“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, sinful man despises the Word of God; he always has. It did not begin with five black-robed justices, it began with two naked people, Adam and Eve, listening to the voice of the serpent, “Did God really say?” God has uttered His Word on marriage and the place of sexuality within it, He even wrote it into creation; and just in case we didn’t catch it, when His Son comes in the flesh, He reemphasizes what was written long ago. “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” Jesus’ definition of marriage is the Father’s definition of marriage, and when Paul comes along, he has the same one, too. Marriage is based on sexual complementarity, one man, one woman, and only once the man leaves father and mother and holds fast to his wife, i.e. gets married, do they become one flesh through the sexual act. But sinful man despises God’s Word, it is not sufficient for him, but is explained away by feelings and the theories of social science.
“Did God really say?” Is the Word of God sufficient for us to order our lives? Can or will we live relying upon the Word? Peter certainly found the Word sufficient. Listen to this confession of faith. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your Word I will let down the nets.” We should not take this statement in isolation. Peter has been hearing the preaching of Jesus from his own boat. The powerful working of the Word created faith within him, and faith responded with a bold confession. Simply on the Word, the promise of Jesus, this weary fisherman will go out into the deep; “At your Word I will let down the nets.” Christ’s Word, and the Word alone, is sufficient for him; he believes, and he acts accordingly.
You have heard the Word of the Lord on marriage and sexual ethics again this very day, very simple, one verse; the Word spoken by the Father through Moses, the Word spoken by Jesus, the Word made flesh, the Word repeated by Saint Paul. This Word has been despised by our world, it has been rejected by judicial fiat, and many in the Church rightly deplore the consequences of removing the gender requirement for marriage. But I would submit to you today that Christians are as much to blame for what has happened as the five black-robed justices. Because the Word was not sufficient for us as it was for Peter, because we lived in fear of what the world could take away, what we might have to give up, we kept quiet. The Word was not enough; we wanted popularity, we wanted pleasure, we wanted peace, we wanted the amenities that this world offered to us.
Where were the Christians of courage, who were willing to forgo sexual pleasure until marriage as a confession to the world? Where were the Christians of courage, who were willing to risk family harmony and friendships to speak the truth in love to those around them? Where were the Christians of courage, who were willing to demand shows and movies that didn’t flaunt promiscuity, or who simply turned the television off? Where were the Christians of courage, who were willing to risk the loss of scholarships, varsity sports, and letter jackets to demand that their education or that of their children not undermine the Christian faith? I’ll tell you where they were, because I can tell you where I was: keeping quiet, burying my head in the sand, wanting too much to be liked to take a stand. While many Christian churches stood against the sexual revolution, you only have to look at their actions to see that most Christian people did not; God’s Word on marriage was not sufficient for us, when it was placed next to all that the world offered us.
The Supreme Court’s decision to make marriage genderless, no longer an institution based on sexual complementarity and ordered toward the protection of children, but now simply a relationship of any two people who ‘love each other,’ should call on us to repent. It is the culmination of a decades-long project to undermine biblical morality, and we too often have watched it happen without holding up God’s gift of marriage and calling to repentance those who corrupt this gift. Now there is nothing to do but repent. Simon Peter, in faith, cast out his nets in the midst of the deep, and there, just as Jesus said, he received a catch. And as Jesus often does, He provides in abundance, overflowing abundance, boat-breaking abundance. Luke tells us, “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’” Suddenly Peter realizes that standing in his boat is the Creator of the universe, the all-holy God, and his response is terror, it is a confession of his sinfulness.
The Law makes us aware that we stand in the presence of a holy God, a God whose holiness is an all-consuming fire. And this day we need to hear the Law, that we have too often taken the bribe money that this world offered, that the Word was not sufficient for us. Repent. A broken and contrite heart God will not despise. Instead, this day He says to you what He said to Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Do not be afraid; you are cleansed, made righteous and holy to stand in God’s presence. In terror of His sin before God Almighty, Peter heard the Word of the One who would shed His blood to take away all fear. This same Jesus, no longer in a boat, but still speaking through His Word, says to you this day: Do not be afraid, your sins are forgiven. Every one of them, against every commandment. The shed blood of Jesus covers them all.
For while we, in our lives or in our conversation, didn’t hold up God’s definition of marriage, He did, by sending His Son as the bridegroom to win His bride, the Church. He laid down His life for her, He was faithful to her even to death upon a cross, and now risen from the dead, He takes His rightful place at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom for all eternity. There Peter will dwell, with you and me, not because we are sinless, but because we are forgiven through the powerful Word of the Lord. The Word gives you everything, all that Jesus won, it is sufficient for us because it gives us what the world cannot give, indeed, gifts that will endure when this world passes away. People come and go; this very creation will be consumed by fire, but the Word of the Lord endures forever, the Word of forgiveness: “Do not be afraid.”
Those who are forgiven are then sent out into this world to proclaim that forgiveness to others. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Do you know what the Church’s response to the removal of gender from marriage? Forgiveness. The Church will not stop forgiving those who are caught in sexual sin, or any other sin. That means we must preach the Law to condemn that sin, but we will not stop preaching the Gospel to forgive it. That is what Peter was sent to do: as one who has been forgiven, Jesus sent him to extend forgiveness to other sinners. As Luther says, we are beggars telling other beggars where to find bread. The world is hoping we will stop forgiving; that we will move on to affirmation. But the Christian Church, and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, will not stop forgiving sinners wherever we find them. We will seek out those who are caught in the devil’s kingdom and catch them with the same Word that caught us, the Word of forgiveness, declaring that Christ died for that sin as He died for all others. Do not be afraid to tell the world that the end to all fear has come.
Do not be afraid to make a stand on the Word of God, the Word which delivered to you forgiveness, life, and salvation. Do not be afraid of what this world will do to you when it finds that you will not submit quietly, that instead of affirmation you speak of forgiveness. Do not be afraid to leave all things behind; the Word is sufficient for you. “And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.” You may lose friends and promotions; you will lose so-called ‘sexual freedom,’ but do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to confess the truth to a world caught in lies, to people caught in lies. Do not respond in hatred, but with the love of Christ; love your neighbor enough to call him from his life of sin. Peter himself teaches us how in our Epistle lesson. “Even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Be ready to make a confession in word and action; prepare yourself through the study of God’s Word, and then speak gently but boldly. Have no fear; your crucified Savior has risen to take away all fear. It is no mistake that His first words to His disciples on Easter evening are, “Peace be with you.” He has given you all things; His Word is sufficient for you, and so you say with the psalmist: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”
Do you know why all of those companies flaunted the rainbow flag after the Supreme Court decision? They took that gamble because they believed that Christians wouldn’t be upset enough to give up the amenities they offered, to actually boycott stores or change credit cards. They are gambling that we will continue to be too enamored with what the world gives to take a stand, that the Word will not be sufficient for us. Do not be afraid. This world will demand much from you in the years to come because you stand against the tide, but the Word is sufficient for you, because the Word gives you everything: forgiveness, life, and salvation, won by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. He gives in abundance; boat-breaking abundance, and what He gives is far more than you will lose: “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our victory has been won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.” In the name of Jesus, Amen.