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  • Rev. Sara Ofner-Seals

Fishing With Jesus


Luke 5:1-11

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 to 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.

Those of you who were here last week will remember that we talked about how as Christians, we are called to be a people of resistance— resisting any semblance us vs. them thinking in order to embrace God’s radical love for all people, and resisting the temptation towards a scarcity mindset, in order to embrace radical faith in God’s abundance.

Well in today’s story from the Gospel of Luke, we see this call to resistance put into action, as Jesus tells Peter and his friends, who have been out fishing all night with no success, to resist the urge to give up, and instead, to go further out into the deep waters in order to receive the abundance that God had in store for them.

Now at first Peter isn’t sure about this. At first his scarcity mindset is saying, “this is a waste of time, we’ve not caught anything all night, what difference will this make.” But ultimately he resists the urge to be cynical and is willing to give Jesus’ suggestion a try. So they go deep. And not only do they catch some fish, but they catch so many fish that the nets could barely contain them all.

So this is a story of resistance and abundance, but I think more than that, it’s a story about how we unlock the kind of abundance that God desires for us. And as usual, this story about an abundant catch of fish isn’t really a story about fish at all. This miracle story, like most miracle stories in scripture, is a sign that points us to a larger truth or a deeper kind of wisdom. In this case, the story points us towards a truth that says that in order to experience the kind of abundance that God desires for us we may have to leave the shallower waters of life in order to go deeper.

Before we go any further, I think it’s important to clarify what kind of abundance we are talking about here. This is not a prosperity Gospel kind of abundance which says that those who believe the right things, or live the right kind of life, will be rewarded with material wealth. That’s not the kind of abundance we’re talking about. We’re talking here about the kind of abundance that no amount of money can buy. We’re talking about the things that we all want— things which can seem impossibly hard to hold onto— regardless of whether we are rich or poor, or somewhere in between. We’re talking about an abundance of love, grace, faith, hope, joy, and the kind of peace that passes all understanding. That’s the kind of abundance we’re talking about— that’s the kind of abundance our faith promises.

So how do we unlock such abundance in our lives? According to the text, Jesus calls us to go deeper, but what does that really mean? What does that look like in practice?

I think this probably looks different for each one of us. But to be frank, I don’t care how advanced we think we may be, I don’t care how deep we think we already are, we all have places in our lives where we are hesitant to leave the safer, shallower waters. We all have places where we can go deeper. And we all have to do the work of determining what and where those places are for ourselves. Maybe for some of us, the deeper waters we are called to explore are the waters of vulnerability— putting ourselves out there, loving others with no guarantee of being loved back, forgiving others with no guarantee that the other person will change, giving of ourselves, or our time, or our money, with no guarantee of any particular kind of return on our investment.

Maybe for some of us going deeper is about shedding layers and letting go of labels— either those given to us by others, or those we’ve claimed for ourselves— and getting to the heart of our true selves. Letting go of our ego that insists on always being right, or always being certain about things. Maybe we need to embrace the deep waters of uncertainty or ambiguity.

Maybe for some of us going deeper looks like allowing ourselves to feel joy— to truly feel joy—instead of getting stuck in fear over what might go wrong in our lives, or what could happen in the future. Maybe instead of constantly being afraid of what we could lose, we could simply allow ourselves to be grateful for what we have, right here, right now. If we really want to experience God’s abundance in our lives, I think this is an important step.

Or maybe for some, going deeper means getting out of the shallow waters of all the noise— the 24 hours news cycle, the constant political commentary, the dim roar of social media, the never-ending to-do list. Maybe the deep waters we are being called to are the waters of silence, solitude

and rest.

Hopefully you get the point— the possibilities for each and every one of us is endless. There are always deeper waters to explore in life and there are so many different ways that those deeper waters can help us experience and live into the abundant gifts of the Spirit.

Beyond our individual spiritual lives, however, there is also communal abundance to be found. And for one example of how that can work, I want to go back to the text for a minute, and back to that strange little saying of Jesus that comes at the end of the passage. “From now on,” he says to Peter, “you will be catching people.” Most of us know by now that what Jesus means by this is that they will attract many followers and disciples, something that most churches these days long to be able to do more effectively. Many churches out there right now are desperately looking for that golden solution that will bring scores of new members through their doors. Many of those same exact churches, however, are finding themselves feeling a bit more like Peter at the beginning of this story— discouraged and not catching any fish. Which sort of begs the question— are we, as the church, playing it too safe? Like Peter, have we stayed too long in shallow waters? Where might Jesus be calling us to go deeper into our communities? Where might he be calling us out of what is comfortable and into deeper uncharted waters?

I don’t necessarily have an answer to this question. In fact, I’m hoping some of you might have some ideas, because I find the question to be very compelling. Because what if, by venturing into those deeper waters, we unlock new forms of abundance, not just for ourselves as individuals, but also for us as a community of faith? Because we all know that people are attracted to abundance, right? And again, I’m not taking about material abundance. I’m talking about spiritual abundance. But that’s what people are desperate for in our world today— things like spiritual wisdom, peace that passes understanding, welcome for all people, radical mercy and grace, connection in a world of increased isolation, hope in difficult times, joy in a hurting world. Aren’t these the kinds of things that all of us are really, truly longing for? Imagine if we had an abundance of these things and that we were willing to give them away freely. I’m not sure we could keep people away.

There’s one last thing I want to say about this text, which is what happens after the deep waters, and after the abundant catch of fish. Luke’s version of the story is a little bit different than the other gospels, and I kind of love it, because I think it’s very true to life. After the catch, Peter realizes he is in the presence of the divine, and so he falls to his knees and says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Peter’s gut response to the miraculous catch of fish is to think that he is not worthy. How many of us, when faced with the possibly of going deeper, even knowing that there may be amazing abundance waiting for us there, choose to stay in the safer, shallow waters because we don’t truly believe we are worthy of anything else? Maybe we don’t really think we are brave enough. Maybe we don’t really think we have the skills to navigate the deep waters. Maybe at the end of the day we simply don’t believe that we deserve such abundance. So we stay where we are. But here’s the thing. We are not alone in the boat. Jesus was right there in the boat with Peter when he told him to take it into the deep waters. And Christ is with us now. Not to mention the Holy Spirit— that great divine navigational system. And did you notice what Jesus says to Peter, when Peter falls to his knees declaring his sinful nature? Jesus does not say, “Rise, for you are forgiven.” No, he says, “Do not be afraid.” I imagine Christ saying the same thing to us now. Urging us out from the shallows into the deeper waters of life and faith, promising great abundance, reminding us of our worth, all the while gently saying,

“do not be afraid.”

Friends, we are invited, all of us, to go fishing with Jesus. We are invited to take our boats, our rickety little boats made of faith and hope and love out into the deep waters with Christ. What we find there may be different for all of us, but for all of us, I am certain, there will be abundance. Let us have faith in that and therefore, let us never be afraid— let us be brave and let us go deep. Amen.


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