Into the Deep – January 29, 2012
Psalm 130, Luke 5:1-11
January 29, 2012
I should start this sermon with the musical theme to “Jaws.” You may not have seen that movie, but I’ll bet you know the music!!! I actually had that as the “ring tone” on my phone once. “Daaaa dun…” It was totally fun! I kept looking around for sharks!!
Well, this story from Luke is also a big “fish story!” This is about the disciples – or I should say the “would-be disciples,” because they weren’t disciples yet – casting their nets “into the deep.” And I think that’s also a wonderful metaphor for them “going deeper” in their relationship with this Jesus and in their involvement in his ministry. That’s certainly part of the lesson Jesus was teaching that day.
This is actually Luke’s version of the call of the fishermen. And if you know that story as it’s found in the other Gospels, you know that Luke “fleshes it out” more than the others. I think it’s always interesting to see which Gospel writer fleshes out which story. It’s usually John that gives us more, sometimes Matthew. But here it’s definitely Luke. The “short version” of this story is found in Matthew 4 and Mark 1. In those “accounts,” Jesus sees the fishermen and simply calls them. He says, “Follow me and I will make you fisher’s of men!” (Remember the song?)
Well, here in Luke we get more of the story. Here we have Jesus telling the men to put out into deeper water, where they catch all these fish. And then he tells them to follow. And before I go any further, I’d like to remind you of a similar story. And it’s found in John’s Gospel.
This story comes at the end of Jesus’ life, and it’s actually a post resurrection story. The disciples are fishing, and Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. They catch a huge number of fish, and they then know it’s the Lord. And that’s probably because they recalled this story from the time Jesus called them to be disciples. They may even have been “shamed” at that moment, because they appeared to be returning to “life as it was before Jesus.” They would have remembered immediately this other “fish story” which we read today! I want you to think of them thinking of this story, as I recall it for you.
Jesus meets the fishermen by Lake Gennesaret. Now, just to relieve the confusion about that, Lake Gennesaret is pretty much accepted to be the same as the Sea of Galilee. I don’t know the history of those different names. Feel free to Google it sometime and let me know. (And you know you will!) But we’re talking about that little body of water north of the Dead Sea. We’re talking about the “dot” on the “i” of the dead sea, connected by the river Jordan. Remember also that Galilee has now become the home base for Jesus during his ministry. And as we mentioned before, his adopted “home town” was Capernaum, which was located on the shore of that lake. (I hope you’re taking notes! There’s going to be a quiz on this next period!)
So, these guys had been fishing all night. And they were apparently fishermen of my caliber, because they had caught nothing! As Jesus approaches, they’re back on shore, washing their nets. And this is one of the places where we have to remember “Jesus the rock star.” Because there are so many people around him, he has to sit in a boat off shore to speak to them. Do you remember those images I asked you to tweak?
Well, when he has finished speaking, he turns to the fishermen, and specifically Simon, the owner of the boats, and he says, “put out into the deep and let down your nets.” Well Simon says, “No. We toiled all night and caught nothing.” And I’m betting his answer was more “gritty” than that! “Besides,” he said, “we just washed our nets and rolled them all up and put them away.” “There’s nothing out there, and we’re not going to all that trouble for nothing.” “Besides, what do you know about it?” “We’re the fishermen here!”
Now, I hope you can imagine all those thoughts. Because these men had very legitimate, logical objections to Jesus’ request. And let me ask you this. Do we ever have perfectly legitimate, logical reasons not to do what Jesus calls us to do? Think about that!
Well, objections or not, they haul out the nets, put down the oars, and head out onto the lake. And of course, this huge crowd is still watching them! Don’t forget them! There’s no verse three and a half here that says, “And then the crowds all went home.” It simply says, “When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon…” I actually Googled this passage, and I found “Google Images” – works of art depicting this scene. And I was amazed that most of them didn’t show the crowds. But I think there’s no doubt they were there! And this was as much a teaching moment for them as it was for these soon-to-be disciples. So, what do you think the crowds were saying? What would you be saying? “What’s gonna happen now?” “Will these guys catch something just because this ‘Jesus guy’ said? Or will they look like fools?!” And do you think the fishermen, rowing back out onto the lake, felt like fools?
Sometimes, one of the hardest things we have to do in seeking God’s will is get ourselves out of the way. And that can be very hard, can’t it? Especially when we think we’re right about something! Have you ever felt yourself led by God to do something, to take some kind of action, and it didn’t make sense to you, something that every logical bone in your body was protesting against? And I’m not just talking about something that’s outside your “comfort zone.” That can be hard enough! I’m talking about something that is beyond your understanding of success or even feasibility!
I hope you can appreciate this moment for these fishermen. “Put out into the deep,” Jesus said. It made no sense to them. There’s no doubt of that from what they said. They knew there were no fish out there! They may well have felt, not just foolish, but very foolish getting back in their boats and rowing out there – again, with all those people watching. And it may have been that they, and all those people, thought at that moment that Jesus was the foolish one! Ever think about that?
Well, with all that in mind, remember what happens. They don’t just catch some fish. They catch a whole lot of fish! They literally catch a “boatload” of fish. And then look at Simon’s response. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” At that moment he was painfully aware of his reluctance to do as Jesus said! He realized that his pride as a fisherman, and “knowing his trade better than this carpenter” had gotten in the way! That would often happen with Peter. How often does it happen to us?
At any rate, Jesus then completes the accounts of Matthew and Mark by saying, “Don’t worry, now you will be ‘fishers of men.’” And they pulled their boats up onto the shore, left everything, and followed Jesus. And the other Gospels tell us that even meant leaving their father!
As you think about all this, I’d also like you to think again about this metaphor I started with. Jesus is telling his soon-to-be disciples, and the crowds, that they had to go deeper. And in the end, that’s what these men did. They went deeper in their relationship with him. And I know we think “Sure, they were the disciples!” But it doesn’t matter. They were no different than any of us! And I think Jesus is always calling us to go deeper in our lives of faith, too.
So let me ask you the question I’ve asked before. How many people in how many churches live a life of faith in the “shallows?” How many are only interested in “doing the minimum” of faith? How many want to (or fall into the habit of) spending the least amount of time they can, giving the minimum of their resources, and putting the least effort into developing their relationship with God?
That’s true of too many people, isn’t it? Too many people live their faith as though doing the least, just “covering their bases so they can get into heaven,” is all that matters. But Jesus is always about more than that! Jesus is always about the relationship with God he came to restore. Jesus is always about going deeper.
I’ll never forget the preacher I once heard who asked, “Why did Jesus come to earth?” And we all answered by saying some form of “To save us from our sins so that we can be with God for all eternity.” And he said, “That’s great. That’s very orthodox. But it’s not why Jesus said he came.” I remember we were all kind of shocked. But he continued, saying, “Yes, salvation is wonderful, don’t get me wrong. And Jesus’ work on the cross is so important.” “But, what did Jesus say about why he came?” “He said, ‘I have come that(?) you may have life and have it more abundantly.’” “Your answers are mostly about the next life. Jesus taught us about this life!” “Jesus came, not so much to teach us how do die, but to teach us how to live!”
And he was right. And I’ve thought about that ever since! Yes, all that about salvation and “heaven after we die” is great. But that’s just a benefit of Jesus coming into our lives. He’s really about teaching us how to live abundantly, to love sacrificially, and to work for the reconciliation of the world. That’s what he calls all his people to do! And that means “putting out into the deep.”
So I ask you, is Jesus calling you to “put out into the deep?” Is he asking you to “go deeper” in your faith and devotion to him? (By the way, those are rhetorical questions. I know he is!) So, what is your answer to him?
Lord, you call us, and sometimes it’s hard for us to answer. You ask for us to go deeper, and sometimes it hard for us to obey. Help us to have the strength and the joy we need to follow you. Help us to learn from you, and to have faith to hear and obey, no matter what our will might be. These things we pray in the name of Jesus, our Savior and Lord, Amen.