Monday, February 11, 2013

A call that cannot be ignored . . .

Shall we try this again?  This year’s annual meeting and our weather just don’t seem to be willing to work together.  A bunch of people lamented that we did not get to hold the meeting a couple weeks ago during the ice storm because the readings were perfect for an Annual Meeting.  But, truth be told, there are no “bad readings” from Scripture.  We may not like some; we may have a hard time focusing the readings on what we want to talk about; but Scripture is always good for shaping and forming us.  Today is no exception, and it applies both individually and corporately.

Luke records that Jesus’ fame has grown to the point that He is followed as He goes about the lake teaching, preaching, and healing the crowds that follow Him.  As Jesus nears the water, He decides to slip out a bit into the lake.  The fishing boats will provide Him with space and distance enough to be able talk to the crowd, and the water will serve like a moat around His boat stage.  And while some of us here might want to know what Jesus was saying and teaching, Luke was more focused on the response of the fishermen, and Peter in particular.  As is often the case, Peter represents what will become known as the Twelve, the inner circle of His disciples whom we refer to as Apostles.  So let us turn our focus to the response of those whom Jesus calls.

Can you imagine yourself in Peter position?  You have just finished a hard shift at work.  The boss has been on your back all day.  Every piece of equipment you have touched has seemed to have been infected by Gremlins.  You have really accomplished nothing.  Now it’s time for the commute, but right before you turn off the lights, He walks in.  And there is no mistaking Him.  His fame has spread too far and too wide for you to feign ignorance.  And so He uses you as a secretary of sorts.  Then, after He has finished, He tells you to try your job again.  How would you respond?  Would you stay and do as asked?  Or would you beg off claiming it was just too hard a day?  Come back another day--a day when I feel better or a day when I got more done.  Not a day when I worked the graveyard shift and have nothing accomplished.

But that is precisely where Jesus meets Peter.  Peter and his partners have had a tough night.  They have fished all night and have absolutely nothing to show for their labor except maybe some sweat and tired backs.  And yet, look at Peter’s attitude.  He does not grumble.  He does not complain--and let’s be honest, the Gospel writers are not ones to cover up Peter’s behavior.  He simply rows out a bit into the lake and let’s the Teacher speak to the crowds.  In this simple response, we learn a great deal about Peter’s recognition of Jesus.  We know that Peter will not come to know that Jesus is the Christ until later in their relationship, but in the beginning it is clear that Peter recognizes that Jesus is an authoritative teacher of God.  The miracles and the crowds testify to that truth.  Does He recognize Jesus true identity?  No.  At this point, Peter is simply willing to follow Jesus wherever He leads.  We know this by the extra work of rowing Him a bit out from shore, and we see it better in just a moment.

When Jesus finishes this teaching, He instructs Peter to cast out his nets.  Think how absurd this must have sounded in Peter’s ears.  Peter is the professional fisherman.  Jesus is the carpenter turned rabbi.  Who, between the two, should know more about fishing.  Yet Jesus instructs, and Peter obeys.  Peter had every reason to ignore Jesus.  He had been up all night and caught nothing.  The fish will see and avoid the net in the light of day.  His back probably ached.  He probably wanted something to eat.  But he cast the net as he was instructed . . . 

Sitting on this side of the empty tomb, you and I probably are not too surprised by the outcome.  But look at what happens to Peter and his partners.  All night long they worked and had nothing for their labors.  Now, Peter has enough fish to sink two boats.  Jackpot!  We are eating steak tonight!  The catch, though, confirms in Peter’s mind that Jesus is a prophet of God.  The works of power attributed to Him must be true.  How else can one explain the full net in broad daylight?  And Peter falls to his knees and asks Jesus to depart.  To those of us here, this might seem a bit extreme.  But Peter has been taught all of his life that God works only through those holy men at the Temple and at the synagogues.  Only those “set apart” are worthy of God’s intervention.  Peter recognizes he is a sinner.  He recognizes that He is anything but holy.  And he confesses such to Jesus and asks Him to depart so as not to contaminate Him.

Jesus, of course, knows Peter.  Now He knows that Peter is truly ready for His work.  He has demonstrated a willingness to follow Him, and he has displayed true humility before Him.  Now Jesus let’s Peter know it is time to get to work.  No longer will Peter fish for food, an action which will bring about the death of those being caught!  Instead, Peter will fish for men!  And for those whom he catches for God’s glory, there will be eternal life.  Can you imagine a more radical transformation of one’s occupation?

Is the offer real?  Peter certainly understands it to be real.  He has seen with His own eyes and heard with his own ears this Teacher, this Prophet.  Professionally, he should never have been able to catch a fish in broad daylight with a noisy crowd close to shore; yet at the command of this man Peter experiences the greatest haul of fish he has ever seen!  He knows that such works of power can only be commanded by those anointed by God.  Make no mistake, Peter’s understanding of Jesus will take time to reach its fullest understanding, but our Lord does not require complete understanding before He begins to use us in His service.  In fact, this side of the crave, even at our very best, we only know Him dimly.  Peter parks his boat, as do James and John the sons of Zebedee, and the leave the old life behind to follow Jesus.

The call of Peter is a great reminder of our Lord’s call on each of us.  True, not everyone is called to be “set apart” as were the Twelve or maybe those of us in ordained ministry, but each of us has an important role to play in salvation history.  You and I, by virtue of our faith, are called as ambassadors of God, charged with the responsibility of teaching those in our life about the Gospel of Christ.  Our background does not really matter.  Who here, if you were creating the Church, would select three fishermen to be part of your start up group?  Who here, if you were in charge of the Church today, would choose men or women like yourself to carry His message of eternal life and hope into our community?  Our Lord, however, worries less about our backgrounds and far more about our responses to His call.  Peter is the perfect example of both what our response should be and how our Lord can work through one who responds appropriately.  Jesus is willing to work with Peter because he is willing to follow Him, be humble before Him, and willing to give up everything for his Lord.  And, though Peter will still have some terrible moments in the months and years ahead, look at what Christ is able to accomplish through Peter!

Brothers and sisters, that same offer that was made to Peter on the shore of that lake some 2000 years ago is made to you today.  If, while sitting here listening to this story and me speak about it for a few moments, the words “I could never” have entered your mind, ask yourself the question “why?”  What is it that prevents you from saying yes to Christ?  Fear?  Don’t want to look stupid to your family or friends?  Don’t want to give up the life you have because you mistakenly believe it is a good life?  Think yourself too low to ever be of any use to the Lord who created you in His image?

Too many of us respond intellectually to our Lord’s offer.  Yeah, I believe, but I can’t let it interfere with real life.  We place all sorts of obstacles to faith in our way.  Soccer matches for the kids; work is really demanding; our health is not the best; fatigue; the list can go on and on.  The call of Peter is told to remind us of what He desires in our response.  All He asks of us is that we follow Him, that we recognize our need for Him, and that we do whatever He asks of us.  The rest of the kingdom building is up to Him.  It is His gift of the Spirit working in us that causes us to be effective witnesses of His Gospel.  Anything less and we are like those who fall away, like those who represent the rocky soil, or like those who say simply, “no thanks.  I’ll remain in charge of my life.”  And we wonder why He seems still to be a distant or why we are unable to draw those whom we love, and whom we know He loves, into the arms of His embrace. 

At a time like an annual meeting, when we as a corporate body are taking stock of where we have been, where we are, and trying to discern where He is leading us, it is only natural that we apply the lesson of Peter to our individual lives.  What makes the timing even more perfect from my perspective, is that Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent.  You and I are called to a period of self-examination.  Where better to begin than by considering our response to His call on our lives?  Do I follow Him?  Or do I follow other things which lead me away from Him and His purpose?  Do I know, absolutely know with all my heart, soul, and mind that I need Him?  Or do I think of Him more as a ”break glass in times of emergency” kind of guy?  Will I go and do wherever and whatever He asks?  Or will I go when it suits me and do what I want to do?  Do I thank and praise HIm as often as I ask Him for help?  The answers to these questions, brothers and sisters, teach us a lot about our relationship to God in Christ, so long as we are honest with ourselves and Him.

If as you are sitting here reflecting, or if you find yourself reflecting Wednesday or during Lent, that your relationship with Him is not what He wants, there is great news.  No matter how long you have kept Him at arms length, He is still reaching our those arms of loving embrace to you.  All He requires is that you repent and commit yourself to Him.  Ask Him to give you a heart that wants to follow Him.  Ask Him to remind you daily of your need for Him.  Ask Him to give you the courage to go where He leads, to do what He has given you to do.  I promise you, and better still He promises you, He will never abandon you.  Abiding in Him, you will fulfill His purposes.  With Him leading you, you cannot be lost.  With Him supporting you, you cannot fail.

And though those thoughts are very comforting, still there is more!  Think back on our Lord’s gift to Peter.  When Peter had every reason to ignore the carpenter and choose the wiser course, what happened?  He was blessed in unimaginable ways!  First, it was by a haul of fish that would have met all kinds of material needs.  Later, Peter learns that he has been restored to God, he has been made holy, through the work of that anointed one who preach from his boat, fit for the work of the kingdom of God.  Still later, the humble fisherman becomes one of the leaders in the early Church and is recognized as a “first among equals” by his fellow laborers.  And even today, though his time on earth has passed long ago, our fellow laborer, Peter the fisherman, later of the Twelve, abides with all the saints in God’s glory, waiting patiently to welcome you, his brothers and sisters, into the kingdom prepared by the Lord he followed.  So, do you accept his Lord’s offer?


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