5th Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
February 7, 2010
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
188 "Lord Jesus Christ Be Present Now"
553 "Jesus Calls Us O'er The Tumult"
305 "Thou Lord Of Hosts Whose Guiding Hand"
173 "All Creatures Of Our God And King"
LEAVING IT ALL FOR JESUS
TEXT (vs. 10b-11) "Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men." 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him."
Back in 1982 when I began my theological education, I embarked on this task knowing full well that it would be the beginning of a huge change in my life. That change began right away, since I was 27 years old and I had never been in a college classroom before. I graduated from high school in 1972, and had spent 10 years in the secular work force before making this big transition.
I am, what is frequently called, a "second career pastor." Of course I'm not alone in this, not by any means. If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say that at least a third of the pastors out there have embarked upon the ministry as a second career.
A pastor who has taken the more conventional educational approach to this does it a bit differently. When college or university follows high school, then there is what is called a "pre-theological track" that is followed. In doing so, the course work is so designed that it fulfills the requirements for entrance into the seminary. There has to be the two years of Hebrew and two years of Greek, along with other preparatory courses. And since the seminary is considered a graduate school, it takes a four-year college or university degree to begin. Sometimes a person who is focused on either the pulpit or teaching ministry will receive their high school education at a prep school operated by the church, which will further prepare them for the preaching or teaching ministry.
But as situations differ, not everybody can go this route. And so, there has to be a special course of study for those who, like myself are older and starting out at square one with college; or others who have perhaps had some college or university training, or who have a degree in a different field of study. When this happens, then a track is developed for the individual on a case-by-case basis. The college and seminary I attended in Mankato, Minnesota specialized in developing courses of study for people in this position, along with those who had followed a more conventional route.
Before I began my college work, I hadn't given much thought to second career pastors. Sure I knew that there were many people out there who had entered the ministry as a second career, but I really didn't realize the amount of self-sacrifice and dedication it took for many of those people. It wasn't until I was actually there that I developed a real appreciation for what these people were doing.
In college, these people were nicknamed "bombers," because they were regarded as people who had "bombed out" in the secular workforce, and had chosen the ministry because they couldn't make it anywhere else.
That is an unfortunate term to use for these people. While it might be true in a very few instances, the people I knew were anything but bombers in that sense of the word. In fact, quite the opposite was true.
The former occupations of the people I knew were wide and varied. We had a fair number of Christian parochial school teachers who decided to enter the public ministry, which is a very logical step. But then there were others too. I knew several truck drivers, a public school industrial arts teacher, a few insurance agents, a chef, an airline employee, a police officer, a butcher, several farmers, various construction workers, and a baker.
Not only did these people make an abrupt change in their various careers, but also a lot of them were married with families. And they had a particularly tough time of it.
These students not only went to school, but they also had to work to support their families. Their spouses also had to work just to make ends meet. These people applied for scholarships and sought out almost every form of assistance they could get. They ate a lot of USDA surplus commodity food, shopped at Goodwill and the Salvation Army, and did whatever they could to eke out a poverty level existence. Some of the people were able to get jobs where they could make use of their former training; however a lot of them swept floors, scrubbed toilets, washed dishes, and took about anything they could find. When you live in a town that's about Kearney size, and there are two colleges, one university, and one seminary, employment opportunities just aren't that plentiful. But people still managed to get by.
The thing that made the biggest impression on me however was what these people had to leave behind in order to prepare for a full-time life in the Lord's service. It wasn't that bad for me, since I had no wife or children in tow. But even so, I was a long ways away from my family and friends. I had to give up living in the house I owned, which basically paid for my education. I wound up living in a trailer instead. But I'm versatile and adaptable, so I got along without too many problems.
But for others, they left homes, families and careers. Children had to go to new schools and make new friends. They left it all behind to follow the Saviour, and to dedicate their full-time occupation to serving him.
That brings us to our text for today, which is our Gospel reading. As we begin, we find crowds of people coming to Jesus to listen to him preach. This is not surprising, since news about Jesus had spread amongst the people. He had done some great things and had spoken some powerful words. So wherever he went, people wanted to see him and hear him.
Such was the case on this day. Jesus was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The people crowded around him; so Jesus gets the use of a fishing boat belonging to Simon Peter. Peter and his companions had been out fishing all night, and hadn't caught a thing. So when Jesus approaches them, they were cleaning their nets with the hope that the next night's fishing would be more productive.
So Jesus gets into Simon Peter's boat, goes out onto the lake, sits down, and begins to teach the people from the boat. It was a practical thing for him to do really, because the people could stand on the shore with the ability to see him and hear him. Of course Simon Peter and the others (who would have been Andrew, James, and John) were also with him. They heard him teach the people.
But now it was over; and the timing was just right for Jesus to do a miracle. He tells them to go out into the deeper water and put down their nets for a catch.
There were several problems with this. First of all, they had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Why would it be any different now? What could have changed?
Secondly, this was not the time to fish. The commercial fisherman knew that the daylight hours were the worst when it came to fishing. The professional fishermen always went out at night and fished. They would then take their catch to the market where the fish was sold fresh. After that, they would return to their boats where they would take care of their nets, and get everything put away. After spending some time at home and getting some sleep, they did it all over again the next night. Fishing was definitely a nighttime occupation.
But these men had come to realize that Jesus knew what he was doing. Simon Peter explains to Jesus that this effort was probably futile, but in the same breath he says in verse 5, "...But because you say so, I will let down the nets." He knew that Jesus was capable of just about anything.
The result of this is what we have come to know as the "draught of fishes." That's spelled d-r-a-u-g-h-t, and it's pronounced "draft." What it means is to draw or pull something out of something else; in this case it refers to the fish being pulled out of the water. It's like a draught horse that is used to pull farm implements, or draught beer that is pulled or drawn from a keg.
This draught of fishes was so large that the nets began to tear and break. The disciples with him had their faith confirmed in a huge way. Jesus did what the men had thought was impossible, and he did so under adverse circumstances. They knew without a doubt that they could trust him.
This was an important lesson for them to learn, because of what Jesus has in mind for them. He wants to make them "fishers of men;" in other words, they would be his messengers of the Gospel. These men had work to do in the Lord's service, and their role would be an important one. As fishermen on the sea of Galilee, they were able to nourish people's bodies; but now with the Gospel, they would bring life to people's souls.
Simon Peter's reaction to Jesus' miracle is not only understandable, but an important part of the future of these men. In verse 5 we read: "When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, 'Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!'"
Simon Peter knew his sinfulness only too well. He knew he was in the presence of the true God, and that Christ's holiness was the complete opposite of his sinfulness. It's almost like comparing that beat-up old rust bucket of a car on the Maaco ad with the one that's all fresh and shiny with a new paint job. There's just no comparison.
But that's the whole idea behind being fishers of men. Jesus meets sinful people the likes of you and me exactly where we are. He comes to us with open arms. He speaks words of forgiveness. He gives us eternal hope and new life where before there was nothing but emptiness, despair, and death.
Through faith alone, Jesus fills the nets of our lives full to overflowing with God's grace and hope. Through faith alone, Jesus gives us the forgiveness we so desperately need. Through faith alone, we have the assurance of an eternity in the paradise of heaven where we will experience happiness and joy forever.
And now comes a matter of priority. At the very end of our Gospel reading for today, we read that these four men, Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, and the other two brothers James and John left everything and followed Jesus. They left behind the safety and security of a profession that had been in their families for a long time. They did this at the behest of Jesus who wanted them to be fishers of men, and not fishers of fish. Jesus wanted these men to bring the blessing of the Gospel to a world lost in sin.
I guess I never realized how much some of the people I know had to give up to train for the public ministry. I know that various financial and family struggles weighed heavy on a lot of them. But there is one man who had it worse than any of the rest, and I'll briefly share his story with you.
The man's name is Don Mortenson. When Don was just completing his last year in high school, he began to get ill. His kidneys had stopped working, and he was on permanent dialysis. Later on he got a kidney transplant, which his body rejected. So he had another kidney transplant. And with all of this, he had to have his three of his parathyroid glands removed.
Even though Don was in his twenties, he looked like he was in his nineties. His body was stooped and atrophied, and he walked with a cane. It took him several hours to even get out of bed and get dressed in the morning. And you'd see him on the coldest of the Minnesota winter days, all bundled up and walking with painful steps from the dormitory to his classes. Yes, Don was doing the pre-theological work so he could enter the seminary.
I used to eat lunch with Don sometimes in the cafeteria, and we would talk a lot. He was a very intelligent person; and even though he would get despondent at times, he still maintained the best attitude he could and faithfully did his class work. All in all, he was a very nice guy, and I liked having him for a friend.
We all knew that his time on earth was limited, but I know that the Lord had a definite purpose for him. It seemed like whenever any of us would start feeling sorry for ourselves or get a chip on our shoulder; Don had a way of being able to cheer us up. And by his very example, we knew that it was more difficult for him than all of us put together.
Don did graduate from college, but he never made it to the seminary. A year or so after he graduated, the Lord called him to his heavenly home. Don's condition had deteriorated to the point where he had to spend the last few months of his life in a nursing home.
I remember asking myself, "Why in the world is someone like this spending his last few remaining years sitting in a classroom? He would never have the strength or stamina to be the pastor of a congregation. Why isn't he out enjoying the time he has left?"
He was there for a purpose. Don helped keep our lives in perspective, and serve as an example of perseverance. He was able to spend time amongst people who loved him and cared for him. But most importantly, he spent his time serving his Lord who Don believed had blessed him so very much, in spite of all his pain and suffering.
In Matthew chapter 6 verse 33 Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: "33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." That's the rule we need to keep in mind as well.
In our lives as Christians, it's so easy to look backward. We have this tendency to keep looking over our shoulder to see what we have left behind in order to follow Jesus. It isn't always easy. People will often use the excuse, "Well, we've got to keep peace in the family." Or people will try to justify condoning the sinful actions of others by saying, "Well, we all just have to get along." If we're inclined to think this way, then we need to remember what Jesus says in Luke chapter 12 verses 51-53: "51Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
When Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John responded to Jesus' directive to be fishers of men, they left the attractions of this world behind, and followed him without looking back. They left the security of their profession for a life of service.
But they went forth in faith, faith in their Saviour Jesus Christ with the assurance that their sins had been forgiven. They knew that God's kingdom the most important thing in their lives. It was their hope that through the Holy Spirit's help, they would be successful in their new careers as fishers of men as they brought the saving Gospel to a world lost in sin. May we go forth in the same spirit for Jesus' sake.