Epiphany 5, Luke 5.1-11
Once upon a time there were some people who felt they were missing something.
They weren’t quite sure what exactly it was that they wanted. But something wasn’t quite right. Something was out of sync. Something was missing. And they didn’t really know how to get at it. All they knew for sure was that somewhere inside, deep inside, there was a – there was a – there was a something.
Or maybe it was not a something. Maybe what they were sensing deep inside was a nothing. A hole. An empty place.
Sometimes, when they least expected it, when they weren’t ready for it, it seemed like they almost caught a glimpse of what they hungered for. Just out of sight, out of the corner of their eye. But when they turned to look, they couldn’t see what it was.
Sometimes, very rarely, but just often enough to keep them off balance, something would touch them in that deep place inside. It would surprise them, sometimes when listening to a piece of great music, or when reading a particularly good story, or when seeing a well-made film, or when hearing an exceptional sermon. Something was out there… something real… something missing… and they wanted it. Deeply. Longingly.
“But there were planes to catch and bills to pay… . You see, my new job's a hassle, and the kid's got the flu.” So most of the time, they, like us, felt they had to get on with what they had to get on with. So when they, like us, weren’t looking, their kids grew up, and their parents grew old, and their spouse grew into somebody else they had never known, and their friends moved away… and that empty place, that dark place, remained empty. They weren’t sure what it was, but something wasn’t quite right, and as the years rolled on, they became used to feeling that way. And to feeling like it was normal to feel that way. Something was amiss… something had always been amiss.
Once upon a time there were some people who felt they were missing something.
That “once upon a time” is every time.
It has been that way as far back as men and women can remember. Not just in America. Not just in our lifetime. Not just for today, but for all of known human history. The oldest stories, whether found in legends, myths, or Holy Scripture, all begin with a hint of something different – a time when things were right.
But then something happened. Some tragedy. Some fall. Some losing of our way. And ever since, our story has been the story of people who longed for what was lost.
Perhaps that’s why our favorite stories are so often about someone who has been cut off from those who would love him or her. Cinderella – the orphan who finds herself in a family that is not her family. Hansel and Gretyl – alone, lost in the woods, with a witch who wants to cook them for dinner. The ugly duckling – who is nothing like the others. Little Red Riding Hood, ambushed and alone. These stories stay with us because they are more than just children’s stories – they are the human story – everyone’s story – our story. Once upon a time is every time, it is this time, it is our time. We are all Cinderella – desperately needing a fairy godmother’s help to find a new family. We are Hansel and Gretyl, desperately needing our father to find us in the woods. We are all Dorothy, in search of the emerald city, so we can find out way back home. We are all Harry Potter, outcast orphans longing to be in Hogwarts with our friends, but finding ourselves stuck on Privet Drive. We are all Max, longing to sail back from where the wild things are, almost over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of our own room where we find our supper waiting for us. And it is still hot.
And it’s not just the children’s stories, it’s all the stories. The Odyssey. Dances with Wolves. Avatar. The lost coin, the lost sheep, the lost son. When Trinity whispers into Neo’s ear, “I know what keeps you up at night… what drives you… the secret you’re looking for…” we all recognize ourselves in his face. There’s something wrong with the Matrix.
Once upon a time there were some people who felt they were missing something. That “once upon a time” is every time. It is this time. It is our time. Those people are us.
Matthew and Mark tell us about Jesus calling to Peter and Andrew, James and John. They tell only that Jesus called them to follow him, and immediately they left their nets and followed. Which, frankly, doesn’t make any sense. There’s no explanation why anybody would respond to such a call. There has to be more to this story.
If Paul Harvey read Luke 5 to us, he’d end the reading, “And now you know the rest of the story.” For only here do we find out what Peter and Andrew, James and John saw that would make following Jesus a plausible response, rather than an absurdity. They saw that Jesus could do what they could not; what nobody else could do.
As hard as they had worked, with all of their experience, all of their skill, all of their time, all night long, their nets had remained empty. So when Jesus filled the empty nets of the fisherman, they were impressed. Impressed enough that when Jesus said “Follow me,” it didn’t sound like an absurdity. On the contrary. If Jesus can fill empty nets, it makes sense to consider what else he can fill. In the beginning, the world was without form and void. And God said, let there be light. Ordering the chaos, filling that which is empty, whether it be the unformed creation, or the empty nets, or hearts where something is missing, speaking light into the darkness -- these are what Jesus came to do. This is what Jesus is all about.
Peter and Andrew, James and John, followed Jesus not to catch more fish. They wanted to something must more profound. Something must more valuable. Something much harder to find than even the fish had been, all night long.
And Jesus is still calling people to follow him. He’s calling me. He’s calling you. But he’s not calling us into a magic moment when all are problems are solved – when things get easier. On the contrary, his call is to of a life of conscious, intentional, hard work – harder work than throwing nets all night long.
Jesus calls us to enter into a desperate struggle to an entirely different kind of life. A fuller life. A life-long process of transformation, of being changed by the power of God into something more than you’d ever dared dream were possible.
Jesus did not say to these fishermen. “Believe in me, and I’ll keep your fish nets full.” Rather, he said, “Follow me, and I’ll transform what you are all about.” Not “follow me, and I will fix your marriage, or your health, or your wealth, or your pain.” Not “follow me, and I make you more successful at fishing, so that you’ll catch more fish, so you can pay more bills and buy a bigger boat.” Not “follow me and I will fix your problems.” The Christian life is not about changing our circumstances. It’s following Jesus while he begins to remake us, to renew us, to recreate us, in the very midst of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Instead of changing our circumstances, he uses the circumstances as the ingredients for the new you that is making.
Moreover, Jesus did not come to Andrew and Peter and say, “Drop your nets, go off by yourselves, to be alone in your thoughts.” Not at all. He said, “Come, follow me. Follow ME. Be in relationship with me and with these other followers. Come live with me and with these other followers. And there, together with me, in community with me and with these other followers, I will start the hard, life-long, never-ending process of transforming you into something new.”
Once upon a time there were some people who felt they were missing something. But Jesus comes walking into our lives, and calls to us together with others to follow him. We are all Max, longing to sail back from where the wild things are, almost over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of our own room where we find our supper waiting for us.
And it is still hot.