They Caught Nothing
3rd Sunday of Easter – C LSB #’s 490, 861, 689
Text – John 21:3
“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, & they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out & got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
THEY CAUGHT NOTHING
Since the temperature is very slowly warming up this spring, I thought I’d start this sermon with a story about ice fishing. Maybe that’ll improve your outlook on our lack of global warming. When I was about ten years old I had two cousins, brothers, that were a year older & a year younger than me, & we were good friends.
One cold winter day, their dad took us out ice fishing. Now, he was the type that really enjoyed fishing that way so he didn’t have a shanty to stay inside of & keep warm. The day we went along, each of us were sitting on top of an overturned plastic bucket, totally exposed to the wind & the cold.
As I recall, we spent about two hours out there & didn’t get so much as a nibble on any of our lines. At that point, frozen through & through, my cousins & I called it quits & hiked back to the car. Ever since I’ve suspected my Uncle Elmer of being just a bit unbalanced, & I have never gone ice fishing again.
We caught nothing, & my cousins & I weren’t the least bit happy. In the Gospel lesson from John, the disciples went out fishing one night & they also caught nothing. As they’re pulling in to shore, a man on the beach calls out to them, “Children, do you have any fish?”
It sounds as if he’s rubbing it in, because the man’s very question brings out the fact of their failure. All of us know, very personally, from our own experience, that failure is painful. We would just as soon not have anyone remind us of it & certainly do not appreciate it when someone advertises our failing. That’s our sinful nature. Failure is discouraging. It may cause us to lose hope or feel as if we’re no good. I remember the overwhelming sense of failure that struck one morning after a night of fighting a house fire. That sense of failure hit after we’d put out the fire & entered the house. It was then that two of our men found the bodies – a woman & her grandson. They were lying next to the window, so close to safety.
That discovery was a factor in the resignation of one of our firemen just a few months later. Death is the ultimate failure in this life, & that’s brought out very strongly in people who’ve had a dear friend commit suicide. They can’t help but feel somehow responsible for that person’s death – for that ultimate in failure.
Thoughts of, “If only…” haunt us when we’ve failed. Afterwards, it’s also common to lose confidence in one’s abilities. And then, the “Why bothers?” set in. Why bother looking for work anymore, no one will hire me. Why bother making friends anymore, they’re just going to leave. Why bother going to church if it’s going to die anyway.
Why bother with confirmation classes? You never see the children in church again once they’re confirmed. Statements of “Why bother?” are symptomatic of the lack of faith & hope in our hearts. And if adults believe there’s no reason to bother, what should anyone expect of a newly confirmed 14 year old?
Years ago I preached a sermon titled, “Because I Am A Sinner.” Peter spoke those words to Jesus once he realized what a great miracle God’s Son had just performed. In Peter’s mind, the miracle simply highlighted what a great hypocrite he was. That ties in with today’s sermon & you’ll see it in these words from St. Luke:
Peter answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night & haven’t caught anything. But because You say so, I will let down the nets.” (5:5 NIV) Do you hear the similarity? Peter had been fishing all night & caught nothing. Today’s Gospel reading is very similar where the disciples again caught nothing. Why bother? Our work as Christians so often brings the same question. Why bother? It’s bad enough failing at something, & trying to deal with the discouragement & frustration that follow, but then you just know that someone else is going to point out your mistakes. Can any of you explain why we should bother?
For one thing, Peter wrote the following words years after his failed fishing expeditions, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord, always being prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you the reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15) Maybe you have no hope to explain because in your own heart, you have not set Christ apart as Lord.
Maybe you have no hope, maybe you don’t bother, because you are afraid of failure. Is your pride so valuable you cannot endure the least bit of embarrassment for the Man who died upon a cross for your failures? Or don’t you believe in miracles, at least not in God’s ability to use a someone like you?
Twice, Holy Scripture records how Peter tried fishing & caught nothing. In each case, when Jesus merely speaks, the fish almost sink the boat & the net becomes too heavy to pull in. The Son of God was able to perform miracles using Peter & the other disciples. And that’s one reason, as Christians, that we do bother to trust in God & to serve Him.
We bother, because our Lord & Savior performs miracles, & He does so using ordinary failures like you & me. We have a God who has risen from the dead. Have you already forgotten what we celebrated just two Sunday’s ago?
Memory work & sermon notes might seem like a waste of time & energy. The effort spent on them may appear to have caught nothing. Attending church & confirmation classes often seem like a dead end because we seldom get immediate results. Three Sundays ago, Logan confirmed the vows made at his baptism. Last Sunday, Julian & Holden did the same, & one of our traditions is to ask the confirmands if they intend to be faithful, even unto death. That’s a huge promise to make, & I can guarantee that everyone who’s ever made that promise has failed! Just like the disciples failed to catch any fish. Just as our fire department failed to rescue that woman & her grandson.
There are many situations in life that bring us pain & suffering. When we encounter them, our spirits grow weak & we’d rather quit than endure. It’s our sinful human nature to do so. If the romantic love for our spouse grows cold, we’d rather quit than endure. If our faith is challenged by others, we’d rather go along with the crowd than endure its ridicule.
If our efforts to pass on the faith to the next generation are not met with resounding success, we’d rather take the easy way out & not bother to teach them at all. Or we trade the substance of the faith for glitz & glamour. We turn to entertainment & babysitting rather than discipline & instruction. When we catch nothing, we believe that even God cannot use us.
I was at a track meet one time, standing by the end of each runner’s leg of the relay. I watched as they gutted it out for the final 100 meters of their race. The pain & agony in their faces was visible as they struggled, not just to keep going, but to actually run as fast as they possibly could. None of them quit, & it was inspiring to see the effort they put forth.
Still, not one of them achieved that endurance without a lot of previous pain & doubt. It takes many hours, even years, to train one’s body for running a race. And the higher the level of competition – the greater the sacrifices necessary to finish.
Our spiritual lives are no different. Our faith doesn’t grow strong without testing. We can’t pass on that endurance in ten easy lessons. Teaching your children to love the Lord & to know Him personally, takes suffering on your part. It means sacrificing your own personal comfort & leisure for the good of your children. It often means taking two steps forward but one backward. It means enduring the humiliation of failure & acknowledging your own sins before God. When Jesus calls out to His disciples, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answer, “No.” They acknowledge their failure, & then Jesus performs a miracle.
He said to them, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat & you will find some.” They could have answered, “Why bother?” But they kept running the race, & found so many fish it was impossible for them to pull in the net. And it’s then, that they recognize Jesus. It’s then, that God reveals Himself.
He didn’t make it easy. He did not make it fun. If they had given up; if they had not thrown out the net, they would not have received God’s blessings. And when God blesses them, Peter is so excited that he runs ashore to greet his Savior, as grateful hearts are always eager to meet their Lord.
But their lesson isn’t over… As the boat arrives, Jesus tells them to bring some of the fish they’ve caught. He does so in order that they might sheepishly realize that the fish they bring aren’t even necessary. Jesus is emphasizing the point that He has already provided. There are already fish & bread cooking over the coals of His fire.
Likewise, even when we do catch something, when our efforts meet with success, God has already provided. If we understand that correctly, it means we have no reason to fear our failures. We can endure whatever problems come our way, because whether we succeed or whether we fail, our Lord has provided for us. He has prepared the way in advance.
The final outcome is already determined. Christ’s resurrection proved it, & we now have the joy of serving Him in complete freedom from fear or failure. The reason we then bother – looking for a job, making friends, attending church or even getting confirmed, is that those things please our Lord, & bring His blessings to us & to our neighbors. Like Peter, once we recognize Jesus as our Savior, we gladly go out of our way, we gratefully leave our comfort zone, in order to greet Him. We long to strengthen our relationship with Him.
For all of you who have confirmed the vows of your baptism, your confirmation was but one step along the way in that lifelong process. It’s a progression that’s been complicated by the sinful nature of everyone involved, so it will not always be neat, clean or pretty. The growth of your faith doesn’t come without time, effort & failure.
There’ll be many occasions in your spiritual walk with Jesus that it seems as if you’ve worked all night & caught nothing. Yet, be assured of this, your Lord & Savior performs miracles. He never fails, & will always provide everything you need for your spiritual life, even in those moments when everything seems hopeless & pointless.
Our heavenly Father is able to overcome any & all of our failures. With the eyes of faith you’ll recognize Jesus & see that He blesses you so greatly you can’t even pull in the net. Amen.
Christ be my Teacher in age as in youth, drifting or doubting, for He is the truth. Grant me to trust Him; though shifting as sand, doubt cannot daunt me; in Jesus I stand. Christ be my Savior in calm as in strife; death cannot hold me, for He is the life. Nor darkness nor doubting nor sin & its stain can touch my salvation: with Jesus I reign. Amen. LSB 861:2-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet