Rev Geoff McKee’s scripture for the fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (10 February 2018) is Luke 5:1-11, the story of Jesus calling his first disciples. Creating “fishers of men” resonates with us in a fishing community like Lossiemouth. Geoff explains how God – and Jesus – have continually taken risks for the benefit of humanity. It’s up to us to follow that example – taking risks so that lives are changed for the better.
Luke 5:1-11 (New International Version)
Jesus Calls His First Disciples
5 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Anyone who attended the funeral service for Andrew Campbell on 22 December 2018 could not fail to have been impressed by the tribute from Michael Harrington, the young fishing skipper from Castletownbere, Co. Cork in Ireland.
Michael and his crew were having no fortune catching fish.
There was no doubt that the fish were there but they weren’t finding their way into Michael’s nets.
He described how Andrew and friends from Lossiemouth travelled to Cork to have a look at their set-up and routine to try and find a way to break the bad fortune.
The old, wise heads made some suggestions and almost immediately the nets filled and the boxes overflowed with fish.
I couldn’t help bringing to mind the story of Jesus and his first disciples recorded in Luke 5 and the very similar story recorded in John 22.
Like Michael Harrington, the disciples were prepared to listen and everything changed as a result of that.
There’s something very settling and comforting about standing by the seashore on a sandy beach.
The East Beach in Lossiemouth is a perfect example.
And, watching the tide ebb and flow, pulling and pushing the sand back and forth with the sound of the waves filling the air: perfect!
It’s that pulling and pushing that is characteristic of the story in Luke’s Gospel as Jesus engaged with the fishermen.
There is nothing that is forced or unnatural in their relating to one another. Instead we have a giving and receiving, a to-ing and fro-ing of the tide of life that we can relate to.
And we mustn’t miss that in the story because it’s at the core of what the story teaches us.
I can remember as a teenager being part of a church that did evangelism.
It was something that we were consciously involved in and, for a shy individual like myself, it was terrible.
Knocking doors and inviting strangers to a church event was difficult enough but to ask a stranger a question about his or her faith, or lack of it, was just too much – but we were expected to do it.
It was all very unnatural and forced and completely at odds with the way Jesus, I believe, related to people.
This story of the catching of the fish and Jesus’ comment at the end of the story to the fishermen – that, from now on, they will be catching people – is easily mis-read.
The sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ is not about ensnaring people as if they were fish caught in nets.
That’s not how Jesus lived and related to people.
Note that Jesus first of all asked for the use of a boat.
It wasn’t his boat. He couldn’t just come and take it – he had to request to be pushed a little offshore.
It was natural and Jesus was happy to place himself in the debt of the fishermen. He owed them something for their generosity.
It is a remarkable feature of the Bible that God is continually willing to take risks for humanity.
It is said:
“There was a very cautious man
Who never laughed or played;
He never risked, he never tried,
He never sang or prayed.
And when he one day passed away
His insurance was denied;
For since he never really lived,
They claimed he never died!”
Winners see risk as opportunity. They see the rewards of success in advance. They do not fear the penalties of failure.
The winning individual knows that bad luck is attracted by negative thinking and that an attitude of optimistic expectancy is the surest way to create an upward cycle and to attract the best of luck most of the time.
Winners know that so-called ‘luck’ is the intersection of preparation and opportunity.
If an individual is not prepared, he or she simply does not see or take advantage of a situation.
Opportunities are always around, but only those who are prepared utilise them effectively.
Winners seem to be lucky because their positive self-expectancy enables them to better prepared for their opportunities.
When asked by a news reporter how she thought she would do in one of her early career swimming meets in the United States several years ago, 14-year-old Australian Shane Gould replied, “I have a feeling there will be a world record today.”
She went on to set two world records in the one-hundred- and two-hundred-metre freestyle events.
When asked how she thought she would fare in the more testing, gruelling, four-hundred-metre event, Shane replied with a smile, “I get stronger every race, and besides … my parents said they’d take me to Disneyland if I win, and we’re leaving tomorrow!”
She went to Disneyland with three world records.
At 16, she held five world records and became one of the greatest swimmers of all time, winning three gold medals in the 1972 Olympics.
She learned early about the power of self-expectancy.
It is an inherent characteristic of all that we know about God that he takes risks.
It’s not that he is rash – or careless or reckless – in any sense but instead that his love for us is so great that he will continually invest in us despite our dismal record.
And, of course, because God takes risks, Jesus took risks.
How did he know that when the fishermen were asked to go out again despite their better judgement, that the rewards would be so considerable? – that these trusting men who had lent Jesus the boat would receive a reward so much greater than their initial act of kindness?
Because Jesus understood that the pulling, pushing, calling nature of our engagement with one another involved investing in the unknown – of taking risks so that lives would be changed for the better.
Yesterday, a group of people met in St. John’s Episcopal Church in Princes Street in Edinburgh to listen to their questions being answered.
They met to discover that there were more questions than they had thought of, and that the answers to these questions were not as straightforward as they might have hoped!
They were all there taking risks.
Who were they? Well, they were a group of very different people who were beginning the discernment of a call of God to service within the ministries of the Church of Scotland.
All of these people could have stayed at home and continued doing what they always do. Instead, they chose not merely to listen to their conscience but to get up and do something about it.
The next Vocations Information Day is on Saturday 08 June in the Steeple Church, Dundee. Will you be there? Where will you be?
“Lord, you have come to the seashore,
neither searching for the rich or the wise,
desiring only that I should follow.”
Hearing the Word is not enough.
Following the Word is the only way.
Jesus is the Word.
This is the challenge of the Sundays after the Epiphany.
May we be willing to follow.