Old Testament: Isaiah (6:1-8)
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
The Response: Psalm 138
1 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; *
before the gods I will sing your praise.
2 I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name, *
because of your love and faithfulness;
3 For you have glorified your Name *
and your word above all things.
4 When I called, you answered me; *
you increased my strength within me.
5 All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, *
when they have heard the words of your mouth.
6 They will sing of the ways of the Lord, *
that great is the glory of the Lord.
7 Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.
8 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.
9 The Lord will make good his purpose for me; *
O Lord, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.
The Epistle: Corinthians (15:1-11)
I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
The Gospel: Luke (5:1-11)
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!” 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.
by the Rev. Mike Kreutzer
To me, Luke’s version of the call of Jesus’ first disciples makes a lot more sense than the accounts found in Mark and Matthew. In those two versions of the gospel, Jesus is walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, when he comes across fishermen who apparently have never met him, seen him, or heard anything about him before. He calls them to abandon everything and follow him, and they immediately comply.
In Luke’s account, which we just heard, Simon Peter has at least some motivation for becoming Jesus’ first named follower. In the previous chapter, Luke has mentioned that a report about Jesus had already “spread through all the surrounding country”; Simon likely had heard the stories. Then the evangelist describes Jesus entering Simon’s house in Capernaum to eat with Simon and his family after a synagogue service; while Jesus is there, he heals Simon‘s mother-in-law who had been suffering from a fever. And now there was this miraculous catch of fish in today’s gospel story. Clearly, this new teacher from Nazareth is no ordinary man.
Still, what Luke tells us that Simon and James and John did – leaving everything and following Jesus – was obviously a radical thing to do. And it showed that they, at least in an initial way, understood what accepting and embracing his teaching was all about. In that respect, they were already far ahead of many today who consider themselves to be disciples of Jesus. These three were willing to make at least a preliminary commitment to do what was necessary to come to know him and to live in and with him.
There were two key steps implied in Jesus’ call to those Galilean fishermen. They are the same two key steps that are implied in Jesus’ call to us today.
The first is the call to leave what is familiar and comfortable behind and to follow Jesus: to do what Jesus did, over and over again. Churches, and members of churches, all too often delude themselves into thinking that they need to begin with an intellectual exercise, with making a theoretical affirmation of what they believe (or of what they want to believe that they believe), with talking about being followers of Jesus. But that was never Jesus’ method of forming disciples. Jesus’ method was based on the realization that we learn best by doing. “Come, follow me,” he says. “Come, do what I do; for it is in doing what a disciple does that you will understand what a disciple is and that you will truly become a disciple yourself.”
But that doing, that coming to understand, that being, is not for our sakes alone. Jesus was always a man for others. And Jesus calls us to be people for others. That is the necessary second step in Jesus’ call to us today. It is a call — to cite the translation used in today’s gospel reading – to go out and “catch people.” That expression can easily be misunderstood. It can imply, as the stern and forbidding message of some churches implies, that we are sent to confine others in a narrow notion of who God is and in a rigid set of laws that dominate and constrain people’s lives.
But that is not the meaning of the term that Luke uses in the promise that Jesus makes to Simon. The word that appears here is “zōgrōn.” It is a verb that comes from the Greek word “zōē,” which means “life.” It is the word from which we get the English word “zoology”: a term that means “the study of life.” And “zōgrōn” means “to capture alive” or, maybe better, “to give life” or “to restore life.” What Simon is sent to do, what we are sent to do, is to go out in God’s name and to give or restore life to others.
That sounds daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t necessarily mean a literal saving of someone’s life or a restoring of someone’s life. Life is much more than simply having a beating heart and breathing lungs. Life includes having those things that we sometimes refer to as “the necessities”: sufficient food, a decent place to live, the health care that we need. It’s there that we can focus our life-giving efforts, working to ensure that all people have those things that most of us tend to take for granted.
But life, in its fuller sense, includes much more. Life also includes having a sense of self-worth, a sense of purpose, a sense that others care about us. And those are gifts that we all can help to give, as people who have been sent out, like Simon Peter, to catch people, to give life to people.
Our older son, Matt, is a paramedic and firefighter. He loves to talk with people wherever he goes and tries to notice those who are often ignored. Recently, he mentioned an ambulance run that he had made, taking a patient to a hospital. When they finished in the emergency room, he noticed that one of the housekeepers was off to the side, cleaning up a mess from a previous patient in one of the adjacent rooms. He stopped to thank her for what she was doing, telling her: “What you’re doing is really important. Thanks to you, no patient is going to slip and fall on whatever was on that floor and maybe get seriously hurt. You just made a big difference in somebody’s life. Thank you.” Her eyes filled with tears. She had been having a difficult time in life, and his comments visibly touched her deeply, simply because somebody took time to recognize her importance and the importance of what she does, day after day.
How many people do we pass by in the course of our weeks, people who are often taken for granted, people who work in the background and who tend to fade into the background? What difference might we make in their lives — giving them life in that fuller, gospel sense – if we took time to notice them, to smile, to say “hello,” maybe to thank them for what they do, acknowledging their importance and the importance of their contribution to others?
And what about those who can no longer be an active part of society or of our church: those who are mostly or completely confined to their homes or to an assisted-living or nursing facility? Ever since I was ordained as a deacon, 45 years ago, I have made it a priority to visit, on a regular basis, the shut-ins in the churches that I served. It obviously makes an important difference to most of them. But the truth is that I don’t do anything exceptional for them. Every one of you can give them the most important thing that I try to give them: you can talk with them, and mostly you can listen to them, ideally in-person or at least over the phone. For many, that seems to be what they most want: to know that they have not been forgotten, to know that you care, to know that they are still important.
These are simple things, things that all of us can do. And yet they are important things. They are ways of doing what Jesus called Simon Peter and the others to do along the lakeshore long ago: to go out and bring life or to restore life to others. And life, the fullness of life, is what the kingdom of God is all about.