February 10, 2019

The Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany

Scripture Reading: Luke 5:1-11

Jesus Calls His First Disciples

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,[a] the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Footnotes:

  1. Luke 5:1 That is, the Sea of Galilee


Sermon: “There’s Always a Catch

Though it hardly seems possible, the Super Bowl was just one week ago today. Super Bowl Sunday is about one thing above all else—food. What, you thought I’d say “football?” Here, according to the consumer researchers at YouGov, are the most popular Super Bowl snacks.

Coming in at number one are chips and dip, followed by pizza, chicken wings, nachos, cheese and crackers, burgers and sliders, tacos, hotdogs, cookies, and ice cream.

It’s hard to imagine Super Bowl Sunday without our favorite snacks. For the folks in this morning’s Scripture lesson, it would be even harder to imagine life without, not hot wings, but fish.

In first century Palestine, people ate more fish than any other kind of meat. A booming fishing industry thrived on the Sea of Galilee. Locals ate the catch fresh. Most of the fish, though, were salted, dried, or pickled for export.

Simon, James, and John were commercial fishermen, owning and running their own business. And they were no doubt in a foul mood on the day that Luke describes, for they’d fished all night long and caught nothing.

They were bone tired and discouraged, cleaning and mending their nets before heading home for a well-deserved rest. Then Jesus, the wandering teacher from Galilee, happened by and asked to use one of their boats as a floating pulpit.

Under ordinary circumstances, Jesus probably would have gotten an answer at least as salty as some of the fish shipped for export. But these were no ordinary circumstances.

As Luke tells the story in chapter four, this wasn’t the first time that Jesus and Peter had met. After the hometown crowd in Nazareth tried to kill him, Luke writes, Jesus wisely decided to move on.

Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee. He would teach there on the Sabbath. And the teaching made a great impression on them, because he spoke with authority.

On leaving the synagogue, Jesus entered the house of Simon and his family. Simon’s mother-in-law was in the grip of a high fever, and they asked him to help her. Jesus stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left. She got up at once and went about her work.

Peter not only knew about Jesus. Peter owed him. I can just imagine Peter heaving a sigh, motioning to his partners, and then wearily climbing aboard their boat once more, taking with them this unusual and, as it turned out, unusually pushy, passenger.

When he’d finished speaking, Jesus said to Simon, “Pull out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Rabbi, we’ve worked hard all night long and caught nothing; but if you say so, I’ll lower the nets.”

What was a carpenter doing telling professional fishermen how to go about their business? After all, amateurs make amateur mistakes, as this clip shows.

Clip

Whether working with a chainsaw or casting nets, there are some matters in which amateurs shouldn’t meddle. Still, Peter owedJesus.

With an eye roll and no doubt with plenty of attitude, the freshly cleaned and newly mended nets went back in the water. Peter expected nothing. What he got was something.

They caught so many fish that their nets were at the breaking point. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and together they filled the two boats until they both nearly sank.

Back in 1986, two amateur archeologists found a boat much like the one Simon and his partners used buried in the mud along the Sea of Galilee. The preserved shell was twenty-six and a half feet long, seven and a half feet wide, and four and a half feet deep.

It tooktwoboats that size filled to overflowing to hold the net straining catch. Even then, the overloaded boats were so heavy that they almost sank.

It was astonishing. It was unexpected. Most of all, it was terrifying. Peter went from eye roll to awe. “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner,” he said.

Jesus answered, “Don’t be afraid! From now on, you’ll be catching people.”

That was supposed to make Peter feel better? Suddenly our supposed expert was himself now the amateur, asked by a man whom he barely knew to follow him down a path about which he knew even less.

Oh, how we argue when that call comes to us! “Leave me, Lord!” we say with Peter. We aren’t scared, though. We just aren’t interested.

“I don’t have the time, Lord. I don’t have the gifts. I don’t have the kind of faith it takes to risk and dare for the sake of your name.” Now, as then, Jesus will have none of our excuses.

When he told Simon to head for the deep water, all Jesus did was ask him to do what he knew how to do. “Get the nets in the water,” Jesus said. “Leave the rest to me.”

Sometimes, maybe even most of the time, faith can be pretty ordinary. That’s what Jesus meant, I think, when he said that if we had faith the size of a mustard seed, we could uproot and move a mulberry tree. Even the simplest things, done in faith, can have a huge impact.

Being faithful is about seeing all the God-given chances to serve that come our way when we show up and do what needs to be done: doing our work, caring for those in need, protecting the vulnerable, reaching out to the lonely, befriending the friendless, making the part of the world in which we live better for our passing through it.

It’s not always heroic, but it isimportant. That’s the kind of faith to which Jesus called Peter.

Many, many years ago, when I was first starting out in ministry, one of the oldest members of my congregation in Fults received word that she was terminally ill. The diagnosis came in the spring, and the doctors told her that she probably wouldn’t live through the summer.

I went to her home to visit her. As we were talking, we got onto the subject of gardening. She’d been an avid gardener all her life.

This year, she said, she only had the strength to put in three tomato plants. I looked out the kitchen window and, sure enough, there they were, out in her backyard along the fence.

She must have read my mind at that point, because the next thing she said was, “I planted the plants. Someone else can enjoy the tomatoes.”

Faith is like that. We plant seeds, knowing we won’t always be the one to enjoy their fruit. We cast our nets into life’s deep waters, unsure of what lies beneath. We live out our faith, act by ordinary act, with God seldom showing us the final result.

Always the amateur in matters of faith, we do what we can with the gifts God gave us, getting our nets in the water and leaving the rest to God. Remember―when it comes to God’s call, there’s alwaysa catch.