“D o n ’ t U n d e r e s t i m a t e !”
St. Luke 5:1-11
You’ve no doubt heard them, those words by coaches of successful teams just before they square off against another team: We’re not going to underestimate our opponents.
What that usually means is: Of course, we’re the better team and we’re going to whip the others right good, but I can’t say that on TV.
Problem is: How often has the supposedly better team underestimated the opponents and then lost the game in a big way. Just ask the trainer of the Toronto Maple Leafs – well, that may be a bad example: ask the Edmonton Oilers.
In this assignment and call service I want to talk to you about the most underestimated man in the world. No, don’t worry, guys, I’m not referring to one of you vicars; I’m not even going to mention one of the candidates, so relax. Rather I’ll be talking about someone all sorts of people are not taking seriously, someone whom they do not consider at all important for their life, a person most people think they can certainly do without.
And even many of those who claim to believe in him often do not trust in him fully, because they prefer to rely on their own knowledge, ability and talent.
Talking about the most underestimated person in the world is not my way of talking down to him, like the coach I mentioned at the outset. In fact I have no right, nor do any of us have the right, even to consider ourselves on par with him, on the same level, in the same league. This person is not the proverbial underdog that we need to elevate so we can see eye to eye. Rather he is greater, higher, better, stronger and more significant than each one of us could ever dream to be. But to underestimate him is not only to lose a game, it’s to lose your entire future, indeed, your life.
And yet he’s not our opponent, certainly not our enemy; rather he wants us to join his team, be on his side and participate in his final victory.
By now you will have guessed that I’m talking about Christ Jesus – well, who else. He is the most underestimated person in the world – says St. Luke in our text. And referring to whom else but Peter as an example, St. Luke shows how people then and now tend to underestimate and misunderstand, even disbelieve and reject Jesus, quite missing who he really is. Step by step St. Luke shows us with whom we are dealing, both in the church and in our personal life, that is:
— the man in the boat
— the instructor we don’t take seriously
— the God we don’t recognize
The crowds kept coming. From every direction. Thousands upon thousands.
It was the farewell for Michael Jackson in the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
It was big, really big!
How modest in comparison the story St. Luke tells. True, a crowd comes together to see and hear a remarkable person, but nothing like the masses that gathered for a dead Michael Jackson’s. There is Jesus, no bodyguards; he just had to take care that the crowd wouldn’t push him into Lake Galilee. But then the people came so close that he had to climb into a boat, asking the owner Peter to row some distance from the shore. Quite practical, come to think of it: from the boat and across the water people could hear Jesus much better. And yet: no big show, no colour lights, no dancing act, not even a power point presentation. He is just sitting in the boat and begins to teach the people.
Now what are some of you thinking? How boring? Unimaginative? Even disappointing?
Well, I don’t know what the fisherman in the boat with Jesus was thinking. Maybe Peter was hoping that Jesus’ sermon would be over soon and he could get back to fixing his nets for use the coming night. Or maybe he just looked over the people there on the lakeshore, asking: Why are they here? Don’t they have work to do? But since they can’t busy themselves with TV or computer games, this preacher from Nazareth is bringing something of a change of pace into their daily life.
But possibly, just possibly, Peter actually listened to what Jesus had to say and it became clear to him that moment that his was more than another campaign rally or some crowd pleaser. I make a bet that Peter at that moment did not fully realize who this Jesus was and what he came to do.
Of course, it wasn’t just popular entertainment, it was something quite different. The words Jesus spoke to the crowd were nothing less than the words of God himself; St. Luke makes that quite clear. When Jesus speaks, it’s God speaking. His words are full of power, not just exciting and enthusing people, as Michael Jackson obviously had been able to do for millions. Jesus’ words can actually change lives — and they have done so throughout time.
And this happened not only back there on the Galilean Lake, it happens now in St. Catharines, at Lake and Linwell. While we have quite a crowd here today, I assume there were even more people assembled back then at the lakefront. Anyone looking upon that scene may well have thought: nothing unusual; another rally protesting the presence of the Roman military in Israel or some other cause. So what else is new?!
But people who think like that are overlooking the man in the boat – and really underestimate him. He is here at Grace this hour and speaks to each and everyone, to you, Daniel and Greg and Dominick, to you, too, Perry, Jeremy, Tyson, John, Andrew and Paul; he is speaking to each of you here present. More is happening here right now than ever happened at the Michael Jackson gathering. What is happening? Christ’s word, God’s word is changing hearts and lives. God began this changeover in your baptism, he continues that difficult surgery through the proclamation of the Gospel that all of you, candidates and vicars alike, are called upon to proclaim.
That’s why preaching the Gospel, for which you have been trained here at our seminary – let me add: well trained — that’s why preaching that Gospel isn’t just another speech or lecture or meaningless chatter. It’s the word of almighty God himself, calling us to believe in him and stand under his cross, the man in the boat.
And then, finally, Jesus is finished preaching. Peter may have breathed a sigh of relief — let’s get back to some real work! But something rather unexpected happened at that moment. Jesus instructs Simon Peter: “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (v. 4).
My Friends! I admit it, I don’t go fishing; I don’t even like fishing. I prefer to buy my fish with chips at ‘Only Joey’s’ on Ontario Street. But one thing even I know: this is not the way to do it; this is not the way to success, in broad daylight and around the deep part of the lake. And what does a carpenter from hill country of Nazareth know about fishing?! Peter certainly knew; fishing was his life’s occupation. He knew that you fish at night; you hold torches near the surface to attract the fish and then catch a hold of them in the shallow waters. It’s done that way to this very day.
So Peter tries to remind this landlubber of some important facts: “You may be a good preacher, but we know more about this job. In fact, we’ve been at it all night and didn’t catch a thing.”
How often have pastors and people of the church said that? Oh, we tried that – and it didn’t work. We used all sorts of evangelism methods and trained for various missionary tools – no one came to stay. We certainly know our job – after all, we studied at the seminary — but the people just don’t wanna.
Now Peter is a nice guy. Ok, Jesus, if you want us to try and try again, we’ll do it, but I’ll tell you right away, nothing good will come of it. We know our job – but the fish just don’t wanna. And off he rows the boat – and the impossible, the unexplanable happens. Fish everywhere, so many, that the nets might tear, and a second boat has to come and assist. Unbelievable! Perhaps Jesus does know what he’s talking about after all. The instructor we sometimes don’t take seriously.
My Friends! Is that not a situation we know all too well in the church? How much frustration is there at times among fishers of men, the pastors, vicars, church leaders and parishioners. Look at the outreach we planned, the efforts we undertook, the finances we invested – apparently all in vain. We worked all night and didn’t catch a thing. Almost all of our congregations have become smaller; Lutheran Church – Canada has declined in numbers. That’s the situ-ation we are facing across Canada.
And how tempting it is then to devise our own solutions, to engage in new fishing methods, weave bigger nets, increase the size of the trawlers. Yes, that seems to be the solution: Change your methods! Devise new programmes! Make more of a show with some real razzle dazzle. After all, it seems to work for those preaching to the masses on TV, the likes of Joyce Meyers and Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn. Do away with the liturgy and the liturgist and turn the Sunday morning hour into pious entertainment presided over by a master of ceremonies. Tell people things they want to hear, share religious tidbits that won’t hurt, have them sing songs with a catchy beat and many repetitions – but I ask you: where will Jesus, the great Fisher of men, where will he be in all this?
And yet Jesus instructs us: Don’t stay in shallow waters, dare to go out into the deep. Preach what apparently no one wants to hear: Christ, the crucified and risen Saviour of sinners. Of course, to people of rules and commandments
that’s a stumbling block; to people without God it’s just so much folly (I Cor 1: 23). What so obviously seems to have no chance of success, that is what has Christ’s promise for the work you’re called upon to do in the church, because it’s doing things his way and in response to his word. This instructor we all too often do not take seriously, his words are more powerful and will lead to more lasting results in the church and in your ministry than any of the systems, methods and programmes so many have devised and tried.
So what should we be doing, and how, you may ask?
Now before the pastors present and anyone else get out pen and paper to write down the recipes for successful church work that you may expect at this point, just sit and relax. Looking at our text and its story, it’s really rather simple: Celebrate your worship services regularly (please note that I said: celebrate!); preach the Gospel of the crucified and risen Lord faithfully, adding nothing of men and subtracting nothing of God; proclaim clearly the forgiveness of guilt to repentant sinners in holy absolution; and distribute often Christ’s wonderful gifts of his holy body and his precious blood for the nourishing of the faith of the people that have been entrusted to your care.
That’s the recipe! That will bring results! But remember, it is Christ who sends you out to go fishing, and it is he who will fill the nets you throw out. The results may not be the ones you expect; perhaps they won’t come when you expect them. But Christ’s word never returns void. Just do as he says, rely on his word, trust in his promises, even though so many may still underestimate both, the power of Christ’s word and the promises he has made.
And then, finally, Peter catches on. Shocked, he jumps out of the boat full of fish, runs ashore to Jesus, falls at his feet and stutters: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, o Lord!”
What was it that Peter had understood? He now knew that this man, whom he had so terribly underestimated all this time, that this man is no one less than the living God, now on earth, among us men. And Peter now addresses Jesus by his proper title: Kyrie – Lord. That’s the Bible’s name for God. Peter falls down as you only fall down to worship God, confesses that as a sinful man he cannot bear to be in the presence of God’s holiness, just as Isaiah had done in the temple in God’s presence: “Woe is me! For I am lost; I am a man of unclean lips” (Is. 6:5).
Peter had caught on — have you? To underestimate this Jesus is not at all funny; and it isn’t merely embarrassing. Whoever underestimates Jesus, whoever does not see in him the Lord of all, the Lord of his life, does not take seriously what he has to say, he misses out on life and future.
Jesus is more than just a good preacher, a good instructor or the welcome supplier of rainbow trout. He in fact wants to be the Lord of your life. As St. Luke tells us the story of this unusual catch on Lake Galilee he urges us to recognize that we have often underestimated Jesus in our life. How often have we shoved him off into a corner? How often did we pack him into a drawer, ready to call on him only when we think we might need him. Later, when I have time I will deal with him.
One of St. Luke’s purposes is to instill in each of us a sense of shock and dismay at how often we have disregarded Christ’s word nor trusted his promises; how often we thought we knew better what’s good for us than Jesus. That’s the purpose of St. Luke’s story, that you come running to Jesus, fall down at his feet and confess your guilt for underestimating him too many times.
And having done just that, a miracle will take place, just like the one that hap-pened to Peter at the lakeshore: Christ did not turn away from his disciple and he did not turn Peter away. On the contrary, Jesus called Peter to a new life, a life in intimate communion with him. “Don’t be afraid, Peter; from now on you will be catching men.” Said to a sinner – and calling him to entirely different ministry.
That kind of new beginning is granted to all who hear and believe the Gospel, who rejoice in their baptism, who seek his forgiveness, who come to be guests at his table. It is granted you again tonight. Just don’t underestimate Christ or the life-giving blessings he imparts to you through these means that pastors are called upon to dispense.
In this worship service we are publicly testifying – the seminary and the church at large — that these men before you are fit to be sent out as fisherman, to various places, into different circumstances. Particularly to you, the candidates and the vicars, I say: Don’t underestimate your Lord, the power of his word and the blessings of his promises nor the importance of what he calls you to do. Your net will be the word of Christ, and every person caught therein is saved up for never ending communion with the heavenly Father – because the Son caught them, through you. Amen.
Now to the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.