February 10th, 2019 “Fishing with Jesus” Rev. Heather Jepsen
Imagine this . . . the camera pans out and we see a lake and a small fishing dock. This is no major port or big city area; rather this is a small fishing group on a rural lake. These guys have had a long night, and they haven’t caught anything. They are sitting on the edge of the lake untangling and cleaning nets which the night before floated empty in the darkness. Their frustration and fatigue are apparent in their downcast eyes.
In the meantime, the great teacher Jesus has left the metropolis of Capernaum and come out to speak with the country folk. Word about him has spread and the crowd is so thick he can’t really teach them anything because everyone is standing too close and blocking everyone else out. So, Jesus decides to get into a boat and pull out on to the lake.
I can just see Simon, who we will later know as Peter, in this scene. He’s crouched beside the lake, working through the twisted knots of his netting. He looks up to see a crowd but he is unaware of what is going on. And all of a sudden, some guy is getting into his boat, some stranger, someone he doesn’t even know. I imagine Simon might be a little annoyed, not only has he had a long fruitless night of fishing but now some guy is in his boat. Simon sighs, and goes over to Jesus who asks to be put out into the lake.
“Sigh . . . OK” He gathers in his supplies because he doesn’t want to leave them on shore with the crowd and he heads into the lake with this mystery man in his boat. Jesus sits down to teach and Simon is so tired that he only half listens while he sits and busies himself untangling his nets from the night before. He gets the gist of some of the message but really, he is not paying attention. Part of him is thinking about what a waste of time this whole night and now day have been.
Suddenly Jesus turns and is speaking to him directly, “Put out into deep water and let your nets down for a catch.” I can just read Simon’s mind here “You have got to be kidding me; I just got these nets cleaned and untangled.” But sensing that this is not a time to say no Simon responds with respect, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” He is thinking that this can’t be happening. He just got the nets untangled and he knows there are no fish out there; he has been out all night. Plus, who wants to pull into the deep water? Everyone knows that that place is unsafe; anything can happen in the deep. No sailor would deliberately set a course for those treacherous waters.
Simon sighs, and maneuvers the boat out toward the deep. His heart races, as he hasn’t been in deep waters in ages and the last time he was out there he nearly drowned. Simon drops the nets back into the water, trying not to think about where he is. Suddenly the boat lurches to the side, and Simon is filled with fear. That’s it; the great deep has now come for them all. As he looks over the edge of the boat in fear, he realizes that he is not being pulled into the depths after all, rather the nets are so full of fish that they are pulling down the boat. “You’ve got to be kidding me” Simon says. He signals the Zebedee boys on the shore and out they come to help. It’s the biggest catch ever, so big the nets are breaking and the boats are taking on water. No fisherman ever has seen a catch this large and Simon can’t believe that this is happening.
And suddenly he turns and he looks at Jesus, actually looks at him. He forgets all about his long night and tangled nets, he forgets all about the fact that he is out in the deep, he forgets all about himself and stands there in the boat and really looks at Jesus. And he sees him, he sees Jesus the Christ, and he thinks not only of how rude and unbelieving he has been that morning but what kind of man he has been his whole life. And he falls on his knees in humbled awe. “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
This is where Christ meets us. He meets us in the midst of our everyday lives. Jesus does not come to the temple to call his disciples, not to the top of a high holy mountain. Jesus comes to the country, the backwoods, the simple lake folk. Jesus comes to the teacher, the homemaker, the fisherman, the farmer. Jesus comes to us where we are in the midst of our everyday lives. Jesus comes to us in these little places, at home and on the road, at our jobs and in the grocery store. Jesus comes to us when we are busying ourselves with our daily tasks and we aren’t even thinking about him at all. God’s kingdom reaches into human life and God’s call is unpredictable and unmerited.
Jesus promises to be with us in all the places of our lives, if we will just give them over to him. Jesus comes to us when we are weak and we are tired. He comes to us when we say “We have worked all night long and nothing.” He comes to us when we are beaten and downcast, when we are distracted and woeful, when we are at our point of failure and vulnerability. Jesus comes to us when we have finally let our guard down. God’s call comes when we least expect it, when we are in deep water, when we are in over our heads.
At these moments, at the low point in our everyday hum drum, God comes to us and asks us to do some little thing that makes no sense. God asks us to let our nets down in the deep water, to make that phone call, to join that church committee, to visit that neighbor. God asks us to trust and reach, to stretch and try, to move beyond our comfort zone into deep places that make us nervous. God asks us to do some little thing that is a bit out of the ordinary for us, but for some reason we can’t seem to say no. We respond and suddenly we are face to face with Jesus Christ, with the
and with who we really are. When we
leave our comfort zone, we see our God and we cry out “I can’t do this, go away
from me Lord, for I am a sinful person!” kingdom of God
Jesus turns to Simon and says “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” From now on you will be fishers of men. From now on you will be building the kingdom of God. Simon and the Zebedee brothers bring the boats into shore hauling the greatest catch ever recorded and they do a totally insane thing. They walk away from it. They leave behind their boats, their nets, and their piles and piles of fish. They leave behind their whole lives and follow Jesus. Can you imagine that? It is like having your stock go up higher than any stock ever has and then just leaving it, it’s like the best wheat crop ever harvested that is left to rot in a barn, it is like winning the lottery and leaving the million-dollar check on the counter. They left everything and followed him. This is the nature of God’s call. Simon and the Zebedee brothers left behind their boats, their workers, and a miracle catch to follow someone they can’t comprehend on a mission they don’t understand.
God calls us in the midst of our everyday boredom and God makes us into new people. God calls us where we are today and tomorrow, we become fishers of men, or whatever we are. You see, Simon and James and John were fishermen, so fishers of men made sense for them. Maybe we will be something else. God will meet us in our everyday space and use our everyday skills for the work of God’s kingdom. Do what you know how to do, and God will work through you. Can you teach? Teach. Can you lead? Lead. Can you organize things and work the numbers? Do it for God. Music talent? Share it in worship. Whatever your thing is, and it might not be fishing, do it for God.
Often our encounter with faith enables us to do things we can’t imagine, impossible things, unthinkable things, like leaving behind our miracle catch to follow the Lord. And I think that is why God tells not to be afraid. Because we are about to enter into something we could never even imagine. Because we are about to do things, we have never even dreamed of doing.
Like Peter and the Zebedee brothers we don’t know where following this call of discipleship will lead. God doesn’t offer us a vision of the end goal, but God does promise to be with us on our journey. Today we celebrate at the communion table and this place is a reminder of God’s presence with us. God is here and offers us comfort and nourishment for the road. When we gather together at the table we gather with God. Through the faith of the community, we are each individually lifted up and offered courage and hope for the journey ahead. No one can be a disciple alone. When we see the abundant riches of God’s blessing, we call our friends to help us haul in the nets. Discipleship is an act of community.
When we read the story of Peter and the Zebedee brothers in Luke’s gospel, we realize that God can and will meet us when we least expect it. When we are tired and weak, God will challenge us to do more. God will call us out of our comfort zones and out into the deep water. God will be with us, helping us to find meaning and live into God’s purposes. And God will transform our gifts into gifts that can be used for the kingdom. We will become fishers of men, or teachers of love, or singers of virtue, or organizers of the kingdom, or leaders of freedom. We will become those we were always meant to be, and we will respond to God with awe and wonder. Let us respond to this call of discipleship, let us push out into the deep waters of faith, and let us go there together. Amen.