People finding out that a person is a pastor has a variety of consequences. For example, so often once people find out that I’m a pastor (and they remember that they have cussed in front of me), they immediately apologize.
On one hand, I appreciate that they are showing a respect (as they define it) for the position of “pastor.” (It’s not really Kim they’re apologizing to...it’s “Pastor Kim.”) On the other hand, I’m most often not offended by their words. I don’t care! Unless, of course, the words are used with intentional harm or are slandering.
Today’s story from Luke reminds me of this funny, sometimes awkward social interaction. To be clear, I am NOT equating myself or any other pastor with Jesus...but it’s somewhat of a situation where, in the presence of what is deemed “holy,” a person responds with drawing away.
Whether it’s a person apologizing for cussing or someone saying “I could never do ministry” or a fisherman saying “Go away from me, I’m a sinful man,” we have a tendency at times to shy away from delving into deeper spiritual waters out of fear that we are not worthy enough, we are not skilled enough, we are not knowledgeable enough.
From this interaction between Jesus and Simon Peter, we can learn a lot about being in God’s presence and about our role in God’s ministry.
First, we learn that (spoiler alert) we don’t know more than God.
We don’t know more than God about our “worthiness.” We are all worthy of being here and of doing ministry to further God’s kingdom. The verses from 1 Corinthians even show Paul saying he felt he was “the least of the apostles” and “unfit” for ministry, but immediately acknowledges God’s grace as making him “fit.” Simon, in Luke’s story, tries to label himself a sinner and tell Jesus what to do!
We also don’t know more than God about situations we consider ourselves to be experts in. Robert Wright, an Episcopal bishop, noted that Simon Peter forgot “for just a split second” that God is God. Surely, Simon knew more about fishing, and so he questioned why Jesus would tell him to go back out into the waters. (day1.org)
In reflecting on our own lives, Wright goes on to say “We hear God’s instructions: Forgive a whole bunch. Bless those who curse you. Give [generously]. Visit the jails [and those who are sick]. Forget your life and you'll have a ball. [REST.] ….But we often ignore God's invitation to abundan[t life].” We say to God by some of our actions, “I know better than you do...I don’t need to rest, that person doesn’t deserve forgiveness, the people in jail deserve to be lonely.”
Friends, we don’t know more than the Divine Creator of this World. We know a lot, we are learning more each day, but there’s great wisdom in humbly acknowledging that we are far from knowing it all.
Second, we learn that we can use the skills we have - we don’t have to reinvent ourselves to be followers of Christ.
Jesus spoke to Simon about “catching people”...and that has developed into a motto of being “fishers of men for Christ.” It’s important to note that it’s from within the context that these first disciples would understand. Jesus used specific wording that they would understand.
It’s a simple observation, but it means so much to me...to know that God was meeting the people where they were so they would (hopefully) understand. Perhaps Jesus would say to you, you will now be “builders of people” or you will now be “sculptors of souls” or you will now be “guides to disciples.”
Side note: I like that the wording in Scripture is “casting your nets” as opposed to “baiting the hook.” I think it’s such a better image for ministry - that we cast our nets wide to tell people of God’s message...not trying to entice them in and then hook them. Plus, you reach more with a wide net, as opposed to a singular hook. (I’m sure there’s an entire sermon in there.)
Third, we learn the importance of digging deep...even when we’re tired and discouraged, even when we are afraid.
I’ve heard that phrase “dig deep” used in a various situations - athletes are told to “dig deep” for stamina and strength and therapists encourage clients to “dig deep” to do tough emotional work.
Here, Jesus encourages Simon Peter to “dig deep”...literally and spiritually. Simon Peter needed to dig deep in his trust in Jesus (Simon Peter had just experienced a long shift where he did all the right things that fishermen do - and with little success), and he needed to dig deep into the water to find fish!
When he did, the result was an abundance - an abundance of trust and faith and an abundance of fish! (Funny that he then leaves the abundance of fish….I’m sure somebody had to stay behind and do the work of cleaning all those fish for sale)
How often do we avoid digging deep because of a fear? Kathryn Matthews (ucc.org, Sermon Seeds) reflects on this by saying “‘The deep’ might represent those places we would rather not go, the places of discomfort and unfamiliarity, where we might get in over our heads. What if we forgive someone who has hurt us: how will we still hold on to that wonderful feeling of being right, of being justified, of being the victim? What if we step up and offer our gifts to the community around us, our time and our talents, in ways that help others and build up the community of God’s children? ...What if we welcome people living with mental illness, and their families? How will we "deal with" the situations that may arise? ...What if we begin to talk about money in our church in a way that is more open, more honest, more trusting, than ever before? ….There are just too many things that could go wrong, too many people who might be upset, and we may be better off just calling it a day and staying here, in the shallow water, drying our nets as we should, and left quietly unsatisfied by the results of our efforts.”
Yes, there are times to be reserved in our efforts AND we have to acknowledge that we sometimes try to mask our fear, which hinders us from doing anything, as “being cautious.”
Yes, there are times to cast everything in life aside AND committing to be a disciple of Christ doesn’t mean dropping everything (like Simon Peter). Mother Teresa commented that Americans were always saying they wanted to leave their lives and go to India to work with her. Her response was: "Stay ..., right where you are, and love the people God has given you to love. Care for people right where you are."
Taking all this in leads to us being changed people. Note that as the story developed,
Simon’s name changed to Simon Peter, and we hear in other biblical stories that he was eventually known only as “Peter,” loosely meaning rock. He was still the same person, but he was changed.
Friends, I pray that this week we push ourselves to dig deep for the purpose of furthering God’s kingdom - dig deep into forgiveness, dig deep into consideration of others, dig deep into creativity in worship, dig deep into honesty and strengthening friendships.
I think of everything from a person needing to dig deep into courage to visit a loved one in a hospital (because those places are sometimes scary)
...to dig deep into prayer for the people who annoy us
...to dig deep into confidence knowing that Jesus’ ways and the world’s ways do not always match
...to dig deep into faith, knowing that we are each skilled and worthy to spread God’s message.
Digging deep is worth it. I trust that there is an abundance of healing and growth to be found there.
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11