Belonging Begins With… Being Right Where You Belong 

Sunday, October 22, 2023
Deacon Stephanie Anderson

Luke 5:1-11

The saying goes that if you “give a man a fish, you can feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you can feed him for a lifetime.”

Activists and faithful organizers that I worked with in Chicago would often add to this proverb to say, “Give a man a fish, you can feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, you might help him eat another time… But organize the fisher folk together, advocate for access to the clean water sources, make sure the shoreline isn’t seized for development and create policy so that the river doesn’t get contaminated. Then he will be able to eat and feed his family.”

Today we might also add: “Put Jesus in the fishing boat and see what happens.”

That is where our story gets interesting today, with Jesus in the boat. Jesus had been teaching and healing throughout the region and people were curious and eager to hear more; the crowds were pressing in on him and so he asked a man named Simon if he could please let him stand in his boat, just offshore, to speak to the crowds from there. A shoreline amphitheater of sorts, where he could paddle out and turn around and address all the people who had gathered.

Now we don’t know specifically what he taught about that day; what he told them or recited from scripture or shared with them. But once he was done with his lecture-style teaching, Jesus instructs Simon to head out into deeper waters and drop his nets. Simon and his fishing colleagues had caught nothing all night – they are exhausted – and he tells Jesus that. He says, “we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” His tone is like, “Jesus, trust us, there’s nothing here.”

I have to be honest, this sentiment of “look, there’s nothing here” is a familiar one for me and I know many of you these days. What goodness – what abundance – could we possibly see when considering the state of things around us? There is so much turmoil, there is so much grief. Grief that is on our screens and isolates us from one another and divides our families.

When you think about it, our human psyche is built to absorb and hold about a villages-worth of grief. We can tend to and care for one community of people; our neighbors and our family and our friends. So no wonder we feel the way we do, when the world’s grief – literally the entire world’s grief – is at our finger tips and it’s too much.

So we get this sentiment of, “Jesus, you talk about abundant life, but trust us, we’ve tried everything, it’s not working. There’s nothing here.”

But just as we throw up our hands and say, “trust us”, Jesus, in this story, calls us to trust him. And so in the same breath as Simon says, “we haven’t caught anything – this is barren,” exhaustedly he says, “yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

And so they go out and they let down their nets and they catch SO MUCH. They catch so much that their nets are breaking under the weight of all the fish and their boats are sinking. They’re calling others out from the shoreline to help because they’re going down and they do not know how to handle all this fish; all this abundance. It’s unlike anything they’ve ever seen or experienced and there is more than enough.

Now, interestingly enough, when this happens – in the immediate wake of this miracle – Simon doesn’t celebrate or express awe, he cowers and is afraid. (He’s probably a little unsettled from the boat almost sinking a moment prior.) This is a pretty common response to the divine in the ancient world. In the Hebrew Bible we often hear about “fear of the Lord”, which is what is happening here – Simon is astonished (this is pretty unbelievable!) and scared. He says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” He sees before him the overwhelming gap between his own mortal, messy, broken life and God’s power manifest before him in Jesus.

But it’s exactly in that moment – when Simon is convinced he is not worthy – that Jesus not only says, “trust me,” he says, “and now come with me, don’t be afraid, and invite others to come too.”

Jesus says, “drop your nets and come with” despite Simon’s gifts or skills. Simon himself acknowledged to him that they hadn’t caught anything; that they failed the night before. But Jesus doesn’t call him or the others because they have great skills in apostleship or public speaking or some of the other things we can assume Jesus will need from a group of followers. Jesus calls them once he has shown them that there are things he can do through them that they cannot do on their own. Simon isn’t called to come with Jesus and “catch people” because he’s already good at it, but because Jesus can do that work through him.

Human failures, flaws, messiness, or inadequacies are not obstacles to God’s call. Neither is barrenness or hopelessness. Because Jesus brings life out of death. Abundance out of the very places and people we’ve deemed hopeless. God calls imperfect people into imperfect places and situations to do God’s work all the time.

And they do; they follow. Their encounter with Jesus has completely reoriented their lives, but they’re not sure how yet. Remember that these were the first disciples. They had no idea what they were getting into; no roadmap for how this was going to go. They could tell/feel that there was more they were missing and Jesus was reminding them that the more they were missing is experienced 1. together and 2. through him.

Because this blessing – this abundance of fish – wasn’t just for them. Jesus’ promise of abundance isn’t just for a few. This food is enough to share; to feed everyone in the community. They will eat today and they will eat tomorrow. This will sustain the whole community, with both sustenance and with the hope and promise that comes with abundance like this. They have seen the miracles of Jesus and they can trust that there is more to come.

In our call to follow Jesus, sure we are given fish to eat for a day. Sure we are taught to fish to eat another time. But with Jesus in the boat, all are fed. All are known and recognized and loved and forgiven, not for what they have done or haven’t done; not because they have a vision or believe in the abundance to come; not because they check a particular box or have a particular skill, but because they are a beloved child of God. With Jesus in the boat, you are fed. You are made whole. You need not be afraid. You are called.

When we talk about stewardship and about bringing your whole self to God, we don’t just mean your best self. Jesus isn’t only calling the parts of you that you’re most proud of, or that’s dressed nice enough, or that hasn’t made mistakes. Jesus makes it clear in the calling of the disciples that each of us is called in our entirety. Even and especially the parts of us that we’re most ashamed of or most afraid for others to know. Because it’s not about what each of us can do or can give or can be; it’s about the work that Jesus does in and through each of us, to heal the world, to bring about God’s kingdom, and to reconcile all of creation in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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