3rd Sunday after Epiphany – Sanctity of Human Life Sunday
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, MT
January 22, Year of Our + Lord 2012
I'm not a fisherman. Even though I grew up along the Yellowstone, even though I have fished, I can't say that I'm a fisherman. My Dad and older siblings hunted, and so I hunt. But we never fished much.
I like to eat fish. Many people here in Sidney and Fairview have invited me fishing. I'm not opposed to it. I can cast and reel in the line. But I don't really know much about fishing. I'm willing to learn, and maybe someday I'll become a fisherman. But it would be an insult to all the fishermen and fish out there if today I was to claim to be a fisherman.
God is a fisherman. Remember how Jesus helped out Peter and James and John in their fishing efforts? "Cast your nets on the other side of the boat, I'm sure you'll catch some there." Wouldn't you love to have Jesus as your fishfinder? One of the last things Jesus did before He ascended into heaven to reign at the Father's right hand was to help the Apostles with their fishing, one last time. Jesus not only pointed them to another miraculous catch of fish; when they got to shore, Jesus already had fish on the fire.
Jesus is a fisherman, and Jesus uses fishing metaphors when he talks about other things. Like salvation. Jesus has been baptized by John, He is ready to begin his work, his ministry. Jesus began preaching the Gospel, the Good News: "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" And from the very beginning Jesus chooses men to be with Him, men to believe in Him, and then to be used by Him as His special servants. His Apostles, the men upon whom and through whom Jesus would build His Church. Listen:
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.
Jesus is fishing for souls, seeking to draw men and women out of the sea of death into the New Life that He offers in His Church. And to do this Jesus chooses these men: Andrew, Peter, James and John, a bunch of smelly fishermen. Uneducated, blue collar guys. Fishing, not religion, was their life. It's seems like an odd choice.
But then God's methods of fishing for souls always seem strange to us. Consider Jonah, sent to preach to Ninevah. When the Church today considers a new mission effort, we try and determine a target audience that we think is likely to be open to the Gospel. We look for someplace where we have some connection or ability to establish relationships. And when we choose missionaries to send, we always look for men with hearts for the lost, servants who are eager to reach out in love to those who don't yet know Christ.
But not God. Not always at least. The Ninevites were the last people we'd expect to care about the God of Israel. They were Israel's most bitter enemy. Rich and powerful and pagan, that is, they worshiped any number of false gods. Why should they care what the LORD's prophet had to say? And Jonah? Well, he hated the Ninevites, and tried with all his might to avoid going to preach to them, taking passage on a ship going the opposite direction. But God, fishing by His own rules, determined to use Jonah to reach out to the Ninevites, bringing back this reluctant prophet in the belly of a great fish. And God made it work. Through His Word alone, spoken into the most unpromising circumstances, the LORD worked repentance in a whole city of pagans.
God's way of evangelizing doesn't always meet our expectations. This is because God's way of salvation does not meet our expectations. The Good News is that Jesus died. Salvation from sin and hell is found in the suffering and punishment of the only man who never sinned. New life only comes through death. We by our nature can know nothing of such a salvation. God must reveal it to us. God must change our hearts and minds in order to make us believe and begin to understand that in the Cross, and only in the Cross, can we find a solution to the problems that plague us. Solutions for the hurts that the world, and our own friends, neighbors and family inflict on us. An answer for the pain we cause ourselves and others.
The event of salvation, Jesus' death and resurrection, is not something we would ever think up on our own. So we should also learn that God's way of delivering salvation is not going to work the way that we'd expect.
So, Jonah, a reluctant prophet with no heart for the Ninevites, is used by God to work repentance in them. And common fishermen are chosen by Jesus to be His Apostles, the foundation of His Church.
And so too, we, the Church today, find our most important avenues for preaching the Gospel in the most unlikely places. Like in life issues.
Life issues. That sounds nice. Life is good, life comes from God. But we know that in our world today, supporting life means saying some very unpopular things. To support life, we have to speak out against abortion. To support life, we have to point out that the problem with sex in our world today isn't the babies that are created. It's the bad choices that so many people make, before and after the babies are conceived. To support life, we have to support families as they pour their life into allowing their parents and grandparents to die in a Godly way. To die in faith, neither fearing death, because of Christ, nor giving in to the temptation to hasten the end. Because the end of life, just like the beginning, is God's to determine, not ours.
Such things are hard to say and do. To speak forgiveness, first the Church must speak of sin. And that's hard. It's hard because the people we speak to don't want to hear it, and neither do we. All of the problems with our culture's attitude toward life also infect us. Abortion, sexual immorality, the desire to hasten death in order to avoid discomfort, all of these sins are as real for us, inside the Church walls, as they are outside them. You, and I, all of us, share some responsibility for neglecting life. We too need to hear the message that Jesus spoke in Galilee: The kingdom of God is near, repent (that is, turn away from your sin), and believe the Good News. The cross of Jesus, His unlikely way of salvation, covers all sin. His death gives new life, to all who believe. Abortion, assisted suicide, neglecting life, all these are sins, but they are sins that the blood of Jesus covers. There is forgiveness, for you, in Christ, no matter what you've done. Repent, confess your sins and believe the Good News.
God has an odd way of fishing for souls. His bait does not seem very attractive. His message of grace and forgiveness is always proceeded by the truth about our sin. His messengers are nothing but poor, miserable sinners. But this is God's way. Through this unpopular message, spoken into unpromising circumstances by forgiven sinners, God catches souls.
And what joy there is in the catching. What a privilege to be present as God reels in another one. Sometimes the fish fight wildly, using all their strength to avoid God, but God prevails. And when the fish are finally in God's boat, when sinners realize that God forgives them and gives them New Life in Jesus, then there is great joy, in heaven and on earth. Being part of God's Mission to the lost can be hard, even frightening. But there is no greater privilege than to be a part of God's fishing expedition, to behold the joy of new believers, and to share in that joy, as God binds you ever more firmly into His net, even as He uses you in His Mission.
God by His Spirit daily and richly forgives you all your sins, for the sake of the Great Fisherman, Jesus Christ. May He use you and His whole Church on earth as live bait, to draw yet more fish into His boat. Amen.