When a Ponzi Scheme is a Good Investment: A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Hard work cartoon

Sermon audio here.

It’s frustrating to work hard at something and have with nothing to show for it. This happened recently in our home when Joshua was using Perler Beads to make Hagrid from Harry Potter. Those are the tiny little beads you put onto a pegboard and then fuse together with an iron. Making these things can be tedious, and his Hagrid used 592 beads.

So after several hours of hard work, Joshua finished his masterpiece and set it down on the playroom table. Not the best idea when you have a 2-year-old Tasmanian devil for a brother running around your house. And sure enough, the little whirling dervish took one look at it, thought it would make a great Frisbee, and whipped it across the room.

It was frustrating, but the next day Joshua rebuilt it. I even put the child safety gate up in the playroom to keep Isaac away until Tiffinie had a chance to iron it. An hour or so went by and I forgot all about Joshua’s project. So I put Isaac in the playroom, and, sure enough, he immediately began practicing his Frisbee skills on poor Hagrid.

But Joshua was determined to get this thing built, so he got right back to work. This time he put the finished project up on top of the play kitchen, safely out of the little rapscallion’s reach. But as fate would have it, Elizabeth came by, reached for one of her toys above the play kitchen, knocked a bunch of stuff over, and Hagrid once again met an untimely end. It’s frustrating to work hard at something and have with nothing to show for it.

“Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” Peter complains in today’s Holy Gospel. It’s a complaint that goes all the way back to Eden when God told Adam that his labor would no longer be pleasant. By the sweat of his brow he would work; no longer would the land cooperate and yield only good crops.

Sometimes entire harvests get ruined. Computer files we didn’t back up get lost. Things we can’t replace are destroyed by fire and flooding. Decades of trust are shattered in an instant. We plan for and work at something for years only to have it not work out the way we want it to. It’s frustrating to work hard at something and have with nothing to show for it.

So here’s Peter, exhausted from a hard night of fishing and nets that were as empty as they were when they started. But along comes Jesus as and says, “Put out into the deep and let out for a catch.”  The only thing that’s worse than toiling away for hours on something with no success and is when some know-it-all comes along and thinks he can fix everything in a minute.

This would be like going to the troubleshooting section of the fishing manual and reading:

Problem: no fish

Solution: put net into the water

Of course their nets had been in the water! That’s what they’d been doing all night—at optimal fishing time!  If there were any fish to catch, they would have caught them already. Jesus’ solution was ridiculous; it shouldn’t have worked.

Fortunately, the power of God’s Word doesn’t depend on our ability to believe it.  God’s Word is powerful and His will is accomplished with us, without us, and oftentimes, in spite of us. So Peter put the nets down, and they caught so many fish their nets were breaking and both boats began to sink!

But let’s back up and think a little more about what happened just before this miracle. Jesus’ command to let down the nets must have sounded absurd. Peter made sure to register his objection before obliging: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”

Peter ultimately trusted in God’s Word, but he did so against his better judgment. There are times when God’s Word doesn’t agree with our inclinations. When that happens, we disregard God’s Word to our own detriment.

Logic would have told Peter to call it a night and get back at it tomorrow, to work harder and maybe get some bigger nets. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, the solution to Peter’s problem is fish.

Or so he thinks. The fact is, we all have a much deeper problem that no amount of fish can solve. No matter how well you’ve done in life, no matter how much or little you have to show for your labors, it will eventually all go away. In the end, your net will be empty.

If you catch something, you’ll eat it and need more. If you buy something, it’ll wear out if you don’t get bored with it first. As long as you’re preoccupied with what’s in your net, you will never be content.

Faith in Christ brings peace and joy in every situation, regardless of what you do or don’t have. The Gospel yields peace even amid the most devastating losses.

We lack peace because we’ve set our hearts on that which is fundamentally unreliable. If what you’re looking to for contentment isn’t Christ, you’ll never have it. If only you could find your satisfaction in Christ, you would never be discontent. If only you trusted His Word, you would never worry.

All of our problems are, at their core, a faith problem. We don’t have our priorities straight. We don’t fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

But when our hearts are set on things above, when we lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, there is peace. There, our Lord says, neither moth nor rust destroys and thieves do not break in and steal. Invest in that which brings peace, joy, and lasts forever.

The world invests in the stock market, but Christ invests in you—and He’s all in. He doesn’t hedge, and He doesn’t even diversify. He invests His Holy, Precious Blood in sinners, the economic equivalent of a Ponzi scheme. Jesus does everything wrong, according to the wisdom of the world. But in your baptism, you who were less reliable than penny stocks and junk bonds become a priceless treasure.

Christ’s love for you is unchanging. Everything else will go away, but not Jesus’ love.

In this world, we suffer pain, loss, and want. In Christ, there is nothing but healing, peace, and joy. In Christ, you have everything you need and more. Worry comes from having a greater attachment to the things of this world than to Jesus. When Christ is your treasure, you will be able to say, with St. Paul,

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.[i]

To worry is to look for contentment in the wrong places. In Christ, you have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.

Luther gives us this encouragement:

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… if you think that life is handing you a raw deal, hang in there and don’t let it get you down.[ii]

When you’ve toiled all night, when you’re exhausted and your net is still empty, don’t let it get you down. You have a gracious and merciful Lord. He is in control of all things and He will always take care of you. Let down your net and leave the results to God. Let Him do the worrying. When you’re troubled, seek help where true help is found. Commend yourself into His care. Let Him fill your net with His gracious Word, flesh, and blood, and rejoice in your salvation.

Soli Deo Gloria

[i] Phil. 4:11–13.

[ii] Luther, House Postil for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity (1533); Baker, Vol. 6; 288.

+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. Luke 5:1–11
The Fifth Sunday after Trinity, 2016
Zion, Summit
Immanuel, Hodgkins
Around the Word Bible Studies



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