January 23, 2022
We are in the middle of a sermon series I’ve called: “Encounters.” It is instructive to me just how short a time Jesus was in public ministry – they say only about 3 years. And, of that time, I’m amazed that such a high percentage of that 3 years was spent in what seems to be random encounters with people Jesus meets in the most common of places. Jesus just “hung out” where people did and started conversations about whatever seemed to be on their minds and changed the world.
Now I know that’s over simplified, but there’s a lot of truth in it. I continually wonder just how that style of his ought to impact those of us who claim to follow him in the 21st Century!
This morning’s story is so typical. The scene is at the early days of Jesus’s ministry by the shore of Lake Gennesaret, (or Sea of Galilee). It was a freshwater lake but it was 700 ft below sea level and about 35 miles around. Sizable, but not huge and it was to become one of the most familiar places in Jesus’ short life.
Look at Jesus if you will. He is a young man of 30, beginning his public career as an itinerant preacher/teacher/ spiritual guide. His vision for his people and his understanding about God is too important and too big for one person to pull off. He is going to need helpers, but for now, he is wrapped up in sharing his message with the gathered crowd.
So, he began to preach, teaching, really, and he was drawing a crowd. In fact it was getting large enough that there wasn’t much room between him and the water. To get more room, Jesus decided to step into a fisherman’s boat and he asked its owner to push it out a bit from the shoreline.
The boat happened to belong to Peter. Peter apparently wasn’t there to see Jesus, he had just docked his fishing boat for the day and was out cleaning his nets. He was a professional and worked in tandem with his two buddies, James and John.
We don’t have one word of Jesus’ teaching preserved for us from that day. Apparently, Luke had no interest in the content of Jesus’s teaching that day. Only the encounter with Peter.
After he had finished speaking to the people, this young carpenter, preacher looks at this gnarly, brash, outspoken impulsive, smelly, weathered fisherman who is cleaning his nets with his two friends, James and John, and he begins to give them some advice about how to catch fish.
At first glance the whole moment seems absurd and even humorous! He speaks to this fisherman who has spent all night fishing and has caught nothing! (Can you imagine the mood Peter is in? My guess, he is in no mood for suggestions or advice- if fishermen are ever open to advice)
But Jesus has something to say to this man, Peter, and he hopes that Peter understands the depth of his suggestion: “Peter, he says; Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
Can we hold the camera right there and zoom in on Peter’s facial expression? It’s all he can do to be civil as he says: “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” (I’m guessing Luke cleaned up the language a bit for publication.)
Eventually, Peter settles down and mumbles: “If you say so, I will let down the nets.” They caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. I was going to say that they caught a boat-load of fish, but the truth of the story is: they caught two boat-loads of fish. They had to call Peter’s buddies, James and John, to bring their boat alongside and fill it with fish so that they both were on the verge of sinking!
Peter said: “You and I don’t belong together. Go away from me! I am such a sinner that I don’t belong anywhere near you!”
For me, the whole incident turned on one little phrase. That phrase at first may have seemed insignificant, but it has been remembered for 2000 years:
PETER, PUT OUT INTO DEEP WATER!
Is fishing all you want to do with your life, Peter? Are you going to live in the shallows all your life? Are you content to measure your success by the number of fish you catch? If it’s fish you want, I’ll give you fish!! That’s easy! Here’s a couple of boat-loads!
But I have something more for you in the DEEP WATERS! And I need somebody just like YOU! I know you, Peter! I know you are impulsive and you speak before you think!
I know you’d just as soon cut an ear off somebody as reason with them, if they happen to annoy you! I know you are impatient. But I also know that love runs deep in you! You are as loyal as they come! You have bundles of energy! My Father put all of that in you and it is all good – if you are willing to follow me!
How does Peter respond to this as he struggles to pull two boat-loads of fish onto the shore without capsizing it all? He fell down at Jesus’ feet and cries out: “Get away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
Do you know what? Jesus didn’t blink an eye over his sin. He just said to him: “Do not be afraid!” Peter? Afraid? Oh, yes! Terrified at his own deep inadequacy. But that, my friends, is exactly the criteria for the kind of follower Jesus needed. Someone who is dead sure that they haven’t even a fraction of the bull-strength needed to do what Jesus had in mind for Peter, which was to FISH FOR PEOPLE – NOT FISH.
Peter was plenty full of himself and probably didn’t think there was much he couldn’t handle, if he put his mind and back to it. But Jesus knew that the only way Peter could ever survive the task he had laying ahead of him was to learn to forget his own strength and rely fully on the power of God within him.
I don’t know what ever got into Peter at that moment, because what he did next was the start of something way more difficult and frustrating than hefting barrels of dead fish around.
You see, if you ever hear that call of Jesus to “put out into the deep water,” you have to know you are not saying yes to a life that is simpler and easier. You are saying “Yes” to the road less traveled. It is a road that will call for everything you have and a bit more. It will not be a road where everything is fair and even. It wasn’t for Jesus. It will not be a road where you set the agenda because you are not the one in charge any more.
It is not a road for the soft and those seeking the easy way. It is the road which made Jesus say to Peter, “Do not be afraid.”
Forever the entire Church of Jesus Christ can give thanks that on that seashore Peter decided that the shallow waters were not for him and
HE LEFT EVERYTHING AND FOLLOWED JESUS.
May God raise up among us some men and women to hear that voice and respond like Peter.