The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
Years ago, I preached on this text and I focused on what it would take for us to become “fishers of folk” and invite new people into our community of faith. I used the analogy of fly-fishing and using different artificial flies to catch different sorts of people…some of us will bite on a tiny gray parachute Adams and others of us will strike at a big, black woolly bugger. And I think that progressive evangelism or “inviting” aspect of the story is absolutely key, and it’s going to be part of our post-pandemic rebuilding. But I’m going to ask you to go somewhere different with me today.
Jesus goes out onto the lake with these guys who have spent their lives fishing…they are the professionals, and their father Zebedee must have taught them the trade over the course of many years. They would know where the fish tended to congregate, what time of day they were active and feeding, and how to use nets masterfully to maximize the catch. But like all fishers, they have the occasional bad day and get “skunked,” which is what happened on the day of our story. So, up comes this spiritual teacher who needs a water-borne pulpit to preach to the gathered crowd, and after the sermon, he tells the guys to row out into deeper water and cast their nets. Can’t you just imagine them folding their arms and saying, “Okay, Jesus, if that’s what you want us to do…”? I imagine that there might have been a few sniggers behind Jesus’ back as well. “Okay, carpenter-boy…let’s see you fish!” And of course, they bring in a miraculous catch. It isn’t just the normal evening’s haul, but rather such an abundance of fish that they need to get another boat to come alongside them to help bring up the nets, which were filled to bursting. Why not just a good or an adequate catch?
Now, it may be that the sons of Zebedee were absolutely gobsmacked…they couldn’t say a word because they were stunned. Or maybe they were embarrassed that the dude from Nazareth bested them in knowing how to fish. Or perhaps they couldn’t believe their eyes. But the only recorded verbal response comes from Peter, who falls down at Jesus’ feet and says, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Think about that response for a minute. Jesus provides an incredible abundance of fish for these fishermen who were eking out a living on the lake shore, and the best you can come up with is “Get outta here…I’m a sinner and not worthy!”
How many of us would respond in a similar way? Imagine yourself in Peter’s place and Jesus providing twenty amazing new clients or a classroom full of totally motivated students or fellow engineers who were always open to your brilliant ideas. Imagine! How would you respond to that unconditionally loving and abundant gift? One response might be, “Hey, Jesus, that’s just too much…I can’t accept this.” Perhaps that is why Peter is overwhelmed. What would YOU say to Jesus?
I wonder if any of you would say something that none of the disciples did: THANKS! There seems to be a sense of amazement among the disciples and Peter can’t accept that he is deserving of such a gift. But no one in the narrative turns to Jesus and says, “Thank you, Lord. You’ve done something amazing here, and none of us could have done that on our own. We are so grateful to you for what you’ve provided!”
Are we even remotely aware of the amazing haul that God provides for each of us? The fact that we can broadcast worship? That we even have a church? That Jesus came to share the good news of the kingdom of God and it got passed along to us? That we live in an environment with incredible natural beauty? That we are able to understand one another’s speech and that we can read and that we can explore spiritual mysteries? That we are alive in this very moment? Taken as individual miracles, each of those far surpasses a boatload of fish! Do we recognize the abundance of miraculous gifts God has made possible in our lives? Each of us is the recipient of far greater gifts than fish, which are going to smell funky in a few hours anyway. Take just a moment and think of three gifts that God has given to you unconditionally. [pause]
How do we respond to God’s entrusting so much abundance to us? How do we get beyond being speechless to moving in the direction of a response of gratitude? How do we pay those gifts forward? That’s one of the things communities of faith can help with…being conscious of what has been shared with us, living in a continual sense of gratitude for God’s abundance. And that leads us to responsible stewardship of everything entrusted to us: our bodies, our souls, our families and pets, our possessions and our wealth, all of which are on loan from God. We have an ancient wisdom tradition that guides us away from the “greed is good” and “it’s all about me” mentality that our culture applauds and moves us in the direction of self-giving love.
After Peter offers that “I’m not worthy” line, Jesus comes back to him and says those words we hear so often in the New Testament, the words I wrote about in last Tuesday’s reflection: “Don’t be afraid.” That phrase occurs five times in the Gospel of Luke alone.
None of the disciples may have been very good at articulating their gratitude to Jesus. Nobody wrote a thank-you note or even said WOW! Instead, something more important happened inside them. They saw and were amazed. And some sense of gratitude and wonder filled them so much that when Jesus said that they would be fishers of folks, “they left everything and followed him.”
It makes me wonder whether our sense of gratitude, even when it is not enunciated, could be a vehicle for transformation in our lives…that being grateful to God for the everyday miracles and abundance all around us could and should be life-changing for you and for me.
What sense of gratitude and abundance fills you? Are you aware of the source of that abundance? How can you not only SAY thank you, but how will you put your gratitude into practice, giving it legs, giving it the power to change your life and the lives of others?
Don’t be afraid. Amen.
© 2022 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact hal at plymouthucc.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.