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A Little Deeper

Luke 5:1-11

The Rev. Jon Roberts

7 February

2010

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

1 While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennes′aret. And he saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zeb′edee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

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Miraculous draught of fishes, Raphael, 1515

"They cast their nets in Galilee
Just off the hills of brown;
Such happy, simple fisher folk,
before the Lord came down.
Contented, peaceful fishermen,
before they ever knew
the peace of God that filled their hearts
brimful and broke them too."[1]

About thirty years after the lawyer, planter and poet, William Percy, wrote the lyrics to this song, sung from our hymn book today, I am reminded of a story that has yet to be told. It began early, around four in the morning for a father, his son and daughter and three close friends, who climbed eagerly out of bed to go fishing. They drove in the dark to the marina. They knew the weather was favorable. Light winds out of the east. Water in the Atlantic was about sixty degrees. The air was warm. The Captain, Captain Davies, greeted them and took their gear on board. The ship was sleek, nearly fifty feet in length. It was designed to cut through rough waters and get to its destination quickly. Several rods and reels, unbendable by the children, hardly by the adults, rested at an angle in the gunwales. Four sturdy fighting chairs, like the kind you would see in a Barber shop, were in the bow. The engines cranked up and they pulled out through the mysterious fog that sat on the black water of the harbor. They cleared the underpass of the large bridge and the ship began to roll back and forth through the inlet. As it birthed its freedom through the rough pitch, the captain told everyone to hang on, and he put the boat into high gear.

For a trip like this, so much went into the planning. The expectation was great. They would now have exposure to waters that had always been beyond their touch. Ahead was the full view of the Atlantic and within an hour, everyone looked back and land was no longer in sight. The captain anxiously looked for activity. He looked for birds above, and he looked below by use of his sonar. When he felt he was on top of a school, he lowered his speed, and motioned to the first mate to let out the lines.

They trolled with lures, great feats of color and tapestry; feathers and hooks, hoping for an unsuspecting bite. Aside from a roaming Bonita, this run dealt them the same as the last five, disappointed and empty handed. "Let's go a little deeper," shouted the captain. The crew, now tired and weary, agreed. Doing something was better than nothing at all. The day was just about done, and there was nothing to show for it. The children played with the bait, ate their sandwiches and one even took a nap. "There," said the father's son. "What's that," he asked. The captain jerked the wheel, and spun the boat into the sun, into the direction of a black cloud sitting on one spot in the ocean. The cloud moved suspiciously. As they neared, the water underneath appeared violent. Birds, hundreds of birds, who had withstood the tempest of the sea dove in and out of the water below. They were the cloud, and underneath, a shoal of baitfish beyond comparison, turned and took evasive maneuvers, as if scripted, by something below.

From below, and around, and now atop, they were charged by the tuna. It's like the dinner bell was rung, and out of the depths, the fish were summoned to eat. One line tripped and the reel was spooling. Both lines on the port side swung down. Two on the rear, short and aft, everywhere, every line with every bait was quickly taken. The lines were hard to keep separate but the mate earned his keep, as the mighty beasts all took a dive. They spooled down two hundred feet like heavy boulders. The sun now reflected off the glistening sweat, and stretching muscles, of all who toiled. A yard was reeled in, another two dragged out and so the fighting continued. The first fish came alongside and was gaffed and swung. They had no idea of the size. This first fish was ninety pounds. The second was ninety-five. Within a minute their thick, black and yellow bodies stiffened in the fish box. No more struggle. The captain and the party were awe struck. Brimming, they put a thousand pounds of fish, only ten in number, in the boat by an hour and a half. They sat there sore and in shock. Others stood with mouths wide open and panting. They couldn't believe what happened. It was more than luck. They returned to the dock and a picture was taken of the catch. An article of it made it into the newspaper. It's a story I'll never forget, as I cherish this picture of my family, kept in our home.

In our gospel today we hear the ultimate fishing story that reinforces how scripture brings peace to our life.[2] It brings to life what we've been searching for like those simple fisher folk, like Peter. All of his life, Peter watched and learned from the sea and lake. It's all he ever knew. He fished every day, and on this one day he was exceptionally tired and spent. On the bequest of our Lord, he takes him a little ways out for a joy ride. This was all well, but now Jesus asks him and the rest to do something that was now interfering with their better judgment. Only the words, "Let down your nets,” is heard by him and they wonder, "What is he talking about." But because of who he is, Peter lowers the net. He had no bird sighting, and certainly no sonar. All he could think about was all the work it would take later to clean up and straighten things out again.

And now, it is our lives that he straightens out. When we are broken, when we have nothing left at all to give, God gives us an exceptional calling. He is calling us to go a little deeper. Like fish far too many to count, the miracles of God break through. Going deeper with Jesus begins with obedience. We're no different than his disciples of old, who, "...

Cast our nets in [Community]
just off the hills of brown;
Such happy, simple fisher folk,
before the Lord comes down.
Contented, peaceful fishermen,
before [we] ever knew
the peace of God that filled [our] hearts
brimful and broke them too."

[1] William Alexander Percy, H82 #661 vss. 1-2 (1885-1978).
[2] Luke 5:1-11

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