In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You are a fish out of water. You were caught, caught in the killing net of the judgment of God against you and you were brought up in the life giving net of the life of Christ. You were brought safe on board the boat, the Ark, the Holy Ark of Christendom.
Christ said “let down the nets” and the nets went down.
The net of God’s judgment went down, for you were in the depths of the sea, the place of the deep, the waters of the deep, the place of demons and Satan. You were lost in a deep and dark ocean, prey for demons to possess you, prey for Satan to swallow you, prey for an eternity in his clutches, prey to an eternity of separation from God.
And being separate from God, being uncaught seemed so attractive and liberating, not caught by the condemnations and judgment of God’s law and so not caught up by the forgiveness won in Christ’s blood. But in eternity that freedom will be a wretched, terrifying, lonely, painful and eternal freedom from God. An existence as wretched as all the sin you are and all the sin you sin, as painful as all the grief and sorrow caused by anger and hatred and jealously, as horrifying as the terror of facing violence, as wretched and lonely as slowly wasting away, as empty as being separated by death from those you love, as ripped apart as being forsaken by those whom you love, is this separation from God in hell for eternity. All this, the terror and pain and wretchedness and forsakenness in the depths of hell for eternity, is freedom from God.
And that is where you were, dead and dying in the depths, for this death is separation from God. But you didn’t know that, for you thought that uncaught existence was life and freedom. But it is no life and it is no freedom. It is death and you can’t make yourself alive, you cannot free yourself from its grip, you cannot reverse the death process, you cannot crawl out of this grave, you cannot crawl out of these depths, this ocean of death and dying and hell no matter how evolutionarily and morally developed you think you are.
And so down goes the net, the net of God’s judgment. “All this is true. All this is yours. All this is your due.”
Down goes the net. Down goes the Son of God, down goes Christ, down into our flesh, down into the waters, into the depths, into our sin, into the jaws of Satan, into the jaws of death, into the jaws of the wrath of God against sinners, into hell, down goes Christ, down, deep into hell, into the deepest most agonizing pit of hell.
And it swallowed him up and for three days he was in the belly of death. And he rested. And on the third day he was spit out of the depths, spit out of the grave, alive to give life.
The penalty for sin was paid, death was destroyed, Satan was defeated, caught himself by the hook of the cross on which dangled “a worm, and not a man,” the sacrifice for sin was accepted, Now God rises, our Lord Jesus, our victor, our Savior, who went into our sin, our hell, our punishment, our agony, our death, into the deep, into the waters. And he was poured into the waters, he went into baptismal waters, his blood was poured into the waters from his holy wounds. And so down goes the net, and pulls us up out of the water. Down goes the net, the very hands of God, the hands of the fisherman which have plunged into the waters have pulled us up out of the waters. Caught.
You are eye witness to this, for you have all witnessed the hands of God plunge into the waters and pull you out, pull your children out, pull young and old, rich and poor, black, white and brown, out of the waters, out of the depths, out of the tomb of the depth of the sea of sin and death, out of the font, out of the water mingled with the blood of Christ which ran into these waters, which ran into the font, the font into which you were plunged and pulled out, caught, naked, stripped of your own righteous, clothed in Christ, pulled out of the depths of hell to life, given life, dry and secure onboard, in the boat, the Holy Ark of Christendom.
But you are a fish out of water and you gasp. You gasp for the old life, the life of sin, the life of self righteousness, the life of independence from the Holy Ark, from the Holy Church.
Your instincts are imbedded deep in your flesh, and you flip and flop and twist and strain to return to the depths. For this is not natural, not natural to think my life, my righteousness is worthy of eternal damnation. It is not natural to cast oneself wholly on Another.
It is not natural to be concerned about others before oneself. It is instinctive to care for oneself first, to put oneself ahead of others. It is not natural to give of myself for others, to sacrifice myself for others, to sacrifice my wealth for others, to give with no thought of a return. And so we flip and flop and even flip and flop out of the boat, out of the ark, out of the nave. And some do. And so “let down the nets.” And the net goes down, again and again. And all are caught, by the net or, by Satan.
But brought on board, the fisherman breathes into you his breath, Holy Breath, the life sustaining Holy Spirit, breathed into you by the one who caught you, the fisherman, who breathes into you the life giving Holy Spirit, the Word which is Spirit and life, the spirit of God which Christ breathes out and into you.
And you breathe in the Holy Spirit. You breathe in the life of Christ, you breathe in as the fisherman breathes out on you and breathes into your ear the forgiveness of sins, this breath which is His Word and Spirit, the breath of God, the life of Christ.
And you breathe in, you breathe in the sweet air filled with the fragrance of the sacrifice of Christ who was a sweet smelling sacrifice. You breathe in the sweet air of life, here, safe onboard, safe in the boat, in the Holy Ark, saved, caught, fished out of water…
… in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. §
The Reverend John W. Berg, pastor of Hope Evangelical-Lutheran Church, does his fishing in Fremont, California.