A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Luke 5:1-11

February 10, 2019

Main Idea – Jesus calls us.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Luke is a master at painting a vivid scene.  The way that he tells this story makes us feel as if we are there.  The way he tells this story causes us to wrestle with how Jesus calls us and to what we are called. We empathize with Simon in his tiredness and fear.  We recognize this story as a Call story even though Jesus never says “Follow me”!  We are reminded that following Jesus is not boring, nor does it promise to be conventional nor easy.  This story is about being overwhelmed; overwhelmed with excitement, overwhelmed with possibility, overwhelmed with anxiety, and overwhelmed with grace, (cleverly disguised as fish).   Jesus calls us, overwhelmingly.

To get from last week’s text to today’s we should know that after Jesus preached his first sermon and then passed among his neighbors (who were trying to throw him off a cliff), he went to Capernaum where he healed a man with an unclean spirit and also healed Simon’s mother-in-law.  He traveled all over Galilee, preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God.

Now let us return to the scene painted by Luke to imagine Jesus on the lakeshore surrounded by, almost overwhelmed by, people eager to hear his preaching and experience his healing power. They press in, hoping to get as close as possible to him.  We can see the boats pulled up on the sand and we notice that the fishermen are a ways off, cleaning their nets.  They are tired after a long night of fishing and frankly, they are discouraged because they had not caught anything all night.

To deal with the crowd, Jesus gets into one of the boats and asks its captain, Simon, to put out a bit from shore so that Jesus can teach from there.  Simon and his crew take a break from their net cleaning to do this one small thing. Jesus is able to speak to the crowd from the boat.  His voice carries over the water and everybody can see him.  Once Jesus finishes speaking to the crowd, Simon and his crew expect to go back to shore.  But Jesus surprises Simon by saying  “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” (5:4).  This is not what Simon expected.  He says, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” He is not really excited to go back out the deep water.  He is not excited to use the nets that he has just cleaned. 

But, Simon has met Jesus before, we remember that Jesus went to Simon’s house and healed his mother-in-law, so Simon respects Jesus and does what he asks.  As soon as the nets are in the water, Simon knows that something extraordinary is happening.  There are so many fish that the nets begin to break and Simon calls out to the fishermen on the land to come out with the other boat to help them.   Even with the second boat they are overwhelmed with fish so that both boats begin to sink. 

Simon had met Jesus before but he does not know who he is until this moment.  He falls down before Jesus and cries, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” I am not worthy of your blessing.  I am overwhelmed by your holiness. I am overwhelmed by your power, I am overwhelmed by all these fish, and I am overwhelmed by the fact that we are about to sink!”  Everyone on both boats are overwhelmed and they stop to look at Jesus for help.

Jesus is not overwhelmed.  He makes no mention of Simon’s sin or supposed unworthiness.  He just says “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”(5:10).   What was that supposed to mean!?!  Somehow they bring the boats to shore where they leave everything; their boats, their families, even the extraordinary catch of fish, and follow him.

This vivid story challenges us on many levels.  We hear Jesus’ call and we are overwhelmed!

First, what does it mean to “catch people”?  Somehow this has connotations beyond the old “I will make you fishers of men” which is the phrase used in the gospels of Mark and Matthew. What if people don’t want to be caught?  The greek word that Luke uses here for catch actually is “catch alive” and it can mean “to restore to life and strength, to revive.” (Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com).  This idea of restoring people to life and strength speaks to us.   Although we recognize that it is God who restores to life and strength, not us. “Someone suggested that rather than use the word “catch” or “capture,” we use “captivated.” One can be “captivated” by beauty or charm or excellence….Can we learn to captivate people with Jesus’ love? Can we learn to captivate people with God’s life-giving grace? Can we talk about our own discipleship as being captivated by Christ? (Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com) The author Madeleine L’Engle wrote that we draw people to Christ “by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” ( Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art).  This is the overwhelming call of Jesus.

Second, notice how Simon’s declaration of sin does not disqualify him for this task (nor get him off the hook!).   Jesus does not ask for his repentance or require him to change.  He values Simon just as he is.  Simon’s knowledge as a fisherman and his faith are all that he needs.   Jesus calls us as we are and empowers us to use what we know to share the gospel.  None of us are perfect, nor do we have to wait until we reach some specified level to commit ourselves to Christ.  Each one of us is called to follow Jesus and to share what we know of God’s love in all aspects of our lives. 

Third, when Simon got into the boat with Jesus, he thought it was for just a bit, close to shore.  He did not know that he would be going out to the deep water.  Jesus calls us one step at a time and we walk with Jesus in faith.  We start close to home but as we grow in faith we step out of our comfort zones and experience God’s love and purpose in ever wider circles of concern.  Following Jesus may mean that what we thought was an easy task may evolve into something more challenging.  Following Jesus requires us to go out to the deep water in which we are unsure and sometimes afraid.

Following Jesus means that sometimes we are overwhelmed by the need around us.  We feel unworthy or unprepared or incapable. We feel we might sink!  But Jesus says to us “Do not be afraid.  I am with you. 

In 2019 it feels like we, as a faith community, are heading out into deep water.  We are moving forward in our governance change without a clear picture of how “what we’ve always done in the past” will fit in with what we need to do in the future.  We are thinking about mission but unclear about how our mission work will change. We know that our neighborhood will be changing but we don’t know how. We feel tired and overworked and overwhelmed. 

But Jesus says to us, “ Do not be afraid. Put out into the deep water and let down your net for a catch.” The net that we toss is our faith, our witness to the power of Christ in our lives.  It is the words we say, the peace that we bring, the change for which we advocate, the safety we provide, the life that we share, all through the power of Christ.

What is caught in our nets may surprise us. We will find new ideas and new people.  We will find opportunities within our challenges.  We will see the beauty and the pain and the needs of the world and we will see God’s abundance of blessing and grace. 

It is interesting to think about all of those fish, the overwhelming haul, just left behind when Simon and his partners left to follow Jesus.  I think that those fish fed the crowd that had gathered and that community for a very long time.  An overwhelming blessing.  As we follow Jesus’ call, may we recognize the blessings which surround us in abundance.

Let us pray,

Overwhelming God, we are not always sure about where we are going but we trust that you are with us, guiding us and empowering us. Encourage us to step forward in faith, following your call.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.