Fifth Sunday after Epiphany; February 10, 2019, Year C
Isaiah 6.1-8 [9-13]; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15.1-11; Luke 5.1-11
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the One in whom we live and move and have our being, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful Man!”
Peter’s realization of his own brokenness after the catch of a lifetime hangs heavy in the air. He is kneeing at the feet of God in the flesh, when five minutes earlier he made sure Jesus knew that he expected no different than the entire night of fishing in which they caught nothing.
Despite his doubts, he listens to Jesus, letting down his net for the 1,000th time. Nothing was different about this 1,000th time, except that Jesus was present and told Peter to do it.
We hear the excited cries of the fishermen. We feel the weight of the nets as they drag in two boatloads of fish. We slip and slide with the fish. We see some of the waves billow over the sides of the boat, weighed down heavy with fish. We wonder, Who is this one standing in the boat?
This story of Good News is full of vivid imagery and imagination. Most people love a good fish story. But this fish story turns into a people story, as it often does with Jesus.
Jesus cares a lot about people. He demonstrates this in our Gospel story by teaching the crowds on shore from a boat. Nets full of fish are drug in to feed hungry people.
And instead of telling Peter, “I told you so,” or saying, “yes, you are a sinful man,” or instead of turning his back on Peter, Jesus responds to him with words of comfort and purpose: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
Jesus’ response to Peter is compelling. In the church we speak a lot about confession: admitting that we make mistakes; that we don’t always trust God; and that we are broken. The appropriate response to confession is generally words of forgiveness. Like we heard early this morning after our confession: “God loved us even when we were dead in sin. By grace you have been saved … your sins are forgiven.”
These words are powerful and can be life changing, but Jesus doesn’t offer them to Peter. Instead, Jesus tells Peter not to be afraid; to not let how Peter feels about himself get in the way of what Jesus knows he is capable of.
Jesus doesn’t see a sinful man kneeling at his feet. He sees a disciple. He sees someone willing to put down his nets for the 1000th time even though he thinks nothing different will happen. Jesus sees a friend and a person of value.
While Peter says to Jesus, “I’m not good enough for you. I can’t possibly be with you.”
Jesus says, “You are wrong about that. And you and I are going to be working together from now on (N.T. Wright, Luke).”
Jesus knows Peter is far from perfect and that he will continue to mess up time and time again, but he calls him anyway. Call and purpose is Jesus’ response to Peter’s confession. Peter, in all his sinfulness, and brokenness, is worth much in God’s kingdom and Jesus knows it, even if Peter can’t see it for himself.
How often can we get stuck in our own negative self-talk? I’m not good enough. I’m sinful. I’m a broken person. I’m an addict. I’m ugly. I’m never going to amount to anything.
We think that if people knew who we really were, or what we’ve done or said in our lives, that they would never accept us.
A few years ago we had an activity here in the chapel with each cottage. I was sitting at a table with girls from Maple cottage painting on a canvas with them. A new girl had just arrived on campus and asked me about people who come out here for worship: “So, why are you guys here anyway? Are you getting paid to be with us?”
“No,” I said. “We just like being here with you.”
She looked at me like I just grew a third eyeball. “Why?” She asked back. “We’re just a bunch of juvenile delinquents.”
“We don’t think that,” I assured her. “You’re just people who happen to be in corrections, and we want to be with you.”
That landed me a “whatever, mam.” But our conversation got me thinking: What is it that makes us feel so unworthy? And, what does it take for each of us to listen to Jesus and get up off our knees from our own self-pity and get to work in this world?
God can and does use each one of us in this world to better people’s lives. Jesus says to Peter, “From now on you will be catching people because that’s what matters.” Jesus calls Peter not in spite of his own sinfulness and brokenness, but because of it.
We can mistakenly think that Jesus just calls people who seem to have it all together, who don’t have problems, who are super religious, or haven’t been in corrections. But that’s not the case at all! Jesus wants Peter, even though he doubts, even though he will abandon Jesus when he needed him most. Jesus calls Zuccheeas, someone who cheated others out of money. He would have had years in jail for embezzlement. Jesus calls Mary Magdalene, someone who was said to have been possessed with 7 demons. Jesus calls Judas, who betrays him in the end.
As we keep reading in the Gospel of Luke we can see how much Jesus loves sinners, imperfect and broken people. And again and again, he calls them to purpose, new life, and ministry.
Who do you think Jesus needs in the Kingdom of God to make things happen? In Scripture, who are the kind of people who show discipleship?
Discipleship in our story today is simply dropping a net into the water. It’s doing what Jesus says to do.
So, might Jesus need some people who have spent time at YCC? Might Jesus need a newly retired person, or a just turned 4 year old? Might Jesus need someone who doubts or is skeptical? You bet!
I’m just learning about the ND Governor’s, Free Through Recovery, plan to fight addiction in our state. The program heavily relies on peer mentors. A peer mentor is someone who is in recovery and has experienced addiction and feels they can now help someone else with their own recovery. I can’t be a peer mentor, but other people who have struggled with addiction can.
Being a peer mentor is one example of what it looks like to fish for people.
Our Gospel story says a lot to us about who Jesus calls to work with him. The most unlikely people become people who follow him. Life continues to be far from easy for any of them … harder in fact for some, but life of following Jesus is full of meaning and purpose. Because of Jesus and those who follow him many people’s lives on this earth become better.
We too, are called to follow Jesus and fish for people. People are hungry, people are hurting, people are sick, people are addicted, people are homeless, people are displaced, people are being taken advantage of, and people are longing for a Word of hope.
A man by the name of Ronald Allen, writes: “What the church and disciples are to do: “They are to do what Jesus says, even in the face of unpromising circumstances (www.workingpreacher.org).”
Jesus looks at each one of us today and says: “You and I are going to be working together from now on.” And this is most certainly Good News.