Fish Out of Water

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Epiphany 5C/February 10, 2109
Gospel: Luke 5:1-11

Mother Adrienne Hymes’ sermon this morning on the Gospel Luke 5:1-11 (Video will change orientation in the first few seconds). You are invited to worship with us, and hear the Word preached live. See you next week at 8am.

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, February 10, 2019

Luke 5:1-11 (NRSV)

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

If you have ever labored in a workplace of any kind, you may be all too familiar with the spoken and implied separation of personal and business. Statements like, “Don’t bring your personal life into the workplace” and “It’s nothing personal; it’s just business,” are familiar statements that divide a person’s experience of the world in which they move and operate.
And, if you’ve ever worked alongside other human beings in any workplace, you know that this attempt at separating parts of oneself as the context changes is futile. Human beings are not created to live compartmentalized existences—we’re simply not made that way. As much as the secular world thrives on fracturing people for the sake of temporal gains, our Gospel passage reminds us that brokenness is not what God intends for his creation; integration and wholeness is.
As a recovering corporate executive, our passage in Luke, strikes me as a powerful example of what can happen when the man-made boundary, separating business from personal, encounters divine presence.
We enter into the narrative with Jesus, whose teaching in the synagogues, casting out of demons and healings of the sick, had resulted in a crowd pressing in on him at the shore of the lake of Gennesaret.
The location was the workplace for the nearby fishermen who were washing their nets after a particularly unfruitful night when not one fish was caught. Jesus eyed their two empty fishing boats, and chose to use Simon’s boat as a floating pulpit, asking him to push the boat a little from the shore.
It is important to note that Simon and Jesus at this point are not strangers. In the previous chapter, Simon witnessed Jesus heal his mother-in-law of her fever, as well as many other healings at his home (4:38-41), so there has already been personal engagement in Simon’s home prior to this workplace encounter.

When Jesus concluded his teaching, he personally instructed Simon to put the boat out into deeper water and to let the fishing nets down for a catch. Simon’s response is pretty understandable—after a whole night of efforts with nothing to show for it, one more attempt seems incomprehensible. But, instead of Simon responding with exasperation or asking “Why?” Simon submitted in obedience to Jesus’ authority, and let down the nets.
As a result of his following Jesus’ personal instruction to him, Simon and his fishing partners were overwhelmed with the catch of fish—a catch so abundant that the nets were breaking and the boats were sinking. This miraculous work of Jesus forced Simon to proclaim himself unworthy to be in the presence of the Lord as he fell at the knees of the divinely-present Jesus.
I use the word, presence, intentionally because Jesus did not command the fish to jump into the nets; he didn’t command the water to produce more fish—he was present, guiding Simon to do the work of letting the nets down.
The amazement of Simon, those who were with him, and his fishing partners, James and John, refers to mortal fear and awe in the presence of divine holiness. Jesus responded to the awe surrounding him by again personally engaging Simon, and said, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” (v.10).
Jesus met Simon where he was—just as he was—at his place of business; pulled Simon into personally partnering with him to participate in this miraculous work; and assured Simon that his existing skillset as a fisherman would be transformed for the personal business of catching people. This exchange with Simon emphasizes that God’s calling on Simon’s life, and on our own lives, is always deeply personal.
And, without a verbal command from Jesus to follow him, Simon and the others brought their boats to the shore, left everything and followed him” (v. 11). The men who went out onto the lake in the presence of Jesus, were not the same men who returned to the shore. In the presence of the indescribable “otherness” of Jesus, the men’s only response was to abandon their source of livelihood for themselves and their families and to follow Jesus—vessels forever changed.
I imagine that this transformation might have made Jesus’ new disciples feel like “fish out of water,” caught up in His “divine net” which is at once an instrument of death for the sinful self and of new life for the faithful.
No longer would they be defined by their occupation—what they did as fishermen. The job of fisherman had been transformed into a vocational ability. Now they would use their skills of the trade in service to the personal, kingdom-building business of God.
The reversal of job function is striking, and has everything to do with the living and the dead. As fishermen, living fish were caught in their nets, and would soon die. As catchers of people, however, the men would bring those already-dying in the bondage of sin, into God’s divine net of salvation, so that they might live abundantly and have life everlasting.
Just as the fishermen, and their personal lives, were transformed in the real presence of Jesus, discipleship requires that we, too, must risk submitting to the personal guidance, and holy leading of Jesus. Submission necessarily depends on a personal, trusting, relationship with Jesus paired with the courage to embrace the unavoidable transformation of self.

It’s not easy. It can be uncomfortable, and we might even feel like “fish out of water.” Yet, our baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ assures us that this divine “net,” in which we are inextricably entangled, is a place of life-long nurturing as we are formed into the full stature of Christ.

God is in the business of transformation—personally taking mere mortals, occupied with the mundane activity of everyday life, and transforming them into divinely-formed nets that catch people for the building up of the body of Christ—the Church—here on earth.

May we each be so rooted in relationship with Christ that our undivided self, when intimately called upon by God to serve Him and his people, is able to boldly and joyfully respond, “Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:8)! Amen.