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Catching fish, one at a time

February 10, 2019
Luke 5:1-11

This week I went to Arizona to be with my aunt to celebrate the life of my uncle who died recently.  It was a wonderful gathering of family with everyone sharing their favorite stories.  My favorite was one I’d never heard about how Aunt Shirley and Uncle Dick met.  He was a Marine stationed in Southern California with one week left to go before he moved to Washington State for a new job.  And she was a college student just about to return to the University of Colorado after being home for the summer.  And one day they were both invited by friends to a party on the beach.  They met and fell in love and three months later they were engaged.  And the rest is history.
This story gave me a new lens for looking at my aunt and uncle's marriage.  But even while I love their story, I can’t really relate to it.  My husband and my origin story wasn’t quite so neat.  We met and dated and moved and broke up and kept in touch and moved again and dated again and only after a whole lot of years and an agony of decision-making did we decide to get married.  I couldn’t imagine making that kind of sudden and quick decision that could change my life that my aunt and uncle made.
For that same reason I have trouble with the call stories that we get in the Bible.  People are always meeting Jesus one minute, and the next minute they are ready to drop everything and follow him.  Friends, family, livelihood — boom — they make this big decision and then they’re off and running and they never look back.  It all seems so unrealistic.
         Sometimes I wonder -- where are the regular people?  People like me that have trouble making big decisions, people that want to stop and ask questions, people that need to mull things over for a while, people that might only be ready for a small step, people that keep messing up and having to try again.
         So that’s where I started with our Gospel story for today,.  I just couldn’t relate.
         Today we join Simon out at the lakeshore.  Out where Simon does his work and earns his livelihood, catching fish to sell at the market. Just an ordinary person in an ordinary place on an ordinary day.  And suddenly Jesus shows up and steps into Simon’s boat and asks Simon to put the boat out a little way from the shore.
          But the shallow end is where we begin the adventure with Jesus, not where we finish.  And so Jesus urges Simon to push out into deeper water.  Deep water is where we have to go to get what God has for us -- deep water is where the increase is.  Jesus is asking Simon to take a risk -- to leave what is comfortable.
And then Jesus asks Simon to let down his nets for a catch.
This is when Jesus gets a touch of push back from Simon: “We have worked all night long but have caught nothing.”  But then, hardly missing a beat, Simon reconsiders: “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
         Simon could have said no.  He was an exhausted fisherman who had been out all night.  He was an expert at his trade being told how to catch fish by a carpenter.   He could have insisted that he was right and capable, kept his net clean, rowed his boat back to shore.
         But of course he didn’t.  (Because what kind of story would that be?)
         Simon puts down his nets.
         It seems like a small thing.  And yet it’s everything.  A willingness to risk.  A willingness to obey when it doesn’t make sense.  A willingness to get involved in the work of God.
         And, of course, it turns into a miracle.
         It’s a miracle of fish, sure -- so many fish that Simon’s nets begin to break.  So many fish that they don’t fit on Simon’s boat and he has to call for another boat to come help haul them in.  So many fish that those two boats begin to sink.
         But the miracle isn’t really about the fish.  The crazy catch of fish was just a glimpse of what was possible for Simon.  The abundance that was possible even when Simon thought there was nothing but failure and scarcity.  The new of life that was possible for someone who thought his life was set and determined by the norms and constrictions of society.  
         This miracle makes Simon leave everything and follow Jesus.
         And the rest is history.
         And that’s great.  Great for Simon.  Great for Jesus.  Great for the Church.  A great end to the story.
         But I can’t relate to it.
         Because that’s not how my faith journey has worked.  I’m a cradle Episcopalian with a life full of times when I’ve felt close to God and felt God’s presence and inspiration to varying degrees, and also a life full of times when I’ve felt far from God and had doubts about the whole thing.  I don’t have one Big moment, I have lots of moments, most of which wouldn’t sound like anything if I told you about them.  And I haven’t ever had to LEAVE anything to follow Jesus, other than leaving life in the law firm (that didn’t suit me to begin with) to go to seminary and into a vocation that I love, and that hardly felt like a hardship.
         And so I found myself feeling distant from Simon’s story and not sure what to do with it.
         But then, I thought back to my aunt and uncle.  I was struck by the story of how they met because it seemed so magical and dramatic.  And it is a great story.  But it was only one small piece at the beginning of a much bigger and better story.  The real story was what a team Aunt Shirley and Uncle Dick had been for more than 60 years.
         They’d raised a family, accumulated life-long friends, pursued interests, and gone on amazing vacations.  But they’d also moved a dozen times, lost jobs and changed careers, lost a child in a heartbreaking death, and seen each other through sickness and old age.  And somehow through all of their ups and downs they kept making the mundane, ordinary, day-in/day-out decisions that kept them together for more than 60 years.  And every one of those decisions, most too small to remember, contributed to making them the team that they were.  What was remarkable wasn’t that one story of how they met, good as it was, but the lifetime that followed.
         And from that perspective, I think the same is true for Simon.  This story about Simon dropping his nets into the water and then leaving everything to follow Jesus -- it’s a great story.  It’s an important story of Simon becoming a disciple and starting down the road of faith.  But it’s only one small piece of a much bigger and better story that has all kinds of ups and downs, ins and outs.  
         Simon will walk on water, and be present at Jesus’ transfiguration, and be the first to name Jesus as Messiah, and be the rock on whom the early Church was built.
         And Simon will also rebuke Jesus when he talks about his death, and fall asleep when Jesus is desperately praying before he gets arrested, and deny Jesus 3 times at his end, and finally be crucified himself.
          The story of Simon’s faith started long before that day when he put down his nets into the deep water -- and it continued for a lifetime.
And I think the same is true for us too.  There doesn’t need to be one moment that defines any of us in our relationship with Jesus.  Certainly there is no moment that is the end of our story, or the end of what is possible for our lives in God.  Every moment is an opportunity to become the people we are created to be.  Every moment is an opportunity to follow Jesus more closely.  Each of us are a work in progress, invited to encounter the living God every step of the way.
        Amen.

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