2022-02-06 Epiphany 5
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
A few years ago there was a documentary on about the fisheries out in Newfoundland. It was a sad story about the plight of the fishermen: the cod stocks are depleted, there are no jobs for the people and a great many of them were finding that they had to move out to “New NewFoundland” - also known as Fort McMurray, Alberta! But in the documentary, they interviewed a bunch of salty sea dogs who had been fishing for most of their lives. As they spoke, I could barely understand their iconic “newfie” accents. It was fortunate that the documentary provided subtitles! But most of the men had very low education, perhaps not even grade 8. They were all rough and tumble men, tough as nails and very hard workers. They were all up early and out on the sea fishing long before dawn, boats and nets ready to go!
It never ceases to amaze me that these are the men that Jesus called to be the first disciples. Backwater redneck types. They weren’t people with tons of education and a long list of letters written behind their names. They weren’t well dressed business men in fine cut Armani Suits. They weren’t high profile athletes with million dollar contracts. They were simple fishermen, who probably resemble the quintessential image of the Newfie Fisherman, complete with wool toques and shanty songs like “I’s the by’ who builds the boat!”
The context of this Gospel reading is easy to visualize. There is a big crowd of people on Lake Gennesaret (more commonly known as the Sea of Galilee - though its not really a sea, as it is a fresh water lake). And here we see Jesus preaching and teaching as is His style but this time from a boat. He uses the fishing boat as His personal pulpit! This could be the reason the “boat image” was the very image of the Christian faith. It lets you float above the stormy and tumultuous sea of life. It delivers from sin and death, very much like Noah and his family on the ark. This week, the boat is the very image of the church! Jesus Christ is there, in it, along with His miraculous teachings and results! Is it any wonder why what we call a “Sanctuary,” the room we are in now, was in Latin called the nave? It simply means boat! However, Luke doesn’t record the sermon that Jesus preached. He does, however, record that Jesus tells Peter to put out into the deep for a catch. But Peter, Andrew, James and John had been out all night and what did they catch? Nothing! Nada! Zilch! They got skunked!
Yet in this interesting situation is a very important Epiphany theme. We’ve been talking about Epiphany being the season of Light, the season of revealing of God’s love and salvation in Jesus. The fishermen were out doing their work at night, in the darkness. Yet Jesus encounters them when the light comes, when the sun had dawned. Jesus’ preaching brings the Divine Light of God. Indeed, Jesus IS the light of the world! From this point on, for the entirety of Peter’s life, he will work and live in the light of Christ! The light no darkness can overcome. And it is in this light of the Son that the fishing is about to get really awesome!
Peter hears this statement from Jesus but it’s a bit weird. After all, Peter and the boys had just been out all night. They were tired and hungry and probably discouraged because they had caught no fish. But notice Peter’s response. Peter listened to and heard Jesus’ preaching and he now responds in faith! “But upon your Word I will put down the nets.” Jesus’ request seems a bit off the wall, defying human logic. But this example in the scriptures shows that faith is the necessary thing needed to “get it” - to comprehend the message of God and His kingdom. Even if we are discouraged, or tired and beaten down by the world, Jesus’ miraculous word gives us rest and provides for all we need.
Have you ever wondered what the most dangerous job in the world is? I’ve often thought that it could be a stunt man. Or maybe a dynamite technician? Or a politician in a pandemic! But we all know that it’s actually a Lutheran Pastor! But in all seriousness, the most dangerous occupation you can have is an Alaska King Crab Fisherman! When you think about their work place, it is scary! There is the freezing, windy winter ocean at night with enormous waves crashing around the boat and even over the sides, sweeping away people and equipment alike! The horrid weather can cover the entire ship with ice, which can lead to sinking the boat or capsizing it. You can get tangled in a net and be towed over board to the dark depths of Davy Jones locker and drown. Its terrifying to say the least! But at least now you know the reason why King Crab costs so much money!
In the Old Testament, the deep water or the depths of the sea represented chaos, darkness, evil and death. But did you notice where Jesus tells Peter to go to? Yes, out to the deep, where it is dark, scary and dangerous. This water represents the world. It is indeed dark, scary and sinful. Yet it is here where the fish are in abundance. They are in the place where you would be least inclined to go looking because it’s risky. The nets also, in this story, represent the preaching of the Word, even the Gospel itself. These nets bring people from the dark depths of despair and fear right into the radiant illuminating light of Christ, His Word of love and forgiveness. When God works miracles they often happen in ways we would least expect.
As the fishermen pull up the nets - behold! There is an amazing miraculous catch of fish! As the nets come up they are so full that they are almost breaking, the other boat has to come over and help and they become so full that the boats themselves nearly sink! Ding Ding Ding! Another miracle of Jesus is revealed as God continues to manifest His miraculous plan of salvation and mission to this world - as all people everywhere experience the abundance of God’s Grace and favor!
If this fish story was anything, it was truly an amazing miracle! Peter is exceedingly amazed and also vexed at the same time. He responds “Depart from me, I’m a sinful man, Lord!” (LK 5:8). He has come to realize God’s power and fears it. We too want to push Jesus out of the boat with feelings and thoughts of “I’m not worthy!” And it is true. None of us are worthy in and of ourselves. Yet Jesus still climbs into our boat. He comes to us - and we need His message: “do not be afraid” “I forgive you” “I love you” “I’ve gone to the deepest darkest depths of the cross for you” “I will never leave you or forsake you!” Jesus enters our lives and re-orientates them. He cuts through our floundering confusion and fear and gives us His peace and His purpose: to become fishers of men.
Fishing. There are two kinds. Net fishing and bait fishing with a rod and reel. With bait fishing you try to catch a certain kind of fish with a certain kind of bait in a certain place. You try to catch trout with a juicy looking fly. You try to catch Pike with a flashy five of diamonds or a red and white spoon. You try to catch Walleye with a worm jig set up. But with a net, you catch everything! You catch all kinds of fish! You even catch old tires, cans, hubcaps, and all kinds of junk. There is a reason why Jesus uses the net image. It is precisely because it catches everything! It catches everyone. It doesn’t just snag certain “kinds of fish” - or certain “kinds of people”. It catches ALL people! You might have heard that age old saying “Birds of feather flock together” or how fish “school together” but being a disciple of Christ is a calling to ALL people regardless of what kind of fish they are. The Gospel message is for ALL nations!
All people! We are called to Baptize and Teach them all, regardless of tribe, clan or race. It’s time for us to throw away the rods and reels and get the nets ready! Each disciple, each follower of Christ is called to fish. Each baptized life preaches the word. It sows the seed. Therefore, drop the nets! You don’t discriminate with a net! Just haul ‘em in and the Lord will sort out the catch later. The death and resurrection of our Jesus Christ sifts through the waters, like a huge net in the depths. It hauls up everything from the darkness of this sinful world and brings them into the light. The good, the bad and the ugly! It is a busting net load of sinners scooped up in the universal, all embracing Gospel of Jesus Christ!
Each one of us has been brought up out of the depths and hauled onto the boat of God’s Kingdom by faith! Salvation unto us has come! We all stand hearing the voice of Jesus calling “Who will go and fish today?!” Our sins are forgiven through His death and resurrection. We have been washed clean in our Baptism. We have been fed and made full in Holy Communion. All our fears have been relieved by faith! We have rested in His Word! You can now answer the call of Christ by faith. Get the nets. Amen!