Epiphany 5C’22
6 February 2022
Psalm 138, Luke 5.1-11
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

The Lord will make good his purpose for us; O Lord, your love endures forever; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. A-men.   – from Psalm 138

Have you heard any good ‘fish stories” lately? You know the kind I’m talking about where someone talks about how they caught a big fish and that it was so large it broke the line. If they could have held on to it, they just know that it would break the state record for the largest bass, trout, or catfish.

There are usually some common elements to a good fish story. Besides the size there may be details about the exotic place where they caught it. What else, they throw in some twists and turns to heighten the sense of drama, they might include a detail like it was either the first catch of the day or maybe they caught it on the last cast of the day. Often the details about what bait they used might be exaggerated, like the proud angler that ran out of regular bait and ended up catching a 30lb bass using his grandson’s leftover marshmallows.  

In today’s Gospel we hear a great fish story and it has many of the elements I’ve just mentioned. The setting was the beautiful and dramatic Lake Gennesaret in Israel, also known as the Sea of Galilee. Its 13 miles long, 7 miles wide and 157ft. deep. Storms were known, and are still known today to suddenly blow in and wreak havoc on the fishing boats.

One morning, as Jesus approaches the edge of the water, he encounters a group of seasoned professional fishermen bringing their boats in to shore and cleaning their nets after an all-night fishing expedition where they had caught nothing.

A great crowd had followed Jesus to the lake shore hoping to hear his teaching and preaching. Jesus saw two boats moored at the edge of the water and he sat down in the boat that belonged to Simon. The shape and hard wood of the boat served as a sounding board enabling the crowd to hear him.

As he concluded his teaching, he asks Simon to take the boat back out for one last cast of the net. Simon probably said to himself “what does a carpenter know about fishing?” But because held Jesus in high esteem he decided to humor him and take the boat back out.

When they got to a particular spot in the deepest part of the lake, Jesus told Simon and the others to let down their nets. They didn’t have to wait long, for no sooner had they lowered their nets than they caught huge schools of fish. When they hoisted up the net it began breaking and they signaled the fishermen from the other boat for help. They had enough fish to fill both boats to the point that both boats started sinking.

When they made it back to shore all the fisherman who were waiting on the shore were amazed at the great catch of fish. In the presence of the Holy One who had performed this miracle Simon felt sinful and worthless. Jesus says to him “Don’t be afraid Simon for now on you will be catching people.” They all left their boats and nets right on the spot and began following Jesus.

In this whale of a fish story are there elements that might apply to the church and to us as individual Christians? Yes, I believe there are!

  1. Relating to the weary fishermen who had tried every trick in the book during an entire night without catching a single fish. Often this is where churches are, weary from all their programs of growth without much to show for it.
  2. Jesus, a Jewish carpenter, knows where the fish are. Jesus gets in the boat and takes them out to the deepest part where all the fish were. Jesus shows us that if we want fish we must go where the fish are. How could we have ever predicted that there were hundreds of people who were hungry for genuine worship and biblical preaching like we offer at St. Luke’s, and that they we be reached through the “Internet” – pun very much intended. Livestreaming with Facebook was the bait that drew people into St. Luke’s net. We now have viewers from a number of states and several foreign countries. We have a person from Atlanta that has joined as a “long distance member.” One of our early viewers now serves on the vestry and is the church treasurer! Last year we gained three new families as new members.
  3. Jesus uses this miraculous catch as teaching moment pointing the fishermen to a different kind of fishing expedition – catching people. Among the many things that have come out of our experience of pandemic is that when we remain flexible and open to what’s possible God can make things happen. Facebook is just one of the tools we have learned to use in catching people.
  4. The lives of Simon Peter, James, John, Phillip and Andrew along with the other first followers of Christ would never be the same. They could never go back to their nets and be regular fishermen again. New Life had taken hold of them and now they must seek to share this Good News of God’s unconditional love with others.
  5. What our methods might look like will continue to change over time. Three years ago, hardly any of us even knew what “livestreaming” was let alone that it would become such an important tool in reaching more people than we ever were in-person before the pandemic.

We don’t need to go back to normal, we need to keeping moving toward the ‘new normal’ that includes some wonderful old friends and some amazing new friends: Jesus said it to his first disciples and he says to us of St. Luke’s his modern-day disciples: “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people.” Amen.