Do Not Be Afraid

SERMON: February 10, 2019

Luke 5:1-11 

While the people pressed upon Jesus to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret and he saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”  And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.  But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zeb′edee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.”  And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

“Do not be afraid.”

Jesus says these words to Peter after he performs a miracle so astonishing it causes Peter to drop to his knees in fear and repentance. Notice Jesus doesn’t tell Peter his sins are forgiven, even though Peter just declared himself a sinful man. Jesus certainly does forgive our sins, but he also offers so much more. In this case, comfort and encouragement.

“Do not be afraid.” These words appear often in Luke’s gospel. The angel Gabriel says it to Mary, and the shepherds hear it from God’s heavenly host – and that’s just the first two chapters. “Do not be afraid” appears some 120 times throughout the Bible. It is both a command and a promise – a promise that Jesus comes so we do not need to be afraid anymore.

Jesus comes to the lakeshore to preach and teach. Luke refers to this place as the Lake of Gennessaret, which actually is another name for the Sea of Galilee. Up to this point, Jesus has not called any disciples, but he has attracted some interest by performing a series of healings, preaching in synagogues, and speaking to ever-larger crowds.

This day, the crowd following Jesus is so eager to hear his words that they press in on him. Not only is Jesus feeling a little claustrophobic, no one standing in the back can hear him properly. So Jesus looks around and spots a couple of fishing boats nearby. The boats are nearly empty because the men who own them have been out on the water all night, with little to show for it.

Jesus notices Simon Peter sitting in one of the boats mending his nets. Jesus and Peter have met previously because one of the people Jesus heals is Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. Maybe that is what emboldens Jesus to hop aboard to address the crowd. Although, sometimes Jesus doesn’t ask permission to get involved in our lives, to encounter us with grace, he just goes ahead and does it.

We can imagine Peter is tired and discouraged after a long night of fruitless fishing, but he agrees to let Jesus aboard and pushes out into shallow water. After all, Jesus healed his wife’s mother, and one good deed deserves another.

Actually, Peter just wants to finish cleaning his nets and go home to bed, but he takes Jesus out anyway. Perhaps he is just that kind of person, the kind who would push out from shore even though he was dead tired, just because you asked.

Still, when Jesus tells Peter and his fishing partners, James and John, to row out into the deep part of the lake and try fishing again, it must have been hard for Peter not to snap at him. In Peter’s view, what Jesus asks him to do is both unnecessary and annoyingly demanding. This guy Jesus is great at healing and preaching, but he clearly lacks knowledge in the fishing department! Never the less, Peter agrees to go out to deep water and cast his net, muttering, “Yes Master, if you say so.”

No sooner are the nets cast, than they are filled with more fish than Peter has ever seen. The fish are practically jumping into the boat! Nets are breaking, boats are getting swamped, and Peter has to call for reinforcements.

The very thing Peter considered a waste of time is a miracle, and like other miracles in the bible, it is more abundant than anyone would expect. Peter goes from calling Jesus “Master” to falling on his knees and calling him “Lord.”

It might seem odd to our post-modern ears, but when Peter, trembling, says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” he makes what the ancient world considered an appropriate response to divine intervention. It is a statement of honest and true humility. It is the fear of God that is the beginning of wisdom. And Jesus responds to Peter with those familiar words, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

The Greek word for “catching” used here – zogron – is rare in the New Testament. It means to “catch something alive.” Jesus calls Peter and James and John to a new life as disciples. They will be catching people alive, so that those who are caught may have abundant life now, and in God’s kingdom.

The thing about Peter and the other fishermen is that they are just ordinary people. These soon-to-be-disciples are not exactly rocket scientists, or even rock stars. They are far from perfect, and they regularly misunderstand Jesus. The disciples can be whiney and forgetful, and both Judas and Peter betray him, but in different ways. Jesus does not select theologians, titans of industry, or graduates from premier universities. Jesus picks ordinary people… just like you and me.

Certainly, the disciples could never have predicted the true cost of following Jesus. During his earthly ministry, they are forced to glean fields for food, or rely on strangers for help or somewhere to stay. They get kicked out of places, and face very real dangers, especially from their Roman oppressors. For the disciples, almost everything is a surprise – sometimes good, sometimes bad.

Luke does not tell us why James and John, and Simon and Andrew are so willing to drop everything they have ever known and follow Jesus. Maybe this is not the first time they have met Jesus. Maybe they heard him preach or teach, and were already considering a move to become his disciples. Perhaps he had called them earlier, and this was the moment to put the call into action. Maybe it is because Jesus is Jesus.

Jesus speaks to them and the words he speaks make everything in their lives different. They are now called to fish for people. Jesus comes along, enters into their routine lives, and changes it all.

Jesus is not there just to add one more task to the disciples’ to-do list. The disciples are called to a new way of being – they become new people. There is a difference between discipleship as a task, and discipleship as an identity.

Is that your identity? Would you give up everything for Jesus? These are serious questions, and we might wonder about them, but it’s not the end of the story. Jesus comes to us over and over, calling us to things beyond our imaginations. He still speaks to us because that’s what Jesus does.

At one time or another, all of us try to avoid what we know in our hearts is the right thing to do. How often do we resist Jesus’ claim on our life because it sounds so crazy or impractical? We don’t want to leave the shallow places in our lives for deep and uncertain waters. Not only that, in our hearts we want to say with Peter, “Go away God, I’m not worth it.”

Yet God has a way of telling us we are so very worth it. God meets us where we are, and claims us in the waters of our baptism. Remembering our baptism reminds us of God’s gracious love, and this is something precious we can recall throughout our lives. When Martin Luther was in trouble – and he was usually in trouble – he would say to himself, “I have been baptized.” No matter what storms life brings, we have the remembrance and reassurance of God’s unfailing love.

If we believe that – like the disciples – we are just ordinary, unequipped – and yes – sinful people, we should remember faithful discipleship takes place in all aspects of life. We can reflect Christ in our work, our relationships, at school – even our pastimes. Any sort of work can serve God when we approach it the right way. When we define a call from God too narrowly, we miss the idea that God calls every single one of us, in many different situations.

There are any number of ways to follow Jesus – immediately, in the here and now. As Jesus teaches, being a Christian means treating others as he did, embracing the values of inclusiveness, love, forgiveness, and healing – all the things he did in word and deed.

Allow yourself to be astonished at what God can do. Listen when Jesus says you can do amazing things beyond your imagination. Believe that even the most ordinary of us can catch people alive in the name of Christ.

And when you are tempted to tell Jesus, “Go away from me, for I am not worth it,” listen for Christ to say to you “Don’t be afraid. I have something extraordinary planned for you. And you are so very, very worth it!”

Amen.