Sermon, Epiphany 5C, Sunday February 10, 2019 , St Petri
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,[a] the people were crowding round him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’
5 Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’ 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
When you think “fishing”, what image comes to mind? I suspect that you might think of rod fishing – you alone on a beach with a rod and bait on your hook set to catch a fish.
This is not the kind of fishing Jesus speaks about to call us to be fishers of people. He is talking of net fishing (no bait). He is also talking of a group effort, because that what net fishing takes.
So, what I hear is that Jesus calls us to together engage in fishing for people, not with bait, but with his truthful words.
Bait fishing is by nature deceptive. When you cut up that bait and hide the hook in it you are tricking a fish into the taking a bight of the bait so the fish inadvertently bights the hook as well. The better the bait and the equipment, the more fish we will catch; most of the time, anyway!
So, Jesus says we are called to catch people not with rod and bait and trickery, and never alone.
Problem is, we often think of ‘lone fisher with rod good gear and bait’ when we think “people catching”; “evangelism” or “mission”. With this comes the notion that “better” words, better technology, better music, better this and better that are what we are called to do to be successful, as if Jesus is really only saying that our better human efforts and skills and technology will sort of ‘bait’ or even ‘trick’ people into coming to church or even believing in Jesus.
It does not work well. So, like a frustrated fisher ready to give up on the whole sorry effort after hours of fishing, after getting up before the crack of dawn and getting into the best possible spot, only to find that not one fish will take the bait, we Christians get frustrated with this call to catch people.
Someone one be at fault. It is not us because we gave it a shot. It must be bait or the gear of the tide or the people (the fish)!……
EG. Our music is not good enough. Our preaching is not good enough or of the right kind. Our building is not the right kind of bait to lure them in. Our theology is not the right bait. Our pastor, our leaders, our bishops, our fellow congregation are not good enough bait.
So, we say, “More lights please, more gear, more technology, better songs, more ‘relevant’ preaching, more effort on our part, more right words (don’t dare get anything wrong!)…that will do it…better bait to lure them in”.
But Jesus’ call to fish for people is not about bait at all. Not in this text. There is absolutely no trickery here. And his vision of how we catch people and how his kingdom grows among people is also a group effort – not a lone mission.
What’s the message here? Well, there is no need or room for deception in our mission to share the love and hope of Jesus where we live. There is no need to hide anything – our intentions, our story, what we have learnt and who we trust. Any technology, buildings, art, music, songs, preaching is not bait to trick people into joining us, they are there to simply speak the truth of it in the most winsome and clearest ways we can.
And we catch people together; in a common confession of gospel faith. We fish with gospel trust. That is the net – a truthful word about who we are and who we know God is and who Jesus is for us and them – that’s it. No bait, no tricks, no lures, just his words in our words, his word in our actions.
But all this is quite nice and easy to bight into as a theory. But there’s something else that needs to happen to turn this nice theory into living, breathing people actually engaging in catching people for the Kingdom….
It happens to Peter out there in the deep.
Peter is pushing out into the deep at Jesus’ command. He does not know why he should be here. Peter has no surety of the outcome of the fishing. But he does it because Jesus says so.
So, he has been very unsuccessful at fishing all night, and he is tired of trying to fish, and now Jesus directs him to fish in a place he never would (deep water) at a time he never would (day time).
And as he does what Jesus directs him to do in the wrong place at the wrong time (according to Peter) something critical to the whole Kingdom fishing enterprise happens as Jesus makes it abundantly blessed!
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ (Luke 5:8)
Peter sees his absolute incapacity to do what he is being called to do by Jesus. So are we now.
Someone said that the day you lose yourself is the day you find that God has found you!
What happened? Martin Luther puts it well;
“It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his good works unless he/she has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he/she knows that he/she is worthless and that his/her works are not his/hers but God’s” (Martin Luther, LW 31,53)
What does this moment where a person sees their incapacity to meet the calling do? From this moment on Peter and the others and you and me will know in our bones that if anyone ever came to faith, came to church, was renewed in the gospel, was transformed in heart and mind, it would be by Jesus working in us and that person, not our brilliance or technology or tricks or anything else. Jesus would be the essential power for any “success” in this calling, not Peter or you or me.
But there is more. Peter and we are confronted with our incapacity to fulfil this calling placed on all baptised people of God and yet in heartbeat we hear those beautiful words from him: “Don’t be afraid”.
They are immediate, visionary and loving words that confirm you, affirm you, surround you and send you – not alone but together, and not with your own resources only, but the very power and promise of God in this calling to catch people and bless the effort.
So where is the deep water for you? Bad diagnosis? Tough job? Toxic relationship, deep grief, internal strife?
Have you reached your end? It is important that you do so God can continue his kingdom catching work.
If you have reached your depth out in the deep water of your life, speak Peter’s words to the Lord.
‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ (Luke 5:8)
But as you do, hear those immediate, loving words from him more: “Don’t be afraid”.
Ego and pride melts away. Pain and suffering are transformed into things of value and great use in Jesus’ kingdom.
Look at Peter. Look at what Jesus goes on to work in him and through him! Look what happened for the rest of the Twelve. Look at what he has done in you already. There is a life time of learning and transformation and love and an eternal relationship with Jesus being worked out as we speak.
“Don’t be afraid”. He is making you a fisher of people for his Kingdom.
Holy Spirit, hover over this community and help us push into deep waters without fear with no tricks, just our words and actions.