Peter Series:  Call of a Fisherman

14 Mar Peter Series:  Call of a Fisherman

Peter Series:  Call of a Fisherman
John 1:35-42 and Luke 5:1-11
March 10, 2019
M. Michelle Fincher
Calvary Presbyterian Church

Imagine, if you can, that hundreds of years, even a millennium or two from now people are talking about you.  They have a record of things that you are saying and doing right now as you work, parent, enjoy retirement, care for your families, exercise, serve your community and go about your daily routine.  Both the good and the bad are plain for all to see.  People are examining your actions, your words, your attitudes, your relationships to understand what it means to follow Jesus.  How does such a prospect make you feel?  I’m guessing that for a lot of us, that’s a somewhat disquieting thought, and I doubt that Simon Peter would have felt any differently if he’d known 2000 years ago that today we’d be taking an in-depth look at his life.

Most of the time we read the gospels focused on Jesus, which is what the gospel writers intended us to do.  But, during this Lenten season I want us to read these familiar texts paying close attention to the disciple who is arguably the leader of the twelve apostles.  Consider this:  The follower believed to be the “beloved disciple,” John, is mentioned about 20 times by name in the gospels, as is Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus.  Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, is mentioned 12 times.  Thomas the doubter is mentioned ten times.  Bartholomew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Thaddaeus are mentioned only three times each.  Peter, by contrast, is mentioned by name 120 times.

Peter is not only mentioned far more often than the other apostles, he is the leading figure among the twelve in the first half of the books of Acts.  Even though Peter and Paul had a bit of a rocky relationship at times, Paul recognized Peter as one of the pillars of the church, entrusted with taking the gospel to the Jews.  In addition, two New Testament epistles are attributed to Peter.  In the centuries following his death, it was Peter, not Paul, who was considered Rome’s first bishop and founding pope of the church.

But perhaps most fascinating is that regardless of whether it’s Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, the gospel writers clearly portray Peter as a flawed disciple—one who seeks to follow Jesus but who is also confused, afraid, and faltering.  So much so that when his faithfulness mattered most, Peter denied knowing Jesus.

This stands in sharp contrast to the typical pattern in history where, over time, the less flattering episodes in a beloved figure’s life become minimized or forgotten, and only their more heroic acts remembered.  The Gospels, all written after Peter’s death, do the opposite.  Why?  Why would they do this with the memory of one of their beloved leaders?

It seems likely that they were comfortable telling these stories because Peter himself told these stories again and again over the last 30 years of his life.  We see it and hear it repeatedly in his preaching, how he used the story of his own failures and shortcomings as a way to connect with other would-be followers of Jesus, as well as to highlight the power of the gospel.  Since Lent is a season in which we are invited to name the ways in which we fall short of the marks of discipleship, I hope Peter will be both a model and an encouragement to us.  If Peter, as flawed as he was, could simultaneously be a tower of strength and faith, perhaps we can, too.

The relationship between Jesus and Peter begins with the story of John the Baptist.  John’s ministry of preaching, of calling Israel to repentance is drawing people in droves to the region around the Jordan River.  That’s where John plunges them in baptism as a sign of their repentance and God’s forgiveness.  Among those who come to hear John preach are Simon and his brother, Andrew, and Jesus is also there.  After hearing John the Baptist’s proclamation that Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” it is actually Andrew who first leaves John’s ministry to follow Jesus, but not before finding his brother Simon and dragging him along.

In Jesus’ first encounter with Simon, Jesus takes the remarkable step of giving Simon a new name: “You are Simon, son of John.  You will be called Cephas (which is translated Peter)” (John 1:42).  Cephas in Aramaic is Petros or Peter in Greek.  Both words mean Rock.  It’s an interesting choice of nickname.  In the Hebrew Bible, God is described as a Rock, or the Rock.  God is steady, strong, immovable, foundational like a rock.  Why, then, give this name to a guy who will often be more like a blade of grass that is easily swayed or broken than a rock?   Perhaps already Jesus is calling Simon to live into the name, a name that he is not prepared to own now, but which one day he can be.

At any rate, the nickname stuck, a term of endearment and a name to encourage Simon.  Have you ever wondered, if Jesus were to give you a nickname describing the potential he sees in you, the person he is calling you to become, what name would you hope he might choose for you?  It’s a question worth considering.

After this initial encounter with Simon Peter, Jesus heads into the wilderness where he will fast and seek God before beginning his public ministry.  He will also be tempted and tested there.  Meanwhile Simon and Andrew return to the village of Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee where they live, and to their “day jobs” as fishermen.

At least a month and a half go by.  Jesus, after returning from the desert had first gone to his hometown of Nazareth, but after being rejected there, he travels to Capernaum where he begins to preach and teach and heal, including healing Simon’s mother-in-law.

Like John the Baptist, Jesus is drawing huge crowds.  One morning at the lake, the crowds are so intent on hearing his preaching and bringing the sick to be healed that they surround him, pressing in upon him.  It just so happens that Simon, Andrew, James and John are also at the lake.  Along with their hired help, they have been out all night fishing, and in the early morning they are there on the shore cleaning and mending their nets.  This is an important aspect of the fishing business: if nets are put away dirty or wet, they will rot.  No one who makes a livelihood from fishing can afford to do that.

The fishermen have had a bad night, catching nothing.  If you enjoy fishing as a hobby, you’ve likely had the same experience at least once.  It’s pretty common to go out and come back empty-handed, but your next meal, much less your family’s income, probably didn’t depend on your success.  That isn’t the case for Simon and the others.  They rely upon each night’s catch, and after a long and fruitless night, they are no doubt tired, discouraged and ready to get home.

But Jesus has other ideas.  He climbs into Simon’s boat and asks the fisherman to row him out into the lake.  From there, Jesus can preach much more effectively, allowing the crowd to both hear him and see him better.  But Jesus’ strategy is about more than finding the best preaching spot.  He wants to invite Simon Peter’s help, to involve him in Jesus’ ministry.  He also knows that Peter will be a captive audience.  He will literally be stuck listening to every word Jesus says, and with everyone on the shore looking directly at his boat, he won’t even be able to sneak in a nap.

Imagine how Simon felt that morning, fishing all night long, catching nothing, and then Jesus steps into his boat and asks for a favor.  Jesus asks Simon to do something he likely doesn’t want to do, but Simon does it anyway.  Has anyone ever asked you to do something and you really didn’t want to do it because it was inconvenient?  Maybe you were tired, but you did it anyway?  Here’s what Peter would learn again and again:  Jesus routinely inconveniences his followers.  He asks us to give our time and sometimes to borrow our stuff, in order to accomplish his work.  He likes to use our skills, our abilities, whatever is at our disposal that we can offer.  Jesus’ invitation might come in the form of a neighbor who has a need.  It might come when we hear an announcement at church or when we’re praying and feel the nudge of the Spirit.  Our task is to pay attention.  Pay attention to what is happening around you and tune your heart to hear God speaking to you about the needs and opportunities you see.

Peter’s story reminds us that even though it’s Jesus who asks for our help, and even though we want to be Christ’s followers, we will often feel reluctant and hesitant.  We are experts at making excuses.  “Jesus, I’m really busy and I have a million other things I am committed to do…maybe next time.”  Peter has a great excuse: “Lord, I’ve been up all night fishing and I’m exhausted.”  But Peter doesn’t say that.  He just gets in the boat and offers what he has.  I wonder what your boat, your nets, your skills are that Jesus might call you to use to serve others for his kingdom’s sake?

Jesus concludes his sermon and then turns to Simon and says, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.”  “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing,” Peter replies.  He might as well have said, “Jesus, the nets are dry.  And daylight is not the best time to catch fish.  You’re a carpenter; I’m a professional fisherman.  Leave the fishing to me.”  Instead, Peter says, “But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”

The words “because you say so” reflect Simon Peter’s reluctant obedience.  Perhaps you can relate.  There are times when Jesus asks us to row out into the deep when we’d rather stay on the shore.  But so often that’s exactly when the opportunity for greatest blessing is awaiting us—in the interruption, in that need that pushes us a little outside our comfort zones, in that invitation that takes more time or energy than we think we’ve got.

Peter drops the nets and of course, you know what happens next.  So many fish are caught that the nets are in danger of splitting.  Peter waves to the guys in the other boat to row out and help and when the nets are pulled in, the catch is so huge that both boats are on the verge of sinking.  Seeing the magnificent haul that now surrounds him, Simon falls to his knees right then and there and exclaims, “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinner!”  Peter doesn’t know how or why so many fish have ended up in his boat, but he knows this man Jesus is responsible in a way no ordinary man could be.  His response reflects what the Bible describes as “the fear of the Lord”—a reverence, an awe in the presence of God that is also accompanied by a sense of unworthiness.

Jesus says two things in response to Peter: “Don’t be afraid” and “I have a job for you.”  That job is to follow and to fish.  It is to show and tell people about the love that God has for them, about the forgiveness that is available to them, about the new life that is theirs for the asking.

That day on the lakeshore, Jesus borrowed Simon Peter’s boat, then gave him a glimpse of what could happen if he went out to the deep water and let down his nets.  Like his invitation to Peter, Jesus is calling you to follow him as well.  He’s asking to use you and your boat.  He’s asking you to row out into the deep.  It’s okay if you are, at times, a bit reluctant, a little doubtful, sometimes afraid.  How will you respond?  Will you make excuses?  Give in to the fear?  Or will you, like Simon, say to Jesus, “Because you say so”?  It is a good question to ponder during this Lenten season, because while I don’t expect that many of us will be talked about 2000 years from now, people are watching us now, every day, and reading from our lives what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  Yes, like Peter, we’re flawed.  We are also forgiven.  Will we be faithful?


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