July 4th - The Fifth Sunday after Trinity
[Luke 5:8-11] But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
“From Now On You Will Be Catching Men”
Jesus has called you, in your baptism, to be fishers of men. In varying ways these words, “from now on you will be catching men”, apply to you. In your vocations – as father or mother, sibling, family member, church member, neighbor, as the citizen of a nation – you are here to be catching men for another nation, another kingdom.
You live and exist in two kingdom, brothers and sisters. Two kingdoms. One temporary; one eternal. One of this world; the other of heaven. One broken and fallen in sin; the other holy. You live and exist in both of these kingdoms, but to which do you belong? Which kingdom is home?
In this world and life, you have benefited greatly by the nation in which you live. You live in freedom not enjoyed by other people. You’ve been spared famine and starvation, unlike much of the world. You’ve been spared the reign of murderous dictators, under which many millions of others have suffered and died. And your nation has had the honor of helping to put an end to such terrible rulers in the world.
Honor is due. Scripture commands: “honor those to whom honor is due” [Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17]. Scripture also commands us to be subject to our civil authorities and to every human institution. The reason? Because it is God, the creator and sustainer of all things, who rules and creates order and provides for mankind through the kingdoms of the world – even through evil and sin-broken leaders, and also through the good. Worldly government is part of how God making “His sun rise on the evil and on the good” and sending “rain on the just and on the unjust” [Matthew 5:45].
Honor is due especially to those who, with little benefit to themselves, have served and sacrificed to secure their nation for the benefit of others. Honor is due to military and police.
Our world today is exceptionally ungrateful. Willing to spit on the very nation through which it has enjoyed so many benefits. This kind of ungratefulness and disloyalty to one’s own country is a true evil. Christians, above all people, should have a thankful heart – because we know the God to whom thanks is due for all we’ve received. God has provided us a good life, without any merit or worthiness on our part.
Honor to whom honor is due. Yet Christians, also, above all others, should be able to acknowledge the sins and evils of their own nation. Our nation has done good in ending the mass murder and holocausts of others in this past century. Yet, our nation is also engaging in its own mass murder and holocaust.
Just as we have denied the right of full personhood to certain races in the past, our nation currently denies the right of personhood to children developing in the womb. The killing of these children – denying them the right to life and liberty – is legally sanctioned and protected by the United States, the country whose flag we fly in the Church’s sanctuary.
In the last half century, the people of our nation have killed, in the womb, over 60 million. Not six million, but over 60 million. The most common form of homicide is not from a stranger, a burglar, or gang-member, but from mothers and dads. 60 million is far beyond the number of Americans killed by enemy combatants in all the wars of our nation’s history combined. The most dangerous enemy has been domestic.
What do we make of this? We give thanks for all that God has done. We mourn over what man has done. We mourn over how man has abused God’s good gifts. We honor the good of our nation. But we are realistic about its evils. We know the reality of this world’s brokenness of sin.
We know that in this world we have no permanent home. But there is another kingdom which is our home. There is a kingdom which is our true nation. And there is a service we render to that nation.
Jesus, as His crucifixion approached, said to Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” [John 18:36]. “My kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus, by laying down His life, did not become king of your country and nation, but founded a new nation – by His sacrifice – a nation eternal in the heavens. “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Here, in this place, in this sanctuary – wherever we gather around Christ’s Word preached and His sacrament administered – here is the gathering, not of our worldly nation or of any nation in this world, but here is the gathering of Christ’s kingdom, the Kingdom of heaven, founded by His death and resurrection.
God does good through both kingdoms. But which is your true home? And what is the most important service you can render?
Usually, around July 4th, we end our service with the song, “God bless America!” And we sing in that song, again and again, “My home sweet home!” And that made me think about you guys, “What is the home you truly count as ‘Home sweet home’?” Jesus said, “I go and prepare a place for you. In my Father’s house are many rooms” [John 14:2-3]. Here, we gather for that home which is carved out for you in the heavens by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
So I decided that today, instead of ended our service singing about our temporary, earthly home – which is headed for destruction on the Last Day – we would remind ourselves, with a hymn, what our truest home is. So today, our closing and final hymn will be “I’m but a Stranger Here, Heaven is My Home.”
“I’m but a stranger here, Heaven is my home; Earth is a desert drear, Heaven is my home.” “Short is my pilgrimage, Heaven is my home.” “And I shall surely stand There at my Lord’s right hand. Heaven is my fatherland, Heaven is my home.”
Christ’s Kingdom of Heaven which He has established is your forever-home. It is the one, holy, Christian, and Apostolic Church. This Kingdom spans earth and heaven. It’s members are from every nation and language. It’s the one body of Jesus, eternal in the heavens. You are a member of it, not by what you’ve done, but by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus which forgives your worldly sins. By His sacrifice, you, a grave sinner, are washed holy in His blood and made citizens of the one kingdom that truly is holy.
Scripture says this about that Kingdom: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” [1 Peter 2:9]
In another hymn, we sing with sober honesty about the world’s kingdoms, including our own: “Onward, Christian soldiers, Marching as to war, With the cross of Jesus Going on before… Crowns and thrones may perish, Kingdoms rise and wane, but the Church of Jesus Constant will remain.”
We owe thanks and honor for so much good that we’ve received in what is the best nation on this earth. And we are honest about the wrongs. It is temporary. It won’t last. We are strangers and pilgrims. We are only passing through. Our citizenship is in the heavens, and we await a Kingdom.
The Kingdom of Heaven has for its gathering place the sanctuary of the church. We should, in many settings – picnics, festivals, parades, community assemblies – give the patriotic honor due for our country. Christians and non-Christians alike render that service. But here is the service of Christ. Here is where Jesus gathers His heavenly kingdom. The service here – which is Jesus’ service for us – is not a gathering of national citizens. Instead, this is our gathering, specifically, as citizens of heaven.
And what is the service you render to and in this world? As members of Christ’s kingdom, you have a service to render in and among the nation in which you live that is far above all the great forms of worldly service a person might render. The greater service you all render is the one Jesus spoke about in our Gospel reading today: “From now on you will be catching men.”
As fathers, mothers, workers, neighbors – as citizens – your greatest service is that of God’s Kingdom: To catch men and women for Christ. By word and deed, to bring Jesus to others so that they too may find their true home in Christ’s eternal kingdom. To, as Scripture puts it, “deliver them out of this domain of darkness and transfer them to the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son” [Colossians 1:13]. To catch others into the net of the Gospel. For God desires that all would be saved.
“I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home.” Being fishers of men, in your various callings, by speaking of Christ and doing deeds of Christ’s love – you are all commissioned to this greatest service of calling others home. I pray that you would perform this service dutifully, and that we would find ways to do it together, that others may find their truest home here. Amen.