Sermon - 10th February 2013
The calling of the first disciples
Scripture - Luke 5:1-11
[An audio version of this sermon is available. Please go to Spirituality > Audio and Video.]
Introduction for Everyone
Jesus called 12 Disciples. Some Bible commentators say He called 12 to mirror the original 12 tribes of Israel. So, what were their names? How many can we recall? Quiz: Clickable PowerPoint slide
When we read the four Gospels in the Bible, we read four accounts of Jesus: each one written from a different point of view. Some events in Jesus’ life and ministry are found in only one Gospel; others, like this one – the calling of the first Disciples – can be found in all four Gospels; however, Luke’s telling of this event is more involved. The accounts in Matthew, Mark and John focus on the calling of a number of people whose names are then listed. This account, in Luke’s Gospel, is more involved and focuses more on the calling of one Disciple in particular – Peter, or Simon Peter to give him his full name. The other Gospels put this event right at the very start of Jesus’ ministry, before He performed any miracles; Luke, however, tells of Jesus’ first sermon in his home town of Nazareth and Jesus’ healing of several people before we come to the Calling of the First Disciples.
Some of you, if you are familiar with the four Gospels, may have noticed a striking similarity between this event, where there is a miraculous catch of fish, and another event following Jesus’ resurrection told in John’s Gospel (Chapter 21), where there is another miraculous catch of fish. In both of these fishing accounts, the Disciple Peter and his recognition of Jesus as Lord are central.
Let us now focus in on what happened there on the Sea of Galilee. There was a new preacher in town; his name was Jesus, and He was making a name for Himself by what He was saying, as we heard about in Andy’s sermon last week. And Jesus was making a name for Himself by what He was doing: healing the sick. So, as we heard at the start of our reading, Jesus’ was at the water’s edge, preaching to the assembled crowd.
In those days, there were no PA systems or microphones, so the assembled crowd would have been as close as possible to Jesus in order to hear him clearly. Maybe that is why He got into the boat. People would have known then, as now, that sound carries rather well over water. We are not told what Jesus said to the people, as the narrative then turns to Peter.
Let us spend a moment listing what we know about Peter at this point in the Gospel narrative. In the previous chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we can read of how Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law from a high-fever. If Peter had a mother-in-law, it is logical to assume that he was a married man, and maybe he and his wife had children. Even though Luke’s Gospel does not mention him, the other three Gospels tell us that Peter had a brother, Andrew. They were working-class men, fishermen, and that their business partners were another pair of brothers, James and John.
So when Jesus tells Peter to set sail into deeper water, this ordinary, working-class fisherman had already been wowed by the miraculous healing of his mother-in-law, and been drawn in to Jesus’ preaching, as he sat there in his boat looking back at the crowd on the shore. He was probably also very tired, as we are told he had been out fishing all night. Even though common-sense and reason told Peter that fishing again was not a good idea, he obeyed because his heart was already - in part - won over by Jesus’ teaching and actions.
Peter and the other fishermen made their living and supported their families from the sale of fish: this huge catch would have brought the families considerable income, but for Peter, this miraculous catch of fish brought him to the vivid realisation of who Jesus is: “My Lord and my God.” And because of who he recognised Jesus to be, Peter also acknowledged his own sinfulness. At this point, Jesus calls the four men to follow Him, as Disciples. Jesus chose four people who had been hardened and disciplined by toil, labour and hardship, but who also had the humility to accept an order and obey it.
All of the Gospel accounts of the calling of the Disciples tell of these men leaving everything and following Jesus. But I cannot help but wonder what was going on back on the shore: the assembled crowd to whom Jesus had preached would have witnessed the miraculous catch of fish and would have been amazed. More so, I wonder what the men’s wives and families would have said in response to their immediate leaving to follow Jesus. I can almost hear Peter’s wife saying: “You’re doing what?” Who would continue to provide for and look after the family? When would he return home? Peter and the others were really giving up everything.
For most of human history, most people have been largely settled, living their whole lives in a particular area. But for some of us here today, you began life in another country, and for various reasons, you now live in the UK in Manchester. For others, you started out in another part of the UK and moved here. For example, I moved to Manchester 23 years ago in order to attend university, and I have never left. Whether it is asylum, or study, or a new job, or a new partner, leaving everything and everyone and starting life over in a new location is common-place today.
Peter, and the others whom Jesus called to be Disciples, left all they had in order to follow Jesus. There are countless stories of people who have done likewise. Saint Francis of Assisi, born into a family of wealthy cloth merchants, renounced his wealth, even to the point of laying aside the clothes he had received from his father, and he went on to found a religious order, the Franciscans, and his devotion to serving God, his service to the poor and his love of nature are remembered even today. The last Pope, John Paul II, said of Francis: “The poor man of Assisi gives us striking witness that when we are at peace with God we are better able to devote ourselves to building up that peace with all creation which is inseparable from peace among all peoples.”
I do not think that this Bible story is advocating that we should all immediately abandon our present circumstances, but I do think it provides us with a very high level of challenge.
Peter and the others put going with Jesus before anything else in their lives. Where does our service and commitment to God rank with us in our lives? First? Second? Third?
This coming Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day! “Shrove” is an old-English word meaning to “present oneself for confession, penance and absolution”. As Christians around the world mark this day with festivals such as Mardi Gras (literally “fat Tuesday”); in the UK, in our rather British way, we are more low-key and we eat pancakes.
The day after is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. During Lent, many of us consider abstaining from or giving up something: chocolate, cheese or alcohol, for example. We may put aside the money saved with the intention of giving it to charity, like we do each year in this church with our Smarties Tube Collection.
In light of the closing words of today’s reading: “[they] left everything and followed Him”, how can we challenge ourselves? That which Peter and the others did was far from easy: it was so difficult. How can we really challenge ourselves?
Maybe there are things in life which we know we should set aside. A habit or practice: is this Lent the time to set that aside or to get help? A relationship which needs repairing: is this Lent the time to do that? Something you have been meaning to do, but never seem to get around to: is this Lent the time to do that? Resolving to attend Church more regularly or to set more time aside to pray: is this Lent the time to do that?
As we are adults in life, let us be adults in our faith and really challenge ourselves this Lent. May God grant us that same strength and courage He gave to Peter and the other Disciples when they chose to put God first.