Music I Will Rise Up
Did you hear the words of that song? Jesus calls us to a deeper place to come away and live in the love and grace and peace of Jesus. We will rise up speak of God’s faithfulness wherever we go.
It is very fitting, for today we get to talk about Jesus who comes to the shore and asks fishermen to go out deeper to catch fish, then to rise up from their fishing and follow Jesus. Back then they used dragnets, because it was big business and they had to catch fish for a lot of people so they could eat. But we don’t do that, so what do we use when we go fishing? [small net, pole, hook, worm, etc…) Do you think I would catch anything if I just dropped a plain hook in the water and just let is sit there?
[No]. What do you have to do? [Use a worm]. Right, you have to put something appealing on it -- depending on the kind of fish you are trying to catch you put a worm or something else on it that the fish wants…
Jesus told these expert fishers that if they followed him, he would teach them how to catch people. So, as Christians, do we go around offering worms to everyone? [No.] No. Today, people often use the idea of fishing to express bad things.
For example, have you ever heard the phrase – “He fell for that hook, line, and sinker”? Do you know what that means? [No.] In fishing, it is when the fish takes such a big bite, they swallow the worm, the hook, the line, and the weights on the line… It means someone completely believed an idea or story that was told to them that wasn’t true.
Another phrase is “bait and switch”. Sometimes a company offers you something you may really want, but when you get there, they get you to buy something more or something else instead. Just like fishing -- they offer the worm the fish wants, but they also get hooked on something they don’t want. But that is not what Jesus is trying to teach us. He is trying to teach us that we can learn how to reach people with something that they will really do want and need -- a relationship with God.
And, we need to learn how to present that relationship with God in a way that they can understand that they will want and need him. But there is no switch or trick involved. We talk about Jesus’ love in a way that will make them want to come to him. (Pray – hand out gummie worms)
Bible Reading Luke 5:1-11
The bulletin says we are reading from Corinthians, but we’ll save that for later in the sermon. We’ll start by reading the Luke text instead…
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. When he finished teaching, he 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.” 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. “[Lord], 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. 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. (Luke 5:1-11 (MSG))
Message Being Beyond Knowing
Let’s put ourselves in the story through the eyes of the fishermen. We had been out on the lake all night (the prime time for fishing there and then). It wasn’t for a lack of effort, we gave it our best shot, but the results were fruitless (fishless).
We had come up empty. Ever have days like that? Does the emptiness of the day ever reflect a deeper emptiness of the soul? Jesus understands. In fact, he enters our seashore scene having just come from his hometown where he himself had accomplished almost nothing. Empty results. But here in Capernaum Jesus was drawing a crowd. He asks us something simple. The use of Simon’s boat. We are exhausted and frustrated; our muscles are aching, but we are forcing our bodies to get the equipment ready for our next excursion. We are just waiting for someone to step on our last nerve… We are tempted to politely decline. Perhaps not so politely? But Simon is the boss, and he agrees. So we provide a floating podium to create a bit of distance and to allow the lake water to amplify his teaching to the pressing crowd.
What impact does the Word have on us?
Though we had little choice, we weren’t like modern Methodists, we had front row seats. Imagine how his words must have penetrated our hearts and minds. Jesus concludes, and asks us to now go out further and fish.
We think we know better
No waving hand of volunteerism here. We are reluctant. Our experience and knowledge of our trade is winning out here. A professional carpenter turned spiritual leader is going to tell us professional fishing people how to fish? During one of the worst times of day to fish on this lake, no less? But Simon, though giving his professional assessment of the situation, was still a Jew and respectful of this teacher. Out of this honor, (regardless of his expectations) he complies with the request and we go out -- and the catch was so big that the weight almost sunk the boat, and then both boats. Simon’s knowledge of the sea tells him that this was no lucky, coincidental catch.
What do recognize? In him? In ourselves? we e think we know better
Between the crowds that came, the healings he had no doubt heard about, the words he heard, and now that catch Jesus granted, Simon now knew this was someone special. While not all English translations make a distinction, the Greek says Simon goes out in respect for this master -- a respected human (religious) authority; and returns bowing before him as a divine power. He didn’t yet understand all the implications of what that would mean -- but there was enough of a recognition of who he was that leads to an awareness of who we are. Simon asks him to leave for (in typical Old Testament Jewish thought) sinful humanity cannot enter the presence of a holy God and live. He was speaking for all of us. We were rattled. Like most men, even when we know better in our heads, our lives are primarily wrapped up in our vocation and providing for our families. And that day all our expertise and self-sufficient confidence went out the window.
Are we willing to change directions to follow?
Jesus, with the grace of a parent assuring a shaken child that they are indeed loved and have infinite value, tells us to not be afraid and that he would teach us and redefine us to be a different kind of fisher of people in a completely different career. And we left and followed him. The real miracle that day wasn’t that a lot of fish got into a net, but that an encounter with God through Jesus forever changed a group of hard-working men whose self-value was no longer wrapped up in jobs and careers but in their identity in Christ and his ability to work through them to fulfill God’s mission in the world. (Pause)
Generally, we take our view of God a bit more casually, (we don’t fear we will die entering his presence). And that is not all bad. But …
Do you remember the bumper sticker, “God is my co-pilot”? I googled a comparison between pilot and co-pilot. Both are similarly trained, and share many tasks, but the co-pilot is usually less experienced. The pilot is responsible for the flight, the plane, the crew and the passengers before during and after the flight, makes all the critical decisions, handles every emergency situation, and directs the roles and responsibilities of the co-pilot on each flight, who steps in only if the pilot takes a break of gets ill.
In our modern world, this passage is sometimes gets treated as if God were the co-pilot, helping us pilots move to success according to our cultural standards. Here is some of a tongue and cheek (sarcastic) rendition of the passage written in the (make believe) WTT (The Wishful Thinking Translation).
Jesus was standing by the lake trying to escape the pressing of the crowd, He saw two boats. He saw Simon, a strapping, fine-looking young man, skin golden bronzed by the sun, rippling muscles from the hard work he was constantly doing, white glistening teeth that shone as he spoke with customers. It was obvious he was a successful, busy winsome type A personality. Since everyone knows if you want something done, you ask a busy person, and it you want it done well, you ask a beautiful / handsome, charismatic person. Therefore, Jesus got into Simon’s boat. When he finished speaking, Jesus asked to go fishing and Simon immediately and eagerly volunteered, saying "I'll do it! Pick me!" Whereupon Jesus selected Simon and told him to let down his nets and commence fishing for the Lord; and his business increased one hundred-fold.
We know God looks at the heart, but this make-believe version of the text says that Jesus picked Simon the way our culture does -- judging by superficial standards -- outward impressions, beautiful appearance, impressive actions, a charismatic personality, inspiring words. In the Old Testament, Saul was made king at least in part because he stood a head higher than everyone else. And if that example is too antiquated for you, when I was a janitor at Nazarene Headquarters, the six leaders who were elected to run the international denomination all stood at least 6 feet 4 inches. But God chooses all kinds of people who don’t fit into our surface-y, first impressions of who we think might be best qualified.
The second errant idea presented is that faithful people are always eager to volunteer to accept God’s instruction. A careful reading of the Bible ironically shows that many who volunteered to follow -- Jesus tells to go home and be quiet (after healings) or warns them away by the harshness of what it takes to follow (Sell all you have, then come), animals have places to sleep, but not me ... you can't look back... On the other hand, many who God calls, especially in the Old Testament, were reluctant to answer -- “Go away, I don’t deserve, I’m not qualified, I’m too young, I can’t, I won’t, send someone else” and it took some patient, persistent, and sometimes dramatic demonstrations before they finally realized they needed to follow.
Who joins who?
The third creative cultural edit incorrectly implies that Jesus is joining us to prosper our effort on our terms. SP’s (Simon Peter’s) Galilean Seafood Inc will prosper because Jesus has joined the company. We are often eager to invite Jesus into our life because as our co-pilot, we think he can make our business, our family, our organization, our church, our personal goals prosper beyond our wildest dreams. And in some cases, living by Jesus’ principles may well cause areas of our life to fare much better -- but we need to be clear about who is joining who. Jesus may well initiate an invitation to be joined to us, but he isn’t filling out a job application to serve my agenda, to be my co-pilot in the tangible areas of my life, or even in our spiritual journey.
This is where the Corinthians slide into the story. They wanted the Holy Spirit to touch their individual hearts and work within them making them spiritual giants. It led to a divisive competition -- like children competitively chaotically clamoring for their parent’s attention -- each wanting to know they were indeed his child -- and more his child than every other child -- rather than being a cooperative member of his family of children. Paul answers their attitude of spiritual one-upmanship.
- Since you’re so eager to participate in what God is doing, why don’t you concentrate on [striving to do] what helps [build up] everyone in the church? I should be spiritually free and expressive as I pray, but I should also be thoughtful and mindful as I pray. I should sing with my spirit, and sing with my mind. If you give a blessing using [a language] which no one else understands, how can some outsider who has just shown up and has no idea what’s going on know when to say “Amen”? Your blessing might be beautiful, but you have very effectively cut that person out of [being built up]… So here’s what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all [that is, let all things be done for building up]: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight…. When we worship the right way, God doesn’t stir us up into [divisive disorder and] confusion; [for he is a God of order and] he brings us into harmony. (1 Corinthians 14:15b-17,26,33 (MSG))
Two words: Strive (for) Edification
While many of the members were chasing self-promotion, Paul drives home a different teaching by the repetition of two words. The first is a word from which we get zeal/eager -- in verb form, “to strive”, to zealously pursue… The second word is what he wants them to zealously pursue – our text translates it as “building up [people]”.
And the companion point (a la “Children’s Time”) in this section is -- if our goal is to build up others within and without the church -- we must build them up in a way that they can understand it. We don’t get caught up in our own language and style and emotional triggers, but we also use our mind so that we can present our faith in a way people can also understand and become alive (or more alive) in Christ. For God equips us with praise and prayers and thanks and gifts that he can use through his children to recruit and build up his family of believers.
Jesus assures the kneeling Peter in Peter’s terms, in a language that he can understand. After the teaching, the catch, the call? How could Peter not understand that just as he was a profound expert in catching fish, so would he now become a profound expert in catching people? If he had been a waiter, he may have said, I'll show you how to set a heavenly banquet before people. If he had been a carpenter, he may have said, "I'll show you how to build people’s hearts into homes for God". Jesus would teach him how to not tear down and cast out by competing with those he is trying to reach (a la the Corinthians) but to draw in and build up.
One pastor talks about how he got the flu and in order not to infect his wife and son, he needed to keep his distance. When he would look across the house and hear his baby boy cry, and knowing he couldn’t hold him, soothe him, and stop his tears. He learned the staggering difference between knowing he was a father and being a father. Peter knew he was a child of Abraham, but he cried out because he knew his sin sickness separated him from being God’s child. The Corinthians wanted to know they were Christian but forgot that being Christian (living out their Christianity) should be the focus. God sent Jesus to take away the sin-sickness and incorporate us into his family as we are meant to be.
We can be assured we are God’s children by the body and blood of Christ. Our focus should go beyond that knowledge to live out our faith with each other and with the world. For some in the Bible, this commitment was a continuation of what they were already doing, for others, like Simon, it was a radical change in direction. For some it is a change in career, for others it is a change in how we use our spare time. For all, it is an “all-in commitment” to allow him to (continue to) reshape our hearts and guide our priorities. To complete the metaphor, if God is your co-pilot, and you have been directing him, maybe you need to switch seats and let him take over and fly you into a new course of action. Like Peter, we may not immediately understand all the implications, but let the desire of your heart be to surrender your life to him as best you understand.
Prayer Lord, we realize Jesus was able to transform Peter and the Corinthians only because they allowed Jesus to search them and redefine them and transform them by God's grace. We too seek to find our identity in you -- and yet so often we fall back to superficial presumptions of others, we seek your service of us in inappropriately selfish ways, and demand you meet our agenda rather than desiring to be equipped to participate in your mission. Forgive us. Restore us to right relationships with you and with others.
We know you will do this because you promised to heal the separation that is caused by sin -- through Christ who died for us while we were yet sinners, proving how much you love us and are willing to forgive us. It is in his name that we are forgiven, renamed, redefined, transformed and equipped for your mission in your world.
Lord, when we encounter you, you lead us to a discipleship that cannot be done in isolation. We must do it together so that the nets won't break, and the boats won't sink. We realize it is you who gives the catch of fish, and so we turn away from our own expertise and turn to your power and grace. We seek and crave your presence, that we may be one with each other and one in ministry to all the world as the body of Christ. Amen.
Music I Surrender to You
Closing Blessing Now for all the works our great God has done for fishermen turned followers and for us -- boldly go in the name of our great God with dedication and purpose. Go in love and peace, with hearts and minds that are enriched by Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.