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Not Me Lord

Luke 5:1-11

 MOVEMENT IN A NEW DIRECTION

Physicists tell us that an object in motion remains in motion until something acts upon it to change its direction, slow it down or stop it. The same principle applies to men and women. We develop our own work habits, our own style of getting things down, a routine for getting ready in the morning, or a pattern of movements to complete a task. Once we are in a grove, we do not like to change because we know that by repeating the same motions we will work faster and more efficiently. The job will be done quicker. Sometimes we even carry this through with are attitudes and habits about our spiritual lives. People do not appreciate excessive change in worship because the change causes a disruption in their thoughts and produces uncomfortable feelings. However, sometimes the disruption is useful in prompting us to look at God in a new way. The change confronts us with a new reality. It gives us a new perspective about our God and ourselves.
These times of awakening are called epiphanies. They are moments when the light flashes to illuminate our minds and stimulate our spirits. They are instances of special transparency, when the presence of God overwhelms us with stunning simplicity and grandeur.

Peter needed just such an epiphany to get him moving in a new direction. Let us consider the events of his encounter and discover how God seeks to open our eyes and startle us with his presence.

 THE PRESENCE OF GOD ENTER INTO OUR EVERY DAY AFFAIRS

The day begins with Jesus teaching near the Lake of Gennesaret, commonly known as the Sea of Galilee. The term lake is a more accurate description. The lake measures 7 mi wide x 13 mi. long and lies 600 ft below sea level. It is nestled among mountains and hills and is the heart and soul of the region, socially and economically, being the regions primary source of both food and water. You could always find people along its shores. People going about their everyday affairs-washing their clothes, filling water jars, fishing, bathing, tending to their nets and their boat. By going to the shore to teach, Jesus demonstrates that the presence of God enters into our every day affairs. God wants to be more than a disinterested observer. He wants to be an active participate in our lives.

I wonder how often we forget that profound but obvious reality? I wonder how often the divine appears absent from our everyday activity?

In the 18th Century, the superior of a monastery compiled a collection of the letters of a monk under his charge into a book and entitled it, The Practice of the Presence of God. Abbot Joseph de Beaufort had been impressed by the holiness of a humble monk named Brother Lawrence.

The letters were written in response to questions by other members of the monastery who wanted to know how Brother Lawrence could live in the presence of God each and every moment of his day. He never intended that the material be published. He never intended to become one of the most well read authors of the 19th and 20th Century in spirituality. His goal was never to become famous. 

Brother Lawrence surprisingly, had a rather rough exterior and even called himself a "clumsy lummox. " A well-known theologian noted that the monk was rather "gross by nature." He acquired a reputation for holiness and servitude by not only humbly, accepting every menial task or duty assigned to him but more importantly by discovering how to enjoy the presence of God every chore. Whether he was scrubbing pots, preparing food, or sweeping the floors, he knew that God was with him. 
In one letter, he states this experience can be shared by anyone if a person is willing to

Always see God and His glory in everything we do, say and undertake...1


When God become incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, he entered into the daily lives of his people. God walked along the shores of Gennesaret and saw his people fishing. He walked through the countryside and saw his people tilling the soil, tending their sheep, and watering their crops. He walked through their villages and visited them in their homes to eat with them, celebrate Sabbath, to cry at the bedside of their sick relative; in Jesus God longs to be with his people.
My friends, are you willing to see God and his glory in each moment of your life?

 EVEN THE 'ILLOGICAL' MAY BECOME A LOGICAL PART OF GOD'S PLAN

After Jesus had completed his teaching, he may have concluded that that the time had come to illustrate his message and display his power for those who were listening. Any schoolteacher knows the importance of the visual aid in communicating new concepts. Theories and information are best learned when the student sees a tangible display of the material. So, Jesus tells Peter to get into the boat and take him fishing. Peter by his own admission was a simple man, but he was not stupid. He did not need weather reports or fishing predictions to tell him, fish are just not caught in broad daylight with nets. Nets scare the fish. A fisherman's best ally is the cover of darkness. And even with the aid of darkness, they had not been successful. A person would have to be a fool to think that they would be able to catch any fish in the middle of the day.

In his book entitled In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters criticizes businesses that become entrapped by perceived limitations produced by logical, sequential thinking. Too often, according to Peters we develop one approach to solving a problem. When a problem is encountered, we assume that by working harder and better we will be able to eventually discover a solution. Peters compares this to a fly and a bee in a glass jar. The bee is conditioned to fly in the direction of the brightest light. In nature, this serves the bee well, since flowers usually thrive where the sunlight is the brightest. But in a glass jar the bee is stymied and rarely finds the opening. The fly, on the other hand, has no patterned response. Each flight is a random choice among several options. In most cases a fly will find the opening not because it is smarter or works harder, it simply stumbles on it sooner in its illogical choice.

When God created the heavens and the earth he followed a very logical perhaps even sequential plan, but often in the history of his people, God chose the illogical. Isaac's youngest son Jacob received the blessing that logically belonged to the oldest son Isaac. Who would have predicted that a mother would save the life of her baby by placing him in a basket and sending him down a river? But the mother of Moses rescued the life of her child by entrusting him into the illogical care of God. What general would have prepared for battle by arming his soldiers with slingshots and small smooth stones? Yet, David defeated the powerful Goliath not with the weapons of war but by the hand of God. When God intruded Peter's life, the fisherman learned that with God a school of fish could be caught even on a bright sunny day.

What ideas have you rejected because they just did not make sense? What new ventures do we as a church need to consider that may appear beyond our resources? How could God work through our ministries if we like Peter just got into the boat and did maybe even the illogical?

 THE SPLENDOR OF GOD EXPOSED OUR HUMAN WEAKNESS

After Peter hauled in the extraordinary catch of fish, he gazed into the eyes of Jesus. He recoiled. All his pretentiousness became nothing. All his defenses crumble. All the excuses he had used over the years to avoid God dissolved. All that he could say was
"Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" 

Isaiah could understand Peter's plight. One day he entered the temple to pray. He became overwhelmed by the glory of God and lifted up a prayer of confession:

6:1 Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty
The splendor of God exposed the sinfulness of both the apostle and the prophet.

We must be careful in any discussion of sin, not because of its unpopularity, actually sin is very popular, but rather, because of the general confusion of the subject. Peter's words acknowledging his sinful state and Isaiah's lament have little to do with our conventional understanding of sin. William Willimon, the chaplain at Duke University, explains that the sin that Isaiah and Peter confessed had nothing to do with the "occasional peccadilloes." Sin is not our small faults. It does refer to those things we did even through our mother or father told us not to do. In a book on how to be a good Jewish mother the author suggested:
Let your child hear you sigh every day and if you don't know what he's done to make you suffer, he will.2

Memories of childhood disobedience may plague us with guilt, but we have therapist to handle these misdeeds. Rather, sin is scripture refers to the gaping chasm between who we are and who God is.
 

Freud noted that we project our parental experiences as God. Natural for us to think of God as the big mommy-daddy in the sky, making a list, checking it twice, knowing who is naughty and nice. But what if you come in here on a Sunday morning and find to your terror that God isn't like that at all, that God is that great "other," that over-againstness, which Peter saw that day when he looked into the eyes of Jesus? 

There are at least two ways to be terrified of God. Either you can be afraid of God because God is so harsh and cruel that you dare not slip up for fear of punishment, or God may be so wonderfully loving that you despair of all the ways you have betrayed that love in your own way of life. God's love is the searing light that penetrates our facade.

What if God, the one Peter saw projected back at him in the eyes of the rabbi, is like a mirror, a mirror of truth and self-knowledge that you are made to gaze upon? There you see reflected every moment of your life, every secret thought, all the good little things you have done for bad little reasons, the way you live, every second for you and you alone. My God, to be made to look upon that mirror, even for an instant, who could endure it?3


What if Willimon asks: "God's holiness is the mirror through which our pretentious goodness is seen for what it really is..." Who could stand to stare into that mirror for long? We would all respond like Peter in such an encounter

Depart from me, Lord for I am a sinful man
 

 GOD RESTORES THE CONFIDENCE OF THE CONTRITE HEART

The beauty of God is that he never answers that prayer. He never departs from us. Rather, he has promised never to leave us or forsake us. Paul tells us in Romans that nothing, neither principalities nor angels can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. God just will not leave us alone. We expect a rejection but instead he offers us an invitation.
To Peter, he said:
5:10 "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men."

God would not allow Peter to wallow in his sin and guilt. God had a purpose for the fisherman. He had a higher plan. God restored Peter's confidence by calling him to a new vocation.  A famous German philosopher once said,
If one treats a person as if he were what he ought to be and could be he will become what he ought to be and could be

Early in my ministry, I was very disappointed with a recently preached sermon. I chose a difficult subject and took a very academic approach. The sermon had little relevance to the average person that Sunday morning and was very boring. On Tuesday night, I attended a CE meeting feeling discouraged. During the meeting, the chairperson was going down his list of topics to cover and checking them off. When he came to one item he turned to me and "By the way John, good sermon on Sunday." There was not much enthusiasm in the compliment. It was just another item on the agenda but I felt affirmed. I knew he supported me and was pulling and praying for me. Both Fred and his wife were very important people in my early development as a minister. Without their support and affirmation, I could have easily quit the ministry, especially given how much grief their two sons gave me.

Jesus would not let Peter wallow in his self-pity or false humility. He knew exactly what kind of man Peter was. He knew the fisherman could be crass, irreverent, crude, irresponsible, and vacillating; and then there were his bad days. However, Jesus also knew what Peter could become.

God does not enter into our lives to rub our backs and say everything is going to be OK! He enters into our everyday affairs to reveal his presence. He stands before us to call us into ministry. He will not be deterred by our false humility. He knows exactly who we are, yet he still believes in us and calls us into service.

 THE OBJECT IN MOTION

Once an object in motion is influenced by something its direction, speed and destiny is changed. It does not follow the same path. It does not return to its original course. After Peter's epiphany, he was never the same man. He tried to go back to fishing once, but he discovered that he could not. The impact of the Master's gaze upon his face would forever change his life. Peter the fisherman would become Peter the apostle.

We are people in motion. We are people who have found a comfortable grove. How disruptive would an encounter with God be to your life? Would it require a few simple adjustments and alterations? Would you recognize the moment? Or would you need a sudden, dramatic epiphany like Peter? Would you welcome the revelation or would you stand embarrassed by your our weaknesses and sin?


1 Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, The Practice of the Presence of God, trans. John J. Delaney, foreword Henri J.M. Nouwen (New York: Image Books, 1977) , p 99.
2 Glendon Harris, Pulpit Resource, Vol. VI, No. 1, p 29. 
3 William Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 26, No 1, Year C, p 24,
 


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