February 4 – Epiphany 5

Isaiah 6:1-13
Psalm 138
1 Cor 15:1-11
Luke 5:1-11

On Wednesday night after Wamo dinner we were all given a task at our tables. We were given pink construction paper hearts on which to write something that describes how we love God and something that describes how God loves us. I was in here a few days ago re reading some of them—they are on the wall over here—and I encourage you to do the same when you have a chance. One in particular caught my eye in light of the setting of today’s Gospel. It says:

I love God more than the beach
But God loves me more than all the beaches and sand and water in the whole world! And fish too!

I imagine that Simon Peter might have written something like that if he’d been given this assignment!

So there they were, minding their own business. Quite literally their business. They were washing their nets. These fisherman had been working all night and had caught nothing NOTHING! Most likely, they were tired and, well, if it were me, I’d be pretty cross and grumpy by that point! Hard to make a living as a fisherman with NO fish! Time to clean out the nets, repair any tears or breaks and get ready to try again the next night. Maybe more luck then.

Then, this guy comes up to their boats and gets into one of the. There is this huge crowd following him—swarming all around him—so close he can hardly breathe—all wanting to hear what he has to say. It’s Simon’s boat he’s gotten into and he asks Simon to take it out a bit so he can talk to this whole crowd at once. So, out they go—just a little from the shore. The man sits down and starts teaching the whole group.

In a little while, after he finishes, he tells Simon—Head on out there—out in the deep water—and put down those nets to catch some fish.

Now, we can only imagine what these fishermen, tired and grumpy from a whole night’s fruitless work, were thinking. But my guess is that it wasn’t: FABULOUS IDEA! LET’S GO!

Simon tells the man—we’ve been working all night with NOTHING to show for it! But, we’ll give it a try if you say so.

Into the deep water they go. And down, down sink the nets.

Unbelievably, they pull up full nets! And not just full but REALLY full—bursting with fish that are about to break the nets in some places! Fish everywhere! It was such a huge haul that they couldn’t get it in the boat by themselves, so Simon and the others waved to their partners, the remaining crew, still on the shore to come out and help them get it all in. In the end, both boats were so full of fish that they were in real danger of sinking.

Simon looks around at the men, wrestling with fish-packed nets, at these boats—boats that had been empty in spite of a long hard night’s work, now full. Full to overflowing! He and his partners, James and John, were amazed at what they saw! Simon fell down right at the knees of the man who had sent them out into the deep water.
Lord—he said—Please leave me! I’m a sinner and cannot handle such holiness as this!
They were all so amazed at this man. By following his words, strange as they may have seemed, they were overwhelmed with their abundant catch! Surely, this is a holy man!

Then, this man looked at Simon and said to him—Do not be afraid! There is nothing to fear! From now on, you will be catching people!!

They brought the boats to shore and left everything—all of it—and followed him.

The hard part in this story, for me at least, is this last bit:

They left everything and followed him.

What fisherman is going to abandon a haul like THAT? A miraculous catch! I mean, who in their right mind gets a blessing like THAT and then walks away from it?? There must be something seriously wrong here! Surely, they planned to come back. Surely, they took the time to take those fish to the market—maybe that part was just left out. But no—nothing is missing in this story—the left everything and followed him.

These guys were there on the beach, minding their own business, doing their job like they probably did every day, just like you and me. And Jesus comes to them where they were.

We know how this story goes. We know this man is Jesus and we also know the kind of places and things to which he will lead Simon Peter, James & John and other men and women. They will witness miracles far greater than this catch of fish. They will hear his teaching and learn from him. They will learn how to pray. They will be fed by his hand at his last meal before he is put to death and they will see him raised from that death to new life.

And it all begins here, on this beach.

This text is often categorized by biblical scholars as a “call story”. Now, at the risk of offending many a scholar far wiser than I am by inventing a new category of stories, I must say that it seems less like a call and more like a story of declaration. I can remember in my pre seminary days—when I was trying to discern whether or not I was called to the ministry—saying how much I wished that I could have one of those unmistakable calls. Like Isaiah in our Old Testament lesson. There is just no mistaking an image of God that glorious, a seraph touching your lips with a hot coal and the voice of God saying Whom shall I send and who will go? Well, hard to say “I’m not so sure” after that!

Wouldn’t that make thing so much easier for all of us if God appeared to us like that? Then we wouldn’t have to wonder if what we were doing was what we were called to do.
Of course a very wise friend of mine said, ‘do you really want that? Can you just imagine how scary that would be?’ Point taken.

That’s not the kind of call that these fishermen got either. There were no circling angels singing Holy Holy Holy. There was, instead, this man Jesus, who came to them where they were. He didn’t just call out down the beach to them and ask them to come along. He came to them, right smack in the middle of their every day life, when they weren’t expecting it, and declared to them what they would be doing. Do not be afraid, from now on, you will be catching people. He did not command or beg or frighten. He simply declared the truth. Here is what you are made to do and from now on, you’ll be doing it. If you think catching all these fish was amazing, just you wait to see what is in store for you!

In fact, God comes to us right where we are, too. In our every day life, at work, at home, at school. It is very scary to think about that—Jesus showing up in our lives when we least expect it. While we are minding our own business. But he does. Jesus gets into our boat, our office, our classroom, our living room. Despite our protests of “we’re not good enough for this” or “we couldn’t possibly have time for that” or “we are afraid to try”, Jesus says to us all—do not be afraid, from now on YOU will be teaching people, loving people, leading people—catching people.

God loves us more than all the beaches and sand and water in the whole world—and fish too! Maybe, those fishermen left everything because following Jesus was better than all the fish in the sea.

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