Fifth Sunday after Epiphany Luke 5:1-11

If you want to catch the fish, you have to leave the comfort and familiarity of the shallows and go out into the deep. If you and I are looking for abundance, or wisdom or healing or love, do we have the courage to break free from our nice cozy ruts and head into uncharted waters? Here be dragons. Or, at the very least, new hymnals.

The trouble with Jesus is that he is always inviting people to the deeper end of things. He doesn’t seem to be able to hear Peter, or you and me when we say, “We’ve never done it that way before.” He knows that the deep water is where the increase is, and he also knows that heading out into deep water is a risk that requires faith.

The deep water of faith is where those things we say we want are swimming around.  The shallow is where we begin the adventure, not where we finish. Deep water is where we have to go to get what God has for us. Week after week we go to the deep water of worship, but do we go preparing for a catch?  Do we go believing that a blessing is just waiting for us?  Or do we go to appease a spouse or be seen by others or just out of habit?  What does it look like for you and for me to let down our nets and prepare for a catch?

Leave the shore. Go into the deep. And … prepare for a catch. This Jesus is always pushing our boundaries! And Simon Peter, who has a pretty good track record for saying the wrong thing, at this crucial moment in his life says the right thing. “Okay, if you say so.” That’s the miracle of this story. Not the net full of fish but Simon Peter displaying humility before the Son of God.

And that humility, that readiness to answer the invitation to deep water, the invitation to cast his nets one more time, opened something in Peter that let him answer God’s call. In that moment, his world became so much larger than a boat and a lake and a net.

Sometimes it takes steering into the deep water gets us off the rocky shore. You and I might not even be aware that we’re stuck in the shallows until we open ourselves to Jesus’ invitation. I have no doubt that if Peter had been left to his own devices, he would not have gone anywhere near the deep water. And Jesus didn’t give him a lot to go on. “Put out into the deep water and prepare for a catch.” Maybe the catch would be life-changing. Maybe the catch would be more like that scene in Forrest Gump where the nets bring up toilet seats, old tires, a bunch of junk.

We don’t know what the catch will yield. When Jesus issues us an invitation, it always involves a leap of faith. We have to leave the safety of the shore and head out, not knowing what lies ahead.

Fred Craddock is an extraordinary preacher and teacher of preachers. He is considered to be among the best preachers living in the world. He preached at Wake Forest University Divinity School when I was a student there. And if you’ve ever been in Wait Chapel, you know that it has a tall pulpit sitting up on a stage that’s several feet off the floor. And Dr. Craddock was, at best, about my height. Maybe even a little shorter. And he was great with years on this occasion. So, in his black robe, he shuffled up the steps and into the pulpit, and as I remember it, his head barely cleared the top of the thing. And he preached. And he concluded with one of his famous stories.

A man died and went to heaven, where he was being shown around. He and his guide passed a small, unmarked door, and the man became intensely curious. “What’s behind that door?” He asked. The guide’s face grew very serious and sad. “You don’t want to see,” he said. But the man insisted, and finally, shaking his head and almost weeping, the guide opened the door.

The man saw a room built to the dimensions of heaven, a room that appeared to be infinitely wide, infinitely tall, and infinitely long. It stretched on into eternity. And it was filled with those slanted shelves that libraries use for newspapers and magazines, and the shelves were filled with boxes. Each pristine white box, about the size of a shoebox, was tied with a broad red ribbon. And there were billions of them.

The man was taken very much aback, and for a while he just stared at the boxes stretching into eternity. Finally he asked, “OK, what’s in the boxes?” The angelic guide by now was crying openly. “Those are your blessings,” the guide said. “It’s true that during your life you received many blessings… but these were all the ones set aside for you that you were unable to receive.”

The man was struck dumb. Again he stared and stared at the boxes. Finally, he was able to speak. “I’m so very sorry,” he sobbed. Through his tears, he said, “All my family – my friends. You must let me let them know, so they don’t suffer the same fate. Isn’t there anything I can do?”

At that point Dr. Craddock paused. He surveyed the students and faculty sitting in Wait Chapel. He drew a deep breath. He said: “And the guide said, ‘Yes. There is.’ ”

With that, Dr. Craddock’s head disappeared from our view, and the little black-robed figure shuffled offstage. That was the end of the story.

And this is the Word that God brings to us today. When we find that we are heading into deep water, unknown territory, off the edge of the map … we have only this to go on. We are invited each week to walk away from the familiar and to go from this place to walk with Jesus, trusting that our nets, once so empty, will fill up and spill over with forgiveness, with compassion, with mercy, Jesus style, so radical, so endless, so unlimited that all we can do is pour it out upon others. “Is there anything I can do?” Yes. There is. Put out into deep water and prepare for a catch.