Scriptures: Luke 5:1-11; Isaiah 6:1-8
In 2013 I got to go fishing on the Sea of Galilee, what Luke calls the Lake of Gennesaret. [Slide 1] This is the Sea of Galilee taken from near Capernaum, not far from what is thought to be the ruins of Peter’s house. It was a fairly nice day but as you notice there are no fishing boats out. There is still fishing on the Sea of Galilee, but all the real fishing is done at night, when the fish are feeding and therefore closer to the surface. The only people who fish in the daytime are tourists. [Slide 2] During the day tour companies take boat loads of tourists out on the lake and do fishing demonstrations. So we took one. The fisherman on our boat did an impressive demonstration of how to cast a net. [Slide 3] It takes skill and practice to cast one of these nets in a wide circle out on the water, let it sink, and then draw it in, hopefully with some fish. But that day we caught no fish, which only reinforces the point. The only people who go fishing during the day are ignorant tourists. [Slide 4]
Which brings me to Luke, chapter 5. [Slide 5: Blank] Verse 2 says, “He saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.” They are washing their nets because they just got in from fishing. They had been fishing all night and caught nothing. Which immediately tell us two things about Jesus’ audience: 1) they are tired and 2) they are hungry. Tired and hungry are not the optimum conditions for listening to a sermon.
Once in Spokane I found a bulletin that had been left in the pew rack after worship. It had a note on it which said, "Dad wants to know what's for lunch." I wonder if people wrote notes like that when Jesus was preaching. Maybe they did. The fishermen that day were certainly wondering what they were going to have for lunch, maybe even how they were going to pay their bills.
That's when Jesus tells Simon Peter to go fishing again. As I said, only a tourist would ask to go out fishing on the Sea of Galilee in the middle of the day. Peter points this out. He says to Jesus, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing." If the fishing is bad at night, how can you expect to catch anything during the day?
But then Peter shows us what it means to be a disciple. He says, "Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." Peter may have doubts about Jesus, but he is willing to follow him anyway. That, friends, is what faith means. The true test of faith is not in how convinced you are that your prayers will be answered; it’s your willingness to pray anyway. The key to being a follower of Jesus is not whether you have all your questions answered and all your doubts resolved; it’s whether you are willing to follow him anyway and see what happens.
Despite his doubts, Peter puts his newly washed nets back in the boat, sails out into the lake, and lets them down into the water. And bam!--he gets so many fish he can't pull them in. He has to signal his partners in the other boat to come help.
At that point a change takes place in Peter. Suddenly Peter no longer doubts Jesus; he doubts himself. He says to Jesus, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."
Isaiah had the same reaction in our first scripture reading. Seeing God’s majesty in the temple, Isaiah says, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”
Some people turn away from God because they doubt God. But many people turn away from God because they doubt themselves. They see themselves as hopeless—people for whom God would never have any use. Peter is thinking, "I'm not good enough for Jesus. Jesus can't possibly accomplish anything through someone like me."
Want to bet? Jesus says to Peter, “Don’t worry, from now on you will be catching people." And once again, whether he believed in him or not, Peter and his coworkers decide to give Jesus a try. The last verse says, "When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him."
This isn’t a story about fishing. This is a story about what can happen when you commit your life to Jesus Christ. Peter started out fishing, and ended up changing the lives of people.
It reminds me of Kay Doyle’s story. She started out raising cats and ended up helping people half way around the world with their mobility.
I think also of Cliff Avril, the defensive lineman for the Seahawks. At the beginning of the season Cliff Avril decided that for every sack he got of an opposing quarterback he was going to build a house for a family in Haiti. So what happened? He got 11 and ½ sacks this year, the most in his career. So he is building 11 and ½ houses in Haiti this year, and hopefully hitting up his teammates for the other ½ of a house. The Seahawks may have lost this year, but the people of Haiti didn’t, and neither did Cliff Avril.
Which brings me to another point in this story. Cliff Avril did not build those houses alone, nor did Kay build those Personal Energy Transports by herself. Catching fish for Jesus is not something we do alone. If you remember, Peter called to the others to help him bring in the catch, and they did. That is an important detail. You are not alone in trying to share your faith with others. You are not alone in trying to share God’s love. But you are a vital part of the story. Because Jesus wants to use your boat. That’s what this story is telling us. Jesus wants to use your relationships, your experiences, your particular gifts and personality as instruments for making a difference in people’s lives. And when you let him, you will be surprised by what God can do.
I realize how hard this is and how sometimes discouraging. Sometimes it feels like you fish all night and get nothing.
There was a legend about a preacher in the early church named St. Anthony of Padua. According to the legend St. Anthony went to the church one Sunday to preach, and no one showed up. During seminary I once did a chapel service at the hospital and only one person showed up. And he told me he might have to leave. So I identify with St. Anthony. One day St. Anthony went to church and no one showed up, so he left the church and went to the shore to preach to the fish. And all the fish came. Later Gustav Mahler wrote a song about this story called “St. Anthony’s Sermon to the Fish.” The song translated from the German goes like this:
St. Anthony arrives for his sermon and finds the church empty.
He goes to the rivers to preach to the fishes.
They flick their tails, which glisten in the sunshine.
The carp with the roe have all come here,
Their mouths wide open, listening attentively.
No sermon ever pleased the carp so.
Sharp-mouthed pike that are always fighting,
Have come here, swimming hurriedly to hear this pious one.
No sermon ever pleased the pike so. …
Good eels and sturgeons that banquet so elegantly—
Even they took the trouble to hear the sermon.
No sermon ever pleased the eels so.
Crabs too, and turtles, usually such slowpokes,
Rise quickly from the bottom to hear this voice.
No sermon ever pleased the crabs so. …
The sermon having ended, each turns himself around;
The pikes remain thieves, the eels great lovers.
The sermon has pleased them, but they remain the same as before.
The crabs still walk backwards, the stockfish stay rotund,
The carps still stuff themselves,
The sermon is forgotten!
The sermon has pleased them, but they remain the same as before.
Mahler knows how to make a pastor feel depressed. But it’s not just pastors. Everyone who has ever tried to share their faith with others—parents, Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, neighbors, friends, spouses—everyone who has ever tried to share their faith with someone has experienced this: fishing all night and catching nothing.
That’s why this story in Luke 5 is so important. Don’t be afraid, and don’t give up. You may feel inadequate, but God is in the business of using inadequate people. Just ask Peter. Just ask Isaiah. God in fact seems to relish using inadequate people. So if you feel inadequate, if you feel unworthy, if you feel like giving up, you are in good company. Get in the boat and keep fishing.