Faith Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD
February 6, 2022
All the Fish in the Sea
Luke 5:1-11; Isaiah 6:1-6
He was exhausted, and his back ached as he crouched on the sandy lakeshore. The nets were a mess, filled with grit and reeds to be picked through, washed out, and cleaned. Another hour’s work at least. The fact that they had not caught any fish that night had one upside – at least they could go straight home to sleep instead of heading to market once the nets were clean.
His calloused hands worked quickly to tie and tighten the knots, mending holes in the nets that were his livelihood. Bending over the ropes, he strained to hear his friend’s voice ring out over the crowd that had gathered to hear him teach on the water’s edge.
It never ceased to amaze him how quickly word spread when Jesus showed up – people would appear out of nowhere, just to catch a glimpse of him, or would bring their old ones or their sick ones, hopeful for a healing. Children flocked to him, too. Luckily, his patience was endless. Peter looked up and shook his head – the villagers were crowding so close, it looked like they might push him into the lake! Another step back and he’d be in the water.
Jesus raised his arm and waved to him – and pointed to the boat. Could he teach from there? Inwardly groaning, Peter stood and shaded his eyes from the morning sun with his hand – hm. The boat might actually work – it would put some distance between him and the crowd, at least, practically the whole village was there. It was worth a try anyway – Simon shrugged and trudged over, whistling to his hired men to come help push the boat back into the water.
They’d already been fishing all night, so what was another couple of hours? The day was fair, and they’d be able to hear Jesus better this way – a front row seat. Simon had heard it before, of course, over dinner the night before, and in the synagogue before that. He’d seen demons cast out, and his own mother-in-law healed of a fever, and the crowds grew more and more each day. He understood their eagerness to hear him, because Simon never tired of hearing him either. Jesus shared good news, talking about the kingdom of God here and now, and promising liberation for the poor, for fishermen and farmers and their families. Simon couldn’t quite explain it, but the teaching filled him up, made his heart swell with something like hope, helped him forget the taxes he had to pay, and that he hadn’t made a good catch in a while.
When Jesus grew tired, he bid goodbye to the crowd and asked Peter to take the boat farther out, into the deep water. When they were far from shore, the men rested on their oars. “Cast your nets here,” he said. Peter laughed, ‘Did you forget you’re a carpenter, man? We fished all night and caught nothing.” Jesus pointed to the water, dark and deep, and again – here, he said. Peter and his men wearily gathered the net, and together heaved it out over the water, watching it splash and slowly sink beneath the waves. As they began to crank it back into the boat, the shining mass of fish startled them, practically leaping out of the water and into their boat, flashing silver, flopping against the wet wood, more than they’d ever seen in one place before. The men were dumbfounded, How could this be? Was it a trick? Their nets were breaking from the sheer weight of them!
They stood and turned back to shore, waving their arms. They cried out to their partners, James and John and their crew, waving, shouting, come, help us!
And when the other boat finally came, and they too were loaded with more fish than they should safely carry, when the wet nets were slung, dripping at the edge of the boat, and rough hands picked up the oars once more to return to shore. The work gave way to wariness. Simon looked at his friend Jesus and not for the first time, felt afraid – fearful for Jesus, for what would the authorities do to him when they knew what he could do? Afraid for himself, too, because surely this man was touched by God, and Simon was unclean – not fit for his presence. Simon couldn’t even remember the last time he’d made the trek to Jerusalem to sacrifice at the temple. Filled with fear, Simon flopped down on the bottom of the boat and cried – leave me be, Lord, I am a sinful man! I do not deserve this miracle! I never asked for it!
I’ve never witnessed a miracle like this, but I certainly know how he was feeling. It’s the feeling of inadequacy, of not being good enough, or skilled enough for the job at hand. It’s being asked to complete a task you’ve only just heard about, with not enough time, experience and resources to get it done. Or, it’s meeting the person you’ve looked up to your whole life, and feeling completely unworthy to be in their presence.
The prophet Isaiah, when called by Almighty God to speak truth to power, is overwhelmed by his own inadequacy. In the presence of God, Isaiah says, oh no, woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips! Choose somebody else!
Richard Rohr says that one of the earliest insights in the Christian tradition is the truth that we are saved by grace. There is nothing we do to earn God’s love. Rohr writes, “Not because you are so bright and light and have purged out all the darkness does God accept you, but as you are. Not by doing something, not by your works…”. There is nothing we can do or fail to do. God simply loves us, and embraces us completely – with all our imperfections, shortcomings, mistakes, and misgivings. By grace, we are good enough, just as we are.
And here we see it, in the bottom of a sinking, stinking fishing boat, in the middle of the sea of Galilee, when Jesus smiles and stretches out his hand to his friend and says, don’t be afraid. Come with me, and we’ll fish for people.
Peter has every reason to feel inadequate. I imagine we all would feel unworthy to be in the presence of the one true God. His religion required regular sacrifices, visits to the temple in Jerusalem that would have been four day’s journey on foot, difficult and expensive for a poor fisherman to make to worship properly. He wasn’t lying, he was ritually unclean – and after fishing all night and hauling in more fish than two boats could hold, I’m guessing he was literally unclean, too. But Christ still chooses him.
I had a colleague in Atlanta who liked to remind elders and deacons that God promises us grace sufficient for our calling – which means, I think, that whenever God calls us to a task, God also equips us to do it. Sometimes the work is overwhelming. It may feel as if our nets are breaking! Sometimes, the boat begins to sink. That is when, like Peter, we must look to shore, to find partners to come meet us and help. Because the silver flash of a miracle compels us to push onward, to push back against the inner voices that say we aren’t good enough, and the powers beyond us that would keep us in our place…God calls us to share good news with the poor, to practice forgiveness, and to work together for liberation. And God gives us to one another, to help make it happen.
I don’t know what it is for you. But I am sure that you all can think of a time when you felt inadequate for the task at hand. Exhausted, overwhelmed. Probably too many times to count over the past few years, we’ve faced fear, illness, and uncertainty. Our way of life has been completely upended. The future is still a bit foggy. But of this I am certain: God is calling us to share the good news of love and liberation with a world in desperate need of it. And God’s grace is sufficient for our calling. I wonder: will we have the wisdom to ask for help when we need it? And when we make it back to shore, will we have the courage to leave our nets behind? I pray that we will. Because when we do, God will surprise us with life abundant over and over again.
 Richard Rohr’s daily email, 6/16/21 “Shadow in Christianity”
 Rev. Sallie Ann McKenzie-Sisk