LENT THRU THE EYES OF PETER…WHO, ME?
March 1, 2015 1st Sunday in Lent
1Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 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. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 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. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 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.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Let’s play a little game this morning—Here’s the question:
Of all the many characters that fill the history and pages of the Bible, who do you most readily identify with? Or, to put it another way, who could you see yourself sitting down to lunch with over a couple of chili dogs at the counter in Jess’ Quick Lunch?
For me, without a doubt, it would be Simon Peter. I’ve always felt a kinship with Peter. Tough guy- yes…and yet he wears his emotions on his sleeve. Transparent. No pretense. What you see with Peter is what you get.
Peter’s impulsive—he leaps first and looks later. And yes, he often contracts foot-in-mouth disease. At times he’s boldly courageous. At times he’s a colossal coward.
I like Peter because Peter is human—very, very human—a person of grit and grace, of sin and sanctity, of lowliness and holiness. And I can identify with that. Perhaps you can also.
Over these upcoming Sundays in this holy season we are going to experience Lent thru the eyes of Peter. We are going to get up close and personal. We are going to ride the roller-coaster journey of discipleship Peter embarks upon in his relationship with Jesus Christ.
And we are going to see that, as Jesus goes about molding and making Peter as his own, so Jesus desires to accomplish the same for you and me.
Let’s get started…
SIMON PETER’S BACKGROUND…
On Simon Peter’s W-2 statement we find his occupation is listed as “professional fisherman”—not in the sense of a Bassmaster like Ray Scott or Bill Dance—but rather a working-class fellow who goes about harvesting fish commercially. He and his brother Andrew are partners in a local fishing enterprise that also includes James, John and their father Zebedee.
Peter is somewhere between 18-21 years-of-age. He lives in the lakeside village of Capernaum, on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Gennesaret. He is married.
And we know his mother-in-law resides in his household. (Someone once asked, What’s the difference between outlaws and mother-in-laws? – Outlaws are wanted”) We don’t know anything about the relationship between Peter and his mother-in-law—but he did care enough about her to invite Jesus to come and heal her of a high fever.
What about Peter’s educational background? Schooling for Jewish boys takes place in the synagogue, and it consists of three levels. Elementary school, called Bet Sefer, is from age 6-12. All schooling revolves around the Torah. In Bet Sefer, the goal is to read, memorize and comprehend the Torah—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Needless to say, very few students had the intelligence to accomplish this. And so the local scribe or Rabbi would tell them they needed to “take up a trade, have babies and pray their children become rabbis.”
The students who were the brightest and the best continued on to Bet Talmud- the next level of schooling—reserved for 13-16 year-old teens. And then, if they passed that time of intense course work, they went on to apply for admission into Bet Midrash. This was the pinnacle—the Top Gun graduate school for rabbis.
Well, guess what? Peter is no Maverick. He isn’t even Ferris Bueller. Evidently he flunks out of elementary school! He is just a very average student. The rabbi tells him he’s not the brightest candle in the menorah, so he better develop a useful skill. And so, Peter takes up fishing. It’s a recession-proof occupation—people have to eat.
And he’s a darn good fisherman. He learns to observe the water and determine what the wind and current are doing. He learns the nuances of his trade and makes a good living for his family.
One other note about Peter—he’s a multi-tasker. He’s one of those individuals who always has to be doing something, and yet he hears everything going on around him.
Jesus is teaching along the shoreline. A huge crowd has gathered. And so to better amplify his voice, Jesus tells Peter he needs to commandeer Peter’s boat. Peter says, “NO problem.” Peter rows Jesus out into the shallow water.
And while Peter is cleaning and mending his nets there in the boat, Jesus notices Peter is listening intently to every word he utters. While doing, Peter is listening, taking the message of God’s kingdom to heart. Peter is quite astute.
SIMON PETER’S CALLING….
We deplore average people. Give us Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average.
The recruiting Web site Rivals.com officially designated running back Tyson Thornton of Springfield, Mass., and quarterback Daron Bryden of Enfield, Conn. as football prospects for colleges to keep an eye on. Oh, and they are in the 6th grade!
Yes, parents are lobbying now to have their 12-year-old kids monitored by recruiting websites because they believe these pre-pubescent children have extraordinary talent and will one day be playing for Alabama or Florida State!
I actually have a great-niece, Tori, who has a softball scholarship reserved for her at Longwood University. She is 14-years-old!
We don’t like average people. And heaven forbid, we certainly would slap somebody if they told us our child was average in sports or in the classroom.
Jesus loves average people. Jesus sees great potential in average people. Jesus sees great potential in Peter. Peter is no rocket scientist or 5-star-recruit. But there is something in this man’s solid soul and winsome personality that Jesus knows can be used to catch people for the Kingdom of God.
Jesus says to Peter, “Come, follow me! I will make you a fisher of people!” And Peter’s response to that call, which seems so spontaneous, so immediate, is actually the end result of a long process.
You see, Peter has been around Jesus for a while. Sizing him up. Sizing his message up. A while back his younger brother Andrew introduced him to Jesus. They spent much time in conversation.
Peter later invited Jesus to stay at his home while he was in the region of Capernaum. He witnessed Jesus’ compassion in healing his mother-in-law. He witnessed Jesus’ compassion in healing great throngs of hurting people, showing endless patience with each.
Over time he has come to realize this Jesus from Nazareth is no ordinary man. There is something quite different, quite messianic, about him. It’s no coincidence that, when Jesus needs a boat that morning to preach from, Peter is nearby, ready and willing to offer his vessel.
Then comes that decisive episode. Jesus is finished preaching. He says to Peter, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” And Peter protests.
There is more to this than meets the eye. Jesus is inviting Peter to more than just a fishing expedition. He is inviting him to a deeper life of trust, of faith.
Uncertainty ensnares Peter. He’s quite comfortable remaining in the shallow water. No need to venture any further. It’s too much trouble, too risky, to think and move outside the box.
Have you ever had one of those peculiar nudges of the Spirit when you felt the Lord calling you to leave the shallow water….for a few hours to go assist someone….or perhaps for a few years….to go in a different direction with your life? It’s a foreboding thing!
But listen to what happens next…Peter acquiesces:
“Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Can you picture the scene? Peter and his fellow fishermen begin rowing in a circle, letting the same net out of the rear of the boat that he has just spent an hour or so carefully cleaning, mending and folding after his futile all-night fishing expedition. Peter is no doubt cussing under his breath about the work he will have to do and the sleep he is missing and what he is going to have to tell his wife about why he is late coming home.
He completes his circle and begins to pull the net in. He probably makes a smaller circle to begin with in order to save time and effort. And as he starts yanking in the net he grunts as he feels the weight of fish. As the net constricts, large fish start rising and rolling to the surface, their black sides and white underbellies glistening in the sun. They splash and flop in their frantic attempt to escape the net.
As Peter begins scooping fish into the boat, he sees that soon the boat is going to be swamped and sinking! He yells for other fisherman from the shore to head out and help.
They are laughing and joking as they fill the boats to the brim with an enormous haul of fish! It’s unbelievable! It’s a miracle!
What’s going through Peter’s mind at this point? Is he thinking, “I’ve got to get this Jesus guy in our business—we’ll make a killing! He’s our winning powerball ticket!”
No, that’s not what Peter is thinking.
We see a bout of unworthiness engulfing Peter. He falls face down in the sushi swimming around Jesus’ feet in the stern of the boat. And he cries out, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
It can be quite a disturbing thing to find ourselves in the presence of the Lord. We see ourselves in a clearly-polished mirror, and it may not be a flattering image. We feel helpless and hopeless to start in a new direction.
But this is where God’s grace enters in.
Jesus says to Peter, ““Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” And Peter finds within himself the resolve to drag his boat ashore and to leave the baggage of his old life behind at the edge of the water and to head out in a new life with Jesus. He’s going to be fishing for people.
And, guess what, Jesus calls you and me to be fishers of people as well…to utilize our gifts and talents to help folk connect with and to find an abiding relationship with our God.
For some of us, it’s a vocation. My good friend Dave Alexander’s daughter and husband have answered a call to be missionaries to India. There are certain Christian careers that God leads persons to immerse themselves in.
For all of us, being a fisher of people is a lifestyle. It’s what we live daily that reflects God’s love to others. It’s a consistency of caring that they see in us that brings them to the doorway of grace.
For 26-year-old Kayla Mueller, being a fisher of people was both a vocation and a lifestyle. Her career was serving as an American humanitarian aid worker in war-torn foreign countries. Her lifestyle was sharing the compassion of God with the least and lost upon this earth.
This is what brought her to a Syrian refugee camp in the midst of that nation’s civil war, following tours of service in India and Israel. She wrote of her experiences in a letter to her dad on his birthday in 2011:
“I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine,” Mueller wrote to her father. “Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering.”
On August 4, 2013, that refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian border was overrun by ISIS jihadists. Kayla was kidnapped and held as a hostage for a year-and-a-half.
Her faith as a Christian kept her strong in the midst of torture and abuse her militant Islamic captors perpetrated upon her. She would write to her parents while surrounded by unimaginable evil:
“I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our Creator b/c literally there was no else…. + by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall. I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free.”
Kayla asked for her family’s forgiveness, saying, “This never should have become your burden.”
This faith-filled young woman was reportedly killed by a Jordanian airstrike a few weeks ago, but that has not been fully confirmed. Her death was confirmed.
A celebration of her remarkable life and indominitable spirit was held this past week, attended by hundreds in her hometown of Prescott, Arizona.
“She was a saint,” said Rebecca Dunn, who attended high school with Mueller in Prescott. “I’m hoping someone can take on her legacy. There was nothing she couldn’t do.”
Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
That is our greatest challenge as Christians today, for we dwell in a world permeated, saturated, emaciated with evil. May God’s strength, guidance and grace be with us as we seek to help those in darkness find Him who is the way, the truth and the life.
“Come, follow me,” says Jesus.