fish for people

Luke 5:1-11

“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  Luke 5:1-11

I’d like for you to think about a time when you took a big risk. Jumped off a diving board for the first time.  Tried out for a team. Asked someone out.  Moved to an unfamiliar place.  Started a new job. Trusted someone with a secret you’d been holding close.

I can think of many risks that I’ve taken in my own life, and every single time I was scared.  It’s not that I didn’t trust God.  It’s just that I would have preferred to know the outcome ahead of time.  I’d like to assess at the outset whether something will work out successfully.  I’ve often longed for some version of a crystal ball so that I could know how things would unfold after the big leap.

But that’s not how it works.  We can’t know where those leaps will land us.  Maybe that’s for the best – because knowing what the future will bring might keep us from doing the very things through which God helps us grow.  In reality, if we never took risks, our lives would be much smaller.  We’d never make friends.  We’d never travel or move to a different place or change jobs.  We’d never fall in love or have children. We’d never try anything new.

One of the riskiest things we can do is to listen for God’s voice in our lives and try to follow where it leads.  In church we often talk about that in terms of vocation – or calling.  What does God call us to do?  That might sound like a lot of religious mumbo-jumbo, but what it really means is that we believe God can work through the roles we inhabit in daily life to make the world a more peaceful, just, and loving place.  Our commitments as parents, as siblings, as children, as friends, as colleagues, as supervisors, as citizens, as volunteers – all of those roles can be lived out in a way that embodies our commitments as people of faith.

But it’s risky.  Relationships of any kind can be messy.  They take work.  It would be more comfortable to hold back, to play it safe.

In today’s readings we have several examples of people responding to God’s call in their lives.  Isaiah’s call story in the First Reading has all the elements of a dramatic movie scene.  There are angels with six wings and a smoke-filled room and a voice out of nowhere.  Notice that Isaiah initially responds by claiming he is unworthy: “I am a man of unclean lips,” he says.  But when he realizes that God has removed his guilt, Isaiah has a different response.  When God asks, “Whom shall I send?” the answer is there: “Here am I. Send me.”

Here am I. Send me.  Isaiah has no idea how the rest of his life will unfold if he says yes, but he says yes anyway.  And believe me, his life turns out to be a bit crazy at times.  Being a prophet is not easy work.

And then there’s Simon Peter in today’s gospel. After a long and weary night of fishing without success, Jesus tells Peter to go out to the deep water and try again.  Peter’s first response sounds like what any of us would say when are tired down to our bones: “Master, we have worked all night long and caught nothing.”  Why do you want me to do this thing that sounds foolish and unproductive, Jesus? I am exhausted.  I not doing the job I already have very well, and you want me to do something more?

 But Peter gives it a try.  Without knowing what will happen – and probably feeling a little grumpy, maybe even a tad resentful about it – Peter goes out to the deeper waters. He and his comrades haul in so many fish that their nets start falling apart.

The risk pays off.  But still Peter tries another excuse to keep Jesus at arm’s length: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  I’m not really worthy of doing this thing you want me to do.  There’s probably someone with a better track record to do whatever it is you have in mind. Pick somebody else, Jesus.  By now Peter is starting to see what Jesus makes possible, and it must have been both thrilling and terrifying.

This strange fishing expedition is just the beginning.  Jesus asks Simon Peter, James, and John to come with him, to follow him into the deep waters of a life of discipleship.  To leave behind the familiar and try something unimaginable.

They do it.  They leave everything behind and follow Jesus.  Just like that.

I don’t know what the deep waters are for you right now.  Maybe there’s something your family is trying to figure out.  Maybe you’re contemplating a change of some kind. Maybe there’s a difficult conversation that you’ve been avoiding.  Maybe you or someone dear to you is facing some scary medical decisions.  You know what those deep waters are in your life, even if you don’t know what will happen when you venture there.  You can’t know.  None of us can.  We know only that God is with us.

In the midst of our uncertainty, it can feel risky to live and speak and act as followers of Jesus.  We worry about getting labeled as a “Jesus freak.”  We worry about how people will look at us if they know we are one of those churchgoing Christians.  So we can be full of excuses to keep our spiritual life undercover.  I’m not worthy, we whisper.  Choose someone else.  I’m just too tired.

A writer named Debie Thomas has this to say about following Jesus:

We don’t follow Jesus in the abstract.  We don’t heed his call “in general,” as if Christianity comes down to nothing more than attending church or being a nice person.  If we’re going to follow him at all, we’ll have to do it in the particulars of the lives, communities, cultures, families, and vocations we find ourselves in.  We’ll have to trust that God prizes our intellects, our backgrounds, our educations, and our skills, and that [God] will bless and multiply the daily stuff of our lives for [God’s] purposes.[i]

I know that God prizes the gifts and talents and backgrounds and heart and experiences that each of you brings to the needs of the world.  I have seen it again and again.  What I hope and pray is that you will trust those gifts that you have – trust them so much that you’re willing to climb back into the boat and head out for deeper waters – even when it feels risky.

One of my favorite prayers is sometimes called the Prayer of Good Courage. It’s in our cranberry-colored hymnal Evangelical Lutheran Worship as part of a service called Evening Prayer.  I invite you in this moment to breathe deeply and pray with me:

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.[ii]  Amen.


S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ


[ii]Philip Pfatteicher in his Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship says this prayer “is from Eric Milner-White and George Wallace Briggs’s Daily Prayer” (London: Oxford, 1941) p. 14.

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