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Epiphany 5C Sermon
Luke 5:1-11
February
10, 2019

 

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Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So, they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

What does Jesus have in common with your friend who deals in Amway? Whenever either of them tells you something, it isn’t to merely share information with you; it’s to get you to be part of that they are doing! The difference between them is that Amway is a business model with the goal of making you and others in your network independently wealthy. Jesus, on the other hand, is concerned with having you participate in the establishment of the reign of God!
All of our scripture readings today have to do with people who are called to be part of something that God is doing. We heard the rather familiar story of the vision that Isaiah had in the temple – a vision where his mouth is cleansed by a fiery hot coal and he answers the question, “Who shall I send,” with, “Here am I … send me!” Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth of the gospel he shared with them when he was with them – which somehow is being challenged by their pagan neighbors. The resurrection of Christ is not just something for the history books to believe or not – it was an event that changes their lives forever as well!

And in our Gospel reading, Jesus teaches the crowds along the shore from Simon Peter’s boat. After quickly leaving the scene where he was nearly killed in Nazareth, he went to Capernaum, taught in their synagogue, and healed two people – a man with an unclean spirit, and Simon’s mother in law. Now he is teaching along the lakeshore, and Peter must have really liked what he heard because when Jesus suggested putting the nets back into the water – the same nets they had been washing after a long night of fishing without luck – Peter agrees with little push back. He throws out the nets and the haul of fish is so great that the boats in which he and James and John are sitting can barely hold them. As a result, he worships Jesus as more than a teacher: he worships him as one who is ushering in a new reality – the reign of God, where abundance is the rule of the day. Jesus then calls him to follow, promising that he will be catching people.

Now, while I firmly believe that this story is historically accurate – or at least that something happened on Lake Gennesaret one day that led these three fishermen to become Jesus’ disciples – I also think that Luke tells the story in such a way so that we can identify with it in our own lives. As we seek to understand how this story invites us to become active participants in the breaking-in of the reign of God today, I ask you to consider the seemingly innocent instruction from Jesus, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets.” Deep Water. In the ancient times, the deep water – or the sea – was a symbol for chaos. That was where the sea monster Leviathan lived. It was scary, unpredictable and life threatening. Now I am not saying that they never went there to fish, but on this particular body of water, storms formed quickly and hit hard, so it was understandable if fishermen wanted to stay close to the shore. But Jesus tells them to go further out – go to where there is deep water, where there is chaos and unpredictability and threats. Peter does … and what happens? There are plenty of proverbial fish in that ocean!

Symbolism abounds in this story for me. Consider that the boat has long been a symbol of the church. The deep water for chaos; and fishing an image of discipleship. Just as it took these men a measure of bravery to do as Jesus instructed them, so it takes the church a measure of bravery to heed Jesus’ invitation to be part of the reign of God as it grows in numbers and in love in the world. Often times we churches would prefer to play it safe, stay close to the edges. We would prefer things to return to how it was following World War II, where churches grew because of denominational loyalty and people having children who received the faith from their parents. Today things are different, and churches face more challenges in our evangelism. Today instead of assuming that those children who have been born into church families here in the last 30 years or so will become active parts of our ministries (look around … it just isn’t happening) we are called to put out our nets into the deep waters to catch those who live in the chaos and threatening places of life. Our community is filled with people who live in chaos because of their own sinfulness or the greed and sinfulness of others, and we are often afraid to get involved. But that is where Jesus is calling us to throw our nets, knowing that as we are faithful to that calling, we are successful in sharing Jesus’ love with more and more people who are desperate for God’s love in their lives.

I recently saw this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice; we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” As we continue these weeks in worship where we are confronted by stories of the calls of God’s prophets, this is a timely word of challenge to the church. We tend to be good at bandaging wounds – we gave $1,200 to LSS as a result of last week’s Souper Bowl of Caring after all … and tonight a few of us will feed a meal at faith mission. Next Saturday, 5 to 10 neighborhood people will join a few of us Clinton Heights folks for a community meal. We tend to be good at sticking close to the shore as we cast our nets … and we are met with limited results. But what if we went into the deep waters? What if we engaged people in their lives with a listening ear and a prayerful word of love? What if we tried to get to the root of the problems for people who are poor, hungry, homeless or otherwise afraid of the chaos of life? Would our nets overflow with those who get caught up in our church’s mission, as Jesus promised?

Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle In Time and it’s sequels, says, “We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, or by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all of their hearts to know the source of it.” Jesus calls us to fish in the deep water because people living in the darkness of injustice are desperate for light to show them hope. Evangelism, then, is not only to share that light, but also to share the source of that light. That is our mission as a church – not to grow as big as we can so that we can brag about how great a congregation we are; but to grow because others witness the light and love and hope of the crucified Christ shining in the dark of the deep waters of our world. That is the mission to which Jesus is calling us to be participants. That is much more than information or teaching, it is a lifestyle of discipleship and of fishing for people. May we be catching people with Jesus’ love so that we participate in the establishment of the reign of God, and God’s nets overflow with the hungry and hurting of the world. Amen.