|Luke #15 Who Wants To Go Fishing?
Who wants to go Fishing?
Reading: Luke 5:1-11
Introduction: I will never forget the first time we took my friend Gerald fishing. It was opening day of fishing season in Oregon. Gerald is a big man, about 6' 3" and 240 lbs, but he grew up never having fished a single time in his life. For this trip he went out and bought a fishing pole and reel and we were supplying the lures and whatever he needed on this first experience for him. Three of us planned this early morning trip about two hours out of town to a small stream I had never fished before but the third person in our group had been there the year before and he guaranteed our success. In Oregon, daylight comes at about five o'clock in late April when trout season opens, so we got up early and made our way out to the Yamhill River in the midst of the Coastal Mountain Range in Northwestern Oregon. When we got to the stream, he just barely knew how to get his line in the water. But an amazing thing happened. We pulled off the road and started fishing in a little hole not more than 20 feet across and maybe 30 in length along this stream, and on the first cast all three of us had a fish. In fact, with a limit of ten fish per person, two of us limited out in about 15 minutes, and Gerald caught his 10 fish after about 30 minutes. About that time the game warden showed up and confirmed what we already knew. We had stumbled onto the place where hundreds of fish had been stocked just the day before.
Remember that this was Gerald's first time ever fishing--he thought that was what happened whenever a person went fishing. It was he who was hooked! He wanted to come back the next afternoon and fish some more. In fact, he returned twice more during the week and then we all went again the next Saturday. We kept having to move downstream with each trip and fish a little longer each time to get our limits, but it was Gerald who was fun to watch. Imagine what Gerald would have thought had we been skunked the first day out! But when we caught a fish on every cast, he couldn't wait to come back.
We weren't using nets like the commercial fishermen in the first century who no doubt had been in and around the business for a long time when they had this amazing experience. These guys fished this lake all of the time. They knew how to fish the lake, when to fish it. They didn't have view finders and depth and temperature gages and all the handy tools for lake fishing that people have today, but if they made their living by catching fish, you can imagine that they did a good job of finding the fish on that lake. When your livelihood depends on catching fish, it could not have been a pleasant experience to come home with an empty boat after fishing all night. Sure, it had happened before, but when you get skunked it is more than not having food for breakfast. It means not having money to feed the family until you find the fish again.
We know from other accounts that Simon and Andrew (who is never mentioned here in Luke's story) and James and John were partners in the fishing business. We also remember that in Luke's telling of the story Jesus already had encountered Simon and his household. It was Simon's mother-in-law that had been healed in Capernaum. It seems unlikely Jesus would have entered the house apart from an invitation from the male head of household, Simon himself. Simon would have witnessed already the teaching and the power of Jesus on that occasion. But this day must have been different. Coming in from a dismal fishing trip, he had been greeted at shore by a mob of people crowding in upon Jesus listening to him preach. In fact the people crowded in so much that Jesus finally asked if he could climb on board the fishing boat just to give himself some distance and be heard as he tried to teach the people. Having fished all night and then coming to shore, only to put out from shore again for a preaching service must had been strange, even if the popularity of Jesus was known throughout the region. On the one hand, Simon must have been honored to have him ask to use his boat. On the other hand, he was dead tired and a bit discouraged from a bad night’s work.
While Jesus was an authoritative teacher and obviously a man of great power, he was a bit awkward getting into the boat--it was pretty obvious he had never been fishing before! How strange it must have been to Simon, when Jesus stopped addressing the crowds and gave him instructions on how to fish! "Put out into the deep and let your nets down for a catch." Simon's first response is, “Listen, they're just not out there today. We just fished all night and got skunked” He’s probably thinking to himself, we're the ones in the fishing business! We're the ones who know where the fish are. "But because you say so, I will let down the nets."
What happened next only people who fish can truly imagine. Right when you have decided there are no fish in the lake, it is as though the stocking truck dumps a load of fish right in the hole you are fishing. Experienced fishermen never had success like this. The nets can't hold them all. The sheer weight of the fish is about to break the nets. Only with the help of his partners who come with another boat, can they haul the nets over the side, and the catch from one boat's nets fills two boats with fish to the point that the boats are too low in the water. Neither is designed for that large a catch.
Simon's reaction to all of this is hardly that of a fisherman, however. Unlike my friend, Gerald, who wanted to hurry up and go fish some more; unlike a commercial fisherman who discovers where the big school of fish is, Peter doesn't throw out a buoy to mark the spot on the lake. He doesn't say to Jesus, “wow, can you come back again tomorrow so we can do this again? He doesn't thank God that he is financially saved and start seeing dollar signs imagining how much this catch will bring in. He doesn't think he has just discovered the golden goose--the best fish-finder ever! That will mean never having to be skunked again. He doesn't even tend to the fish that are about to swamp his boat. Instead, he falls to his knees in the presence of Messiah and says, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinner.” What Simon saw was not fish, but divine presence. And in the presence of the Lord, he saw himself.
Simon's fishing experience has great parallels with Isaiah's vision of God. When Isaiah realized he was in the presence of God, he said, "Woe is me, I am ruined. For I am a man of unclean lips and I live in the midst of a people of unclean lips." That's Simon's reaction to Jesus. He knows this catch of fish is a sign of God's presence and he is a sinner, unworthy to be in that presence. But as Isaiah experienced the healing touch of the coal to his lips and the pronouncement that his sins were forgiven, so Simon experiences the gracious calling of Jesus when he says, “Don't be afraid. From now on you will be netting men.” “Who shall I send, who will go for us?” God said to Isaiah. And Isaiah said, “Here am I send me.” “From now on you will be netting men,” Jesus said. And with such a load of fish that the nets were about to break and the boats were about to sink, when they got to land, they left everything and followed Jesus. Left Zebedee with all those fish to clean! Left today's profits, left everything, because they had experienced the power and presence of the Lord and they were off to become fishers of men.
Going fishing for men only makes sense when you have discovered the impotence of human effort and you have seen yourself in the presence and power of the Lord. If Simon already had a boat full of fish, catching more fish would not have impressed him much. But he was empty before the Lord, a fisherman without fish, listening to a man who had never fished before. In that context, he witnessed the power and presence of God, and he saw himself. Only then could there be the resolution to leave everything and follow, to repent--turn his life around and go in a completely new direction. Only then could he be God's fisherman, Jesus' disciple.
I suggest today that God still needs people in the fishing business. But before we can fish, we need to learn afresh the lessons that Simon and his friends learned on the boat. It is God who is the fish-finder. It is God who has the power and presence that changes lives. Before we can be his disciples, before we can fish for men and women in our time, we must see ourselves for who we are. We must repent and leave everything and follow. We must affirm in our own lives what Simon discovered on the boat that day at the sea. Our God is an awesome God, and we are ruined sinners apart from the compassionate calling of Jesus. If we have shared in that experience, then there can be no hesitation, no fear in the calling when we hear the voice saying, who shall I send, who will go for us. Here we are; send us!
This is a great day in the history of this church as we take time together to communicate our thoughts and opinions and develop together a shared vision of our future. But we also need to remember that the future of this church is not about our opinions and our human agendas and our human comfort zones. It is about God calling us to service, God calling us to fish. The shared vision of this church depends upon a shared vision of God, a shared sense of calling. It depends on us seeing not human potential but God potential. From a human perspective all kinds of things will be financially impossible, humanly impossible. But if we see and experience the power and presence of Messiah as Peter did, the God of impossibilities can work and will his good pleasure among us. Nothing will be impossible.
Have you left everything and followed him yet? Have you ever really seen yourself in the presence of Almighty God? Do you still have the fisherman's reaction when God blesses you, focusing on yourself and what you can get out of this rather than recognizing you are a sinner in need of a savior? When you hear his call today, how will you respond?
Delivered at Brentwood Hills, February 6, 1994 a.m.
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