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Armchair Quarterbacking and Postgame Coaching staff. We’re back in business with football season. We always know better than the experts. We know better than coaches, doctors, ministers – and we think we could all run Congress better.

Poor doctors; it doesn’t matter how many years of training or experience he or she has had. It doesn’t matter how many lives he or she has saved. There’s always someone who thinks they know more than the doctors ... [Restaurant story.]

Is this how Peter felt when Jesus told him how to fish? Jesus is an awesome teacher. He is a skilled carpenter, but he’s not a fisherman. Not like Peter. Peter’s not some weekend angler with a rod and reel. He’s a commercial fisherman. He has a crew. He has resources – nets and a boat or two. They know more than Jesus. They’ve been doing this without Jesus. They know that they’ve fished the lake without success.

Nevertheless, Jesus has hired their boat. (See, he needs their resources – they think.) And when he says head out to the deep waters and cast your nets over there they do it. And they are amazed when the nets fill up. But then they very quickly get anxious because the catch is so great that it threatens their investments – their nets are about to break and they have to get the other boats to carry the catch and even then it threatens to sink their boats. Either of those problems with nets and boats would be a disaster financially and physically.

You would think that Peter and his crew would want Jesus around with his ability to detect the best fishing spots, but instead Peter wants him to go away. Jesus is too holy. Fishing is a risky enterprise as it is, and he certainly doesn’t want it to get any riskier by having a holy man on board. Peter would like to go back to the fishing he knows so well.

But Jesus is doing some fishing of his own. Jesus is making disciples. This is Peter’s call to discipleship: to be a disciple and to make disciples. But it is also a call to discipleship for everyone who reads the gospel. Notice what Luke has done by putting this text where he did ...

When Jesus begins his ministry in Luke 4 he starts teaching and preaching and he does so in the traditional manner – in the synagogues. He’s in Nazareth reading Isaiah: the reading goes well, but they don’t care for the sermon. Then he’s in the Capernaum synagogue and he does very well there. He even casts out an unclean spirit. He continues his ministry among the community there healing and casting out demons. And all through Judea he teaches in the synagogues. That’s standard method. That’s the way it's always been done.

Yet, after this wondrous fishing trip notice what Jesus does: He heals someone of leprosy – that a very different from healing Simon’s mother-in-law from a fever. Leprosy is a social disease. Those with leprosy are outcast. Then Jesus is healing is questioned by the religious authorities when he equates healing with the forgiveness of sins. It’s fine for Jesus to heal, but he goes a step too far when he forgives. Jesus truly breaks from the standard method when he calls a tax collector to be his disciple. The man is a traitor, an outcast but now he has been gathered into Jesus’ ministry. And when Jesus is questioned about the untypical behavior of his disciples, he answers with the parable of the wineskins: which is to say, the work of the kingdom will not fit your categories. The religious authorities had equated their methods and practices with the work of God, but the work of God is embodied in Christ and his disciples.

So, Luke is telling us that following Jesus and making disciples may not always fit our ways of doing things, and it may even be risky.
Here we are reading this text. Where will Jesus take us? Do we really want to go where he takes us? Are we willing to accept the risk? Let’s be honest, evangelism and discipleship are risky endeavors and it isn’t a good idea for us to be so confident that we assume that we have it all figured out. If there really was a simple, risk-free, method for making discipleships then why aren’t we doing it? Well, because we are like Peter and the others in their boat. We have two anxieties:

  1. One is that we will work so hard and gain nothing – we’ve tried every technique we know and some days you just have to say, the fish aren’t there.
  2. The other is that we will be overwhelmed. And so we get anxious ... What if the nets break? – What if our unity and our community starts to unravel? A lot of new people, different people, that can change things. Some of these new disciples don’t know our ways. It can get hard to shepherd all those sheep. It can get hard to be a sheep. What if the boats sink? – We have a lot of resources, and too many disciples too soon means it will get hard to manage that or they might get ruined.

All that anxiety causes fear to replace faith. Instead of being faithful to Jesus and letting him guide us to the deep waters, in our anxieties we let fear rule us and, though we don’t like to admit it, we ask Jesus to go away. And we can still pay homage to Christ and honor evangelism as a good thing to do but we do it on our terms and reduce it to an activity or task and tame it down to the level of making it a sales technique or recruitment. That’s easy to manage ... but it never satisfies because we haven’t really done anything about our fears and anxieties. We are like Peter in the boat calling ourselves unworthy sinners and telling Jesus to keep his distance. We worry that we don’t have the sort of results we think we ought to have. Maybe we’re even worried that God isn’t going to be happy with “our catch.” The result is that we get weary of evangelism and maybe even a little resentful of having to do it. But we grit our teeth and try it again. We keep using the same techniques, maybe with a new twist. Or maybe we get to the point that we try something entirely new. But the Bible doesn’t seem interested in giving us techniques. There’s no endorsement of a particular technique or process for evangelism.

Rather, the Bible teaches us – as Luke 5 does – that evangelism and disciple making may be risky but it isn’t our project. When faith replaces fear, we follow Jesus and all the things we worry about will never come to pass. The nets do not break. The boats do not sink.

The good news about sharing the good news is that Jesus is in charge. Even when we are evangelizing – God’s power is at work among us and he is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine. The good news about sharing the good news has always been a part of what we call the great commission, but we may have overlooked the most important part of it.

As you’re going along, whether that Australia or across the street, downtown or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Fort Smith or the Faroe Islands ... make disciples – How? Baptize them and teach them. (Teaching is part of the Good Commission. I am still being taught. Our worship and preaching today are part of the process of disciple making – it's Good Commission stuff.) I AM ALWAYS WITH YOU – “And lo” means "hey!", "By The Way", "Now get this!" Let’s listen to Jesus. He will captain our ship. He’ll catch the fish. Don’t fear; be faithful.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 2 September 2007

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