Pastor Will's sermon for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany
February 10th, 2019
Read Luke 5:1-11
The first sermon I ever preached was the spring of 1991 when I was a senior in High School during Youth Sunday. My parents are with us today in worship and they may remember that sermon. I have a VHS tape of it somewhere.
I had longish blonde surfer hair that would get in my eyes, so I would on occasion flip my head to get the hair out of my eyes so I could read, and boy did I read that sermon.
I read it more than preach it.
It was most likely a 15 minute sermon, but because of my nervousness I sped read it in 8 minutes.
The gospel text for that Youth Sunday was the same gospel story we hear today. Jesus calling the Fisherman to follow him, to join him on his mission to catch people with the grace of God.
If I remember correctly the main theme of my first sermon was relating this gospel story to my own life. I grew up on the coast but I never got into fishing, I was too busy playing in the water and didn’t have the patience for fishing. My younger brother on the other hand loved to fish and was perfectly content to sit on the edge of the dock and just chill with his line in the water. I think I said, God is patient with us and God is calling us all to follow Jesus whether you are good at fishing or not… or something like that.
Ironically and providentially, the result of preparing for that sermon and preaching that sermon, helped me hear Jesus’ call to follow him and eventually go to seminary.
Today I hear this story again and there are some things about me that are the same…
I am still preaching and I still don’t have the patience for fishing.
I still on average write about a 15 minute sermon that some may wish were 8.
But obviously I’m also at a different place in life than I was 28 years ago...
I no longer have hair that gets in my eyes, and as I hear and read this gospel story again I approach it with a different perspective, with more life and ministry experience I view this story from a new angle.
As I hear this classic well know Bible story again, I hear similar themes of God’s patience and God’s call but I also hear things a little differently.
I’m struck by the chaos, the disruption, and the diverse crisis’s swirling around this story. Yea, it’s a good fishing story and Jesus performs what looks like a miracle but notice the hard and challenging situations packed in this compact story.
- There is too big a crowd… (so much so Jesus had to get in a boat a pull away from shore to get a little space)
- Peter and his fishing crew worked hard all night long but came up empty… (which signals a crisis of vocation and a crisis of scarcity that impacts their livelihood)
- Then they catch so much fish that their nets begin to break and their boat is about to sink… (again, broken nets and a sunken boat can also impact their livelihood)
- Peter literally has a come to Jesus moment and is so overwhelmed by his unworthiness that he asks Jesus to go away.
- And then Peter, James ad John abandon the security of their day job to follow Jesus… (which I’m sure also had a major impact on their family and community).
This story leans into the challenging elements of life that we all face from time to time. Those times in life that press in and bring us to a breaking point, and at times feels like we are sinking.
And we can relate right?
Whether it’s within the political landscape of our country…
Or within our own vocational lives…
Or taking care of our families…
Or within our relationships…
Or all of them all at once…
We too understand the crisis of trying to understand our purpose in this world, and those overwhelming moments of both scarcity and abundance.
There are times when our nets run empty.
There are times when our nets and boats are so full we begin to sink.
And there are times when we feel unworthy and we just want God to go away.
Yet, Jesus shows up and he says these words to Simon Peter and he says them to us,
“Do not be afraid.”
The good news is that Jesus is present within all of these realities and he pulls us into deeper water and he calls us to follow him.
I do like this part in the story where Jesus calls Simon Peter to pull out to deeper water. This is something I hadn't noticed before. The Greek word for "deep water" is “bathos”.
This is a word and phrase connected to a Jewish understanding of the primordial sea linked intimately to chaos, the opposite of creation and purpose...
This reveals to us that Jesus doesn’t wave a magic wand and fix all the chaotic things going on in this story, rather he lures Simon Peter into deeper water and he shows him that the Christ is there too. Christ is present in the chaos, within the crisis.
“Do not be afraid”, God is present no matter how deep and chaotic things get.
I love the rhythm of this story, how it moves from land, to shallow water, and then into deeper water, and then back to shore again. And it’s there that Jesus says, do not be afraid, come and follow me and we will partner together in this mission of bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and setting the oppressed free. And notice that Jesus doesn’t call the best of the best of the best (see Rob Bell’s video/talk entitled “Dust”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kM3qHBAekhg&t=6s).
Jesus doesn’t call those who have any particular religious credentials. In fact he calls someone who just came off a night of failure. He calls some ordinary fishermen, that apparently aren’t very good at fishing.
So no matter where we are in life and faith, no matter what stage of life we find ourselves in, Jesus calls us too, to partner with him to battle against the chaos/anti-creation/anti-purpose in this world.
Through the waters of baptism, we too are called to go into deeper water, to partner with Christ in this mission of God’s grace.
I admit that “fishing for people” or “catching people” sounds a little off putting in our pluralistic postmodern society, (and probably rightfully so), but there are a lot of people who are experiencing the deep chaotic nature of this world.
And so we are called to cast a wide net of God’s grace to let them know they are not alone and to hear the words of Jesus that share, “Do not be afraid.”
As we are poised to move back into our Ministry Center any day now, and this isn’t just a new building to close ourselves up into. Rather God is calling us into deeper water. Into deeper ministry, Into deeper partnerships. Notice how when Simon Peter’s boat is overwhelmed how he called other boats to partner with him in the pulling in the fish.
We too will have opportunities to cast the wide net of God’s grace for all people and to invite other boats to partner with us.
Yes, deep water can be overwhelming, but be assured Jesus is in the boat with us, and when things get scary he says, “Do not be afraid.”
Christ is calling you. Christ is calling us.
Where is Jesus calling you, where is God calling us, to go deeper?