Sermon for January 22, 2017

January 22, 2017
I Quit
Luke 5:1-11

When a person gets a job for the first time, they have to learn a few things beyond just the mechanics of how to do the actual work.  There are social skills involved that are different from those that help us get along in school or among our friends.  You have to learn how to talk on the phone in a professional manner, and how to have friendly relations with co-workers, with whom you may very well not be friends.  You have to learn how to relate to a supervisor, what an individual boss expects of you, how and how often they want you to be in touch if you have to be out sick, that kind of thing.

One very important thing to learn is the right way to go about quitting a job.  As a general rule, a certain amount of advance notice is preferred—two weeks being the standard in many industries, although it can be considerably more.  Generally speaking, bosses and co-workers don’t think too much of an employee who walks off the job in the middle of a shift—as some of my dad’s dishwashers did one busy Sunday—or just fail to show up at all, without calling, or call an hour before your shift begins and say you aren’t coming back.

I did do that once—only once—when I was very young.  It was just after I’d moved up to Wichita to go to college; I had gotten hired at a casual restaurant, a local place with two or three locations in town.  It was sort of similar to a place like Red Robin, except that they had a bakery and ice-cream counter.  They made hamburger buns and cookies from scratch.  My job was in the bakery, from 3 in the afternoon until everything was made that needed to be made for that night and the next morning, including keeping up with the demand for fresh hamburger buns.

Somehow the boss had gotten it in her head that I had once run a bakery—which I had not, of course, given that I was only 19 at the time—so as soon as she showed me where everything was, and told me, “Oh, by the way, you’re also responsible for serving ice cream to anybody who wants some,” she went home and left me there by myself.  She said I could expect to go home around 7 or 8.

That first night, I was there until 11:00, running myself crazy trying to get everything done and serve ice cream, all by myself with no training at all.

The second night was “Kid’s Night,” which they had once a week; on that night all kids ate free, so the place was packed, and all the kids wanted ice cream and cookies as they left.  I was there until midnight that second night, and I burned myself pretty badly getting a tray of cookies out of the oven.

So when it came time to go to work on the third day, I just plain could not make myself do it.  I called them up and told them I would not be in.  It wasn’t the right thing to do, but I did it.

 

Sometimes the only thing that can be said is, “I quit.”

In our reading today, Simon Peter finds himself at a time like that, although for a very different reason.  He and his partners, the sons of Zebedee,[1] were fishermen; they had just come off a long shift on the lake of Gennesaret (also known as the Sea of Galilee) when the fish just weren’t biting—well, actually, weren’t getting into the nets, but you know what I mean.  No doubt they were discouraged, but not enough to quit, really; anybody who fishes knows that there are just some days when you don’t catch anything, no matter what you try.

It was because they hadn’t caught anything, and their boats were empty, that Jesus was able to borrow one of them so he could go out onto the lake to teach the people who had gathered on the shore.  Jesus might be saying wonderful things from the boat, but the fact remained that they were going to have to go home and tell their families that they didn’t catch any fish last night, and thus they didn’t have any fish to sell today—and, therefore, they had no income for the day.

But when he was done teaching, Jesus did something about that, too.  He had Peter take his boat out into deeper water and let down the nets.  Maybe it was because he’d already figured out there was something about Jesus that Peter did what he said, even though Jesus was no fisherman.[2]  He seems to have been skeptical, but he did it anyway.

That’s sort of the way it is when we act on faith, isn’t it?  We can’t see into the future.  We might even be skeptical that what we’re being called to do will be successful; but we answer the call anyway.

And in this case Peter’s faith is rewarded; they pull in enough fish that their boat can’t hold them all!  The need of Peter and his partners to have fish to sell is very real.  They know what it is to have to go home and tell the family, “Sorry.”  Today they will not have to do that, because Jesus has taken care of their need.

It’s at this point that Peter seems to be overcome with the reality of who and what Jesus is.  And like many others who’ve suddenly found themselves in the presence of divinity, he’s also overcome with the reality of who and what he is—a sinful man.  I am pretty sure Luke means for us to make the connection between this story about Jesus and Peter and stories of others who’ve encountered God’s presence and heard God’s call to turn their lives in a new direction.  I’m especially reminded of Isaiah 6, where Isaiah sees into God’s heavenly throne room and cries out, “Woe is me!…I am a man of unclean lips.”[3]  In that case, a seraph symbolically removes Isaiah’s sinfulness by touching his lips with a burning coal.  Jesus simply accepts Peter as he is, saying, “Do not be afraid.”

 

Sometimes we preachers need to get out of our own way.  Discussion on the Narrative Lectionary Facebook group this week got bogged down when someone declared the image of evangelism or ministry as “fishing for people” to be problematic.  They objected because, let’s face it, most people who fish do it with the intention of killing and eating—or selling to someone else who will kill and eat—what they catch.  Do we really want to say our call to bring people to know Jesus Christ is like the work of catching an animal to kill and eat it?

But we were missing the point.  You can carry any metaphor out too far; the work of ministry is certainly not precisely like the work of fishing.  And I don’t think that’s why Jesus said it.  Nor do I think he intended for it to be universal, the old Sunday school song notwithstanding.  “I will make you fishers of men, if you follow me…”

Of course this is not the only way to think about our ministry as disciples of Jesus Christ.  The reason Jesus told Peter, “From now on you will be catching people,” was because Peter was a fisherman.  What he was saying was that as a follower of Jesus, his life’s work would be transformed.

If Peter had had some other occupation, Jesus might have used a different image to describe his new life.  And if that’s the case, then perhaps we can hear Jesus calling us, right in the midst of the work we are doing.

If you’re a fisherman, now you will be fishing for people.

If you’re a banker, your savings will be the souls of the hopeless.

If you’re a chef, you’ll feed people hungry for bread and for the grace of God.

If you’re a farmer, you will plant seeds of faith, and gather a harvest of disciples.

If you’re a singer, your song is God’s love.

If you’re a teacher, your classroom is the world, and your subject is hope.

If you’re a nurse, you will heal broken hearts and sin-sick souls.

If you’re a carpenter, you will be building the kingdom of God.

If you’re a plumber, you will make a way for the living water to flow.

If you’re a grandparent, your work is loving and welcoming God’s children—all of God’s children.[4]

When Peter heard this, he and his fellow fishermen dropped everything to go with him.  What else could they—could we—do?

[1] There isn’t any mention here of Simon’s brother Andrew, but presumably he was part of the “they” that hauled the nets full of fish up after Jesus sent them out to the deeper water.

[2] This isn’t Peter’s first encounter with Jesus; back in 4:38-41 Jesus is at his house after synagogue services, and heals his mother-in-law of a fever.

[3] Isaiah 6:5

[4] This list is adapted and expanded from the one with which Rev. Christina Berry of First Presbyterian Church in Sterling, Illinois, concluded her sermon for today.

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