Luke 5:1-11; Called by Jesus; Delivered February 10, 2019

I SO wish I had been a member of the lectionary committee that put together our church calendar of scripture readings. I’m guessing that those who served on the committee were scholars, not preachers. I’m just sayin’ someone should have been there to represent those of us on the firing line so to speak. Those scholars were looking for thematic texts across the wide spectrum of verses that comprise our Old and New Testaments. They do an admirable job of fiting together scripture readings, like a jigsaw puzzle. So for example, today, as last week AND the week before, the Old Testament scripture is about call, the Gospel narrative is about call. By week three, preachers, like me, are running out of stuff to say, truly.
I used to attend a weekly lectionary group of preachers. On these long stretches of thematic lectionary passages, we would writhe on the floor of our meeting space—I can’t take it another Sunday! Just to recap. Two weeks ago, we talked about call and I related that to Cathy Thomson’s ordination. Last week, we talked about call, and I related that to call as it relates to the church as a whole. Now again, we read about call. The challenge is before me. This time, our Luke narrative involves the CALL of three disciples, Simon, whom Jesus would later rename Peter, and the calls of brothers John and James. The three fisherman, Simon Peter, James and John are back on shore after a night of unsuccessful fishing. They have been fishing on the Sea of Genneraset. That body of water is more often referred to in scripture as the Sea of Galilee. “Oh, we’ve heard of the Sea of Galilee, right!” The sea is actually a small, fresh water lake. It’s less than a day’s walk from Nazareth. It’s morning or early afternoon when we pick up the story. We can guess that Jesus arrived at the Sea of Galilee from hometown Nazareth the day before, or maybe several days before, since already he has a following. Folks are following him around the fishing village, eager to hear his words, maybe even to touch him. To give himself some elbow room, then, Jesus decides to share his message from a fishing boat. He sees the three fishermen and asks if they might stop with their net-washing. “Can you take me a little way out in the water?” They do. Everyone, including our three fishermen, hear Jesus’ message. Then, Jesus asks the three to drop their nets in the water for another try at fishing. They haven’t caught anything all night long, but probably rolling their eyes, they give it another go. This time, of course, they bring in a great haul. While the fishermen are standing slack-jawed, and knee deep in tilapia, sardines and carp, Jesus offers, “Do not be afraid; from now on, you will be catching people.” Our gospel writer concludes with, “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.” That’s it. That’s it? A message from Jesus, a fine haul of fish, and they are “hooked,” or “netted” to use fishing terms. In this, as in other Gospel narratives, their responses were immediate. In fact, in the other gospel narratives, the word immediate is used. In Matthew, it’s “Immediately they left the boat and their father (John and Jame’s father’s name was Zebedee) and followed him,” and in the gospel of Mark: “Immediately Jesus called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.” Didn’t the disciples act a little hastily? It’s like they are in a trance. Had Jesus hypnotized them? That’s sometimes what I have imagined. “Yes, master.”
What would it take for YOU to leave your family, your home, your comfortable bed, to follow some stranger? John and James left behind not only their father and the family fishing business— Simon Peter was married and he may have had children. He abandoned them? Didn’t these men at least go home, and say their farewells? Wouldn’t they have grabbed their tooth brushes, and a dried fish or two, before heading out? But no, scripture says, Immediately; and they left everything.
The way I personally reconcile their odd reaction with what I know to be true about me, anyway, is that our gospel writers left out some details. They were focused on telling the story of JESUS and HIS ministry after all. Their purpose was not to give us a rundown on the thought processes and of his disciples.
The gospel writers chose the word immediately, and the phrase, left everything, to draw attention to the urgency of Jesus’ message. Jesus had three years, three years, to spread the word, whether he knew that in advance, we don’t know, but at least he must have anticipated, “Gee, I might get push back from the Jewish hierarchy and from Rome.” He had to work quickly, with great haste. The disciples, too, would have to move with haste. That said, there may have been a lead up to the disciples’ decision to leave everything and follow Jesus. Maybe it wasn’t so immediate a response—as it was more of a process. Like the Magi, they had been following their own stars. They had experienced some strange coincidences in their lives to this point—and then they pull in that ludicrous catch and they think, “What does it all mean?” Jesus asks them to follow him, and BINGO! Suddenly, immediately, it all comes together. They are now ready and eager to leave everything and follow Jesus (but let’s hope they still had the wherewithal to kiss the wife and hug the children and their parents goodbye). So it is with us and call. There are probably lead ups to why we have decided, finally, to become Jesus’ followers. It wasn’t a one time,“Yes, I found Jesus at 10 am Sunday morning in 1998.”
As an example, I share with you one instance among many that led to my own call to church ministry. Nothing dramatic—just one step in a series of steps in the right direction, as I followed my star.
My oldest daughter, Emily, was then a little over one-year-old. She’s 37 now, so a long, long time ago. We were in a small, strip-mall café in Alexandria, Virginia, near where we lived. We were sitting at a table, she in a booster chair. I may have brought along some finger food for Emily, but I don’t remember. I had just begun to eat a sandwich, when in walked the Rev. Lynn Anderson.
I knew her, but only vaguely. My ex-husband and I were members of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Alexandria. That previous Sunday, Lynn had been our guest preacher. You get that? Thirty-six years ago--and Lynn was a female pastor. “Could there even be such a thing as a female pastor?” I didn’t know. How odd. Who knew?” That Sunday at Westminster, I may have sat near the front in Westminster’s sanctuary, since that’s where my ex and I usually sat. I presumably shook Lynn’s hand after the service, you know, like you do--but I can’t be sure of even that.
Anyway, back to the café. The Rev. Lynn Anderson enters. She spies me sitting with Emily. She walks over to the table and she says, “I recognize you. My name is Lynn.” I introduce myself. And Lynn says, “May I join you for lunch?” I’m sure I say something like, “Sure. Of course. Yes, please.” Believe me, I SO remember this next part! While she placed her order and then waited at the counter, I went into high stress mode. Back then I had only spoken several times with a pastor, and those for the planning of life events—funerals, my wedding, Emily’s baptism. I always had a set purpose, and those meetings were always in the pastor’s office, with the pastor behind a desk—in other words, in an official capacity. Did pastors even visit cafés? What stressed me even more though was that Lynn was a woman pastor. Oh my goodness! “What do you say to a FEMALE pastor?” I mean really. “Do you talk about families? Surely, they don’t have husbands and children. Do they cook and clean?” I survived lunch. And that was the last I ever saw of the Rev. Lynn Anderson. Thinking back now, though, it was, as I said, an event that would come to have significance for me. I had discovered that female pastors indeed exist, and that they are just regular people—regular, like me. Now you might need more in the way of a miracle, to convince you that this was part of my call, like that haul of fish was; or if not a miracle, at least something that makes you scratch your head and wonder, “How did THAT happen?” But my story DOES have a mysterious element. Answer me this: How did the Rev. Anderson recognize me? Westminster Presbyterian is a large church. The sanctuary is cavernous—think First Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, if you’ve ever been there. Westminster had two services to accommodate all the worshipers. I had been one of many people The Rev. Anderson preached to that Sunday. How was she able to recognize me? I’ll never know. I believe that God put her in my life at just the right time. Attuned to the spirit, she walked into that café, saw me, and was compelled to have a conversation with me.
I want to end this sermon by doing a 180 on you. Rather than think about how we have been called to follow Jesus, which we all have been since we are all here, right? Instead of focusing on our own calls, we might think about how what we do in life impacts someone else. One chance meeting, one brief conversation, might be the nudge someone else needs to send those others a little further along the path—toward their personal stars, toward Jesus.
So it was with the fishermen that day at the Sea of Galilee. One nudge from Jesus, and immediately, their lives fell into place. They left everything and followed him. Amen