Over the course of our marriage, Kate and I have adopted a sort of discernment process when we’re faced with big decisions. Prayer is a part of it. But mostly, at the end of the day, it comes down to this: if it feels crazy and you still have to do it, it’s probably Jesus. It’s not an exact science, but it’s generally worked so far. That’s more or less how she ended up in grad school. Mere weeks before her first summer school class, she had confidently told a friend that she would never, ever, be going back to school (Jesus loves statements like that). It’s more or less how we ended up in Vancouver, which was a decision that from pretty well every practical perspective made zero amounts of sense.
We hadn’t adopted this particular method early on in our relationship, when I felt like God was calling me into this type of ministry. But in hindsight, that’s pretty much what happened. Because my parents are ministers, I’d spent my whole life being asked if I was going to be a minister. And I always denied that that was even a remote possibility. Not a chance. But then Kate and I got suckered into going to an Alpha Course at my dad’s church because there was free food and we were broke. So we went. And then we started having conversations, and even praying. And then Kate asked me if I had ever thought about ministry.
Now, it could have been the fact that I had recently graduated with an English degree, which didn’t seem to be translating into meaningful, let alone lucrative word, and I didn’t have the foggiest idea what I was going to do next. But somehow, when my fiancée asked me that question, it sounded different than when the ladies at church asked it. And so I said, “Absolutely not. Don’t be ridiculous, sweetheart.”
But over the next week it was like I was being hounded by God. I couldn’t shake the sense that maybe I actually did have to do this thing that I didn’t want to do, and didn’t feel at all cut out to do—I mean, for starters, I couldn’t get an essay in on time with three months’ notice; how would I write a sermon a week? But finally, the closest thing I’ve ever experienced as a voice from heaven hit me, and the question came: “Why are you making excuses? Why don’t you trust me?” And here we are. Jesus strikes again.
It’s actually not that interesting a story. Seminaries are littered with people who didn’t want to be there and sometimes still don’t know what they’re doing there. I think most vocations are like that. I suspect that if we took a poll of those of you on the other side of careers, no matter what the work, there’d be similar kinds of experiences.
And the point is not that I, or Kate and I, make consistently and perfectly faithful decisions. I shudder to think how many opportunities I’ve missed out on because Jesus was calling me in a particular direction and I chickened out, stayed put and plugged my ears. The point is simply that some of the most important things we’ve ever done made no sense in the moment, but we truly felt like God was calling us to do them.
And I bet you have similar stories. In fact, I know many of them. I bet if we opened up the mic, we could hear dozens of stories about decisions made at crucial times, that seemed reckless, or just stupid, but something compelled you to say “yes”. Maybe you heard God’s voice ringing clearly. Maybe it’s only clear in hindsight, that God was leading you.
You’ve probably gotten ahead of me, to today’s gospel story. I think it’s one of the most beautiful, and unnerving moments in all the gospels, when Peter says, Because you say so, I will let down the nets. Because you say so, I will. This story aims straight at the heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, what it means to walk in his will and way. The gospels are not just information about Jesus, but about our formation in Jesus, and St. Luke is giving us a heads-up that this is what life shaped by Jesus looks like. I think it’s particularly important for the Church. It’s not just a story meant to inspire new believers, but also to stir the hearts and imaginations of those of us who have already been hanging around for a while; those of us who may have gotten comfortable in our pews.
And I say that, because this isn’t the first time that Simon Peter (just Peter from here on…) meets Jesus. Just before this story, we hear that Jesus had spent some time in Peter’s house, healing all kinds of sick and possessed people. And he’s just heard Jesus teaching. Peter sees the crowds on the shore, hungry for God’s word and getting holy satisfaction from what Jesus is giving them. So, when Jesus asks him to do this thing, it’s not completely out of the blue. There’s some precedence for the unexpected, when Jesus is around.
But it’s still ridiculous.
This is a request that makes zero amounts of sense. And you can tell that, because Peter’s first response is to start making excuses. Actually, he starts explaining to Jesus why Jesus’ plan is not a very good one. We only get a bit of the conversation, but you can imagine Peter piling on the reasons why this is a bad idea.
What does this carpenter-turned-Rabbi know about fishing?
- First of all Jesus, we only fish at night. That’s how it’s done. As you can see, it’s the middle of the day.
- And look at that huge crowd—they’ll think we’ve lost our minds, and we’ve got a fishing business to think about. The investors might be in the crowd.
- And see, we’ve already got the nets cleaned—the boys have been working all night, and we’re just about ready to go home.
- And oh, did I mention that it didn’t work last time? We’ve been fishing all night and haven’t gotten so much as a nibble, let alone a net-full.
And I imagine Jesus just standing there, letting Peter make excuses, saying nothing. But not changing his mind. These are perfectly reasonable excuses; and this is still the request: put out the nets. If Peter wants to be a part of what Jesus is doing in this moment, this is what he’s asked the fisherman to do—this thing which goes against every inclination Peter has—and Peter can do it or not. I can’t help but imagine a mischievous twinkle in Jesus’ eye (if this thing works out, it’s going to cause some trouble—it’ll turn the fishing world on its head!). And I can’t help but believe that behind the mischievous twinkle is an overwhelming look of love as Peter tries to explain why he shouldn’t do this thing. It’s a love that overwhelms Peter’s anxieties and excuses. Until finally, Peter looks at Jesus and sees someone he can trust. Something in Jesus moves Peter to say, Because you say so, I will. And he does.
And we know what comes next. A net-busting haul of fish. Two boats sinking under the weight of the abundance. It’s extraordinary. The crowd goes wild! In the history of fishing, no one’s ever seen anything like it!
But I don’t actually want to get too hung up on the catch. Of course, it’s amazing. But I don’t want to get too enamoured with the surplus, because I think that can lead us down some sketchy theological paths. I think it’s really, really telling that when Peter, James, and John get back to shore and they’ve had the catch of their lives and the whole town is buzzing about their fishing business, the first thing they do is drop everything and go after Jesus. Somehow, fishing doesn’t seem as interesting as Jesus. They leave everything and follow. This is not a Christian trick to success; it’s not Christian financial advice; it’s not the promise that if you do what Jesus says, you’ll get rich. It’s just what faithfulness looks like. They actually walk away with less. And they walk away with everything.
So I don’t want to focus on the fish. I want to focus on the posture. Because you say so, I will. And I want to draw back a bit from big crucial decisions, because Peter didn’t even know he was making a big crucial decision. He was just doing what Jesus told him to do, when Jesus interrupted his work day. Nothing leading up to this moment suggested that that morning Peter’s life was about to change so much that the effects would ripple out to this morning, to this time, to this place. Peter will be the rock on which the Church is built! We might well be here, because Peter made that loopy decision. It’s not the fish; it’s the posture that matters: because you say so, I will. That’s what changes us, and that’s what changes the world.
I mean, imagine if Christians everywhere, people who claim Jesus as Lord, adopted this posture—if it was our default, not just in big decisions, but every day. Imagine if we took another passage of Scripture, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus’ Kingdom of God manifesto, his vision of what God’s will on earth as in heaven looks like. Imagine if we took that passage and worked our way through it saying, (praying!) because you say so, I will. I wonder what the world would look like. I wonder what our church would look like. I wonder how each of us, sent out into the world—into our offices and homes, our classrooms and hobbies, our work and our play—would change the world in unimaginable ways, ways beyond our comprehension, just because when our posture is because you say so, I will, that’s when we’re caught up with the One who does more than we can ask or imagine. What sort of holy butterfly effect would God unleash through us? What kind of witness for the gospel, for Christ?
(If you have a Bible, turn to Matthew 5.) Because you say so, I’ll be salt and light in the world. I’ll be a holy flavouring to a sin-bland world. I’ll shine the light of love for someone walking in darkness.
Because you say so, I’ll seek reconciliation, not retaliation; I’ll forgive, and I’ll seek forgiveness.
Because you say so, I’ll stop treating people as objects for my pleasure, or my advantage, and I’ll start treating them as they are: the image of God, the object of God’s delight.
Because you say so, I’ll be honest.
Because you say so, I’ll pray for my enemies: I’ll try to actively love people I don’t want to, in ways that are healing and life giving.
Because you say so, I won’t hoard wealth, but I’ll be generous; I’ll consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, the wonder of creation; I’ll seek your kingdom, first; I’ll stop judging.
Because you say so, I won’t just listen to your words, Jesus: I’ll do them. Because you say so, I will.
Every step along the way I can feel the same excuses I’d have made if I were Peter, that day, in that boat:
Jesus, you don’t understand this business. That’s not the way my work is done.
Jesus, the time isn’t right.
Jesus, what will the crowds think? What will my family and friends think?
Jesus, I tried that once, and it didn’t work.
We know all the excuses. And yet, we could tell story after story of times when people, when we, have done these ridiculous things and the power of God broke into the world in a way we couldn’t have imagined. There was a miracle, a healing, a radical change in attitude, an impossible reconciliation, a peace that surpasses understanding, fresh sight, new hope, completely unexpected possibilities. The stories of saints in every generation are full of examples of faithful actions—some so small as to seem insignificant—that made way for God’s will on earth as in heaven, a crack for God’s powerful hope, peace, joy, and love to break in.
And maybe that sentence right there makes us hold up. Maybe we don’t always feel like “saints.” Maybe we understand what Peter’s on about when he falls to his knees and cries out, “Go away from me Lord, I’m a sinful man.” Maybe we think Jesus got into the wrong boat. I think Peter’s afraid he’s going to let Jesus down. He’s afraid he’s not worthy of the kind of thing that Jesus is about; afraid he’s not worthy to be called a saint, that he’s not fit for God’s work in the world. He’s afraid he’s not worthy of a miracle.
And listen to what Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid.” Don’t be afraid. I think every time God acts in the Bible someone has to say, “Don’t be afraid.” This is the 4th time in the gospel of Luke (we’re only in chapter 5). How many times does that phrase come up in the Bible? 365. Everyday Jesus is ready to set our hearts at ease, to pull us into what he’s up to in the world, to get us caught up in the dragnet of grace, in the work of the One who is making all things new. Every day, Jesus is ready to say, “Don’t be afraid. I’m with you; I choose you.” And Jesus is glad to do that, not because we’re worthy but because he loves us. The Bible is insistent that we’re saints—people of God—not because we’ve done anything, but because God says so. Before we manage to roll out of bed in the morning, God has loved us more than we can ever imagine. That’s the default. Peter didn’t invite Jesus into his boat; Jesus just got in. You didn’t choose me, I chose you, Jesus reminds us over and over.
Jesus is in our boat! Jesus is in your boat, inviting you to go fishing with him. Before you say yes to him, he’s said yes to you. Jesus just wants us to get in on what he’s doing, to let God’s love for this world take shape in our lives. He wants to call us away from lifeless things that we cling to, and help us grab hold of life that is truly life.
In your bulletins today, you got a card. It’s got that line on it, Because you say so, I will. I want to encourage you to hang on to that. Pin it somewhere; stick it in your Bible, or your purse, wherever you’re going to see it. Make it part of your daily prayer life. If we all walked into the world with that prayer—Because you say so, I will—on our hearts, I believe the world would be changed. Make it part of your discernment, if you’re facing a big decision. Take the Sermon on the Mount challenge—do it in grace, not to overwhelm ourselves, but to start working the way of Jesus into our lives. See that wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, Jesus is glad to let heaven break into the world through us. Let’s make the bold prayer of our hearts this week, Because you say so, I will, and just see what God will do with that.
Then we’ll know what St. Paul is on about when he prays: To God, who by the power at work within us is able to do abundantly far more than all we could ask or imagine, to God be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus, forever. Amen.