Luke 5:1-11 CEB
One day Jesus was standing beside Lake Gennesaret when the crowd pressed in around him to hear God’s word. Jesus saw two boats sitting by the lake. The fishermen had gone ashore and were washing their nets. Jesus boarded one of the boats, the one that belonged to Simon, then asked him to row out a little distance from the shore. Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.”
Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”
So they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink. When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught. James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were Simon’s partners and they were amazed too.
Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.
Could you imagine that answering one question from some stranger you met on the shore of a lake would be enough to change the course of your whole life? This is exactly what happens to Peter on the shore of Lake Gennesaret in the gospel of Luke this morning. He went from being a fisherman to being a disciple of Christ and then onto being one of the major leaders of the early church. In most accounts of Peter’s call, Jesus finds him, calls him, and Peter follows. It is only here in Luke that we get this extended interaction between the two. We see firsthand what it means for God to enter into the uncertain waters of a relationship with us, and the risk that comes from answering and following Christ. For you see, Jesus did not just call Peter on the shores so long ago, Jesus continues to call out to each and every one of us, asking us a question, “Will you follow?” God puts everything on the hook to enter into a relationship with you and me, and in turn, we are asked to put everything on the hook for God. By entering into the risky waters of relationship, we move out of the routine and predictable and into the out-of-the-way places where God can be encountered and people are transformed.
In looking at our scripture reading for this morning, something caught my attention in a way that never had before. As I mentioned, in most of the gospels, Jesus calls, and Peter answers quickly, and they move forward in ministry. Here, we have this exchange. Peter and his crew are on the shores of Lake Gennesaret, otherwise known as the Sea of Galilee, cleaning their nets after an unsuccessful night of fishing. Jesus has been followed by huge crowds, and he hopes to speak to all of them. He goes onto Peter’s boat, and he asks a question. Jesus does not command here or simply tell Peter to put the boat out into the waters, he asks Peter if he will row the boat just a ways offshore so he can speak to the crowd. Peter and his crew had worked all night long, and they did not necessarily know Jesus. Peter could have said no, could have said not right now. Jesus puts himself out there on a limb and could be rejected. Now, we could say that Jesus being God, Jesus already knew how Peter would respond, but I think our response to God’s calling is still always our own. I think this is a situation where Peter could have gone either way and yet, he takes Jesus out into the waters as he has asked.
What’s more, Jesus follows up his question with an even riskier request. He says to Peter, “‘Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.’” Here again, Peter could have said no! Peter could have simply turned the boat around and rowed to shore. Jesus puts everything on the line again. Here in our scripture is a sign that depends upon Peter, a miracle that will not happen without Peter’s response. At first, there is even some hesitation from Peter, as he says, “‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing.’” However, he then turns around and continues, “‘But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.’” Again, Peter responds to Jesus by agreeing to follow. Here, he drops his nets, and the catch is so overflowing that it threatens to break his vessel to pieces, so he has to call over another boat to help take in the catch!
Now, I have a thought here, I am asking you all to take a risk with me in exploring this. Okay, throughout our story so far this morning, Jesus has asked Peter a question or posed a request to him that is outside what is routine and predictable for him. First, he is following his routine of cleaning his nets, getting his boat stowed and ready after a long night of unsuccessful fishing. He gets asked to leave his routine behind to do something new by taking Jesus out onto the waters. Again, Jesus asks Peter to put down his nets, and Peter points out the predictable: no fish were caught earlier, so why should fish be caught now? Even his boat is built to hold what he expects and what is routine for him to catch. For instance, if you went out to catch some trout, bass, or perch, you would not be prepared to handle something outside of the norm like fishing in freshwater and catching something like a marlin. Instead, each time Peter has responded, it has moved him further outside of the routine and predictable. Now, he catches more than his expectation can bear!
It is finally here that Peter must turn to God, in Jesus, to say, “‘Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!’” I mean Peter heard Jesus preach well enough to show deference to him by calling him “Master,” but now he acknowledges that Jesus is greater than this by calling him “Lord!” Finally, after all this, Jesus makes one final request. He offers Peter, who has asked Jesus to go away because he is not worthy, to come and follow him and fish in the deep and unpredictable waters of people. Again, Peter could have run for the hills! Peter could have turned this down, but we are told that Peter left everything. He left behind his boats. He left behind the huge catch that would have made any fisherman’s day to go and follow Jesus. He takes another risk, and he will be eventually called “this rock [upon which] I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18 NRSV). Jesus takes a risk with Peter three times in our story this morning, and three times, Peter agrees to take the risk to follow Christ.
I find it inspiring this morning to realize that God asks us a question, inviting our response. We are not machines, lacking the ability to offer up a free response. We are not predictable. If Christ knew Peter’s response that day on the lakeshore, he would not have had to ask the question, he could have simply told Peter to take the boat out. Instead, God made us capable of responding, of saying no and saying yes. Even though we may throw God’s risk at a relationship in the divine’s face and go our own way, again and again, God moves to be in a relationship with us. We may agree to follow as Peter did on the shore, we may also reject God as Peter later did at the cross. God risked a relationship with us through Christ, even though we beat and insulted and nailed Jesus to a tree. God keeps risking that relationship today. We might like to think that we will know how we will respond, but I do not think we do until God asks the question, “Will you come and follow me?” Will we give up what is routine? Will we give up what is predictable?
Our scripture today points out the risky nature of relationships, and how we are all called by God into new depths and new challenges for our mission and ministry as a church. Relationships are not predictable. Peter did not know where this relationship with Christ would lead. We do not know where our relationship with God will lead. However, I think we can be certain that it will be outside the routine, the ordinary, and the norm. It will be in the wild and uncomfortable places of life. It will be in the depths. I think this even applies to our church lives today. Too often we can fall into a routine here in the church. We do the same things in and out, even in the face of new challenges. For instance, one challenge we have seen in recent years is how our culture has experienced a rise of a different class of people who see themselves as agnostic and without any religious faith at all. They are not even atheists, just not ascribing to anything. About 30% of our population, even here in Hot Springs County sees themselves this way. In addition, Church attendance has been going down for the past sixty years. Less young people are involved, and our churches are getting smaller and older. Any one of these, we may see as concerning or even a sign of the decline of our culture, but I see it as an opportunity!
Jesus calls us into waters where we might say there is no hope! We say we have tried and failed, but do we then go on to say we will try again through Christ? The waters there are risky because we will not be able to rely upon the predictable and routine. We will not be able to go out in boats that only hold what we expect. We must go out and try new things and pursue new depths! You see, the way the church has been is not answering the needs, it is not hitting the depths of the people around us. Right here in Hot Springs County, people who are not part of a faith community were asked why they were not part of one, and the answer they gave is “religious people are too judgemental.” Those inside our religious communities also gave a reason for why they have considered leaving these communities, and that reason is “[they] didn’t feel welcome or useful.” Both of these are relational. The ways in which we have gone about relationships have led to these views, so the way we have done things is not enough. Both of these involve a risk, of leaving behind the routine and the expected to do something different, to leave behind everything we know and follow Christ.
We enter into the risky waters of relationships with others because God continually enters into the risky depths of relationship with all of us. God promises to go with us into the depths if we are willing to follow, and God will continue to do things through us for good, but unfortunately, it will not be while preserving our own comfort. You see, whenever we enter a relationship with new people, we do not know how we will be received, but are we still willing to try? Our riskiest ask from God is to be willing to put Christ at our center, like the hub on a wheel, that turns all the spokes of our lives. Christ in turn will make us fishers, not of the things we expect but of the out-of-the-way and unpredictable people beloved by our God. Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman