Sermon 07-31-16: “Fishing with Jesus”

August 15, 2016

My dog, Neko, in her cone of shame.

If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, no aspect of your life is off-limits to him. No matter what you’re doing or where you are, you are here to love, serve, and glorify him. Does your life reflect this fact?

Sermon Text: Luke 5:1-11

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

A few weeks ago, I talked about my dog, Neko, and the fact that she had to wear a “cone of shame” over her head. Remember? I didn’t go into detail about why she had to wear it. But I want to now… I took her to the vet because she had a large bulge under her hind leg that she had been licking constantly—as dogs tend to do—thus her need for wearing the cone of shame.

I thought the bulge was the result of a infection. I wasn’t too concerned about it. The vet, however, when he inspected it, said—and I quote—“Well, we can rule out the possibility that it’s an infection. It shows every indication of being a tumor. I can’t say whether it’s malignant or benign without a biopsy, but I know for sure it’s a tumor.” That’s exactly what he said. So we scheduled surgery the following Wednesday. And remember, I asked some of you to pray for my doggy, and many of you said you would. And I prayed for her, too.

I’ll never forget my very first Sunday here as your pastor, Allison Burley asked us to pray for one of her cows, who was about to deliver a calf. Rick was at home with the animal. And then, before the service was over, she got a message from Rick: the calf was delivered. Hallelujah! And someone said, “Welcome to Hampton, Pastor Brent!”

But I didn’t think it was strange or unusual that we prayed for the Burleys’ cow! Nothing is too small to pray about. If something is important to us, it’s important to God. We sometimes act as if God is just a bigger, better version of ourselves. We live and pray as if God only has a limited amount of time, and a limited amount of attention, and a limited amount of power. So that if we ask God to devote some of his time, attention, and power to this small part of our lives—like the health and safety of one of our animals—then that means that God will have less time, and less attention, and less power to devote to the really big problems of the world—like world hunger, or world peace, or the presidential campaign.

God is infinitely powerful. He can handle the big stuff and the small stuff at the same time. But I think a lot of us believe otherwise, which is why we don’t pray about the small things in the our lives. The trouble is, if you decide you’re not going to pray about the “small things,” guess what? You won’t end up praying very often. Because life, in case you haven’t noticed, is mostly made up of small things—small things that matter deeply to us.

So I prayed for my dog Neko, and some of you did too. Thank you.

Truth be told, I was sad… and worried. I remember, not too long ago, when we had some friends over, and they were talking about how expensive their vet bill was when their own dog got sick. It was a lot of money—more money than we could afford! Neko was in the room with us as they were describing this. I looked over at her and said, “You just better not get sick.” So in my mind, when the vet said it was a tumor, I was convinced that we didn’t have much time left.

So we were scheduled to have the tumor removed on Wednesday morning. Only… on Tuesday afternoon, Lisa and I noticed something: the bulge, which the vet was convinced was a tumor, was gone. Completely gone.

The next day, the vet himself had no explanation for this. “Hmm. This is very unusual. We don’t see this very often.” So he gave Neko a couple of shots and sent her on her way.

And you know how I felt? Relieved. And a little angry. I had been worried all this time for nothing! I even told some of you, “I knew it wasn’t a tumor! Why did I know more about what was wrong with my dog than this vet.” I was feeling kind of self-righteous about it, you know?

Now granted, the vet got his doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Georgia, so I shouldn’t be surprised that his original diagnosis was wrong…

But… here’s the problem: I never considered for a moment that his original diagnosis was right—that this was a tumor, and that when some of you prayed that God would heal her, God actually did heal her. Didn’t consider it for a moment!

Why? When I prayed for my dog, did I not really believe that God could actually do something about it?

But I know, I know… We’re Methodists… We don’t really believe God does that sort of thing, right? We don’t really pray for miracles. One time when I was in Kenya, I got to lead a worship service along with my good friend Susan, who is also an ordained elder. Toward the end of the service, one of the Kenyan pastors who was with us said, in English, “Now it’s that time in the service where the sick are brought forward for healing.” I exchanged glances with Susan, and we were both thinking the same thing: “We don’t do this sort of thing back in the States. We don’t lay our hands on people and pray, expecting God to physically heal anyone. We’re Methodists!”

But of course, our brothers and sisters in Kenya were Methodist, too, and they do do this sort of thing, which just means they’re better Methodists than we are!

My point is not to suggest that my dog was miraculously healed. I don’t know. But here is the indisputable fact: she had this health problem. We prayed for her. And the problem went away—somehow, in some way. My point is, God really does answer prayer. God really does intervene in our lives. God does things for us, his children, that God wouldn’t otherwise do if didn’t ask him to do it. And, yes, God can work miracles—whether he breaks the laws of physics to do so or whether he uses natural events. God works miracles. Do you believe that God works miracles?

Brothers and sisters, we are at a place in the life of our church where we have to believe that God works miracles!

Notice today’s scripture… This episode in the life of Jesus and his disciples is often called the “miraculous catch of fish,” but suppose we skeptical modern people were there to observe it. Would we recognize it as miracle? After all, Jesus didn’t say to Peter, “Open your nets and the fish will miraculously jump out of the water into them.” Nor did he say, “Open your nets and fish will magically appear out of thin air inside them.” No. In a way, Jesus just gave Peter some advice about fishing: “Go out into deep water and lower your nets. Way over there. Then you’ll find some fish.”

Suppose we were on the shore with the crowd who had been listening to Jesus preach God’s Word. Couldn’t we rationalize away the miracle if we wanted to? “Jesus must have seen a large school of fish off in the distance that the others overlooked.”

My point is, whether this particular catch of fish was a miracle or not was a matter of interpretation. Peter interpreted it correctly, which is why he falls at Jesus’ feet. There’s no mention of other people doing that. Did they view it as a miracle?

What about us? How would we have interpreted it?

There’s a song by singer-songwriter John Hiatt in which he sings, to himself, “You wouldn’t know a burning bush if it blew up in your face.” That’s me! If we as a church did stumble upon a burning bush, I’d be the last one to know it!

Brothers and sisters, I’m not nearly as insightful as Peter. Maybe you’re not, either. We don’t tend to interpret things that happen to us as miraculous. We don’t tend to see God’s hand working through the so-called “ordinary” events of our lives. In fact, we tend to compartmentalize our lives. We reserve this amount of time for God—perhaps when we come to church on Sunday morning—this amount of time for work, this amount of time for family activities, this amount of time for exercise, this amount of time for hobbies, this amount of time for sleep, and every moment in between for social media.

One thing I like about today’s scripture is that Jesus intrudes into Peter’s “work compartment,” too. See what I mean? Peter is happy to listen to Jesus preach God’s Word. But notice it’s only when Jesus starts to tell Peter how to fish—how to do his job, after all—that Peter objects: “Master, leave the fishing to the fishermen. You see, we’ve been fishing all night and haven’t caught anything. We fisherman know if you can’t catch anything at night, you’re certainly not going to catch anything during the day.” To Peter’s credit, after voicing this objection, he does do what Jesus tells him, but it’s not because he thinks it’s a good idea. It’s not because it makes sense to him.

My point is, it’s one thing for Jesus to tell Peter how to conduct his spiritual life, but why is he now telling him how to conduct his business? Jesus doesn’t belong there—in that part of his life. Or so Peter thinks.

In Colossians 3:23 and 24, the apostle Paul is writing to people who are bondservants—what we might call indentured servants. These are people who were in so much debt to someone that they basically sold themselves into slavery to that person until they managed to pay off their debt. The work they had to do was undignified; it was menial; it was humiliating. In spite of that, Paul writes the following: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

Paul is saying, in other words, “You don’t have a ‘work compartment’ that’s separate from your ‘spiritual compartment.’ ” They are one and the same. Your work belongs to the Lord. In fact, the Lord is the one who’s in charge of your work; he’s the one you’re really working for, regardless of the fact that you have this human boss. This is true for every part of our lives: When you’re working, you’re doing it for Christ and his glory. When you’re doing homework for school, you’re doing it for Christ and his glory. When you’re taking care of your grandchildren, you’re doing it for Christ and his glory. At all times and in all places, you—every one of you who professes that Jesus Christ is Lord—every one of you is on a mission!

Do you believe that? Do you live like you believe that?

Because today’s scripture is really all about this mission. Jesus doesn’t perform this miracle so these fishermen can catch more fish than they’ve ever caught and make more money than they’ve ever made before, although that’s really cool. No, through this real-life, historical event, Jesus is enacting a parable about the mission that we disciples are supposed to be on. That’s why Jesus tells Peter, at the end of his passage, “From now on, you will be catching men and women.”

I love that: from now on. Did you know that if you are a Christian, Jesus has given you a “from now on.” You have a “from now on” that defines your life. Jesus says to us, from now on you are going to live your life for me. From now on you’re going to make me your top priority in life. From now on, every moment of your life, every part of your life, everything you possess, everything you love, everything you value—it all belongs to me. And you’re going to use it for me and my glory. From now on. 

And of course this is also true for the Body of Christ that is the Hampton United Methodist Church. Jesus is telling us this morning, “From now on… here’s what you’re going to do.”

Forget about what’s in the past. Forget about the mistakes we’ve made. Forget about our failures. Forget about our sin—our sin as individuals, our sin as a church—our sin that has so often prevented us from fulfilling this mission. It is forgiven. And God is calling us to move on. From now on, I’m going to be faithful to Jesus. From now on, we at Hampton UMC are going to faithful to Jesus!

I’m so thankful the Lord has given me a “from now on” because I have failed and failed and failed again to be the kind of disciple he’s called me to be. But he keeps loving me, forgiving me, and giving me a new start. Praise God!

But here’s my question: Are you—Hampton United Methodist Church—are you ready to say, along with the Lord, “from now on”? From now on, things will be different. Are you ready? 

Because if you are ready to say “from now on,” it’s going to mean obeying the Lord even when you don’t like what the Lord is calling us to do—or you don’t understand what the Lord is calling us to do. Or it just doesn’t make any sense.

After all, in today’s scripture, it didn’t make sense to Peter. “What do you mean ‘put out into the deep and let down your nets’? We tried that, Lord, a few hours ago. Remember? We know what we’re doing. We don’t need your help.” And Jesus says, in so many words, “You don’t know what you’re doing. But I do. Trust me… and try it again.”

Speaking of which, at church council last Thursday, Dana, our new music director, made a presentation about changing the early service. About making it, once again, into a contemporary worship service. And she has a very detailed, very specific plan for how to do it. And I know what some of you are thinking, because it’s what I was thinking: “But we tried that already.” Five months ago… Five years ago. It didn’t work.” And, believe me, like Peter, I shared all my objections. I gave all my reasons. And she had an answer for every one. But even more importantly, she believed that our Lord Jesus had the answers!

It wasn’t going to be by our own wisdom, and by our own power, that we’re going to be successful, but by the wisdom and power of our Lord Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit working through our church!

I believe, Dana believes, our church council believes that our Lord is calling us to go fishing over there—for the sake of the majority of people in this community of Hampton, Georgia, who haven’t yet placed their faith in Christ, who aren’t saved—he’s calling us to go fishing over there! Are we going to listen to him? Are we going to trust him? Are we going to follow his direction?

It breaks my heart… I’ve told you before it breaks my heart when people leave this church and go to some other church. It breaks your heart, too, I know. But the question we need to ask ourselves is this: “Are they saved?” If the answer to that question is “yes,” then let’s not worry about them. They’re O.K. Those fish have already been caught. Let’s go after the ones who haven’t been caught!

Are you ready to say “from now on”? Then we’ve got some fishing to do.

2 Responses to “Sermon 07-31-16: “Fishing with Jesus””

  1. Grant Essex Says:

    “Prayer moves the hand that moves the world”.

    Charles Spurgeon.

    I really don’t think that there is anything too “small” to pray about, however, there are things that are “wrong” to pray about. Things that we want with a wrong heart.

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