Fifth Sunday after Trinity
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.
This prayer was composed at a time when the vicious enemies – Huns, Vandals, Goths – were at the gates of Rome; therefore, its expressions were made from hearts totally aware of their dependence upon the mercy of God. As a product of the Gregorian Sacramentary, the prayer concerns the Reformation Doctrine of the First Use of the Law. (Barbee & Zahl) The First Use of the Law is a restraining force in the world against all wickedness. Without a moral restraint, the world would become so completely wicked that life could not exist. The Second Use of the Law, not addressed here, is the function of the Law as a mirror to our imperfections in the face of the Law – a school-teacher which demands a greater perfection than we are ever able to attain, but must strive for.
Why do we have “wars and rumors of war” in all quarters of the world? We see a contrast of beliefs that are diametrically opposed to one another abroad in the world today. The three major beliefs are Christianity, atheism, and Islam. You may discount the second (atheism) for it is a feigned belief. Every atheist knows, as does every other human being, that there is a God. But the atheist is in denial due to the dire ramifications the existence of God has for his demented soul. But Islam is a different story. Even more demented than the atheist, the Muslim believes that his god is Allah, and that Allah desires the wholesale slaughter, by the cruelest means, of all who will not bow the knee to his wicked rule. I believe that Satan himself would devise such a religion if he had the time – and he presently does have the time. Having lived in Iran BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER the Islamic Revolution there, I feel that I have some credibility to advance an informed assessment of the evils of Islam. I will not, here, go into the heart-sickening details. But I can say with certainty that faith, professed at the point of the sword, is no faith at all.
Our Prayer of Collect today reminds that there does exist the possibility of a peaceable kingdom, but that Kingdom must find its governance in a Holy God and not a false one. The peace of God is a peace that cannot be comprehended through the designs and opinions of man: And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:7) Such a peace cannot be possessed by a people who are nominal Christians but only by those who have taken on the Mind of Christ. His Mind does not vindictively pursue those who are ignorant of Him, but seeks them out in love to open their eyes to the Light that scatters the darkness and ennobles the soul.
This Prayer asks for a grant from the proper source – the Lord! GRANT, O Lord. You may beg alms from a pauper all you please, but your need will never be granted because the pauper has no means by which your prayer may be granted. If we have great need, with no means of satisfying within our own means, we must go to the One who has the resources to grant our request. For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. ……. call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me. (Psalms 50:10, 11, 15)
Our petition is not an ultimatum for we have no grounds to demand anything of the Most High King. GRANT, O Lord, we beseech thee. Standing in the need of favors which we are powerless to acquire of our own volition, we approach the Throne of Grace as children begging for the mercy and favor of a loving Father. There is a different approach to that Throne being deceitfully preached from the sensational pulpits of America today that claims we can DEMAND anything of God and He is bound to grant the demand. What an evil and foolish lie. The very definition of a King is that He is Sovereign on His Throne. He may grant grace, or withhold mercy, to whom He pleases and for reasons that are His alone. But I can assure you of this one point: anything besought of God that is in accord with His own Will to grant, shall be granted. So, if we have taken on the Mind of Christ, our requests shall be uttered out of that Mind. But if we harbor some hidden wickedness in our hearts, God will not hear our petitions. We dare not get angry with God if He does not hear our prayers. We may not blame His Holy ears for being unhearing. When our prayers are not heard, we need to look within, not seeking excuses without: If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me: (Psalms 66:18)
Should we ask our prayers to be granted out of selfish desires? The model prayer our Lord taught us to pray has no such selfish interest at heart except that we receive only our daily bread. We also pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in Heaven.” Is this truly the desire of our hearts? It certainly should be for, if God’s will is done, it will be done by His people and for His purposes. There will be no abuse of little children, no murders or theft, no cruel wars, no rape or adultery – for the Will of God prohibits any slight wickedness. And so we pray “. . . that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by thy governance. All who disobey the Sovereign of a Kingdom are rebels to His authority. His rule is not borne by an iron yoke, but a light and easy to bear the yoke of love. But the children of the devil cannot abide such a yoke, for love and obedience thereto are alien to their hearts which are full of evil imaginations. One only needs to consider the beheadings and brutal treatment of innocents in the Middle East to pray that such evil never invades our own shores and borders. I fear that we are, by our own present wickedness as a nation, inviting the same into our very parlors.
What is the objective of the God-governed peace for which we plead? “….that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness.” Please note that one of the benefits of Godly governance is joy. We not only seek to serve God in quiet obedience but even joyfully do so. Unbelievably so, there are far greater numbers of Christians being martyred today than in any previous period of the history of the world. Can we fathom that? As God’s Word becomes more generally known, evil also abounds the more – for Satan knows his days are numbered and his death throes are horrendous. If we are one with Jesus Christ, He will be One with us. When we go seeking for the mercy of the Father, we had best take His only Begotten Son along with us to plead our cause, and it shall be granted assuredly. Godly quietness is not peace at all cost, but a Godly peace – a peace that acknowledges love, mercy, and grace to be grants of God to us, and to our fellows.
The Holy Gospel
1 And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. 3 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. 4 Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. 5 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. 6 And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. 7 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. 8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. 9 For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: 10 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. 11 And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.
Unless a Christian or a minister is called of God, he will not follow Jesus. He must be both called and chosen. This principle is born out more acutely in today’s text. It is the THIRD calling of Peter, James and John – and it is the EFFECTUAL calling of the three for they forsook all and followed Him on this Third calling. Peter, especially, seemed one who was hard-headed of hearing. The Lord had called Peter to follow Him three times, He had told Peter that he would deny Him three times, He asked Peter, “Lovest thou me?” three times, and He told Peter to “Take and eat” (Acts 10) three times. This latter calling to take and eat had nothing to do with the ceremonial food laws, but the acceptance of the Gentiles into the church. There is an overruling principle here that our Lord will not give us rest when He calls and chooses His disciples. He will continue the call in increasing intensity until the Spirit has prepared the heart to respond. In human reason and logic, which covets its own will, this principle is resisted to the end that salvation comes to rest upon human will and not that of God. (For the three callings of the three, see John 1:35-42, Matthew 4:18-22, & this present text above.
As the 17th Article of Religion confirms, based on many Scriptural proofs, and which I quote in part:
XVII. Of Predestination and Election – “Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called according to God’s purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God’s mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.”
God calls and chooses, and He does not relent. He will have that which He lays claim to. “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” (Matt 20:15-16) “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” (John 15:16) He had chosen you, too, if you are a disciple of Christ, and the Holy Spirit drew you nigh unto God as a fisher’s hook in the jaw.
Now to the greater detail of today’s Gospel Text: Jesus stands on the shore of the Galilean Sea (Gennesaret) and saw two ships standing there unoccupied. He chose the ship belonging to Simon Peter. When God chooses His Elect, He also chooses their all – “lock, stock, and barrel!”[i] Ask your mom or dad if you know not what this latter term means, or see the footnote of the written version of this sermon. All that you own, have owned, or ever will own, belongs to God the Father. We can give nothing to Heaven but that which Heaven has given to us.
“. . . . 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.” There were so many people pressing about Jesus that He needed a separation from them to preach. Today, the minister may get so close to the people that he will begin to preach what THEY want to hear, and not that which God has spoken in the secret chamber. I believe humor is important for health and happiness; however when in the pulpit, it should not be the center of attraction. The Gospel is serious, and we must be serious in preaching it. So we separate ourselves by some distance when preaching. That is the purpose of the pulpit and, I might add, the true minister will separate himself from his own worldly thoughts, too, when preaching. Jesus sat down and taught the people as was His frequent custom. He did so because He was the Teacher – He had the Authority.
“4 Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” This was most certainly early morning since the ships were sitting idle and the fishermen were cleaning their nets (which they did always after a night of fishing). Jesus has fully orchestrated this moment from before the foundation of the world. He has the chosen disciples, He has the boat, He has the soul hungry people onshore, and He has the great sea filled with fish who also respond to His call. But the command of Jesus to the disciples (Peter, James, and John), does not seem at all rational. The morning sun is not a good time to fish since the fish are not feeding at that hour and they can also more easily see the net. The best time is in the darkness of the night, and the disciples had been fishing all night long without profit.
We are very much like these three disciples. We labor in earnest but nothing seems to avail. But when Christ arrives on the scene, and we do His bidding, the results will be quite different! “5 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.” It is obvious that Simon (Peter) has the stuff disciples are made of for he was willing to ignore his own impulses and follow the command of the Lord – even if it defied all reason to Simon. Why can we not all say, with regard to personal affairs, and national policy, “nevertheless at thy word.” “No matter how little your Word makes sense to me, Lord, I will nevertheless, like a good soldier of the line, obey without hesitation!”
We make strong nets to catch fish, and large and elaborate buildings to accommodate worshippers, but these are never sufficient to the purpose when God is in the matter. “6 And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake.” I would love to have seen the expressions on the faces of the disciples, and the crowd ashore when so many fish were gathered as to break the net! Why are we always surprised when God performs a great work or miracle in our lives? “And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them.” The work of preaching and evangelizing is not a one-man show – it is a joint effort of the Church. We must trust and depend upon one another to help in the harvest. But the tremendous returns of God to our meager investments of labor are dwarfed at the blessing and size of it! “And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.” No one at Galilee had ever witnessed such a prolific catch of fish – and what an unusual hour for it! If we labor not to harvest the crop, God will set our fields on fire. If we hear His Voice and obey, He will bring forth showers of blessing. There was not an un-amazed observer either at sea or on the shore that day in Galilee.
“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.” Only God commands the sea and the creatures of the deep. Peter, though a common-sense kind of seaman, was overcome with astonishment at this miracle and knew, without doubt, that he was in the presence of the Lord of Heaven! So did his comrades know it. The question is this: Do YOU really know it? In your quiet times in closet on by the sea, do you know and feel the presence of the Lord of Heaven? “And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” Truly. Peter became just that as well as the other two disciples present.
This third calling of Christ to the disciples – Peter, James, and John – was an effectual calling as evidenced by the last verse: “And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.” We also must bring our catch to shore, or to Heaven. God may have called you to His bosom many times, but you have yet to respond. Have you yet forsaken all and followed Jesus?
[i] A term first used by Sir Walter Scott in 1817. The whole weapon of a gunman was composed of a lock (firing mechanism), a stock for carriage, and a barrel to propel the projectile.