Whatever you say, Lord

Scriptures: Luke 5:1-11; Psalm 90:13-17

As we approach the message today, which is on the passage in Luke, I’d like to set the scene a little. If you remember, last week, if you were here, Jesus went to Nazareth, and he preached in the synagogue there. They were all impressed.

They apparently wanted him to do some miracles, and he say no. “No prophet is ever honored in his hometown. He talked about how the prophets actually reached out and helped Gentiles, instead of Jews, with Elijah and Elisha. The people in Nazareth didn’t take it very well, and they tried to throw him off a cliff. But it says, then he went away from among them.

Then he went to Capernaum. And he was very popular in Capernaum. Nobody was trying to throw him off a cliff there. He did miracles, including healings of all sorts, and casting out demons simply be rebuking them with his word.

During this time of his ministry, he didn’t have disciples yet. James, John, Peter, Andrew, and others were sort of “weekend warriors.” They kept their full-time jobs, and went to listen to Jesus preach whenever possible, particularly on the Sabbath day. They stayed with him as much as possible while still maintaining their lives apart from him.

We do know for certain they were more than just acquaintances. Right before the story in today’s passage, Jesus visited Peter and Andrew’s home, Mark says at the request of James and John, who were their partners in the fishing business and also probably their cousins, on behalf of Peter’s mother-in-law.

So he went to Peter’s home and healed Peter’s mother-in-law by “rebuking” her fever (the same word is used as when casting out demons). She was not only healed but she was strengthened enough that she turned around and began to serve them, which was the hospitality requirement of that day.

Then he disappeared in the morning, and people went out looking for him. You see, he frequently did that, because of the huge crowds that were beginning to follow Jesus wherever he went. I’m sure he didn’t want his friend Peter’s house to get mobbed.

In our story today, before we get to Jesus and what he did, I want to look at what Peter was doing. Some more scene-setting, if you will. He, James, and John had been up all night fishing – that was their job. They were commercial fisherman, using nets, casting them out to catch the fish.

Casting the nets during the day would cast an inconstant shadow that might spook the fish; so they fished at night. I don’t know how many of you have ever fished using nets rather than a rod and reel. Have any of you ever been out doing deep-sea fishing and actually thrown a net?

It’s not easy. They’re heavy, made of hemp, and thick cords. And they worked all night. Now it was the next morning, and they were into shore. They were washing their nets and mending any tears as part of their clean-up. I am sure they were tired. And into this particular moment of time walks Jesus.

Jesus gets on Peter’s boat without even asking, and then does ask Peter to move him away from shore a little. “Get back in your boat here, please. Move me away, so I can speak to the crowd without being crushed.”

I note, since they were mending their nets, that it was probably fairly close to dawn. Jesus teaches for quite a while. I know some of you think I can be long-winded, but rabbis could and did teach for hours at a time. I doubt that Jesus was any different. Based on some of the other clues that I see, I am guessing He preached until around noon – preached and taught.

So Peter is out there, on the boat, keeping it stable, having been out all night with his fellow crewmen (because the standard boat was about a fourteen-footer), and waiting. Jesus wraps up His teaching, finally.

And then, instead of asking to be taken in to shore again, which I am certain Peter would have appreciated since he was tired, hot, and frustrated, for reasons the story tells us in a moment, Jesus tells Peter, “Go back out into deep waters and cast your nets.” (I was amazed that he brought the nets back on the boat, by the way.)

Now I want you to think about this for a moment, what Jesus was doing. Jesus was a carpenter. Peter was a professional fisherman. What would some of you farmers think if I said “Go out and plant right now, while the ground is wet and soft, even though it is January”.

Or, many of your are craftsmen. What if I went into one of your shops and told you, “I think you should make your project this way” (whatever way that might be). Oh wait. Never mind, I don’t even give you any justification! I just tell you to do it. How much stock would you put into my direction? I’m guessing probably not much.

I know your initial reaction to this request of Jesus might be “But this was Jesus.” But you need to remember, people didn’t know him yet. They didn’t understand until after his death and resurrection who he truly was.

No matter how good a teacher he was, or how many miracles he might have done, they thought of him as merely human. A prophet, maybe. Touched by God, certainly. But human nonetheless.

Then Peter – good old, brash, tactless foot-in-your-mouth Peter – basically tells Jesus He is nuts, initially. He says, “Look, we were out there all night, and we caught NOTHING.” I am sure he was thinking, “What, you think I don’t know what I am doing? That I didn’t use every trick to find or draw the fish to where I could catch them in my nets? That I didn’t keep moving through the night? And now you want me to go back out to where I was before? Where there are NO fish, in front of these huge crowds? Where not even my partners caught anything, either? And when the sun is high, and the shadows sharpest, and the fish are deepest? Now? Do you want to humiliate me? Who are you to tell me how to do my job?” I’m sure you felt like telling that to some people at times, when you’ve been doing things.

Peter had failed all night. I want to take a side track here for a moment, because this isn’t about perseverance after failure, but that would be a great message. Perseverance after failure is important. It’s reported that it took Thomas Edison over ten thousand tries to invent a reliable light bulb. When asked why he failed so many times, he said, “I haven’t failed. I just found ten thousand ways that won’t work. Thomas Edison also said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

Failure is not a disgrace, or at least it doesn’t have to be. Walt Disney applied to the Kansas City Star for a job as an artist, and he was rejected. Not only was he rejected, the editor sent him away, urging him to give up his idea of drawing. Can you imagine what our world would be like if we had no Disney, and Mickey Mouse?

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. I just can’t conceive of that. And the first time George Gershwin played the piano in public, they laughed him off the stage. But anyone who knows anything about American composers knows that the music he wrote, like “Lullaby,” “Blue Monday,” and “Rhapsody in Blue,” are among some of his masterpieces that are played again and again and again.

So perseverance is good. But we’re looking at Peter, and he had given up for the day. He failed all night. He was ready to go home. And I’m sure we’ve all felt like that at times too. “Forget this. I’m going home. I’m going to go watch TV, crack a beer,” or whatever it is that you might do. And there was Jesus, rubbing salt in the wounds of Peter’s pride.

Still, Jesus had been doing wondrous things, and he had healed Peter’s mother-in-law recently. So he says “Master, if you say so, I will go out.” I would note that this is the first time we see the word for “Master” used with regards to Jesus in Luke’s gospel. Peter is the first one to call him Master rather than Rabbi, or Teacher.

Peter obeys Jesus, despite not really feeling like it. Despite being tired, sore, frustrated, humiliated, and impatient, he does what Jesus said. He follows Jesus’ command. He doesn’t understand it, he doubts its reasonableness, but he does it anyway.

My mother always encouraged us to express our feelings. There would be times when she would ask us to do chores, and we would tell her, “I don’t really feel like doing that. That kind of makes me mad.” And she’d say, “That’s nice. Now go and do it anyway.” She acknowledged our response, but we were supposed to do it anyway.

Peter went and did it anyway. He goes out, casts where Jesus tells him to, and pulls in so many fish that the net starts breaking and the boat is close to capsizing. He calls his partners in to help, and they almost capsize from all the fish.

Now at that moment in the story, Peter seemingly has one of his usual over-the-top, drama queen reactions, as he falls on his face, in the midst of all this smelly, slimy fish, and tells Jesus, “Go away from me! Because I am a sinful man.” Just histrionics.

Or then again, maybe it wasn’t so over-the-top as we might initially think. Peter recognized in that moment that Jesus (and by the way, Peter is the only one who does this several times throughout the Gospels, before Jesus’ death and resurrection) that Jesus is more than a man. Jesus is holy. Jesus knows things. Jesus has power that belongs to God.

If you suddenly realized you were in the presence of holiness, that you were in the presence of someone with the power of God, and you were just you – an average person, with average thoughts and merits – I ask you honestly, would you run to Jesus? Or would you run away? Or would you tell Jesus that he shouldn’t be in your presence because you are too sinful?

I love what Jesus says to Peter in that moment: “Fear not.” Just like the angels did whenever they visited and showed their heavenly nature. “Fear not, Simon Peter.” (By the way, this is the first time Simon is called Peter).

That’s the story. But I want to go back a bit in the story now, and ask you some questions. Some things that maybe you should think about.

Have you ever been tired, frustrated, and felt like too much was being asked of you? Have you ever felt like God isn’t there, or that if He is, you cannot for the life of you figure out what it is He wants? Have you ever known in your heart that God was just asking you to do something insane? Like “Why would You ask me to do that?”

I know I did while I was still fighting my call to ministry. Many of you know my story. I was called in my senior year in high school and didn’t answer it until I was thirty – I’m a slow learner. Or stubborn. My mom would have said pig-headed.

There was even a time when I walked away from God, for various reasons. And as soon as I rededicated my life to God and Jesus Christ, the call reasserted itself. I tried to do everything I could in my power, to delay it or change it, to bargain with God.

I did everything you could do as a layperson. I was a Sunday School teacher. I had been on Session. I was in the choir. I sang solos as a ministry during the summer, even, a separate ministry. I did all kinds of things, all so that I wouldn’t have to become a preacher.

I mean, I loved science. I had a good job. I was making good money at Johnson & Johnson. I did well – I had two promotions in five years. Why would I want to change, to something as uncertain as being a preacher and pastor? It was insane.

But God is patient, and God doesn’t give up. There came a time when I learned that surrender is not the same thing as defeat, when I answered God’s call. But I’ve been there.

Have you ever been in Peter’s shoes, ready to throw in the towel, and you clearly hear God to ask you to go and talk to that person again, or do that spiritual discipline once more (even though it was totally fruitless the last fifty times), or to pray for or forgive someone who has clearly wronged you, and doesn’t seem to regret it?

When was the last time you said, “Master, if you say so, I will do it”? Not, “I don’t have time” or “I’m not comfortable doing that” or “I am too old” or “I don’t have the gifts for that.” When was the last time you said, “If you say so, Lord”?

What were the results if you did what was asked, if you think back on it? (It is possible, I will say, that you saw nothing at that moment.)

Peter, at that moment in time, was showing what was called faith. Not blind faith – he obviously questioned Jesus and his directions. Not faith based on an emotional high – he was pretty depressed and low. And not faith based on a certainty or definite knowledge of what was going to happen – he didn’t have a clue. But Peter made the decision to trust Jesus – even if he did think Jesus was nuts.

Trust and obedience are two sides of that same coin called faith. You really can’t have one without the other. If you don’t trust, you won’t obey unless, you are so afraid you feel you have no choice. If you won’t obey, then you don’t really trust the one giving direction – or at least, you trust yourself more.

God wants us to trust Him because we love Him. Look at Jesus’ response to Peter’s reaction: “Fear not.” We don’t need to be phobic – so afraid of God that we do what He says just so we won’t get zapped by that heavenly lightning bolt. A healthy fear and respect are always good, yes. But not terror.

Remember the one who chose you – who loved you enough to die on the cross to cleanse you of that sin and was raised again so that you might have new life and be a new creature in relationship with the Father in heaven – that one calls you to go out into the deep waters, trusting Him. Loving Him, and through Him, loving others into the family and Kingdom which we are a part of.

Sometimes, we won’t really want to. We will be tired. We will be angry, or we will be frustrated. We will feel like we are being asked to do too much. We won’t understand everything that is being asked of us, or why.

In those moments, we need to think of Peter, and like him, respond in faith, “If you say so, Jesus.” And someday, you will be rewarded. Your cup will be overflowing with blessings and joy. It may not be until we are in heaven – but I bet the peace and joy of following the one you know is with you always – Jesus himself – will come to you even now. And then your heart will be full as those boats were, and you can give praise to God for His goodness and grace in your life.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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