catch early in Jesus’ ministry.

Imagine how the disciples must have felt as Jesus invites them to have breakfast with Him. They know it is Jesus, but this is only His third appearance to them as a group since He died. The resurrected Lord, who brings forgiveness and life by giving Himself up to death on the cross, certainly deserves our service. But Jesus is the Host. He serves them bread and fish for breakfast.

But Jesus still isn’t finished with His disciples. Although our Gospel stops at verse 14, Jesus does not. He takes Peter aside and restores him as an apostle. Peter denied Jesus three times; so three times, Jesus tells him to feed His sheep. Jesus doesn’t just appear to give fish and daily bread. He appears to give forgiveness, again and again. After all, that is why He died. And that is why He is risen. And before He ascends into heaven, Jesus gives His disciples this same ministry of forgiveness and life and promises to send His Holy Spirit to help them.

It’s possible to recognize a number of similarities between the disciples in the text and the Church today. For example: It was after the resurrection and the disciples were together. To follow Jesus after His resurrection is to be together with other believers.

Not only were they together, but they did what they knew how to do. That is, they returned to their vocation as fishermen. Easter doesn’t mean the end of life or work, but rather faithful living and working in a new light.

Before Jesus entered the story, the disciples had caught nothing despite working all night. The Church’s work is only productive insofar as Jesus directs and effects it.

Jesus provided for the disciples. He provided direction for their fishing. He provided the large catch of fish into their nets. He provided food for them back on land. Jesus takes the initiative with us, too. He comes to us in our everyday vocations and graciously provides for all our needs—bodily and spiritually. In fact, Jesus does everything. Jesus feeds and equips us for the work He has for us to do.

Jesus is the one who plans and makes it all happen. The best-laid plans of men are meaningless. Peter says, “I’m going fishing,” but all night they catch nothing. That’s the way it goes sometimes. Without Jesus, all our fishing for men is just as fruitless. But then Jesus says, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” and things go very well. Jesus is the one who catches fish. We just go where He tells us, casting our nets again and again.

Many people might say that Trosky or Jasper or even Pipestone, Minnesota is not the best spot to go fishing for men. Church growth experts are going to say, if you want to grow the Church you have to plant churches in growing suburbs and vibrant communities. But our job isn’t to grow the Church, but rather to be faithful where God has placed us. To cast our nets again and again at our Saviour’s call. He will provide the growth to His Church, when and where He wills.

Any good fisherman knows sometimes when you go fishing, you’re going to get skunked. Not many days in the mission field are 153-large-fish-days! But you won’t catch any fish if you don’t cast out the nets. And the more often you go out on the lake and cast the nets, the more often you’re probably going to catch something. Feel like it’s hopeless? Feel like you’ve been skunked? Take the Lord at His Word. Cast your nets again!

As fishers of men, we don’t plan how many “fish” we’re going to catch. We just go about our business—fishing because we’re fishers of men, sharing Christ just because we’re Christians, people who ourselves are loved, forgiven, going to heaven—doing what come naturally. We leave the results in the hands of the Lord.

Every Christian does this naturally. New Christians aren’t made by how well the pastor entertains us or how much the songs stir our emotions. No, new Christians just naturally happen as we seize the opportunities that God presents to us to share the story of Jesus and His love.

As a pastor, I get lots of chances to tell people about Jesus. But the four cases where I actually know God let me have a hand in making new Christians were the easiest, most natural: when Aimee and I brought Jessi and Katie and Logan and Marissa to be baptized. We did essentially nothing. I wasn’t even a pastor yet, so I didn’t even do the baptizing; but through the water and His Word, Jesus made four new believers. And as they continued in that Word, they’ve grown in their faith and have shared it with their friends and acquaintances as well. And now they have their own children to be baptized and to tell the story of Jesus and His love. See, for all of us who’ve experienced and believed in Easter, making new Christians comes quite naturally. Jesus does all the work, even as you go about your daily vocations.

In the meanwhile, Jesus sustains you with His means of grace. He feeds you, not a miraculous catch of fish and bread, but with His Holy Supper, His very body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins.

So, by God’s grace, may you use the opportunities God places in your path to share the wonderful story of Jesus and His love and forgiveness. May you all be fishers of men, willing to cast out Christ’s Gospel net into the mission field here and abroad, with your personal confession of faith, with your prayers, and financial support. May you all be doing what comes naturally—living in the grace of God.

Though you may feel incompetent, Christ is your competence. Go where you’re planted; Christ will bless you. He will provide for you. He will feed you. He will sustain you. He will give you strength and life. For His sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

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

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Uncategorized

A Window of Opportunity

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“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” (Acts 8:26).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

You’re probably familiar with the idiom, “a window of opportunity.” “A window of opportunity” is a phrase used to describe a limited time when things are especially ripe to accomplish a particular task or achieve a particular goal. For example, many early childhood development experts speak of “windows of opportunity” when the brains of infants and toddlers are more open to learn skills like foreign languages and mathematics. Medical researchers use “window of opportunity” trials in which patients receive one or more new compounds between their cancer diagnosis and standard treatment to try to gain further insights into the disease and potential treatments.

You and I come across “windows of opportunity” in our daily life as well. Farmers are looking for “a window of opportunity” to get their crops put in between rain showers or to sell their products at the highest price. Some of you might look for “a window of opportunity” for job advancement, making a sale, or gaining a new client. And parents have “a window of opportunity,” when they can influence and direct their children before sending them out in the world.

But have you ever thought how “a window of opportunity” might be a good way to describe a situation in which you might share your faith in Christ Jesus? Such “windows of opportunity” occur when God opens doors to share His love with others. There are times when people are more receptive to the Good News we have to share about Jesus. But like other “windows of opportunity,” they don’t last forever. So it would be good for us to learn to recognize and seize them when they come.

In our text, Philip seized a “window of opportunity” provided by God to tell an Ethiopian about Jesus. Philip was one of the deacons chosen to assist the apostles. When the believers were scattered after Stephen’s martyrdom, he preached the Gospel in Samaria and it was received with “great joy.”

Then the angel of the Lord came to Philip with special instructions: “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Philip, who had just done miraculous signs and preached the Gospel to hundreds in Samaria, was sent a long way to open the Scriptures to one individual soul.

Obediently, Philip headed down the desert road. By God’s providence, he met an Ethiopian official who believed in the true God. Having made the 200-mile journey to Jerusalem to worship, it’s obvious that he was committed to his faith and desired to learn more of God’s will. But he must’ve wondered about his own religious status. As a foreign eunuch, God’s law in Deuteronomy 23:1 excluded him from full membership and barred him from entering the temple.

But the fifty-sixth chapter of Isaiah promises something better when the day of the Messiah would come. “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from His people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, who choose the things that please Me and hold fast My covenant, I will give in My house and within My walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:3–5).

While we can’t be certain, perhaps this is why the man was reading the book of the prophet Isaiah. He wanted to know if he had a place in God’s kingdom, and what that place might be. Whatever his reasons, this “window of opportunity” was surely arranged by the Lord. God had prepared this pupil for his new teacher.

As Philip stayed near, he found the perfect “window of opportunity” to tell the good news about Jesus. “Do you understand what you are reading?” he asked. The question was not meant to insult, but was intended to draw out the man’s religious position and conviction. It’s a question that all Bible readers ought to keep in mind. It’s far too easy to just read the words without understanding their meaning and connection with other Bible passages.

The Ethiopian answered, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” This doesn’t mean the Bible can’t be understood without an expert’s interpretation. It simply shows that beginners can use some help in learning how to read and understand the Bible. That’s what we have Bible studies for—not just for the immediate learning, but to learn how to study God’s Word personally.

The Ethiopian invited Philip to sit beside him. He was reading Isaiah 53:7-8: “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of My people.”

This was the Gospel of the Old Testament—a beautiful and clear account of the Messiah’s willing sacrifice. But its meaning was hidden from the Ethiopian because he did not know how it had been fulfilled. So he asked, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or someone else?”

And Philip, full of the joy of the missionary who finds an eager inquirer of the truth began to explain. The Ethiopian couldn’t have found a more suitable text, for its subject was the Messiah. Philip had a fine opportunity to talk about Jesus.  That He was the Suffering Servant, the innocent Lamb of God, who was silent before His enemies and judges. How He was falsely accused, wrongly convicted, and sentenced to die unjustly.

Jesus is the Servant who fulfills in His passion, death, and resurrection all the Scripture passages about the Messiah. Jesus is the Servant who has brought the day when foreigners and eunuchs are not barred from the assembly, but are wholeheartedly welcomed into His body and are given His everlasting name.

And while Philip was still picturing the glories of Christ in glowing colors, they came to some water. And the Ethiopian, half in eagerness and half in fear, pointed to the water and said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” While he was hesitant to dare believe he could have full benefit of God’s blessings, the eunuch wanted very much to be baptized.

His question demonstrates the centrality of Baptism in Christian preaching and teaching. Jesus’ Great Commission directs the church to “make disciples” by baptizing and teaching the Good News to all nations. And that is what Philip did. He first taught the Ethiopian and then baptized him, making him a disciple of Jesus Christ. And suddenly, Philip was taken away by the Spirit of the Lord.

The Ethiopian went his way rejoicing. He was no longer dependent upon his teacher. He had heard the essential facts that enabled him to understand the Scriptures. In Baptism, he had received Christ’s everlasting name, and was made a full member of His church. According to tradition, he went home to share the good news, establishing the church in Ethiopia.

Philip was sent to a new “mission field.” He appeared in Azotus and preached the Gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea. Mission and ministry are never finished on earth. One conversion does not mean the end of work in the harvest fields. It continues, day and night, in many different people and locations. When God closes one window of opportunity, He opens another!

The story of Philip and the Ethiopian offers valuable insights for our own Christian faith and life. First, the Ethiopian understood the harsh truth of separation and spiritual ignorance. He had been excluded from full membership in the religious community because, as a eunuch, he was considered unclean. And until Philip pointed him to Jesus, he lacked a complete knowledge of God and His plan of salvation.

But all people are ultimately separated from God because of sin. All of us are by nature sinful and unclean. And because of that nature, no one has a saving knowledge of God and His will. No one can understand His saving Word. But that all changes when we are brought to faith in Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment of God’s purpose and Word. By faith in Him—in His death and resurrection as God’s solution to our need—we know God’s plan of salvation. Jesus willingly offered Himself, the perfect sacrifice, for the sins of the world. We are His chosen people, saved by His mercy and grace.

Second, the Ethiopian recognized his own need. As Philip proclaimed the truth of God’s judgment upon sin and His call to repent, the eunuch, like the first converts at Pentecost was “cut to the heart.” He believed God’s Word. He felt His guilt. The Spirit was at work in his life. He repented and asked to be baptized.

All people are separated from God because of sin. By nature, no one has a saving knowledge of God and His will. Yet Christ is the fulfillment of God’s purpose and plan. He lived the perfect life we cannot. He died to pay the penalty for our sin. And through repentance and Baptism He makes these ours.

Baptism brings us into a new relationship with the living God. It is God’s appointed means to forgive sin and strengthen His people for service in the Kingdom. In our Baptism into Christ, we are connected with His crucifixion and resurrection. We share in His death, that we may also share in His life—now and forever. And knowing God’s plan of salvation, we are motivated by His love to seek windows of opportunity in which we can tell others of His love for them.

One of those “windows” is coming up soon. We’ll be holding an Every One His Witness Workshop, where we will learn how to be more effective witnesses of Jesus in our everyday life. We’ll also be hosting several community outreach events, like the Trosky Carnival and Our Saviour’s Block Party. Vacation Bible School is a wonderful opportunity for our congregations to reach out to the children in our area. Take the time to invite the children in your family and neighborhood to join us. Each of these is a “window of opportunity,” a time that is ripe for sharing the Gospel. I encourage you to seize it. But it’s very likely that your “window of opportunity” is probably something we couldn’t even begin to imagine. God likes to surprise us. Look for your “window” this week!

We must humbly confess that in the past we’ve neglected to seize many of the “windows of opportunity” that we’ve had to share our faith. For those failures, we repent. But we rejoice in the forgiveness Jesus earned for us on the cross, which covers all sin—even that sin of neglect of His Word and failure to love our neighbor. Renewed by His Holy Spirit, we pray that we would go out as witnesses and givers of mercy. And that we would be empowered to boldly seize whatever new “windows of opportunity” we may encounter in the mission field of our own world. May God grant this to us all! Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.