Fishing, it’s a hobby some of you love; to go fishing with friends and family, cast a line, have a chat and see what you catch. Now there are many different ways to fish, the good old fishing rod, the line, the net, the trawling and trolling; but at its core fishing is about lowering something into the water to pull something precious out, letting down nets into the deep to catch the fish. And yet Jesus says today to this fisherman Simon, called Peter, from now on he will catch men. What’s going on here? What’s this connection between fish and men? Why does Jesus, God Almighty, choose a fisherman to be His disciple, even four fishermen? And what does this account of fishing have to do with you?
To answer our first question, we’ll look at the other words God has spoken to us today, from the call of Isaiah. From Isaiah chapter 6 we heard God come down, like a fisherman down to the water, to show Himself to Isaiah. Like a fisherman He lifts Isaiah up into His presence, Although His throne is a bit fancier than a deck chair. Isaiah lifts his eyes to the Lord and cries out, ‘I am a man of unclean lips, and live among a people of unclean lips.’ Isaiah lives deep among a people who live in darkness away from God’s light; they do not speak or hear God’s Word, but dirty their lips with lies, hate, and gossip. Like an ocean fish Isaiah lives deep in this darkness. Yet God sends down a burning coal like a hook to catch him, to touch his lips and bring him up and our of a life of sin; of course the same happens in Holy Communion, He Himself coming down to forgive your sin in touching your lips and bringing you up into His life. So even for Isaiah, God is a fisherman, He goes down to the water and pulls sinners up out of the depths to live with Him.
Then why might Jesus choose fishermen to be the first and core of His disciples? He had seen Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, before after His baptism by John in the Jordan river (John 1:35-42). … Hmm, that’s another time with water He went down and came back up. And in Luke’s account today He asks Simon, Andrew’s brother, to use his boat to teach. Now here’s another interesting thing the Holy Spirit has preserved for us to help us know Jesus. Jesus stands in a boat, that ancient image of the church, and proclaims the truth to many people, you could say He casts the Gospel out to the crowd like a net. How many people does He catch? Don’t know.
Yet then He turns to Simon Peter, who’d been fishing in the dark before Jesus had arrived, fishing without God, and had caught nothing. Jesus guides Simon where to fish, and shows His power to Peter. Simon Peter can’t handle it himself, not even with His brother Andrew’s help, he calls out to James and John to come help with the catch; but still the catch is so great they struggle to bring it to shore. Here, the Holy Spirit in His wisdom has shown us what it means to be fishers of men, and why the first disciples were fishermen. They knew what it meant, the hard work of casting out, the need for God’s help, the need for community to live with each other and help each other, and now Jesus reveals how big the catch will be! Peter and Andrew, James and John, will preach to nations, casting the net wide and with each other’s help and the Lord’s catching many people into life. Many more came to help down the centuries and down to today.
So, what does this mean for you? It means, we all confessed with Isaiah, with Simon, and with each other the truth of who we are. We fail to love as Christ loved, we don’t always speak good truth to others, we sin against who we are in God. I am a sinner with unclean lips. Basically, we can’t do it by ourselves, just like Simon’s failure in fishing the night before without Jesus. We need help. And God sends it. He comes down to us today in the reading and hearing of His Word, in the Absolution, and most specially in Holy Communion; He comes down to catch you, and to clean you, to heal you and to bring you to Himself. It’s the Divine Service, It’s God’s fishing trip.
And that’s one thing you can catch and take away today, but He didn’t just forgive Isaiah, He didn’t just say, ‘fear not’ to Simon. He sent them out. Isaiah was sent out to help people see their need, their sin and failure, and to promise the coming Messiah the coming Good News. Simon Peter was sent to cast the net of that Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, His victory against our real enemies. And you too are called into God’s service, forgiven and made New by God’s merciful grace. You are called to join Isaiah, Peter, Paul, all Christians and Jesus Himself, in going down to bring others up. Maybe you are not called to preach to nations as the Apostles did, maybe not to cities and great crowds as the Martyrs, maybe not to whole congregations, to priests and popes as Luther and countless faithful pastors have; yet you are called to cast out the net of the gospel even if it is just to encourage the faith of your family and friends and each other here today.
So, relying on God’s strength, encourage each other today and go out forgiven to help with the fishing.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now until we all reach the Promised Land. Amen.