Principles of Fishing

Luke 5: 1-11

January 22, 2017 |  The Rev. Lynne M. Dolan, Senior Minister
Today we find Jesus at the beginning of his ministry.  He is off to a rocky start.  Last week he was nearly run off the cliff for speaking the plain truth to his hometown religious community.  Who does he think he is, grumbled the people who watched him grow up and make his way into the spotlight on this religious stage? Today we hear the familiar story of boats and fish and frustration and new beginnings. It is Luke’s call narrative to the first disciples. Peter, James and John, three fishermen give up their vocation to accept Jesus’ call to fish for people. I invite you to hear the story again.  As we hear each segment take a moment to ponder what Peter and his friends might have been thinking and feeling.  It is my hope that as we do this, the Spirit will help us to find ourselves in the story in a new way and challenge us in our own deeper commitment to discipleship.

Before we revisit the story, it is important to understand a bit of the context.  Early in his public ministry, after Jesus was baptized and tempted in the wilderness he began to teach, heal people and cast out demons.  As you can imagine the word about Jesus spread quickly and many people were interested in meeting him and hearing what he had to say. Jesus never intended to undertake this ministry alone.  Eventually he would need others to join him in this work. From the very beginning Jesus challenged the political and religious establishment, making as many enemies as friends.  In his inaugural sermon in the synagogue, Jesus was ridiculed, openly questioned and instead of being welcomed with open arms at coffee hour, he was run out of town and quite literally nearly run off the cliff.

One of the people Jesus had already healed was Peter’s mother-in-law. Therefore, we know that Peter and Jesus have some history together.  Peter had met Jesus and knew that he was no ordinary rabbi.  Peter had been moved by this extraordinary, compassionate act and was curious, but all that is about to change in a big way.  It’s going to be huge.  Let’s hear the story again this time from The Message:

Once when he was standing on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, the crowd was pushing in on him to better hear the Word of God. He noticed two boats tied up. The fishermen had just left them and were out scrubbing their nets. He climbed into the boat that was Simon’s and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Sitting there, using the boat for a pulpit, he taught the crowd.

Most of us are not fishermen.  Fishing is a relaxing hobby, something we or our spouse does to get out of the house for the day and away from the chores that await us. For professional fishermen like Peter it was hard work.  All night they cast out their nets and pulled them in by hand. Their livelihood depended on having a good haul. On this morning, Peter was bone-weary, ready for a meal and a warm bed before he and his partners prepared to do it all over again.  As they are busy buttoning up the boat, Peter was met by a crowd of people.  They have come to hear Jesus teach the Word of God.  To some, Jesus is treated like a rock star.  However, Jesus is more than a curiosity to Peter who has met Jesus.  They have become acquainted and connected through this healing event. Jesus had been a guest at Peter’s home.  Therefore, despite his fatigue and disappointment, Peter would likely have been honored to take Jesus out in his boat to speak to crowd that had gathered.

“When he finished teaching, Jesus said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.” Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.”

Jesus finishes.  Apparently, the lesson was brief.  Perhaps Peter is hoping he can now dock his boat and get some rest.  However, Jesus has a different plan.  When he finishes teaching he turns to Peter and asks him instead to push out into deeper water.  To a fisherman, this suggestion seems ridiculous. It is now daylight, anyone knows you don’t push out into the deep at this time of day. If they did not catch anything all night, they are not likely to catch anything now.  However, despite his reservations, Peter agrees to do what Jesus asks.

By this time, Peter is likely pretty annoyed even if he can’t show it. He wants nothing more than to head home and hit the hay. Instead Jesus invites him to take a risk, to do something that seems illogical and futile.  Out of respect for Jesus, Peter grudgingly agrees to put out into deeper water and lower the nets.  When we are, tired and discouraged, when we feel like we have put forward our best effort, tried all the things the professionals advise us to do, updated our website, held the latest Bible studies and still seem to be losing ground, the last thing we want to hear is someone telling us to redouble our efforts, to head out beyond our comfort zone and to trust that this time it will be different.

It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.   Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell to his knees before Jesus. “Master, leave. I’m a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself.” When they pulled in that catch of fish, awe overwhelmed Simon and everyone with him. It was the same with James and John, Zebedee’s sons, coworkers with Simon.

Can you envision it? The initial tug on the nets. The excitement to see what was happening. Then the sheer weight of pulling the nets into the boat when Peter fully expected them to be empty.  Can you imagine the look on Peter’s face when the nets broke the surface of the water, brimming with fish? The economic implications where huge, but Peter’s mind is elsewhere.  Whatever Peter thought he knew about Jesus, in that moment he realized he didn’t really know Jesus at all. In that moment, it began to dawn on Peter who and what Jesus is.

This is a profound moment of grace.  In this moment, the whole world changes and Peter is blown away.  Peter realizes he is a sinner standing in the presence of the Messiah. His response is all too human.  He orders Jesus to get away.  He is not worthy to be in his presence.  Why has God chosen him to be witness to this miracle? Not once but twice he has seen Jesus do what no one else has ever done. He is a humble, sinful fisherman worthy of little more than an occasional good haul of fish and taking care of his family.  He is not worthy of being in the presence of the Messiah.

Have you ever encountered something so awesome or so holy that it took your breath away?  Have you ever been in a situation and understood that no matter how unremarkable it may have seemed to everyone else, you knew you were in the presence of God?  I know this is how our young people feel whenever they are in the mission field, whether it is in Boston or New York or Maine or Worcester.  They come away with their nets overflowing, hardly able to haul in the blessings that God provides. We see this in their Spirits and their stories and the commitment to serve God in deeper ways. I know this is how the women in the Hands for Hope ministry feel.  We shared this feeling the Sunday we saw the haul of dresses and shorts and sweaters they had lovingly created for children whom they would never meet living in Africa ringing the sanctuary as testaments to their love.  Our nets were bulging to the brim because they had faithfully accepted Jesus’ invitation to head out into deep waters.

I can imagine this is how the millions of people felt yesterday as they gathered in cities throughout the world marching for justice and peace and equality.  My daughter has already shared with me that this is how she felt being there; it was amazing, it was in its own way holy.  What began as a simple idea to show the world that love trumps hate and women have the power to transform the world by marching in the seat of American power, became so much more.  People all over the world took to the streets to stand in solidarity with women and men who feel vulnerable or who fear what awaits us in the days and months ahead. They headed out into deeper waters, risking their own safety to create communities of love and hope by walking and wearing funny pink hats and reclaiming their voice and witnessing to the power of love.

This invitation to head into deeper waters scares the bejesus out of us. Peter thought he knew Jesus and perhaps even anticipated what might happen when he followed his instructions.  I don’t think we are ever prepared for what Jesus has in store for us. Perhaps that is why we hesitate.  Our visions are too limited, our ambitions too small and in the end, we know what Jesus is capable of and frankly, we are simply not up to the task. Discipleship is demanding and delirious, exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time.

Jesus said to Simon, “There is nothing to fear. From now on you’ll be fishing for men and women.” They pulled their boats up on the beach, left them, nets and all, and followed him.

One preacher helps us wonder what would have happened if Jesus had called Peter and James and John to follow him without setting out into deep waters, without the miracle of abundance, without the evidence of what Jesus was capable of accomplishing? Jesus hooks them with a display of generosity and love they cannot dismiss. Peter is humbled by this miracle. His heart is open. Jesus tells Peter to trust deeply and set aside his fear. In response, Peter doesn’t just fit Jesus into his already busy life, he agrees to follow him…hook, line and sinker.  Peter and his colleagues are all in. Nothing would ever be the same.

Jesus invites us to be all in. What does that mean for you? What do you have to give up?  What feelings do you need to confront?  Who do you need to invite to stand with you as you head out into the deep?  We are not surprised that people were curious about Jesus at this point in his ministry.  What may be surprising is the people Jesus chooses to call.  From the beginning, Jesus calls the ordinary folk to do extraordinary things. This morning it is our friends the fishermen.  He does not choose the powerful, the learned, or the elite. Jesus chooses the simple, uneducated laborers who lived on the fringes of society, people who would appear to have few discernable gifts for ministry. Yet they were remarkably human, as are we.

We have likely heard it said, “God does not call the equipped, God equips the called.”  When we answer the call, God gives us whatever we need to do what needs to be done.  It’s a matter of trust. On that morning, despite convincing evidence to the contrary, Peter agreed to do with Jesus to the place of promised abundance.  Hope sends us out in the deep. We are not certain what awaits us there, but we trust and we hope and we believe in the one who has not only sent us, but promises never to leave us alone when we agree to go.  God does not send us into the deep only to abandon us there.  God sends us, equips us and then blesses us with generosity and grace beyond anything we could imagine.  Are you ready for such an experience?

Our work is about people; meeting people where they are, breaking down systems that keep us all imprisoned, using our power and privilege to create communities that are fearless. Fishing for people is less about doctrine or theology than it is about offering people grace, compassion and love.

God knows we can achieve more when we make ourselves available as vessels of God’s love and justice. I believe Jesus is calling each of us to push out into those deeper waters, to take a step forward with willing hearts, to make ourselves available to Jesus in whatever way the Spirit calls us.  There are faithful members of the church, Paul Sainsbury and Deb Deldotto just two among us, whom you can find at coffee hour who are anxious to find out where or how you feel called to serve the church in the coming year.  They are technically part of the nominating committee.  But truly they are fishermen.   There are countless opportunities to deepen one’s discipleship and people who are getting ready for some heavy-duty fishing that need your help.

God calls.  God equips. God sends. God provides. We need simply trust that when we set out into the deep waters, our nets will be filled and we will be blessed. If we come to Jesus with willing hearts, there is no telling how God will move through us as disciples and as a church.

Perhaps it is time for us to pray…for wisdom and courage and trust that God has a plan for us and this church. I invite you to pray with me every morning, this prayer written in reflection of this passage by Jeff Marian.  I commit to pray it every day until we enter the season of Lent.  Perhaps it will be so compelling that it will become my daily prayer.  If you would like to join me, you will find copies of it at coffee hour.  I invite you to be open to the Spirit that calls us out into the deep waters where God promises we will encounter true life in Christ.
Let us pray:

God, this is a new day.  I freshly commit myself to the role you have invited me to play, as you are building your church in this world.  I am awestruck again today that you include me in this grand life-giving, world-transforming endeavor.  So today I will joyfully offer you:

MY LOVE/ MY HEART/ MY TALENTS/ MY ENERGY/ MY CREATIVITY/ MY FAITHFULNESS/ MY RESOURCES/ AND MY GRATITUDE.

I commit all of myself to the role you have assigned me in the building of your church so that it may thrive in this world.  And I will “bring it” today.  I will bring my best.  You deserve it.  Your church deserves it.  It is the Hope of the world.  Amen
God, this is a new day.  I freshly commit myself to the role you have invited me to play, as you are building your church in this world.  I am awestruck again today that you include me in this grand life-giving, world-transforming endeavor.  So today I will joyfully offer you:

MY LOVE/ MY HEART/ MY TALENTS/ MY ENERGY/ MY CREATIVITY/ MY FAITHFULNESS/ MY RESOURCES/ AND MY GRATITUDE.

I commit all of myself to the role you have assigned me in the building of your church so that it may thrive in this world.  And I will “bring it” today.  I will bring my best.  You deserve it.  Your church deserves it.  It is the Hope of the world.  Amen

God, this is a new day.  I freshly commit myself to the role you have invited me to play, as you are building your church in this world.  I am awestruck again today that you include me in this grand life-giving, world-transforming endeavor.  So today I will joyfully offer you:

MY LOVE/ MY HEART/ MY TALENTS/ MY ENERGY/ MY CREATIVITY/ MY FAITHFULNESS/ MY RESOURCES/ AND MY GRATITUDE.

I commit all of myself to the role you have assigned me in the building of your church so that it may thrive in this world.  And I will “bring it” today.  I will bring my best.  You deserve it.  Your church deserves it.  It is the Hope of the world.  Amen

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