Blessed Martin Luther’s First House Postil for The Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Luke 5:1-11) is one of the most pastoral sermons I’ve had the pleasure to read. Using the miraculous catch of fish on Lake Genessaret as the text, he delivers incredible comfort to the reader simply by reminding him to hearken to the Word of Christ over against reason.
When one hearkens to the Word of God against everything reason puts up against the Word, then God is surely well-pleased because one holds to the Word and does as the Word says. Luther continues:
If everybody would respond to God and His Word in that fashion – and we ought to! – what a great peace would reign on earth! Mobsters and heretics would not arise, and all churches would be united and agreed in doctrine. Neither war nor discord, but only peace, would reign in the nation, in men’s hearts, and in their homes. But because people do not respond in that way, the majority quibbling and disputing, not willing to build solidly upon God’s Word by obeying it implicitly, that is why we have so much false teaching and dissension.
Then comes the Kern und Stern of Luther’s postil:
When we experience what Peter did, that is, toil all night catching nothing, we tend to become anxious, start to grumble, and become so discouraged that we’re ready to run away from it all. We must not give way to such temptation but persist, no matter what, remain at our post, and let God do the worrying. We’ve often observed that nothing seems to go right, even for good, pious, obedient children. On the other hand, wicked and disobedient rascals seem to prosper and get ahead. This only seems so, however. If evil seems at first to triumph, and good to lose out, remember that in the end the situation will be completely reversed. And so if you think that life is handing you a raw deal, hang in there and don’t let it get you down. Even when things go badly for those who live in obedience to God’s Word, that’s still better than the other way around. In the final analysis, God will bring judgment upon disobedience, no matter how successful it may have seemed, and will support the one who is obedient in all of his trials, and finally provide him with the highest happiness.
All of this should encourage us to follow Peter’s splendid example. He held steadfastly to Christ’s Word, refusing to let other thoughts and doubts lead him astray. If you are a pastor engaged in preaching and teaching your people, and the response hasn’t been all that great, don’t be dismayed and diverted. Say to yourself: God has ordered me to proclaim His Word, and that’s what I’ll continue to do. If it doesn’t always prosper, God knows why; if my work does thrive, it pleases both Him and me. The same attitude should prevail in any other of life’s callings. Say to yourself: God’s Word and will are present, and so I’ll go ahead, throw out my net, and let God worry about how full it will be!
Now, even as Peter had the word to throw out the net, so also we have God’s Word and command to work at whatever our calling requires. He who diligently carries out that command, even if success is minimal and blessing delayed, will find that everything finally turns out well.
The section in bold print quoted above is taped on the wall of my study where I can easily see it when I am at work. Luther’s words on my study wall have brought me so much comfort through the years. The Ministry of the Gospel is not about me. As my District President is wont to say concerning the work of the Holy Spirit, “…when and where He wills.”
I have often considered leaving my post and leaving the Missouri Synod to serve as a pastor in another synod. I remain in Missouri. I have a Divine Call. I serve the people of God where God has called me to serve. No matter what, I remain at my post and let God do the worrying. Some wags may look at my congregation’s statistics and say my congregation is “dying” or “failing.” Not so. We are growing…growing in grace and in the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord. Should the time come when my congregation must close, so be it. Congregations come and go. “The Church shall never perish, Her dear Lord to defend.” The Means of Grace are still being distributed, whether or not there is a “full house” at every Divine Service. God knows why. Thank God I don’t.
Take heart, beloved. At His Word, the Lord provides. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.