The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, February 7, 2010. The text for this week’s message is Luke 5:1-11.
Over the last couple of weeks, we looked at Luke 4. In that chapter we have seen some important things that we need to keep in mind as we press on in our life of faith. Luke places Jesus’ visit to his hometown of Nazareth at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is invited to speak at the synagogue, and instead of going with the traditional memorized lesson, he begins to preach with authority, the likes of which the people had never seen. At first, they are proud of the hometown boy, but very quickly, they become enraged by what he is saying.
Essentially, what Jesus is saying is that the good news of the kingdom of God is that it is not just for the Jewish people. It is for all people. And, really, when it is all said and done, we are faced with a very important decision. We can choose to listen to Jesus and embrace the gospel, or, like the people in his hometown, we can turn on him and reject him. Before we walk through today’s passage, let’s take a look at what happened between where we left off this week and where we are this week.
After he gets away from the crowd in his hometown, Jesus heads back to Capernaum. We see that he is teaching in the synagogue once again, and the people are amazed that he is teaching with authority. While he is teaching, there is a man who is possessed in the crowd. And he cries out in a loud voice that he knows who Jesus is, and Jesus very quickly tells him to be quiet and to leave the man. It’s pretty clear that word was starting to get out about Jesus, but after this event, people were really excited and spreading the word about him.
Once he leaves the synagogue, he heads out to Peter’s house, only to find that Peter’s mother-in-law has a high fever. Jesus stands over her, rebukes the fever and it is gone. Luke says, “Immediately she rose and began to serve them” (4:39). Now, it doesn’t say this in the text, so I’m just going on pure speculation here, but I think that Peter’s mother-in-law made some of the best roast beef and mashed potatoes, and Jesus was just really hungry. Peter had been talking it up for a while, and when they finally get there, they are a little bummed out that she’s not feeling well, so they were going to have to settle for canned tuna. Jesus was getting a little tired of eating fish, so he healed her, and they had some of that roast beef. I don’t know for sure, purely speculation, but that’s what I’m going with until I learn otherwise. Well, anyway, as the day was ending, word must have gotten out because people started showing up out of the woodwork wanting to be healed. The next morning, after having some time to himself, Jesus decides that it is time to keep moving.
Now, I know that this is not the passage that we are looking at today, but I do want to take just a minute to pause here and talk about something important really quick. There will always be more to do. There is always somebody else that needs help with something. There is always something more that can be done. One of the reasons why it is so important for us to spend time in prayer, listening for God’s direction for us as a congregation, is so that we know what makes sense, and what doesn’t make sense for us in ministry. We have to be willing to say “no” to things every once in a while. This isn’t to say that the ministry isn’t a good idea, or even that it is not needed, but there is only so much that we can do, and it is important for us to be listening for God’s call on us as a congregation to determine the direction of future ministries of this congregation. Okay, into Luke 5.
Luke tells us in the opening verse of today’s passage that the crowd is pressing in on Jesus to hear the word of God. Word is getting out about Jesus, people are hearing about the things that he is doing, and they want to see and hear for themselves. There are so many people that they are pressing in on him, crowding him so much that he ends up getting in a boat to teach. Can you imagine the scene?
What would it look like to be in the midst of this right now? You’re on the shoreline, with people all around you. You’re straining to hear Jesus teaching, but it’s a little faint, so you try to get a little closer, but so is everyone else. And the reason that you are listening so intently is so that you can hear the word of God. Do we do that today? Do we try to get as close as we possibly can to hear what Jesus has to teach us? What if we did? How could Jesus use us if we are willing to get just a little closer and listen more intently? I think we’d see some amazing things. I think we’d start seeing God work in some awesome ways. And that is just what happens in this scene.
We are told that Peter (or Simon, as he is called here) and his fellow fisherman are on the shoreline cleaning up their nets after a long and unsuccessful night of fishing. Along comes Jesus, and asks to teach from his boat. Now, imagine this for a second. You’ve had a long day at the workplace. You are wrapping things up and getting ready to go home for the day. You’re looking forward to getting a bite to eat and get some sleep. Along comes this guy who asks if he can use your workspace for a little bit. How willing are you going to be to let him do that? I can’t imagine that Peter would be in a good mood at this point, but he lets Jesus on his boat anyway.
After he is done teaching, I imagine Peter is really ready to go home, eat and get some sleep. However, Jesus tells him to, as Luke says, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Okay, just a shot in the dark here, but I imagine that Peter’s first thought is something like, “Are you out of your mind? You may be able to teach and heal some people, but I’m the fisherman here. You don’t fish in the middle of the day. I don’t tell you how to drive out demons, don’t tell me how to fish.” That may not have been exactly what was going through his mind, but I bet it’s not far off. Peter is not crazy about doing it, but he does say, “All right. We’ll do it your way because you said so.”
You know, sometimes in life, we think we know better than Jesus. We think, “Hey, we’re the professionals here. We are the ones who have lived here all our lives. We are the ones who know how things work around here. I don’t tell you how to cast out demons, don’t tell me how to do things.” But we just have to stop ourselves and say, “All right. We’ll do it your way because you said so.” We aren’t always excited about ministry are we? We aren’t always excited about doing something for somebody else for whatever reason. Maybe it’s inconvenient for us. Maybe it’s too much of a stretch. Maybe we just don’t think we’re cut out to do it in the first place. And yet, Jesus says to us, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
Understand this, Peter was cleaning his nets. He was done for the day. His office was packed up and he was just about to lock the door. And Jesus says, “Hey, how about some overtime?” Do you ever get tired of working so hard on something when it just seems like there wasn’t much of a point in doing it? Peter and his partners had been out all night and haven’t caught a thing. They had to have been tired and discouraged. But they pressed on anyway. Because Jesus said so, they go out one more time. And not only did they go out again, they went out to the deep part of the lake.
I don’t know a whole lot about the lake of Gennesaret, also known as the Sea of Galilee, but I do know that you don’t find the deep part of a lake while you are sitting on the shore. They had to load the nets back into the boat, and do some rowing to get out to the deep part of the lake. They are already tired, hungry and discouraged from a night of fruitless working, and now they load everything back into the boats and work to get to the deep part of the lake.
Sometimes, when God calls us to do something, it is inconvenient for us. It would be so much easier to ignore the call. It is so much easier to just continue doing what we are planning on doing and not load up the nets and head back into the deep part of the lake. The call of Jesus never comes at a time when we have all our affairs in order. The call comes when the time is right, not when we want it to. Not when it is most convenient for us. And in spite of all the inconvenience, in spite of the fatigue, in spite of the hunger and in spite of the discouragement, Peter and his partners set back out into the lake. And what happens?
They drop their nets and end up with the largest catch of their life. And notice something, Jesus doesn’t tell them that this is what is going to happen. Jesus doesn’t say, “Hey, guys, thanks for letting me use your boat. As a reward, let’s go out and I’ll give you the greatest catch of fish that you’ve ever seen.” No, he doesn’t say that at all. He simply tells them to go out to the deep part of the lake. Through their obedience to this call, they end up with more than they ever could have imagined. It took a step of faith in order to get this catch.
Once Peter sees what has happened, his first reaction is to fall before Jesus and confess his sins. Peter recognizes that there is something going on here, which goes far beyond a lucky guess about where the fish are at that time of day. He sees Jesus for who he is, and like the prophet in Isaiah 6, he realizes how far away he is from the holiness of God. Peter’s immediate response is to recognize that he has fallen short in his own life, and that he is not worthy of being in the presence of God. He gets a proper perspective of who he is and who Jesus is.
It is a perspective that we all need to have when it comes to ministry. And again, it’s not always going to come at a convenient time. Is it ever really a convenient time to take a look at ourselves and realize just how far we are from where we are supposed to be? But when God calls us, we realize how inadequate we are for the task at hand. But notice something that’s very important here: This is the beginning. God prepares those whom he calls. God equips those whom he sends. Do you feel inadequate for ministry? Good! It is so important for us to have a perspective like Peter’s, to realize that we are indeed sinful people, people in need of a savior, people in need of forgiveness. Our adequacy for ministry comes out of our recognition that we cannot do it alone.
And finally, at the end of the story, Jesus says to them, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men.” It begins with a simple act of obedience to push out from the shore in spite of the fatigue, hunger and discouragement. It ends with a miracle and a call to something more.
When Jesus calls us to follow him, at first it may not seem like that big of a deal. Maybe he wants you to do something simple. Maybe he wants you to cast nets. Maybe he wants you to be just who you are and where you are. I think so many people are afraid of responding to the call of Jesus because they think that means they will end up among the indigenous tribes of the Amazon. But Jesus calls us where we are. He calls us to cast out our nets one more time, even though we are tired, hungry and discouraged. He calls us to be witnesses to the world, even though it would be so much easier for us if he just left us alone.
The call of Jesus is inconvenient. It is a call that causes us to go beyond ourselves. It is a call that causes us to stretch ourselves. It is a call that causes us to lay down our pride and follow after him, regardless of the cost. When we look at the call of the first disciples, we need to realize that this isn’t just a story about what happened in an isolated place centuries ago. We need to realize that it is a story that is taking place right here, right now, among us. It may seem inconvenient, but Jesus calls us on his terms, not ours.