Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
February 6, 2022
Calling – Rev. Brent Gundlah

         My father turns seventy-seven in a few weeks and is still works as an electrician, as he has for the past fifty-six years. He’s complained about wanting to retire for a long time, but hasn’t ever done it. Dad is grouchy by nature but he also really loves his job — and this is good, because, as the sole proprietor of a business, he works a lot; and, like many workaholics, my Dad’s never really been one to enjoy recreation for its own sake.

         But the one thing that my Dad has always really loved to do other (than work) is go fishing — anywhere and anytime, good weather or bad. He always carries his gear in the back of his truck and has a canoe strapped to the roof just in case he happens upon a body of water during his travels.

         I’ve never understood my Dad’s affinity for fishing — it just doesn’t appeal to me the same way it does to him — but I will say this: it’s always made it relatively easy to pick out gifts for him — I generally just head to the nearest sporting goods store and find something… fishy.

         But when I walk in there I feel overwhelmed. There’s just so many possibilities that I can’t make sense of them all — aisle after aisle, shelf upon shelf, filled with various things meant to entice fish out of water.

         I’ve always wondered what actually makes this lure more appealing than that one to a particular fish at a particular time; I can’t help but marvel at the sheer amount of time and effort dedicated to figuring that out — especially since fishing is often a frustrating exercise in futility. And yet, my father keeps going out to the water in search of… something.

         As today’s story from Luke begins, Jesus is preaching on the shores of Lake Gennesaret, otherwise known as the Sea of Galilee. A fisherman named Simon and his partners, two brothers named James and John, are at the water’s edge near their boats, washing the nets after a long and fruitless night of fishing.

         Jesus doesn’t have the audacity to ask them if they’d managed to catch anything — maybe he can tell from their empty nets and boats, and the frustrated looks on their tired faces, that they didn’t; or maybe he just knows. Who could really say for sure? But he definitely doesn’t ask them.

         Jesus is, however, bold enough to jump in Simon’s boat and ask to be rowed out a little way from the shore so that he might continue to teach the growing crowd from the relative safety of the water. Again, I’m not really sure why he does this; but Jesus often shows up in people’s lives and makes demands on them without giving them reasons.

         When Jesus is finished teaching, he does something even more inexplicable: he tells Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch,” which is odd for several reasons.

         For starters, the deep water is not the place you want to be in a small boat on Lake Gennesaret — it’s a dangerous place; and a seasoned fisherman like Simon would have realized that. And anyone who knew anything at all about the Hebrew scriptures also knew that the watery deep had a history of being wild and chaotic (have a look at the stories of creation and of the flood in Genesis). Besides, as a pro, Simon would have understood that the fishing was better in the shallows.

         Remember, Simon and company have just come in from a long night of work having caught nothing — and nighttime was when the fishing was supposed to be good. Now Jesus is not only telling Simon to head out into the perilous deep water, but he’s also telling him to do so after the sun was up and all the fish had gone away.

         It had to be clear to Simon and the others that Jesus didn’t know an awful lot about fishing. And yet, there’s Jesus sitting in Simon’s boat and telling him how to do his job. The whole thing just doesn’t make any sense; but Jesus tends to show up in people’s lives and asks them to do things that don’t seem to make any sense.

         And the really weird thing is that Simon does it anyway. Going against all that a lifetime of practical experience has taught him, Simon heads out to sea and drops his nets in the water.

         Sure, he complains a little at first; “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing,” is what he says. He might have been thinking, “Come on, man. I just want to head home and go to bed. I’ve got to get back in the boat and do this all over again in a few hours. I’m trying to run a business here.”

         But Simon eventually does what Jesus tells him to do. It’s probably a good thing that Simon doesn’t argue too much here, because Jesus wasn’t going to let him off the hook (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).

         We don’t find out why Simon agrees to Jesus’s odd demand to go deep-sea fishing; we’re never told what overcomes his initial reluctance to do so. Maybe he’s is just one of those people who can’t say no to anyone;

maybe he’s already grown accustomed to Jesus asking people to do strange things;

maybe he’s heard the teaching and witnessed the healing and has come to believe that Jesus is special;

or maybe he feels like he owes Jesus something. You see, Simon’s already met him; in the previous chapter of Luke, Simon’s mother-in-law is one of the people whom Jesus heals, and Simon was surely grateful for this miraculous cure — even it was his mother-in-law;

maybe he’s in search of something (other than fish) without really knowing what that something is.

         In any event, jumping back in his boat, heading out beyond the familiar shallow waters and casting his nets in the middle of the day takes a real leap of faith on Simon’s part. He knows that none of this is a good idea. And he does it anyway.

         Once they’re out on the high seas, Jesus doesn’t offer Simon a dazzling new fishing lure to throw into the water. It’s just the same old crew, in the same old boats, using the same old nets. And they manage to catch a whole lot of fish. No explanation is ever given for this, and the fishermen don’t actually ask for one.

         But Simon Peter is understandably perplexed and terrified by what’s just transpired. He falls to his knees shouting, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” But Jesus senses that this is less about Peter’s feelings of unworthiness than it is about Peter’s fear of what comes next. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people,” he says to Simon. Come on, Simon Peter; get up, we have to move on; we’ve got more to do.

         You may have noticed that Simon’s suddenly been given a new name here. He’s not just Simon any more; he’s Simon Peter. Peter. Petrus. The Rock. The one upon which Jesus will build his church.

         But at this point, there is no church; there’s no doctrine and no dogma; there’s no creeds and no catechism. There’s just an invitation from Jesus to go with him to explore the what lurked in the murk below the water’s surface — an invitation extended first to the rock, the one whom everyone (including Peter himself) figured would sink.

         Yet the rock left everything and followed him there, not knowing what would happen next — not really knowing anything at all. Jesus had taught and healed to the wonderment of many, but no one (including Peter) knew what to make of him then (do we even now?).

         At that point, only the demons he’d cast out had declared that he was the Son of God, and demons have been known to say and do all sort of strange things. Peter would eventually come to believe this too, though I can’t help but think that the rock decided to follow Jesus to the deep that day simply because he sensed that this is where the action is.

         You see, out there in that cold darkness — where the waves toss us to and fro; where we confront our worst fears, where we feel in our souls the awe and the elation of being part of something that is way bigger than we are — is where a whole lot of life happens.

         There’s rarely answers to be found out there amidst the chaos — just more questions. And possibilities, don’t ever forget the possibilities. Yet maybe, just maybe, taking a chance and exploring those incomprehensible and murky depths will, paradoxically, empower us to reach the heights we’ve always sought to reach — to begin to understand a bit about why we’re here in the first place; to get a sense of what it all means; to comprehend our place in the order of things; to catch a fleeting glimpse of the transcendent. And maybe, like Peter, we’re simply being invited to follow Jesus wherever he might lead us – even if we haven’t quite figured him out yet either.

         So doubt, question, wonder, believe, be curious, revel in the mystery of it all; just don’t be afraid.