Going Fishing: A Confirmation Story

Today, we are observing the Church’s time-honored tradition of Confirmation. The Rite of Confirmation comes at the end of a specified time of focused instruction or catechesis where one is taught the basic outlines of the faith. Special focus is given to the Ten Commandments, the Apostle Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. These elements form the backbone of the Christian confession of faith and guide us daily in our lives. To these are added teaching regarding the Means of Grace; the ways by which God’s grace is given to us sinners for forgiveness and assurance of life eternal. So, there is teaching on Holy Baptism, Absolution, and, of course, the Lord’s Supper. Many of you gathered here today have gone through similar training. Some remember it quite well and can still recite sections of the Catechism. Others of you may have forgotten the particular words but still rejoice in confessing the true faith today. But whatever form of instruction you have had, and hopefully continue to have regarding the faith, it is all an attempt to be faithful to our Lord’s command that we make disciples by both baptizing and teaching all He has commanded. Therefore, we teach, and we have confirmation.

Now, Confirmation is simply the public affirmation of the individual that the faith we all hold in common, the faith they were baptized into, is also their faith. They are publicly confirming the faith given in the waters of Holy Baptism. But confirmation can be a bit dicey. I remember when I was confirmed my pastor, Pastor Yaspelkis. He would drill into us how we ought not to think of confirmation as a graduation. You see, graduation carries with it the notion that you are done, finished, you have finally made it. When such a notion is allowed to remain prevalent, we see those who were once regular attenders of the Lord’s gifts begins to grow more and more absent. It is like the old joke about the church steeple that was infested by bats. They congregation was trying to figure out how to clear them out and the pastor said, “I know how to get rid of them. I’ll just baptize and confirm them and then we won’t see them anymore.”

Of course, that is only a joke, but there is some truth in it. However, the issue, as I see it, is not so much that we tend to view confirmation as a graduation, the issue is one of the realities of life. A public confirmation of faith is like setting a target on yourself. You know the Word of God, you confess your trust in His Word, but the real challenge will come when abiding in this faith is challenged in your life. And my friends, we all know it will be challenged. Luther once described the Christian life as one of prayer, meditation, and temptation. We all know what it is to pray, to petition our God for His mercy and guidance. Prayer then leads us to meditation upon His Word. Perhaps this is done at home alone. But for most of us, most of the time, this is done within the fellowship as we hear the sermon and gather in Bible Study. We talk it through and grow in our insight and understanding. Then we are launched out into this world where our faith is tested, every single time. It is challenged by the temptations of our age. We know all too well we will regularly fail in those temptations which ought to lead us back to prayer, where it starts all over again. But if we do not return to prayer, if we do not return to the Word, the danger is real that we become bats freed from the church steeple, never to return again.

Which is why the story of the disciples going fishing and getting some pointers from our resurrected Lord is so fitting for this special day. For I think we can easily see this as the culmination of a remarkable story of Confirmation. The Confirmation of these boys here today, but also the confirmation of all God’s people as well. It is a story about a life of faith. It all happens after the upper room, after the amazing confession of Thomas, and it sounds somewhat familiar.

They have seen our resurrected Lord, victorious over sin, death, and the grave. They have received His blessing, His message of peace was bestowed, and they were told that as He was sent, so know He will send them. Yet, there is this moment, this lull in the activity, where the next step seems a bit uncertain. As they wander along the Sea of Tiberias, Peter says, “Hey, I’m going to go fishing.” It makes sense, does it not? It was his profession before the call of our Lord, now there is this moment where we wonder if he will just go back to doing what he had done previously. The other disciples join him. Perhaps they figured, if nothing else, it would give them some time to think, some time to plan the next step, since everything seemed so unsure. What unfolds is eerily familiar. In Luke’s Gospel we are told the story of what happens when our Lord first called Peter into discipleship.

I was on the same waters, perhaps even launching from the same beach Peter, James, and John had been fishing all night long with no luck. Jesus is teaching a large crowd form the shore when He suddenly steps into Peters boat and has him push out a little from the shore so He could continue to teach. When He is done, Jesus tells Peter to push out into the deep water and let down his net. Now, Peter was a professional fisherman. He knows what he is doing. He knows the best spots and the best time of the day, and he knows this will not produce anything, or so he thought. His words are a wonderful foreshadowing of what is to come. He says, “At your Word, I will do it.” And what happens? It is a catch of fish so massive the nets begin to tear. When they get help from the other boat the sheer weight of the catch begins to sink both of them. At this Peter falls on his face at the feet of our Lord and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Peter begins to realize who this is in the boat with him, and he is terrified, for he is a sinner and has no place in the presence of the Son of God.

This begins his journey, his life with our Lord. It is one which will be marked by prayer, meditation, and temptation. It will be full of twists, turns, victories, and failures of the worst kind. Peter will make the highest confession of the true nature of our Lord and then, in the next moment, reject what He has come to do. It is raw, real, and all too familiar. But our Lord never abandons him, never pushes Peter away, never condemns him to his own pride and arrogance. No, over and again Jesus forgives, loves, and embraces Peter. Over and again, Peter learns to rely on Christ alone for life, salvation, and hope. So, roughly three years later when he finds himself back in a fishing boat, back struggling to catch fish and he hears Jesus say, “Cast your net on the right side and you’ll find some fish,” and when they obey His Word, they again catch a massive number of fish. But this time the nets are not breaking. This time Peter is not cowering in fear of his own sinfulness. No, this time he jumps into the water and rushes headlong into the presence of our Lord.

What happens on the shore? What happens when the rest of the disciples drag the boat up onto the dry land? They eat. They share in a meal, a fellowship with our Lord. There is no going back to the way things were before the Lord called them. There is no returning to that life, at least not in that way. For as Jesus had once told Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” That time was now upon them. This is not the end of their story but the beginning. So, it is with you. Confirmation is not a graduation. It is not a completion of your faith, but only the beginning. From our young confirmands here today to the most seasoned Christian saint, we know this life will be marked by trials, doubts, fears, and failures. But it is cared for by a Lord who is always ready to forgive, always eager to love, and always willing to embrace you.

My fervent prayer for you being confirmed today, is not much different than my prayer for the rest of these saints of God. I pray that through it all, through whatever comes in the weeks, months, and years ahead, you continue to rush into the arms of your Lord. For He loves you, He died for you, He rose for you, and now He feeds you with all that is needed for life eternal.