“Deep Water” A Sermon on Luke 5:1-11 by Rev. Elizabeth Meador Strobel Preached at Trinity Presbyterian Church of Independence, Missouri February 17, 2019 – Scout Sunday Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
People who like to fish are known for telling tall tales, particularly about the size of the catch. Fishing exaggerations are so infamous that we simply just make them into jokes. “What’s the biggest fish you ever caught?” “That would be the one that measured fourteen inches.” “That’s not so big!” “Between the eyes?” OR “I caught a twenty pound salmon last week.” “Yeah, right. Were there any witnesses?” “There sure were. If there hadn’t been, it would have been forty pounds.” My favorite fishing joke of all time, though, is of the “a priest and a rabbi walked into a bar” variety. But in this one, it’s three pastors decide to go fishing. You see, a new Presbyterian pastor moved to town and so two other pastors decided to take her on a welcome-to-town fishing trip. They row out into the middle of the lake and the Methodist pastor realizes they left their bait on the shore – so he steps out of the boat and walks across the water to get some more bait, and then walks back to the boat. A couple of hours later, the Baptist pastor realizes that they left the lights on in the car, so the Baptist pastor steps out of the boat and walks across the water to turn off the car lights, and walks back to the boat. So, this new Presbyterian pastor is sitting in the boat thinking “Well, that looks fun. I guess I could go get everyone coffee and that would be a pretty good excuse to try this walking on water thing.” So, she steps out of the boat and sinks straight to the bottom of the lake. And the Baptist looks at the Methodist and says “Should we have told her where the rocks are?” Sometimes, the miraculous event isn’t quite what we think it is. Sometimes it’s a little more mundane. Today’s Gospel reading tells of one of those miracles that some people might think it just another fisher’s tall tale, but we believe that it’s true. Jesus has Simon Peter, James, and John row him out in the middle of Lake Gennesaret, more commonly called the Sea of Galilee. And even though they’ve caught no fish all night, Jesus tells them to cast their nets in the deeper water, and they catch so many fish that it almost sinks two boats. We call it the Miracle of Fish, but I don’t know that the fish are the big miracle here. I think the real miracle is how often Peter says Yes to Jesus, and how that changes him. I think it’s a miracle we can see in our own lives. This isn’t the first time that Jesus and Peter have met. In the chapter before ours today, Jesus has stayed at Peter’s house and even healed his mother-in-law from a fever[i]. Peter is part of a group that sees Jesus as the Messiah and a compelling teacher, which we can see in our passage today when – even before the miracle – he calls Jesus “Master” and even agrees to let Jesus use his boat for preaching. Peter is a believer… but he has yet to become a disciple. He knows that Jesus is a big deal, but that hasn’t changed his life. He may believe in his head, but he hasn’t followed through with any actions. Peter hasn’t made any sacrifices, hasn’t changed his lifestyle, hasn’t really done anything different. He is still, metaphorically speaking, playing in the shallow end of the pool. In fact, Jesus has to literally invite Peter to go out into the deeper water. When Jesus first approaches, the boat is right next to the shore, and Jesus only asks Peter to row him out a little bit so that the people on the beach can see him better. Jesus is being pretty gentle here and letting Peter play it safe, at least at first. Because the shore is where safety is – you can still get your feet under you, you can sometimes see to the bottom, storms don’t get too rough in the shallows. Most people never really get out into the deep. I’ve never, for instance, had much of a desire to go deep sea fishing. When my dad would take me fishing as a kid, I was perfectly happy to stand on the dock of the local pond and pull up little half pound catfish all day – it was easy, it was instant gratification, and most of all it was safe. But…I totally missed out on the truly big catches that the deep sea offers. You know just as well as I do that this isn’t just about fishing. Jesus was us teaching a spiritual lesson. Through this story with Peter, Jesus is inviting us to go out into the deep water of faith. Whatever it is that we need to catch to sustain ourselves – whether it be love, wisdom, peace, whatever – it’s easier to keep it shallow, easier to play it safe. But everyone knows that’s not where the big fish are. We spend a lot of time expecting to catch the big one without even getting ankle deep. But we aren’t going to catch in abundance unless we get into deep water. Deep water for us may be starting up a regular Bible study instead of just coming to church once every other week; deep water may be praying multiple times a day instead of just when we need something; deep water may be serving others intentionally and face-to-face rather than just donating some money a couple of times a year; deep water may be sitting down and having that tough conversation rather than letting a marriage or friendship go on autopilot. Whatever it may be for you, Deep water is where we find results; deep water takes faith. It also takes risk and skill and boldness – sometimes you get in over your head. And so, some people never do catch what they need because they refuse to take a dive of faith. Peter knew that this was about more than just a miraculous catch. Because his response isn’t to row his boat back to shore and say “So long, and thanks for all the fish,” but to name Jesus as Lord. And for Peter, getting into the deeper water of the Spirit meant growing from simple belief into discipleship; moving from the safe place of lip service to the difficult journey of leaving everything and following Jesus. And Peter gets into more deep water through his journey – but he now knows that when we get deep with Jesus, we find abundance. I can’t tell you from the pulpit today what deep water looks like for each of you spiritually, although I’d be delighted to talk about it sometime. What I do know is that Jesus offers a gentle invitation – first into the water, then out to sea. And I don’t think the big catch of fish is the major miracle in this story – I believe the real miracle is how our priorities, indeed our whole lives, are changed by even just a glimpse of the overflowing grace of God. So go into the deep water, my friends; drink from a deeper well, dive into the ocean of the Spirit. There is much to be found. Thanks be to God. Amen. [i] Luke 4:38-44.