“The Places We’ll Go””
By Rev. Lorraine Diaz
Sunday, February 6
Reading: Luke 5:1-11
Someone told me that they saw the sermon title, “The Places We’ll Go,” on the sign in front of the church and thought I might be talking about the grocery store or walks around the neighbourhood, because those are the only places many of us are going these days! I hope the title was not a bitter reminder of all the places we’re unable to go right now.
When I looked at this scripture passage, it made me reflect on the amazing places we can go in our lives – places that are not affected by any pandemic – when we are following Jesus. I’m thinking of the places where our faith in God can take us, places we may never have imagined or planned for ourselves – not geographically, maybe; although sometimes that too – I’m sure that some of the people on our El Hogar team never imagined that following Jesus might take them to Honduras (and hopefully they’ll be able to go back again soon).
I can tell you from personal experience and from conversations I have had with a wide variety of people over 20 years of ministry, that when we commit our lives to following Jesus; when we grant him ultimate authority in our lives, we can end up in places and in situations far beyond our wildest dreams! This morning’s scripture passage tells the story of the seemingly ordinary day when Simon Peter, James, and John’s lives were suddenly changed beyond their wildest dreams.
This is the moment in the Gospel of Luke when we meet for the first time these men who would become Jesus’ inner circle of disciples. We’re familiar with the stories of them following Jesus up the mountain top and seeing him transfigured; or the stories of when they walk with Jesus through the Galilean countryside, healing and feeding people, and casting out demons; or their various responses to his arrest and his trial before Pilate. Here, though, we see them as ordinary men going about their normal lives, until Jesus wandered up to them and changed them forever. We see them as seasoned, experienced fishermen who knew all the ups and downs of life at sea and who, like us, understood that life has good days and bad days. This particular day looked like it was going to be a bad day.
We see them here on the beach early in the morning, washing all the gunky seawater off their nets after having been out fishing all night, so they’d be clean and ready to go out again the following night, as was the life of fishermen. Nighttime, they knew, was the best time to catch fish; but on this night, as sometimes happens, they caught nothing. Nada. Not a single fish. They knew that this could happen sometimes; but it was still disappointing when it did, and I’m sure it made them doubt themselves.
You all know that feeling, I’m sure – you have great kids, but occasionally, they do something that disappoints you, and then you start to wonder if it's maybe because you’re a terrible parent after all (even though you know you’re not). Or maybe your instincts at work are usually bang on, but you make a bad call, and you wonder if everyone is looking at you like you’re a fraud (although you know that they respect you). We all have those days where things don’t quite go right, and we feel like all our best efforts are just an exercise in futility. So, we can picture these men, silently washing their nets, dreading the moment they have to go home and tell their families that there’s nothing to sell in the market that day, wondering if their wives will think they’re failures or their children will resent them for their rumbling bellies.
Then Jesus comes along; except they don’t know at this point that it’s Jesus. As far as they’re concerned, he’s “some guy.” They may have heard some curious stories here and there about his teaching or about the things he was doing. He was starting to draw crowds, for sure, but these guys weren’t part of that yet. They had jobs to go to and work to do. But Jesus has this way of going to where the people are and meeting them there.
So, while they’re cleaning up from their night of futility, Jesus begins to speak to the people there on the shore, and the crowd starts to gather around him. When it gets too big to be heard, Jesus commandeers Simon Peter’s boat and tells him to push the boat out a bit from the shore. This might seem a bit rude to our ears, that he would just walk up to a stranger and take his boat, but concepts of “private property” were different at that time and they were a lot less individualistic than we are in our day. This was a very normal practice at that time. Along the shores of the Sea of Galilee there are several steep inlets, and in the days before technological amplification these inlets created a natural amphitheatre. To this day, I have read (and I still hope to get there one day to see for myself) if you get into a boat and push out a bit, you can talk in a very natural voice and people on the slopes can hear you perfectly. Probably some of you have been to Israel and have experienced this yourselves.
We’re not told how long he spoke for, but when Jesus finished addressing the crowds, he told the fishermen to head back out in their boats into the deep water and try again. Peter was nobody’s fool (not yet anyway); he knew better, and what did Jesus know about fishing anyway? The best time of the day to catch fish was over. So, he respectfully resists Jesus’ command. The last thing he wanted to do was to make himself look like a total fool in front of the crowd, as everyone there would know it’s madness to go back out on the water in daylight when catching fish is impossible. As far as they are concerned, Jesus is calling them to add futility on top of futility, and to make themselves look stupid in the process.
Have you ever felt like that? Like you’re spinning your wheels and getting nowhere? Life feels like one setback after another. At home, your efforts to get along better with your spouse go unappreciated; or on a work team, they may go unrecognized. In looking for a job, your skills and eagerness may go unrewarded time and again; or perhaps you’re trying to build your own business, but your efforts and decisions may not be enough to counteract societal trends or current market conditions.
You’ve all heard the old adage, “Don’t throw good money after bad.” It’s a popular saying, and I suppose there’s some wisdom to it. It warns against doing things that are obviously futile. The fishermen may have said, “don’t throw good nets after bad.” You may give up on a project that doesn’t seem to be working out but is actually very important to you thinking that you shouldn’t “throw good time after bad.” Don’t waste precious time and resources on things that seem futile, right? Except, maybe there are times you should. Maybe things that appear futile are opportunities to go on a great adventure. Perhaps when we risk looking foolish, we have a chance to learn and grow. Maybe a setback is a chance to follow God in a new direction. Or following Jesus when things seem futile or overwhelming is an opportunity for God to work in others through you.
Today, throughout the world, people are celebrating the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. It is the anniversary of her accession to the throne after the death of her father 70 years ago. Over the past couple of days there have been some grand celebrations of her long reign, and the love and respect that many people have for the Queen is pouring out. Watching the celebrations, seeing her looking very happy and fit as she approaches the age of 96, it’s easy to forget that the Queen has had many bad days, bad seasons, even some bad years. She has faced many challenges, and I don’t think it’s been an easy time to be in her position. Throughout her reign the value of the monarchy’s mere existence has been questioned more and more; England’s influence in the world has been in constant decline – some would say that it’s for the better, but still, she’s had to navigate that with grace and wisdom. Very early in her reign, the Queen had to make big decisions regarding her family loyalty vs. her loyalty to her position as head of the Anglican church, and there have been many times since when she has had to do so again.
The problems facing this woman from the time she was very young and over the years could have seemed overwhelming, and any of us could understand if there were times in her life when she wondered if all her best efforts would prove to be futile; that because of her unique position, her whole life was an exercise in futility.
I spent part of this week reading a book called The Faith of Queen Elizabeth. This is a book that pulls back a curtain on the life of the Queen to show us a woman with a compassionate heart, dedicated to a life of service in the name her Lord Jesus Christ. Sure, it seems to us like a life of tremendous privilege, but from the very first day of her reign, the exercise of her sovereignty was informed entirely by who she is called to be as a Christian, and she knew that the task before her would be impossible – perhaps would have been futile – without the guidance and leadership of Christ.
A few month ahead of her coronation she delivered her first Christmas address to the commonwealth and referred to the sacred vows she would be taking during her coronation, and she said, “I want to ask you all, whatever your religion may be, to pray for me on that day – to pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.” And what a long life it has been! The key to overcoming the futility of life, in other words, was service: serving God, and serving others – even for a Queen.
Her request, and the prayers of her many subjects and admirers, apparently were answered. Throughout her life – amid crises, conflicts, challenges, and tragedies on both a national and family level – the Queen will say that only by the power of her faith in Christ was she able to lead her country and the world through decades of unprecedented cultural change. She had no idea of the places He might take her, but she was committed to following Jesus. Almost 50 years later, in her Christmas broadcast in December 2000, she reiterated this commitment to trusting and serving God, saying, “For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life.”
Now, most of you probably aren’t royalty (or fishermen, for that matter; although maybe some of you are) but imagine for a moment that you’re stuck on a problem in your work or in your life: What are the things that you normally do, day after day? Whether you’re a fisherman or a Queen, if Jesus is just “some guy” that you have heard of, you may wonder why you would ever want to listen to him when you’re working out your day-to-day life. But if he’s someone who has authority in your life and you’re willing to follow him, then suddenly the possibilities become wide open!
Even though the fishermen might have been feeling discouraged, washing their nets with just one ear open to this teacher who has helped himself to Simon Peter’s boat, as their minds pondered the difficult day ahead of them, they must have heard just enough to convince them that Jesus had something to say that was worth listening to. And then he tells them to go back out into the deep water.
“Master,” Simon Peter says, “We have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” And he did. And you know the rest. Jesus promised that from then on, they would devote the rest of their lives to drawing people to Christ. And they did. They travelled throughout the Roman Empire and beyond, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ that has now spread throughout the whole world. In practically every nation on Earth there is a church called St. John’s, or St. James, or St. Peter’s that is catching people – not because of their great fishing skills, but a lasting testament to their willingness to say to Jesus, “If you say so, I will let down the nets,” even when it seemed futile.
I don’t think they ever imagined the places they would go just because of that one small, reluctant step of faith in Jesus’ authority. It’s an authority that extends even over the fish in the sea. Jesus’ authority extends over every area of our lives as well and includes whatever we do with our gifts for his glory. Following Jesus opens unanticipated possibilities for us. Like the first disciples, we all have gifts that God can use for His glory, and He empowers us to make the most of those gifts. We may not all be called to leave “everything” and follow; but each one of us, wherever we are in our own lives, is invited to a life of total devotion; to follow and see what limitless possibilities might unfold.
In faith, we know that God still empowers people to do Christ’s work. He has empowered Queen Elizabeth to carry out an unthinkable responsibility these last 70 years, but he doesn’t only work in the lives of Queens or Popes or great leaders or famous people. He works in the lives of fishermen and young peasant girls in Galilee; he works in the lives of doctors and nurses and police officers and farmers and truckers and baristas and Olympians and office workers and retail workers, and anyone else with the faith and courage to say, “If you say so, I will let down my nets.”
Imagine your own life in this moment – your family, your day-to-day activities – is there some area where things haven’t been going the way you had hoped? God may be inviting you to let down your nets. At the precise moment when things may look futile in your eyes, God may have something unexpected in store for you. Will you let down your nets in faith? Will you open your heart to the possibility that God may want to use your life for His glory?
When Jesus calls us, he certainly does demand everything, but only because he has already given everything himself, and has plans in store for us and for the world that we would never have dreamed of. Oh, the places we’ll go when we follow Jesus! Amen.