February 10, 2019
With today’s scripture, we’re continuing with Luke’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry, and today, Jesus calls the first disciples. After Jesus ticks off the folk in his hometown synagogue, he goes to Capernaum, heals a man, and then stops by Simon Peter’s house, where he heals Simon’s mother-in-law. The news spread fast, and soon he was surrounded by crowds, so he headed out for the countryside. But as we’ll hear, the crowds followed him. Today’s reading is from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 5, 1-11. Listen for the good news God has for us today:
Once, while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, (that’s the Sea of Galilee,) 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.”
Can you imagine – You’ve just finished a long shift at work, and it’s been intense and harried and stressful, and you feel like you got nothing done and have nothing to show for it. You are just so glad to be home, in your pjs, ready to settle in and be done, and Jesus says – Hop to! Get dressed! We’re going out again! Yeah – that’s exactly what you want to do. Of course Simon isn’t thrilled with this invitation at first:
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 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!”
That response sounds odd to our ears, but it’s like Peter was saying, “Wait! I don’t deserve all this!”
For he and the all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken, and 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.”
May God bless our hearing and our understanding of this word, that we may hear God speaking to us this day.
Have you ever wished Jesus would show up like he did for Simon Peter, and tell you what to do? “Do this. This is what you are here for. Don’t worry. Don’t be scared. Let’s get going.”
Philip Gulley, Quaker minister and author of several books, the most recent “Unlearning God,” was always being told growing up – God has a plan for you! First it was the Catholic nuns – God has a plan for you! Then by his evangelical friends and their preachers: God has a plan for you!”
Have you ever heard that? “God has a plan for you! All you have to do is figure it out!” Philip Gulley says he never understood why God couldn’t save them both a whole lot of trouble and just tell him the plan, instead of making him guess. As a high school senior he decided he’d better not waste all that time and money going to college – What if he thought God wanted him to be a doctor, only to find out God really wanted him to be an alcoholic and make him an example for other people? He’d better just hang around until he heard a word from the Lord.
It’s a lot of pressure to put on a person – To figure out the one, specific, unique plan God has for you: What person God’s picked out for you to marry, if anyone; what college God wants you to go to; what job God wants you to take; how many kids, if any, God wants you to have; what house or apartment God has set aside just for you; where you are to live, when you are to move, when you are to change jobs.
I’m not sure how we got the idea that’s how God works, but especially when we are facing a big decision, we wonder, “What is God’s will for me?” and try to figure out the right answer. Maybe it has to do with how we make meaning in small moments every day – If we see God’s Spirit at work intervening in small moments, then surely God has a bigger plan for us, right?
Here’s an example: just this week, I reached out by email to several people I hadn’t heard from in awhile – One of whom emailed back immediately to say: I’m having a really rough time, and I was going to see if I could come in today to talk with you – And you emailed me! How did you know? Was it God?” The assumption is this: “It must have been God’s plan that you would email me just when I needed it.”
It’s complicated, isn’t it – Because sometimes it does seem as though the Spirit is right there, nudging us along the way. But does that mean every detail of our lives is planned out by God, and if we don’t follow that plan, we’re in for a heap of trouble?
What if Simon Peter knew his mother-in-law was sick and didn’t want to trouble her with guests, so didn’t invite Jesus over. What if Simon Peter had turned Jesus’ request for a boat down – And said, “I’m way behind on cleaning my nets – Can you borrow that boat instead?” Or what if, like any of us, tired after a long work day, said, “Sorry Jesus, I am wiped out; it’s been a very very long night (they fished at night when the fish swam up to the warmer waters and were easier to catch) and I can barely stand –
If any one of those moments Simon had answered “wrong,” would that have been it? Did he get one chance to have God work in his life and he could have blown it? What if he chose wrong? What if he missed his chance? Is that how God’s “plan” works? There’s a big map of our lives, from birth to death, and it’s up to us to read the Divine Mind and decode the Master Plan.
My husband Paul works with some of the most amazing, talented, gifts, committed Masters of Public Health students in the world – After all, they have been accepted into the number one school of public health in the world – And Paul often finds himself advising these students during the program, and keeps track of them after they graduate – One is Melinda Gates’ top advisor in the Gates’ Foundation; one is the chief of staff for the governor of Colorado; the alum Laurel Underwood was just elected as the youngest African American representative in congress; one was the TED speaker of the year and won a million dollars for his work in clean water in Liberia. You get the drift.
So it was very unusual for a college junior to end up in his office this week. He usually doesn’t have someone that young want to meet with him. But she was trying to figure out, as a college junior, the next steps for her life – Should she pursue a Masters of public health or a Masters in health policy or should she get a job, or an internship? And she wanted guidance, and she wanted answers. Christians have no corner on the market when it comes to wanting to know what we are supposed to do with our lives. We want to get it right. As though if we make the wrong decision, all will be lost. As though there is always a wrong decision or a right decision.
For people of faith, that’s how we live: That is THE question of our lives: Are we following God’s plan? Is this God’s will? How in the world can THIS be part of God’s plan? What about free will? What does my Lord WANT from me anyway? And if it’s that important, why doesn’t Jesus show up at my school, my house, my work, and just TELL ME?
What exactly happened between Jesus and Simon Peter? After that huge haul of fish, Simon Peter doesn’t feel like he deserves what he’s been given. Doesn’t feel like he’s earned this huge haul. Doesn’t understand what it means. But apparently it freaks him out a wee bit, because Jesus has to tell him the most repeated words in our Bible: Don’t be afraid. But we never hear Jesus say “Come, follow me.” No, we hear Simon Peter say, “I don’t deserve all this!” and Jesus say, “Don’t be afraid – From now on you will be catching people,” in the sense of, “catching people in the net of God’s love.”
We are afraid – We don’t know how this will all turn out. At every bend in the road, we can’t see very far ahead. Even at the end – Especially at the end – We can’t see ahead.
Today Andy Carson led the responsive reading from Micah: “And what does the Lord require from you? To seek justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” What if that is God’s plan for us? What if that’s it. No matter what else you are doing, it is just a way for you to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Maybe you are helping people manage their finances, their addiction, their education, their bodies, or our nation’s security; maybe you are working to protect God’s creation, the oceans, the animals, the land, the air. Maybe you are creating a home for tiny human creatures, raising them to be kind adult humans; maybe you are healthy and strong, or sick and weak; maybe you no longer work for pay, or can no longer work for pay, but you are still part of this world. You still interact with other human beings, other creatures, with God’s creation.
What if God’s plan is that you, is that no matter what you are doing, you are seeking justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God?
We want a map; we want to know more than the next little step in front of us; we want to know where we’re heading – And are we right? Honestly, we want specifics. We assume the folk in the Bible got specifics; most of the time, they didn’t. Mostly, they stumbled around in the dark, from one stepping stone to the next, from one oasis in the desert to the next, one little sandbar in the sea then tossed about by the waves, until their feet hit another little sandbar and they can catch their breath.
This past summer and fall, I hiked all over Maryland, and I always took one of my guide books, and I always stopped to pick up the park map, and I always tried to follow the trail blazes. And more times than not, I still got lost. I was by myself – Just me and my bad sense of direction, some water, some snacks, and the resources that were supposed to keep me on track. And I almost always got turned around, and I always, always, always, made it home.
That, I think, is what this life is like: Maybe God doesn’t have a specific, detailed, map and plan for us, that we’re supposed to figure out. Maybe we don’t get just one chance to seek justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God. Maybe God would still have been in Simon Peter’s life and he would’ve have shared God’s good news of saving love with the people in his life even if he didn’t leave home to follow Jesus. Maybe that was one decision of many valid “right” decisions he could have made with his life.
But here’s the thing: Simon Peter didn’t make those decisions in a vacuum, alone – He had already spent time with Jesus, had him over for supper, shared stories, shared his boat, worked alongside him. When God’s gifts were overwhelming him, he had friends to help him carry the load. He didn’t know where he was headed – And to be honest, we don’t either. But, this story reminds us: God’s gifts are more than we can imagine, more than we deserve or can earn, and there are people walking with us, sharing the load, and Jesus is by our side. No matter what else is going on, our lives are about seeking justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God. Sure, we will get lost; sure we’ll make decisions that take us away from justice, and kindness, and humility. But that is what we are here to do. And when we find we are lost, stumbling around in the dark, wandering off the map we have for our lives, we trust that God will make sure we’ll always find our way home, in Christ.