I'm a city boy, so I don't know much about fishing. I don't watch the fishing channel or hang out with fishermen. All I know about fish is I like mine fried or Cajun style with some rice and vegetables on the side.
I do know a fishing story is supposed to be flattering to the fisherman. Fishermen are supposed to talk about the monster fish they hooked but that got away, or they're supposed to talk about the bait they use to make the fish just jump on your hook.
The Bible tells a different kind of fishing story though. This story is about fishermen coming up empty after fishing all night and about a carpenter, who commandeers a boat, preaches a sermon, and tells the fishermen where the fish are.
After hundreds of pounds of fish are finally caught, a fisherman, Simon, immediately resigns from fishing and starts fishing for people.
I told you it was a different kind of fishing story. If there's anything to learn from this story, it's "why some people don't catch fish."
Some people don't catch fish because they refuse to go into deep water. Jesus told Simon, "Let's leave the shallows and go to the deep."
Everybody knows the schools of big fish are in the deeper water. And the first rule of fishing is you've got to go where the fish are. But we shouldn't limit this to fish only. Jesus was teaching a spiritual principal.
We could substitute fish for abundance or wisdom or love, healing or peace. All those things we want in abundance. Some people don't catch these things because they simply refuse to go deep.
Deep water is where the increase is. Deep water takes faith. Deep water is a risk. Focus of mind and heart are needed.
The visibility in deep black water is next to nothing. You've got to trust the words and directions of others who have passed through deep water to make it there. Jesus is always inviting people to the deeper end of things.
But shallow water is pleasant. It tickles our ankles when we walk in it. The minnows and the half-grown fish gather there. You can see all the way to the bottom in shallow water.
Staying in shallow water is such a temptation. Shallow water doesn't cost much; it doesn't take a whole lot of courage. But Simon knew the minnows couldn't feed him. They couldn't fill him. The minnows weren't the desire of his heart. 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.
There is a time for classes and listening and a time to live what we've learned, a time to receive and a time to give sacrificially, a time to worship the Lord in church, and a time to be church and lead the world in the worship of the Lord.
Deep water is where we have to go to get what God has for us.
Some people don't catch fish because they don't expect to catch fish. When Jesus tells Simon, "Let's go to the deep water," he doesn't stop there. He says, "...prepare for a catch." What an encouragement.
This is a word for us there who go to church regularly. 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, worse, just out of dumb habit? Expectations count with God. It's all over the Bible.
Expectation is the first-born child of faith, "the substance of things hoped for." No expectation, no real faith. When we say we believe in God, we are not saying I am agreeing with some abstract idea; we're saying we expect the things that God has promised to us.
We're saying that I'm a partner with the "giver of every good gift." And among those gifts God has promised us are fruitfulness and fish and forever.
I like how Jesus keeps pushing Simon's boundaries. "Leave the shore, Simon. Go into the deep, Simon." These are easy in comparison to "Expect a blessing, Simon." Jesus was calling Simon to risk being disappointed in God.
I heard a story once about an old minister who every time he preached someone would give their life to Jesus. But when his young assistant would preach, no one would come forward and give their life to Jesus.
After a year of this, the young minister went to him for some clarity and some coaching. The wise old minister asked his young protégé, "When you preach, what do you expect to happen?" She thought about it and said, "I expect to tell the Good News. I expect to be eloquent and to edify people."
He said, "You are doing those things. But when I preach, I expect to win people to Jesus Christ, that's all." Us expecting and preparing to be blessed must make God's heart smile in some wide and extraordinary way. God probably says to himself, "They get it; I'm trustworthy, really."
Some people don't catch fish because they don't go to the deep water, and some people don't catch fish because they don't expect to. But some people don't catch fish because they know more about fish than God.
Simon almost makes this mistake. He tells Jesus in that exasperated tone, "Hey, we've been fishing all night. We know fish. The fish don't run in the day. Aren't you a carpenter moonlighting as a preacher anyway?"
Some people think they know more about fish than God. It happens to all of us sometimes. It's not that we actually think we know more than God; it's just that we behave that way.
We hear God's instructions: Forgive a whole bunch. Bless those who curse you. Give abundantly. Visit the jails. Forget your life and you'll have a ball. Remember the Sabbath day, it's for worship and family not for catching up on work.
But we ignore God's invitation to abundance. We say to God by our actions: I know more about marriage, more about healing, more about forgiveness, more about children, more about money than you do, God.
Simon, for just a split second, almost forgot that God is God. Modern culture doesn't really have any use for the word humility; it goes back to the Enlightenment when Western culture told itself that it could know everything. Funny, huh?
Our information highway is repeating that humor all over again. Simon, at that crucial intersection we all come to over and over again in life, decided that he didn't know everything, that his present emptiness and frustration had made him ready to learn. Now there's a good definition of humility, a readiness to learn.
People say that the net full of fish is the miracle of this story, but I disagree. The real miracle of this story is that Simon decided that God was God and that he would live that way beginning immediately.
Just look at what Simon says before the miracles begin to happen, "Yet, Lord if you say so...." My frustration is real, Lord. My pain is real. My emptiness is real. My despair is real, all real, Lord, and yet. And, yet, you are God and I am not.
That's when our miracles will begin to happen, that's when we will start catching fish, when we decide that God is God, when our lips and our lives agree that "God's foolishness is wiser than any human wisdom."
Simon's full net is just a consequence of that fact, of that revelation. What a freedom Simon got that day, what a joy...that "God is the maker of heaven and earth..." and that all by himself.
God alone put the sword in the swordfish, the sail on the sail fish. He put the big in the whale and the play in the dolphin; it was Him alone who put electric in the eel and just because He's God. And if He's God enough to do all of that, what can He do with you, when you're ready to catch fish?
Let's pray together.
Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.