5th Sunday after Trinity, 17 July Anno Domini, the Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide
I am sharing this sermon of Bishop J.C. Ryle (delivered more than 125 years ago) today for its timeliness to our mission today in performing the ministry God has given for us to begin our ministry in place, at this moment, and with what resources God has given us. We cannot depend upon someone else to provide our every perfect setting – money, a building, a salary, or a paid minister. If we have no chairs, we will stand on the shore to hear the Word. If we have no pulpit, we will use a boat or the mountainside. If we have no seminary, we will use God’s Word as present in Scripture, for that is far better. Service is a matter of sacrifice and not comfort. We have no control over the past. We have no control over the future. The only influence on time we can exert is in the present moment, for that is all we have assured. If God has called us to preach and teach, He will make all things ready even it if it is not a plush church building with its attending accoutrements. It may well be only a Wilderness from which John the Baptist ministered. (JLOgles)
Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 5:1-11
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.
We have, in these verses, the history of what is commonly called the miraculous draught of fishes. It is a remarkable miracle on two accounts. For one thing, it shows us our Lord’s complete dominion over the animal creation. The fish in the Lake of Gennesarat are as obedient to His will, as were the frogs, and flies, and lice, and locusts, in the plagues of Egypt. All are His servants, and all obey His commands. For another thing, there is a singular similarity between this miracle, worked at the beginning of our Lord’s ministry, and another which we find Him working after His resurrection, at the end of His ministry, as recorded by St. John. In both cases we read of a miraculous draught of fishes. In both the Apostle Peter has a prominent place in the story. And in both there is a profound spiritual lesson lying below the outward surface of the facts described.
We observe, in this passage, our Lord Jesus Christ’s unwearied readiness for every good work. Once more we find Him preaching to people who “pressed upon him to hear the word of God.” And where did He preach? Not in any consecrated building or place set apart for public worship, but in the open air; not in a pulpit constructed for a preacher’s use, but in a fisherman’s boat. Souls were waiting to be fed. Personal inconvenience was allowed no place in His consideration. God’s work must not stand still.
The servants of Christ should learn a lesson from their Master’s conduct on this occasion. We are not to wait until every little difficulty or obstacle is removed before we put our hand to the plow, or go forth to sow the seed of the word. Convenient buildings and seating for our audience may be lacking though the audience is at hand. What, then, are we to do? Shall we go away and say nothing? God forbid! If we cannot do all we want under the best conditions, let us at least do what we can, work with such tools as we have, bear witness where we are. While we linger and delay souls are perishing. It is the slothful heart that is always seeing and being damaged by the hedge of thorns and the lion in the way. Where we are and as we are, in season or out of season, by one means or by another, by tongue or by pen, by speaking or by writing, let us strive to be ever working for God. Whatever the difficulties, let us never stand still.
Secondly, we observe in this passage what encouragement our Lord gives to unquestioning obedience. We are told that after preaching He bade Simon “launch out into the deep and let down his net for a draught.” He received an answer which exhibited in a striking manner the mind of a good servant. “Master,” said Simon, “we have toiled all the night and have taken nothing: nevertheless, at thy word I will let down the net.” And what was the reward of this ready compliance with the Lord’s commands? At once, we are told, “they enclosed a great multitude of fishes and their net brake.”
We need not doubt that a practical lesson for all Christians is contained in these simple circumstances. We are meant to learn the blessing of ready, unhesitating obedience to every plain command of Christ. The path of duty may sometimes be hard and disagreeable. The wisdom of the course we propose to follow may not be apparent to the world. But none of these facts must be permitted to move us. We are not to confer with flesh and blood. We are to go straight forward when Jesus says, “go,” and do a thing boldly, unflinchingly, and decidedly, when Jesus says, “do it.” We are to walk by faith and not be sight, and believe that what does not now appear to us to be right and reasonable, will so appear hereafter. So acting, we shall never find ourselves losers in the long run. So acting, we shall find that sooner or later, we reap a great reward.
We should observe, thirdly, in this passage, how a sense of God’s presence abases man and makes him feel his sinfulness. This is strikingly illustrated by Peter’s words when the miraculous draught convinced him that One greater than man was in the boat. We read that “he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
In measuring these words of Peter, we must of course remember the stage of his discipleship at which they were spoken. He was at best a babe in grace, weak in experience and weak in knowledge. At a later period in his life he would doubtless have said, “Abide with me,” and not, “depart.” But still, after such allowances are made, the words of Peter exactly express the first feelings of man when he is brought into anything like close contact with God. The presence of divine greatness and holiness makes him feel strongly his own littleness and sinfulness. Like Adam after the fall, he thinks first to hide himself from God.
Let us strive to understand more and more, every year we live, our need of a mediator between ourselves and God. Let us seek more and more to realize that without a mediator our thoughts of God can never be comfortable, and that the closer we come to God the more uncomfortable we must feel. Above all, let us be thankful that in Jesus we have the very Mediator whose help our souls require, and that through Him we may draw near to God with boldness, and cast fear away. Without Christ God is a consuming fire. In Christ He is a reconciled Father. Without Christ the strictest moralist may well tremble as he looks forward to his end. Through Christ the chief of sinners may approach God with confidence and feel perfect peace.
We see lastly in this passage the mighty promise which Jesus held out to Peter, “Fear not,” He said: “from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” That promise, we believe, was intended not for Peter only but for all the Apostles; and not for the Apostles only, but for all the faithful ministers of the Gospel who walk in the Apostles’ steps. It was spoken for their encouragement and consolation. It was intended to support them under that sense of weakness and unprofitableness by which they are sometimes almost overwhelmed. They are men of the same passions as others. They find their own hearts weak and frail, like the hearts of any of their hearers. They are often tempted to give up in despair, and to leave off preaching. But here stands a promise on which the great Head of the Church would have them daily lean: “Fear Not; thou shalt catch men.”
Let us pray daily for all ministers that they may be true successors to Peter and his brethren; that they may preach the same full and free Gospel which the Apostles preached and live the same lives which they lived. To some of them God may give more honor and to others less. But all true and faithful preachers of the Gospel must believe that their labor in the end shall not prove in vain. They may often preach the Word with many tears and see no result of their labor; but the net of God’s Word shall not return empty. Every faithful fisherman shall find his Master’s promise made good: “Thou shalt catch men.”