Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 8, 2004
The Gospel: Luke 5:1-11
Sermon: "Called to be Kingdom Builders"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, 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." 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!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so 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.
Called to be Kingdom Builders
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany - February 8, 2004
My grandfather was an oyster man on the coast of South Carolina. One day he took my mother, father and older sister fishing. She was about five or six and I was just a twinkle in my parents' eyes at the time. He rowed them out to an oyster bank and anchored the boat the way he wanted it. He didn't have rods and reels. They used hand lines with two hooks on each line. My sister and my grandfather were on one end of the boat and my mother and father on the other end. When they quit fishing my grandfather and my sister had caught over one hundred spots. My father and mother had caught six. There wasn't any real secret. My grandfather planned it that way. He knew the water. He knew the oyster banks by heart. He knew how to catch fish on those banks. So, he deliberately anchored the boat so my sister would catch more fish than my parents. The more fish he and my sister caught the more fun he had watching my parents. My grandfather loved to play jokes. The point is my grandfather knew his profession. He knew exactly where to go and exactly what to do. Furthermore, he loved it. By contrast my father was a product of the city. He grew up in Brooklyn. He knew almost nothing about salt water. He knew very little about fishing in general. He was pretty much just along for the ride.
Now, compare this story for a moment to the story from our Gospel. Peter was part of a fishing family. He grew up in those boats. He knew the water. He knew how to fish and he knew where to fish. Here comes this man Jesus. He wants to teach the crowd and asks if he can do it from the boat because it is difficult from the shore line. After he finishes teaching he tells Peter to go out and fish. Here is this teacher who has borrowed his boat telling Peter when to fish and where to fish. Peter doesn't think they will catch a thing. How could they? But he does it anyway and we read about the miraculous catch of fish that follows. Finally, we hear Jesus' words to Peter, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." Peter receives his call to follow Jesus.
Now we could concentrate on the huge catch of fish. We could spend time with the miracle itself. However, what would we learn if we looked at this story from the aspect of discipleship? I think we could make several observations. The first observation involves the fishermen. They were simple fishermen. They had nothing too spectacular to deserve Jesus' special attention. They were not scholars or more qualified than someone else. They didn't have degrees or certificates that read, Galilean Sea's School of Discipleship, Class of 27. They were ordinary fishermen doing what ordinary fishermen do. Yet, they were called by God. We do not understand why they were called. God's call to discipleship is not predictable.
The second observation we can make is that this call did not occur in a holy place like a temple or synagogue. It also did not take place at a holy time like deep personal prayer. The call occurred while these men were doing their normal everyday jobs. They were not praying. They were fishing. God's call to discipleship can occur at any time and at any place. God's call to discipleship occurs in the events of every day life.
I started my working career as a marine biologist. It was my dream job. I always wanted to work on the water. I guess I wanted to follow in my grandfather's footsteps. I also had a great love for the church. But the lure of the water got my attention first. I achieved my goal. I was working in the major marine lab in Charleston. My job was to grow fish in this lab from fingerlings to a size that could be released into the environment. We had hundreds of thousands of these fingerlings in tanks all around the lab. One day I was looking into a tank where they had reached a decent size and saw all the fish swimming in the same direction with the current flow. All of a sudden I saw one swimming in the other direction and I got excited. Why was he swimming in the other direction? Then I found myself asking another question. Why am I so excited about this fish changing direction? There has got to be more to life than getting excited over a two inch fish swimming in the opposite direction. I am not saying that God called me right there on the spot. I believe God had been nudging me all along. This event got my attention. It was not a major miracle. It was an event in the workings of my everyday life.
The third observation we can make is that this call story does not have the usual words follow me. This story is a commissioning call. The disciples are commissioned to service. Their service is kingdom service. They serve the kingdom by "catching people" for the kingdom. In other words they are to share the Gospel. Being a disciple means we share the good news of Christ to others in the world. We do it with the gifts we are given. We may not preach from a pulpit or even on a street corner. We may not sing like an angel or write music or paint. We are called right where we are. We share the Gospel right where we are. We may share it through words, but we may share it even more importantly through our actions.
This leads us to the final observation we can make about discipleship. When we admit to ourselves that we have been called there is a change. We are called to reorder our priorities in life. I am not saying that we have to quit our jobs and become itinerant preachers. What I am saying is that Jesus Christ becomes first in our lives. Living our lives in the way God intended becomes our first priority. We turn away from the priorities of the world and look to God to guide us. We pattern our life after Jesus' life. Instead of building up ourselves in the world's priorities, we become kingdom servers. We work towards the building of the kingdom. We fish for people and not for things.
We are sitting in these pews this morning. It is evidence that we have all been called by God. We may not know exactly how to respond to the call yet. But we can believe and understand that we are called right where we are. We have been called while we are in our every day lives. We did not do anything special to receive this call. God calls us as we are and where we are. The call we have received is a commissioning call. We are commissioned to tell the story. We are asked to share the good news of God in Jesus Christ. We know deep in our hearts that we need to review our priorities. Do we really seek God's will first? Is our personal agenda more important to us than God's agenda for us? There is one thing that is certain. We are all called to be kingdom builders. The question remains for each of us how we will respond.