First Reading Isaiah 6:1-8
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Gospel Reading: Luke 5:1-11
Sermon: “God Always Picks the Unworthy”
Did you notice Peter’s reaction to Jesus after his unexpected, enormous catch of fish? – its one of awe and dawning recognition. So profound is that moment, that both he and his friends set off on an entirely different course for the rest of their lives. They are forever changed. That’s quite a reaction to a catch of fish isn’t it? What was going on in Peter’s mind when as it says in Luke 5:8 “he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me – I’m such a sinful man.”” Now, wait a minute…Peter is a fisherman and he just caught a lot of fish at Jesus’ instructions. Most would be jumping up and down, slapping Jesus on the back and thanking him for the advice. But not Peter, not at this moment. His thoughts are not on the fish but on Jesus and who this man might be. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We need to take a look at the setting in Luke’s gospel because it’s a bit different than the other gospels.
In Luke’s telling, Jesus has already been active in ministry for a while, enough so that he is already drawing large crowds of people wanting to hear his teaching and be healed by his touch or even merely at his word. He has already met Peter. He has even stayed at his house and healed his mother-in law who had a severe fever. As the reading begins, Jesus is teaching a crowd of folks on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee which Luke calls the Lake of Gennesaret. This area has several nice coves where the shore climbs steadily up from the lake, forming natural amphitheaters. As the crowd presses in, Jesus asks Peter to take him into his boat and put out just a bit onto the Lake so people can se and hear him better. Galilee has many such helpful acoustic settings, including a particular cove near Capernaum that could allow one’s voice to carry to vast numbers of hearers.
It was only after Jesus had finished teaching the crowd that he turns his attention back to Peter. Jesus tells him to go on out into the lake to the deep water and put out the dragnets for a catch of Fish. Peter is probably very tired. Peter and his friends had been fishing all night and caught nothing. Likely they had been fishing in the shallows that night with throw nets. It was hard work. Fishermen often cast a circular net of mesh, about 15 feet (4.5 meters) wide, into the water to catch fish; lead sinkers pulled most of the net down so it did not all float, and once it had trapped fish it could be hauled in. This method worked in shallow water, but for deeper water fishermen used a dragnet.
Even though he is tired, he obeys Jesus’ instruction, saying “Because you say so” meaning ‘If it was me, I’d go home and get some rest,, but just for you…’ At once, it became obvious that something extraordinary had happened. There were so many fish, the net couldn’t handle the load and started to tear. When James and John came to help, there were so many fish that they nearly sank both boats – that’s a lot of fish!
Simon Peter was a professional fisherman, he supported his family that way and was in business with his friends James and John as well. But notice how his responses don’t sound very much like a fisherman though. He didn’t ask Jesus how he knew the fish were out in the deep. Instead, he falls on his knees and says “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Peter knows what he is witnessing is not normal, its far beyond anything he’s ever heard of and suddenly He begins to understand that Jesus is no ordinary itinerant teacher. His healings take on a new dimension – He does not fully understand, but he knows enough to feel he’s on holy ground there at Jesus’ feet and he knows he’s not worthy of even being there, much less the calling that is being offered.
It’s the same response that Isaiah has to his vision of God in the temple. First comes this feeling of awe and wonder – quickly followed by ‘I don’t belong here! I’m a sinner in the presence of unspeakable holiness and power.’ Just as with Isaiah, Peter is told that there’s work to be done. Different work. No longer will he be pursuing fish, now he will be sent by God in pursuit of People, so that they can hear the good news. It’s a radical change, and a costly one. Now he really doesn’t act like a fisherman – He walked off and left the fish he caught! James and John also hear the invitation and they come too. Jesus will be training them and many others, graciously lifting them up to the tasks ahead, to help in his ministry and eventually to continue it after he is gone.
How are we to hear this story for our own lives? This was a special moment in history when God entered into history in a very personal way. Peter surely didn’t understand who Jesus was. Perhaps he was beginning to suspect that Jesus was at least a great prophet, perhaps even the Messiah promised so long before. For us, its different in some ways, and yet, similar in others. We have the account of scripture, we know how the story turns out. Yet there often comes a point where each of us must decide what to do about Jesus. For us, like Peter, there is a profound difference to be negotiated. Its a drastic change between hearing about Jesus, even giving him some time, even lending him your boat; versus falling down before him and calling him Lord!
In that gap lies the uncomfortable realization that we are unworthy of such a relationship. Long before, Moses had felt it standing there before the burning bush. Job had spun out hours of passionate arguments in his head and in front of his friends, but when God appeared, all of that went suddenly silent. Isaiah felt it at his commissioning. Peter felt it there on the lakeshore. Paul felt it on the Damascus road – even years later writing to the the church at Corinth, he says “I am the least of the Apostles and do not even serve to be called and apostle”
I like very much what Paul says next because it applies to every one of those people that God chose to use and it applies to us as well. He simply says “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” Amen! Its the same message that one of our old prayers of confession says a little differently:
“In your mercy forgive what we have been, help us amend what we are, and direct what we shall be, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name.” You notice that old prayer anticipates that we are in a journey, from where we are… to where God wants us to be. And it’s going to take some time and effort and a lot of help to get there!
Look at the progression in Peter’s life: A fisherman, likely not well educated or well spoken – someone who had just a casual relationship with Jesus. That changed with todays reading. Peter began his new course in life, imperfectly, and with some serious problems but also moments of breakthrough. More and more he learned and experienced and grew. He confessed Jesus as Lord before any of the others, then was immediately told that he was standing in the place of Satan when he rejected Jesus warning of his death to come. His brave statements in the upper room turned to failure Failure in the garden and even denial at Jesus’ trial. Finally, desertion at the cross and disbelief at the women’s first words became Easter Joy and still more to be learned. Jesus’ last lesson to Peter was also at the lake shore and also involved fishing before his powerful message could ring out at Pentecost.
The gospel of John gives us this other fish story about Peter, after the resurrection. Listen to a bit of it: John 21:3-7 NIV  “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.  Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.  He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered.  He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.  Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.
Recognition of Jesus is now a thing of great joy not sham and unworthiness. And as the story continues, he hears that there is still more work to be done – Feed my Sheep, Tend my lambs! Fishing and shepherding – there are great metaphors for some of the jobs that need doing daily in the service of the Kingdom of God. We heard Paul remind us a couple of weeks ago, with still a different Metaphor that there are many different parts in this “body of Christ” that is the church: Hands, feet, eyes, ears, knees and elbows – tongues, fingers, stomachs and livers – the body has many, many parts – all important, all different and all needed.
One of the first things most people say when they are asked to consider doing a job in the church is something like Peter’s. I’m not good at that. I’m not worthy. I don’t speak well, people wont listen, what if they don’t like me? All of those and others are very real feelings and all of them are found in the pages of scripture as well. God calls us just as we are and gives us the grace to grow and become more than that. We just need to understand that on the job training is the way its always been in the church. Mistakes get made true enough, but grace is given too. In a little congregation like ours, these words are critically important. Not just for survival, but to be what God calls us to be.
Brothers and Sisters. We too often spend our energy flinging nets in the shallow water for not much result – but its what we know and its comfortable. But what if we have the courage to listen to the Master’s voice and do something different – set out for the deep waters! Its scary out there, its might not be where we normally like to go. We’re not sure we’re the best choice, Those waves look awfully high out there….but you know what? God has heard it a million times and more, yet he lovingly calls us and promises the Holy Spirit goes with us. Teaching us and encouraging us all the way. We have seen God do wonders, now its time help haul in the net. There’s some fishing and some shepherding to be done.