Preaching Luke 5:1-11 Part 2
If one has been preaching from the lectionary, one may be in "the call mode" following last week's Old Testament passage from Jeremiah, and now this one from Luke and today's accompanying Old Testament reading from Isaiah 6. The Luke passage may be a familiar one to many worshippers, and some listeners may be tempted to tune out the preacher even before you finish reading the scripture passage. The preacher's greatest challenge may be to overcome the "I've-heard-it-all-before-syndrome." How one goes about such a deconstruction will depend upon the particular congregation. Sometimes a different focus right from the start that signals this is a sermon "with a difference" will capture their attention. That is particularly true with this passage because the preacher may be apt to leap over the first ten verses to the last one: When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. But there is no need to rush to the end of this scripture passage; there is much "to mind" in between the opening scene of Jesus teaching at the lake and the fishermen's decision to leave everything and follow him.
This narrative text avails itself to any of several approaches: one may choose to "run the text"—inviting the listener to wander through the story as it occurs; or one may proceed through it until "the preaching moment" is reached and concentrate on that point; or one may select a central focus and develop it fully as the point around which the entire sermon revolves. Before jumping into the text, especially if "call" is on your mind, notice the broadest context into which a call falls: that is, an encounter with Jesus. First and foremost this passage describes an encounter between Jesus and Simon Peter. Jesus approaches Simon Peter in the ordinary routine of Simon's life. Simon has just finished a night of fishing (an unfruitful one at that!) and is busy with the cleanup chores that accompany that particular vocation when Jesus approached him and "asked him to put out a little way from the shore." Jesus took the first step towards engaging Simon Peter. This is a paradigmatic encounter which reveals the truth that God comes to us in our very ordinary lives. In turn, our actions are always a response to God's first acting in our lives.
These are the two startling revelations of these opening verses. First, God often comes to us in the ordinary moments of our lives. While we may expect to encounter God at special times or in anticipated "mountaintop experiences," too often we do not expect to encounter God in the every day, any day routine of our lives. If we do not expect to meet God, there is a good possibility that we will overlook God in the busyness of our twentieth century rush-about lives. The second noteworthy point is that it is God who takes the first step towards us. We hear people say, and perhaps even use the terms ourselves, "I am seeking God;" but it is God who seeks us out first. It is also interesting to note that Jesus acted within Simon Peter's sphere of activity, "on his territory" as it were: at the lake, in his boat. Jesus showed his power in language the fishermen could understand: a BIG catch!
When this passage is used as the takeoff point for a sermon on evangelism and outreach, it is sometimes in conjunction with the tenth verse that this conversation is begun: "Then Jesus said to Simon…from now on you will be catching people. But notice what happens in verses 6-7, isn't this reaching out, sharing good news?! They caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them." Something GOOD was happening, and they wanted to share this good fortune with their friends. Is that not the spirit that underlies evangelism—an excited reaching out that one cannot hold back? Why is it that such enthusiasm often does not surround our outreach efforts? Why do we frequently approach evangelism as "old" news rather than GOOD news?
In the middle of all this excitement, Simon Peter did not forget WHO was at the bottom of this amazing deed. He remembered Jesus, and upon seeing the raw power of God, he knew God and he knew himself. In his Institutes1 Calvin says that all true wisdom consists in knowledge of God and knowledge of self, though it is hard to say which brings forth the other. In this instance, Simon knows himself to be a sinner in the presence of God and is filled with fear. Jesus tells him not to be afraid but to get ready for what lies ahead. In the 1990s, few people seem afraid of God. The fear of God seems to have been left behind as we have moved into a time of emphasizing God's mercy and grace. There is, nevertheless, a healthy sense of the fear of God that we would do well to recover: the recognition of the Holy that drives us to our knees and out beyond the boundaries of our self-centered lives.
Finally, in a democratic environment in which everyone in the family sometimes has an equal vote—children included—one might wonder how the fishermen's actions would be received today: When they brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. No family vote! No listing out of rational pros and cons! They left everything and followed him. These closing verses provide more food for thought but no more than what this passage has presented throughout: that God comes to us in the ordinary moments of our lives, sometimes in the most extraordinary ways, if our eyes are able to perceive the movement of God's Spirit.
Barbara Ann Hedin
1. Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, Vol. XX The Library of