LUKE 5:1-11

14 July 2013


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           One event.  Two interpretations of success.  William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper mogul, takes credit for the success of Billy Graham's first evangelism crusade.  In 1949 Graham launched his first major crusade in Los Angeles, and Hearst owned both major newspapers there.  Hearst sent a brief message to his editors, saying, "Puff up Graham."   According to Hearst, it was the added publicity that successfully launched Billy Graham's crusade ministry.

            Billy Graham, however, has a different understanding of his launching.  In his autobiography, Just As I Am, he tells about a retreat he attended just a few months before that crusade.  One night he was restless, so he got up and took a walk.  The moon was out, and the shadows were long in the San Bernardino Mountains.  Dropping to his knees in the woods, he opened his bible at random on a tree stump.  That stump became a make-shift altar.  Graham prayed a prayer that went something like this: "O God, there are many things in this book I do not understand.  There are many seeming contradictions.  Some areas in it do not seem to correlate with modern science.   Nevertheless, Father, I am going to accept this book by faith!  I will believe and declare this to be your inspired Word."

            Graham writes, "When I got up from my knees that August night, my eyes stung with tears.  I sensed the presence and power of God. Not all my questions were answered, but a major bridge had been crossed.  In my heart and in my mind, I knew a spiritual battle had been fought and won." 

            There is, of course, another way to describe what happened that night.  We could describe that night as Billy Graham launching out into the deep with Jesus Christ.  He bet his life on the truth of the bible.  The rest is history.  Billy Graham eventually became one of the most admired men of his generation.

             Our scripture for today is about daring to launch out into the deep with Jesus Christ.  Let me set the scene for you.  It takes place early in Jesus' ministry on the Sea of Galilee, a fresh-water lake, 13 miles long and 8 miles wide.  Nowadays the area on the sea is sparsely populated, but in Jesus' day, there were nine towns clustered by the shore some reaching 15,000 in population.  It must have been near the town of Capernaum, Simon Peter's hometown, because Simon's boat was nearby, and Jesus got into that boat and asked Peter if he wouldn't mind putting casting out a bit so he, Jesus, could speak to the crowd.  

            Then, when Jesus finished teaching, he said to Simon, "Let's go fishing."  Simon Peter protested, however.  Here's what he probably wanted to say, but out of respect for a rabbi, did not say, "Master, if you were a professional fisherman, you would know that the chances of catching fish right now are about as good as me becoming Emperor.   During the night is the time to catch fish.  Goodness knows, we tried hard all last night without luck.  But here in the morning with the sun dazzling across the water, you can't catch fish.  The net will spook them. Besides that, we are dog-tired. No offense, but I caught myself nodding quite a bit while you were teaching this morning.  I need a nap something awful.  Master, with all due respect, you know a lot about God and scripture and sin and salvation, but you don't know dip about fishing.  I am a professional fisherman.  Who are you to tell me how to fish?"

            By the way, have we ever felt that way?  Have we ever felt like Jesus knows about spiritual matters but when it comes to practical affairs, like running a business or investing in the stock market or rearing teenagers, that's where we are the experts?  

            One of my mentors early in my ministry, a man named Bruce Larson, tells about  a man in his church, the chief engineer in a laboratory.  The engineer said, "We produced 200 amplifiers for a custom order, and when they came off our assembly line not a single one of them worked.  We checked all the blueprints and parts, and could find nothing wrong.  I went back to my office, closed the door, got on my knees and prayed, 'Lord, what's wrong with those amplifiers?'  Suddenly the idea came to me to cross two particular wires.  It made no sense to do it but I went back and tried it. It worked.  All those sets were delivered in perfect working order.  It suddenly occurred to me that Jesus knew more about electronics than I did."

            Back to the story.  It turns out that Jesus knew more about fishing than Peter did, and so many fish were caught that the other boat on shore, the boat Jesus did not step into, had to be brought out to help gather them.

            After this unexpected result, Simon Peter falls to his knees and addresses Jesus but this time in a different way.  In verse five Simon Peter addressed Jesus as "Master."  No longer.   Now he addresses Jesus as  "Lord."  This was the term used consistently in the first five books of the Bible as a reference to God, and sensing how great and capable Jesus was, Simon and his fishing partners, James and John, turn over their fishing business to friends and relatives, confident that Jesus will see that the business is viable enough to support their families, and head out to "catch people." 

            I find three life-lessons in this story.  The first is this: God calls us into deep water.   By deep water I mean areas outside our comfort zones, places where there is some risk, to activities that are not easy.  I still can't imagine I'm doing what I am doing.  I hated oral book reports in school.  I avoided taking any public speaking classes in college.  I dreaded preaching classes in seminary where I had to prepare a sermon and deliver it to seminary class mates.  So, what does God call me to do?  This.  I have been doing this for over thirty years now, and I still have difficulty sleeping on Saturday nights.  One day I might be good company on a Saturday night, but I doubt it.  Every Sunday morning for me is casting into deep waters.

            Deep waters.  I think of Christian Grey who works for an organization called "InCommon."  He's the one that got us started in Neighbors United preparing meals for the economically strapped in mid-town.  Christian Grey, moved with his wife and two young kids into mid-town, the economically challenged part of mid-town to live among the people he intended to serve.  Deep waters. 

            Bill Hybels, the senior minister of Willow Creek Church near Chicago, heard God's call when he was about twenty years old.  He was a college student on staff in a Christian summer camp.  His father was a prosperous owner of a grocery business that Bill could inherit.  But one day the camp director pulled Bill off to the side and asked a loaded question: "Bill, what are you doing with your life that will last forever?"  That's a question for all of us, "What are we doing with our life that will last forever?"  If we have the courage to answer that, it will take us into deep waters.

            Deep waters.  The quintessential jumper on planet earth is the Impala.  The impala is an African deer with a supercharged spring.  It has a vertical leap of over 10 feet and can broad jump over 30 feet.  You would think that the zoos of the world would find it impossible to keep such an animal enclosed.  Not so!  It's rather easy because an impala will not jump unless it can see where it is going to land.  Therefore, a solid wall even 6 feet tall is a sufficient enclosure.  Lots of us have the Impala problem.  We won't take a leap in faith, we won't wade out into the deep, unless we know exactly how it will turn out, how and where we will land.  God, however, desires followers who, even in the face of the unknown, will leap when the Spirit says leap, will fly when the Spirit says fly, will launch when the Spirit says launch. Why?  Why must we be willing to launch out into the deep with the Lord?  Because our Lord was willing to launch out into the deep for us.

            Here is the second life-lesson: Hand over the controller.  One of the first lessons Jesus taught his first disciples was the wisdom of handing over the controller to him.

            Simon Peter, James, and John, after all, had a plan.  They had a set schedule.  They fished at night.  They cleaned and repaired the nets in the morning.  They rested in the afternoon.  They spent evenings with their families.  They went back out to fish when night fell once again, and when Jesus arrived at the edge of the water, he messed up their plan.  When Jesus instructed them to head out into deep water and lower their nets, his advice went against all they knew as fishermen.  They were at a crossroads.  Would they hand over the controller to him?  They did, rather reluctantly, but they did and within minutes their nets were filled to the bursting point.   

            We are a lot like Simon Peter, James and John.  I venture to say most of us are "control junkies."   We like to call the shots.  We like to be the chiefs, not the Indians.  We like to choose the channel.  We would rather give orders than take orders.  Most of us have trouble handing over the controller in our living room let alone the controller of our lives.  Nevertheless, that's what Jesus continues to ask his followers to do. 

            Here is the third life-lesson: God doesn't call the qualified; he qualifies the called.  If God sends us somewhere, God will equip us.  God certainly did that with these blue-collar, simply educated fisherman.

            God did the same thing with Moses.  God sent Moses to demand freedom for the Hebrew people from an Egyptian Pharoah.  But Moses said, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent."  With remarkable patience the Lord replied, "Who gave man his mouth?  Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say." (Exodus 4:10-12)

            God calls some of the most unlikely characters.  Take Henry Clay Morrison.  As a rural teenager, Henry felt the call to preach in 1878.  His local Methodist church granted him a license to preach.  His older brother was against it.  He said, "Henry, you can't preach.  We don't need another one-horse Methodist preacher dragging a woman and children around the country at the point of starvation."     

            Henry replied, "But Tom, the Lord has called me to preach."  In disgust Tom replied, "Well, the Lord must be hard up for material."

            Henry Clay Morrison not only became a preacher, he also went on to become the founder of Asbury Theological Seminary.

            When God sends us orders, you can be sure that resources are on the way.

            In 1972, NASA launched the exploratory space probe "Pioneer 10."  Its main mission was to reach Jupiter and send back information about that planet.  It was a bold plan because at that time no satellite had gone beyond Mars.  Pioneer 10 accomplished its mission and so much more.  It swung past Jupiter in November 1973, then passed Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.  By 1997, Pioneer 10 was more than six billion miles from the sun.  Despite that immense distance, Pioneer 10 continued to beam back radio signals to earth.  The most remarkable thing was that those signals were powered by an 8-watt transmitter, which radiates about as much power as a bedroom night light. Not even the most optimistic scientist could have ever imagined what that little 8-watt transmitter could do.

            So it is when you and I offer ourselves to God in faithful obedience.  It's just incredible what God can do through little 8-watt transmitters like me and you, when we're turned on for him.