5 Trinity 2008

The Fifth Sunday After Trinity
June 22, 2008
Verses 10 & 11 of St. Luke 5:1-11
“A More Stupendous Catch”

Would you agree that Moby Dick is one whale of a story! Who could forget the classic 1851 novel by Herman Melville that includes the crazed obsession of a whaling sea captain to hunt down and kill the huge whale that had crippled him for life. Captain Ahab is prepared to sacrifice everything, including his own life, the lives of his crew members and even his ship to find and finally destroy his nemesis, Moby Dick.

Boys especially like to read thrilling stories about pirates, ship’s voyages, whale hunts and the sea. Whereas men like most to read and relate stories about fish and fishing, whether in the river, stream or sea, and especially like to relate to fellow fishermen personal stories about a particular haul of fish one plentiful day, or the “big one” they caught another day! Someone astutely observed: “Bragging may not bring happiness, but no man having caught a large fish goes home through an alley.” Yes men like to brag about their fishing adventures, if only someone else will listen.

Mark Twain loved to brag about his hunting and fishing exploits. He once spent three weeks fishing in the woods of Maine, irrespective of the fact that in that state it was “closed” season on fishing. Three weeks, well spent, and he had plenty to show for it. On his return journey to New York while relaxing in the lounge car of the train, his grand catch safely iced down in the baggage car, he looked for someone to whom he could relate the story of his successful holiday. He hoped he might find someone with a ready ear.

As it turned out, a stranger to whom he began to boast of his sizable catch appeared at first unresponsive, then annoyed and eventually seemed almost to be timing his response! “By the way, who are you, sir?” inquired Twain congenially, extending his hand. “I’m the state Game Warden,”” came the terse reply. Twain nearly swallowed his cigar. Leaning forward in his seat, the man inquired, “And who, sir, might you be?” “Well to be perfectly truthful, warden,” Twain said hastily, “I’m the biggest d— liar in the whole United States.” That was a rather creative and clever reply.

Recall if you will, fishing even figures into the story of Creation. We read in the very first chapter of the Book of Genesis, “God created man in His own image, male and female He created them.” And immediately thereafter, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.'”

And there is even the tale of a whale to be found in the Bible, right there in the Book of Jonah. Jonah was sort of unique among the prophets, as he was not a very ‘willing’ sort of fellow. Unlike most of the prophets who were obedient servants of the Lord, calling the Lord’s people to repentance, Jonah was a recalcitrant prophet who immediately tries to flee from his assigned mission and actually sulks when the people of Nineveh repent. When the call to go to the people of Nineveh first came to Jonah, he fled and headed by ship to Tarshish. Of course he never made it there. The sea arose, tossing the little ship violently about. The sailors are beside themselves and decide that someone must have offended the gods and they pray to their various gods to save them.

In the end, as Jonah had told them he was running away from the presence of his God, they act upon Jonah’s own suggestion, that they should throw him into the sea. For Jonah had assured them, “Then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Though they rowed for a while longer, the sea grew more tempestuous and they reluctantly hoisted Jonah overhead and threw him into the sea – and the sea ceased from its raging!

Of course, that was not the end of Jonah, but only the beginning of his tale. For then Jonah is swallowed up by a huge whale, and lives in the belly of the whale three days before the whale spews him up. Well you know the rest of the story and how it ends under a withered tree.

By comparison the account in this morning’s Gospel is less dramatic than either the novel Moby Dick or the Old Testament Book of Jonah. No whale appears! No one gets thrown overboard! And there is no storm at sea (though there were fierce storms in other gospel accounts: once when Jesus was asleep in the disciples’ boat, and once when he came walking to them on the sea).

There is, however, in this account a near sinking of a boat. Well, actually of two boats! Not because too many people have gotten aboard either boat or because the ballast shifted, but because of a surprise draught of fish that the fishermen in both boats have taken aboard ship. With the consequence that the ships ‘began to sink.’ Does that mean the ships were getting dangerously low in the water or that they were actually beginning to take on water? Dangerously low in the water seems more reasonable because they are eventually able to bring the ships to land, where they then abandon them and follow Jesus.

But the scene was frightening enough for Simon to panic and to confess to the Lord something about himself that he apparently thought the Lord had not known! Did Simon like Jonah think that he was the reason or cause that the ships were in danger of sinking? Whereas the obvious cause for the sinking would appear to be the tremendous load of fish. Yes, Simon and all that were with him were astonished at the draught of fishes, yet there seems to be lurking in Simon’s mind a deeper reason – Simon’s sinfulness! He feels that he is so sinful he is not worthy to be in the Lord’s presence or to have the Lord present with him in his boat. “Depart from me, O Lord!”

There is no doubt that Jesus’ Presence had a profound effect on those who were around him. The account tells us that there was a tremendously large crowd out to hear Jesus that day. So many in fact that only those closest to him could see him. Jesus comes up with the solution. More will be able to see him if he is some distance away from them. And his voice will carry better being heard coming off the water.

There are those two boats at the shoreline and the fishermen are busy washing their nets. So they probably didn’t notice at first that Jesus had stepped into one of them, until Jesus asked Simon, whose boat he had stepped into, to please row out a little from the shore so that he could be easier seen by more of the crowd and better address them.

Why not! Simon was an affable sort of fellow and so he rowed a little away from the land. He was probably as interested in hearing what the Lord had to say as anyone on the shore. Besides it would be but a short before rowing back to land to let the Master off and to finish washing up the nets, before going home and washing up for supper.

But that isn’t what Jesus had in mind for Simon. He asks, no, actually he directs Simon to row on out to the deep and let down his fishing nets for a catch. Simon probably didn’t have many nets left aboard, as most of them were lying on the beach where they were in the process of being washed before Jesus had disturbed the routine.

And Jesus most certainly had disturbed the routine. He will do it here at the shoreline with Simon and Andrew, James and John. He will do it again when he calls Matthew the tax collector away from the tax office. He will do it as he calls the other Apostles to follow him, and again when he will call Saul to leave off his Pharisaism and his persecution of the Church to become his choice vessel to preach to and save the Gentiles.

Jesus will go on to disturb the routines of millions upon millions upon millions of more souls down through time. He will step into lives, sometimes by stepping right into livelihoods, and he will leave the persons and their careers changed forever. With their lives becoming like his life, with the livelihoods changed into doing his business. Just as he said to fisherman Simon, ‘Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men!’

When did the Lord first step into your own life? Was it through the guidance of your parents or someone else who first exposed you the Lord and his ways? Was it through someone at the place where you were then employed? Or was it possibly through the way you had then been earning your living? However he first stepped into your life; you would no longer be simply your own.

Now, do not say God can’t use you because you’re a sinner. Simon Peter tried that! ‘Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’ And it was a cop-out! We don’t have to inform the Lord of what he already knows. But it is well for us to admit to ourselves who and what we are – we are all sinners. What is truly astonishing is not that we are sinners, but rather that God loved us in Christ, when we were as yet sinners. He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. As with Simon, when we fall on our knees at Jesus’ feet, life for the first time finds its true direction. Life won’t swamp us. And we won’t sink. And he will see us safely to shore.

But he won’t let us go back to simply washing our nets, or slip back into our old routine. No, he has better even bigger plans for us. He knows our assets and our liabilities. He knows our talents and our abilities. He knows the things at which we are most talented and proficient. And He will use them. He will consecrate our lives, our talents and our skills to his supreme purpose.

Our lives will not be the same as they were before we fell down and surrendered to him. ‘From henceforth thou shalt catch men.’ There is no turning back to our comfortable past. We may continue making our living as we have; but he will use our talents, our skills to a new and higher purpose. Purpose that gives glory to God and will benefit more of his children and the very world He created from the beginning. And it will benefit us too!

But one might say, most of my skills and talents have served their purpose. And I am now retired. But have they served God’s purpose? Furthermore, we have not retired from being his servants, have we?

In this morning’s epistle, St. Peter himself gave us a look into what our lives are meant to be. They are meant to be lives that are filled with the unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind. Lives that are devoid of revenge, but are full of blessing. Lives in which one keeps one’s tongue from speaking evil or guile, and seeks peace ensuing it to life’s end. Lives ready even to suffer for righteousness’ sake. And always in the heart reverencing Christ as Lord.

But just as the nets strained and began to break with the enormous catch of fish, so we may experience the feeling that we ourselves are at the breaking point trying to serve him. It seems he asks us to take aboard, to take on and do too much! But the boats didn’t sink, did they!

After he had risen from the dead, having appeared to them several times, he again appeared to them on the seashore, when they were again out on the lake fishing. You see, he did not tell them they could never fish or catch fish again. But when he called them he said they would primarily work to catch men for him!

At this post-resurrection appearance he asked them a discomforting question: Had they caught any fish? They were in fact having the same hard luck as they had on that day he had first seen them by their boats, out washing their nets. To his question they answer him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish.” Is this beginning to sound familiar?
When they got out on land, although Jesus had already prepared a fire and had some fish grilling on it, he said to them, “Bring some of the of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore full of large fish, a hundred fifty three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus was there to guide them to the great catch. The net hadn’t torn! The ship hadn’t sunk! And because he was present with them, and in them, that more stupendous catch was made.

Any fisherman worth his salt will tell you much patience in needed with fishing. Just so, great patience is needed in ‘fishing for men.’ Though one may have toiled all night and caught nothing, we the Church are to continue steadfast and unmovable in His blessed service. There is no retirement for us. But there is eternal reward for those who serve Him. Patience is required in service, even when one feels one is at the breaking point. The stupendous catch may be just one more try away!

A clergyman called on an unbeliever twenty-four times, and on each separate occasion was turned away. Then the door of opportunity opened, for the man now lay dying and wanted to see the man who loved his old calloused soul so much as to stand twenty-four rebuffs.

There is an unspeakable pleasure in catching a trout in a place where nobody thinks of looking for it, and at an hour when everybody believes they cannot be caught. – Henry Van Dyke

So fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men! And the catch will be stupendous!