Our Scripture readings today from Isaiah and from Luke’s Gospel echo the language of being called for Service to God. Isaiah describes an encounter he had at the beginning of his calling to be a prophet. In Luke, we hear the very familiar story of Jesus calling forth his disciples to join with him in his travels and ministry. All these years later, the voice of God calls to us in our day and in our time to follow Jesus, to walk in his ways, and to do what we can to be faithful and loving followers of One who wanted to call forth a new understanding of how to live together. Let us pray,
In the Isaiah passage, we hear of Isaiah’s early encounter with God. There are a few moments like this in the stories of the Bible; we think about Moses and the burning bush and of Paul in his conversion on the road to Damascus. In this story, Isaiah uses poetic language to speak about hearing God’s voice calling out to him and of course, he answers as a faithful follower, Here I am. And he is not only responding for that moment, but it is the beginning of his dedication to being a prophet, of being a voice that is not always welcome, of being the one in his time to call the people to change their ways and to live in the ways of YHWH.
Luke’s passage also uses poetic imagery to describe the way in which Jesus reached out to organize a group of faithful companions to help spread his message of hope, of forgiveness, of repentance, and of love. He understood that when you are on a mission, you have to find others who can help; he sought out those whom he hoped would share his vision, would listen to his guidance and understand the urgency of what he was hoping to accomplish and then join him in reaching out and doing the work.
We know there are several stories of Jesus in a boat; John shares a similar story as a Resurrection story, as it takes place after Jesus had risen from the dead. In John’s account, there is someone standing on the shore who waves to apostles and tells them where to go and catch the fish; it’s a very similar story to Luke’s account. And of course, they are elated when they realize that it is Jesus who has spoken to them.
These ‘fishermen’ become a part of the close circle that Jesus gathers in his travels through Galilee and then to Jerusalem. He calls out to them and perhaps they never imagined what he really is inviting them to be a part of. Today, as is true from our own church membership, many people travel across the country to pursue new jobs or to relocate to find a new home. In Jesus’ time, that would have been very rare. But, that’s what is asked for here, while these fishermen may have been struggling with their work or maybe it wasn’t providing all they needed to feed their families, all of a sudden, they are asked to set out on a whole new path, a whole new way of life. That had to take a lot of courage and a lot of faith in the One who was calling them. And we always wonder if they did leave wives and children behind; what did their families think when they set out to follow this preacher and teacher? We might imagine that they were met with a lot of resistance. Even today, parents are not always thrilled about the choices their kids make to up and move halfway across the country to pursue some new adventure, but in that time, it held serious implications. Who would provide their economic sustenance? Who would provide protection?
It would have been a luxury to even consider that one’s work should have meaning at that time, if you were living on the edge, like many of these men presumably were. But, that’s the point in many ways. Something far deeper spoke to their hearts; something completely life changing; something so profound that they were willing to risk everything. We don’t have a narrative of how they were thinking or feeling at this moment, so we can only guess. But it must have been really significant.
Luke really is telling the story of the beginning of this Jesus movement, of this venture that Jesus is just now embarking upon. He uses this very familiar imagery of catching fish to communicate the kind of work to which Jesus is inviting them. It’s going to be sort of like catching fish, but instead of fish of course, it will be men and women of all classes, ethnicities, religious backgrounds if you will…all schools of fish. It’s almost like the disciples are taking a course in the Ways of Jesus and of course, Jesus himself, is the great teacher. He will teach by example; he will teach through words and actions; he will teach through his own commitment and sacrifice. He will teach through compassion and love.
The metaphors of fishing, of the deep waters can be seen to symbolize the depth of an experience with God, lowering our nets as a way to help call to the surface the most important things, and the idea of a school in which to learn and deepen our understanding of the divine. I’m sure most of you know that fish became a symbol for early Christians and certainly still is today.
It’s also important to listen closely to this story as it unfolds. Luke brings us to this moment with Jesus standing beside the lake followed by a crowd drawing near to him to listen to him speak of God. Two fishing boats had come to shore and the men were cleaning out their nets; Jesus steps into one and asks that they take him out into the lake so that he may better address the crowd. After he had spoken, he invites Simon to go out further into the deeper waters and drop his net. Of course, we can imagine how tired Simon was as he explained that they had been out all night and caught nothing. But he does as Jesus asks and they begin to haul in nets full of fish.
So they call to their friends on the shore to bring their boat out as well and they are amazed at how full their nets become with fish, such that the boats begin to sink. Simon Peter is afraid and feeling unworthy. He doesn’t really understand who Jesus is, but he feels a deep sense of fear of what this means. And Jesus tells him, “Do not be afraid.” From now on, you will be catching people…
We often have images of fishermen pulling in large nets of fish which suggests that fishing is easy. Any of us who know folks who make their living on the sea know that it is actually very hard and dangerous work. I think of the recent series The Lobster Trap that ran recently in the Portland Press Herald about the challenges to the lobster industry in Maine. So, these men knew that. When Jesus calls them to come follow him and uses this metaphor of fishing, he understands that it is not going to be easy. People are not always going to flock to hear them not welcome what they are trying to share. Honestly, they are leaving one hard job for another, but Jesus tells Simon Peter not to be afraid because He will be with them and they will be called to plumb the depths of their own souls, to cultivate a deep faith in God, which will see them through the long, hard nights. And they will be together in community with someone they trust to guide them.
For us, our Call may have come at a different time in our life. Perhaps as children when our own parents or grandparents not only brought us to church but hopefully modelled what it meant in everyday life to be a follower of Christ. Perhaps, we heard the call in a powerful experience or a moment of complete vulnerability when we realized we were not alone. Or maybe when we felt overwhelmed by fear, the presence of God was there to bring us a measure of peace. Perhaps we’ve been on the journey and still wishing and hoping to hear the call. Who knows? In this story, we might imagine we are the ones fishing or we might imagine we are the fish being lifted up to a deeper life. Hopefully, there has been a moment when you realized that you had chosen to embrace the power and depth of Jesus, when you embraced the dream of the Kin’dom. For that is what Jesus was looking for, then and now. He wanted to attract people who understand what this beloved community could be; he wanted us all to step out of our boats and follow him on the journey; and he wanted us to listen and learn and to live out what we have learned.