Scott Mims, Norfolk, VA

Warm-up Question

Have you ever been fishing?  If so, share one of your best “fish stories.”  If not, what is one activity you really enjoy doing and why do you enjoy it?

Fish Story

I was intrigued  by an article about a rare deep-ocean creature which had washed up on a California beach.  As one who watched Disney’s Finding Nemo a lot when my children were little, I recognized the pictures as being the type of deep sea “monster” that is angling to turn Marlin and Dory into a meal.  What I didn’t know was how rare a find such a specimen is.

It turns out that, even though the Pacific football fish was first discovered over 100 years ago, only 31 specimens have ever been collected. Since they live at depths of up to 3,300 feet, Pacific football fish can’t be studied in the wild. What makes this particular fish newsworthy is that it was the third one to wash ashore in a year. Prior to that, the last football fish to be found was twenty years ago. This is both exciting and a bit puzzling for ichthyologists, although no reason for this increased frequency can be determined with any certainty.  

For me, this strange creature is a reminder of the wonder and mystery which continue to surround all of creation.  How is it that creatures can live and thrive in places too deep for us to truly explore?  How might their abilities to adapt to less than favorable conditions challenge…perhaps even inspire…us in the face of a changing world?  As I write this, the James Webb Space Telescope has just reached its new home, and scientists are eager to discover what it will reveal about the universe.  Yet, despite the marvels of technology which allow us to peer into the secrets of the stars,  there is still much to learn about our own planet.

Discussion Questions

  • What about the world/universe around us do you find interesting, “cool,” or amazing?
  • Psalm 19 begins: “The heavens are telling the glory of God….”  Where do you see God in the natural world?  How does Creation proclaim God’s handiwork?
  • When you think about the future of our planet, what concerns do you have?  What do you think should be done about the things that most concern you?

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Isaiah 6:1-8 [9-13]

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Luke 5:1-11

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

There are some moments when the Bible comes to life.  One such moment for my wife occurred on a visit to Israel years when her tour group made a stop at the Sea of Galilee.  Casting off a bit from the shore in a small boat, their tour guide began to speak to them about the region.  He spoke at a normal volume but, due to the water and the shape of the land, his words came across very distinctly, almost as if he were being amplified. No wonder then that, when pressed upon by a large crowd, Jesus chose just such a setting to make himself heard.

This week’s gospel is part miracle story and part call story.  Jesus’ ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing has been attracting a lot of attention.  Large crowds are showing up wherever he is, hoping to hear him, see him, maybe even be touched by him.  On this occasion Jesus asks a fisherman named Simon (and probably some of his partners, too) to take him out a bit from the shore, so that he can proclaim the good news to the gathered crowd. 

What did Jesus say that day?  What important teachings did he share?  Luke doesn’t tell us because that is not the point of this story.  His point is what Jesus does next.  Jesus tells Simon and the others in the boat to put out into deeper water and to let down their nets.  Having just come off a hard night of fruitless labor, Simon at first hesitates — he “knows” there are no fish to be had.  Yet, because it is Jesus who asks, they deploy their nets. 

And the rest, as we say, is history.  First, they catch so many fish that Simon has to call for help to keep the nets from breaking and their boat from sinking.  And then, as the amazement and awe of this miraculous moment wash over him, Simon Peter drops to his knees in wonder and dread.  “Go away from me Lord,” he cries, “for I am a sinful man!”

But Jesus doesn’t go away.  Instead, despite their shortcomings, Jesus invites Simon and the others into a different kind of fishing.  “Do not be afraid,” he says, “from now on you will be catching people.”  And, bringing their boats to shore, they leave everything and follow him.

In the end, this miraculous call story is ultimately a story about faith. Not just the faith to follow, but the trust involved in obeying Jesus, even when we cannot at first see the reason or how things will turn out.  Here, Simon is the professional fisherman.  He knows what he is doing; it is not the right time of day to be fishing.  What’s more, he does not expect there to be any fish because they have already labored long without success.  Nevertheless, at Jesus’ word he does what he expects to be a waste of effort and time, and experiences, instead, amazing – even life-changing — success. As we think about the times in which we are living, what is it that Jesus is calling us to do?  What “deep waters” is he inviting us into, and how are we to let down our “nets”?

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever had the experience of simply stepping out in faith?  If so, what happened?
  • Jesus was not the only religious teacher who had disciples; other Jewish rabbis in his day also had followers – usually people who were among the brightest and best. Along with the miraculous catch of fish, one of the wonders in this story is who Jesus chooses.  What outward qualities (for example, a lack of formal education) might have made Simon and his companions such a surprising choice?  When it comes to those who follow him, what are some of the qualities you think Jesus cares most about?
  • How do you feel about Simon Peter and his companions’ response? As you imagine it, what things did they have to give up? Why do you think these men dropped everything to follow Jesus?  
  • What do you think it means to follow Jesus today?  If you were to create a portrait of a modern-day disciple, what would your picture include? 

Activity Suggestions

  • Plan A “Fishing Expedition”  When it comes to “catching people,” what do you think the church/your congregation/your small group needs to be doing (or doing more of) right now?  Brainstorm a list of ideas and possible action items.  Are there things on this list you would have fun doing?
  • *Video: For further discussion on the sheer grace of being called to follow Jesus, check out a short video by Rob Bell entitled, Dust (Nooma series).  What does it mean to you that Jesus believes in you?  Does this change the way you see yourself as a disciple?
  • Remember Your Baptism: As part of your concluding prayer this session, invite participants to remember their baptisms as a connection to the calling we receive to be followers and disciples of Jesus.  This could be as simple as having a small bowl of water in which you invite them to dip a finger and make the sign of the cross on their own forehead.  

Closing Prayer

Gracious and loving God, as your Son was revealed to Simon Peter and the others through a miraculous catch of fish, help us to see the many ways that you act in our lives and to praise you for the grace that you give to us day by day.  Empower us by your Spirit to follow Jesus, lead us to be living signs of your love, and give us the courage to invite others.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen