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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
February 10, 2019 at 10:30 AM
Central Passage
Luke 5:1-11
Epiphany 5C

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: February 10, 2019 – Epiphany 5C

Luke 5:1-11


Expectations Defied


            Imagine that someone, say, your local pastor, came to you farmers with a plan for increasing crop yields. “Rip out all your drain tile,” he says, “and you’ll enjoy yields you never dreamed of.” What would you think? You might think that something bad happened to him at the retreat center this past week. He was a little strange before but now, he’s finally lost it. Not only does your pastor not know the first thing about farming other than “seeds go down, plants go up”, he is presuming to give you advice that is contrary to experience and common sense. Everyone knows that the soil here doesn’t drain well. Without drain tile, you might as well farm in a swamp.


            Something like that happens between Peter and Jesus today. For all Peter knows, Jesus is just an itinerant preacher and healer. He is an effective one to be sure – he healed Peter’s mother-in-law – and he draws crowds to hear him. But what does he know about fishing? What does he know about the labor involved, the long nights spent on the lake, the time spent mending, washing, and drying the nets, the sorting of commercially valuable fish and fish forbidden by the Torah? Yet after Jesus preaches from Peter’s boat, he tells him go out into the deep water of the lake and let down his net for a catch.


            Peter must have been stunned. Jesus gives a command contrary to reason and experience. You let down the nets at night or at twilight when the fish are most active; you don’t do that in the middle of the day. And you let down the nets along the banks where the fish feed, so that you can more easily ensnare them and bring them to shore. You just don’t go out into the middle of the lake, at daybreak, let down the nets, and expect to catch anything!


            And yet, they do. It’s a catch larger than any Peter has ever seen; so large, that it threatens to swamp his boat and that of his partners, James and John. It is a miraculous catch, provided by Christ, and enabled by Peter, who took a leap of faith into the absurd.


            What do we expect from Jesus in our lives today? Do we expect miracles? Of course we don’t. We have a world that seems to operate according to rules. Common sense. If you eat too much, you get fat. If you don’t use drainage tile, your valuable farmland will turn into swampland. If you go to church on Sunday and pray your heart out, you might find comfort in a community of fellow believers but you don’t expect much to happen. Jesus often seems remote to us, reducible to a set of moral precepts and miracle stories. We might be tempted to think that Jesus doesn’t have much to do with our lives as we live them. We might not expect much from him. Oh sure, we hope for salvation after death, but salvation in the here-and-now? Miracles in the here-and-now? We think we know better than to expect that.


            But then Jesus calls us as a community of faith to do something contrary to common sense and experience. He calls us to take a leap of faith and trust him, to do what he asks us to do. He calls us to let down our nets, so to speak, not in the shoreline of our community, where it’s safer to hope to catch one or two, maybe people who think like us. (I know I’m mixing metaphors here but just deal with it for the moment.) He calls us out into the depths of our community to let down our nets; out into the places where the water is deep and murky; where we can’t see what or who Christ is bringing to us. He’s calling us to let down our nets for the lost, the sick, those who have found their way into deep waters and can’t get out. He’s calling us to let down our nets for all kinds of people, in places we might least expect to find them. Like the prisons. The food pantry. The taverns. Anywhere we think might be the farthest place from where people might be receptive to the Word of God. That’s where Jesus tells us to let down the nets.


            Here’s the thing. Jesus provides the catch. What we’re asked to do is to take the leap of faith and let down the nets. To trust the one who calls us to action. And to remember that Jesus uses all kinds of people to embody and proclaim God’s Word. Think of our other readings this morning. Think of Isaiah, the man of unclean lips, who trembled before the throne of God when he was called to prophesy to the people (And what a bizarre message he was called to prophesy, too! Talk about something beyond common sense!) Think of Paul, who was present at the murder of Stephen, who persecuted the church and threw its members into prison, who was privileged to receive a revelation of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Jesus even calls people who think they’re past their prime; who think they’ve already done everything they can for the church, who think they’ve paid their dues. Remember the stories of Abraham and Sarah, of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Jesus calls us – people like you and me, people who might think we’re not the right person for the job – to take a leap of faith, let down our nets, and let Jesus bring them in.


            You see, once upon a time you, too, were brought into the Christian faith by someone who cared deeply about you. Someone brought you to this font to be washed in the waters of baptism, to be sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ. You may have had a period of your life where you left the church for a time; where you excommunicated yourself from hearing the Word and receiving Communion. And someone cared enough to welcome you back. Through that person’s leap of faith, Jesus brought you to faith. Jesus saved you. Jesus redeemed you from the powers of sin and death. Jesus showed you the power of God’s love. And now Jesus asks us to take a similar leap of faith, to follow him out into deep waters, amid threats of storms and strong winds, of high waves and murky waters, and let down our nets for a catch. When we take that leap of faith, there is no telling who Jesus will bring into the boat.


            Let us pray.


            Jesus, help us to trust you. Give us the courage to do what you tell us to do. Amen.


© 2019, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.