Trinity 5 2022
July 17, 2022
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
This last week, someone came into the church and said, “We have such a beautiful church!” And indeed, we do. Zion, at least in my opinion, is the most beautiful LCMS church in the Treasure Valley. This isn’t by accident, but our fathers in the faith here built this building in this way on purpose. The beauty of the building reflects the beauty of what takes place here, where God’s Word is read and taught, people are baptized, the Lord’s Supper distributed, of heaven joining earth, and Christ making Himself present in His mercy and grace for sinners.
One of the things that is most appealing about this church is the meaning and the symbolism of the way it is built, much of it in an ancient, and traditional manner. In traditional church architecture, visually, aesthetically, teaches the Christian faith and directs our attention to Christ. We have the various symbols in the stained-glass windows, banners which match the themes of seasons or festivals, furnishings of the altar, pulpit and lectern, the cross, even the direction that our church is orientated.
This part up front around the altar is called the sanctuary, and sometimes we use this word to refer to the whole church space. Where I usually stand up front is called the chancel. Taken together, this whole area then is reminiscent of the holy of holies in the Old Testament temple, which is the place where the altar of the ark of the covenant sat, where the sacrifice of atonement was made and from which God acted in mercy to forgive and save His people. The large cross right above the altar highlights the central aspect of the Christian faith – the all atoning sacrifice of Christ crucified upon the altar of the cross, which flows out from our altar in the Sacrament.
When you come to church, you enter in through the narthex, which is like a transitional area between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God. The place where the congregation sits is called the nave, a Latin word that means “boat, or ship” from which we get the English word, navy. The beams on the ceiling are shaped like the supports of the bottom of a ship. So when you come here, you exit the chaotic world and enter into the ship, or the ark, of the holy, Christian Church in which the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ is delivered to you.
In our Gospel reading, we hear Luke’s account of Jesus calling His first disciples – Simon Peter, brothers James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Crowds of people were pressing in to hear the word of God from the Word of God. He was by the lake of Gennesaret, which is the sea of Galilee, and he gets into the Peter’s fishing boat, by which he would teach the people. After He does this, He tells Peter and the others to get. Though they were tired, unsuccessful, down in the dumps, Christ called upon them to put out into the deep and let their nets down for a catch. They were to be brave, and trust that Jesus knew what He was doing and talking about. And so they respond in faith, doing as Jesus instructed at His word. And they catch so many fish that their nets were breaking the boat was about to sink.
From this miracle, Jesus calls Peter, James, and John to be His first disciples, to be fishers of men in fulfillment with His word in Jeremiah 16:16, “Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the Lord, and they shall catch [fish/Israel].” Their former way of life foreshadows what they were now called to do: be fishers of men. These disciples are to throw out the net of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the sea of this world, catching men, bringing them through the water of holy baptism, into the boat where Christ is, and where He keeps His people safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers and serving His name at all times with a fervent spirit and a joyful hope.
Luther once wrote, “Therefore he who would find Christ must first find the Church. How should we know where Christ and his faith were, if we did not know where his believers are? And he who would know anything of Christ must not trust himself nor build a bridge to heaven by his own reason; but he must go to the Church, attend and ask her. Now the Church is not wood and stone, but the company of believing people; one must hold to them, and see how they believe, live and teach; they surely have Christ in their midst. For outside of the Christian church there is no truth, no Christ, no salvation.” LW: 52:39-40. Or as Cyprian 3rd century bishop of Carthage coined, “There is no salvation outside the Church.” There is no other way to be saved apart from being in the boat of the one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church with Jesus.
Peter was afraid at this miracle, so much so, that he felt unworthy to be on board with Jesus. He feared that because of his sins he would be punished in the presence of Christ; he knew he didn’t deserve to on board with Jesus. All his efforts when left to himself came to nothing. But Jesus comforts the terrified Peter, “Do not be afraid…” He calls sinful Peter to a fisher of men, one who would cast the net of God’s word out into the world gathering people for Christ. Just like the miraculous catch of fish, not Peter’s work, but Christ working through him.
“Be not afraid,” is how He still comforts terrified hearts today. Be not afraid of being on board with Jesus, in His holy and righteous presence, for by the net of the Gospel you were brought aboard the boat of the Church. Be not afraid of standing in front of a holy and righteous God, for you are declared righteous in God’s sight for the sake of Christ. Do not be afraid of guilt or shame you carry around every day, for Christ has taken that burden upon Himself on the cross. Do not be afraid of the struggles you go through in life, the evil you experience, the hurt you feel, the despair you are tempted with, and let no one think that their sins are too great that Christ won’t forgive. Let no one think that the ship of the church will sink because of the weight of the burden of the souls. Storms may rage around you, suffering, war, weakness, family fights, surround the kingdom of God.
While the boat begins to sink, since Christ is on board, it cannot sink completely. Likewise, in the sea of this world, the Lord Christ knows how to protect His ship against dangers, just as the ark was preserved during the great flood. Christ must remain in the ship of the Church, and if Christ and His Word are thrown overboard, so that Church will capsize and be sunk to the bottom of the abyss.
The sad fact of the matter is, though, fishing can be frustrating work. Christianity is shrinking in the United States. In efforts to combat this, there is the call to do something new to reach new, to model the world to reach the world, to change God’s word to make it more agreeable, in other words, to try a different net. We are tempted to think we need a different net. Maybe the one we’ve been using isn’t doing the job anymore. Maybe we should switch and use different bait to lure the fish in. Programs. Fun and games. Rock music, light, smoke machine. None of this sin-and-grace business. That’s not what people want to hear. You’ve got to appeal to their desires, give them what they want, keep the customers satisfied. So get rid of the crosses, get rid of the Christ-crucified talk, get rid of the Sacraments, only sing contemporary music, ditch the liturgy! That’ll bring the people in!
Well, maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but it won’t be the church you will be growing. It won’t be Christians you will be gaining if you switch the net. The problem is not in the net. Nothing else will get the job done as Jesus would have it be done. No, if we’re going to be disciples of Christ, and therefore fishers of men, let’s use the net that Jesus gave us to use - the Word of God, the gospel in its truth and purity and the Sacraments – casting it out into the sea of the world according to the Word, and leave the results up to God to call and gather people to Himself. He’ll catch all the fish he wants to be caught. None will be lost. And the ones that are caught will be caught in the right way, through repentance and faith, through the word and working of Christ. Christ can fill the net to breaking and the ship to sinking. But the ship that has Christ will remain forever.
So let’s keep building beautiful buildings, making beautiful things, being engaged in beautiful worship that reflect and cast out as a net the beautiful Gospel.