1 Corinthians 15:1-11
What kinds of things do you need to catch fish? A pole. Bait—lure, worm. A hook. In today’s story, they used nets—and boats. They weren’t trying to catch one at a time. After Jesus is done preaching, he tells the fishermen to put their nets back in the water. They had spent all night fishing, and didn’t catch anything. I bet it seemed silly to them to try it again, but they did. Do you know what happened?
They caught so many fish the nets started to break and the boats started to sink! And then, Jesus said that if they came with him, they would use their skills to catch people instead of fish. That sounds kind of funny, doesn’t it. Does that mean that they were going to trap people in nets? Does it mean that they would catch people so that they could eat them? NO.
Jesus meant that they were going to catch people’s imaginations—catch their hopes and dreams and fears and needs. Catch them up in the life of Jesus. What do you think they might need to do that? Hopefully not hooks and nets. Maybe God’s Word and God’s promise. Those are a good start. Maybe our love and our care—our compassion.
In the story today, Jesus didn’t have to give the disciples any new tools to do their new work. They already had what they needed. When Jesus tells YOU to follow him, you don’t need to wait until you’re older or smarter or have the right tools. God gave you everything you need in your baptism. What is that, do you think?
God’s promise that God loves you more than you can imagine. And God’s promise that God loves every person more than you can imagine. And your job as disciples is this: to remember that and tell others about it. That’s it. Can you do it?
Let’s pray. Dear God, help me remember how much you love me. And help me show others how much you love them. Amen.
A little boy visiting his grandparents and given his first slingshot. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit his target. As he came back to Grandma’s back yard, he spied her pet duck. On an impulse he took aim and let fly. The stone hit, and the duck fell dead. The boy panicked. Desperately he hid the dead duck in the wood pile, only to look up and see his sister watching. Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing.
After lunch that day, Grandma said, “Sally, let’s wash the dishes.” But Sally said, “Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen today. Didn’t you, Johnny?” And she whispered to him, “Remember the duck!” So Johnny did the dishes.
Later Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing., Grandma said, “I’m sorry, but I need Sally to help make supper.” Sally smiled and said, “That’s all taken care of. Johnny wants to do it.” Again she whispered, “Remember the duck.” Johnny stayed while Sally went fishing. After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally’s, finally he couldn’t stand it. He confessed to Grandma that he’d killed the duck. “I know, Johnny,” she said, giving him a hug. “I was standing at the window and saw the whole thing. Because I love you, I forgave you. I wondered how long you would let Sally make a slave of you.”
Guilt is a funny thing. It keeps us captive and prevents us from living the life God has called us to. The lessons for today are all call stories—Isaiah’s call to be a prophet, Paul’s call to be an apostle, and Jesus’ call to his first disciples from fishing boats to ministry. But each of these stories also addresses how those who were called felt unworthy.
First, we have Isaiah. Confronted by the angels and the Lord, he realizes how out of place he feels. In fact, he remembers Moses’ words to the people of Israel—that no one will look on the Lord and live. Isaiah is certain that he’s going to die. He has seen the Lord, and he knows he’s unworthy. He is confronted with the shadow of his sin in the light of Christ. “Woe is me. I am unclean, and I live surrounded by people who have turned away from God. And now I’m looking at the Lord—I will certainly die.”
As the seraphim touch the coal to his lips, they say, “You guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Your guilt has departed. You see, with guilt comes fear—fear of being found out, fear of consequences, fear of not being enough. Without the guilt, he has nothing to fear. This is important because God has a mission for him, and now he can willingly say, “Send me!” Silly man didn’t even know what the mission was. The mission God would send him on was to proclaim to Israel that everything would be destroyed. Nothing would remain but a stump of the tree of Israel. It would be a very difficult task—not one for the faint of heart and the fearful. Isaiah needed to know the good news of God’s love and acceptance before he was ready to do the work of the Lord. He needed to hear that God knew his guilt and called him anyway. He couldn’t be captive to guilt if he was to follow God’s call.
Then we have Paul. Paul was a persecutor of the first followers of Christ. His guilt and mistakes were big. But instead of being captive to them, he confronted them. He confessed them. He told the church in Corinth exactly who he was. The term ‘untimely born’ was used to describe a child born dead. As far as he was concerned, his faith was dead until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. And it wasn’t his zealous faithfulness that turned his heart—it was God’s grace. It was God’s acceptance. It was the good news that, in spite of what he had done in the past, God had a place for him in the work of the kingdom.
And finally, we come to the gospel text—the story of Jesus calling his first disciples. Debie Thomas sets the scene for us: “In Jesus’s day, the fishing industry in Palestine was fully under the control of the Roman Empire. Caesar owned every body of water, and all fishing was state-regulated for the benefit of the urban elite. Fishermen couldn’t obtain licenses to fish without joining a syndicate, most of what they caught was exported — leaving local communities impoverished and hungry — and the Romans collected exorbitant taxes, levies, and tolls each time fish were sold. To catch even one fish outside of this exploitative system was considered illegal.”
Simon and Zebedee and their crews had spent all night fishing with nothing to show for it. That meant that they would have nothing to sell—no way to provide for their families that day. There’s a sense of guilt even when we fall short of the hopes of our loved ones—when we can’t do what we’ve signed up to do—when we fail at our jobs. I imagine that there was a sense of failure hovering over the fishermen as they finished cleaning and mending their nets that morning. They would have to go home and tell their families that they had caught nothing. They would have to tell the Romans there was nothing to sell that day. They would have to dig deeper to pay the taxes for the use of the water.
Then Jesus comes along, making demands of these tired men. He hops in one of the boats and says, take me out a bit so I can preach. And looking behind Jesus, Simon sees a whole crowd of people gathering. ‘Wonderful,’ he thinks. ‘Now we have a crowd that can witness to our failure and some guy making demands.’ Maybe this is the same Simon whose mother-in-law was healed by Jesus not long before. In that case, perhaps Simon feels obligated—maybe even a bit excited. Either way, once he takes Jesus out into the water, he’s a captive audience to Jesus’ teachings.
When Jesus is done, he tells Simon to throw his net into the water. Mother-in-law or not, Simon is not excited to display his failures to the world. “Sir, we were out here all night and didn’t catch anything. Trust me, this is my job. I know what I’m doing. There’s no point.” He waits, staring Jesus down…and then sighs. “Whatever, dude. Just know that I told you so.” And he throws out the net.
And a breath later, the net pulls so hard it nearly capsizes the boat! He calls to Zebedee and the others to come out and help. The newly mended nets begin to break, and it takes everything these seasoned fishermen have to bring the fish in to shore. Astounded and ashamed, Simon falls at Jesus’ feet. “I am not worthy to be in your presence. Save yourself from my guilt and shame and please go—for your own sake.”
In the light of Christ, we are confronted with the shadows of our guilt and shame, and we realize we have no business being in God’s presence. But that’s not what Jesus says—it’s not what Jesus does. If that were the case, God wouldn’t have come into OUR presence. God wouldn’t have been ‘Emmanuel’—God with us. There would be no Jesus—no Christ on the cross—no resurrection. Instead, Christ came to us as one of us. Christ entered our presence, entered our lives, entered our world for the very purpose of being with us. But not just to be with us but to release us from the captivity of our guilt and shame.
I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it again, quoting Franciscan Richard Rohr: “Jesus didn’t die to change God’s mind about us. He died to change our mind about God.” When we think that God could not love us or want to be a part of us, Jesus reminds us that God has chosen us. God calls us. God dies for us. And God sends us. God sends us to tell others.
Set free from the chains of guilt and sin, we are equipped to share the good news with the world! We don’t need special tools. We only need our own story. Like Paul, we can tell the world who we really are and how God loves us and calls us, anyway. Like Isaiah, we can say, “Send me” before we even know the task before us. Like the fishermen, we can follow Jesus without a second thought because in our sinfulness he says, “Do not be afraid.” And if God tells us there is nothing to fear, then there is nothing to fear.
We need not fear failure because we aren’t called to success. We need not fear rejection because we aren’t called to convince. We need not fear death because we aren’t called to survive. We are called to be faithful. We are called to follow. And God knows very well that we will stumble and lose the way and turn around and sometimes become paralyzed. That’s why the gospels tell us over and over again, “Do not fear.” God tells Isaiah and Israel, “Do not fear. I am with you.” The angel tells Mary, “Do not be afraid.” Even after the resurrection, when Jesus enters the upper room, the first thing he says is “Peace be with you—Do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy. Do not be afraid, follow me. Do not be afraid, it is I. Do not be afraid, but go—baptize, teach, and make disciples—for I am with you always.
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church