February 10th, 2019, Pastor Galen
Isaiah 6:1-8; Luke 5:1-11
A Long Night
It had been a long night for Simon Peter and his friends. They had been fishing all night long but had caught nothing. Now I don’t know how common it was for this to happen, but it had to have been frustrating.
Simon was probably alternating between feelings of anger, frustration, and hopelessness as he thought about their night’s fruitless efforts. He and his partners cleaned their nets and prepared to go home to get a few hours of sleep before they had to come back and do it all over again that night.
Simon Peter’s family was depending on the fish that he caught for both income and food for the table. This was his business, his livelihood. What would he tell his wife when he got home? What would his wife say when he showed up at the door empty-handed?
Simon saw the crowd gathering on the shore and knew they were listening to Jesus, the religious teacher and miracle-worker who had become quite famous in that area. The previous day, Jesus had healed Simon’s mother-in-law (see Luke 4:38-39), so Simon knew who Jesus was and he knew the power that Jesus had.
Simon knew Jesus was a big deal, but right now he had too much on his mind to even bother to go over and listen to what Jesus was saying. Plus, he probably wanted to finish cleaning his nets and get home as quickly as possible.
Jesus Gets Into Simon’s Boat
But then all of a sudden Jesus started walking in his direction and called out to him, asking Simon if he could use his boat.
Simon agreed, probably feeling somewhat honored that Jesus had chosen his boat, but also perhaps a little confused as to why Jesus wanted to stand in his boat to teach the crowds.
Now the reality was that teaching from a boat was a genius move on Jesus’s part. Not only did it prevent him from getting crushed by the crowd, but water actually amplifies sound. So teaching from a boat made Jesus’s voice sound louder and made it possible for more people to hear what he was saying.
Of course it also made Simon a captive audience to hear what Jesus was saying. Simon’s dreams of going home to get some rest evaporated as Jesus instructed him to go out a little way from the shore and Jesus began to teach the people.
Exactly what Jesus taught the crowds that day we’ll never know. But Jesus often told stories and used analogies and object lessons from the everyday working life of the people — stories that everyone could relate to. We have a lot of parables in the Gospels about fields and grain and seeds and soil, and I like to think that Jesus told these stories while he was literally walking past fields of wheat, surrounded by people who knew what it was like to work the land. He probably told the parables about vines and vineyards while he was passing through wine country, and he told stories about sheep when he was standing in the fields talking with shepherds.
And so I like to imagine that as Jesus was standing there in Simon Peter’s boat, teaching the crowds of people gathered in that little fishing village, that Jesus probably told stories about fishing and fisherman to illustrate truths about God’s love, and the kingdom of God. Jesus was a masterful storyteller. I picture Simon, sitting there, struggling to stay away after his long night of work, only half-listening to what Jesus is saying because he’s so worried distracted by everything going on.
An Absurd Request
And then, when Jesus was done teaching, he turned to Simon Peter with a rather surprising request – he tells Simon Peter to take the boat out in the deeper waters and to let down his nets and get ready to catch some fish.
This is an absurd request for multiple reasons. First, Peter and his partners were professional fishermen. They knew the best timing and conditions to catch fish, and even they had been unsuccessful at catching any fish. Jesus, on the other hand, is a religious teacher and the son of a carpenter. What does he know about fishing? Plus, Simon Peter and his partners have already cleaned their nets. They’re probably exhausted, and if they don’t catch any fish again they’re going to have to clean their nets all over again for no reason.
But Simon Peter follows Jesus’s instructions – with perhaps only a little bit of snark in his response, essentially saying, “OK, if you say so!”
A Miraculous Catch
And of course Peter and his friends get the surprise of a lifetime. Nets filled to overflowing with fish. So many fish that the nets began to break and the boats begin to sink. This is probably more fish than they have ever seen in their lifetime.
Simon Peter’s response is one of immediate awe and shame. Simon Peter recognizes the overwhelming miraculous power of Jesus — he recognizes that he is standing in the presence of someone who is filled with the power of God. And he simultaneously recognizes how far he falls short. His doubt, his skepticism, his imperfections all rise to the surface, and he feels overwhelming shame. He is not worthy, he is undeserving to stand in Jesus’s presence. He falls to his knees and begs Jesus to go away from him.
I think Simon Peter is afraid. I love to picture Simon Peter as this big burly bearded fisherman, kneeling there in the boat. Kneeling on top of hundreds of squirming, wriggling fish, the boat about to sink because there are so many fish. Simon Peter realizes he is outmatched. Jesus is far greater than he is. He’s afraid to be around someone with so much power and authority.
But Jesus doesn’t condemn, doesn’t scold. He doesn’t point his finger at Peter and say “yes, you should be ashamed of yourself! Shame on you for your doubt, for not believing.” Instead, I believe Jesus looks at Simon Peter in love. Jesus loves Simon’s humility, but also his boldness and his courage. Jesus sees not only who Simon Peter is, but also who he can be.
And so he invites Simon Peter and his friends to follow him. And he tells Peter that he doesn’t have to be afraid, that Jesus is going to make Simon Peter a fisher of people.
I think that’s so beautiful. Jesus accepts Peter as he is, but he also sees what he can become. He doesn’t tell Peter that Peter needs to change his identity or take up a different occupation or take on a new persona. Jesus accepts Peter as a fisherman and tells him that he can use this fisherman to reach people with the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
Simon Peter, Isaiah, and Us
It’s striking to me that this story of Peter’s call to follow Jesus is so similar to the story of Isaiah’s call that we read in our reading from the Hebrew Bible this morning. In Isaiah chapter 6, Isaiah has a vision of the throne room of heaven, where he is confronted with the majesty and splendor of the glory of God. Isaiah is awestuck. But as he recognizes the wonder and majesty and power of God, he is immediately confronted with his own sinfulness and shortcomings. He feels unworthy and ashamed. But rather than being condemned for his sinfulness, he is offered cleansing, and he is invited to go and share the Good News.
Both Simon Peter and Isaiah have an experience where they recognize God’s power and authority. They are in awe, but they are also ashamed of how far they fall short. They confess their sinfulness, they receive grace and forgiveness, and they are invited to become bearers of God’s good news.
Perhaps this resonates with you. Maybe there was a time in your life when you were overcome with awe of God’s glory. Perhaps you experienced a miraculous healing or answer to prayer. Or perhaps you saw a gorgeous sunrise or a beautiful aspect of God’s creation and you found yourself just standing in awe of our Creator.
And perhaps at that point or at some other point in your life, you realized your own flaws and shortcomings. Perhaps you came to the end of your rope or realized that you couldn’t do it on your own and that you needed God’s help. But you wondered whether God would accept you. You wondered whether God would reject your or condemn you. Perhaps you felt shame, and you were afraid of what God might say, afraid that you might never be forgiven.
And so you cried out to God. And you felt God’s love wash over you like a flood. You were cleansed, forgiven. Do you remember that feeling of joy and relief when you realized that God’s grace is enough, that God was willing to accept you just as you are, that you don’t have to clean yourself up first, but that God’s love is vast enough to reach you wherever you are?
But of course, it doesn’t stop there. Once we have been cleansed and forgiven, then we’re also invited to participate in God’s mission. We’re called to share that Good News with others. And just like Simon Peter the fisherman, God invites us to use whatever gifts or skills or occupations we have to serve God. If you’re an accountant, you can be an accountant for God. If you’re a teacher, you can use your gifts in teaching to glorify God. If you’re an engineer or scientist or mathematician, then you can use those gifts and skills to serve God.
Worship, Confession, and Response
It also strikes me that this is the pattern of worship that we go through each week. We gather together to worship God. We sing songs like Holy, Holy, Holy — songs that extol God’s greatness and glory. We remember and reflect together on how good God is. But even as we remember together how great God is, we realize how far we fall short. We recognize our need for God. We pray the Lord’s Prayer and confess our sins and trespasses before the Lord, and as we confess our sins before the Lord we are reminded anew of God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness. And we’re invited to respond by sharing the Good News with others.
And so this morning I invite us, like Simon Peter and like Isaiah, to stand in awe of God’s greatness and glory. I invite us to recognize our need and dependence on God, to confess our sins before the Lord and allow God’s grace to wash over us anew. And as people who have been forgiven and cleansed, may we become bearers of God’s Good News to those around us.