the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

10 February 2019

Luke 5. 1-11
Nets are about the fishing, not the fish!

Well, here we go, again.  The latest figures I’ve heard?  There are around three hundred fifty thousand congregations scattered across the good, old, U.S. of A.  The average attendance on any given Sunday?  Seventy-five people.  To bring that, a little more, down to earth, there’s a little more than a hundred congregations in the Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod.  Half of those congregations, HALF of those congregations worship less than fifty people or less.

The church, today, in North America, in Europe, are starving for people.  For over three decades, we’ve been – slowly but surely – drying up and blowing away.  And it’s not for trying!  Just think of all the programs, of all the gimmicks, we’ve tried through the years.  New buildings!  New hymnals!  Guitars and key boards!  Pastors roaming the sanctuary when they preach!  Valet service!  We’ve said prayers!  Read bibles!  We’ve been striving to make disciples of all nations!  And after all that, here we are.  And the unnerving thing?  This is normal!  This is pretty normal!

And on top of it all, we read this passage, one more time.  Jesus finishes speaking to the crowd.  And he tells Simon to put out into the deep water and let down the nets.  “Been there.  Done that,” Simon says, “but if you insist…”  And when he does, he catches enough fish to sink a boat!  Enough to sink TWO boats!”  Everyone’s amazed!  And then those familiar words!  Words that mock us!  That taunt us!  “From now on,” says Jesus, “you’ll be catching people!”  “From now on, you’ll be catching people!” 

We hear the story and we have to wonder.  Why, why doesn’t it happen that way for us!  Trying just one more time!  Getting a catch of a lifetime!  It would be so much easier!  It would, almost, be fun!  But before we go any further, it’d, probably, be a good idea to remember a thing or two.  First, Jesus wasn’t just all that into buildings.  Not synagogues.  Not temples.  He cared about people.

That’s what we’ve been talking about for the last couple of weeks.  Bringing good news to the poor.  Proclaiming recovery, release.  Letting the oppressed go free.  Jesus is all about flesh and blood, not mortar and bricks.  Besides, when you do what Jesus did – when you proclaim the good news, when you administer mercy and grace – well, the one place you don’t go is to a synagogue or a temple.  Those aren’t the kind of things people in those places, usually, want to hear.  Jesus just wasn’t into buildings.

And second, contrary to popular opinion, he wasn’t into crowds, either!  Sure, they were there, like this morning.  They were drawn to him.  Hungry for what he offered.  But in the end, it was the same crowd that cried out, “Crucify him!”  And when he died, he died alone.  Died alone and rose alone.  Abandoned.  Rejected.  By the crowds.  By, even, his dearest, his nearest. 

So, I’m not sure where we get our understanding, our vision, of church.  We imagine hundreds, thousands, gathered in a beautiful building.  Praising god.  With arms outstretched.  With voices lifted up.  Jesus, our superstar.  Our icon.  Our celebrity.  But he’s not all that.  He’s our savior.  He’s just our savior.  Suffering.  Breaking.  Bleeding.  Dying.  And then rising to do it all over again.  And we have to remember that.  Remember that when we trip over verses like this one.  “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 

And we have to remember that when we pull up those nets and they’re just as empty as they were when we let them down.  Jesus isn’t about buildings.  Jesus isn’t about crowds.  Jesus isn’t about success, American style.  Jesus is about love.  Jesus is about being loved.  Jesus is about loving.  In fact, that’s what those nets stood for.  That’s what those nets were made out of, are made out of. 

When you’re catching people, it’s not like fly fishing.  Rod, like, lure.  When you try to tempt them int the boat.  When you try to attract them.  To entice them.  To persuade them.  Love is when you claim them as your own.  You throw a net over them.  You cast a net around them.  You trap them.  You ensnare them.  You catch them.  There’s nothing subtle about it, at all.  You love them!  Whether or not they want to be loved!  It’s not their choice!  It’s not their decision!  It’s yours!  You live with them, you die for them, no matter what they do in return – if anything!  And the size of the catch – the size of the church – is no indicator of whether that church is really, truly church.  A big church isn’t a sign that it’s any more church than a small one.  Just as being a small doesn’t prove that we “get” it. 

There’s only one mark, one trait, one characteristic, that confirms the church to be the church.  And that is the gospel, the good news, about Christ!  The church is Christian because that’s where Christ is!  With, among, between god’s holy people.  “In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all…”  That’s what brings us together.  That’s what keeps us together.  That’s why we do what we do!  And that’s the net we cast, time after time, into the world!  Whether it comes back empty or not.  Again and again, we proclaim and we hear!  Over and over, we administer and receive!  Some days, the boats return empty.  Other days?  Well, to be honest, we haven’t had one of those “other days,” in a long time.  But we keep on!  Keep on keeping on!  Because a catch is promised!  Because that’s what the net does!

It’s kinda like that seed about which we’ve talked so much.  The one we keep casting out into the world, just like that net!  Some lands on the path.  Some on the rock.  Some among thorns.  But that doesn’t keep us from casting it.  Because we know some seed – maybe even most of it – falls in the good soil and bears fruit, a hundred-fold!  We don’t believe in the catch.  We don’t believe in the harvest.  We believe in the net!  We believe in the seed!  We believe in it!  We depend on it!  We stake our life on it!  Our life – and the life of the church – doesn’t hinge on how much grain the see produces.  Any more than it does on how many “fish” we catch.  It’s rooted in the see, anchored in the net, and the love they represent!

So, my friends, don’t be distracted by the crowds.  And don’t get sidetracked by the buildings.  There’s one thing – and one thing alone – that makes us god’s holy people.  And that one thing is the good news brought, the release and recovery proclaimed, and the favor god has for us all!