Sermon for February 10, 2019
Texts: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 138; Luke 5:1-11
Sermon: "The Crowd on the Shore"
In every epic movie made about the life of Jesus, one constant remains: there always is a crowd of people following him. Up and down the hills and across the dusty roads they go -- and even into the synagogues.
Sometimes they want to see him up close. Or they want him to heal the friend they brought to him. Or they have heard him preach before and can't wait to hear him again.
When we were gathered here in the sanctuary two weeks ago we read about one such crowd in a synagogue -- not just any synagogue, but the one where Jesus grew up in Nazareth.
Hey, that's Jesus, they were saying.
They liked how he handled himself and how well he could read the scrolls. Luke tells us that "the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him."
Jesus revealed to them how God had sent HIM to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and free the prisoners from their bondages. Jesus told this synagogue crowd that HE came as the fulfillment of Scripture, specifically that one day God would send a Messiah.
They listened, as they pondered what it could mean:
But then -- Jesus told two stories to illustrate for them how God sent HIM not just to be their Messiah but to be the Messiah for the whole world. HE would be the one who saved. He would be the one who fulfilled God's promise that the world one day would be a new world.
That crowd in the hometown synagogue pressed in toward Jesus, forced him outside and onto the precipice of a steep hill. They were ready to kill him! They were prepared to push him to his death off that cliff.
Friends, these were church people who wanted to kill Jesus, who thought he was lying to them, that surely God meant to send the long-awaited Messiah to them alone. Whose church was it, anyway, they thought in their proud hearts? It is our God, our church, and it will be OUR Messiah.
But now we have before us another story about a crowd pressing in toward Jesus. But this time the crowd cannot get enough of him. They are pressing in toward him at the sea shore in order to be healed, to hear his comforting words, to get a good look at this extraordinary person called Jesus.
As Luke says, "…the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God" and he "taught the crowds from the boat." The crowd on the shore knew they were witnessing something special. And as the story continues, Luke tells us nothing about the crowd. But do you think they left the shore when Jesus told the fishermen to go out into the deep waters? It is doubtful!
I can imagine the murmuring and chatting and pointing and the anticipation. What is he doing? Why is he going out into the deep water?
Now let's just transpose ourselves. WE can be the crowd trying to get a good look, trying to hear every word, trying to see what Jesus is going to do when he goes out into the lake with the fishermen.
The story goes, Luke says, that Jesus had to borrow one of the fishing boats so that he might be able to teach the crowd on the shore. We don't know what he said or did there at the shore that day.
But Luke does tell us about what Jesus does when he turns from the crowds to the people who owned those fishing boats.
Peter was there. One of the boats was his. So were James and John. The other was theirs And if you read carefully, you'll see that there were other helpers in the two boats.
When we meet Peter, he is cleaning nets after a very bad night at work. He does not hesitate to tell Jesus what he thinks, as, for example, when Jesus suggests that he go out into the deep water and fish again.
Peter seems to know that Jesus is special. Even so, he is not so sure about going back out into the deep waters. "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets."
How many times we have thought -- Jesus, we have been to that neighborhood where we thought you were sending us. We were rejected. No one responded. Not a single person came to church or Sunday school the next week. We even took cookies.
Peter was obedient even though tired, maybe disheartened by the poor catch that day. But in his obedience, he encountered a miracle. The catch was so big that it nearly sank both the boats.
Go back to the crowd now. You can see them -- craning their necks to get a good look, children sitting on their parents' shoulders so they can see. They see the fishermen straining to pull in the nets full of fish and the boats rocked by the weight of so large a catch. The word "miracle" perhaps began to be whispered. That's what we would say. It's a miracle.
Peter knows it's a miracle. And he realizes then that he is in the presence of the divine. That is why he falls at the feet of Jesus and confesses that he is a sinner and not worthy to be in the presence of the living God.
It is very much like the experience of the prophet Isaiah when he goes into the temple. Isaiah sees hem of the holy God's robe filling the temple! God is on his throne. He is calling out to Isaiah.
Isaiah's response was to cry out, "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!"
Hear Simon Peter's words again as he fell to his knees before Jesus, knowing that he was in the presence of the holy: "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." Jesus eases his discomfort with "Do not be afraid."
But always the Lord of our life who challenges us as he comforts us, Jesus adds these words: "From now on you will be catching people."
God's Spirit fills Simon Peter and the other fishermen just as God's Spirit fills Isaiah in the temple hundreds of years before. When Isaiah hears God say aloud, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us," Isaiah cannot resist: "Here am I; send me!"
As Peter kneels before Jesus, Jesus knows just what to say. "Don't be afraid. From now on you'll be seeking people for me. You won't be casting your nets into the lake day after day for fish. You'll learn to teach and preach and tell people about the kingdom of God and about me."
The crowd on the shore sees it all. Luke does not describe the crowd but it is likely that this crowd is made up of working people, unemployed people, people who make just enough to get by if they get paid but whose lives fall apart if they can't work.
This Jesus, this extraordinary Jesus gives hope to crowds like that. Jesus gives hope to all who will simply stop and look at him, listen to him, and drop all those things that are interfering with his call to them and then -- yes, follow him just like all the crowds we read about in Scripture.
This is the beginning -- Jesus' calling a few ordinary working people like the fishermen. He called them to follow him, to become a community with him so that they would hear him preach and teach and comfort and heal -- and so that they would witness his suffering and death and, finally, his resurrection.
And then when Jesus sent them, commissioned them, they would go unafraid into the deep waters, expecting big catches, finding people who needed to hear about Jesus, finding them right there in the deep, dark, sometimes scary waters, in the unknown neighborhoods and the places that were unfamiliar to them --
-- Yes, they would venture into the chaos of life around them in those days, much like the chaos not so very far from here.
What Jesus taught the first disciples before they even dropped their nets to follow him that day is still at the heart of the discipleship to which Jesus calls his followers.
It is that going into the dark places as ordinary people who have become the church, the Body of Christ, going into the dark places to take the light of the gospel, to trust that God will be with us in those times and places and that God will give us the strength to do what he calls us to do in his name.
No, we are not privy to what Jesus taught the crowd from Peter's boat. Luke does not tell us that part of the story. But we know that a large crowd was following Jesus to listen to him, to hear the word of God.
It is the word that has been both constant and consistent in the relationship between God and the world since the beginning of creation. It is the word that the church is called to carry into the world in Jesus' name.
It is true -- there are not always crowds pressing in to hear the word today. In fact, the busy and noisy world in which we find ourselves presents a real challenge to the preaching and teaching of God's way of love and justice and peace.
But the Word of God compels us. The Spirit of God will lead us.
The fishermen do follow Jesus. The story will continue. As the church, we promise to follow. And so God in Jesus Christ promised to lead us, to be with us always wherever the journey leads.
The journey continues. Let us follow the One who calls even us to be his disciples. We are the crowd who follows, not the crowd who rejects our Savior.
It is a life for which we are equipped by none other than the One God of the Universe -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is in his name and to his glory that we drop our nets and go. Amen.