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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

The Best Fishing Story Ever - 02/10/2019

This gospel text reads like something being told by some salty OG sitting around, having coffee with friends and anyone else within ear shot, down at the Dog Patch in Munising or over at Jeffrey’s in Marquette. And it should read like that. I think it’s got to be one of the greatest fishing stories ever.

To get us started in u packing this fantastic fishing story, it’s good to realize what has happened since we left off last week, when Jesus’ hometown folks got all riled up over his teaching in the synagogue and tried to throw him off a cliff. But Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” (4.30)

He went on his way north to Capernaum, probably a few days’ walk from Nazareth, and there helped out a man with an unclean spirit. After that people from all over the region really started talking about Jesus and what he was doing and saying. This wasn’t just a Nazareth thing anymore. It was growing.

While Jesus was in Capernum, he also met Simon – who he would later rename Peter. He somehow ended up in Simon-Peter’s house after preaching at the synagogue. Simon-Peter’s mother-in-law was very ill, with a high fever, something that in those times could easily and quickly turn fatal. So Jesus “stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her.” Word spread about that pretty quickly too, and all night long, people brought their loved ones who were suffering to Jesus. Some were ill, some had demons. Others came with brain health issues and other debilitating conditions. Jesus cured all of them.

The next morning, he left. “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose,” (4.43) he said.

So he did that and the people who heard about him and the crowd following him increased daily … it snowballed quickly like a good fishing story.

So when we come to our place in the story today, Jesus and Simon-Peter are again drawn together, this time in Simon-Peter’s workplace, which is the sea.

Imagine what this must have been like from Simon-Peter’s perspective, who is laboring on the beach, cleaning up after a long and fruitless night of fishing. Just like anyone else, giving everything you’ve got mentally and physically to your job and getting no payout in the end, would be beyond frustrating. You’d probably be tired and cranky. Hungry. Your patience for your co-workers would be wearing thin. You’d likely be second-guessing every decision you had made and beating yourself up for not finding the fish. Why did I put the nets in over there? Why did I pull them up so soon? Why did I try this new bait? Are there holes in the net I missed?

I don’t think any of us, after a day like this, would be in a great place – emotionally.

Someone in Simon-Peter’s vocation would be roughly equivalent to the middle class of our day, so not as poor as some, but still, a day of no pay was not easy to bear when you’ve got a family and maybe more depending on you for food and shelter. It wasn’t’ easy for a Jewish man who lived under the thumb of the Romans, rulers who liked to toy with and stir up the Jewish people. It wasn’t easy for someone who had to pay the Romans more taxes just so they could continue to worship their One-True God instead of all the Roman gods. It just wasn’t easy.

All of these kinds of pressures had to be weighing on Simon-Peter as he’s coming off of that poor night at sea and crosses paths again with Jesus … the Rabbi and healer, a man who seems to speak and move with some kind of unexplained and powerful authority … and now he’s got a crowd of people following him too.

It turns out, Simon-Peter has exactly what Jesus needs as he is trying to tend to these crowds that flock and follow him. It must have been a relief for Jesus to run into someone he knew. He asks Simon-Peter to take him out into the shallow waters of the Sea of Galilee, just a little bit, so that more people can see and hear him, instead of just the few who managed to circle him with all the others pushing in and straining their ears to listen.

So Jesus begins teaching from the boat. It wouldn’t be the last unconventional pulpit Jesus would use in his ministry. He’d go on to preach and teach from people’s houses, the dining tables of tax collectors, out in fields of grain on the Sabbath, in the level plains of the area, at city gates and even the tables of Pharisees.

It’s a good observation on this story. It reminds us that we are a not limited to the confines of this room or certain groups of people to share the Good News … we eat at this table so we are nourished to speak the hope and encouragement of Jesus Christ into any and all situations we encounter.

Now think back to Simon-Peter at this point. He doesn’t hesitate to do as Jesus asks, even though he probably just wants to go home and crash in front of the fire and try to forget about this crappy work day.

He puts all that aside and he helps Jesus out and in doing so he gets a front row seat to Jesus’ teaching and preaching in that boat. Can you imagine how that would change you?

And then, when Jesus is done with his lesson, he decides they are going to do a little more – he asks Simon-Peter to take the boat out to deeper waters and put the nets in for a catch.

Peter again is obedient – he only half-way resists. “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5) It’s as if Peter is trying to save Jesus or warn him of the same fishing frustration he’d just experienced. Maybe in his mind, Peter was thinking “I’m the fisherman here – I know these waters. I know the art of fishing. You’re a carpenter, dude. But whatever – you’ve got my attention and my respect, so I’ll do as you say. Just don’t blame me when you end up tired, frustrated and empty-handed too.”

But Simon-Peter pushes whatever internal dialogue is going on aside and does as Jesus asks. It probably went against everything he knew from experience, fisherman intuition and generations of fishing stories and facts he would have grown up with. But Jesus and the authority and sincerity he spoke with and acted with was enough for Simon-Peter to set all that aside and obey Jesus’ command.

And what happens? The best fishing story ever!

Simon Peter’s willingness to trust and follow Jesus turns out to provide more than he could have ever imagined. The catch was so large, he needed to call in others to help handle the abundance – so unexpectedly generous was this catch that it nearly sank both boats working to bring it in. They would need a whole community to steward this sign of God’s abundance well.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, this whole experience seems to completely turn Simon-Peter’s world on its head.

We can hear it first in his language. When Jesus asks Simon-Peter to put the boat out in deeper waters and cast the nets again, Simon-Peter calls Jesus “Master.” It’s an interesting word choice the gospel writer makes here. It’s not “master” like “teacher” or “rabbi” or something. It’s more like, “Okay, Boss. Whatever you say.”

But after the catch comes in, it is clear that Simon-Peter’s respect of and deference to Jesus has taken a huge leap. He falls at Jesus’ feet – a posture of pure devotion and praise – and calls him “Lord” – a title of respect and honor …. The title given to God, the Messiah.

Simon-Peter is so changed, in fact – as are his fishing partners James and John and probably others in that crowd too – that he ends up putting everything he knows aside. Everything he thought was certain. Every fear. Everything and everyone that made up his world and dictated the rhythms and activity of his days. Everything, he put aside to follow Jesus.

Even the fish! … which we can presume were enjoyed around many fires in and around Capernaum in the days that followed. But still, it does catch one’s attention that after all the toil and frustration over a long and hard night of poor fishing, Simon-Peter and the others just left that catch behind.

Or did they?

Maybe not, we may think when we remember the end of this story. As it turns out, the call of the first disciples and the final appearance of Jesus to the disciples after the resurrection are connected by fish.

“While they were talking about (the appearance of Jesus to the disciples on the road to Emmaus), Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.”

Let us pray: Lord, you tell us, as you told Simon-Peter, “Put out into the deep water.” You are ready to surprise us with the depths we can find in ourselves, with the work you can do through us. Save us from complacency, from settling for a routine existence and open us to recognizing your hand in our daily encounters. (Adapted from prayer found at: https://www.sacredspace.ie/scripture/luke-51-11#g)

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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