Scripture: Luke 5: 1-11
Sermon: “Catching People”
Fishing is a sport that some people just love. My granddad did. He could go out for hours on a boat, with a fishing rod, bait, and a packed lunch, and he’d be great. He taught me how to fish. I wasn’t so good. One time, I flipped my rod back to cast, and I caught his hat! I’d be fine sitting there for a long time, if it was meant I was guaranteed a big catch. Problem was, there was no guarantee. And whenever I was with my granddad, it seemed that the biggest fish always went to his pole and not mine. However, on those rare occasions when a fish came by way, it was a delight to reel him in, and I felt like all those hours of waiting, were worth it.
The bible talks a lot about fish, doesn’t it? After the resurrection when Jesus appears again to Peter on the shore, they’re cooking up some fish. We know the whole miracle story of the loaves and the fishes. There’s a great children’s song that talks of that day, and it talks of the disciples drawing straws to see who’s gonna give the bad news to the good news. In other words, Jesus—we got about 5,000 people, some bread and only two fish. Who did the planning here? The sign of the fish is a common Christian symbol. (I’ll give my single in Dallas story, with the fish guy at my door). The Greek word for fish is ICHTHUS, with each letter altogether meaning “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.” And today, the disciples are out in their boats fishing away, having a Jaylynn-like successful sort of day—no catches. And here comes Jesus, bringing in those crazy fish—by the netful! Now, if you’re going to ask me why fish are so important—the answer is “I don’t know!” But, obviously, it’s a constant theme, here. Stay with me.
I remember being pregnant with our youngest, and we lived in new place, and had to once again find a new doctor. I’d go in every month or so, as one does, to have my blood pressure checked, and the heartbeat of the baby checked, and in general making sure my health is good. I remember distinctly waiting for the nurses and then the doctor to arrive while sitting in his office. On the wall, you’d think all the doctor’s certificates of merit would be hung, for all patients to marvel over. Not to mention, for assurance! In today’s world, I’d like to see on the wall, “Top student in the class of 2021,” or “Awarded Most Outstanding Doctor of this Decade,” and so on. But no, on my doctor’s wall, was atleast 5 framed pictures of himself in fishing gear holding up these big, ridiculous fish. I have to admit, I was impressed. Some of those fish were pretty big catches! And, obviously, with a picture ready smile, the doctor seemed happy with his accomplishment. My only thought was “I hope he’s as successful at delivering babies!”
So, why the fish for Jesus. The gospel lesson in Luke details this story as the calling of the first disciples. You’ve probably heard the joke, but it’s said that God must indeed have a sense of humour, after all, he called fisherman to tell the truth! Well, one thing about the calling of the first disciples, it came to some folks who obviously were not called because of their qualifications, certificates of merit, or even potential. From a successful stand-point, these guys weren’t it. They had been out all night long, and couldn’t even catch one fish. The fact that Jesus calls these guys to follow him, should at the least encourage us and give us courage to follow, too. We don’t have to be successful. We don’t even need credentials at all. The fact that Jesus comes to them out in their fishing boats, not in the middle of some grand temple or synagogue, but actually out doing what they do…shows us that Jesus comes to us in the midst of our daily work and lives. When we think or assume we have nothing, Jesus reminds us of a great sea of overwhelming abundance! We recognize Jesus, in our ordinary, everyday living.
Luke tells us that a crowd was waiting to hear Jesus speak. Jesus, after seeing the fishermen from a distance cleaning empty nets, decides to go to them, get them to take them out a bit into the water, and then proceeds to teach the crowds from the boat! Teachers always talk of “teachable moments” whereby they plan what they are going to teach for a given day, but if some student presents a ‘moment,’ where the teacher can teach them something new, something maybe not even planned, well—they go for it! It seems to me this is precisely what Jesus is doing. “Oh, here I am about to tell these people about God’s Word, but look here’s some men with boats and nets—why not show the people what I mean—put words into action.”
After he spoke, he prompted Simon and the others to cast their nets. Reluctantly they did. It felt like an incomprehensible mission. They knew the sea better than anyone. They knew what lack of fish their day had already brought. It was time to give up. And yet, they did as Jesus told them. And…so many fish filled their boats that the boats almost sank! What a miracle! And immediately Simon Peter says “get outta here, Jesus—I’m a sinner!” Kind of a wild reaction on Peter’s part, I’d say. Earlier in Luke, they all wanted Jesus out of Nazareth because of his preaching. Now, they want Jesus out of Galilee because of his fishing! Why on earth does Peter say such words? Get outta here, Jesus! Bishop Will Willimon writes it’s because “Peter moves from the security of fixed failed reality---“we fished all night—and have nothing”—into full, open, new uncontained reality! Peter senses a gap between his world and the new creation of Jesus. No wonder their afraid. It all felt so unmanageable and scary! I mean, Jesus, we’re thankful for the fish and all, but come on, we almost had to lose our life just to have them! And you hear the echo of Jesus’s words given a few chapters later in Luke, “for whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”
Writer Steven Vryhof tells of a moment in a small Lutheran church off the rural coast of Sweden. In the midst of an early morning worship hour, he observed a minister giving communion to an elderly woman who had been pushed to the front in a wheelchair. She was quite frail and ragged. She could hardly speak, and her eyes looked vacant. Her hair was thin and scraggly, and she sat with a slump. She was there, however, for communion. Vryhof realized as he witnessed the woman receiving the Lord’s supper that the most important words that one human being can say to another human being is the words of that priest when he said: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, whose body and blood you have received, preserve your soul unto life everlasting.” Julian of Norwich wrote of the Triune God proclaiming, as she heard the ringing of the church bells, “I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well; and I will make all things well, and you will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well.”
“Do not be afraid, Jesus says. Tho’ the water is deep, though the days may sometimes be overwhelming. It is I who is with you, in every way. Jesus ends by telling the disciples that from now on, they will be “catchers of people.” In other words, in the midst of our ordinary routine in life, in the midst of what we already do, God calls us to bring people to know Christ! No matter what shape or form. No matter how strong, or how ragged and frail. It may seem like an impossible task at times—but remember this fish story, and God’s work…and believe.
Faithful discipleship in our ordinary daily lives and work, is the vehicle of Jesus’ real presence in our world here and now. Jesus shows up—even in the midst of some stinky fish!