The Unexpected Catch

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Focus on the unexpected ways that God works in and through us.

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The Text

The New Revised Standard Version Jesus Calls the First Disciples

5 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 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. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 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. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 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.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Sermon Introduction

In today’s gospel reading we meet some fishermen. They’re heading back to shore after a long, hard night of fishing. They had started out on that fishing trip with the hope of catching fish but it just didn’t happen. All through the night their nets came up empty. The weary and disappointed fishermen were on the way back home with the kind of fish story no respectable fisherman likes to tell. “We caught nothing, not even a minnow.”
So they are heading back toward shore ready to give it up. It's just no use. Might as well drag the boat up on the beach, dry out the nets, and go home.
Today’s Gospel lesson has a lot to do with expectations; what is expected to happen and what is not. We all live with certain expectations. We may have expectations about today, about coming to church this morning, about what this afternoon or evening will be like.
If you are going out to lunch today you may have some expectations about the restaurant you’re going to, especially if it’s one you have been to before. You have a good idea what the food will be like and what the price will be. Oftentimes our expectations are right on target. Days come and go pretty much as we expect. But every once in a while we are surprised by the unexpected.

Understanding Peripeteia

The Greek language has a good word for that. Peripeteia (PAIR - UH - PAH - TEE -AH). Peripeteia is a sudden change of events or a reversal of circumstances, according to the dictionary. Peripeteia is the surprise of something happening that you did not expect.
Peripeteia (Pair-uh-pah-tee-ah) is a sudden _________ of events or a reversal of circumstances. It is the surprise of something happening that you did not ___________.
The gospel lesson today has plenty examples of peripeteia. It's peripeteia when Jesus, the son of a carpenter, tells professional fishermen how and where to fish. We wouldn't think that Jesus who grew up as a carpenter-would suddenly start telling the fishermen how to do their jobs. We'd probably agree with Peter-they fished all night, they didn't catch anything, it's the middle of the day now. This isn't the right time to catch fish.
And yet, the fishermen do what Jesus tells them. They let down the nets one more time and the result is an amazing catch of fish they did not expect; especially not after the unproductive night they had experienced, not at that time of day.
That’s peripeteia, "a sudden change of events, the unexpected happens." We think of this text as the story of the unexpected catch of fish.

Peripeteia of Peter’s Response

But there are other unexpected things going on here. One of them, one that’s really more significant than the catch of fish, is Peter’s unexpected response to that wonderful catch of fish.
I mean, what would you expect a fisherman to do who has just experienced the biggest catch of his life? Wouldn’t you expect some expression of joy and celebration? “Wow, this is really great, a fisherman’s dream come true.”
But Peter does this thing we would not expect at a time like that. He falls on his knees before Jesus and confesses his sins. "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" Peter responds by confessing his sins!
Peter responds by ____________ his ______!
What a strange thing to do at a time like that, how unexpected. But Peter understands that the catch of fish was not just luck, nor was it the skill of the fishermen. It was a miracle brought on somehow by Jesus and Peter is in awe of that and he’s humbled by it. Peter’s unexpected confession eventually makes sense.
But then Jesus does another unexpected thing. It would have been reasonable for Jesus to do what Peter told him to do, to go away from him. Peter truly was not worthy of being in the presence of the Son of God. Jesus,after all, is the sinless one. Peter, on the other hand, is the sinner, imperfect, unclean. But after the amazing catch of fish there is another surprise. Jesus responds to Peter by forgiving his sins.
Jesus responds to Peter by __________ his _______.
This is not what Peter deserves—in fact it’s not even what he asks for!
Regardless, Jesus says, "Don't be afraid, I will not run from you. And I don't want you to run away from me, I want you to stay. Your sins are forgiven.” Forgiveness isn't what we'd expect. It's not what’s deserved, but it is given as gift, free and clear, no strings attached.

The Invitation

And not only does Jesus forgive this rough-around-the-edges fisherman; he invites him to be a follower of his along with those other fishermen James and John.
Frederick Danker, one of the great theologians of the 20th century who created in essence a new greek-to-english lexicon, working on it 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 10 years… had this to say about the wonder of today’s story: “Ordinary fishermen become privileged partners of the Savior.”
Ordinary fishermen become privileged ___________ of the Savior. -Frederick Danker
Who would have expected that? Jesus reverses our expectations, calls ordinary people to be his servants even when we protest that we are not the right ones for the job, not with all our flaws and imperfections. We certainly would not expect to be chosen as servants of the living God. Again it’s pair-uh-pah-tee-ah in our lives. It's that unexpected moment when Jesus says he’s choosing you and me to be on his team.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Lk 5:1–11). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.expected moment when Jesus says he’s choosing you and me to be on his team.
What is it that sometimes makes us wonder whether Jesus is really serious about having us in the boat with him as members of his crew?
What makes us think, "I’m not the right one for the job; because I'm just… (a teacher, just a postal worker, just a bar owner, or just Peter or just (insert names)…)
Or we think we’re not right for the job of being God’s servant because, “I’m too. . . (quiet, or I’m too loud, or I’m to poor, or yes, too rich, or maybe I have too many responsibilities or perhaps I’m too unreliable to trust with responsibility. Or I’m too young or I’m too old.)
What is something that makes you wonder whether or not you are “right for the job” that Christ calls us to?
Or we think we aren’t right for the job because I was never… (that good of a person, that great about praying, that confident in my own faith. However you fill in those blanks, whatever your concern or doubt, watch the PAIR-UH-PAH-TEE-AH that happens in your life through Jesus. Watch how Jesus reverses our expectations like he did for Peter.

Christ Calls Us

He calls us to be a part of something greater than we could have imagined. He invites us to join him in the mission of redeeming a fallen world, bringing help and healing and hope and peace. “Who me? But...” “Yes, you,” he says.
The religious leaders of Jesus day probably thought he was making a foolish choice in those fishermen, Peter, James, and John. Yet, don't we sometimes find ourselves in that same position, questioning the choices Jesus makes . We protest, "How could that person serve? They're so. . .they're too. . .they never. . . .how can I? I’m too…I’m not…" Sometimes it's hard to set aside our thoughts, ideas, and judgments, and just watch God work in ways we would not have expected. But it happens all the time. God chooses servants that you and I might not have chosen.
God chooses servants that you and I might not have _________.
The Lord chose fishermen instead of religious leaders to be among his disciples. He chose a tax collector instead of the high priest. The Lord found his partners in ministry on the beach---instead of in the synagogue. He has called you and me instead of others we might think of as far more qualified to be proclaimers of God’s good news and doers of ministry.
It’s all about peripeteia. It’s about being open to the unexpected ways of God. It’s about being open to the Word that meets us where we are, that invites fishermen to be disciples, sinners to become mission partners. It’s God’s Word that transforms us, it's God Word that reverses our expectations and changes our circumstances. It's the Word of Jesus that moved Peter to go back out and let down the nets. It's a work of God that causes Peter to respond; it's God's Word that brings the PAIR-UH-PAH-TEE-AH in Peter's life.

Transformation comes from Christ

If this were a self-improvement talk, I’d tell you now to go ahead and make the change. I’d tell you to "Renew yourself," "Become who you want to be," But peripeteia is just the opposite of all those self-improvement phrases. We don't make the change; Jesus makes the change in us through God’s Word.
We don’t make the _________; Jesus makes the _________ in us through God’s Word.
We don't renew ourselves; Jesus renews us with God’s life-giving Word. We don't become who we want to be; Jesus makes us to be who God wants us to be.
We don't become who we ________ to be; Jesus makes us to be who God __________ us to be.
Transformation comes from Jesus. It comes through hearing the Word, receiving the Word in baptism and holy communion. Day by day our Lord keeps surprising us with grace. Christ casts the nets of forgiveness beyond our deserving and understanding. He gives love we haven’t earned.
And so Jesus calls us, of all people, to join him in bringing God’s love to the world. God brings us to the point where we actually begin to expect the unexpected. Long ago, when Jesus was with them in their boat, some fishermen caught a net full of fish they never expected to catch. Who knows what unexpected thing the Lord will do next in or through you?
What might Christ be calling me toward today?
Be confident that the Lord does still have something more for you, something good. Know that you are here for a reason—and be open to hearing what God is calling you to in life. In some way, in some place, maybe under circumstances when you least expect it…you will be surprised again by the love and grace of God.
And when it happens, be open to it, rejoice in it, and pass it on. Let God use you to surprise another with that unexpected love and grace. May it be so for you and for me and for all of God’s people everywhere.
Let us pray...
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