The Fifth Sunday of Epiphany

Judges 6:11-24; Psalm 85; I Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

Experiencing a call to the unknown is a jarring experience. We live these moments at various points in our lives, where we, if we are emotionally and mentally healthy, have to make a decision that will alter the course and nature of our lives forever. And those choices, those decisions that have to be made one way or the other, can shake us and challenge us, but also have the potential to shape and transform us in ways that we never try know until we do it, we take that step out in faith.

I remember when Hollie and I moved to Pennsylvania. We had planned and saved money for a year since our wedding, figured out where to stay when we got there but not much else, just knowing that we needed to go. I was going to try (unsuccessfully) to go to school over there, and we hoped it would lead to further opportunities, ministry in other places, and who knew what else. So we put most of our belongings in storage, packed our Toyota Camry to the roof, and set out. And I cried as we entered Idaho. Now I knew we needed to go, needed to do this; I also did not feel strongly that we needed to stay, so I was entirely committed to the decision. Yet, it was a tearing, a breaking of something in me to leave my only home all my life, and to take that step. 

When considering the first call of the disciples, the band of 12 who followed Jesus closely, I think we often do not feel the force of the change in their lives. Partly this is because in Matthew and Mark, it feels rather flat; Jesus calls, they follow. Luke’s account, though, gives us a closer insight into the drama of this call, and helps us to understand better the momentous change coming into their lives.

As Jesus preaches to the crowd on the Sea of Galilee, they are pressing in on Him, and because I imagine Jesus to be an introvert like me, I suspect he began to feel crowded, anxious even, and needs space to continue preaching. So he sets out with Simon Peter in his fishing boat. What is interesting here is not the sermon he delivers to the crowd, however, but his conversation tat follows with Peter. Put down your nets, Jesus says, and Peter responds with the observation that they hadn’t caught anything all night…but with Jesus asking, in faith he says despite that, we will cast our nets.

How many times have we done the same? How many times have we been faced with what we know God would have us do, and we say “but it didn’t work the last time”? Yet, Peter here is a model for us, in that he says that, but still does it; he expresses doubt, but still says, “even if it appears futile to me, I trust you, Jesus.” 

The Sign done here is a revelation of Jesus as the Christ, a manifestation of who he is for these men who will be his closest followers. And through the Sign, and the response of faith by Simon Peter, this passage teaches us that The call of Jesus transforms weak people into empowered disciples

This sign draws Peter and James and John to follow Jesus as his disciples, no longer just fishermen, but fishers of men. When Simon Peter sees the sign, he knows who he is encountering; this is not just an rabbi, but a manifestation of God; when he says “Lord (kurios),” Peter shows us that he knows he is encountering the divine, even if he doesn’t understand how. And in encountering the divine, the response of the human should always be a recognition and acknowledgment of their weakness: “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Peter says. We find a parallel in Isaiah 6, when Isaiah is in the heavenly throne room of God where even angels must hide their eyes and says, “I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips!”

The response of Jesus is the same as God’s in Isaiah 6: He bids St. Peter to not be afraid, but to stand and be commissioned, for now he will be a messenger of God. The empowerment to be a disciple of Jesus, to proclaim who he is, to cast all else away and follow Him, is all from Him, the only Begotten Son of God. Just as the fish did not come from the efforts of the disciples but from an act of God, so the fruit of their labors, the fruit of proclaiming the Gospel of God, comes not from them and their power but from God’s work.

This is the essence of the Gospel: That God does what humans cannot. The call of Jesus transforms weak people into empowered disciples.

Simon Peter here learns what we all must learn. First, when we encounter Jesus, the response can include doubt, but must be dominated by faith: “Yet if you say so…” Peter says, and so should we. While we don’t drop everything like these disciples did, since their role as apostles was unique, we yet do find that the call to faith in Christ requires the paring away of much, the loss of much; we are, if Jesus be true, not able to continue to live as we once did. Self-giving and sacrifice is now our motto; striving for holiness is our goal; rejecting violence, greed, and hatred is our mantra. We are to be shaped into the life of Christ, which means leaving behind whatever cannot coexist with the life of Christ. I cried when we left Spokane, but the pain of leaving some things behind made way for the joy and encouragement of what was to come.

Second, whatever role we are called to play individually in the life of the Church, the Body of Christ here and now, we must know that the result is not ours to predict or produce, but it is only ours to have faith and be faithful. When our experience, and our senses, and our expectations tell us that there is nothing to find here and it is time to give up, Jesus Christ tells us that the bounty, the abundance, is His to give. Life will be full of disappointment, but we must trust that our time spent on this earth is not futile, not meaningless, even if the meaning is not apparent to us here and now. Believe in the Lord, and do what you are called to, and trust in the Lord to fill the nets.

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