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, theres 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
todays setting. Instead of pews, were pushing sand between our toes and
fighting off the gnats. Luke brings us to an outdoor setting right at shores 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 wouldnt
be surprised but what theyd 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 waters 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.
Hes 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
doesnt say, but judging from whats 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, "lets go get us some
fish." Not exactly what most preachers would say. Wed 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 sermons end than in what Jesus suggested in this story. His is proactive
and immediate: "lets get some fish," literally, "Simon, launch out
into the deep and let down your nets for a catch" (v. 4).
Peters 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
dont even want to see it. Now theyve got to go back and clean all of the
water-logged sandals and cans and algae thats 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 shores edge, cleaning their nets.
"Hey, Simon, let down your nets over here-on the deep side!" Whats
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 dont listen to, seek, or value advice when they dont 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? Youre a highly skilled technician repairing a glitz in a
mainframe at a high-level corporation. Several VPs 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 youd just connect that little
knob-thingy to that gizmo over there, shed 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 Peters response
maybe closer to us than we think . . .
Sobriety? "Ive 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 Ive failed so often . . . "
Healing? "Ive been sick so long . . . "
Happy marriage? "No matter what I do . . . "
"Ive worked hard all night and caught nothing. But . . . "
" . . . But . . ."
Remarkably Simon finishes his version of its-been-a-hard-days-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. Were not talking of a hope ratcheted up by fast music
or heavy-handed emotion. Were talking Good News about Gods Reign, inaugurated
through the activities of Jesus.
So Peter lets down the nets-again. Ill let one of Americas 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
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 cant . . .
Peters arm is yanked into the water. Its 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.
Thats 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
Peters 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 thats where the story ends and our story begins. Jesus
says: "Dont be afraid, from now on youll 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 theyll be overwhelmingly successful. This
isnt even a story about Jesus preaching. Its a story about one
persons experience in which God called them to a real, purpose-filled, life-long
Youll 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 isnt based on salary, acumen, or character-its
based on Gods grace. God calls us not because were brilliant-much less
successful-or clever. Peter wasnt 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 doesnt 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, "Its 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 storys 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 lets go catch us some fish.