Scripture: Luke 5:1-11
Given on 09/18/2016 at FPC-Anniston, AL
Growing up on the coast of North Carolina, I spent a fair amount of my time in fishing boats. We owned an old Jon boat that had a trawling motor on it for fishing the lakes around my house, a bass boat that we would take out on the Lumber river, a couple miles from my house, and a canoe that we could use in the ponds that dotted the county. However, my greatest joy growing up was any opportunity that we had to go out on the ocean and fish along the gulf stream of the Atlantic Ocean. That was where the biggest fighting fish existed. Now, the gulf stream was in between 30 and 70 miles off the coast depending on where you were embarking from and that usually meant anywhere from 2 to 3, 3 and a half hours, of riding to get there before any actual fishing got to be done. I am convinced that in another life I could have been a sea captain or maybe a pirate because while 2-3 hours of sitting doing anything else would have been unbearable to my 12 year old self, something about sitting in the back of a fast moving boat, getting sprayed by the water that would come off the boat every time it hit a big wave, watching the flying fish rise out of the wake of the boat and sail effortlessly alongside of us, or just looking out at the immensity of the ocean was both relaxing for me but also joyful. And I think I was born with sea legs because from a pretty early age, I was comfortable walking along the sides of the boat, releasing the outriggers, and sending the fishing lines up to the top of them. There really are few feelings in this world as exciting as hearing the outrigger release while the line snaps the water and an 80lb wahoo hits your tackle and swims out 100 yds before you’ve even had a chance to move and, correspondingly, there is no greater sense of accomplishment as standing next to a catch back on the dock, seeing the other fishermen gather around you as you tell them how hard it was to bring this one in and the fishing tales begin.
Now, I mention this because there is one particular occasion out on the ocean that I will never forget as long as I live. We had gotten up early in the morning, you have to when you have such a long ride out to the gulf stream and you don’t want to spend the vast majority of your day cooking in the Atlantic sun in the middle of the ocean, and had made our way out to the dock. The weather report came in that the seas were breaking 4-6 ft. Choppy, but manageable and after some debate we decided to give it a go. And while I don’t remember what kind of fish we caught that day (or if we caught any at all) I do remember my dad had one of the new guys working for him with us who had determined that manly men didn’t take dramamine, or scopolamine, or any of that nonsense and so had spent the better part of the day at the back of the boat losing breakfast and last night’s dinner and I’m guessing all his meals from the previous week. He had made a bad decision and by 2:30, 3:00, it was decided that it was time to head in (probably as a sign of mercy for the manly man who had turned an odd shade of green) and so we turned around and started to head in. As we grew closer, the waves were growing larger by the minute and what was a choppy 4-6 feet had grown into a dangerous 8-12 as a storm head had formed in between the shoreline and us, too big to steer around. The only choices we had were to stop and run the risk of being flipped over by the increasingly growing waves or press on back to the marina. We chose the latter and what followed was 3 hours of the most harrowing boating I have ever done. We lost count of the number of times that the boat popped into the air by waves and smacked down back into the water as we each began to wonder if a boat can be cracked in half by the impact of returning to water and more importantly if we were going find out on that day. To make a long story short, we eventually pulled into the slip a thoroughly beaten group of fishermen with the manly man vowing to never set foot on a boat again and me kissing the ground in an overly emotional sign of gratitude to the gods of boating luck. And as I have thought about that day over the past week, I can’t help but wonder if that’s how those whom Jesus would soon be calling to follow him in his journey felt in our scripture for today.
In the passage for this morning, we encounter Jesus making his way along the shore of Lake Gennesaret. And you kind of get the feeling that it is early in the morning and he’s just enjoying the quiet part of his day before the crowds will, no doubt, once again descend upon him. And a little ways off he sees Simon Peter’s boat coming into to rest on shore and after greeting him convinces him to pull back out into the water a bit and as he does, sure enough, the crowds begin to surround the shoreline and Jesus begins to teach them. When he finishes speaking, he tells Simon to take his boat into deeper waters and almost immediately, you can hear an audible groan arise from Peter. Master, we have been out here all night and we haven’t caught anything. We are tired and sore from battling the waves and now we really just want to go home. There are, I can attest, few things worse than spending a long time battling the water and having nothing to show for it. But in the end, Peter acquiesces to Jesus’s request and they head out another time. And almost magically, as they let down their nets and begin to bring them in again, they are filled with more fish than any of them have ever seen in a single haul. And the nets are so filled that the men on Simon’s boat cannot even bring the nets back into the boat and so they call another boat over and together they bring in the nets and the fish until both boats are so loaded down that they can barely make it back to land without sinking. As the episode concludes, Simon, overwhelmed by the totality of what has just occurred and presuming this man of God to be the reason for it, falls down at the feet of Jesus overcome with feelings of unworthiness and shame. And this is maybe the key to the whole passage, because Simon in his declaration of sinfulness in the face of holiness, is saying to Jesus, “Master, I have no idea what I am doing in this world. I work, I take care of my family, I practice my faith, but I am, when all is said and done, a sinner and I don’t know any other way to be.” Deep in that moment of confession is a question for Jesus, “How am I supposed to live?” And of course, Jesus looks back deeply into his eyes and with all the love of the universe simply says, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will be catching people.” And we are told that almost instantly Simon along with James and John, the sons of Zebedee, drop everything they are doing and being to follow Jesus away from their boats and away from their lives—leaving behind their stuff, their families, and the old order of the world that told them they could never do anything like this with their lives.
I suppose in our own time, we aren’t all that different from these first disciples. Because I am convinced that in every time and place resides a question that rests at the heart of all other questions, and that emerges from the stillness of our souls. It was at the heart of Micah’s declarative query, “What does the Holy One require of you?” In the Christian tradition, we see this question arise time and time again though it takes on many different guises. It is in the story of the rich, young, ruler who comes to Jesus decrying the fact that he has lived within the tenets of his religious community since birth and still finds his life lacks sufficient meaning and peace. We see the teacher, Nicodemus, come to Jesus in the dark of night, wrestling with the questions of the universe and his soul, not understanding how things have come to be as they are and yet still desiring to find peace in the midst of all the brokenness. We see the tax collector and Zaccheus, and Saul and here, Peter, each incredibly broken people, struggling in the depths of their souls with the question even as they each had tried to answer it in different ways. It is the question that each of us, even as we take our place in the long line of believers that have come before us, cry out, “How are we to live?” And Jesus’s response comes back to them as it comes back to us, “Don’t be afraid. Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.”
Most of us go through our days and if we aren’t careful, our lives can become mundane, predictable, rote. Maybe you work, maybe you are retired. Maybe you get up and spend the days visiting with friends, maybe you get up and turn on the tv and see what other people are doing with their lives, maybe you go in and punch a clock and work for 10 hours and then come home, maybe you take care of children, but, in any case we all go through our days and, if we are not careful our days can become predictable. That is, at least how I imagine, Simon, and James, and John were experiencing their day on the day that Jesus came into their lives. They had spent all night fishing. They were, after all, fishermen by profession, and they were preparing to throw in the towel and return to their houses. Maybe, in their minds, they were already thinking about seeing their wives and their kids. Maybe they were thinking about breakfast It was, at least presented as, a normal day. And then Jesus shows up. And everything is completely turned upside down. “Don’t be afraid. Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.”
And maybe we each need that in our lives. Maybe we need to be moved from what is familiar to what is unknown. Maybe we need to encounter Jesus at a time when we believe that we have everything under control and there is nothing new under the sun and we know what our day is going to look like because, maybe it is only then that we can truly be moved to do and be something new. To be, as Paul said, a new creation in Christ where the old has fallen away and the new is arising. Maybe we need to be given eyes to see and ears to hear Jesus’s face, Jesus’s voice. To encounter him in places where we have never seen him, a voice that cries out from those who struggle, a strange face we’ve never seen before, a call to have a servant heart, to lift up the weary and clothe the naked. A movement of the Spirit that flows through all of us and continually moves us closer and closer to God. Jesus comes to us wherever we are. By a lake, on an ocean, in a pew, and tells all of us that we will soon be fishin’ for people. That we will soon go out into the world and be Christ’s hands and Christ’s feet. That we will spread the Good News of Christ. That we tell the world the greatest story ever told. That we tell the world that that story is still being written and still being told. That we tell the world that God loves them. That we tell the world that the grace of God, the peace of God surpasses all understanding. That we tell the world that eventually all things flow into one and that one is the God of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebecca, of Jacob and Leah and Rachel, of Jesus, of Paul, of Julian of Norwich and Teresa of Avila, of Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, and of us. And that we each write and tell our own chapters of the greatest story ever told until that moment in which all of time and space returns to God and we finally find the love that dwells at the center of creation. And we all come home. Alleluia, Amen.