TRINITY V – Exaudi, Domine
Introit: (Ps. 27) Hearken, O Lord, unto my voice when I cry unto thee: be thou my succour; O cast me not away, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation. Ps. The Lord is my light, and my salvation: whom then shall I fear? Glory be … Hearken, O Lord …
Collect: Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee: that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by thy governance, that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers. Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks. For mine eyes are upon all their ways: they are not hid from my face, neither is their iniquity hid from mine eyes. And first I will recompense their iniquity and their sin double; because they have defiled my land, they have filled mine inheritance with the carcases of their detestable and abominable things. O Lord, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles shall come unto thee from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit. Shall a man make gods unto himself, and they are no gods? Therefore, behold, I will this once cause them to know, I will cause them to know mine hand and my might; and they shall know that my name is The Lord. (Jeremiah 16.14-21)
Gradual: (Ps. 84) Behold, O God, our defender: and look upon thy servants. V. O Lord God of hosts, hear the prayers of thy servants.
Epistle: Dearly beloved: Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. (I Peter 3.8-15)
Alleluia. The king shall rejoice in thy strength, O Lord: exceeding glad shall he be of thy salvation. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: It came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon Jesus to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, and saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: and so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him. (St Luke 5.1-11)
“Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing.”
Peter’s complaint sounds all too familiar. We’ve tried all these initiatives and gimmicks, but our congregation still isn’t growing. But being faithful to Christ does not mean we are going to get what we think is best. Being faithful to Christ means that He gets what He knows is best. From marketing strategies and slogans to clever advertising and shiny products, as if the Church were a business looking for customers, there are plenty of places with fuller nets. But are they full of “men” or “fish”? Following human wisdom, we might offer entertainment, attracting spectators to a show or a concert, but that is not what the Church is about. The Church of God depends completely upon what the world sees as nonsense. “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent … but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (I Cor 1.18-19, 23-25). The world follows its own wisdom, but the Church must follow Christ’s wisdom. All this becomes clear through today’s Scripture lessons. Simon and his companions had been doing everything right according to the standard of worldly wisdom, but that wisdom failed them. When Jesus told them to go out into the deep water in the middle of the day, that was not in keeping with human wisdom or logic. Yet, according to the will and wisdom of God, they brought in a great catch. Of course, the stakes are rather low if we’re just talking about fish. But, if listening to Jesus is critical for the task of catching fish, how much more must they listen and obey, even when His command defies our own perceived wisdom, when it comes to making disciples and gathering people into the Kingdom of God?
“Shall a man make gods unto himself, and they are no gods? Therefore, behold, I will this once cause them to know, I will cause them to know mine hand and my might; and they shall know that my name is The Lord.” “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” Our Scripture lessons during Trinity-tide are instructing us on what it means to live in the Kingdom of God—to follow Christ and be His disciples. Today’s lessons speak to us of the peace and mission of the Church.
In the Epistle, the same St Peter of whom we read in the Gospel tells us that the peace of the Church is founded on the principle that we “sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts.” Within that fellowship, where Christ is truly Lord, we are to be of one mind and one heart—united in one mission. While we may have many temperaments, passions, abilities, and vocations, we should be united in the knowledge and love of God, loving one another as brothers and sisters. Much of the peace of the Church depends upon our guarding our tongues. Gossip, slander, and divisive talk serve only to exalt ourselves at the expense of others. But “he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” St Peter, quoting from Psalm 34, warns us of the destructive effect of following our own baser human ways, rather than the way of God. Peter was writing to a persecuted Church, but, despite all their hardships, he exhorts them to unity, compassion, love, forbearance, and peace. As Christians we are to reflect the humble love that Christ has shown us. “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, blessing, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” This is what we ask in the Collect when we pray that we might “joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness.” Obeying Christ, and sanctifying Him as Lord in our hearts—this is how the Church will grow, although it seems utter foolishness to the world’s way of thinking.
Our Gospel gives a vivid illustration of the mission of the Church, drawing people to Christ in common obedience to His Word, as we sanctify Him as Lord in our hearts. The miraculous draught of fishes is not so much a miracle per se as a parable in action. Simon Peter and his partners had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Now all he really wants to do is finish washing out his nets so that he can go home and get some sleep, but when Jesus asks to use his boat as a pulpit, Peter complies. During the sermon Peter no doubt heard what the Lord was saying to the crowds, but his attention was really on his boat, his nets, and his livelihood—on worldly pursuits. How often are we like that? We read the Scriptures, but our thoughts are more focussed on all we have to get done today. We attend Mass, but our minds are actually on our plans for the afternoon or the stresses of life. Like Peter, we sit there pulling bits of seaweed from our nets as Our Lord speaks, not really listening to His words or taking them to heart.
So Jesus finishes teaching, but instead of asking Peter to take him back to shore, he says, “Launch out into the deep water, and let down your nets for a catch.” Now Peter’s entire night of fishing had been a waste of time, so launching out again was undoubtedly the last thing he wanted to do, but in resignation he complies. He may call Jesus, “Master,” but it is clear that he did not yet understand the full import of that title. He already had everything figured out for himself in his neat little world. He knew how to fish; fishing was his life. He and his partners had worked all night, using the tried-and-true methods they had most likely learned from their fathers. There were just no fish. So if they couldn’t find any, how could this carpenter-cum-rabbi do any better? He was probably thinking, “Just stick to preaching and teaching, Rabbi, and let me do the fishing.” But grudgingly, condescendingly, he humours Him: “Nevertheless, at thy word, I will let down the nets.” We may relate to Peter’s frustration: “Lord, there’s no point, but just to prove it, …” and he casts his net—not a real cast, just sort of half-heartedly chucks it into the water. After all, he wasn’t going to catch anything anyway …
But immediately they enclosed such a humongous shoal of fish that the net began to break, and this, after these professional fishermen had caught not a single fish all night. Peter is more concerned with the temporal things of his livelihood than with the things of God, so Jesus overwhelms him with his own livelihood—so many fish that his partners have to row out to help, and even then, both boats were swamped by the abundance of the catch.
Perhaps most significant in all this “parable” are the forms of address Peter uses. The first time, he addresses Jesus as “ἐπιστάτα (epistáta),” a word used only in Luke, as a translation of “rabbi,” but emphasizing the authority, rather than the teaching aspect of the office. But the second time, he falls to his knees and calls Him “κύριε (kyrie)” or “Lord.” In other words, Peter comes to realise that this is not just another rabbi, for only God could work such a miracle, and he falls to the ground in awe before Jesus. He has now begun to “sanctify Christ as Lord” in his heart. The Lord gave Peter a dramatic demonstration that God would take care of the result if he would but act in faith, and once Peter recognises this truth, Jesus calls him to the work of the Kingdom: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will fish not for smelly, slimy fish, but for human souls.” And that is exactly what Peter and his companions did. They trusted in Christ and, “When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.”
How many times have we tried to find faith and salvation outside the Gospel of Jesus Christ? How often do we try to rely on our own reason and strength? Our desires are deeply revealing of what possesses us. Where do we spend our time and effort? What is our focus? What are our goals and dreams? What do we pray for? And when we do get what we think we want, how long are we satisfied? In our sinful human pride, we’ve got it all figured out … until everything falls apart. The simple fact is, that something will own us, will capture our energies, and determine where we place our hope and trust. Jesus wants to be that something. When we truly encounter Him, when we come to true faith and sanctify Him as Lord in our heart, all else pales in comparison. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt 6.19-21)
God’s gift to Peter, James, and John that day was not fish. All those fish were left on the beach when they left their nets to follow Jesus. The gift was faith. The boats could stay where they were; from now on, they would be fishing for human souls. They would cast the very net which had caught them: the power of the living Word of God. Our Lord sends His fishermen to preach repentance and faith, to share the good news that Jesus died to save us from sin and reconcile us to God. Two weeks ago, we heard the scribes and Pharisees grumbling, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” What they meant as mockery and disdain is our faithful and holy confession. Yes, Jesus does receive sinners and has fellowship with them. Thanks be to God! In fact, He has this very thing in mind when He gives Peter his new calling. Peter begs, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” But Jesus does not depart. Instead, He draws closer to Peter so that Peter and the other apostles might receive a new calling—to catch other sinners with the net of the life-giving Gospel, and draw them into the boat of the Church, that they might have fellowship with Christ forever. Rather than depart from you, He desires to draw you closer to Himself.
In our time there is a real need to reclaim the peace and mission of the Church—a peace and mission founded upon the sanctifying of Christ as Lord, and obedience to His Word. We are not catching much these days, and, like Peter, we complain, “Master, we have toiled all night, and have taken nothing.” But perhaps that is because our methods are wrong. Disappointments come to us all, and are even more discouraging when they come after long hard work. We wash our empty nets in frustration and despair, and when Jesus says, “Launch out into the deep,” we reply, “Lord, it’s no use! We’ve tried that already, and nothing works. Besides, I’m just too tired.” But we are called not to rely upon our own devices, not to follow worldly wisdom, but to faithfulness—to trust Christ and obey Him. In the Collect we prayed that “the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by thy governance, that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness.” But in reality, how often is it we who are trying to govern and order all things to achieve our own desired ends, or, when things are not going as we think they should, do we try to place the blame on others, or get anxious and panicky as if God is not in control? This is the lesson of today’s readings: We need to let go of our attachments to the things of this world and fix our affections instead upon Jesus Christ. Then we can serve God with joy and in peace. And God’s grace is far beyond our imagination, bursting the nets of our expectations. Peter may not have had great success in fishing that night, but later on, as a fisher of human souls, he was wildly successful. At Pentecost, for example, God gave him a miraculous catch of three thousand in just one day!
God establishes His peace with us through Christ, and promises to care and provide for us; but still we hold tight to our earthly cares, and look to the secular to meet our needs. What does this communicate to the world about our faith? Has Christ been sanctified as Lord in our hearts, or not? Is God true to His word, or not? Honour Him, and He will take care of you. Fear Him, and you have nothing else to fear. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and He will work everything else out for eternal blessing. As we allow our fears and anxieties to be absorbed into the peace of God, we are freed to be about the Kingdom work that He has given us—sharing His grace, mercy, and peace with the world, because we have experienced it ourselves. We have peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ. It is now our commission to share that Good News, and to draw others into the “net.” Jesus does not call every one of us to leave our jobs and make the Gospel our full-time profession, but His call still goes out to each and all of us: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And only in serving Him wholeheartedly do we find true freedom and peace.
Ultimately, this is not a story about fishing. If it were, the disciples would have been quite satisfied with the outcome. But they were drawn after something more, something deeper. Today’s lessons give us a dramatic illustration of the truth that God does, in fact, govern the course of this world, and that when Jesus calls us to forsake all and follow Him, we can trust Him, and joyfully serve Him in all godly quietness, not worrying about the outcome. “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts,” and He will give us a peace and a purpose which the world can never give.
The following prayer, falsely attributed to Sir Francis Drake, we do well to make our own:
Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And push us into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
In the Name of our Captain, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.”
Collect: O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom: Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.