Wandering Heart: Jesus Sought Me

Wandering Heart: Jesus Sought Me

About this sermon series

Luke 5: 1-11

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 gotten 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 burst. 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’s knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were astounded 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.

I grew up near a lake and one of my favorite activities was rolling up tiny balls of cheese
and bread and throwing them in the water. Brim flocked around the soggy bread. I remember the day I saw this enormous shadow pass under those tiny fish, the flick of a large tail scattered the bread balls and the brim. Then another monstrous fish and another. I am not sure whose mouth was open wider, mine or theirs. I yelled to my Dad. He saw them and named them Carp. He said, “those aren’t eatin’ fish.” I said, “Yes, they are! They are eating like crazy!” But I have never forgotten that sense of surprise I had when something so wild, so powerful, so unknown appeared in what I assumed was boring lake water.

Before he was St. Peter, or San Padro, he was just Simon. Simon, a guy who lived in a
fishing village in Galilee among other fishermen. Simon, who fished with his brother Andrew, and his friends the Zebedee boys, James and John. Just about every night, Andy, Jimmy, Johnny, and Simon probably waited for the light to get low enough so that the fish couldn’t easily see their linen drag nets, and then they worked together to surround and hopefully haul in some silvery tilapia that would sell. It was backbreaking monotonous work. Then, the Roman government had taxation agents in Galilee who would charge them for use of the harbor and tax their earnings.

Simon wasn’t a rod and reel fisherman. So, we shouldn’t picture those fishing shows with
bent poles and zuzzing reels and someone yelling “Oh baby, I got one.” And we also shouldn’t picture a sleepy weekender, drinking or dozing away on a boat, using fishing as a socially acceptable way of escaping the hardships of life. And when this about 25 ft long boat was back on shore, there would be no motor to yank to turn it around.

This story starts in weariness. The grind. The workday that ends feeling like you’re more
behind than when you started. It starts with coming up empty. Running on empty. It starts with a kind of emptiness that is not benign because all that energy was already spent, and all Simon had hauled in was worry and frustration and resentment that no amount of net cleaning could remove.

All for the great prize of little respect in town.

Do you notice that Simon didn’t join in with the crowds pressing in on Jesus to get their
chance at a miracle? He already knew about Jesus, had seen some wonderful things, but it seems like at this point in the story, Simon was a realist who was busy and was tired and didn’t have energy for any more sermons. These fish weren’t going to catch themselves.
And that’s when Jesus had the nerve to get into his boat and ask him to put out into the
deep water. “Master, we have worked all night and have caught nothing!” In his words, do you hear the tangled net of fatigue, disappointment, and resignation? When you’re so worn out that being polite and giving up might look the same? When you just don’t have the energy for debate?

I think that Simon is every person who thinks he already knows how this is going to go.
The educator who just wanted to help kids whose day ends with angry emails and paperwork. The government worker who gives their one life to shore up the blessings of liberty for posterity and whose day ends in gridlock and even accusations of being part of the deep state. The church volunteer or social worker or community activist who was willing to brave the white water with Jesus whose day ends with glassy eyed fishbowl zoom meetings while the world sinks into chaos. Simon and so many others are caught in a net of slow dehumanization. But here’s where it gets interesting. Simon’s name, it means obedient. So when Jesus says, “put out into deep water,” Simon says, “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” Will Willimon says, “Anytime we’re working the night shift with Jesus, we must be prepared for an outbreak of Easter.”

Many people think the life of faith is about never doubting. Or boundless blue water
enthusiasm. Or constant still waters of inner serenity. Or being a try hard for Jesus as Gen Z
might call it. Maybe you’re used to church people being called the frozen chosen. But here’s
what I think. I think that Simon is an example of a more relatable person of faith: the defrosted exhausted.
Simon trusted the face of Jesus and sparkle of deep water only slightly more than he
trusted his fatigue, and one of the miracles of this story is that that kind of half-hearted obedience was enough for Jesus. Simon’s “If you say so” was enough to experience an overwhelming catch of fish. The next thing he knew, Simon was in the midst of staggering abundance when he was mostly trying to avoid offending Jesus. Now there is an honest motto for church. We are the tired inspired. We are the polite re-ignited. We are the broken awoken.
From then on, there is something different about Simon, to the extent that Luke calls him
Simon Peter now. He falls to knees. His hardship melts into worship. Simon says, “Lord, I am a sinful man.” He speaks as someone who has realized maybe for the first time that this world is more wild and beautiful and shot through with miracle than he ever thought possible and this Jesus is the one everyone has been waiting for.

I recognize that human response too. The weepy relief that overtakes your entire body
when the nightmare you had rehearsed in your mind doesn’t happen. Noticing that your worn-out prayer was actually answered, just in a different way than you had planned. Something beautiful happens and the hard shell of your cynicism suddenly breaks apart and you start to see hope everywhere. This kind of faith is not so much taught as it is caught. Sometime you have to believe it if only a little bit to see it.

That’s how the Kingdom of God works. Jesus rehumanizes us in the most personal, in the
most specific you-shaped way God can find.

My daughter and I talked about this story, and to her this story sounded like Disney’s
Moana, a young girl pushing past the breakers to the place she was always meant to go.
My son and I talked about this story, and he thought this was a story about it being ok not
to be perfect. He said, “Practice makes better. Not practice makes perfect. Tell them that, mom.”
I told him I would.
And my mind went to Mary Louise Kelly, host of All Things Considered. In her recent
memoir, It Goes So Fast, she describes the weariness of reporting from war-torn lands while at the same time worrying that her own kids might be deprived a mom. She describes the day she was in a tent in Baghdad and got a call on her cell from the school nurse. She was also weary and worried that her attention to her sons might mean people wouldn’t hear what these major global crises were like on the ground. These are the deep-water questions, questions that always arise when our holy sense of call seems to tug against our dog-tired humanity. And here’s where it got interesting and I wonder if Jesus stepped into her boat. She describes feeling thread bare while covering the looming war in Ukraine. Until she had an opportunity to speak with a Hanna Hopko, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament and another weary and worried mother. Hanna said that what was stressing her out the most not the sanctions nor NATOs response. What was really stressing her that day was the simple fact that her kids really wanted a guinea pig. And she was planning to get one for them. She even thought in a tender parental way that a guinea pig might help them find some joy in the suffering that was about to come. But Hanna couldn’t for the life of her figure out how to evacuate Kyiv with their cages and pellets. In that deeply humanizing conversation, Mary Louise let her urgent questions about NATO and sanctions drop and the two women simply wept together in the deep-water of wanting the best not just for your own kids but everyone’s kids. Everyone’s kids in this entire world. The relentless news cycle threatened to dehumanize them both, but the deeper they went, they discovered they were in similar boats. For people trained to know how these things always go, they found themselves caught by surprise and rehumanized.

All Simon says is “But if you say so.” Simon trusts the face of Jesus slightly more than his fatigue. Simon was caught by surprise and rehumanized. Over and over again this happens with Jesus, and it all leads to the moment when the world attempted to strip Jesus of his
humanity on a hideous cross. Everyone assumed that meant another prophet silenced by another dictator and business as usual. But, thanks be to God, on Easter morning, the weary world was caught by surprise with the ultimate abundance, resurrection, and we couldn’t contain it with all the boats and churches in the world.

This news changes us. Beckons us to the deep waters again. Makes us work more than we
prefer for other people’s children. In Burke. In Kibwezi. In Gaza. In Israel. In Ukraine. At
Rainbow. At youth connections. At the hypothermia shelter. At ECHO. At the adult detention center. At school. In our politics and in our prayers. The Gospel expands our tired narratives of how this or that situation is bound to go and surprises us with grace, rehumanizing us and saving us from ourselves, again and again, so that if we are paying attention, we fall to our knees in wonder, awe and praise.