If Simon Peter was an expert at anything, it was fishing. He had done it is whole life. He was raised fishing, and now it was how he fed his family. Simon Peter knew how to watch the skies for the weather, and how to judge the waters for the best place to drop the nets. He knew how to tie, clean, and repair the nets. He could look at a freshly caught batch of fish and tell you how many were there, for how much they would sell, and whether they had enough to call it a night. Simon Peter also knew when it was time to cut his losses, stop wasting time, and get some rest. This was the life of a fisherman, and he knew it down in the cells of his body. He could do it in his sleep.
No one knew fishing better than Simon Peter, not even Jesus. He knewl by looking at his hands that Jesus had been a laborer who worked with wood or stone. Yes, he could do miraculous things—Jesus even healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law when she had a high fever, and all the others who came flocking to him. They were exorcised of demons and freed of other diseases. And Jesus taught them about loving their enemy and caring for the outcast and the lost.
One day Jesus offered these teachings from Simon Peter’s boat after a night of failed fishing. It was the ebb and flow of the catch. It was time to call it off and try again tomorrow. Simon Peter knew he was right—he felt it in his bones—he had done this his whole life. He was the fisherman; Jesus was the carpenter and healer.
But when Jesus had finished his teaching, he said to Simon Peter, “take your boat out into the deep water and let down your nets for catch.”
He was exhausted and disappointed that this was a night they came up empty, with nothing to sell at the market. As a seasoned fisherman, he knew—if they hadn’t gotten any fish the last 12 hours, they weren’t going to get any now, in the morning light.
Exasperated, Simon Peter says, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.”
The subtext is, “don’t you know that I am the fishing expert, I know what I am doing, and I am right? No fish all night means no fish now. It never has, it never will. It’s the way it goes. And did I mention, I am right?”
And Peter is right. But here’s the thing, it’s so hard to let go of being right. Even when we are convinced of the righteousness of our rightness, and we want others to know it and see it. There are fewer more delicious four words to the human ego than “I told you so.” We love the recognition, the satisfaction. We will think it even if we do not say it.
And many times, it is true. Many of us are wise experts through education and experience about a lot of things. The issue is though, how important is it to be right, and at what cost? When I was young, I lost a friendship in part, over my need to be right. And if we do not lose relationships, how much do we damage them over our need to be right, or to have the last word? To one up or shame the other person?
The struggle over who is right is real in our life together as the church. Some think we did not need professional consultants for our capital campaign—maybe you are right. Others think we could never reach our goal without help—perhaps you are right. Some do not think we need $500,000—maybe you are right; Others think that will not be enough to accomplish our big, long-term goals—perhaps you are right.
Is being right what really matters in your family, in your relationships? Is being right what really matters to us as a Christian community?
Simon Peter knew he was right, given all his experience and expertise, but instead of digging in, he set it aside, he let it go. He decided the relationship he was forming with Jesus, his new teacher, healer and master, was more important than standing his ground on his expert opinions. And so, he responds to Jesus,
“Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Jesus had not yet asked Simon to follow him; Jesus had not yet changed Simon’s name to Peter, Jesus had not yet made him the rock on which the church would be built, yet in this very early encounter, Simon Peter senses that it is more important to be in a relationship with Jesus and be obedient to him, than it is to be right.
“Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Yet, if you say so, I will do something that seems pointless. Yet if you say so, I will be obedient to your Word. Yet if you say so, I will follow you. Yet if you say so, I will do what you ask of me. Yet, if you say so, I will give up my need to be right.
What happened? They caught so many fish, the nets began to break, they needed James and John to come help them, and the boats began to sink. Absurd abundance. Radical bounty. Ridiculous overflowing amounts of fish.
What would have happened if Simon Peter hung onto being right? Absolutely nothing. He would have caught 0 fish. And, worst of all, he would not have a life-transforming relationship with Jesus! And that is what really matters, after all!
When Simon Peter realizes Jesus’ power and knowledge, even with fishing, and therefore all of life is so much greater than his own, he is overcome by his own smallness and brokenness and pushes Jesus away, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
But Jesus pulls him in all the more closely and says, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will catching people.” I am sticking with you Simon Peter, just as you are sticking with me. Because what matters is our relationships in the kingdom where God provides an abundance of fish, a radical bounty of love and a ridiculous overflowing of forgiveness and hope for you and for everyone is right and wrong and everywhere in between.
Because Jesus’ vision is for us to catch people and bring them into a life-transforming relationship with him. That is the vision for our lives and for our church. It does not matter who is right about methods, or amounts, or even how long it takes. Those are tools, processes, vehicles—we trust our leadership to pick one and we move forward together. Every single member of the Council (our Board) has had to give up being right in order to come together and make decisions about leading in a pandemic, about an unsolicited offer to buy our building, and now about a capital campaign. Did we make all the right decisions? I do not know, and that is not important.
Because what matters is what we do with what we have been given—are we using our building, our time together, our relationships and our ministries so that each of us has a deepening life-transforming relationship with Jesus? And together are we reaching out to catch more people and to help them have a life-transforming relationship with Jesus, too?
A relationship with Jesus that says,
• Do not be afraid I am with you.
• Do not be afraid, I can heal the pain of your past.
• Do not be afraid, I can guide you through the troubles of today..
• Do not be afraid, I can calm your fear of the future.
People need to hear these words of promise and Jesus sends us to share them. We may think we are right in believing that no one wants to hear about Jesus, that people will reject our message before we even share it. But Jesus instructs us to go out to deep water and drop our nets.
And with Peter, we respond, Yet, if you say so, I will do what you ask, Jesus.
The truth is, almost everyone, when you ask, will let you pray with them. Because they are hurting and need someone to care about them.
All you need is 3 sentences:
“Dear God, please help __________ with _______. (For example, please help Joe with his marriage, please help Mary find a job, please help John with his illness...)
Help them to know you love them, and give them peace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
This does 3 things for them: it lets them know you care about them, that you listened to them, and that you are a Christian who follows Jesus. No door-knocking, no awkward questions, no hitting anyone over the head with the Bible--caring, listening, praying in Jesus' name--a simple, powerful way to share your faith and 3 sentences to give someone an opening to a life-transforming relationship with Jesus.
Jesus asks us to fish for people, to pray with them, to feed them, to invite them into Christian community, to build relationships where we can share our own life-transforming relationship with Jesus and what that means to us.
As we celebrate the last year and look forward this year at our Annual meeting today, we can do what Jesus’ asks and we will pull in an overflowing abundance, a radical bounty of love and joy as commit ourselves to moving forward in faith together.