Sermon Ideas For Luke 5:1-11 Part 2
This passage from Luke has many of the qualities of a kaleidoscope. Look at it straight on and it appears to be a really big fish story. But turn it a bit and what you see changes. Rich and interesting preaching possibilities come into view. The problem for the preacher in this text is not to find a relevant word for the listener, but the dilemma will be to select from the wealth of materials.
A sermon on this lesson from Luke can offer a word of good news for the man or woman in the congregation for whom life feels empty. In the recent past there has been a resurgence of interest in church on the part of many young adults. When asked what has brought them back to church, the frequent response is that they have felt that something was missing in their lives and they were looking for something more than the many things that are available in the shops and stores. Coming to church is a confessional act on their part; with their presence they are saying that all their extraverted activity has not addressed some deep need within their hearts.
Several years ago Jungian analyst and Episcopal priest John Sanford spoke to a group of people in Greenville, SC, on the subject of "The Exhausted Ego." In his lecture he pointed out that much of what we do in our work requires that we extrovert a great deal of our energy and attention. The focus of all of our energy and attention is away from the self and directed toward the outer world. If this is done long enough and no attention is given to the care of self the result will be a loss of psychic energy and a feeling of emptiness. For those suffering with an exhausted ego Sanford suggested that attention be given to the introverted side of life. The focus of attention should shift from the superficial to the still, quiet, deep places of the heart. To men and women experiencing a loss of psychic energy Sanford encourages a journey deep within.
In our lesson for today, the words of Peter sound like the confession that many of these exhausted men and women might make: "We toiled all night and took nothing." Thus, our story for today makes an immediate connection with persons in the congregation who feel tired and empty and are tottering on the edge of burn out.
To this bone-weary fisherman Jesus provides a new instruction: "Put out into the deep..." It is obvious that Jesus was able to see the presence or the possibility for a rewarding fishing venture from his perspective in the boat, but his directions provide an important clue to what worn out men and women need to do. "Put out into the deep..." There are times in our lives when activity loses its productive possibility. The more we focus our attention and energy on the outer world, the less there seems to be within. There is a need for something deeper.
Peter is obedient to the instruction that he receives from this itinerant teacher. He puts out into the deep and the result is abundance. Something in this story reminds me of the first few verses of Genesis 12. God invites Abraham to "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you." God calls Abraham "out into the deep." The reward for Abraham's obedience and trust will be significance, abundance, greatness and blessing.
When, in obedience to Jesus, Peter "puts out into the deep" he receives the gift of abundance. But that is not all he receives. This disturbing experience leads him into introversion and self examination. Whatever denial he may have heretofore used, it is suddenly ineffective, and he cries out to Jesus "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Lk 5:8b). Peter's response to this disturbing moment when he catches a glimpse of a power greater than his own is to feel unworthy and inadequate. But the Bible reminds us regularly that the first response to an encounter with God is to feel unworthy and inadequate. When Isaiah experienced the presence and power of God in his life he cried out that he was a man of unclean lips who lived in the midst of a people of unclean lips. Jesus regularly called men and women who felt unworthy and whose lives were marked by moral failure to be his followers and to proclaim his gospel.
This story offers both direction to men and women who feel empty and burned out and good news to those who feel that some past failure has disqualified them for future usefulness. In this encounter with Jesus Peter discovers a new vocation, and he finds the courage and energy to do just what Abraham did when he left family, tribe and nation and followed the leading of God.
There is one other point that the preacher might hold up in a sermon on this story. Do not despise the interruptions of life. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung said that he had come to believe that every interruption in life should be viewed as an interruption from God. This story suggests that interruptions should be welcomed and paid attention to. The call that was given to Peter was an interruption. The call extended to Isaiah was an interruption. In the Matthew 25 Jesus alludes to such divine interruptions. What will characterize the lives of those who do not miss the point of it all will be their ability to pay attention and respond to surprising moments of grace expressed in the form of human need. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was hungry and you fed me. I was a prisoner and you visited me...When you did it to one of the least of these you did it to me (Mt 25:35, 36, 40).
In this little story recalled in Luke's Gospel about "the big catch of fish" there is direction and good news for all manner of folk who wander into church on Sunday morning about to give up life because they think that life has given up on them.