This is a lightly edited transcript of a sermon preached on February 6, 2022. For the original audio and/or video versions of this sermon, check the links on the Resources page.
Lord God, as always, Lord, thank you for your presence with us this week. Thank you for your persistent love — the way that you strive after us, continually, Lord. Thank you for Jesus who came down and was present in creation, who lived a life that reveals to us the love of God in ways that were mysterious before.
I pray, Lord, that in our worship and in our study and in our lives we would continue to encounter the living God in Jesus — we would continue to encounter the Spirit of God in everything that we do. Help our eyes and our ears to be open and our minds to be open to receiving and to seeing and to hearing you. Help us to be mindful and attentive to the Spirit every day, because we want our lives to be transformed and transformative, Lord. We want the things that we do to participate in the work that you do. We want to be part of love and new creation in the world, even now, so as we look into scripture, Lord, this is our hope: that whatever we find there would be beneficial to us and transformative to us and that the Spirit would guide our minds and our thoughts so that your scriptures would speak into our lives in ways that would guide us into deeper things.
We love you, Lord, and we pray these things in Jesus’s name. Amen.
I’m going to be in Luke, this morning, starting in Luke, chapter 5.
Last week, we talked about possibilities. We talked about God being a God of possibilities — that hope for the future is not about a predetermined outcome or guarantee of what will happen but that hope is about living into the possibilities that love creates, that every moment is an opportunity for not only God to create something out of love but for us to participate in that creation. Over and over again throughout scripture, there is an invitation for people to be at the table making decisions and creating alongside God — the prophets who were invited to reason with God, even to argue with God, to persuade God of this course or that course — God who responds in kind in this dialogue by persuading people of one course or another. And in Jesus, we find this dynamic, even with him and his disciples — that he doesn’t compel them into things but persuades them through his life and his works.
Luke, especially, is one [place] where God does not call the disciples. literally. but they are attracted to him, they are caught up in him, they are caught up in Jesus because of what they see and experience because of the works that Jesus does in their lives. They are attracted to the possibilities that are opened up in this Jesus of Nazareth. This is where we find our hope.
We find a story like that in Luke, chapter 5 — Luke, chapter 5, starting in verse 1. It says,
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.Luke 5:1-11, NIV
This is different from gospels like Mark where Jesus calls to them — says, “Come.” Jesus doesn’t call to them; Luke doesn’t have that interaction at all, here. This is different from gospels like John where they pursue Jesus and sit and talk with him, and then they run and get their friends, and they all have a conversation with Jesus, and then they decide to go with him instead of John.
Here, Jesus simply gets in the boat with them and says, “Hey, let’s go fish. Cast your nets out,” and as fishermen, they say, “Okay, well, we’ve done this all night,” but they do it anyway. They decide they’re going to humor him because he’s the master. That is, he’s the rabbi, the teacher, the wise man, the prophet of God — whatever it is they think that he is — so out of respect, they humor him.
They throw out the nets. They catch fish —so much fish the two boats are beginning to sink under the weight, and that’s the point where Peter makes the proclamation that [Jesus] is Lord and sees himself as unworthy of being in the presence of Jesus.
That’s the point where Peter is persuaded by the actions and events that have just taken place, and when Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people,” or from now on you will catch people, or from now on people will be caught up in you, that’s the point at which Peter and the others have become caught up in Jesus.
Jesus’s invitation is not for them to go out and take control of people. We have to be careful not to take the metaphor too far. Jesus’s metaphor is not about casting out a net and snagging people like we snag fish. We’re not laying snares for people. We’re not hunting people. He says what you will do is you will catch people the way that I have caught you: not with force, not with coercion, but with a different kind of power that expresses itself in life and in action — in the way that Jesus catches them up in who he is because of what they have seen and heard from him. He says you also will catch people up in who you are because of what they see and hear in you.
It’s similar to what he tells Peter, later, when Peter is about to deny him. He says, “Peter, satan has requested to sift you like wheat, but I prayed for you, so that when you return, when you recover, when you come back, you will be built up, and then you will turn, and you will build up others.” It’s similar to when Jesus says that you are the rock, Peter, Cephus, Κηφᾶς, which means rock; “You are the rock on which I will build my church.” He doesn’t mean the rock the way that Jesus is the cornerstone. He means what he means here: you become a foundation on which people build; you become a foundation on which God builds; you become a fisher into which people are caught up. He’s more like the net than he is like a fisherman. His life moves through the world and catches people up in the work of God.
That kind of an invitation — that kind of a proclamation from Jesus — is about possibilities. They see in Jesus the possibility of something new, something different, something creative, something that draws them in and impels them to follow who he is, and Jesus says that same possibility exists in your life, also.
When we look over in Luke, chapter 10, we see this same proclamation of possibility. In Luke, chapter 10 and verse 1, it says,
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”Luke 10:1-2, NIV
This is a declaration of possibility he says I’m sending you out into the harvest, but the harvest is plentiful, and you are a few, so pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out workers into his harvest field. He doesn’t say [such-and-such] is going to happen. He doesn’t say there’s a guarantee of what the harvest will look like. He doesn’t say there’s a guarantee of what the harvesters will look like or how many there will be or when they will come. It doesn’t say any of that. He says pray to the Lord, and pray into the possibility of others coming to join the work of the harvest.
It’s the same kind of hope that we live into as people of God — as the idea that people will be caught up into our lives like fish in a net — and this is one of those places where you begin to see the difference between people who are abusing the work of God, the opportunities that present themselves in the work of God — people who are creating abusive communities within the church — and people who are earnestly trying to participate in what God is doing, because the people who are abusive are living into a kind of power that is not built on the hope of possibilities.
They are building their communities on a different kind of power, the exact kind of power that comes to destroy Jesus, later — the power of certainty, the power that says we must maintain control, the powers that says we must shape the future pragmatically in how we live, in the choices we make, so that it will come out in our favor. That kind of power doesn’t allow room for the possibilities of the Spirit. That kind of power doesn’t allow room for the hope of new creation. It’s the kind of power that compelled the chief priests and the high priest and the members of the Sanhedrin to come together and say, “We have to put Jesus to death, because if we don’t, we won’t get what we want. We won’t get the kind of future that we imagine. We won’t get the future that we envision. It is better that Jesus should die than for all the nation of Israel to be pulled down.”
That’s the kind of power that seeks to control the future — that doesn’t live into the hope of possibilities. It’s the opposite of what we find in the disciples. It’s the opposite of when the disciples encountered Jesus and are impelled, are intrigued, are caught up in who he is, and when our ministries and our lives become about coercing people and controlling people into being a certain kind of person — into controlling the body of Christ to look a specific kind of way — we lose out on all the power of the Spirit for the hope of the future, because it says that we understand what God is doing better than whatever God could reveal to us.
And I’ve said over and over again, about Peter: Peter is the great example of this. No, Lord, you couldn’t possibly be going to Jerusalem to die; I won’t allow it. No, Lord, I can’t allow these people to arrest you; I will simply cut off this person’s ear in an attempt to defend you. No, Lord, I couldn’t possibly deny you; I would rather die with you. No, Lord, I will not eat any of the animals from this sheet, because they are unclean. No, Lord, I will not eat with these Gentiles, because they are uncircumcised. Peter is the great denier — the one who lives repeatedly into this idea of control that says the kingdom of God will look the way I imagine it will look — and over and over again, rather than compelling Peter to be different, God exemplifies in Peter’s life the opposite — the hope of possibility. He presents Peter with the opportunity to be open to something new. He encourages Peter to be open to something new, but he doesn’t force Peter to be open to something new. He allows Peter to deny him. He allows Peter to speak his mind. He allows Peter to make his choice for himself. He says, “Peter, you will deny me, but afterward, I am still praying for you.” Praying for what? “That you will be open to the possibility of what God is doing in your life — be open to the possibility of the gentiles, be open to the possibility of a Messiah who doesn’t come to defeat the Romans, be open to the possibility of being more than just a fisherman who catches fish. Be open to the possibilities, Peter.
In the same way that Jesus teaches the disciples to live a life that catches people up in the possibilities, we are called to that same life, and so the question we want to ask ourselves this week is this: how do we catch people up in the possibilities? How do we live a life that is intriguing because it lives into something new? How do we live a life that doesn’t lean into the same power structures we’ve always had? How do we live a life that reflects the cross not just in a self-sacrificing love, not just in denying ourselves — because often that alone becomes unhealthy. How do we live a life that reflects the cross in a way that says I really do believe there’s something to this power of love; I really do believe that there’s something to be said for a power that doesn’t use force and coercion to conform people to what i desire, because that’s what Jesus exemplifies on the cross?
It’s more than just “he loved us, and so he died.” When your entire theology of God, when your entire understanding of the cross, is just that Jesus had to spill his blood so that you could be sinless — when that’s your entire theology of the cross, you miss out on the possibilities of what God is doing. Jesus gets crucified because he lives into a life that says, “I’m not going to coerce you to be like me,” and so we, as human beings, did what human beings always do: we strike out violently against change and threat. We strike out violently at anything that challenges the status quo or our way of life, and in that violence, we see revealed in Christ a different kind of power.
We see that the kingdom of God doesn’t come with force, to coerce. It comes with an invitation to persuade out of love. It comes with a way of revealing to the world that the power structures are somehow broken, and if you are the kind of person who lives in suffering — if you’re the kind of person who is oppressed, if you’re a minority or you’re a person of color or you’re a woman or you’re poor or you’re an orphan or you’re homeless — if you’re disenfranchised from society in any way, you know this. The suffering of your life and the suffering of the people around you reveals the brokenness of society, and the invitation of the cross is to live into something different.
We don’t lay down our lives for no reason. We lay down our lives for the possibility of something new, so this week, I invite you to meditate on that. I invite you to meditate on the possibilities of God — not just the hope of something different but the way that that possibility speaks into your own life and the lives of the people around you. How can we live our lives in a way that catches people up in a hope for new creation?