After Pulling in the Full Net
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
January 29, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Luke 5: 1-11
It seems the last couple of weeks, I have chosen a text to preach, going through the life of Jesus, and each time I think I know where my sermon is headed, but then I find something in the text or that happens during the week that completely shifts my focus. I had planned to preach this morning on the quote from this passage that is the most memorable and well-known: "Now you will be fishers of men," preaching on how we should get out and let people know about the great things Christ is doing here, but I was drawn instead, maybe like a moth to a flame, to another, when Peter says, "Go away from me, for I am a sinner." I thought to myself, about how many times I have heard about being fishers of men, but I couldn't recall ever hearing a sermon, nor being taught in Sunday School or beyond, anything about, Peter, or at this point Simon's, statement preceding it, and it really does provide the context for the "fishers of men" line, so maybe I am still preaching on Fisher's of Men, but within this new context that I had not seen before.
So let's set the scene. Jesus has begun his ministry. He has already faced the temptation and has been rejected back home in Nazareth. Since we left him in Nazareth he has been casting out demons, healing, and teaching around the Galilee area. One of the houses that he enters into is Simon's house, so the fishing scene is not Simon's first encounter with Jesus. In Luke 4:38 & 39 we see Jesus healing Simon's mother-in-law, here are those verses: "After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon's house. Now Simon's mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them." We get to see his mother-in-law's reaction to her being healed by Jesus, but the text is silent on Simon's reaction. My imagination is filled with possibilities of ways to fill that silence because there must have been more, but the text just jumps to the next day. And on that day Jesus leaves, then the chapter goes on to end and the next begins as if our scene on Simon's boat were in a completely different episode. Chapter four ends with the people in the synagogue trying to keep Jesus from leaving them, and Jesus responding, "I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose." So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea."
Then our text follows directly, beginning chapter 5, "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; he got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon. . ." Now the reason I bring up this connection is, what else has at this point transpired between Jesus and Simon? Is it merely a coincidence that it is Simon's boat that he chooses of the two? Is this really only the second time Jesus and Simon have been together? I mean it is strange. Jesus gets on this guy's boat and then tells him to move out a little bit from shore. It just so happens that Jesus had healed his mother in law in the past, but how far in the past? How long has it been? How much time has come and gone? These questions seem important to me because this is where Simon, whom we will come to know as Peter, becomes a disciple. . . What was the basis of their relationship before this? How does Jesus go about choosing disciples? Is it still the same today?
I ask this because it seems to me, based on the seeming coincidences that Jesus is not accidentally but instead actively and intentionally seeking Simon out. He seems to be holding all the cards, and Simon is slowly responding to Jesus' bid. My parent's raised me playing the game Bridge, so bear with me as I use that game as a metaphor here to try and illustrate the situation. Those of you unfamiliar with the game, basically two partners must communicate about what their hand is by a series of bids, typically if you have a good hand, ie. lots of points you open up the bidding, and you basically are trying to get your partner to come along with you for the ride. It is an interesting metaphor for this situation because once the bidding is over, the person who declares, which means beginning the bidding in the suit that is played, then plays both hands. . . So Jesus opens with a healing, and it seems that Simon passes. . . One of the truths about the game is that, if one person has a great hand it is more than likely that his/her partner has nothing. There is of course only a finite number of good cards in the deck. . . Jesus then is not ready to let the game end because his hand is strong. I mean duh, he's Jesus! So he bids again this time with the boat. He says, "Hey let me in your boat, let us move a little bit out from shore, so I can talk to these people." Simon goes along. . . Then when Jesus is finished speaking he tells Peter to try casting his nets again. . . Peter wants to pass, but reluctantly goes along. I've been in that position in a bridge game often. Your partner has cards, and you don't, and he gives what is called a demand bid. . . you must bid, or game over, your partner and you may never get those cards again, so no matter what, you must say something. . .If you say so, ok, I'll play the game. . . So Simon does, he bids. . .Casting his net again into the water. . .
When we played bridge as kids, it was always all about trying to teach us how to play. . . I think that is what goes on here, according to my metaphor, Jesus gives Simon a peak at his cards, by filling Simon's nets with fish. . . And Simon immediately worries about the weak hand that he has, "Oh my Jesus, I don't have anything." Don't worry Simon, just lay them down, I'll make your cards work. So Jesus wins the bid, Simon then lays his cards down for Jesus to play. . . and the rest is history.
Now let's unpack the metaphor. Jesus's hand is so good it doesn't matter what cards Simon is holding. All he needs is for Simon to bid to keep the bidding alive. Simon could have passed. . . but then the game would have ended. Should he have passed? Would you have passed?
Would you let Jesus use your boat?
Would you listen when Jesus tells you to try to fish one more time, even though you've been fishing all day and catching nothing?
And then how would you react when your net came back full?
Getting just a peak at the cards. . .
I've always thought that this passage was about what it means to be a disciple, that Jesus is saying, "Hey Simon come with me, I'll make you a fisher of men". . . that being a disciple can be boiled down to the mission of being a fisher of men and even though I think it includes that, I can't help but think there is more to it here.
Look at the text. Here is the piece of the passage that made me choose a new path for this sermon. When the nets come back full, Simon drops to his knees saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."
It is interesting that Simon's response to the miracle of the fish is to look at himself and feel shame. If we look at this story as a call story it is very similar to some of the others in the Old Testament. When Moses is called by the burning bush, he falters, saying, "But wait I have a stutter." And God says, "Don't worry I'll speak through you." Jeremiah says, "But I'm only a youth." God says, "Do not say, I am only a youth, I have chosen you from the beginning." Jonah runs. . . Jacob wrestles. . . Adam and Eve hide. Why do we find that we are not worthy when God calls? Simon says, "I am a sinner."
Sin keeps us from God, doesn't it. . . All of the things that keep us from following God, our weakness, our sense that we are not worthy, etc. So if we in our lives see the amazing wonder of God working in our life, right before our eyes, we tend to run, avoid, look inward, find nothing, look into our own hand and see no face cards, and so when it's our turn to bid we pass. It seems to me that when Simon falls to his knees saying, "Go away from me I'm a sinner," it's not a confession, but rather one last excuse.
Sin can work that way because we as humans are great at having conversations with ourselves. And in this inner monologue, lies abound. We can convince ourselves of anything, especially if something challenges the comfort of our present situation, but here the evidence of Jesus' power is hard to deny. Simon knows it, so he is out of options. It is in this context that Jesus gives him the line. . . Do not be afraid, I'll make you a fisher of men. . . In this context it is more than the familiar idea of the job description that I had thought I would preach this morning, it is a preview of the miracles that will continue to happen. Simon doesn't ask, Jesus what does this miracle mean? Can I be your disciple? What do I need to do? Instead he is worried because his life is going to change. He knows it and Jesus knows it. So I think instead Jesus is saying, look Simon, "You haven't seen nothing yet. . . a net full of fish is nothing compared to what I will do next. The cards I'm holding are unbeatable. All you need to do is come along for the ride. Don't worry about your own cards, just come along for the ride. I got this. . ."
It becomes then like when Jesus says, repeatedly in Luke, consider the Lillies of the Field and the Sparrow, arrayed in such beauty given by God, or don't you think that if God answers these prayers, don't you think your God in heaven who knows you and loves you will do much more for you. Simon, I know that you are freaking out because your life is changing, this miracle that is forcing your decision is big, but don't be afraid because my power is so much greater than this. Imagine what it would be like to catch men because I can do that too. Come with me. Leave all you have and follow me.
This is what discipleship truly is, not just the business of catching people, but instead, leaving all behind to follow. It is a call to a path, a journey, a new life, but not sinless life, not a life of perfection, but a life of forgiven sins. Simon, becomes Peter, the rock, but he is far from perfect. He does amazing things, but he falters every step of the way. He faithfully steps out of the boat to join Jesus on the water, but he sinks. He is the first to speak the truth proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah, the Christ, but he also is the first to deny him when the heat and pressure is on. Discipleship is bringing yourself to the table and letting the miracles and the power of Jesus to do work in you. My favorite characters in the Gospels are the disciples because they are so very human, so lost, so imperfect, but what makes them amazing is they continue to follow, each in their own way, each faltering often, but they leave behind everything and walk. May we do the same.
Have we experienced undeniable miracles? Have we experienced newly filled nets? If so, rather than looking to our weaknesses, using our sin as excuses, rather than asking for forgiveness that has been already granted, let us instead become disciples, leaving behind everything that could hold us back, and become witnesses to the miracles that have changed our lives and have continued to fill nets with people.