The Catch Of The Day
On a cold winter morning, a couple of men up in Wisconsin figured that they'd go out and do some ice fishing. So they found a nice patch of ice and proceeded to chip a hole in it, and lowered their lines. But about a minute later, they heard a booming voice say: "There are no fish there." So the two men looked at each other and wondered whose voice that was. But they figured that maybe it would be best if they moved over a little bit, and so they went over about 10 yards or so, and chipped another hole in the ice and fished there. But once more, they heard a booming voice say: "I'll tell you again, there are no fish there." And so the two men looked at each other in astonishment, not knowing whose voice they were hearing. So, one more time they moved over another ten yards, chipped another hole in the ice, and dropped their lines in there. But once more the booming voice said: "There are no fish there." And so very timidly, the one man looked up to the sky and said: "Is that you, God?" And the voice answered: "No. This is the owner of the ice skating rink. I'm trying to let you know that there are no fish there."
That's how Peter—here he's referred to as Simon, but Peter is his more familiar name to us—that's how Peter must have felt early that morning. He had spent the whole night out on the lake, but it just seemed that there weren't any fish there at all. He hadn't caught a thing. But as Peter and his co-workers were rinsing out their nets, they noticed that a huge crowd of people was gathering along the shore. The next thing they knew, Jesus was headed in their direction. Now, of course, Peter and his friends had heard about Jesus—everyone in the area had heard about Jesus. It's just that Peter and his co-workers weren't especially interested in religious kinds of things. And so they wondered what Jesus could possibly want from them.
He told them that he needed their one boat. Since there were so many people, he needed a boat so that he could sit in it a little off shore so that the whole crowd would be able to see and hear him. Now Peter was tired. After all, he had been up all night working. But he just sort of shook his head, and grumbled something about why hadn't Jesus planned ahead for this, and how probably Jesus wasn't even going to pay him a rental fee for the boat. But with so many people there on the shore, Peter reluctantly agreed to take Jesus out. Because Peter figured that if he didn't, then that crowd was probably going to confiscate his boat, and who knew what kind of damage they'd do to it. And so for an hour or more, Jesus preached and taught the people about God. But the whole time, Peter was at the other end of the boat, playing solitaire and looking at his watch, wondering when Jesus was ever going to wrap it up. Finally Jesus finished, and the crowd started to go home.
What's surprising about this story is that it's not really about those masses of people who came on their own to hear Jesus. No, this story in Luke is really about the one man who couldn't have cared less about what Jesus had to say. Yet by the end of that day, Peter's life had been changed forever.
The easy thing for Jesus to have done would have been to have just written Peter off. After all, if someone isn't interested, doesn't it just make sense to move on to someone else? But Jesus had the attitude that God has something to say to everyone. I once heard it said that every person is like an island. What we sometimes have to do is keep circling that island until we see a place where we can land. Because each person has a place where we can make contact and establish a beachhead for what God wants to accomplish with them.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus showed us that he never wrote people off. Instead, he realized that he needed to approach different people in different ways. But that in the end, as Jesus looked at it, there is a place in God's kingdom for everyone. There's a place for good, solid church-going people, but there's also a place for thieves and prostitutes and poor people and sick people and on and on. The idea is that God's good news is not just for some people; it's for all people.
Another thing that this story shows us is that even when we do make the effort to invite people to come and know Jesus, to come and be a part of the church, a lot of people resist. And the main reason is they figure that they're unworthy. That's what happened with Peter. When his nets began to miraculously fill, and all of a sudden he realized who Jesus was, that he was the Son of God, Peter fell on his knees and said: "Please go away, Jesus. I'm a sinner. I'm not worthy to be around you."
But you know what? Throughout the Bible, just about every time that God called people to come and do his work, that’s the same reaction that they all had. They felt that they were unworthy. Look at the reading today we had from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Isaiah has this image of standing before God, and God says to the angels, "Who can we send as a messenger to the people?" And then suddenly God points at Isaiah and says, "How about you?" But Isaiah's first reaction is exactly the same as Peter's. He says: "God, you can't mean me. I'm not worthy. I'm a sinner." But even so, Isaiah is the one who God chooses.
It's the same with the reading that we had last week from Jeremiah. When Jeremiah heard God calling him to speak God's word to the people, he said: "God, you can't want me. I'm not worthy. I'm too young." But God called and used Jeremiah anyway. It was the same also with Moses. When God spoke to him from the burning bush and told Moses to go down and free the Hebrew people in Egypt, Moses answered back: "I'm not worthy, God. No one's going to listen to me. I'm not even a good speaker." But God used Moses anyhow.
Those stories are stories of surprise. It's like the man who walked up to the perfume counter in a department store and asked the clerk for some help in picking out a perfume for his wife for Valentine's Day. The clerk asked: "Is this a surprise gift?" And the man said: "It sure is. She thinks that she's getting a new car." Peter and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Moses were all surprised when they heard God's call. But what surprised them most was not what they were able to accomplish on their own. No, what was most surprising was for them to see the incredible things that God was able to do through them.
I recently read an article about a boy who joined his church when he was a teenager. When he did that, he really didn't feel that he was a Christian, but he joined anyway, because his family wanted him to. One day after a youth group meeting, the pastor went up to him and said: "Have you ever thought about being a minister?" But the boy wondered to himself: "Why is he asking me that? I'm practically an atheist and he's asking me about being a minister?" Well, that conversation stuck with that boy for years to come. In his third year of college, the light finally came on for him, and he accepted Christ and became a real Christian. Last year that young man retired, having served for more than 40 years as a pastor. If we're willing to listen to God's call, the surprises that God has in store for us are greater than anything that we could ever imagine. Just ask Peter. He started out as a fisherman. But when he responded to Jesus, he ended up becoming the head disciple and eventually the leader of the Christian church.
One more thing that this story shows us is that when people discover what God has to offer, they see that it's not something that they want to keep all to themselves. Instead, it's something that they'll want to invite others to come and be a part of. For instance, in this story, Jesus says: "You, Peter, I want you to come with me." In the original Greek of the New Testament, that "you" is singular. Jesus is only talking to Peter. But then in the next breath, the Bible says that they went with him. That is, Peter's friends—James and John—went along with him. Jesus had invited one person, Peter, to be disciple. But in an instant, all of sudden Jesus had three disciples. It just goes to show that when you get a parade going, there's no telling how many others are just waiting to join in.
I recently heard a story about a man who drove a hearse. You know, the kind of station wagon that they use to take deceased people to the cemetery. Every once in a while you see people driving a hearse. For some reason or another, they think it's interesting to have one as their family car. Well, one day this man was driving his hearse and he was getting ready to go past the town's funeral home. And he saw that a funeral procession was getting ready to leave. He had had his radio turned up pretty loud, so he turned it down, and slowed up a bit as he went past the funeral home, so that he wouldn't offend anyone. Once he got past the funeral home, he then turned the radio back up and headed on to where he was going, which was the local Taco Bell. But as he pulled into the parking lot, he looked in his rear view mirror, and to his horror he saw that the funeral procession had followed him by mistake right into the Taco Bell parking lot.
Notice that right from the start, Jesus got Peter and his friends into the parade. He got them involved in going somewhere, in doing God's work right from the very beginning. And I think that's something that we ought to take note of. So often we think that the only way to invite people to be a part of the church is to invite them to worship. Inviting people to come to worship is a good thing, and some people will take you up on that invitation. But what we need to remember is that not everyone's going to respond to that invitation.
After all, Jesus didn't say to Peter: "Come to church with me." He didn't say: "Let's sit down and I'll teach you how to pray." He didn't say: "Let's memorize some Bible verses." No, Jesus started off with Peter by putting him to work. Sure, worship and prayer and Bible reading are all very important. But for some people, maybe for most people, that's not the place to start. Instead the place to start may be saying, "So you're fisherman. Let's see how we can use that ability to do some good for God." How can we help people to get in the parade? How can we help people get in the action and to let God use them to do some good? Because if we can find ways to do that, before we know it, those people are going to be looking for others to come and be a part of the parade as well.
Whether we realize it or not, there are a lot of Peters all around us. We run into them just about every day. People who God is just waiting to use to do something amazing in the world. But for one reason or another, they feel that they're not worthy. They feel that they're not up to the task. And so our mission is to help those people to see that none of us are worthy in God's sight. But God is still able to use us. And God is able to use them as well.
C. Edward Bowen
Crafton United Presbyterian Church