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First Impressions: Luke 5:1-11

February 2, 2010

This is to me the most interesting of the accounts of Simon Peter’s call.  I am drawn to the description of Simon on his knees, awed at the raw power on display in and through the person of Jesus.  It is a moment of self-understanding—“I am not worthy to remain in the presence of someone so holy.”  I have preached on that before, usually in conjunction with Isaiah 6:1-13, but this week, I think I will focus on the image of the “deep water.”  What does it symbolize in the text, and what does it mean for us to go to the deep water ourselves?

5:1-3 This section sets up the rest of the story.  I haven’t discerned much preachable material in these three verses.  Have I missed something?

5:4-5 Simon, if he was annoyed at having a non-fisherman tell him how to do his job, didn’t seem to show it.  He very well could have said, “Buddy, don’t you think I know how to do my job?  I don’t tell you how to preach.”  Maybe he was simply being polite.  Or perhaps, like many in the crowds, he recognized something special about this wandering prophet.  A sermon around these verses could emphasize obedience, especially when the instructions don’t seem to make much sense.  Do I fail to be obedient because I think I know better than Jesus?  Am I afraid that he is too naïve for the real world?

I’ll use, verse 4, but I’ll go in a different direction.  The phrase “deep water” always seems to come to the forefront when I read this text.  Deep water may have meant something different for Luke, but for me, it symbolizes a place that is unknown (since you can’t see to the bottom) and a little dangerous.  My family and I have often rented a boat to go fishing at a mountain lake called Lake Sabrina.  We usually troll around the edges or anchor at one of the inlets.  The only time we go into the deep water is to cross to the other side or make a quick run to or from the dock.  It is always something of a thrill to move deeper, to watch as the ghostly outlines of the rocks disappear into the deep blue-green.

There is something of the unknown in the deep.  It is unfamiliar territory, and there are few landmarks in the deep.  We keep our eyes firmly planted on the shore as we move across.  Yet Jesus calls us out there with him.  Will I go to face the thrill despite my fear?  I can always catch a few stocked rainbow trout near the shore, but there is a promise that in the deep, a big, fat brown trout might be lurking, waiting out the heat of the day, there for anyone who might venture into the deep water.  Stay by the shore or go out into the deep?  That is the question of my sermon.

5:6-7 Of course Luke tells us that there was great success for Simon in the deep water.  The large catch strained the nets to the breaking point and threatened to swamp the boats.  The catch was divine, but could not have happened if Simon hadn’t said “yes” to Jesus.

5:8-9 Verse 8 is the first place “Simon” is called “Simon Peter” in Luke’s Gospel.  When he understood what was happening, Simon felt that close encounter with the divine.  There was a holy power and a holy presence, and he felt an extreme unworthiness.  He was mortified.  His was painfully aware of his own sinfulness.  Simon begged Jesus to go away.

It is not always pleasant to be a lost sheep found by God.  There are times when the lostness feels better than being found.  That is because there is some comfort in the place we’ve always known, even if it is an unhealthy place.  Or we feel that we are not worthy of anything better.  It must be a scary feeling, to hear the Holy One is calling and fear that we are not worthy.  In a similar way—but perhaps less extreme—sometimes we are called and we do not feel equipped or ready.  Who am I to teach Sunday School?  Who am I to pray at a hospital bedside?  It is the same fear Isaiah felt.  He felt unworthy to attempt the divine work?  The simple answer is that the God who calls also makes worthy.  The seraph told Isaiah that his guilt had departed and his sin was blotted out (Isaiah 6:7).  Jesus told Simon not to be afraid.  The God who calls you will also make you worthy of the call.  It is not your doing, but it is God’s.

5:10-11 The best part of this call story is that there is no call.  Jesus told Simon not to be afraid, that he would soon be catching people.  Luke does not put “follow me” on Jesus’ lips.  There is only an assumption that once Simon Peter has encountered the divine, he will be swept up in the power and the grace.  That is exactly what happened.  Simon and his partners left everything and followed Jesus.

An interesting sermon might trace the thoughts and actions of those who had to clean up Simon’s mess.  Who put the boats away?  Who mended the torn nets?  What about the piles of stinking, rotting fish on the shore?  Or did the crowd get to enjoy the bounty?  Did they take fish home to their families?  If you’re up for a narrative sermon, take it from the perspectives of those who were left behind with the boats.

What are your plans this week?

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