Trust me and try again
A sermon for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany
Let’s talk about fishing, or more specifically, about fishing in this Bible passage.
We often talk about Jesus’ calling poor fishermen as his first followers. These men were strong, independent and hard working. They were not wealthy but they were also not the poorest people in the society. You will notice that Peter and Andrew, James and John all knew one another and sometimes worked together. They worked in family fishing businesses run by their fathers. It sounds as if the families owned their own boats. As well as working with family members, they hired other men for when more labour was required.
This was a job with demanding but variable hours. They often fished at night. There would be reasons for this. You can research those reasons for night fishing if you wish.
On this occasion they had worked hard all night and caught nothing. That’s two boats, so two separate crews. They used nets, plural. They could let down individual nets but could also let down a net between the two boats.
It was now daytime but they were still working. They were washing their nets. This is an important task that has to be done after the day’s (or in this case the night’s) fishing. If you don’t wash the nets, they will be carrying all sorts of dirt and debris. They will not work as easily and well, they will smell and they will perish. Washing the nets also enables the fishermen to see where the nets need mending. This is a job that must be done as soon as it is needed so that the equipment is at its most effective and any holes torn in the net are not enlarged by using un-mended nets.
As the fishermen wash the nets, a time-consuming and very physical chore, Jesus is making use of one of the boats to speak to the crowd on the shore. The disciples would also be listening as they worked.
But then Jesus says something crazy! Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.
Well, a catch would be good but you can imagine what else the fishermen are thinking.
I’m so tired. I just want to get this done and get home or get some sleep, or get together with friends. The day is getting on and we will need to be out on the water again tonight.
And then Jesus tells them to get back into the deep water and let down the nets again!
Again, you can imagine what they thought.
I tried it and it didn’t work. I just did this and I don’t want to do it again for no apparent good reason and no better result. If we let down the nets again and catch nothing, as well as the extra time and the extra work in vain, we will then need to wash and mend the nets again! We know about fishing. We trust Jesus but he is not a fisherman. What should we do?
So how did they respond?
Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.
In other words. That’s a mad idea. We tried it. It didn’t work. But just because it’s you saying so, we will give it a go.
The Christian life, following what Jesus asks of us, can sometimes sound crazy. It defies the conventional wisdom of the world but like the disciples we also learn by following Jesus that doing what he tells us to do may defy conventional wisdom but it yields amazing results.
Just sometimes the craziness itself can be a sign. Many people have said of a spiritual prompting, It was so unlikely. It was definitely not what I thought was a good idea. It had to be a God thing.
When we follow those spiritual promptings, sometimes we too reap an unexpected harvest.
There is more to this story than some fishermen who didn’t do well on their own but did what Jesus told them to do and all was well. That’s a good story as far as it goes but life is sometimes more complicated.
What happened next for the disciples and next and next? Every time the disciples did as Jesus sked them, they learned something about being a disciple. They learned about hope and trust and where to put their priorities. Those are things that we learn too when we follow Jesus. We learn hope and trust and we learn where to put our priorities.
It didn’t give the disciples a trouble-free life. Far from it. It will not give us a trouble-free life. But walking with Jesus brings his life into our lives. It brings his life into the world as we interact with others in his ways. Love your neighbour, forgive one another, be willing to walk the extra mile or drop the nets the extra time, feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the prisoners, raise the dead, repent, rejoice even in hard times, make time and space in your life for prayer, do good, keep your word, value spiritual treasures over more worldly ones, don’t judge, put God’s Kingdom first.
I am sure you can think of many more.
Will we do them all perfectly? Probably not. In my case, definitely not, but we can always try again, and we can trust, hope and know where we place our priorities.
Paul said of his struggles, For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15. 9-10)
Paul feels unworthy but he lets down the nets regardless and he, like the fishermen, brings in a rich harvest.
Is this a variation on repentance? Yes. When we feel as if we have lost out way, we can always and every day turn to Christ and try his way.
Is this a variation on trust and obey? Yes. Like the servants Barry told you about at the wedding at Cana who took those jars that had been filled with water and carried them in to the feast. As Mary said, Do whatever he tells you.
As Peter and Andrea reminded us in the last two weeks, we can actually try to live the Christian life.
There’s a famous poem by Arthur Hugh Clough called, Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth. Victorian poetry is not for everyone, but this little four verse creation is right on target. Clough talks about perseverance when things are difficult, when evil seems to prevail and nothing seems to change. But if our hopes seem misguided, perhaps our fears are the actual liars. Perhaps good things are happening and we can add our bit. When the light shines in the darkness, it may surprise us to see it shine in the most unexpected places.
I won’t read it out, but there are a few copies at the back of the church.
How does this play out in your life? Is there some good thing that you have been struggling to do or to do more of and it just doesn’t seem to happen? It may be time to let go of it but perhaps it just might be worth casting your net again and seeing what it yields.
Lord, help us to trust you, to do what you command, and to reap the harvest of abundant life. Amen.