Sermon for Sunday, 6 February 2022 Epiphany 5
Isaiah 6: 1–8 and Luke 5:1–11
By Revd George Mwaura
The kind of people God chooses!
There are many stories in the New Testament about people who are called to serve God and follow Jesus. Of all those stories, today’s narrative makes the most sense to me.
Remember the story about Paul? He was persecuting the Church, dragging Christians out of their houses and condemning them to death. Then one day, en-route to Damascus, he saw The Light, and it knocked him off his horse and he became a convert. It is hard to relate to such a dramatic conversion, but there it is.
Remember also the story about Matthew the tax collector? One day he was in his office minding his books and then suddenly, Jesus looked at him, and said, ‘Follow me.’ Matthew did not take time to think about it; he simply stood and followed. It is difficult to understand such an abrupt decision, but there it is.
Alternatively, consider the story of Nathanael. His brother Philip told him about Jesus. It sounded interesting until Philip said, ‘Oh, by the way, he’s from Nazareth!’ ‘Wow, wow, hold on there, brother,’ Nathanael said, ‘Can anything good come out of that backward village?’ Nathanael’s attitude towards Nazareth and its inhabitants perhaps reflects local antagonism and is not to be discounted. His response, however, is a reaction to the idea of a prophet emerging from Nazareth, since Nazareth is not mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures. Just then, Jesus said, ‘I saw you under a fig tree before Philip called you, you know!’ Suddenly Nathanael began to state a very complicated Christological formulation. He said, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God, the King of Israel!’ It is curious to hear about such instant orthodoxy, but there it is.
However, the call of Simon Peter; well, that story is far more plausible. The way Luke tells it, Simon was not sure that he fit into the whole Jesus business anyway. It took some time for him to figure it out, and even then, he still had some misgivings. Did you hear what he said in our reading? ‘Get away from me, Lord. I am not a good enough person for you!’ If you listen to the Gospels of Matthew or Mark, the story is much shorter. Jesus said, ‘Come, follow me!’ Immediately Simon Peter dropped his net on the sand and off he went. No questions in his heart; no doubts in his mind; no inner conflict; no sense of inadequacy: just immediate obedience.
But as Luke tells the story, it sounds like it could have happened to you or to me. By the time Jesus gets to the beach in chapter 5, he had already been to Simon Peter’s house. He went there and healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus touched her hands and head and the fever left her. Immediately she got up and made them some soup. Sometime later, Jesus went down by the lake to preach. But there were far too many people pressing up against him. So he climbed into Simon Peters boat, pushed out from shore, and began to teach. When he finished speaking, they pushed themselves further still into deep water. Jesus then offered them some fishing advice that sounded dubious and Simon Peter said as much. Nevertheless, Jesus insisted, and so they threw in their nets and the catch was unbelievable! Fish began to swim into the nets and jump into the boat. There were so many fish; the boat began to sink with Jesus still in it and they had to call for back-up.
At this point, Peter fell on his knees, absolutely overwhelmed and said; ‘Get away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ If you ask me, that is a story I can relate to. It is not particularly dramatic, abrupt, or instant. Instead, it is time consuming, and unfinished. At the moment when Simon Peter nets the catch of the century, he wants to push away the One who catches both fish and men. And who can blame him? Over the years, the church has manufactured its own mythology about the first disciples. We have spun tales about their grounded faith and their perfect understanding. We want to believe that they had their collective act together. We want to affirm them as competent and capable, always knowing the correct answer to any question or the perfect solution to any problem!
Well, guess what: nothing could be further from the truth! The twelve disciples were ordinary people, like you and me. I do not know about you, but that makes me feel a whole lot better. Following Christ is difficult enough in our world today. It is even harder when you are a leader under the scrutiny of others, with demands put on you to lead God’s struggling church! Who among us is qualified to lead, let alone follow? Who among us is righteous enough? None, no one! Folks, read your Bible carefully. All kinds of people have initially told God they were inadequate. Abraham said, ‘I am too old.’ Jeremiah said, ‘I am too young.’ Moses said, ‘I do not talk so good.’ Mary said, ‘I am only a woman.’ When Simon Peter pulled in the greatest catch of his career, he said; ‘Lord, get out of here. I am not good enough to have you in my boat.’ Simon Peter stands in an old biblical tradition of people who thought they were not up to the task. What about you: are you up to the task?
These days, the church still squabbles about who is good enough to serve the Lord. When that happens, may I suggest you read the Bible. None of us is good enough, but God wants us anyway. That is not to say the work is easy: far from it! Jesus said, ‘I want to invite you to go fishing for men.’ In the Bible, going fishing is a metaphor for doing God’s work. When Jesus says to us, ‘Go, fish,’ he means we should go and gather in as many disciples as we can, so that God alone can sort out what to keep and what to throw back.
For our part, we are called to throw out the net as far as we can, and then see what happens. And so, the first word Christ speaks to our fearful hearts and minds is. ‘Do not be afraid!’ Jesus knows that we can be overwhelmed by all the problems we face and be limited by the challenges we encounter. Yet he says to us, ‘Do not be afraid! It is my call, it is my work, and it is my miracles.’ The invitation to go fish does not begin or end with us; oh no! The One who calls us surely knows that he only has imperfect people to call. Our task is simply to decide if we are going to get out of the boat once we land on shore and follow him. None of us is ever good enough, but God is good enough all the time. And that’s where we must start and finish.