Luke 5:1-11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God,he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
I begin with a confession – this metaphor that Jesus used for snaring people just has never felt quite right to me. Does it feel like manipulation to you as it does to me? Was the bounty of the catch used to entice the fishermen to follow Jesus? Yes, Jesus says, I know you’ve been fishing these waters for hours and caught almost nothing. But try again and see what you get. And they did and brought up so much fish this time that it was impossible to ignore Jesus or walk away from him. So what type of fishing is that? Fishing with an ‘f’ or fishing with a ‘ph’?
And then there’s the sense through the ages in interpreting this passage to understand that if we cast a net wide enough in our Christian religious belief we will catch people and bring them to Christ. That’s the rub – us bringing people to Christ and saving souls. Rather – our mission is to reflect Christ’s love in the world through our authentic words and actions so others can be caught by the Spirit. Yes, manipulation can and does work, but manipulation is not the best characteristic for church growth or what it means to be church. Funny how sometimes church, in the name of Jesus, gets in the way of Jesus and the invitation to follow him.
The following is a poem by Maya Angelou entitled Savior:
Petulant priests, greedy
centurions, and one million
incensed gestures stand
between your love and me.
Your agape sacrifice
is reduced to colored glass,
vapid penance, and the
tedium of ritual.
Your footprints yet
mark the crest of
billowing seas but
fades upon the tablets
of ordained prophets.
Visit us again, Savior.
Your children, burdened with
disbelief, blinded by a patina
carom down this vale of
fear. We cry for you
although we have lost
A powerful poem. One commentator (semons.com) noted that Maya Angelou “was a poet, a prophet, a celebrity, and a grand dame.” She was also a lifelong follower of Jesus. And despite all her years and thousands of hours in the church throughout her life, “Angelou could be very critical of the church. In this poem Angelou laments the petulance of priests and the boredom of ritual, and stresses our need for Jesus to visit us again.”
The commentator continues, “Maya drew a distinction between Jesus and the church. Though we as the church are called to be the resurrected body of Christ on earth, all too often we substitute institution for incarnation. We have turned Christ’s organic body into the static structure of organization. As the established Protestant churches in America continue to diminish and decline, perhaps we can sympathize with Angelou’s despair about the vapid tedium of too many of our rituals. And like the poet, we yearn for a fresh visitation from Jesus and a re-acquaintance with his holy name.” (sermons.com)
Leonard Sweet(sermons.com) suggested “if Jesus showed up tomorrow, he would be more comfortable in Starbucks than in most of our churches.” There is a joke making the rounds lately. Jesus and the church are sitting on a couch in a psychiatrist’s office looking forlorn. Church says, “We hardly have anything in common anymore.” (clergycoachingnetwork)
And yet, to somewhat quote an old song – church with all your faults, I love you still.
The invitation is to follow Jesus – not necessarily rites, rituals, dogmas or creeds. Follow me, Jesus said. When he offered that invitation to his first disciples Jesus offered them a change. The mission promised to be a challenge. And their lives would never be the same. Follow me, Jesus invited, and invites us still today.
The central invitation to follow Jesus, should not be diminished. Follow me, Jesus says again and again. Keith Wagner (First, You Have to Row a Little Boat, sermons.com) wrote, “Peter was not called because he had any special qualifications except for the fact he made a choice to go where Jesus invited him. He was also called in the midst of his daily living. It didn’t take place in some holy place like the temple. For sure, his willingness to ‘follow’ would change his life, reversing some of his normal priorities and changing the lives of others too.” Like Peter, Jesus calls us as well and calls us in the midst of our daily lives. This call is not just for our newest members but is a call for each one of us no matter if we have been church members most of our lives or just starting the journey. The invitation is to answer that call daily as we strive to have a deeper relationship with our God.
Traci Blackmon, Associate General Minister of Justice and Local Church Ministries for the United Church of Christ wrote the following in a Daily Devotion (1/22/19): “Follow Me’ Jesus proclaims over and over again. As he invites others to help change the world some of his actions may seem illogical. A carpenter from Nazareth telling fishermen to ‘follow him’ and he will make them fishers of men. Who is he to tell others how to fish?
Later, Jesus issues an invitation to a tax collector to ‘follow him’ in the Movement with no promise to make him treasurer. Time and time again, Jesus invites others to join him. The invitation is broad, and the directions are minimal but consistent. All who are willing to join are welcome, but you must ‘follow me.’ ‘Follow me,’ Jesus says. Perhaps this simple invitation is the hardest of them all.”
Following Jesus does not mean perfection but faithfulness to that call and that can mean pure acceptance and certainty one day, struggle and doubt the next and yet, always a desire to embrace and be embraced by the Divine.
Richard Wing (Deep Joy for a Shallow World, CSS Publishing Co. semons.com) reflects that: “As a boy I was never good at catching things, except a cold now and then, I tried to catch a pony to ride and failed. The butterfly trip was a disaster. I tried catching frogs but didn’t try too hard because I didn’t know what I would do with them once I caught them. Fish weren’t my favorite for eating, so catching them was no treat, because I knew it implied that I would eat them with delight rather than gagging on them, which I always did. I never was good at catching things.
A major church denomination has as its theme, ‘Catch the Spirit.’ As usual, the church got it backward. We are not to set our sights at catching or getting, but allowing ourselves to be caught. We are invited to be caught by a spirit that helps us make a giving instead of a living. The greatest spiritual arrogance is seen in the language of ‘catching.’ People are in search of God and will write endless numbers of book telling one how to find God. The truth of the gospel is that we cannot find God, but there are places we can go and things we can do where God can find us! The joy in Christian living is not in the catching but in the vulnerability of being caught by the one who made us in the first place. Catch the Spirit? No! You can’t. Be caught by the spirit? Of course! Life begins there.”
May God bless our newest members as we celebrate their presence this day. May God bless this household of faith. And may God bless us as we continue to understand what it means to accept the invitation to follow Jesus. And may God bless us as we experience what it means to live in the joy of being caught by the Spirit. Amen.
Copyright DMC 2019