A sermon delivered February 6, 2022, by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Our reading this morning is from Luke’s gospel, and we pick up early in the Story. Jesus has already struck out on his own in the region of Galilee and has been teaching, healing, and casting out evil spirits. He’s already begun raising the ire of his fellow Jews to the point the people in his hometown of Nazareth have already tried to throw him off a cliff for his Messianic assertions. We finally arrive in the Story when Jesus begins calling specific followers to be his disciples. As you listen, pay attention to what the three basic qualities of discipleship are and how those qualities enable us to see and respond to God’s presence. Listen to the Word of the Lord!
5.1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Today marks the fifth Sunday in the season of Epiphany. The Christian calendar begins with the season of Advent, then Christmas, and then Epiphany. In other words, we intentionally move from preparing for the coming of God to welcoming the presence of God in the Christ child, and now, people are beginning to see and experience Jesus as the promised one of God. Epiphany is the time on the Christian calendar when we begin seeing Jesus as the manifestation of God among us and that’s exactly what happened in our text this morning.
Epiphanies are personal experiences that are presented to each of us that demand our personal response to them. You only know if you have experienced an epiphany or revelation of God’s presence after the fact. God provides both the environment for the epiphany to occur as well as the specific manifestation of the divine Presence. It’s up to the individual to recognize what has just happened because God doesn’t force Himself on anyone. With epiphanies, God leaves us a gift in plain sight but it’s up to each of us to be alert and aware to recognize them.
This morning, we find Jesus teaching from a boat. He asks Peter to put out into deep water and drop the nets. Jesus is setting the stage for an epiphany to occur for Peter but now it’s up to Peter. Peter and his companions have been up all-night fishing with no luck and now Jesus wants them to head back out. Peter and the others have had abysmal luck and they’re tired, but they’ll humor this itinerant Preacher. “Drop the nets here,” Jesus tells them. They begin hauling in so many fish that their boats begin sinking. The epiphany has been given by Jesus. What will the fisherman do with it?
On one hand, they could write the catch off as simply just good luck. They could have interpreted what just happened as a matter of fact: This Preacher is a pretty good fishing guide and wow, what a score!
On the other hand, they could have seen it as a glimpse of the extraordinary amid the mundane. This is what Peter did; this was Peter’s epiphany, and we don’t know if the others got it or not. The circumstances and events all wove themselves together for Simon Peter and he was able to see the manifestation of God in Jesus sitting in his boat. We are not sure the other fisherman, presumably James and John Zebedee, got it or not. All we know is that Peter experienced and claimed an epiphany. Jesus set the stage; Peter had to put all the pieces together and decide what to do with it.
Peter, the first called male disciple of Jesus, has already exhibited two out of the three qualifications of a disciple at this point that enabled him to “get” the epiphany presented. The first thing Peter did, the first qualification of being a disciple was that he obeyed what Jesus asked. The encounter could have gone this way: Simon Peter put out to deep water and let down your nets. It’s at this point Peter could have very well answered, “Ya’ know, Jesus, that really just doesn’t work for me right now.” And as we have come to know Peter over the years, all we can do is utter, “Thank God, he chose wisely this time!” Peter obeyed what was asked of him. It was a crazy suggestion, but he went along with it when suddenly, God showed up and Peter saw it. This is where many people get to in accomplishing this first qualification of being a disciple. Jesus calls and people will say, “Okay.” But it’s the second qualification of discipleship many people fail at accomplishing.
The second quality a disciple demonstrates that enables him or her to fully grasp an epiphany is they openly confess to what they have seen. Jesus set the stage. Peter obeyed and saw the epiphany. The next step is for Peter to confess what he has seen. Our Story says that when Peter saw the boats getting swamped with the huge haul of fish and Jesus sitting there watching, most likely with a little grin on his face, Peter confesses to Jesus that he sees what the epiphany is: It’s none other than the presence of God in his midst. The other fisherman experienced the catch, but Simon Peter is the only one who is recorded as having had the epiphany and that’s when he confesses, “Lord, please go away from me as I am a sinful man” he embraces the revelation.
It’s one thing to experience an event. It becomes an epiphany when we ascribe credit for what it is we are experiencing as that which is from the Lord. Peter obeyed. Peter confessed. Now, there is one more exhibition of discipleship that needs to occur for the epiphanic cycle to be complete. Peter followed Jesus.
Beloved, this is the one piece of a disciple’s job description that is ignored or omitted. We obey Jesus. We confess Jesus. Yet, it’s this following Jesus that’s hard to do. You see, if we are given an epiphany, we are expected to do something with it. What good would the catching of all those fish be and Peter’s realization of who Jesus is if it all remained on that boat? What if Simon didn’t tell a single soul about what he recognized and experienced? He was given a glimpse of the presence and gracious provision of God and now he’s responsible to do something with that.
Our Story says Peter and his business colleagues got back to shore and followed Jesus for the purpose of catching people alive as fishers of people. Peter was given the epiphany for a reason; Jesus asks him to do something with it. And Peter did and his business partners went along as well.
What are the epiphanies God has provided you, my friends? Can you remember God creating the environment for you to experience a revelation of the Divine Presence? Did you have this epiphany and confess to God what it was you experienced? But the most important question of all is, what did you do with the epiphany that was shared with you? Did you stay put where you were, or did you set out and follow where it would lead you? As we come to this Lord’s Table, let’s reflect upon these things and keep our eyes open for God’s presence! Amen.
© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.