Today’s Gospel declares that there are two types of divine call from God. The first is the universal invitation to salvation as when our Lord Jesus Christ came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” The second sort of divine call is the individual summons of certain men to the service of the apostolic ministry as when He personally called Philip and Nathanael as we heard last week, and today as we have the calling of Simon and Andrew, James and John saying, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” I emphasize that these are two separate sorts of calls because in homogenizing them or combining them we confuse both the office of the ministry and the priesthood of all believers.
First is the universal call to salvation. This is God’s call to every person. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” This call comes in many and various ways through the Church being spoken by all her members, both clergy and lay.
The time for salvation was fulfilled, all was accomplished when Jesus Christ, God’s Son came on the scene. For He came to fulfill God’s Law on our behalf and to give His life as a ransom for many, that all may be saved through Him. This all-accomplished, complete salvation is fulfilled, furthermore, as it comes to and is believed by each individual sinner. Whenever the kingdom, the rule and the claim of God extends its invitation, rule and claim to a person, the proper response is to repent and believe in the gospel. It is God the Holy Spirit who creates and gives the desire and the faith to repent and to believe. And this is not just a one-time experience but is the state and status of what it means to live by and in the grace of God, namely, daily repentance and faith.
This is the first, foremost and most important aspect of the Christian life, namely, to live in true repentance and faith every day. Living in repentance and faith is best summarized in the little catechism, the Ten Commandments, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. Repentance and faith turns to the true God alone. It has no other gods. It takes up God’s name in prayer, praise and thanksgiving. It holds preaching and God’s Word sacred and gladly hears and learns it. True repentance and faith daily loves the neighbor, from mother and father and family to everyone, helping and supporting them in physical needs, honor and reputation.
True repentance and faith knows and believes the only true God to be the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It knows and believes that the Creator God is still present and active in His world and in your life. It knows and believes that God’s main activity is keeping you safe and close to Him by the daily forgiveness of your sins for the sake of Christ who redeemed you. It relies on God who works through word and sacrament to keep you in the one true faith and to make you live in the sure hope of eternal life.
True repentance and faith means, according to the Lord’s Prayer, keeping God’s name holy among us by teaching and hearing His Word, receiving and remaining in His kingdom and rule of grace by believing His Word, abiding in the will of God by opposing every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come. True repentance and faith realizes that our daily bread is given to us by God and gives daily thanks for it. It struggles to live and remain in the forgiveness of sins by confessing our sins and receiving forgiveness for ourselves and by forgiving our neighbor when he or she sins against us.
In summary, repentance and faith means living in the promise of your Holy Baptism and living on the strength given in the constant nourishment of Christ’s own body and blood in the sacrament of the altar. This universal call of salvation and living in repentance and faith is the full-time occupation of every Christian.
The specific calling of Simon Peter and Andrew, of James and John, of all the twelve apostles and of every pastor in the apostolic ministry since then is, on the other hand, not a universal call to every Christian. For one thing, the call of Christ to repentance and faith, while being a full-time concern, does not require you to leave your vocation as husband or wife, father or mother or worker in every sort of occupation in this life and world. Christ’s specific call to the men in today’s Gospel who were professional fishermen, however, “left their nets,” and “left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants” and followed Jesus in the full-time vocation as apostles and ministers of Christ. Notice, if you will, that I did not use the word “professional” to describe their new vocation. Often you will hear the phrase “professional church worker” to designate pastors, teachers and other workers in the church. And that is fine if you mean to emphasize the profession of faith or of Christ, or if all you mean by it is “full time.” But as soon as “professional” begins to mean something more than or better than any other Christian, then you begin to get it backwards. St. Paul loved to call himself a servant or slave of Jesus Christ, as did all the other apostles. Indeed, we are to be considered servants of Christ and of Christ’s people. St. Paul said it best in the words, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5).
As we say in our Lutheran Confessions, in order that we may obtain the faith that saves, “the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted” by God (AC V) and “that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call” (AC XIV). These are to be men who are personally and theologically qualified, verified by the formal, public and official call from the Church, confirmed and formally recognized by means of the apostolic rite of ordination. All of that is to preserve and confirm that individual pastors are not created by and merely hired by the church but are created, called and sent to the church by Christ Himself.
The apostles and apostolic ministers are to be “fishers of men,” their equipment not rod and reel and net but Word and Sacrament—the Bible, preaching, teaching, baptizing, communing and absolving. There are other qualifications listed especially by the apostle Paul in his pastoral letters to Timothy. But the issue and the distinction of our text today is how pastors are called from among the body of believers to serve the Church as preachers and ministers of Word and Sacrament.
This past week I spent one day at the annual theological Symposia at our seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The subject matter happened to be a sort of review of events and luminaries of the relatively recent past of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. It was good to hear about those various professors and pastors who have gone before us. And it was good to connect with fellow pastors we don’t get to see very often. Among the attendants was a pastor from Illinois who says that I was a major influence that he became a pastor, and that as only a student and vicar at the time. And there have been others. It’s neat to hear that you served a significant purpose in someone else’s life. But it was, of course, not me but Christ who used me in His own mysterious way to speak His Word and Call, “Follow me” to others.
So today the Lord’s Call comes to you again, repent, believe in the gospel and “follow me.” May the Lord keep you close to Himself, strengthen your faith and give you renewed hope and joy.