From Now On…
In the fifth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we read the familiar story of Jesus calling the first disciples. The heartbeat of the text is found in Luke 5:5: “Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’”
Just before this text, we see Jesus preaching and teaching. Giving the spoken Word of God on one side of the lake. But on the other side of the lake, we see Peter, James and John trying to fish. On their own, apart from Jesus. Why don’t they see any result? It isn’t because they were lazy. They are hard workers. Is the problem with the lake? Is the problem with the net? Is the problem the way the disciples are doing it? What is the missing piece?
This text makes the most important point in discipleship, mission, and evangelism clear. As sacramental, confessional Lutherans, this becomes a very important text for us. Obviously, the missing piece was Jesus and His Word. It was the only thing added in this fishing exercise. Jesus didn’t have them change their style. Or their net. Or the boat. Or the lake. Or the fishermen. They didn’t change any of that. The only element that was missing or added was Jesus and His Word.
There are many hardworking churches and hardworking pastors. They are spending their time, talent, and energy: showing up early in the morning and not going home until late at night. They are hardworking fishermen on the other side of the lake from Jesus and his Word.
“We have worked, but have not caught much. We have tried everything, but we have not seen much fruit.” These are common sentiments expressed by many leaders in the church. We have done everything that we know. We have changed the color of the building; we have put in new carpet. There are new musicians; we have changed the council leadership. We have tried this program and that program. We have tried everything we can think of, but there is no result! And rather than growing, we are not even plateauing; we are declining. We don’t know what to do. We have worked hard all night.”
Hard work without Jesus is not going to give us any result. We need to keep the Word at the center of our mission and the center of our ministry. When we lift up Jesus, he draws people to himself. The magnetic attraction in the ministry of the church of Jesus Christ is not the building, the pastor, the choir, or the musicians. It is Jesus Himself — Christ crucified. The Son of the Living God at the center of our lives.
The greatest mistake and crisis in the western church was when we started to push the Word of God away from the center. When we put ourselves at the center, the church started to decline. In our time together in Nashville, we will not teach new programs or mechanics, but we are here to remind them — and now you — “let’s bring Jesus and his Word to the center of our mission and ministry.” And let’s do that well. Then we will see the result.
Jesus brought the most stubborn fisherman to his knees with the Word of God. When Jesus is at the center, the driest humanity breaks into pieces. Human hearts melt. When the Gospel is at the center, sinners confess and receive salvation. Is Jesus at the center of the Church? Or on the other side of the lake where we are not? Are we working very hard on the other side of the lake, while not depending on Him? The concluding remark that Jesus made was not criticism, but three little words. There were no harsh words. He simply said: “From now on.”
From now on — it will not be like yesterday. From now on — it will not be like 2016. From now on — it is not going to be like my previous experience. Jesus is an expert at giving you a new season, a new experience, a new chapter. It is the year of God’s favor — from now on.
*The Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba will be presenting on this topic during the NALC Mission Festival. For more information about presenters, schedules, or to register today for Lutheran Week – please visit: “Holding Fast – Being (Re)Formed”