The following sermon was pre-recorded for St George’s Transcona’s service for Sunday February 6, 2022. You can learn more about St George’s and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here.   Photo credit: Jakob Owens on Unsplash 


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

We’ve been bouncing around in the timeline of Luke’s gospel a fair bit over the past few Sundays so let’s take a moment to orient ourselves.

Today’s gospel takes place early in Jesus’ earthly ministry, not long after the time he preached in his hometown and made his neighbours want to throw him off a cliff.

He has been travelling around the region, teaching and performing miracles, and crowds of people are beginning to show up wherever he goes.

At this point in his ministry it seems that he is also doing all of this alone.

Today’s reading begins “Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret[1], and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.  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.” (1-3)

I used to work at a soup kitchen and one of my colleagues was a close talker with no sense of personal space. As we were talking, he would inch closer and closer and I would inch farther and farther away until I would inevitably find myself with my back pressed tight again a wall. I imagine something similar happening to Jesus. The crowd, eager to be close enough to see Jesus and to hear his every word subconsciously inches closer and closer until Jesus is right up on the water’s edge.

And then Jesus sees an opportunity.  A boat will allow him to get a little distance from the people and it will also make it easier for them to see him, and to hear him. Sounds carries really well over water.

When Jesus is finished teaching he turns to Simon and says, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” (4)

Think about the context of this part of the scene.  First of all, at the start of this story when Jesus is teaching the crowd it is already the end of the workday for these fishermen. They are washing their nets, which is one of the last things you do after a long day of fishing.  So these men, who have already worked a full day, agree to go back out on the water so Jesus can teach the crowd.

Sticking around after a long workday and letting Jesus use his boat seems generous enough to me, but now Jesus wants Simon to begin fishing again?

That’s a lot of to ask.

And Simon seems to agree that it’s a lot to ask but something about Jesus has also captured his attention because he says, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” (4-5, emphasis mine)

There is something about Jesus that makes Simon willing to do something he knows makes no sense.

And it’s not that Jesus is an expert fisherman.  Jesus was a carpenter. What does he know about catching fish?  Simon is the expert here and yet Simon goes against his own better judgement and does what Jesus asks.

I would love to know what Jesus said when he taught those crowds. I would love to know what it was about Jesus that inspired Simon to do what Jesus asked even when it made no sense.  Was it something Jesus said? What it something about the way he said it? Both?

But Luke doesn’t tell us what Jesus said, he only records Simon’s response to Jesus’ request.

At the end of a long workday when he hasn’t caught any fish, and against his better judgment based on years of experience fishing in those waters, Simon lets down his nets again.

And it works.

Luke tells us that, “When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 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.” (6-7)

That’s a lot of fish. A dangerous amount even. They catch so many fish that they damage their equipment and risk their own lives as the boats begin to sink.

And not just their own boat, the second boat they signal to help is so full that it is sinking too.

And remember that Jesus didn’t just ask them to put down their nets near the shore, he specifically told them to take the boats to the “deep water” and then put down their nets.   The safety of the shore is a long way away.

The scene feels chaotic to me.  One minute they are just a few men on a boat, and the next there are two boats so full of wriggling, flopping fish that they are sinking in deep water.

This story demonstrates one of the most common themes in all of our scriptures – scarcity vs. abundance.  Human beings tend to believe in scarcity and miss the fact that God is a God of abundance.  A God of overwhelming abundance.

Over and over again in scripture we read stories of God’s provision. And more often than not when God provides, there isn’t merely enough, there is more than enough. There is abundance.  Think of the manna provided in the wilderness. There was always more than enough.  Think of stories of Jesus feeding large crowds. There was always more than enough.

These men have caught way more fish than they need. They have caught way more fish than their friends need.

They have caught more than enough fish.  They have enough fish that they can eat today. They have enough fish that they can also sell some so they can eat again tomorrow. As can the people who buy fish from them.  They have caught such an abundance of fish that they are going to have to throw many of them back overboard just to stop their boats from sinking so they can return to shore.

It’s possible that this is a miracle where Jesus added an abundance of fish to the waters so that these men to catch them, the text doesn’t tell us.

But it’s also possible that these fish were already there.  It’s possible that these men believed there were a scarcity of fish, and were living into that false reality when all along there was an abundance of fish waiting for them in those deeper waters.

Where in your own life do you believe there are scarce resources? Your health? Friendships? Your bank account? Where in the life of St George’s do you believe there are scarce resources?  Volunteers?  Newcomers?  The bank account?

I don’t know for sure, and I am aware that it can be overly simplistic and unhelpful to simply say “believe in abundance!”  But what might happen in your own life, in the life of this parish, if we were open to the possibility that there may be something more for us if went out a little deeper and then cast our nets? What might happen is we started to lean into abundance thinking instead of scarcity thinking?

Are there unexplored areas of potential, are there opportunities beyond our current perception of our limits, beyond our current perception of our available resources, talents, and energy that we might be able to tap into if we did?

Are we mistakenly believing the sea is empty when really it is so full of resources that our boats would sink with their weight?

We won’t know if we are never curious enough to ask the question. We won’t know if we never throw down our nets and try again.

If the gospel story ended here, it would be a pretty good one, but this catch of fish, this overwhelming generous abundance, is not the climax of the story.

Luke writes, “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 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.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.” (8-11)

After the initial adrenaline rush of filling the boats with fish, Simon takes a moment to look at the scene and his response is to fall at Jesus’ feet, declare that he is sinful and tell Jesus to leave.   It’s an odd response for a number of reasons, including that they are still out in deep water in a boat that is so full of fish it is sinking. Is Jesus supposed to hop over the side? This is very early in his ministry, no one has any idea that he can actually walk on water. That hasn’t happened yet.

It’s also odd because suddenly this man we have known as Simon is called Simon Peter.  People who have read to the end of the gospel story will know that much later on Jesus will give Simon the new name Peter, but that also hasn’t happened yet.  Still Luke inserts this name in his gospel to make sure we know exactly who we are reading about.

Jesus doesn’t accept the premise of Simon Peter’s statement, he basically ignores it and simply states, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

Umm what? Catching people? What does that mean?  And doesn’t catching people sound a lot harder and a lot scarier than catching fish does?

We’ll get to that in a moment, but let’s stick with the story up until the end.  Jesus tells these men they will be catching people and then they bring the boats back to shore, leave everything and follow him.

They leave everything. Their homes, their families, their careers, and also the entire catch of fish and all the wealth it represents.  That’s incredible. Jesus is incredible and has a way of inspiring people to do things they never imagined they would or even could.

Now onto this detail of catching people. First of all, the word is people in the original text not men.  You may have heard the phrase “fishers of men” more often in your life but that’s a bad translation. Jesus says people. All people.

When you fish with nets, you can’t control what kind of fish you get, you catch all the fish that are in that place. It’s a truly inclusive way to fish, and this is what Jesus is talking about. His mission is for all people, he won’t exclude anyone.

But no metaphor is perfect.

Jesus is not calling us to ensnare people in nets. Jesus’ call is always an invitation. It always includes choice and consent.

Like Simon and the other men in the boats, if we choose to follow Jesus we are also called to fish for people but it’s important to note that a lot of the ways the church has chosen and continues to choose to fish for people are not in keeping with Jesus’ mission.  As we continue to walk through the gospel stories we’ll be able to see this – Jesus doesn’t coerce, manipulate or shame people into following him.  Far too often the church has done those things.

Jesus invites people to follow him and it’s an invitation that is so compelling that people freely choose to do so. That’s what fishing for people should look like – an appealing invitation, and a choice freely made to follow.

I have been with you at St George’s for only a few weeks, I certainly don’t know everything there is to know about you and the parish at this point but I have already noticed some things that are really encouraging.  First, you have people who love this place who are willing to volunteer large amounts of time to make your shared life possible.  It’s really amazing.  It is so wonderful what God can do when people are willing to use their gifts in parish life.  There are so many talented and dedicated folks working together here.  Some things are easy to spot – like the gorgeous display of candles we had last week for Candlemas or Tom’s beautiful singing voice.  Some things are less obvious, but equally important – the building is impeccably maintained and you are generous in how you allow it to be used.  The bills get paid. Reports get written and distributed.  It’s really amazing.

Next Sunday we’re holding the annual general meeting for the parish at 1pm on Zoom.  This week when you read the reports and prepare to attend, I want to encourage you to lean into the gospel mindset of abundance. Look at all that you have accomplished in the past year. Look at all the ways God has provided abundantly when it did not seem like that was possible.  When you read those reports you will see there is so much to be thankful for.

When you look over the reports and prepare to attend the meeting, I also want to encourage you to prayerfully ask, “God, where are you calling me?”  What does casting my net into deeper water look like? What does leaving my boat on the shore to follow you look like?

The answer will be as unique as each one of you – it may be to volunteer your time in a new way, or to contribute financially to the life of the parish is a new way, or to commit to a new practice of personal prayer. It might also look like saying “no” to new things because you’re already overcommitted.

Whatever it is, know that Jesus always invites, but never coerces.  The choice is always yours.  To put your boat into deeper waters or to stay on the shore.

I don’t know what the future holds but I am excited to see what God will do in the life of this parish in the coming year.  I hope you’re excited too.

In the strong name of the holy and undivided Trinity. Amen.


[1] Also called the Sea of Galilee.  Gennesaret is from the Hebrew word “harp” which references the lake’s shape.