Trinity 5 Sermon, 2017
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
What does God do in the presence of sinners?
He doesn’t always forgive them.
Have you ever said: “God loves the sinner and hates the sin.” Before we go any further I want you to know: I use this phrase. I don’t want you to stop using this phrase. But I also want you to know, it’s not that simple.
Psalm 5:4-6 says this about God: For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
God’s hatred of sin includes the sinful flesh that commits it.
At the same time, God’s love of the world includes the sinners in it. As we reflect on the Gospel lesson today, keep that in mind, as well as this question: What does God do in the presence of sinners?
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus was standing by the lake of Gennesaret [the Sea of Galilee], and he saw two boats…the fishermen had gone out…and were washing their nets. Getting into [Peter’s boat], Jesus asked him to [go out a bit]. And he sat…and taught…from the boat. When he had finished…he said to [Peter]…“Let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking…And [their partners] came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.
What does God do in the presence of these sinners?
The crowd of sinners came to hear God’s word, that’s what it says: the crowd was pressing in on [Jesus] to hear the word of God. So what happens?
We don’t have the quotations of what He says, but Jesus always teaches that the Kingdom of God is come. God is with them, in the person of Jesus Christ.
To demonstrate that God is with them, Jesus tells Peter—who’s been fishing all night—to let his nets down again.
And they catch more fish than they know what to do with.
What would it look like, what would it sound like, from the crowd’s perspective, for Jesus to tell Peter to let his nets down again?
To the crowd, how does Peter look when he actually does it?
To the crowd, how does Peter react when the boats can’t hold the fish?
To the crowd, it’s all foolishness.
If you’ve been fishing all night, it’s foolishness to go right back out and try again. If you bring your boat up to the dock and somebody says, “How’s the fishin’,” and you say, “Terrible,” and he says, “Turn around, try again!” No one turns around and tries again.
You’d be foolish to do so.
Yet Peter actually turns around and does it. It’s foolishness!
Then he actually catches fish, and how does the crowd react?
Verses nine and ten: For [Peter] and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. The crowd isn’t included. They’re not astonished!
Have you ever said this: “There’s a rational explanation behind it.” There’s a rational explanation for everything. There’s a rational explanation for flat tires, downed power lines, and cancer.
The crowd isn’t astonished, because it’s foolishness to suggest that Jesus’ words do anything.
The fish must have been there the whole time.
Peter, a fisherman, just didn’t catch any of them throughout the entire previous night. But the fish must have been there the whole time.
And if you like to fish, you know there are spots you don’t mind sharing with other people and spots that are for you alone. Perhaps Peter just didn’t want to give away his spot—except that this was his livelihood.
We forget that God’s presence in the midst of sinners is a powerful thing. Sometimes dangerous.
God hates evildoers.
God hates sin.
We try to reason our way through God’s Word—ignoring what we don’t like, changing what we disagree with, smiling all the while at how wise we are.
But thus says the Lord: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
If you call “good” what God calls “evil,” if you do what God forbids, you are a liar and an evildoer. And God hates that.
He does not delight in wickedness. Evil does not dwell with Him. The boastful shall not stand in His presence. God hates all evildoers. He destroys those who speak lies. He abhors bloodthirsty and deceitful men (Psalm 5:4-6, paraphrased).
What does God do in the presence of sinners?
He kills them.
So why not Peter?
Peter says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
Peter knows what God can do (everything). Peter also knows what he can do, what his whole life, his works, are worth before God (nothing).
Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinner.
To the crowd, that looks so foolish.
”But the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight (Proverbs 9:10).
Peter fears. And he knows. And now he—and you—can rejoice.
Hear God’s final word on the matter:
Jesus says to Peter, to me, and to you, sinners all: “Do not be afraid.”
You need to know that God hates sin.
You need to know that God hates evildoers.
But you also need to know that the rate of God, God’s hatred, was poured out and extinguished on Christ.
The fire of God’s anger is snuffed out in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
There’s nothing to fear; so, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”
To the crowd, to the world, this sounds like foolishness.
And it is.
For the word of the cross is [foolishness] to those…perishing, but to us…it is the power of God…For since…the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the [foolishness] of [preaching] to save those who believe… Jews demand signs…Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews…[foolishness] to Gentiles, but to [us,] Christ [is] the power [and] wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
How does it look when Jesus says to Peter, “Let down your nets”? Foolish.
How does it look when Jesus dies? Foolish. Weak.
But the words of Christ accomplish what they set out to do.
The death of Christ accomplishes for us what we never could.
When Jesus dies, our wisdom is put to shame and God’s wisdom is perfected: God loves us such that He condemns our sin in His Son.
God loves you such that His final words to you are Jesus’ words to Peter:
“Do not be afraid.”
Your sins are forgiven.
That’s what God does when you, the faithful, are in His presence. We toil day and night and sometimes take nothing. But at the Word of Christ, we believe. Christ removes all fear. Forgives all sin. And feeds you—not with fish—but with His holy Body and precious Blood.
There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus.
Do not be afraid. Your sins are forgiven.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.