February 10, 2017

“Jesus, Space Invader!”

Luke 5:1-11

 

When this passage is preached upon, more often than not the thrust of the message is that you and I are to go fishing for people, to tell them the good news, to show them Jesus’ love. But today I’d like to focus on another aspect of this story-an invasion of our personal space. Consider that in this story from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus just barged right into the lives of these fisherman, who had more than likely been doing the same routine, every day, for years. For years they had fished very early in the morning, brought their catch to market in by mid-morning, took their meager profits for the day, went home, and went to sleep so they could do it all again the next day. It was the pattern for their lives, and they had been in it forever. Then one morning, when there were no fish to be found in the lake, this stranger walked up and asked Simon to use his boat, to create a natural amphitheater of sorts. The group of fishermen were on the shore cleaning their nets, as Jesus taught the crowd that followed him. We don’t know what he said, but it must’ve been heard by this group as they went about their normal routine, washing, stretching, and preparing their nets for tomorrow’s work.

 

When he was done speaking, he told Peter to “take the boat out into deep water and let the nets down for a catch.” Jesus told these experienced fishermen how to fish and where to cast their nets. Jesus told them how to do their job. I spent almost 15 years at my last call in a fishing community. I cannot imagine if Jesus were to walk down into the Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg CA, find the crew of a fishing boat that had been out all morning with nothing to show for it, and told them to go back out. What kind of response might he receive? I would guess it would be loud and full of salty language, based on what I have seen of folks who make a living fishing. In this case, Simon was gracious, perhaps because he heard Jesus preaching, perhaps because he saw the crowds and figured this was someone important, perhaps because he thought that maybe this stranger was lucky and that they’d get a catch, so they could feed their families. We don’t know why Simon did as Jesus requested, but because he said so, they went back out.

 

The results were amazing-so many fish that one boat wasn’t enough, and even with two, the catch was so great that both boats began to sink. Now Simon’s response was not that of a fisherman. That is, he didn’t say, “I’ve been fishing this lake for decades! Why didn’t I know about this secret spot where the fish were?” Rather, his response was that of a human being in the presence of God. Simon stopped calling him teacher, and instead called him Lord, for at that moment, he realized that this was more than a wise rabbi in front of him. Jesus broke into his life and turned it upside down, and he saw it for what it was- a wasted life, one without purpose or meaning. “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” he said.

 

As we encounter the Holy, the more we may feel our own sinfulness and unworthiness, for we may get a glimpse that there is more, much more to life- That was true for Abraham, in Genesis 18:27- after he has pleaded with God to spare those who were righteous in Sodom, he describes himself as “nothing but dust and ashes.” Job, upon complaining to God for his plight in life, and receiving a three chapter answer of the omnipotence of the Almighty, after his encounter with God says, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you, therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” The prophet Isaiah, after his encounter with God, said, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among people of unclean lips...” When God invades our personal space, we see it for what it is, and for what it could be.

 

And that’s the trouble with Jesus-he just won’t stay in the church where many think he belongs, where we can just deal with him an hour a week and be left alone the rest of the time to act and think the way we want to. It is not fair when we suddenly find Jesus invading our lives as we sit in front of the computer screen or at a meeting in our day-to-day work, in our cars or in our politics. It is not fair that Jesus is in all seven days of the week. Dealing with God should be confined to Sunday.

 

But today’s passage tells us that Jesus is not confined to Sunday worship: He is wandering around and sticking his nose into everything-our careers, our families, our personal habits. Most of us are ok dealing with the heavy things of God for one hour a week. Yet today’s passage tells us Jesus walks around and pokes and prods through our lives, seeks and finds... When we are engaged by Jesus, we see our life for what it is; we see the potential for what it could be, and if we follow, we never quite go back to the old normal life of fishing. For example… When I was in college, I had it in my mind that I was going to be a professional singer. That was my major in college, and I was having some success, getting roles in some operas, musicals, singing in Cantatas-I was getting used to a life in front of crowds dressed in a tux. My voice teacher had my next three years all mapped out. I was going to move to Vienna, study with a teacher she knew, get auditions for various opera houses, and one day would be a star... It all sounded good to me, and yet, I had already had my encounter with Jesus on the shore some years back. You see, Jesus had already invaded my personal space. I had heard him say to me, drop your net and follow.

There was this prodding spirit, saying to me, follow me, and I began to sense a call to follow in another direction, to fish for people by working in the church. It also happened that I met and fell in love with a certain music major, and the idea of going to Europe and spending three years away from Paula just didn’t sound that appealing. I thought my direction for life was set, but Jesus had other ideas. So, I dropped my career, the plans others had laid out before me, and followed. That summer, I got to go overseas, but not to sing. Jesus took me to the Soviet Union to talk peace with our cold war enemy. I had an amazing time speaking with Russian Christians and government representatives about peace and what we had in common. After dropping the net of what I thought my life was going to be, I have followed Jesus in getting married, going to seminary, growing our family through open adoption, and being called to serve churches in various locations. I have followed in mission work to places such as Nicaragua twice, the first time seeing the devastation from hurricane Mitch, and more recently, preaching in a small village chapel and building a school; in Mexico- providing a vacation Bible school for children in Tijuana and building a manse for a pastor; in Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi-helping to rebuild lives after devastating tornadoes or hurricanes destroyed communities; and in the Central California Valley building homes for migrant farm workers.

 

I have had the honor of baptizing children and adults, performing weddings for young couples who were once in my old youth groups, and walking with families through the valley of the shadow in the loss of loved ones. I have had the privilege here in Ashland of working with OHRA and the Ashland Community Resource Center as we try to put a 7 night a week winter shelter together.

 

Years ago, Jesus interrupted my life, and it has not been the same since that moment. Dropping my net and following Jesus has been a full, amazing journey fraught with joy and sorrow, wonder and difficulty, challenge and change, success and failure. Yet I have never looked back, longing for the life that was or the life that could’ve been. And, I might add, I still get to sing once in a while. I’ve been able to sing with wonderful choral groups here like the Rogue Valley Chorale and Southern Oregon Reparatory singers.

 

Jesus turns our lives upside down, just as he did in this well-known story. No one goes fishing in the late morning. No one drops their livelihood and walks away from everything they know. Yet, anything can happen when Jesus is in the equation when Christ invades our lives. He changes the scripts we have been given and offers a new plot. He nudges us toward sanity, toward a life as a child of God. In baptism, he marks us as his own, and today in worship, he challenges us to become more like him and follow him.

 

When we accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him, we realize the purpose that God has in mind for us, to tell others God’s good news, to show God’s love, and to make this world a better place. Anne Lamott says that she once saw a publication at the Jewish Theological Seminary that declared, “A human life is like a single letter of the alphabet. It can be meaningless. Or it can be a part of a great meaning.” (Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith [New York: Anchor, 1999], p. 100)

 

What about you? What about your life right now? Is your life standing alone or part of something greater? Is it meaningless or part of a larger cosmic truth? Has Jesus called you to drop your net, to drop your life upon the shore and follow? Are you still clinging to that net, or have you let go? Jesus asks us, “Will you come and follow me?” Alleluia! Amen.

 

Closing OBJECT LESSON- Fishing net with the following words on it- SECURITY, FINANCES, FAMILY, LIVELIHOOD, RETIREMENT, STATUS... It is when we let go of everything and follow that the greatest fishing adventure ever begins.

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