Enfolded in God’s Net of Love – February 6

A sermon based on Luke 5:1-11

given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on February 6, 2022

by Rev. Scott Elliott

As we heard our Bible lesson takes place at Lake Gennesaret.  Lake Gennesaret has a number of names, most of us probably know it as the Sea of Galilee, but Luke chose to use Lake Gennesaret.  By whatever name, a lot of Jesus’ ministry and miracles and stories in the gospels take place on or near that body of water.  Its shoreline is about thirty miles from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. And it’s a nice sized lake too, about 13 miles long and 8 miles wide and it’s full of fish,  a primary source of food in First Century Palestine.

Net fishing from a boat was how Peter, James, and John made a living gathering that food source on the Sea of Galilee, Lake Gennesaret.  Our reading indicates those fishermen moored their two boats near the shore and were washing nets after a long night of unsuccessful fishing. As the fishermen cleaned up, Jesus was on shore nearby preaching the word of God to a crowd. Up to this point in Luke Jesus had been working alone and as the crowd pressed in to get closer to Jesus he climbed in Peter’s boat and asked Peter for some help. Peter obliged positioning the boat so Jesus could sit and teach the crowd, and the crowd could see and hear Jesus without anyone getting trampled.

When Jesus finished speaking to the crowd he told Peter to take the boat back out and hunt for fish in the deep waters of the lake. After expressing doubts, having just come in from a long unsuccessful night of fishing,  Peter obliged Jesus again. Peter’s trust in Jesus resulted in an awe-inspiring catch of fish. Indeed, so many were caught that Peter had to call James and John over to help with their boat, and even then the weight of the catch threatened to sink both boats. It was such an extraordinary catch that Peter understandably felt it was the supernatural work of God through the holiness of Jesus.   Feeling unworthy of being in the presence of such holiness, Peter told Jesus “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  Instead of obliging Peter and going away Jesus calmed Peter’s fear of unworthiness and invited him to a very different sort of catch.  He said, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

Jesus’ words had quite an impact. When they brought the boats in and got ashore Peter, James and John left everything behind and followed Jesus. Those fishermen’s encounter with Jesus was so profound that he both fulfilled their past goal and gave them a new goal. They got the fishermen’s all-time dream catch (after a night of not catching anything!). But they were so in awe and wonder of the holy man who brought it about that they literally left the dream catch behind along with their boats and nets and livelihood to follow Jesus to  catch people.  It is remarkable that they didn’t even know what catching people meant, yet still gave everything up to follow Jesus.

Just as remarkable is that those three men did not do anything special to merit the miracle catch or to be asked to be on the Way with Jesus.  They were ordinary people. All they’d done was trust Jesus and let Jesus in,  and then followed Jesus’ instructions in the face of doubts.  They saw Jesus was extraordinary and then did an extraordinary thing, they choose to transform their lives by following Jesus on his Way.

The miracle of the great fish catch and the play on images that fishermen are called to be fishers of men often draw our focus in this story– which is understandable,  but ought not to be all we take away.  Two other things that I alluded to a moment ago are much more important.  The first thing is that encounters with Jesus transforms dreams and lives with experiences of awe and wonder that make the ordinary extraordinary. The second thing is that worthiness for such encounters and transformations and extraordinary experiences is not an issue.  Our worthiness is not an issue. When we trust Jesus and let Jesus into our lives, and follow Jesus’ instructions, even in face of doubts, and go His Way we can experience awe and wonder and … AND transformation and the extraordinary.   That transformation is not necessarily occupational,  like quitting your  job as a fisherman or lawyer or some other occupation. It’s first and foremost being transformed from feeling like you have to say to the holy “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful [person]” to knowing that just the way you are you are worthy.

See the truth is just the way we are, we are all worthy of following Jesus. That’s why Jesus told Peter “Do not be afraid . . .”  And then Jesus followed up with that curious phrase to Peter “from now on you will be catching people.” It’s a phrase that we have fun with and it was meant to be fun, an implied pun of fishermen fishing for men, but the English translation misses a subtle difference between the meaning of catching fish in the first part of the story, which is, as we might imagine, to hunt and ensnare prey for eating, and the meaning of catching people which is “zogreo,” people. Zogreo is Greek for take alive.  We likely all had live captures in mind, but it is actually stated by Jesus in the original Greek text.

Mixing that in with the fishing and the nets and the fishermen being invited to help, it’s not a stretch to derive from the story fishing metaphors for Jesus ‘s Way.  It’s a Way of catching and enfolding the living in God’s net of love just as they are found in the sea of life, out there in the scary deep where most of us find ourselves at one time or another.  And just as we are found in the sea of life we are all worthy of being in the presence of the holy and getting enfolded, caught up, in God’s net of love no matter what deep water we’ve been in or get in.

And even more to the point of the story, just the way we are, we are all worthy of helping others get enfolded in that net of love too no matter how deep the water they’re in. And the net, of course,  does not ensnare us for death, like caught fish, but pulls us out and rescues us.  We get caught up in God’s love and are saved.  And it is NOT salvation from afterlife damnation and hell, but salvation from less desirable ways of existing here and now. That includes feelings that we are sinful and have no business being in the presence of the holy, the presence of the Lord. Because we are all of us worthy of the love of God, who already loves us and always has. And in whose presence – as Paul pointed out – we live and move and have our being.

Following Jesus is a Way to understand, to appreciate,  that we are worthy and we do matter much to God. We. Matter. To. God. Once we appreciate that, we can then sense the reality of what has always been, that we are enfolded in God’s net of love. That’s what Jesus wants us to get caught up in and get others caught up in.  We are called to let others know that they matter through our words and our deeds. We are called to help them discover they too are enfolded in God’s net of love and for them to get caught up in it too. So, this morning, I am going to say this twice, once now and once as we go,  please go in peace knowing that you are loved and that you matter much!  AMEN