(watch here: 01-24-21 sermon note)
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 to 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!’ 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 were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a king who held a contest for all the men in the kingdom and the winner would get his beautiful daughter as his bride. However, he didn’t say what type of contest it was but his daughter’s beauty drew many brave contestants. Once they were gathered in his castle, he revealed a large moat filled with an assortment of beasts. “The first man to cross the moat will inherit all my riches as well as my daughter. Who among you has the courage to claim your prize?” he announced. The men all took one look at the terrifying creatures and backed away. No one wanted to lose their life. Losing all hope, the king hung his head but that was when they all heard a big splash. And there, a man was swimming with all his might as he fended off the snapping jaws of deadly beasts. And miracle of miracles he made it to the other side with only a few scratches. “Congratulations stranger!” The king said. “Step up and claim your reward!” His beautiful daughter flashed him a smile but to everyone’s shock the man merely shook his head. “If it’s not my daughter then surely you must want my riches?” Another head shake. “Tell me your prize and if it is in my power, I shall give it to you.” “I only want to know one thing,” the man said as he panted heavily. “Who the hell pushed me?!”
Isn’t that how it always is when it comes to having courage? You don’t know you have it until you actually need it. No man in that kingdom thought they had it, let alone enough of it, to cross that dangerous moat. Even the man who did manage to make it across somewhat unscathed didn’t think he had it either. Yet when his situation forced him to tap into his unknown reserves of courage, he found he had more of it than he thought. Sure, maybe a lot of it was fueled by nothing but pure adrenaline and a basic sense of survival but still, it took some degree of courage to swim through those waters instead of simply resigning himself to his dire situation. He could have been completely overwhelmed by his situation and just allowed himself to become a tasty morsel for all those beasts. But his courage along with a healthy dose of adrenaline enabled him to do what he had to do.
Through no fault of our own, we can all find ourselves in dire situations that demand great deal of courage to get ourselves out of. And most of the situations slowly creep up on us so we can’t rely on the sudden bursts of adrenaline to help get us out of them. At least that poor man who was pushed in that dangerous waters had the added boost of adrenaline. Most dire situations of despair and hopelessness develop over time so one must rely heavily on courage to overcome them. Simon Peter and his fellow fishermen had fished all night long only to come up with nothing but empty nets. And they were professional fishermen! They knew how to catch fish or at least were supposed to know how to catch fish! Their very livelihoods and the livelihoods of their families demanded they know how to catch fish! And yet, for whatever reason, the nets were only coming up empty. No amount of adrenaline could have helped them in their situation. No, they needed extraordinary help to get them free. Along came Jesus, the extraordinary help they needed. “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” It was extraordinary help because it defied all reason. “But Jesus, we’ve already tried the deep water! Don’t you think we know how to fish these waters?!” Well, Jesus provides extraordinary help, help that can’t be gotten from anywhere else. Of course, Simon Peter and his fellow fishermen didn’t know this. And how could they have?! Jesus had yet to reveal just how extraordinary of a person he was which makes Simon Peter’s obedience to him all the more courageous. It took courage to obey Jesus and go against all reasoning and doubt. It took courage to keep fishing when the waters had clearly proven to be empty. It took courage to resist the urge to simply call Jesus a fool for suggesting such a thing.
Dire situations require great courage. Lucky for us, we know a great source of great courage, Jesus himself. Now I know I’m a little biased but I like how Jesus provides the courage we need to overcome dire situations. Like the situations themselves, Jesus’ courage slowly seeps into our lives over time. Oftentimes we don’t even know it’s there. Remember, Jesus is the great shepherd of our lives. That means he’s usually standing off to the side, always keeping an eye on us and gently guiding us where we need to go. He’s protecting us and nourishing us, slowly instilling courage within us for when those dire situations arise. He enables us to endure through situations of great suffering and agony. He keeps us from sinking into absolute despair, always eager to ignite sparks of hope when no hope can be found. This is the Lord we serve, the master of our lives.
We can and must place our trust in him and him alone. Even if we don’t find ourselves in dire situations, we all are finding our ways through the great unknown of life. None of us know what tomorrow brings…or the next day…or the day after that. We all walk uncertainly into the great, wide future and each of us needs great courage to do so. We had a change of leadership in our country this past week, a change that many people hadn’t foreseen. It reminds us just how transient and unknown the future really is. Who knows what this new leadership will bring and how our lives will be transformed by it. We ought to take comfort in knowing that our one, true leader, Jesus Christ, was and is still leading us in this time of transition. We find our courage to go into the unknown future with new earthly leadership from our great shepherd, Jesus Christ.
Whether it’s wading through dire situations or simply forging ahead into the unknown future, we are encouraged by God and scripture. Paul writes in his second letter to Timothy, “for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (1:7) Friends, we have a spirit within us, the same Spirit that came upon our Lord through baptism. It is a spirit of courage, of power, of love, and of self-discipline. We can boldly and fearlessly go into the dire and uncertain times of our lives because of that spirit within us. Yes, there will be times when we might not feel the strength and presence of the spirit within us. It is in these times that we are to simply listen deeper. Psalm 27 says, “wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (vs. 14) Listen for the Lord, wait for the Lord, be strengthened and encouraged in that time of waiting! The Spirit is and will always be within us!
Simon Peter and his fellow fishermen, as well as that poor man swimming through the moat, needed courage to overcome their situations. They, like us, received their courage from the extraordinary help of our Lord. Let us never forget that courage within us. Proverbs says, “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (3:5-6) Trust in that courage within you. Perhaps more importantly, give thanks for that courage within you. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.