Getting Personal


Ruth Szucs


Luke 5:1-11


Sermon Transcript



Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

I am honored and humbled to stand here before you today in this pulpit where so many great preachers have stood. Although I have stood here many times, this is a different experience and it may be the craziest thing Jim Somerville has ever asked me to do.  When he asked me about a year ago to preach during the Martha Stearns Marshall woman’s month of preaching, I said to him, or at least I thought I did, “are you crazy? I’m not a preacher.

Maybe I should have said no. Many of you have given me the lecture on saying no. “It is a short word.” “Stick to your no.”  “Don’t let them overuse you.”  “Be careful, not saying no – will lead to exhaustion.”

Do you want to know why I have a hard time saying no? I love just about everything in this church. I have had the wonderful opportunity to work in all areas, with all ages, from newborns to the most wise-aged. This place holds a loving church family full of compassion and hope.

During my first trip to the Holy Land, I was challenged to look at love in a whole new way. Preparing for baptism, Lynn asked us to come up with a scripture to be read. The verse that came into my head for no apparent reason was  1 Peter 4: 7-8.  It says,

The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.  Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. 

Jesus preached love, Peter preached love and when we maintain constant love for each other we preach love. Ever since reading these verses, I have been drawn to Peter, what others say about Peter, and what Peter had to say.

Peter was a fisherman like his father and his father’s father. Fishermen were often illiterate and perceived as lower class. Peter had rough, calloused hands, strong and sure. He was quick to say what he thought and, He was one of those people that got the job done. In John’s Gospel chapter 1 verse 42.  Simon is first introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew. Jesus tells Simon that from then on, he will be called Cephas, translated to Peter meaning a rock.

Peter did some great things in his life. He is usually listed first when referring to the disciples. He is mentioned 109 times in the gospels and 156 times in the New Testament. Peter is the one who preaches the first sermon at Pentecost. He is the one who is known for sharing the good news with the gentiles. He is the one to whom Jesus says, “upon this rock, I will build my church.”

But Peter is not perfect. He makes a lot of mistakes along his journey as a disciple of Jesus.  Among other things,

he said no when Jesus wanted to wash his feet,

he cut off the ear of a soldier,

and he denied Christ 3 times before the cock crowed.

Peter’s mistakes make him relatable. His mistakes are why I love Peter and am drawn to him. Maybe his mistakes draw you to him too.  Through all his blunders, Peter never stops loving Christ, and Christ never stops loving Peter.

Foil is a literary term that highlights the features of the main character in a story also known as the protagonist.

Think of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy … hero  – villain

Or Batman and Robin…. Strong  –  silly

or Sherlock Holmes and Watson –  Highly perceptive and literal

These literary relationships do not have to be good against evil, but the foil allows the protagonist to shine out in all cases.

Historically, the literary term of foil comes from backing a gemstone with thin metallic foil so that the gemstone shines more brightly. As Adam Hamilton puts it in his book, Simon Peter, “Often it is the foil’s shortcomings and missteps that magnify the protagonist’s virtues. The Gospel writers portray Peter bumbling, fumbling, and stumbling again and again. Each time, Peter’s blunder serves to reveal some dimension of Jesus’ character or to make clear some aspect of Christ’s message.”  In the New Testament, Jesus, the protagonist, shines all the brighter because of Peter.

Can you relate to Peter? Sometimes we do our best only to realize we have missed the mark yet again. I know I often miss the mark.

I became a Christian when I was 8 or 9. After my baptism, my parents took me out to High’s Ice Cream Parlor to celebrate. High’s Ice Cream Parlor had the best milkshakes, thick and rich in flavor. And you got to swivel on the stools at the counter. In my family, High’s was the celebration place. This celebration meant baptism was special. As I moved through high school, I realized that I wasn’t fully living my life for Jesus. I decided to rededicate my life to Christ. I knew I didn’t need to be baptized again, but I needed to acknowledge my sin publicly and start over. I have had many rededications in my life. Some people may call them revelations of the divine. Looking back, I think each time, it was about acknowledging my sin and humanness and allowing Jesus to get more personal with me. Remember when I said God gave me the verse from 1 Peter? I believe that was also a time of rededication.

Pretty clear words…

the end is near,

get serious and disciplined, pray

and cover it all with love.

I wish I could say that all has been good ever since. But you and I both know that would not be true. As many times as Peter failed, I have failed tenfold. I want to think I have been repentant and, like Peter, been forgiven each time. These urges to rededicate were tugs from the Holy Spirit to repent, transform, and follow in ordered steps.

So what happens in this story of the fishing experience as told by Luke? Earlier in his gospel, Luke shares that Jesus has been in Capernaum near the Lake of Genneserat, also known as the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus has been teaching, preaching and healing. Scholars believe Jesus stayed at Peter’s house. Peter had the opportunity to hear what Jesus was saying again and again. Many bibles title this section “Call of the Disciples.” I have another name for it… “Getting Personal.”

In our Gospel Lesson today Luke writes,

“Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He 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. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’  Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’”.

Going back to the beginning of our scripture reading, Peter, Andrew, James, and John were out fishing and came back with empty boats. They were overwhelmed with frustration, disappointment, anger, and exhaustion. Even though the nets had been empty they were cleaning their nets. Jesus came to the shore, which means the crowds came too. Things are noisy and hectic and then, Jesus gets into Peter’s boat.

Jesus may have thought at this moment, “A chance to get Peter alone.”

Peter probably thought, “are you kidding me?”

Jesus asks Peter to stop what he is doing and take him out a little from the shore. Peter, becoming more frustrated, tired, and hungry, takes Jesus out into the lake.

We don’t know what Jesus says that day to the crowds, but he teaches them and the people listen. I think hearing Jesus that day in Peter’s boat opened Peter’s heart to hear Jesus in a new way. After he finishes teaching, Jesus tells Peter to put the boat out farther and to lower the nets.

What in the world?! Right in the middle of an exhausting and overwhelming day, Jesus is asking Peter to go out again to fish. This request is not convenient and probably not polite and most likely Peter thought Jesus was crazy.  There is no hope of a miraculous catch of fish. But Jesus gets in the middle of Peter’s world, in the actual context of his life. Now Peter can’t resist the intrusion.

From the commentary, Feasting on the Word, David Ostendorf says of Jesus,

“The word has come to dwell in the midst of everyday lives and everyday fishermen.”  “God’s living word cuts through the din of pressing crowds and the lives and labors of common people.”

Jesus has gotten into the thick and the thin, the very fabric of Peter’s life, his boat.

The boat is Peter’s world. He is a fisherman, a descendent of fishermen. Now that Jesus is in his boat, Peter listens to Jesus’ teaching without distractions. Although Peter could have said no, his response to Jesus is, YES,

“if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

Doing this is very risky for Peter. Everyone knew his boat had come back empty. But, they are watching Jesus, and since Jesus is in Peter’s boat, they are watching Peter. Also from Feasting on the Word, Howard Gregory suggests that Jesus’ invitation to put out into the deep is a call to approach new and unfamiliar ground. Peter has every right to be hesitant. Yet, what Jesus taught that day to the crowds standing on the shore touched Peter’s heart in a new and more profound way.

I think Peter was now starting to understand who Jesus was. Jesus had taken Peter out to the quiet, away from the world, away from distractions.   And at the moment the fish start breaking the nets, a transformation takes place within Peter. A new and profound relationship is forged, a personal relationship with Jesus. Peter names himself a sinful man, repents, and his immediate response is to fall to his knees. Peter, first overwhelmed with fatigue, then overwhelmed with fish, is now overwhelmed with Divine Love.

Let’s stop right there.

Think back to when you realized who Jesus was. Did you fall to your knees as Peter did? Did you stand in praise? Did you cry? Did you get overwhelmed with such emotion that you froze? A personal encounter with Jesus can do any of these things and the encounter is transforming. And like Peter, until you let Jesus get in the boat and get personal, you won’t be transformed.

Jesus came into the heart of that community in Capernaum. He came to Peter at one of the worst times, after a failed fishing trip. He did not want to get back to work. He was filled with disappointment and exhaustion. Jesus doesn’t necessarily come to us when it is convenient. He doesn’t necessarily ask us to do something when everything lines up neatly. Jesus calls us when there is work to be done. He calls us personally to do His work, and his timing can be unpredictable.   How do I know?

Since coming to First Baptist Church in 1986, there have been two different times when Jesus took me by surprise. One of them was meeting my husband, who I love dearly.  But Richard was not who I thought would be my life partner. The second surprise was joining the church staff. Music was my hobby, not my job. And yet, Jesus brought me to this church and changed the direction of my life. Both experiences have prepared me for the work Jesus calls me to do.

These 2 events were very personal callings and yes they have been overwhelming but also transforming.

Jesus wants a personal relationship with us. Peter had many chances to see Jesus for who he was. Jesus came to Capernaum. He preached in the Synagogue and taught in the town square. He ate with Peter and had healed Peter’s wife’s mother. Jesus had given Peter a new name.

It took a personal encounter with Jesus moving into the middle of Peter’s life for Peter to realize who Jesus was. Then, having recognized the Holy, Peter realized who he was, a sinful man. And I love that Peter’s reaction was to repent and worship – quick, not showy or fancy. Right there in the middle of everything Peter worshipped.

Jesus called the most sidelined and lowly, a fisherman named Peter, on whom he would build his church. This relationship gets personal and at the moment of the catch, Peter sees the Holy. Peter is caught too and enters a personal relationship with Jesus.

Two more vocabulary words for today. Theophany, a revelation of the presence of the divine. Epiphany, a sudden revelation. I think Peter had an “Epiphanic Theophany.” This may not really be an official term, but it defines this moment for me. Even though Peter had many opportunities to figure out Jesus it was a sudden revelation of Jesus and that Jesus was indeed Holy. This realization happened when Jesus stepped into Peter’s boat, his life.

Let’s finish out the scripture reading for today.

 “For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who are partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

Jesus called Peter into action. Do not be afraid. From now on, you will be catching people not fish. We can all think of times when God says do not be afraid. In the Old Testament, God says through Joshua to the Israelites before crossing into the promised land, “Be not afraid, be strong and courageous.” The most familiar may be the angel Gabriel telling Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, “Do not be afraid.”

When we hear or read “Do not be afraid,” we can be sure something big is about to happen. Peter had no idea what it meant to be a fisher of people, but he heard those words, and he followed.   And so, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry took hold and began to spread.

What or who is in your boat? Are you watching from the sides like Peter? Are you living your story, the one Jesus has called you to live? Sometimes we are content with letting Jesus dabble in and around our boat, or our lives. Sometimes, when we feel called to do something and we may think to ourselves, say no, think again. Maybe, you haven’t allowed Jesus into the very crazy and messy middle of your life. You may be fearful of what Jesus will bring into your boat. When you understand what Jesus has in store for you, your boat will be overflowing with blessings.

If you have never met Jesus, maybe you hear a voice saying, “put out farther and let down your nets.”  Move out into the quiet, the deep, and listen. If you do, like Peter, there may be so many fish in your boat that it gets overwhelming. But Jesus said, “Be not afraid.”   A new adventure is about to begin.

I am often surprised how Jesus uses me. He puts me with different people and in different situations that often don’t make sense. I am learning to trust the call and say yes, even if it seems crazy. Listening for God’s call through Jesus has filled my boat with overwhelming surprises and love. They have transformed me from the inside out. Jesus doesn’t necessarily call us to do just one job in the kingdom but to do whatever we can to bring Heaven to earth.

Because Jesus personally connects with us, he knows what is right for us. When we listen and follow, we are transformed, and when we are transformed, we can join the adventure of living and working in the kingdom of God.

Jim’s sermon series has been called the Truth About God. The truth I would like you to walk away with today is that God wants to get personal with each of us. When we embrace that personal relationship, we are filled with love.   And yes, the relationship can feel overwhelming but, it is truly transforming.

Jesus gave it all so that we could have life. He got into the messy middle of life and took it upon himself to love us unto death.

Reflect upon your life.           Is Jesus on the shore?

Is he near your boat?               Or is Jesus deep in the center of your life?