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Gone Fishin'
A sermon based on Luke 5:1-11
by Rev. Thomas Hall

Last Sunday we listened in on a worship service in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Some of us no doubt enjoyed that kind of traditional religious service which ensures that no surprises or innovations will be hoisted at us. Of course, Jesus’ less than traditional homily did throw a wrench into an otherwise wonderful worship moment. But still, there’s something to be said for the deep tradition and liturgy that such an institution affords. Indeed, in contrast to this weekend service we may well long for the warmth and familiarity of the worship building. For today as we continue our tour of Galilee with Jesus, we encounter an early version of a seeker-sensitive service. Gone are the bulletins and building. No organs, offering plates, or candles in today’s setting. Instead of pews, we’re pushing sand between our toes and fighting off the gnats. Luke brings us to an outdoor setting right at shore’s edge.

A crowd has hounded him ever since he performed therapeutic practice on needy locals. They want the exclusive rights to Jesus as a sort of ATM resource, 24-7. I wouldn’t be surprised but what they’d even given him a tee shirt to wear that says, "Property of Capernaum." But Jesus will not be the property of any park service or religious group. So, to make his point, he recalls this outdoor service that just sort of happens. As the crowd keeps getting bigger and bigger, Jesus gets pushed further and further to water’s edge.

So he gets this idea: a boat. And a local, Simon Peter has one. So Jesus commandeers the boat and turns it into a podium right there in the Laguna.

"Take the whole fleet for all I care," Peter could well have thought. He’s had a rough night on the lake and is quite content to simply listen to the words of this stranger. He turns back to cleaning his net.

So Jesus preaches another round. What exactly did he preach? Who knows? Luke doesn’t say, but judging from what’s gone before he probably pulled out his favorite, "The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me" sermon and probably told some stories. But what is really intriguing comes after the sermon is finished.


"Hey, Simon," the stranger says, "let’s go get us some fish." Not exactly what most preachers would say. We’d more or less pronounce an "amen" following the homily and prepare for a liturgical landing. Sure, we have a response to the word in our worship services-written right into the order of worship. But I think most of us would be more comfortable with the choir singing the theme at sermon’s end than in what Jesus suggested in this story. His is proactive and immediate: "let’s get some fish," literally, "Simon, launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch" (v. 4).

Peter’s response is classic, "Yes . . . but . . . and . . . okay, fine." Behind his initial reluctance is an entirely different story. All night the boat had floated fishless on the sea. Swish, slap . . . silence. Swish, slap . . . silence. Midnight comes. Maybe Peter hears the commotion of another fishing party that has found a fishing school. But they stay put-eventually something will turn up. Two am comes. Swish, slap . . . silence. Swish, slap . . . The nets are limp-like clothes gently floating on the breeze. The morning pastels on the horizon provides little inspiration. They probably don’t even want to see it. Now they’ve got to go back and clean all of the water-logged sandals and cans and algae that’s gotten tangled in their nets during the long night. And who wants to dock an empty boat? So they moor the boats near shore and are sitting at shore’s edge, cleaning their nets.


"Hey, Simon, let down your nets over here-on the deep side!" What’s going on here? A skilled, seasoned fisherman being instructed by a non-fisherman? A non-professional telling a trained person how to do his job? Holy unsolicited advice! No one enjoys that kind of help. Goes against the law of Martians that states, "Men don’t listen to, seek, or value advice when they don’t ask for it." Not only that, but half of Palestine is on the beach watching this guy telling Peter what to do.

How would you feel? You’re a highly skilled technician repairing a glitz in a mainframe at a high-level corporation. Several VP’s are watching you in awe when suddenly a guy pushing a broom happens by and leans up against his broom and squints at the techno guts on the table. "Why, if you’d just connect that little knob-thingy to that gizmo over there, she’d purr like a kitten." Pride alone will keep you from attaching the little knob-thingy to the gizmo.

But whatever Peter may have thought, the pathos is captured in his statement, "we have worked hard all night and caught nothing." Have you had one of those fishless, sleepless, fitful nights or days or lives? One writer hints that Peter’s response maybe closer to us than we think . . .


Sobriety? "I’ve worked so hard to stay sober, but . . . "


Solvency? "My debt is an anvil around my neck . . . "


Faith? "I want to believe, but . . . "


Try again? But I’ve failed so often . . . "


Healing? "I’ve been sick so long . . . "


Happy marriage? "No matter what I do . . . "

"I’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But . . . "

" . . . But . . ."

Remarkably Simon finishes his version of it’s-been-a-hard-day’s-night with that amazing response, "But if you say so . . . " What on earth would prompt that kind of a response? Something about the good news that Jesus proclaims that hits a person like an adrenalin rush. Somewhere along the way what seem like merely words become the Word of God personally addressed to Peter. And when that happens-whether inside cathedral windows or out along the beach, God begins to transform discouragement into courage and doubt into hope. We’re not talking of a hope ratcheted up by fast music or heavy-handed emotion. We’re talking Good News about God’s Reign, inaugurated through the activities of Jesus.

So Peter lets down the nets-again. I’ll let one of America’s premier storytellers to fill in this part of the story.


Spotting treasures is easy for the one who hid them. Finding fish is simple for the God who made them. To Jesus, the Sea of Galilee is a dollar-store fishbowl on a kitchen cabinet.

Peter gives the net a swish, lets it slap, and watches it disappear . . . I like to think that Peter, while holding the net, looks over his shoulder at Jesus. And I like to think that Jesus, knowing Peter is about to be half yanked into the water, starts to smile . . . Rising cheeks render his eyes half-moons. A dash of white flashes beneath his whiskers. Jesus tries to hold it back but can’t . . .

Peter’s arm is yanked into the water. It’s all he can do to hang on until the other guys can help. Within moments the four fishermen and the carpenter are up to their knees in flopping silver. Peter lifts his eyes off the catch and onto the face of Christ. In that moment, for the first time, he sees Jesus. Not Jesus the Fish Finder. Not Jesus the Multitude Magnet. Not Jesus the Rabbi. Peter sees Jesus the Lord.

That’s what happens-given the license that our storyteller takes. Yet Luke clearly takes all of this time and energy-pans across the beach to show us the crowds, zooms in on Peter’s personal failure of a fishless night, then records the conversations, and closes with two fish-filled boats and three chagrined fishermen-all to bring us to the final words of Jesus. And that’s where the story ends and our story begins. Jesus says: "Don’t be afraid, from now on you’ll be catching people."

In the end, this is not a story about fishing at all. Not a story about turning our businesses over to Jesus so that they’ll be overwhelmingly successful. This isn’t even a story about Jesus’ preaching. It’s a story about one person’s experience in which God called them to a real, purpose-filled, life-long mission.

You’ll need to draw your own conclusions of what God may be speaking to you about in this story or where you are located within this story. But consider these closing thoughts about being a disciple:


The call to discipleship isn’t based on salary, acumen, or character-it’s based on God’s grace. God calls us not because we’re brilliant-much less successful-or clever. Peter wasn’t the brightest diamond around. Diamond-in-the-rough, yes. Brilliant, no. Yet Jesus called him. And so Jesus continues to call people not because they have distinguished themselves as extraordinary in character, qualifications, or potential. God enlists schlemiels as well as the brilliants!


The call to discipleship can happen anywhere, anytime. God doesn’t need an order of worship or altar to reach us or grow us. Some folks do hear God calling to them while are in a holy place like a worship service or small group or on a spiritual retreat. But God also walks on to the factory floor, into the cubicle, into lunch room, and along the shore. Remember, God has been known to climb into boats, bars, and brothels to tell folks, "It’s not too late."


The call to discipleship requires a reversal of priorities and a reordering of commitments. The disciples left everything and they followed him. What priorities will you have to shuffle as you take new steps in your journey with Jesus?

Fishers of men or "catching people," may be the best way to describe this story. For by story’s end we end up with fishermen who are fishless, a carpenter who makes fishless fishermen fruitful, and fishermen who get caught by a non-fishing carpenter who leads them into a lifetime fishing vocation-gathering men and women for the kingdom. Amen . . .

. . . Now let’s go catch us some fish.