Ask any red-blooded American male what next Sunday is and I am sure you will get an immediate and enthusiastic reply:  “It’s Super Bowl Sunday!”  These same guys might not be able to tell you who their mayor, governor, or even president is, but you can bet your Super Bowl ring they will be immediately able to tell you who  Joe Burrow and Matthew Stafford are.  They are, of course, the respective quarterbacks for the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams.” 

Not to disappoint any of you but I am not going to talk to you about football or the Super bowl. Actually, through our Gospel reading from Luke, I would like to direct your attention toward another sport:  fishing. Now, before you turn me off and put your mind on snooze, know that the incident that Luke lays before us is not just any fishing tale.  It is the granddaddy of all fishing tales.  In fact, it is the Super Bowl of Fishing!  However, through this wonderful fishing experience of the apostles, Jesus means to teach us the truth about Himself, the church, and the real mission of the church: fishing for men; that is, letting down the nets to catch souls up into the boat of God’s kingdom of grace and life. 

Our text finds Jesus somewhat pinned in.  Crowds and crowds of people had pressed Him right to the edge of the Lake of Gennesaret; that is,   the Sea of Galilee.  They were clamoring to hear from His lips what their own preachers and teachers were not giving them; that is, the Word of God.  But such a mass of humanity in such close proximity to Jesus, made it impossible for Him to speak so all could hear Him.  So, quite wisely, Jesus impressed upon the fisherman Simon, whose fishing boat happened to be docked nearby, to take Him in his boat out a little ways from the shore.  From that vantage point out in the bay everyone could easily see Him, as well as hear Him.  The water could serve as a natural band shell to amplify Jesus’ voice.  Simon obliged and took Jesus a little ways from shore.

But when Jesus had finished speaking, to use a football metaphor, Jesus called an audible. Already in the fishing boat, on the line of scrimmage so to speak, Jesus called a rather unusual play.  Jesus ordered Peter and the others, “Put out (launch out) into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch.” 

Now, to an experienced fisherman like Peter, this request sounded unreasonable for several reasons.  First of all, any first century fisherman worth his sea legs knew that if you’re going to catch fish with nets you need to go where the fish like to feed; that is, in the shallower water near the shorelines. There’s where the waving action of the lake keeps ebbing away the soil, loosening grubs, worms and insects into the water for the fish to eat.  There one is more apt to net fish.  But out in the deep, what was Jesus thinking?

On top of this, Simon raised a second rational objection to Jesus’ request to launch out into the deep. He said to Jesus, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” In laymen’s terms he was saying, “There’s no fish to be had!”  or even, “We’ve already tried that and it didn’t work!”

But Simon was a respectful man.  He recognized Jesus as a gifted preacher of the Word of God.  We know from other Gospel accounts that Simon was already quite well acquainted with Jesus.  His brother Andrew had introduced Jesus to Him by telling him that Jesus was the One they had been looking for;  the Messiah. Also, we know that by this time, Jesus had already been in Simon’s home and even healed his mother-in-law from a deadly fever.  Accordingly, Simon acquiesced to Jesus’ command and said most dutifully, “But, Master, because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

I suppose on a certain level we might consider Simon’s obedience admirable.  He did as Jesus’ asked.  However, his verbal response to Jesus’ request reveals he really was not enthusiastically on board  with the whole idea.  Simon’s obedience was simply the dutiful obedience of a lesser to a greater.  It certainly was not done with any conviction of catching fish.  Given that Simon had the same human nature we have, we might even surmise that Simon obeyed Jesus’ strange request just to prove Jesus wrong and show Jesus just how little He knew about fishing!

As the text makes clear, however, the real fisherman was Jesus.  When Simon and His companions let down their nets in the deep water where Jesus had told them, their nets immediately bulged with a whole school of fish. The catch was so large their nets began to tear apart and they had to call the other boat over to help them haul in all the fish.  When they were finally able to get this huge catch into their boats, the massive weight of all the fish caused both boats to start sinking!  I can only imagine such a fishing trip!  It is a true Super Bowl of all fishing trips!  Jesus’ audible was right on the money!

Jesus certainly now had this old fisherman’s attention! Simon immediately fell down before the knees of Jesus and cried, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord”  Simon knew in no uncertain terms this catch of fish was no fluke, no lucky catch.  It had all the clear markings of a divine miracle.  Simon Peter had a true epiphany!  He was suddenly awakened to the fact that he was in the presence of the Creator Himself, the God who was Lord of the sea, the fish and all things.  That is why unlike the first time Simon addressed Jesus and called Him Master, this time Simon called Jesus “LORD,” the official Jewish designation for Yahweh, God Himself.  

This no longer was a mere fishing trip.  It was a true religious experience; a real revelation!  Simon dropped to his knees in full acknowledgment that in the person of Jesus Holy God Himself was in his boat.  Yet, here he was a sinful, earthly minded, man.  His concept of what it meant to follow Jesus was totally blown out of the water.  What He had just witnessed was far beyond any earthly or human experience or even imagination.  He stood condemned for his half-hearted obedience… his lack of faith…his total lack of real understanding of Jesus and His kingdom.  In his boat was YHWH, Holy God and Creator Himself, there shrouded in flesh and blood!  The Holy One was with him, an unholy one!

We see something quite similar in our Old Testament lesson this morning.  When Isaiah was shown a vision of the LORD sitting on His heavenly throne surrounded by the six-winged seraphim and heard His thundering voice, Isaiah could not help but say, “Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in  the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” 

You can bet that if we Christians today truly understood and believed that God brings His holy presence among us through His Word and Sacraments, there wouldn’t be any of this contemporary nonsense of hand clapping, knee-slapping or even chancel dancing to the rhythmic tunes of a worship band that so often characterizes much of what is done in the name of worship today.  We, too, would be driven to our knees or at least to more humble postures of worship. 

Our Heavenly Quarterback has called His audible to all of us who call ourselves His disciples as well. “Launch out into the deep!” He says. As those baptized into Christ and hence given birth into the Body of Christ, the Church, you, too, like Peter, can expect something different… something beyond the normal for human experience and understanding… in fact, beyond this world.   

Throw out the world’s playbook.  Your Head is the LORD God.  Life in the Church is unlike anything else in this world.  His audible is beyond any play a worldly quarterback could call.  His Word affects what He says.  Following Him you can expect that His Word will not make conventional sense but will accomplish unconventional even miraculous results.

I believe, however, that something else beyond the big catch of fish had an even bigger impact on Simon to produce in him such repentance and humility.  That something was God’s unmerited grace that Jesus had extended to Simon in his sin. 

After all, in spite of his doubt and his obedience under protest, Simon was overwhelmed with the fact that Jesus still so richly blessed him with the largest catch of his life! When such grace given sinners in Jesus Christ is realized, even the most hardened, self-reliant, and arrogant person in the world is immediately brought to his knees before Jesus.

But in His grace, Jesus is not finished with Peter yet.  While still on the line of scrimmage, Jesus calls to this humble, contrite, fisherman another audible.  This audible, however, is not a command but amazingly is a promise.  It extends true grace of God in Jesus Christ.  “Stop being afraid,” Jesus says, “from now on you will be catching men.”

This was Jesus’ word of absolution to Peter.  In essence He was saying to Peter, “Yes, you have been faithless.  Yes, you have doubted my word.  Yes, you have not fully recognized me as God your Savior.  But no longer be afraid.  I have not come to condemn you, or any other sinner in this world.  But instead I have come to save all sinners.  Even though, I have the right to punish you for your sin, I am forgiving you.  For you see, Peter, I’m going to bear your sin in my own body and feel the stripes for your sin against me.  I’m going to be the sacrificial lamb for you that you might live free in God’s forgiveness. So, be at peace, Dear Peter!” 

Right from the line of scrimmage, as we are engaging our world, Jesus calls the same audible for us; “from now on you will be catching men.” To be sure, He has said it in other words like these: Make disciples of Jesus Christ.”  We often refer to His call as a mandate… a commission.  But in reality it is Gospel.   

Jesus’ audible is not placing any sort of game-winning expectation upon us, as if we have to win it for the team.  Just as Jesus, by telling Peter from now on you will be catching men did not place some kind of expectation that Peter was the savior of those men neither does His call that we are to make disciples of Christ imply that somehow we are disciple makers.  He is not expecting Peter or any of us to be God.  He is God.  He does not expect us to save the day or to save souls.  He is the Savior of Sinners.   He has not asked us to build His Church.  He has given us His Word and Sacraments through which He builds and establishes His kingdom among us.  He appoints us fishers of men not because He trusts our skills and abilities but actually, like with Peter, He does so in spite of our weaknesses, lack of skills and even unworthiness.   He calls for us to participate in His play so we can be there to share in His win and in His glory.  Is this not pure grace!

Jesus has not asked us to produce results.  He is the miracle worker.  It is His Word and Sacraments that He has asked us to let down for a catch.  He has placed us deep in the sea of this world to let down his nets for a catch. “What are we afraid of?  My Word will always accomplish that for which I send it,” He promises.  He simply has made us His receivers… catchers of fish… He’ll do the quarterbacking… the passing… the fish finding! 

 “Go and make disciples of all nations” is indeed the Lord’s call to His church.  It’s a remarkable audible.  When He said it, He had just been sacked big time.  He had been crucified and left for dead for three days.  But He rose up to say that the game is not over.  In fact, in His defeat He had already won the game. 

Now, in the confidence of a winning quarterback and to catch the opposition off guard, He called an incredible audible.  He is the great Fisherman and yet He has entrusted you and me to be “fishers of men.” He says to you and me. “Stop being afraid.   You will be fishers of men!”  That’s a promise!  You will reap the rewards of my work!  I know you are not the greatest receivers in the world.  You often miss and fumble my passes.  But I have redeemed you from the errors of your ways.  I have forgiven your failures.  I have already received the punishment you deserved.  I’m not throwing you out of the game and putting you on the bench.  In my love for you and according to my grace, I want you to be my fishermen… to reel in my pass…haul in my catch of people for my kingdom… that you might share in my joy of saving others like yourselves into my boat of forgiveness, life and salvation.

Shall we go fishing!