I like this story. I like the way Luke portrays what it looks like when Jesus calls Peter into being one of his disciples. I think Luke gets the story right because this story speaks truthfully about what life really looks like. You see, if you look up this story in the Gospel of Matthew or the Gospel of Mark, you hear something completely different. You’ll hear a story that goes something like this:
One day, Jesus was strolling along past the sea of Galilee when he stumbles upon two guys, named Simon and Andrew, throwing their net into the sea. He thinks to himself, “Yeah, they’ll do.” And so he hollers to them, “Hey! Hey! You guys there! What do you say you come and follow me around for awhile? What’s that? Yeah, no, you can leave the nets. We’re going to fish for people.” And of course this sounds better than what they’re doing. So they drop their nets and off they go.
Easy as that, right? Wrong. Well at least according to Luke. No, for Luke, this story is much different from the story in Matthew or Mark. And I think Luke gets it right because Luke’s story has a little bit of real life sprinkled over it; Luke’s story has stress and disappointment, fear and resistance. Luke knows something that everyone of you know. Luke knows that life… is hard. That’s the first line of a great book by Dr. M. Scott Peck called The Road Less Traveled – “Life is hard.” You know this and I know this. From the way Luke tells this story, it appears that Luke knows this. Luke knows that being Jesus isn’t easy, because from the very beginning Jesus is literally being pushed out to sea with people pressing upon, demanding that he give them what they want. Isn’t that how life is sometimes? People pressing in upon, demanding you give them what they want? Heck, Luke even knows that fishing isn’t easy because Simon Peter, James, and John all failed at it. They are sitting there on the shore, washing their nets, and, quite frankly, they are ticked off. All night long they fished and they caught nothing. And now, they have to head home with their tail between their legs, knowing their kids will go to bed hungry. Isn’t that how life is sometimes? You head home with your tail between your legs after an unsuccessful day? Life. Is. Hard.
I like this story. It has a little bit of real life baked into it. You can see this again in the exchange between Jesus and Simon Peter. Jesus has just finished speaking to the crowd and while standing in the boat that he stole, he sees Simon Peter, sitting on the shore, fuming over the lackluster day of fishing. Jesus paddles on over towards him and he says something really profound. Jesus reaches out, puts his hand on poor Simon Peter’s shoulder and he says…. ”Get back out there and start catching some fish.” That’s what he says. He doesn’t say, “Hey man, tough day. I know a pub just down shore a bit. Let me take you out. No seriously, come on, I hear they have a great fish sandwich.” No, Jesus says, “Get back out there, only this time, go deeper. Go farther out.”
Now I don’t know who of you have been out in the ocean or on a big lake. But if you have, then you probably know that the idea of going “father out” overflows with fear and trembling. What do parents always say to their children at the beach? “Don’t go too far out.” In movies or television shows, young, strong, good-looking lifeguards are usually scanning the shore looking for people who have gone too far out. Because that is where you find trouble.
My wife and I, while visiting Hawaii, became very aware of what it means to go “farther out.” We were on a dolphin and whale watching tour with about 14 other people on this small, motorized boat. At the beginning of the tour, we were headed straight out away from the island. Lauren and I were in bliss. Gazing at the beautiful sunshine reflecting off the water and the way the edge of the island looked against the pale-blue sky background. But, then, like a speed bump in the middle of the road, we could almost feel when we had crossed the threshold into that “farther out” part of the sea. No longer where closing our eyes and letting the wind brush across our faces. No longer were we gazing at Diamond Head volcano that was off in the distance and thinking, “It is so gorgeous; there must be a god!” Suddenly, we were clenching the rails of the boat, imagining we could steady it amongst the big, big waves. Suddenly, we both were wondering if we had selected the correct lifejacket size, as we tightened the straps as far as they would go. Suddenly, we were farther out, and fear set in.
And yet, that is exactly where Jesus tells Peter to go. Farther out. “Get back out there, “ Jesus says, “Only this time, go deeper. Go farther out.” Just when Peter thought his day couldn’t get any worse, Jesus sends him into the deepest, darkest, and dangerous part of the sea. And like any call story that’s worth its weight, Peter resists. Peter says, “All night long I have been fishing and caught nothing. Now you want me to go back out there, even further into the dark sea?” Peter resists, because that’s life, isn’t it? We resist. We resist everything from our new year’s resolution to get in shape to the invitation to actually love our enemies. And in the end, I think it is because we are afraid. Afraid of what? I don’t know. The world? But we are afraid, and I think it was the same for Peter. Peter resisted because he was afraid. And who can blame him? But then…but then he gathered up his fear. He got back out there…and low and behold, amidst the monstrous waves and the bottomless sea, there was a school of fish waiting to be caught. A sign that God abounds in the most treacherous places.
I like this story. I like it because it stinks a little bit with real life. Luke knows that there is nothing safe nor certain about the calling into life. No guarantee that we will be safe from harm. No guarantees that our dreams will come true if we just put our mind to it. Luke knows how hard and painful life can be. How painfully absent God can seem when standing alone on the shore, cleaning any empty net, or while sitting in the waiting room during a loved one’s surgery, or when closing the blinds on another isolated day in the apartment. No wonder we are afraid. Like Adam and Eve, so often we try to escape this world. Our prayers often ask God to lift us up out of this mess and into a place where we no longer have to live this human life. Jesus is guilty of it. In the garden, he prays, “Lord, take this cup from me. I don’t want it anymore.”
But perhaps that is our sin. As one of my favorite theologian puts it, what if our sin is trying to escape this world. Trying to be something other than what we are: children of the world. God made us human so that we might be human. God placed us in this world so that we might be in this world. So that we might allow ourselves to reside here, in the deepest part of the sea, where the waves are large and looming, where the water is dark and bottomless, and where we trust that there will be a school of fish – a sign that God abounds in the midst of it all.
I like this story. It is littered with the garbage of real life. When you leave here this morning, you will be walking into a world that is both beautiful and terrifying. The very same snowflakes that cause us to stop and stick our tongue in hopes of catching one are the same snowflakes that lead to blizzards and fatal accidents. The child that brings a sense of new life and energy into our life is also the one reminds us of how fragile life is and how quickly death can draw near. God does not call us to abandon this world, but to go deeply into it. Out into the deep end of the ocean, where it is dark and dangerous. And yet…..and yet, that is exactly where God promises to encounter us -in the middle of real life – encountering us in moments that are delightful. Moments that are mundane. Moments that are terrifying. Even when it feels like you have not caught any fish at all, God calls you back out into the sea of life, and promises to meet you there…Even when it feels like you have not caught any fish at all, God calls you back into the sea of life, and promises to meet you there. AMEN