Jesus’s priorities never change. We have to remember this when we hear the holy Gospel. This isn’t simply history we’re hearing. It’s Jesus teaching you what he wants to do for you and what he does do and what he will continue to do. Jesus never changes. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. So when you hear that his first priority on the shores of Genessaret 2000 years ago was to teach his people you know that’s his first priority now too. He doesn’t change. When you hear that he takes pains to make sure it happens, goes to ridiculous lengths, orders Simon Peter to put out from shore a bit so he can use his boat for a podium to teach the people, you can be sure that he will go to the same lengths now to make sure you hear his word, no matter the cost. Jesus can’t and won’t stop doing the will of His Father who sent Him. As it was then, so it is now. That’s why even during a pandemic Jesus still preaches his word and gives his body and blood to his people. He won’t stop. It’s why for months we put services online. It’s why we always remained open here at Mount Hope and for months we had ten divine services a week and we’ll do it again if we need to. It’s why we don’t need to worry that the Christian church may soon face persecution in America like it’s never seen before (at least not here), that we could lose our buildings and our legal status for standing on Jesus’ word. Jesus won’t stop teaching. Even if the violent mobs take over and we lose every Supreme Court case and we lose all this stuff. Jesus didn’t have any of this stuff, and he still preached. So let it all be gone, and we’ll have church in our homes or in a cave on the mountain, and if Pastor Richard and I won’t or can’t do it, Jesus will raise up someone who will. This is the lesson of Elijah, who says, I’m done, God, they’ve destroyed your church, they’ve killed all your prophets, I’m the only one left and they’re trying to kill me, just end this, it’s over, take me to heaven, and God responds and says go appoint Elisha, he’ll preach, and I’ll preserve my church, I’ll preserve the 7,000.
So that’s the first lesson, that Jesus’s top priority is to teach you his word, it’s always been his top priority. The corollary to this is that the church never changes either. The church shall never perish her dear Lord to defend. Her top priority is to hear Jesus’ word. Look at the crowds. They pack together, ignore all social distancing, in an excited rush to hear Jesus, so much so that Jesus has to get into a boat to preach. That’s the zeal of the church, that’s her eagerness. She loves her Lord Jesus, she hungers and thirsts for nothing more than his forgiveness, his body and blood, his teaching what is good and beautiful and godly.
This should describe us. Jesus says those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed. So this should describe us, that above our hobbies, our jobs, our food and drink, we use our energy to hear our Lord Jesus. Does it describe us? If it doesn’t, we can’t change the church. She is what she is. My sheep hear my voice, Jesus says. The church can’t stop confessing what we just sang, what is the world to me, with all her vaunted pleasures, when Thou and Thou alone, Lord Jesus art my treasure? She can’t stop loving the Lord who bought her with His blood and laid down his life for her and loved her to his death to cleanse her from all sin and comfort her in all pain and deliver her from every evil, till she lives in perfect peace with Him forever. So we don’t seek to change the church, turn it into something she isn’t, some social club or some legally recognized society that picks and chooses from Jesus’ words to keep itself from becoming passé. No we can change the church as little as we can change Jesus. She is and always will be what that crowd was, eager to hear every word that comes out of Jesus’ mouth. So Jesus teaches us to cast off our laziness, our apathy, our disproportionate desire for the things of this world, and to join the crowd that thronged around him then and the crowd that gathers around him now on earth and in heaven.
Peter and the disciples are an especially good example here. They’re hard at work, cleaning their nets after a long night fishing. And they’re at least a little depressed, because as we find out later they haven’t caught a single fish all night. This is a double blow. One, their livelihood depends on catching fish. It’s their business. No fish, no money. They can’t depend on the government to bail them out or rely on some stimulus check to help them through. Instead their wives and families rely on them to provide for their homes. Second, when you work hard and have nothing to show for it, it’s a horrible feeling. Work is supposed to be productive. God made it that way in Paradise. But the curse of sin includes this painful absurdity, that we can work and work and work and look back and see we’ve accomplished nothing. Like trying to get rid of thistles in your yard and for every thistle you kill five more take its place. But there is one thing that if you work for you will never be disappointed. If you work to hear Jesus’ word, he won’t disappoint. He’ll bless your life thoroughly. And it is work to come hear Jesus. Obviously we’re not saved by our works, but when Jesus makes you a Christian and saves you, he puts you into the vineyard to work, when he gives you rest, he puts his yoke upon you. But it is the most pleasant of works to say, “No, I won’t put my job or the lake or sports above hearing Jesus, because all this other work disappoints in one way or another, but Jesus never disappoints. He always gives me what He promises and He always proves to me that I am God’s child with an eternal purpose planned by my Father from eternity.”
So what do the disciples do? They not only drop their work to hear Jesus, but they use their work for Jesus, for the preaching of Jesus. Literally. He stands on their boat to teach the people. And this is a beautiful example for us. No matter what our job is, no matter how productive or unproductive it seems, how much we help people in it or how little it seems to matter what we do, it’s always productive, always beautiful in God’s eyes when we use it for Jesus and his church.
Think of it. How could your work be in vain and useless when the money you make for it goes to support the preaching of Jesus and everlasting life? What a beautiful thing. That God would so bless your work, that you can know it always has purpose, and not just temporal purpose, but eternal purpose. As we’ll hear in a few weeks, Make for yourselves eternal friends by your money, and they will welcome you into an eternal home.
But the work of Christians has purpose no matter what, even if it makes no money at all. This is why Luther loved to glorify and praise a mom changing a poopy diaper. God made the mom a mom and she’s doing what God told her to do, so no matter how low the job may seem, God loves it, so it has eternal purpose. And the same goes for any job you work to provide for the necessities of your family or yourself. God Himself calls you to work whether that be at home as a mother or father or outside the home. By the sweat of your brow, you shall eat, he says to Adam. So work hard and you will have the reward of fulfilling God’s command. And what a reward! Especially for us Christians, working hard, being kind and respectful at our jobs, keeping our mouths clean, speaking well of our neighbor and not gossiping, making the good confession when called upon to do so, God made us for this.
Notice too that there aren’t any lazy people in this Gospel. Everyone’s working. Working either to hear Jesus or to do the jobs Jesus gave them to do. We need to examine our lives with this in mind. Now some of you may work too much. Remember that God gives his beloved rest. So get sleep and spend time with family and friends and throw your cares on Jesus, because He cares for you. But our culture is also a lazy culture. Each person averages something like 4 hours of nonwork-related screen time a day. That’s not good. God didn’t create you to spend hours gossiping on Facebook or hours playing video games or hours watching the news tell you the same thing they’ve been telling you all day and all week. He created you to work. So young and old, let’s work, first to seek the kingdom of God and come to church and to read his word and pray at home, second to fulfill our callings as workers, as moms, dads, husbands, wives, citizens, and human beings, all to the glory of our God.
Now look at what Jesus does second. If his top priority is to give you everlasting life through his word, he hasn’t forgotten also to care for your bodies on this earth. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you. So Jesus after he’s done preaching commands Peter to cast the net out, to go and do his job. And Peter does it. Even though it seems totally useless, he works and he does it because Jesus told him to, and that’s enough for Peter, enough for the Christian. That’s enough for us.
And look what happens. Jesus blesses his work. All the disciples’ hard work accomplished nothing until Jesus was present with them and blessed their work. And then there is abundance, overflowing abundance. Nets breaking because of all the fish. Unless the Lord builds the house they who build it labor in vain. Now this is no promise that Jesus will make you rich if you put Him first in life and come to church every Sunday and give your ten percent and pray at home. No, it’s a promise that if you put Jesus first, if you can actually sing, What is the world to me, and mean it, if you treasure Jesus’ words and the body and blood he gave for you and gives you now, then you will have a happiness, a fulfillment, a peace that this world simply cannot give you. Your life will mean something, everything, because you’ll know the Father who made you and His Son who died for you and Spirit who fills your heart with joy. Your work will always be blessed because it’s done by Jesus’ command and it’s for Jesus and his church. You’ll know in your life what Peter realized with shock that day, that you a sinner stand before the holy God in human flesh, and you live, you’re not destroyed, you’re blessed. Do not be afraid, He said to Peter, and he doesn’t change, he says it still today, do not be afraid, your sins are forgiven, you are my beloved for whom I work and labor, for whom I suffer and die, to whom I give myself and all I have.
And then finally Jesus calls Peter to work that will last forever. The preaching of the Gospel. Not all of us preach. But all of us work so that Jesus is preached. And this will follow us to heaven. Amen.