Luke 5:1-11, 18:28-30
In this season of Epiphany we are exploring some of the stories in the gospel of Luke about the early ministry of Jesus. These are the stories that begin to reveal to us who Jesus is. Instead of just making doctrinal statements, Luke tells stories to help us not only learn the facts but feel the power of who Jesus was and what he came to do.
The first week we talked about how John the Baptist presents Jesus as the Affirming Judge. Humans seem to be able to judge each other OR affirm each other, but Jesus can do both. He can clearly tell us how our actions need to change without making us feel like there’s something intrinsically wrong with us. He can correct us without shaming us.
Last week the Holy Spirit rewrote my sermon at the last minute. But what I wanted to share with you is how Jesus announces God’s release for everyone. By tapping into the beautiful poetic prophetic promises of the Old Testament, Jesus declares that God is renewing creation, releasing us from the burdens that sin causes in the world. Release is an hugely important image in this book. It means physical healing, relieving debt, being freed from demonic oppression, and especially forgiveness. But in order to receive God’s release, we have to release things that we are clinging to, and not everyone will choose to do that. The gospel of Luke makes that point over and over again. Being released requires releasing, but that’s a choice we have to make for ourselves.
This week we are going to read the story of Jesus calling his first disciples in which we will see that Jesus is the Fisher of Friends. For years we have sung that Jesus makes us fishers of men if we follow him. But once we see how Jesus also deliberately includes women into his inner circle and even relies on them, it seems much more welcoming to say “Fisher of Friends.” And in order to know and feel what’s happening in this story we are going to talk about risk, release, and reward.
Last week we read the story where Jesus goes to his hometown of Nazareth to make his inaugural address and officially kick off his ministry. After his neighbors run him out of town, he heads to the nearby city of Capernaum and begins to teach in their synagogue. While he’s there in the synagogue, he meets a man being oppressed by a demon. Jesus rebukes the demon and it comes out of the man. After he leaves the synagogue and goes to the home of a man named Simon. Remember that name. Simon’s mother in law is gravely ill with a high fever. Jesus rebukes the fever, just like he rebuked the demon, and the story says that the fever “released” her.
These two actions get him a lot of attention and people begin to bring their sick and oppressed loved ones to him for release. In fact he gets quite a following, which sets the stage for this morning’s story. This is Luke chapter, 5, verses 1 through 11.
Once when Jesus was standing on the shore of Lake Galilee, the crowd was pushing in on him to better hear the Word of God. He noticed two boats tied up. The fishermen had just left them and were out scrubbing their nets. He climbed into the boat that was Simon’s, whose mother-in-law he had healed, and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Sitting there, using the boat for a pulpit, he taught the crowd.
When Jesus finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.”
Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.
When Simon Peter saw it, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
(When they pulled in that catch of fish, awe overwhelmed Simon and everyone with him, including his partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee.)
Jesus said to Simon, “Fear not. From now on you’ll be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything, and followed him.Luke 5:1-11
This is the Word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
This morning as we reflect on this story I invite you to consider how following Jesus involves risk, release, and reward. Remember that Luke wrote this book, compiled these stories, probably 60 years after they first happened. Which means that everything we read has to be considered through the lens of what came after. It was the same for Luke’s first readers. As they read the story of Jesus calling his first followers, they already knew what risks and what rewards awaited those disciples. They read this story and immediately thought of the risks and rewards they had experienced when following Jesus. Just like you do today. For those of you who already consider yourself to be followers of Jesus, you hear this story today and you know already what it has cost you to follow Jesus. And you know already the rewards you have received from following Jesus. As we reflect on this story this morning, please don’t just let it be about Simon and James and John, let it be about you.
Imagine Jesus came to you on that beach. You already know him because a few days ago he was the guest preacher at your church. He came to your house for lunch and while there, he healed your mother-in-law. Now here he is on the beach, in the morning, where you are cleaning the tools of your trade, tired and discouraged because you’ve worked a whole shift, a whole night and you’ve accomplished nothing. But this guy did something special for your family and there’s something about him. So you drag yourself to your feet, push your boat a little ways out from the shore and then lie down on your back in the boat to rest as he speaks a message of God’s grace and goodness to the people on the shore. His words wash over you as the little waves gently rock the boat.
And just when you’re almost asleep, he’s done speaking and he says to you, “Take the boat to the deep water and let down the nets for a catch.” Risk. Push out into the deep water. That phrase strikes you because as a professional fisher-person you don’t say it like that. “The deep water.” That sounds mysterious. It reminds you of Genesis 1 where the Spirit of God was hovering over the deep water. The deep water is a symbol for chaos. The deep water is dangerous. There are monsters in the deep water. And yet … The deep water is also where the fish are. You know you won’t catch much in the 5 or 6 feet of water where the boat is now. You have to go to the deep water. The place of greatest uncertainty is the place of greatest possibility. If you want the reward, you have to take the risk.
And so you do. In your professional opinion, this isn’t going to net you much. You know your trade way better than Jesus does, and you’ve already worked as hard as you could and have nothing to show for it. But there’s something about this man: his words, his healing, his caring. His … something. You’re intrigued. He’s already proven himself to you once by healing your mother-in-law, and so you trust him. “Because you say so, I’ll let down the nets. Because you say so, I’ll go into the deep water. Because you say so, Jesus, I’ll take the risk.”
The reward is almost instantaneous. The place you worked all night, that yielded nothing, is now about to overwhelm you with abundance. You shout for help and your business partners come as fast as they can. You took the risk and there’s not only enough for you but also enough for them, and more. This day that started off with worry about keeping your job ends with more job security than you’ve ever had. You took the risk, and look at the reward.
But how do you react to this? When faced with the cosmic mystery of blessing, when you receive more than you know what to do with? What washes over you is not joy or gratitude or relief, but shame. When experiencing the abundance of God’s loving provision, your response is, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man. I am a sinful woman. I’m not worthy.”
Because you know you. You’re not an ax murderer. But you sure didn’t earn that abundant catch of fish. You know that every day you sin against God and others in what you have done and in what you have left undone. You remember the insults and the slights you’ve received, and you simultaneously believe them and hate the people who said them. You’ve let your sin infect your identity. No matter what you do, you don’t feel good enough. No matter how hard you work you don’t feel worthy. You don’t deserve this. You sense the divine presence, a thin place, a moment of holy mystery and you think you don’t belong there. “Go away from me Lord. I am a sinner.”
But he doesn’t. Because he knows you. He knows you’re not the smartest, or the coolest, or the best looking. He knows you’re gonna fail. He knows one day you’re gonna abandon him when he needs you the most. And still he says to you, “Fear not.” Don’t be afraid. I choose you. I’m picking you first for my team. I have great work for you to do. I am offering you the most rewarding job you’ll ever have. You’re gonna have to trust me enough to risk pushing into deep waters over and over. But the reward will be out of this world.
And so you release. You pull the boats up on shore, hand the keys to the 12-year-old kid who scrubs the hulls, and follow Jesus. You leave everything. The story says you “release” everything. Because being released requires releasing. Sometimes it means releasing bad things like resentment and racism and shame. But sometimes it means releasing good things like security and wealth and even relationships. Sometimes we are clinging so hard to things we think are good that we can’t see how something else might be even better. We want to be released, but we are afraid to do the releasing. To this Jesus says, “Fear not.” It will be worth it.
Leaving everything, releasing your identity and security is a big deal. A few months later, one day you overhear a conversation between Jesus and a really rich guy, a young wolf of Wall Street, who’s looking for something deeper. He asks Jesus how he can inherit eternal life, how to find his way into a mode of life that transcends this daily grind. Jesus tells him to release everything, to redistribute all his wealth and come follow Jesus, like you have. Which is not what this young man wants to hear. Nor do the people around him. They don’t want to be released from their wealth, their security. If that’s what it takes to enter the Kingdom of God, to be part of revealing the renewed creation, then how could anyone do it? The bar is too high. Jesus agrees. For us, the bar is too high. We’ll never do it on our own. But we can with God’s help.
And suddenly you wonder if you’ve really done the right thing.
You ask, “We left everything we owned and followed you, didn’t we?” We have taken and continue to take the biggest risk. We’re in the deep water. But is it worth it?
“Yes,” says Jesus, “and you won’t regret it. No one who has sacrificed home, spouse, brothers and sisters, parents, children—whatever—will lose out. It will all come back multiplied many times over in your lifetime. And then the bonus of eternal life, the life that lasts, the life that transcends this daily grind.” (Luke 18:28-30)
You’ve taken the risk. You’ve released the things that God has asked you to release. And you will receive the reward. Not because you deserve it. Not because you earn it. Not because it’s a transaction in which you take a risk for Jesus and he pays you with a bigger house. But just because that’s how the Kingdom works. The deep water of is a place of great uncertainty. It’s a risk to go there. You can’t get there grasping things that make you feel secure. You have to release them and trust Jesus. But when you do, you find that the deep water is the place of great possibility. Jesus will take you there. If you follow him, you will find the significance you crave, the life of meaning that your soul longs for. You will find your work in revealing the renewed creation. So risk. Release. And receive the reward. Amen.