Readings: Psalm 138, Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13), 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Luke 5:1-11
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, February 10 2019
Today, or at least for the next 10 minutes or so, I may look and sound exactly like your normal preacher, but indulge me a little and use your imagination and call me Simon. For a short while I want to play the part of the Simon who became Peter and played such a large part in our Gospel lesson. The Fisherman who became the disciple. So say “Good Morning Simon.”
“Good Morning. My name is Simon, (also known as Peter) and I am here to tell you about how I became a disciple on the shores beside the lake of Gennesaret. I used to have a fishing business there, me and my brother Andrew, along with two of Zebedee’s sons, James and John.
We’d just had the most unfruitful night, ever, and we were resting up on the shore washing the nets. We’d dragged the boats up onto the beach. In every job there’s bad days, and then there’s really bad days. We’d just reached the end of the worst of the very, very, bad days. There were fish out there. Swimming around. Swimming around our nets. Ignoring our bait. I’m pretty sure they were laughing at us!
“Nyer, nyer, Call yourselves fishermen, you couldn’t catch a cold!”
I was not in the best of moods. That mood became increasingly dark when a preacher man arrived with a crowd of people on the shore, just down from where we were working. Religion. Preachers. A fishy business. Wouldn’t trust most of them further than I could throw an anchor. Why can’t they get a proper job like the rest of us?
This one seems pretty popular. The crowd just keeps on growing. “Hey, Hey” says me little brother Andrew, “That preacher there, that’s y’know, the carpenter guy, the one who made ‘em all mad in the synagogue and then cast out a demon or something, y’know, what’s is name?”
“Oh” I said, doing little to hide my intense disinterest, “The Prophet Whatisname – there’s a novelty.” I was thinking ‘what’s so impressive about casting out demons. I cast out nets every day.’
I was kind of listening with one ear to what he was saying. Talking about the ‘Kingdom of God’, and ‘Justice for the Poor’ and ‘The year of Jubilee being proclaimed.’ Radical stuff. And he was telling some stories, that, well, made you smile. Y’know, “Hear the one about the shepherd who lost his sheep. Goes and leaves 99 and sets off looking for it!”
Actually this guy wasn’t a total stranger to us. He’d been a carpenter in town and we were all more than a little surprised when he got the religion bug. Seemed like quite a genuine sort of guy, but that’s the thing with religion… let it get to you and you don’t know where it could lead you. The crowd was continuing to grow, pushing him down to the water’s edge.
“Hey, Hey,” says me little brother Andrew, “Look, he’s getting into your boat!”
“What” I says. “He’s getting into your boat” little Andrew says.
“Gaw!” I say, throwing down my net. “They don’t half take some liberties these preachers. Think that because they know a little about God they can do whatever they please. That’s rich. Probably put a hole in the bottom of the thing stamping his feet at some moral outrage.”
So I pick up my nets and start pushing my way through the crowd. “Excuse me, there’s a Rabbi in my boat.” Coming through… Rabbi in the boat, mind your back. Look out lady I'm carrying a net and I know how to use it!”
To this day, I don’t know what I intended to do. Andrew had already cautioned me, “Hey, Hey, now you just watch your temper. Punching Rabbi’s in front of crowds who think the sun shines out of them would not be a good idea.” I had no intention of punching his lights out. To be honest I had no intention - whatsoever.
So I climb into the boat, throw down my nets, He turns and looks at me, as though He’d been waiting for me to arrive, and says, “Put out a little way from the shore.” I’ve been on my feet for hours!” and sits himself down. I smiled at him, in a rather sarcastic way, but thought, “I just got to humor this guy. Maybe then he’ll go away." I went to the front and rowed Him out on the lake.
It was a good move for someone in his business. The way his voice carried over the water made him easy to hear for all on the shore. Sitting with him there in the boat it was more like he was telling stories around the campfire than it was listening to some preacher in the synagogue. Despite myself, I found I was warming to this guy. The morning rolled on and as he told a few last tales the people began to disperse, leaving just the two of us in the boat.
He looked at me and smiled. ‘Fishy Business’ he said. “Well, let’s see. Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
Now all the crowds had gone I almost said a few words that Rabbi’s shouldn’t be subjected to. Right. Sure. A rabbi who knows about fishing. Knows my job better than I do? What next? A servant becoming a King?
But I was a picture of restraint. “Master”, I said, “We have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” I called Andrew over to help me. We threw the nets over the side.
"Hey, Hey" says me little brother Andrew, "This is a waste of time, isn't it? I mean we've just cleaned the nets, now we're going to have start all over again." "Just hold on a minute" I said, "Pull... pull... pull harder... woah… have we got some fish here or what?"
The net was absolutely teeming with the things. "James, John, Get over here. Now!" They came out in their boat and stared to haul in them fish. We were hauling them in and hauling them in. Fish. More fish than we had ever fished. Pulling them in. Drawing them in. Trawling them in. Fish after fish after fish after fish.
The boats were swimming in fish! Nope, the boats weren't swimming. They were sinking. Fish. Too many fish! The boats were going down! But the fish kept coming. There we were. Sinking to the bottom of the shallows. Fish jumping and wiggling everywhere. We're falling about, slipping and sliding and shouting. And the nets are tearing under the weight.
And I turned to look at Jesus - sitting there - half submerged - in water with fish flubbing about everywhere- quite calm. And there was something about him that just made me stop in my tracks. Spooked me really. You know how they say that just before you die your whole life flashes before you? Well it was kind of like that.
All at the same time, the four of us, me, little brother Andrew, (standing there saying “Hey, Hey’) and James and John all sensed it together. What was happening had gone beyond the normal. Our minds were acting strange. It was as though somebody had prised open my life and was staring right into my heart, reading every thought and judging every action I'd ever done. I was terrified. We all were.
And we knew it all had something to do with that preacher sitting in the boat with us. I dived over and threw myself at his feet. At his knees actually. His feet were under water. We were in a half submerged boat, fish everywhere to be seen, and I'm shaking in fear. I look up at Jesus and I blurt out, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." The others were equally confused and fearful.
Jesus just smiled. "Don't be afraid" He said, "From now on, you will be catching people." Right at that moment it all made sense. Looking back it was kind of impetuous, but at the time it all seemed to make sense. We hauled up the boats onto the shore, and left them. We left everything because we knew that what we had to do was follow that preacher man. Everybody believes in something. I believe in fishing. Fishing for people that is.
"Hey, Hey!" my little brother Andrew was pulling at my sleeve as we walked up the beach. "Jesus told me to tell you something" "What's that then?" I said. "Fishy Business" said Andrew. And I laughed all the way home!" End of story.
O.K. Simon has left the building. It's back to being your normal preacher now! Reflecting on that fabricated tale, I do want to ask you something. In that story about following Jesus, where are you?
Are you like Simon, sitting on the shore, cleaning the nets at a distance and feeling rather skeptical about the value of spiritual things? Are you listening, but not listening? Do you feel God may be calling you, but you really don't want to hear it?
Or are you like Simon, pushing through the crowd, annoyed that Jesus is in your boat? God's been on your case about some of the things you've been doing, you're concerned about how really following Him might cause you to have to make some changes in your life.
Maybe you're like Simon when he was frightened at the amount of fish. Life's all too much for you to cope with right now. Things just haven't worked out. Your boat’s sinking and you're running scared. You don't know what you’re going to do.
Or maybe where your life is right now with God is that you feel God's calling you to follow a particular way or to take on a particular task and you're ready to say, “Yes, Lord, I'm with you!"
Wherever you are in your walk with God today, hear the word of Jesus. "Do not be afraid." Take on His invitation and be somebody that catches others up in the challenges of His Kingdom.
Everybody believes in something. I believe that God is calling us to take the next step. To go on a bit further. To deepen our trust and love for God. Do that and maybe we’ll witness things happening in our life we had never before dreamed were possible!