Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As a pastor, I know that fishing stories are supposed to be flattering to the fishermen in the congregation. I once tried to impress the fishermen in my church in Marine on St. Croix by buying a new fishing pole. The Men’s Group was going to spend an evening together on the St. Croix River. The pole I bought was just right- for deep sea fishing in the Pacific Ocean. The men all sniggered wondering whether I would catch a blue marlin or a barracuda.
Of course in Minnesota, a pastor has to know something about ice fishing as well, otherwise you’ll catch nothing more than a cold. One day a rather inebriated fisherman drilled a hole in the ice and peered into the hole and a loud voice said, “There are no fish down there.” He walked several yards away and drilled another hole and peered into the hole and again the voice said, “There’s no fish down there.” He then walked about 50 yards away and drilled another hole in the voice and again the voice said, “There’s no fish down there.” He looked up into the sky and asked, “God, is that you?” “No, you fool,” the voice said, “It’s the rink manager, and the Zamboni is going to run you down.”
Every fisherman seems to have a story of the great fish they caught, and the even greater fish that got away. The Bible, however, tells us of a different sort of fishing story. St. Luke writes about some fishermen who came back empty. After fishing all night, they were met by a carpenter who commandeered their boat, preached a sermon, and then dared to tell the fishermen where they should let down their nets. Moments later, hundreds of fish were netted, and the professional fishermen decided to leave it all behind. They resigned on the spot to become shepherds. You see, it is a different sort of fishing story.
There are many parallels that could be drawn from this story. But I’m not sure that the lesson is about fishing at all. It certainly isn’t a manual on good fishing tips. In fact, it’s a fairly accurate portrayal of why people don’t catch fish. So this morning, I would like to share with you three lessons drawn from this story for those who are searching for a change in their life and longing to experience the wonder of God’s abundant life. Consider these lessons: First, Head out into the deep water, Second, Expect change, and Third, Trust that God knows you better than you know yourself. Abundance will follow. This is what Jesus is offering you this day.
My friends, if you want to experience the wonder of God’s abundance, you need to head out into deep water. Simply note the movement of Jesus in the story. He commandeered Simon’s boat and moved him away from shore. Some people don’t catch fish because they refuse to go into deep water. Every fisherman knows the schools of big fish are in the deeper water. And the first rule of fishing is you’ve got to go where the fish are. But Jesus’ instruction isn’t for fishermen only. Jesus is teaching a spiritual principal for all of us. We need simply substitute fish for adventure, wisdom, love, healing or peace. All these things we want in abundance, but many people, including God’s faithful followers, don’t catch these things because they simply refuse to go out.
Deep water is where God’s abundance is, but deep water also takes faith. Deep water is risky. It’s easier and safer to stay along the shore. You could put a toe into the water, or maybe a foot, but this is not wading in and getting in over your head. Shallow water is pleasant. It tickles your ankles when you walk in it. The minnows and small fry gather there. You can see all the way to the bottom in shallow water, and so staying in shallow water is a great temptation, but it doesn’t take a whole lot of courage. In the deep water, you have to trust the words and directions of those who have passed there before you.
You see, Jesus is always inviting people to the deeper end of things. The deep water of faith is where those things we say we want are waiting and swimming around. The shallow water is where we begin the adventure, but it’s not where we finish. Deep water is where you have to go to catch what God desires for you. .
Second, if you want to experience abundance in your life, you have to expect change. Some people don’t catch fish because they don’t expect to catch fish. Some people don’t experience abundance, because they don’t expect abundance. When Jesus told Simon, “Let’s go to the deep water,” he didn’t stop there. Jesus added, “And prepare for a catch. Let down the nets.”
It’s a word of encouragement and a challenge for each one of us. There are many experiences in life that move us out into deep water. Week after week we head out into the deep waters of worship, but do you go preparing for a catch? Do you go believing and trusting that God’s blessing and word of encouragement is waiting for you if you would just let down your net- and perhaps if you let down your guard? More often than not, our voices echo the thoughts of Simon Peter. “Lord, I’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. Thanks for the boat ride, but I’ll keep my nets in the boat this time.” Ask yourself, do you have any expectation that God can bring abundance to your life?
Expectation is always the first step in faith. When you say that you believe in God, you are not simply stating that you agree with some abstract, theological idea of a divine being, you’re stating that you expect the things that God has promised will come to you. O yes, heading out in the deep water, and letting down your nets, you do risk being disappointed with God. Perhaps, there really aren’t any fish. Perhaps you know the waters, so well, that you have decided it’s not worth the effort or the risk. And perhaps, in your experience, you have known disappoinment, more than you have known God.
It happens in many people’s lives. They want to experience something new, but every experience has taught them more about failure than success. You count yourself in this number. You have learned most of life’s lessons in the school of hard knocks… a failed marriage, a frustrating work environment, a misunderstanding with friends and family which has left you empty, health concerns that have left you on edge, a loss of excitement in your life. Thanks for the ride Jesus, but this time, I’m keeping my nets to myself.
My friends, God has something more for you. Out there in the deep water is a promised gift of a productive, fruitful and peaceful life- now and forever. Some people don’t experience that because they don’t go out to the deep water, and some people don’t experience it because they don’t expect to. And so they never let down their nets. All because they believe they know more about life, and the possibilities of life than anyone else. Like, Simon Peter, they think know more about fish than God.
And so we turn to my final conviction. If you want to experience God’s abundance, you must trust that God knows more about you, and what you can be and do, than you can ever imagine. Simon Peter almost made that mistake in the boat with Jesus. Sitting in the deep water, with the net at his feet, he said to Jesus in an exasperated tone, “Jesus, we’ve been fishing all night. We know fish and fish don’t run in the day. Aren’t you just a carpenter from Nazareth moonlighting as a preacher anyway? You should stick to your day job.” Some people think they know more about life than God. Sometimes, it’s not that we actually think we know more than God; it’s just that we act that way. We hear God’s instructions for our lives: Forgive and forget. Bless those who hurt you. Give generously. Welcome the stranger. And so we ignore God’s invitation to abundance and putting out our nets. For a split second second Simon Peter hesitated, he looked at Jesus again and said, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” And what happened then? Simon Peter’s life would never be the same.
Most people believe that the net full of fish is the miracle of this story, but I don’t think so. The real miracle of this different sort of fish story is that Simon Peter, a professional fisherman, decided that God was God, and he changed the direction of his life, and he followed Jesus immediately. Everything else, his career, his good fortune and the abundant catch, he would leave behind.
My friends, that’s when all miracles begin. When you leave all of life’s burdens and prejudices behind and let God who knows, and loves you, more than you know and love yourself, have his way with your life. What possibilities are waiting for you and your life? You will never know until you allow God to be God in your life. And when you do, you will be surprised at the catch that is waiting for you in the deep waters. God’s abundance is never far away. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.