Fishing not Catching
When you are a fisherman, it goes with the territory that there will be times when you come up empty. I got a report from my Mom last week that my brother had been up ice fishing on the lake where my parents live. My brother, Jim, set up his pop-up tent ice house on the lake. He had his wife, Jane, along to ice fish with him for the first time. They fished all day and only caught 4-5 pan fish. They went to a different lake the next day and caught nothing. The day after that, my brother set up some tip-ups on the ice. Of course, as luck would have it, the only line he had without a metal leader, was, of course, the one line that a northern bit on — and it got away. Sometimes you fish all weekend and come up empty. Some say that’s why this sport is called “fishing”, not “catching”.
Simon Peter initially had come up empty in today’s gospel. But when fishing is your life’s work, your means of an income and feeding your family, coming up empty carries a heavier burden.
Yet something else has been CATCHING Simon Peter’s attention. This master religious teacher shows up on the lake shore this morning and Simon Peter has encountered this teacher before. This master teacher Jesus had recently taught in the local synagogue. He had cast out a demon from a man. When Jesus left the synagogue, he went to Simon Peter’s house. Someone in the family must have invited him. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law had a high fever and Jesus healed her. That evening, as the sun was setting, the neighborhood brought over all sorts of sick people to Simon Peter’s back yard. Jesus laid hands on all those people and they were healed throughout the night.
Now a different night has come and gone. A night when Simon Peter’s fishing nets have come up empty. As he and his co-workers are washing their nets, here comes this Jesus again. The crowds following him are so thick, Jesus ends up in Simon Peter’s empty boat. Although he must have been exhausted and so ready to go home after an entire night of fishing without catching anything, Simon Peter ends up back in his boat with Jesus, taking Jesus offshore a bit so he can teach this crowd of people. Based on what he’s seen and heard from this master teacher, Simon Peter is curious enough to once again find himself in close proximity to Jesus.
“Get Away From Me”
All of this would lead us to expect – that when Simon Peter soon pulls up nets overflowing with fish, thanks to Jesus’ command, Simon Peter would be wowed by another of Jesus’ miracles. You’d think we’d hear Simon Peter say – “Jesus – You are incredible! From what I have seen and heard, and now, because of this extraordinary catch of fish you’ve caused to top it off – I want to follow you and be one of your disciples!” Instead, we hear Simon Peter say to Jesus, “Leave me alone, Lord! Get away from me, for I am a sinful man!”
We hear, in Peter’s response, an echo of what we heard from the Prophet Isaiah this morning. When the greatness of the presence of God is realized – the response is fear and awe.
We’ve had only a taste of the greatness of God in our weather these past weeks. We might be sick and tired of it, but within the extremes of polar vortex minus 40 degree weather and ice storms, you do have to admit there’s something impressive about the kind of weather that messes up all plans we thought we had laid out like clockwork in our lives. There is something to be said of the power of these huge, natural events. Weather like we’ve had, reminds me how small I am. Does it do that for you too? I’m in awe of how fragile I am in the face of these conditions.
That’s just a glimpse of how fragile Simon Peter must have felt in the presence of Jesus when he realized Jesus had caused his nets to nearly burst with fish. Yet Peter knows – this is far more than a force of nature. This is something that only happens in the presence of God’s divinity. This man Jesus is God’s divine gift. Realizing the great presence in which he stands, Peter at this moment switches from calling Jesus “Master”, to calling him “Lord”. Peter connects the greatness of what Jesus has just done for him – with how UNDESERVING of it he is. Peter has just received a gift of God’s grace in Jesus that is nearly unbearable to comprehend. Standing in the presence of God’s glory and power revealed in Jesus, Peter is humbled to his core.
We are no different. We are humbled to the core, when we realize, with the Holy Spirit’s help, all of the grace of God that Jesus Christ has given us: New life. Forgiveness. Hope for eternity. A strength that comes from beyond ourselves. A promise to never be left alone in any circumstance. We are endowed with all these real gifts through Christ’s divine power. These awe-inspiring gifts are lavished on us so completely that they are hard to comprehend. None of these gifts are our own doing. If left to ourselves, we’d come up empty. And yet, here we are, standing gifted with Jesus!
Do Not Be Afraid
I had the pleasure of teaching a baptism class this week at church. Yeah -we actually found a night to meet in between ice storms! LOL! Anyway, I met some lovely young couples who are welcoming their first child into their lives. When I asked why they wanted to have their child baptized – here were some of their responses: “I want my child to already begin to be washed clean from sin.” “I want my child to grow up in a church community where they come to know God.” And “I was so loved growing up in the church, I want the same for my child”. What beautiful desires these parents have – to want for their infants, who know nothing yet of this world, who are not worthy to receive anything by their own merits – these parents want their infants to receive the great gifts offered to us by Jesus Christ right from the start in their lives!
Now when Jesus first gifted Simon Peter with surprising grace, Simon Peter became fearful. Jesus reassured him with the words we always hear when something of heaven splashes out on earth. Like the angels said to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth, we hear Jesus say to Peter today “do not be afraid”.
And then those words are followed by an even bigger miracle. One bigger than a miraculous catch of fish. God calls sinful and scared Simon Peter to be a disciple! Preacher William Willimon put it this way: “Like Simon, you and I are just sinners, sometimes failures at our day jobs, sometimes overwhelmed by the glory of Jesus. And Jesus’ call comes only to people like us. His call is not based on our potential or our merits but on his grace.” (“The Gift of Vocation” William Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Feb 10, 2019) In the shadow of that gift and in the grace of his invitation, Simon Peter got up and left everything. He left his house, his family, his healed mother-in-law, his cleaned nets, his boat. He even left behind his sinful worries and fears of being unworthy. Maybe we could say Simon Peter emptied himself. He left everything to follow Jesus.
Funny thing is, he didn’t leave alone with our Lord. He left with others who received Jesus’ outstanding grace and heard his invitation too. Together they left behind what they had known to move forward into something new with Jesus. And isn’t that the perfect description of all of us together as the church? Let me repeat this: Together they left behind what they had known to move forward into something new with Jesus.
Bringing People Back to Life
With Jesus, they would be catching people. Actually, I learned something totally new when I studied that phrase of our gospel this time around. Our gospel today has Jesus really, literally telling his new disciples, these fisherman, “You will be bringing people back alive.” That’s a slight, but significant difference. As Christians disciples, we are called to “bring back alive” others or “bring others back to life”, by the power of Jesus. (Postils for Preaching, John Rollefson, Resource Publications, p. 33) Just like the disciples, we will find that catching people up in new life doesn’t come quickly. There won’t be immediate conversions everywhere. People will experience Jesus through us over time, just as Simon Peter and the other disciples experienced Jesus over time and came to believe ever more deeply in him. Fishing takes patience, perseverance, insight, and teamwork. The same qualities needed to witness to the good news of Jesus to others as we work together as the church.
Jesus will take us, just as he took Simon Peter and the other disciples, to places – some new and some familiar. Jesus will take us to build relationships with people – some new and some familiar. “Through long days and long nights, we’ll cast God’s love in many directions. Then as one fellow disciple concluded, “When we build true and deep relationships, God will choose the right moment, like Jesus does in the gospel, to tell us when and where to drop our nets with a word of witness to the God we have come to know.” (“Caught by God’s Grace, Sundaysandseasons.com, 2019 Year C Gospel Messages)
The God who abundantly gifts us with more than enough grace to share will help us do this. Thanks be to God!