I’ve never been fishing. My brother once had a fishing pole, but I don’t remember him using it. I did find a fishing pole in the rafters of the basement of our former home. It’s just not something I feel the need to do. I don’t eat fish anyway. Fishing was a major industry in Jesus’ day. Many of the disciples were fishermen before Jesus made them the first pastors of His Church. Today we hear about that. Trinity V often falls near June 29, just a couple days ago this year, the day Church lore tells us Ss. Peter & Paul were martyred in Rome. Paul the Roman citizen was beheaded. Peter was crucified upside down – that last part was his idea. He’d been arrested, they say, but he got away. Then he had a vision of Jesus carrying His Cross on the way to Rome. So Peter turned around and went to his cross, asking to be upside down because he was not worthy to die like his Lord and Master. He followed Jesus.
Are you following Jesus? That’s a question people ask a lot. Are you following Jesus? What’s the answer? We all want to say, “Yes, I’m following Jesus.” But is it true? Are we following Jesus? Maybe a better question is this: How can I follow Jesus? Am I able to follow Him? Following Jesus is a good theme for today. It’s a happy coincidence that these readings and hymns are heard and sung today when we have both a baptism and confirmations. For the newly baptized is beginning today to follow Jesus; the confirmands have learned over the last 2 years about following Him, about what God requires of us and what He teaches us.
St. Peter teaches us today about following Jesus. He tells us we are not worthy to follow Him. When Jesus told him to go back out to sea for a catch of fish, he thought it was a bad idea. Peter, Andrew, James, and John had been out fishing all night, at the time he knew was right, and they caught absolutely nothing. Why would they catch anything now? But he went out. Maybe he just figured he’d humor Jesus.
There was no humor involved. He caught so many fish that the nets began to tear. He needed James and John to bring their boat back out to help bring in the massive catch. And then he fell on his face before Jesus and asked Him to leave him alone because he was a sinner. He knew now he was in God’s presence, and he knew he didn’t deserve to be there.
That’s the first thing about following Jesus. It’s recognizing you don’t deserve to follow Him or be His sheep. It’s confessing that you too are a sinful human being, just like that holy Apostle. He puts our sins before us in the Epistle today. He tells us to keep our tongues away from evil and our lips from speaking deceit. He tells us to turn away from evil and do good and to seek peace and pursue it. He tells us to always sanctify the Lord God in our hearts, that is to honor Christ as holy on the altar of your heart.
So how are you doing? I don’t think you’re doing very well. I know that because I know my own heart. How easy it is to say something that would make mom mad at you. How easy it is to lie to get out of trouble with your teacher at school! How hard it is to say “no” to evil – we like to sin; it’s fun to not do our homework or be a bully or think the teacher’s not fair; it’s fun to find out how far you can go without getting caught, to fight somebody with words or deeds. Doing good for others is more a chore than a joy, something that makes kids mope and adults bored.
Because of our sins we should fall on our faces before Jesus. We should be nowhere near Him. That means we should be in hell. Confessing that is actually the first step of following Jesus. You are following Jesus when you say every day, “Lord, I am a sinner. I deserve hell for my sins. Forgive me. Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice; You have been my help. Leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.”
Then get up off your knees. For the second part of following Jesus is hearing Him say to you: “Fear not.” Yes, you should fear Him. You should recognize that He is far greater than you – He can do and has done far greater things than filling Peter’s fishing nets – and He can punish you. But believe His face is not staring at you in wrath. It is shining on you in love. For this Jesus Who gave the fish to Peter gave His life for you on The Cross.
This is the chief thing about following Him. It’s that you believe, you trust. You trust He died for all, but especially for you. He died for you. Yes, for you! You aren’t worthy. Yet for you His precious Blood was spilt to take away your guilt. He suffered hell for you on His Cross. That doesn’t just mean He suffered pretty bad, though He did. It means He suffered hell, and He did it so you wouldn’t. He did it in order to give you eternal life. He did it so you could live with Him forever, not afraid of Him, but loving Him and rejoicing to see Him forever.
So we have 2 parts to following Jesus so far. The first is that we confess our sins and what we deserve for them. The second is that we believe the good news that Jesus died to save us from our sins. The third part is our response to that good news. The disciples left everything to follow Jesus. They left behind their boats and their nets and their parents and followed Him.
That shows faith. You don’t just leave everything behind every day, do you? You take stuff with you when you move. You might sell off some stuff, you might even abandon something, but you don’t do what they did. You don’t give up your source of income. They gave it all up. They gave up their income, their whole life, to follow Jesus. They believed He would care for them. They believed they would lack nothing. They believed He would protect them, yes, even save them. So in faith they acted.
That’s the third part of following Jesus: acting like you believe in Him. That’s what the confirmands have been learning these past 2 years. They’ve been learning nothing less than what God wants us to believe and do. They’ve learned The Ten Commandments, which teach us not only that we are sinners worthy of death, but also how we Christians are to show love for both God and our neighbor. They’ve learned the Creed, which teaches us how God shows love to us by creating us and preserving us, by sending Jesus to die for us, and by sending the Holy Spirit to forgive us and give us life eternal. They’ve learned the Lord’s Prayer, which teaches us how to pray to God in every situation. They’ve learned what Holy Baptism did for them and for Margaret; it has rescued them from sin, death, and Satan. They’ve learned to confess their sins so that they will hear God’s own words forgive them. They’ve learned to desire the Sacrament of the Altar because it physically forgives our sins and gives us strength to live in this wicked world with love for God and neighbor. They’ve learned to believe only and everything Scripture teaches and to examine themselves to see whether they believe what it says about ourselves and about God the Holy Trinity. They’ve been taught to follow Jesus.
So let us follow Him. That is His call to every Christian: “Follow Me.” That’s what He said to Peter in today’s Gospel. That’s what He said to him after His Resurrection. “Follow Me.” Follow Jesus. Listen to Him. Believe what He says. Believe you are a sinner. Believe you are saved by His Death. Reject anything different. When the world wants you to leave Jesus, turn to Him instead. Don’t be afraid to suffer for His Name’s sake, but confess Him before men. Don’t live to please your wicked flesh. Live to please your heavenly Father. Live in thanks for what Jesus has done for you. Live like you are a temple of the Holy Spirit. Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.