Sermon preached February 7, 2010
Texts: Luke 5:1-11
Awhile back I was leading a meeting, and we had been discussing some issue or another and we had gotten to a place where it seemed like we just needed more time. So I said to the group, “Why don’t we put a pin in it?” By that I meant, let’s remember what we have discussed and come back to it later. No one had ever heard that expression before, and I got these blank looks staring back at me. I had to explain what I meant, and most were relieved. Some thought that I meant – “stick a pin in it” which has a whole different meaning. When you stick a pin in something the image is of popping a balloon – the idea dies.
It was an interesting reminder that images aren’t universal, nor do images keep their meaning over time. A figure of speech can fail to connect with others , and figures of speech can become outdated. As I was thinking about this, I wondered if even now someone listening to the old Turtles’ song “Happy Together” might be confused by the line – “if I should call you up invest a dime.” I can imagine people asking, “What does it mean to invest a dime?”
All this is mere introduction to a confession. I confess that I have never liked the image Jesus uses in this passage from Luke. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” I like the “do not be afraid” part. It is amazing how often we come across that phrase in the Bible, but that is an upcoming sermon. I have never warmed up to the fishing for people image. I remember the song we learned in Sunday School, “I will make you fishers of men.” Didn’t really like it then. Maybe this image has outlived its usefulness? Maybe it is time not just to put a pin in it put to stick a pin in it!
Yet I can give up this image and this passage from Luke still speaks powerfully to me about reaching out, about good news, about, dare I say it, “evangelism.” But many of us associate “evangelism” with fishing for people; in fact, the word for many of us conjures up an image of “trolling through ice.” So I am willing to let go of that word if I need to. I would rather put a pin in it and come back to it later, but I am not going to push that.
The basic reality is that we as Christians, we who have been touched by God’s love in Jesus Christ, we who seek to live out that love in our lives day after day, we who have said “yes” to God’s invitation to new life, we who have experienced God’s grace - - - we have good news to share.
Here’s good news – look what happens when Jesus shows up. Let me tell the story again using The Cotton Patch Version. Jesus does some teaching from a boat, then turns to Simon and says, “Go out where it’s deep , and let down your nets for a haul.” Simon answered, “Mister, we’ve worked our heads off all night long and haven’t caught a thing; but if you say so, I’ll put out the nets.” They did, and they caught such a slew of fish that their nets started bursting.
Look what happens when Jesus shows up – wonderful things, marvelous things, unexpected things. A few days ago I wrote something in a journal. One of the lessons of age, that we can survive life’s disappointments, and that there are many more of them than we might have imagined. Okay, so it may not have been the cheeriest thought I have ever thought, but I think it is true. When I was a youth pastor, one of the best things I could do for my youth was to assure them that the current disappointment wasn’t the end of the world. The fact that this boy or this girl did not ask them out was not a sign of the apocalypse. One zit does not make you the creature from the black lagoon. I hope I have been able to do that as a parent, too. We need to take their pain seriously, and if you find the words “it’s no big deal” coming from your mouth – stop; we need to take their pain seriously and assure them that they can make it through because people care and God cares. When you get older, you realize that you have survived a lot of disappointment, and you realize that there is more than you imagined. It is not even that I personally experience tremendous amounts of disappointment, though I experience some like all of us do (the movie you had been excited to see turns out to be a loser, the dinner you spent hours preparing turns out rather ordinary, the plans you made to get away for a day need to be cancelled because your child’s sports team has called an extra practice, the disappointments in the wider world – things like living in a wealthy country that cannot seem to find a way to provide health insurance for all its citizens), I also see the disappointment my children have experienced and it affects me.
So is the good news that when Jesus shows up there is never again any disappointment? Hardly. Have you read the gospels? The good news is that Jesus reminds us of a love that is there for us regardless of disappointment, and when Jesus shows up sometimes unexpectedly wonderful things can happen in our lives – we can feel forgiveness for something that we have been unable to let go of, we can feel new courage for a difficult task, we can know comfort for a sorrowful day. That is good news, and good news that deserves to be shared.
There is another word of the good news in this passage. If the first one is, “look what can happen when Jesus shows up,” the second is “God casts a wide net.” Okay, so I am bordering on the fishing metaphor again, but only tangentially. In the story, the nets are cast and a slew of fish are brought in. Later, however, Simon Peter makes this remarkable statement - - - “Don’t waste your time on a bum like me, sir!” God casts a wide net, and that image conjures up for me feelings of rescue and help and inclusivity - - - God casts a wide net and it includes bums like me!
Do you ever have those Peter days – “don’t waste your time on a bum like me”? Do you ever wonder if you are worth the change you may want to make in your life? Do you ever wonder if you have done something that can never be healed or forgiven or overcome? I am joining others in reading Mel White’s book, Stranger At the Gate: to be gay and Christian in America, and though I am only in the early pages, I can feel with him his feelings of rejection. As a teenager, stuff was going on inside of him, and he surmised that it must be horrible because no one would even talk about it. And to that we respond with good news, God casts a wide net. That does not mean God condones everything anyone has done. It does mean that God’s love and grace and care are never withdrawn. It also means that God’s love is wider than some of our social conventions about what is acceptable. Just because society calls you a bum, doesn’t mean that you are. In a world that has been good about dividing people by race or class or heritage or affectional orientation, the good news is that God’s love doesn’t do that.
So there is good news here - when Jesus shows up unexpected things happen, and God casts a wide net. Good news begs to be shared, and it is our task to keep pointing at the net. We do that best as we are willing with humility and authenticity and integrity talk about the difference Jesus makes in our lives. We are not baiting hooks, we are pointing at the wideness of God’s love and the power of God’s love as we have experienced it in Jesus. I am a different person because I continue to grapple with and struggle with and be embraced by the Jesus way in life. I am not perfect, but I hope I am growing, and growing in ways that I would not have had I not been on this Jesus way. With Jesus I find the courage to confront my inner dilemmas. With Jesus, I know that while I cannot do all the good that needs doing in the world it is not o.k. to turn away from the hurt and pain of the world. I have a healing task to perform and with Jesus I can do it a little better.
We keep pointing at the net with our lives. St. Francis once said, “preach the gospel, sometimes use words.” On Wednesday in confirmation we discussed a question one of the students had posed. “Why does faith get in the way of people being good, kind and loving?” That is a profound question, and we must admit to the truth behind it. People of faith have done horrible things in the world – blown up buildings, become suicide bombers, threatened people with hell for not agreeing with them. It is our job to point to the wide net of God’s love by being people of faith who are kind and good and loving. There is this wonderful Alison Krause song about love that says, “You say it best when you say nothing at all.” Maybe we share the power of God’s love in Jesus best when we point to the net with our lives and say nothing at all. But a word now and again doesn’t hurt, either. Not trolling through ice, pointing at the net. Amen.