Luke 5:1-11 NRSV
Early one morning, Jesus is standing on a beach preaching to a large crowd of people. The crowd that had gathered, and were probably still gathering, is so great, Jesus felt like they were about to push him right into the lake.
As he is preaching, he sees two boats left on the beach by some fishermen who were washing their nets. He gets into the boat belonging to Simon, and asks Simon to anchor the boat a little way from the shore, where Jesus continues his sermon to the crowds from the boat.
Luke doesn’t record the words to Jesus’ sermon, but from his sermon in the very next chapter, we could probably take a good guess: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Love everyone, even your enemies…” –a sermon of a abundant mercy, extravagant grace and miraculous love that can change the world.
After Jesus finishes his sermon, he suggests that he wants to do a little bit of fishing himself. He to says to Simon: “Let’s leave these shallow waters and let down the nets.”
Simon responds, “Master, with all due respect, I, along with my long-time business partners, James and John, have fished these waters all night long, and we haven’t caught a thing. Yet, if it will make you happy, I will go out a little deeper and put down the nets.”
It is then that a miracle happens.
As soon as the nets hit the water, they catch so many fish that the nets begin to break. They quickly call out to James and John to get the other boat and offer them a hand. And when they come, they fill the boats with so many fish that both boats begin to sink.
And as Simon takes in the overwhelming scene— nets breaking, boats sinking, fish everywhere, a scene of failure and scarcity transformed into triumph and abundance, a scene of what can happen when you leave the shallow for something deeper, what can be experienced when you obey the commands of Jesus—Simon is overwhelmed, and falling down at Jesus’ knees, he says: “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” “Go away, get out of here! Leave me alone!”
It was as if Simon suddenly realized that he had only thought that Jesus was finished with his sermon. Jesus is fishing, but he is still preaching. Jesus is still revealing God’s abundant mercy, extravagant grace and miraculous love. Believing he is underserving of God’s love, how unworthy he is of such abundance, Simon asks Jesus to go away.
But Jesus never goes away easily. “Simon, not only are you worthy to receive this miraculous love, you are worthy to share it with others, so do not be afraid; for you are no longer going to be catching fish, you are going to be catching people!”
“I am asking you, Simon, along with your business partners James and John, to leave your shallow, contained, little world to venture out with me into a deeper, revolutionary, larger reality. The truth is, Simon, I need you to go deeper. I need as many people as I can get to go deeper. The problems of the world are too great and your lives are too short to waste any time wading in the shallow. And the grace of God is too extravagant. The mercy of God is too abundant. The love of God is too boundless for you to keep it all to yourselves!
I need you to leave your shallow, safe world of spending all of your time making a living, meeting the needs of your immediate family, and I need you follow me into the deep, risky reality of sacrificing your time to make a difference in the lives of others, meeting the needs of the human family.
I need you to leave your shallow life that feeds you and your children, and accept a deeper life that feeds every child of God.
I need you to move beyond your shallow, narrow mission of mowing and watering your own lawn, and accept the deeper, wider mission of caring for the entire planet.
I need you to lose the apathy towards issues that do not concern you and your limited of circle of family and friends to possess a deep empathy towards all who experience injustice.
I need you to move beyond your shallow understanding of success. Simon, no matter what you have been taught, success is not defined by the amount of fish you catch, the size of your bank account or even how many children or grandchildren you have. Your success is not defined by the size of your budget or the number of people sitting in the pews of your synagogue. It is so much deeper than that!
Your success will be measured by how many people you helped to know the love of God.
I need you to go deeper, Simon. You too, James and John, and be my disciples and fish for people. Do the hard, messy, oftentimes frustrating work for meeting the needs of people, caring for people, loving people. I need you to move far from the shallow now to do the deep work of grace.
I believe the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. summed up what Jesus was trying to say to Simon, James and John, when he said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'”
Now, here is what I believe is the real miracle in this story. It’s verse 11. After Jesus invited them to leave the shallow for something deeper, to leave catching fish for catching people we read: “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”
This is miraculous because when it came to accepting the extravagant grace and love of God revealed in the large catch of fish, Simon, seemed to have some difficulty: “Get out of here, Jesus! I am a sinful man!”
However, when it comes to following Jesus to a deeper life, to love others, to live selflessly and sacrificially, he, with James and John, leave everything and follow.
This seem even more miraculous when we consider it is the exact opposite of how most of us work. We seem have no problem accepting the grace of God. We have no issues receiving the love of God. But we prefer to keep it shallow. We prefer to keep it safe, keep it contained, keep it to ourselves. We are reluctant to go deeper.
Because going deeper can be dangerous. Going deeper can be costly. Going deeper can be overwhelming. In the deep, fish will break your nets, and people will break your hearts.
Eddie Donavan from the Fort Smith Boys Home illustrated this when he spoke to our Kiwanis group this week. He said several people say they would like to help at the Boys Home, but when they come to the home and begin to interact with the boys, boys who have a plethora of needs, they immediately realize that they are in way over their heads.
So here is the real miracle:
Jesus says: “Simon, from now on, you will be catching people.” And Simon drops everything and follows.
And the good news is, I am blessed to witness this very same miracle today. For you are also following this Jesus. Not only have you accepted the grace of Christ, but you are making an effort to share it with others. For you are here, with First Christian Church, part of a movement for wholeness in our fragmented world.
My friends, you are in deep.
Some might say that you are in over your head.
You are far from the shallow now.
You have gathered here this morning with a group of people who are called Disciples of Christ, disciples who have decided to go on a journey to share the abundant mercy, extravagant grace and miraculous love with all people. And we know this journey is not an easy one. This journey is not a comfortable one. And today, this journey is not a popular one. This journey is a risky, and it is costly.
You have decided to go on a journey with a church that has several members who are committed to the deep and difficult work of recovery through Alcohol Anonymous.
You are on a journey with other members who do the deep and oftentimes discouraging work with persons addicted to narcotics;
With others who do the deep and demanding work of leading a summer camp for troubled boys;
With others who do the deep and daunting work of with people who are homeless;
With others who do the deep and draining work of being Court Appointed Special Advocates for children in the court system;
And with others who do the deep and disturbing work with foster children.
You have decided to go on a journey with a church that is committed to following the deep, difficult and sometimes dangerous way of Jesus.
We know, we could just to Disciples Hall after worship and enjoy a shallow plate of spaghetti together. Enjoy what we call some good ol’ christian fellowship. Share a laugh or two.
But we are going to go deeper than that.
We are going to listen Gary Udouj from the Adult Education Center and Heather Edwards from the Literary Council as they share opportunities for us to give of ourselves, sacrifice some of our time, to do some very deep work with people whose lives are literally hanging in the balance.
We know, we could just send checks to ministries that feed the hungry, but we are going deeper than that. We are going to work with organizations like Antioch Youth and Family, and movements like the Poor People’s Campaign, and we are going to work alongside our elected leaders to do the deep work of rooting out some of the causes of hunger and poverty and come up with solutions right here in Fort Smith.
Yes, my friends, today, you are in deep.
But I believe it was John Shedd once said: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”
We are on a ship with Jesus. He is the captain who has navigates our journey out of the harbor. And we are far from the shallow now.