A sermon on Luke 5:1-11
I did an interview with Premier Christian Radio for their programme ‘Called To Be A Priest.’ I’m on from 15:58! Click here to listen.
Simon Peter’s washing his nets after a hard night’s work. By all accounts, it’s been a frustrating night: he and his friends have caught nothing, despite all their hard work, despite doing everything right. He looks up, and there’s Jesus getting into a boat, his boat as it happens! Simon Peter knows it’s Jesus because you don’t easily forget the guy who heals your mother-in-law! He goes to him, Jesus asks to be taken out a little way from the shore, and he obliges. He gets a front row seat as Jesus turns his boat into a pulpit and preaches the word of God to the gathered crowds.
As the crowds start to disperse, Jesus turns to Simon Peter and says, ‘put your nets out.’ Simon Peter looks slightly incredulous for a moment, ‘But we worked all night and caught nothing, but because it’s you, Jesus, I’ll do it.’ Fish rush the nets which begin to break under the strain, Simon Peter calls for reinforcements to deal with the fish stampede. He looks at all the fish. He looks at Jesus. He falls to his knees before him. ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’ As those around him continue to marvel at the massive aquatic haul, Simon Peter knows that the real marvel is the man in front of him. Jesus continues, ‘Don’t be afraid; you see all this?’ He points at the fish. ‘You’re going to keep doing this, but with people, my people.’ They return to the shore, Simon Peter drops everything, and follows Jesus.
We know it turns out to be the best decision Simon Peter makes; he gets a front row seat at Jesus’ miracles, at his teaching; he plays a key role in the early church and in proclaiming the Gospel. And, I was in Rome this time last week, he gets an alright basilica named for him! His recognition in that moment on the boat of who Jesus is and his decision to follow him and respond to his calling, is the beginning of a pretty spectacular, if not always easy, adventure.
But what if Simon Peter hadn’t listened to God’s call and responded in the way he did? He didn’t have to. He’s still got a couple of Jesus-stories he could’ve dined out on for the rest of his life. When news reached him of Jesus’ death he could’ve said, ‘Oh, that’s a shame, back in the day he came here, healed your grandmother!’ as his children rolled their eyes, having heard the story a hundred times before. ‘Back in the day.’ ‘I met him, once or twice.’ ‘I heard that he did some miracles, yeah, he offered me the chance to come with him… still, I’ve got that day with the fish to remember him by.’
It’s very easy to encounter Jesus and not have it change your life. You can meet the living God and have it stay with you as something wonderful and incredible that you will always remember, and then watch from the side-lines as he goes about his kingdom business. ‘But because you’ says Simon Peter. But because God is who he says he is, if he we see him, if we recognise him, how can we not respond as Simon Peter did? We are not created to be bystanders, we are not called to watch God from a distance. We are created to be active participants with the Holy Spirit bringing about God’s Kingdom here on earth; we are called to take up our place as God’s chosen, as God’s beloved, as God’s hands and feet. If Simon Peter had shrugged off his call, stayed a fisherman, the amount God loved him would not have changed, not one bit. But in realising his call, in his realising who and what he was created to be, in recognising that Jesus is God, he got to experience so much more of God and be used by him in unimaginable but incredible ways.
A man gets to heaven and St Peter is giving him a tour of the place. ‘Throne room is over there, the angels live upstairs, they’re a bit raucous.’ ‘What’s in here?’ asks the man. ‘Oh, you can have a look, but I recommend you don’t.’ The man’s like ‘Totes having a look’ and opens the door and let’s out a massive sigh. In the room are boxes full of all the blessings, all the opportunities, all the moments of intimacy that God wanted and had planned for the man and that he had avoided.’ Don’t be a bystander. God’s first calling on each and every one of us is to himself, to know him and experience him and through that intimacy with him, discover who we are created to be. God knows what he’s doing, he knew what he did when he made you, and the most important thing he made you to be is his child and his friend who he can spend time with. Don’t be a bystander. Get involved with the God of universe, take up your front-row ticket and your backstage pass. Don’t be a bystander.
Don’t be a bystander and don’t make excuses! Simon Peter almost tries to, ‘but I’ve caught no fish, why try again?’ He doesn’t make the same mistake when he’s called to be a fisher of men. As Rachel mentioned earlier, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and talking about calling this year as I have been in the discernment process exploring a call to ordination. Trust the Church of England to take something very exciting and make it sound really dull! Unlike Simon Peter, who was obedient to God’s call pretty much immediately, I was not. I made so many excuses to God about why I couldn’t possibly do this thing he was calling me to. God, I’m not holy enough, I’m not clever enough, I’m a very unhelpful combination of being bossy and yet also shy, which, God, seems awfully unhelpful for a vicar. Then I went for, God, I can’t do this because I’m a girl and not only that, I’m not even married – and both of those arguments went down spectacularly badly with God.
And there are many things I have learnt in this process of discernment and wrestling with God over his call on me. The first is, I’m not fully qualified. But that’s not a problem, God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. The second is, I will never be fully qualified. There’s a really good reason for that, which is, I’m not God. I cannot bear the weight of this calling on my own, I have to continually turn to Jesus, to lean on him and his power rather than doing it by myself, in my own strength. And third, it’s not actually all about me. I can’t do it, I’m not holy enough, I’m not clever enough, I’m not good enough so I won’t do it – that attitude makes it all about me. And it’s not. Your calling doesn’t just affect you, it affects those around you.
We are all like instruments in an orchestra; we play different roles and play at different times, but if we don’t play at all, someone else misses their cue. God’s call on you, isn’t just for your life but other people’s lives as well, and you might have no idea and be completely oblivious to how God uses you in this way. You know, I stayed at St Clement’s because one person followed God’s prompting to say hello to me, to ask my name, and what I did, and get to know me. They were following God’s call to use their gift of welcoming and hospitality, and had no idea that God was using them to speak something very specific from God into life. Rachel mentioned a few weeks ago about the importance of encouraging one another in our gifts, of discerning people’s calling. I am so grateful for all the people who have encouraged me in my calling. We never do discernment of our calling alone, we do it with God and we do it with one another. And as we go about responding to God’s call, we continue to do it together; God never expects us to bear the weight of it by ourselves.
Don’t make excuses, because it’s not all about you. But also, don’t make excuses, because some of those excuses are not from you. Excuses like, ‘I can’t afford this’ or ‘my boss wouldn’t like it’ or ‘how do you expect to have a comfortable retirement’ are not questions that are prompted by common sense or thinking rationally. Excuses like ‘oh, I thought God was calling me to this but that was probably just my imagination’ or ‘was God there in that situation, or did I just get through it by myself?’ If it causes you to doubt God’s faithfulness and sovereignty, then it’s not from common sense, it’s from the enemy. And the enemy wants nothing more than to turn you in on yourself, because if you’re turned into yourself, you’re not looking God. You’re not looking at the one who calls you and who is faithful.
Don’t be afraid. says Jesus in verse 10. Don’t be afraid. God is faithful. God is faithful, has been faithful, and always will be faithful. We’re at the start of Simon Peter’s journey, if you want to know just how faithful God was to Simon Peter, just know, we’re on week 2 of an entire sermon series on him and his life and we’re going to be with him until like nearly Christmas. And when we’re not bystanders, we get to experience his faithfulness every day if we let him in. The biggest joy of the discernment process for me was I had to look back over my life and I realise that there has not been a single moment since the 21st November 1991 where God hasn’t been faithful. Jesus reveals who he is to Simon Peter before he reveals his calling, because it means we have to trust him first. The voice of common sense says, this is the God who has never let me down, if he says go or do or be, my money’s on him. Look at the cross, his cross, it’s the most perfect and enduring mark of his faithfulness. So don’t be afraid; Jesus is going to repeat that to us as he does to Simon Peter. Even when you can’t see how it’s going to work or what the future holds, God sees it, he holds it, and he holds you. Don’t be afraid, the one who calls you is faithful.
So what are you waiting for? God’s calling, don’t wait! He’s faithful, he’s good, he’s created us for a particular calling. And I don’t know that might be for you. It might be God’s called you to something specific, a specific job or a specific place. It might be that he has called you through a particular gifting that you have that he wants you to exercise. God is creative, so don’t do discernment through a narrow lens. And often the first step to realising God’s call on you comes from other people, so let’s discern together, we’re family, it’s part of our remit. And when you realise what it is, don’t wait. Don’t wait a single moment, but do a Simon Peter and just go for it.
I waited ten years; it was ten years between God first calling and my doing something proactive about it. Of course it’s good to test vocations, but it’s also important to be obedient. God was persistent with me, he never let it go, but what I’ve never told anyone is that there was a time for about eight months, where God was silent on the topic. And I can tell you exactly where I was when I realised that I hadn’t heard any voice mention my calling. And I can tell you exactly how I felt. Through fear and excuses, I followed my own path that I thought would lead me to freedom but instead it bound me in chains. I’m pretty terrified about how the rest of my life is going to look, to be honest, I really don’t think I’m going to suit a dog collar, but the agony of glimpsing the blueprint of my soul and then realising it’s been locked away is the worst feeling. And when God, faithful, wonderful God, called again, handed me back the calling I was created for, I have never felt so alive and so free and so loved.
Don’t wait. Don’t wait to draw close to God, to take up your first and most important calling which is to being his beloved, knowing him and being known by him, experiencing his incredible love. Don’t wait until you think you’re ready, because otherwise you’ll be waiting for forever. You’re going to sin anyway, it’s a downside to being human, you might as well do a Simon Peter and sin right next to Jesus so he can forgive you and pick you up right away. Don’t wait a moment longer to say however timidly, however worriedly, however excitedly, ‘Here I am.’ Don’t wait.
Don’t be a bystander. God is calling you to himself.
Don’t make excuses. It’s not about you, it’s about the one who’s called you.
Don’t be afraid. Because the one who calls you is faithful.
Don’t wait. It begins with just three words: Here I am.