(At Presbyterian Church of Henderson, we utilize fill-in-the-blank outlines in the bulletin to accompany each Sunday’s sermon. This has added a new dimension to preaching for me, but the hearers of the word seem to appreciate having an outline to follow. One thing I’ve learned is that it makes the sharing of a manuscript a bit clunky in this format. The following sermon has 3 “bullet points” and I have identified those by putting them in bold print and using blue text to indicate the words that fit in the blanks.)
500 years ago this month, Martin Luther, a Catholic monk from Eiselben, Germany, nailed 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg Church, an action that became the tipping point to a revolution that was already beginning to gain some traction. When Martin was 21 years-old, the story goes, he was a law student and brilliant debater. During that year of his life, he found himself caught in a thunderstorm, nearly struck by a bolt of lightning. He called out to St. Anne, mother of the blessed Virgin Mary, promising that he would become a monk should she save him. Upon surviving, Martin fulfilled his promise and entered into the monastic life.
As Martin sought to walk faithfully with God, God began to reform him in some surprising ways. He was a good monk by all the standards of the day, yet Martin found no consolation in this. He read the scriptures and was tortured internally by the idea of righteousness, which he felt that he, himself, could not possess.
In his course of study, however, he read and studied the letter to the Romans, and he began to understand the righteousness of God as a gift that comes by faith, not something he had to produce within himself.
It wouldn’t be long before the way that God was reforming Martin Luther would soon begin to reform the church in Europe. Even still, the movement he formalized on All Saints Eve of 1517 in Wittenberg would eventually lead to his trial as a heretic. His bold declaration of “Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me, Amen” came just before the guilty verdict and his escape to hide away and avoid arrest. He, a former monk, married a runaway nun. In his younger days, he penned words that he would later need to revise and in his older days, he wrote words that he probably should have taken back–harsh, graceless words about Catholics and Jews and even his fellow Reformers.
(Info drawn primarily from http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/theologians/martin-luther.html and a couple of books i had lying around to verify this.)
Martin Luther is an example of how God can take a disciple, one who is passionate and outspoken, willing and imperfect, and do something remarkable with his or her life. Simon Peter, one of the first disciples of Jesus, is another. This month, when we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we are going to spend the whole month with Simon Peter. For five Sundays, we will visit the highest points and the lowest low of his walk with Jesus as recorded in the gospels. Much like Martin Luther, Jesus called Simon Peter into following and he boldly and willingly followed on a new path, called to start a new thing.
Much like Martin Luther and Simon Peter, Jesus calls you and I to follow with boldness and willingness. Maybe you too have struggled with your lack of righteousness. Maybe you too have struggled to be faithful and stand strong in a threatening situation. Maybe you too have been re-called and re-formed by Jesus, or maybe you are seeking to recommit yourself to the journey of discipleship. This month of Reformation is a good one to reflect on all of that and consider what it means to allow Jesus to be Lord of your life and be continually changed and reformed to be more like him.
As we continue to listen for God’s word to us this morning, hear now the word of God from Luke 5:1-11.
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ 5Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
All of the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus–the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John–have a story of how Jesus called his first disciples. The account here in Luke 5 is the most elaborate and the previous chapter provides clues that when we come to the scene in Luke 5, Peter has already known Jesus and witnessed some of his miracles of healing. Jesus healed his mother-in-law, as recorded in Luke 4:39, for example. So perhaps Peter was perfectly poised and prepared to accept the call to follow Jesus, as we see him do in Luke 5. This is a great passage to read as we consider our own calling to follow, and what that means for us, as we read about what it meant for Peter.
As we explore what it means to follow Jesus, the first thing we see in the text is that following Jesus requires obedience. Early in this passage, Peter demonstrates obedience twice. First, Jesus gets in his boat and asks Peter to sail out a little ways from the shore. Peter complies. Next, after he’s done teaching, Jesus instructs him to sail out farther and let out the nets one more time, a request that might have seemed a bit bizarre. They fished all night and didn’t catch anything. The early morning, we might assume, has passed them by while Jesus has been teaching from the boat. There aren’t any fish to be caught at this hour, Jesus. And yet, Peter basically says, “this makes no sense, but if you say so, I’ll let down the nets.”
As disciples of Christ, sometimes our instructions make good sense. And sometimes, they simply do not. Sometimes the things we are called to do seem so counter-cultural in this day and age.
For me it would have been tempting for me to stick with “that makes no sense, teacher,” had I been in the boat when Jesus commanded the nets to be let down one more time. “Jesus, you’re a carpenter, not a fisherman, so we’re going to give you pass here, but really, letting the nets down again won’t do any good at this point.”
How many times have I read in Scripture or prayed for God’s direction only to think, “well, that will never work?” A lot. For example, a little more than seventeen years ago, I ran across a job listing for a church on a corner in downtown Henderson Kentucky and I. Just. Knew. I was supposed to send my resume. “But God,” I said, “maybe we should look at a map, because Henderson is nowhere near Lexington, and I’m trying to go to Lexington.”
Or maybe we read words like “in humility, regard others better than yourselves” or “have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus” who “emptied himself” and was “obedient even to the point of death” like we read in Philippians 2, and we’re tempted to say, “Oh, not anymore, Apostle Paul. We don’t do it like that in America.” When we follow Jesus, we are called to be obedient.
Another word about obedience: in order to be obedient, we have to know what God is asking us to do. Which means one or two things must be true: We must be reading scripture regularly, and allowing God’s Word to reform us and call us to obedience and we must be prayerful about the steps we take in our lives and listen for God to give us direction. Maybe you’re not doing either of those things regularly. If that’s the case and you want to follow Jesus obediently, start with reading scripture and you might be surprised at how clearly you’re able to hear God’s voice in other ways too.
Obedience means that when you know what God is asking of you, you change your actions, thoughts, or words to line up with what God has said.
“We’ve already done what we think is the right way,” Peter essentially insists in Luke 5, “BUT IF YOU SAY SO, we’ll do what you’ve asked us to.”
Luke 5 says the next thing that happens is that the disciples followed Jesus’ instructions and the result was that they caught so many fish their nets began to break and when they worked together to pull the fish into the boats, the boats began to sink. When Peter saw this, the scripture tells us, “he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ for he and all who were with him were amazed” at what had just happened. This reminds us that Following Jesus inspires worship. For Peter, it was a natural, unavoidable response to the goodness he had just witnessed. He fell to his knees and honored the holiness that he recognized in Jesus, the Christ.
The Apostle Paul knew well that following Jesus inspired worship. Just in our epistle reading today, from his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul writes, “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…who became obedient to death on a cross…and was exalted by God and given the name above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
When God does something and we recognize it as an act of God or we know the presence of holiness, there is no other response than to honor and glorify God.
The problem is, we’re prone to idolatry. And as such, we often misplace that honor and glory and direct it elsewhere. Like towards ourselves. Or towards our things. Or towards anyone or anything else other than the source of every good and perfect gift we have.
Peter, skilled fisherman that he was, could have had a different response. Rather than recognize Jesus as the giver of the nets full of fish, he could have assumed it was due to the skill of himself and his team that when they put the nets down when Jesus commanded, they caught so many fish. Or, maybe even more likely, his skill met with just the right amount of coincidence. He doesn’t have either of those reactions, though. He recognizes the giver of the gift and he responds in worship.
Worship happens in a lot of ways. Yes, we worship as a body here on Sunday mornings and sometimes other times, too. We gather for worship because we each recognize that this is not just about us. It is about the Body of Christ in every time and place and a story that God is writing across the ages that includes all of us.
But as Peter demonstrates, worship is also spontaneous and often very personal. Worship can happen daily, hourly, minute by minute if we seek to live lives that glorify and honor God. Followers of Jesus Christ worship him because we recognize his goodness and holiness and we know that he is worthy of glory and honor. And when we are truly following Christ, we cannot help it. We are called to worship and we must respond.
After Peter worships, and it is noted that it is not just Peter who is amazed and sees Jesus for what he has done, Jesus says familiar words to Simon. “Do not be afraid; from now on, you will be catching people.” And with those words, we are told Peter and company park their boats on the shore and leave everything to follow him. And so, we see that it is the case that Following Jesus calls for whole-hearted devotion.
Peter who has just had this moment of revelation, who has heard Jesus’ invitation to follow, doesn’t just leave his nets and all the fish that the boats just brought ashore–he leaves his whole livelihood and identity behind. He will from that moment on, be known as one of Jesus’ disciples. We who have read the whole book know that Jesus will change his name and Simon will be called Peter. We know that Peter will see Jesus heal the sick and injured and bring people back from death. We know that Jesus will include Peter in some of the most amazing moments and will demand some of the hardest things from Peter. But Simon the fisherman knows none of this. Simon Peter knows that he was obedient to Jesus and Jesus did something miraculous and glorious, and so he worshiped Jesus and then left everything to follow him.
The same thing happens in our lives. Maybe you decided to follow Jesus, and you had no idea how that was going to turn out or where you were going to end up. But you followed as wholeheartedly as you could. And in every moment, every decision to be obedient, every scripture passage you read that caused you to grow a little more, every act and sight of wonder that called you to worship, every struggle that you prayed your way through, God was shaping you more and more in his image so that your identity wasn’t nearly as important as the identity given to you as a follower of Jesus.
When you follow Jesus, it’s impossible to do it halfway. When we try to hang onto ourselves, we aren’t really following. Jesus would tell his disciples later, “ ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
October 1, 2017 seems as good a day as any to consider your own calling to follow Jesus and how that looks in your life. Are you following obediently, allowing the words of scripture to test and try your thoughts and actions, seeking to prayerfully discern what God is asking you to do?
Are you worshipping honestly and frequently, giving God the glory and the credit for the good things in your life, remembering to turn toward God as often as you are tempted to turn towards yourself?
Are you devoted whole-heartedly, accepting the identity Jesus gives you and laying aside your own will for his?
Maybe you’re like me and when you think about it like that, you see that you’ve missed the mark somewhere along the way this week or in the past month or year or years, and you know it’s time to get back on the path that follows the footsteps of Jesus and leads to life. I think that probably Martin Luther and the other reformers we celebrate this month recognized that feeling as they continued to surrender their lives and ministries to God and find the way that is right and true. Peter knew that place well, as we’ll see in the coming weeks as he seeks to follow Jesus through some tough situations and deal with his own missteps.
The good news is that that we have a Lord who calls us as many times as it takes, out of a love and grace that knows no bounds. Yes, today is a good day to start again at following Jesus.
Let’s pray together, for ourselves and for each other, as we seek to be renewed in following Jesus.
Jesus, you stand at the lakeshore and you invite us to drop our nets and leave our boats and our names and our vain pursuits to be your disciples and to be known by your name. Help us to be obedient to your leading, and call us to be faithful students of your Word. Renew in us a sense of wonder and joy and call us to worship. Make us wholly devoted to you alone, gladly giving our lives for the sake of your Kingdom coming. Amen.