Have you ever looked at a task before you and felt like it was insurmountable? Have you ever been on the go from morning until night but felt like you had nothing to show for it?
Maybe it was a school project or multiple school assignments being worked on. Maybe it was getting bills paid or a house cleaned out for a relative who died or trying to help out a relative or friend who is still living. Maybe it was getting your own house or apartment cleaned. Maybe it was all of these things and more…With the winter storm that knocked power out for over 56,000 people in the county where Redeemer, New Paltz is located at the end of last week, I can only imagine how the road crews clearing debris and downed wires, working overtime to restore the power and heat and security (that so many of us take for granted), must have felt as they have looked on mile after mile, road after road, township after township that needed and need attention. Insurmountable. Impossible. No matter how much we do it always seems like there’s more to be done.
When I heard the resounding crash outside our house on Friday afternoon and saw the tree whose branched top had landed on the driveway like a neat cork, cutting off any entrance or exit, I came face to face again with the experience of “insurmountable.” When, hours later, the tree top was gone along with the sound of the neighbor’s chain saw and the neighbor and the parents who had helped us clear a path back to the world, I was struck by my feeling of relief and gratitude, and also how hard it was for me to stick with my feelings of gratitude and not immediately begin worrying about all the debris still left around that will get in the way of mowing in the spring, and the brush that will need cutting and burning and clearing. And the rest of the tree that will still need to be removed by professionals and the cost that will entail.
Insurmountable. Impossible. There I was again.
Is this how the disciples felt when they were there with Jesus in the boat? Is this how Simon felt when Jesus asked them to put their nets out in the deep water to catch fish?
Jesus had been teaching again. It’s the second time we hear that in the gospel of Luke. There were large crowds – the fame of this Jesus had been spreading after all. In fact, the crowds were so large that Jesus asked Simon to let him use his boat to go out a ways on the water, there on the Lake of Gennesaret so that he could be heard but not overwhelmed. I heard a story recently about someone who was on a tourist expedition that included being out on a boat on the Lake of Gennesaret, and how they experienced firsthand the way that the tour guide’s unamplified voice suddenly carried across the waters. So, Jesus is teaching and his voice likely carries over the water to all who have gathered around - capturing their attention? Capturing their imagination? Feeding their hearts and souls and lives that surely faced the insurmountable, the impossible.
And then something truly impossible, something wondrous happens.
Jesus, after he finishes teaching the crowd, turns to the inner circle, the disciples, Simon. Jesus says to cast their nets out into the deep waters for fish. And Simon, dear Simon, who along with his fellow fisherman had been out all night long clearing roads and patching electrical wires, taking care of bills and school assignments; Simon doesn’t seem to be able to help himself. Instead of simply doing what Jesus asks him, Simon seems to need to point out the obvious, I mean Simon is the professional fisherman here and Jesus is just the son of a carpenter; and Simon seems to need to assert the obvious, insurmountable truth to Jesus. Simon says, “Lord, we have been fishing all night and have caught nothing.” But Simon goes on to say what we all might hope the grace and strength of God could help our sometimes caught up in the insurmountable, doubting hearts to say, “Yet if you say so, I will do it.”
Maybe sometimes in our lives it’s enough to say “yes” even when all evidence points to inevitable failure.
And then, oh then, those nets that are cast out deep are suddenly filled with so many fish being brought in that Simon has to call to another boat to come and help and when they bring the fish into the boats there are so many that the boats start to sink! Can you imagine how many fish it takes to sink a boat?
And then Simon Peter, who couldn’t resist telling Jesus his professional opinion about what was and was not possible, this is where we hear that Simon falls down at Jesus’ feet and asks forgiveness. I’m sorry I didn’t believe. I’m sorry that I let my ego get in the way of seeing your opportunities being laid out before me. And Jesus tells Simon and the disciples that they will be fishers of people, in other words, that this most abundant of catches, these fish, were a sign of something changing, both in and around them. And not just for them, but for all the people who would afterwards encounter them.
I suppose we’re supposed to hear this gospel story and be thinking about the miraculous work of Jesus. About how we’re also called like Simon Peter and those early disciples to follow Jesus. About how we’re supposed to cast into the deep waters to which Jesus invites us in life. But I find myself thinking about how, when Simon Peter drops to his knees in front of Jesus, there in the boat that was nearly sinking under the weight of all those fish; when Simon Peter drops to his knees in front of Jesus, he must have been kneeling in the middle of all those smelly fish.
I think of the smell of them, the feel of them, the texture and the sensation of what that must have been like, which maybe to other people seems fine, but to me seems really gross. And I am struck by how I, having heard the incredible witness of this gospel story - full of the wonder of Jesus drawing crowds in his wake who then heard his voice echoing across the waters as he taught with wisdom and joy and then the miracle those first disciples witnessed in those empty nets filled to over brimming and then Jesus’ call to be fishers of people; I am struck by how, having heard all of these incredible things, I’m still stuck with the fish.
There looking at all the debris and brush that will need clearing up and quickly forgetting my gratitude for the chainsaw and neighbor and parents and power restoration crews.
It’s just too easy to forget the chain saw and the kind neighbors. Too easy to forget the boats filled to the point of nearly sinking. Too easy to forget. I guess I need to drop to my own knees and say: Oh Lord, forgive me, for I am a sinful person.
But did you notice to Jesus’ response to Simon Peter’s confession? Jesus did not say, “you’re forgiven Simon, it’s ok.” Jesus did not say, “You’re forgiven Simon, now remember this and do better in the future.” Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” And, “from now on you will be fishers of people.”
Jesus knows we live facing the insurmountable. The impossible. Jesus knows we get stuck with the smelly fish. And Jesus with love and grace inexhaustible, Jesus with grace as of the God who loves without reserve and forever; Jesus gets right to the heart of things, right to our hearts, and says, “do not be afraid.”
And, I need you for more important things than your fear. Come, follow me. Amen.