“The Lord's Levels of Inconvenience”
February 10, 2019
Jesus is calling you to fuller and fuller discipleship.
I. Acceptance – Can I use your boat? (Luke 5:1-3)
II. Obedience – Can I tell you what to do? (Luke 5:4-7)
III. Discipleship – Will you give me everything? (Luke 5:8-11)
I have a theory. Don’t hold me to this, but I think the closer you get to someone the more they inconvenience you. Most things in the news and most strangers on the street have very little impact on your time, energy or emotions. A friend or a co-worker with a problem, from a flat tire to a flooded house to a failing marriage can make a much bigger impact on your life. But a spouse or a child with an illness or a need or a personal crisis, that changes your life.
Let me try to give an example. A few years back I read a really good book called “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society,” and early this year Gail and I watched the movie, also good. The plot starts with a London author, Juliet Ashton, receiving a letter. It’s shortly after World War 2 and the letter, from a farmer on the island of Guernsey, asks her to send the name of a bookshop in London because he wants to find more works by a particular author, Charles Lamb. He had found Juliet’s name and address in a used copy of a book by the same author. So Juliet, only slightly inconvenienced, gets him a book and sends it. But she also asks him several questions about life on Guernsey, which was occupied by the Germans during the war.
That leads to a much greater level of inconvenience. The farmer, Dawsey Adams, tells her a fascinating story about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. It was a wartime reading group founded as a cover story to fool the Germans, but continuing as a true literary club. The members of the society begin to write to her as well, and before she knows it she has agreed to visit the Island, leaving behind her frustrated publisher and impatient fiancé, There she learns that one of the founding members of the Society, a young woman named Elizabeth McKenna was deported by the Germans to the continent. The people on the island had not heard from her since, and Juliet Ashton gets caught up in their love for her, their worry, their seeking of Elizabeth, and their concern for Elizabeth’s daughter Kit who was left in their collective care.
As we turn to Luke chapter 5, I’ve got bad news. Jesus is out to inconvenience your life in a major way. We’re going to see that in Peter’s life but apply it to our own lives. Jesus will ask something simple first, to use some of your resources for his purposes. Then he’ll start telling you what to do, how to live your life. Finally he’ll ask you to give up your life entirely to him. You’d better be careful when you meet Jesus, because, like Peter, he will call you to more and more inconvenience. But let’s state it positively. Jesus is calling you to fuller and fuller discipleship. This is his grace toward us as sinners.
We begin with Luke 5:1-3, where Jesus only asks to use something of Peter’s. On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3Getting 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.
When we last left our story, Jesus was preaching the Good News of the Kingdom in the synagogues of Judea. But Luke’s phrase, “on one occasion,” does not tie this incident very strongly back to that previous one. It was probably some time afterwards, but it might have been well after. Peter, his brother Andrew, and his partners James and John had spent the night fishing with dragnets. It was backbreaking work, laying out a hundred foot net in a semicircle and then drawing it in hand-over-hand, hopefully with some fish in it. The group had toiled through the night without any fish. So, at dawn they beached their boats, ate breakfast, and under the warming sun engaged in the tedious and necessary process of washing, mending, and arranging their nets for drying. Once dry, they would be folded and placed in the boats for the coming night.
These boats were probably very similar to the now-famous Jesus Boat or Sea of Galilee boat that was found in 1986 by two brothers, fishermen, along the shore of the lake during a drought. It’s been dated to the first century, and though there is no formal link to Jesus or the disciples, it is undoubtedly the kind of boat they might have fished in. Wikipedia says is was “Constructed primarily of cedar planks joined together by pegged mortise and tenon joints and nails. The boat is shallow drafted with a flat bottom, allowing it to get very close to the shore. The boat is composed of ten different wood types, suggesting either a wood shortage or that the boat had undergone extensive and repeated fixes. The boat was row-able, with four staggered rowers, and also had a mast allowing the fishermen to sail the boat.” This kind of boat is mentioned over fifty times in the Gospels, and plays a role in key incidents in the life of Jesus. Another reference said that the boat might hold a maximum of sixteen people, so all the disciples plus Jesus, as described several times.
On this particular day, the monotony of drying the nets was broken by the presence of Jesus and a large crowd around him, “pressing in to hear the word of God.” His preaching, with characteristic authority and power, drew the people. So Jesus asked if he could use Simon Peter's boat as a floating pulpit, and Peter and Jesus and probably Andrew too, according to Mark’s account, anchored the boat a few yards from shore, where Jesus resumed his teaching, his voice carrying effectively over the waters to all gathered on the shore.
We’re pretty sure Jesus already knew Simon Peter. He had stayed at Peter’s house, healed his mother-in-law. From the Gospel of John we learn that Peter and Andrew were also followers of John the Baptist and had probably first met Jesus down in Judea, closer to Jerusalem, where John had baptized him. What we sometimes don’t recognize is that the calling of Peter and several of the other disciples was not a one-time thing, but a process, though the account we’re studying today is probably the climax of the process.
Even in today’s text there is a progression. This first demand or request by Jesus is pretty harmless. “Can I use your boat for a couple of hours?” This might compare to someone asking you for a ride to the airport, or borrowing a tool, or watching the Super Bowl in your living room. It’s a bit of an inconvenience, but not much. And Jesus will often begin his inconveniencing of us with something like this, and he’ll continue to ask things like this, small uses of our time, money and energy. “Go to church on Sunday. It’s only a few hours. Work a Saturday with Crisis Response. No, work a week. Give some money to the church or to a good charity. Spend some time at a nursing home, caring for the lonely, or in the church nursery, caring for the littlest.
He may start with small things that inconvenience us but don’t particularly impact us. But he rarely stops there. When you invite Jesus to begin moving in your life, watch out. He will call you to fuller and fuller discipleship, push himself into more of your life, more and more tell you what to do and how to do it. That’s illustrated here by the fishing expedition that follows the teaching. Verses 4-7 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7They signaled 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.
Now this is an inconvenience. Simon had been up all night, working when the fish were active, close to the surface of the deep waters, yet he and his partners had caught nothing. They had cleaned and dried the nets, had listened, perhaps sleepily while the preacher preached from their boat, and now this carpenter, this builder from the land-locked town of Nazareth, was telling him how to do his job, and was almost promising him a catch. You all know the feeling that Simon must have had. It’s the feeling you get when someone tells you how to do your job. After all, Simon and the others were expert fishermen. In that situation you naturally say “what makes you think you know better than I.” “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!’
The fact is that Jesus, being who he was, fully human, fully divine and anointed by the Spirit did know better may just possibly have occurred to him. He had, after all, seen at least one long night of healing that started with a demon possessed man, included his own mother-in-law and ended with a multitude. He had heard Jesus teaching by the shore and maybe other times. So even while protesting the suggestion, he calls Jesus “master.” Peter recognizes Jesus as having special authority over him. The Greek word that Luke uses, possibly as a translation of the Hebrew and Aramaic word “Rabbi,” has a wide range of meanings. “the term can denote a herdsman, a driver of an elephant, a taskmaster, an overseer of public works, the leader of an athletic society or temple, a magistrate or even the governor of a city.” In almost all these uses, however, the word recognizes the right of someone else to tell you what to do.
Then, on just a moment’s further reflection, he adds a second key phrase: “But at your word I will let down the nets.” “Since you say so, I will do it.” I believe Peter’s life as a disciple starts at this moment: “At your word I will. I don’t need another reason. I don’t need a fish radar, I don’t need your analysis of the currents, or your insight into algae populations, I don’t need a special lure, or a lucky hat with flies tied to it, I just need your command, your word, and I will do what you ask.” You don’t expect impetuous, headstrong Peter to give in this easily. But he had seen Jesus already, he had heard Jesus already, and now he was ready to make Jesus his master, whatever the inconvenience.
Now Jesus won’t always ask you to do something that seems non-sensical, but he will, always, ask you to do what you do in faith, putting more stock in what he wants than in anything else. And that is normally inconvenient, not how we necessarily want to spend our day. For example, Todd and Titia have had a great small group for many years that has been a blessing to many. But what that means is that every Wednesday, almost without fail, Todd and Titia have to make time for the simple inconvenient tasks of cooking and cleaning. Rosaria Buttterfield’s book on hospitality, which we’ve talked about a few times, strikes many as being too hard because hospitality is inconvenient.
But there is often blessing in this inconvenience. Some would say that Simon was nuts to take the boat out that day, but we know how the story ends, verse 6: When they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7They signaled 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. It is, without doubt, a miraculous catch of fish. And Simon and Andrew, along with James and John in the other boat, are amazed. Sometimes we will be amazed too. We put up with some inconvenience, do things God’s way instead of how we think it ought to be done, and God does something wonderful.
From time to time Gail and I have opened our home to long term guests. At times it can seem inconvenience, but it can also be a huge blessing. Jessica Graybill, now Jessica Wardle, from the state of Washington, moved into our home because the apartment at U of H that she rented from afar turned out to be unlivable. But she ended up being a great friend and mentor for Ruth when Ruth started college there the next year and is still a good friend today.
So as Jesus calls us to more and more inconvenience, more setting aside of our own stuff, our own time, and our own ideas, we see fuller and fuller discipleship. But ultimately, of course, Jesus doesn’t just want our stuff or even our time or the giving up of our plans for the day. Jesus wants all of life. For 25 years I’ve quoted the Puritan saying “all of life is God’s.” Verses 8-11 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
Isn’t that an incredible response? Simon calls Jesus “Lord”, not in the weak sense of “Sir,” but almost certainly in the strong sense of “God,” “Yahweh.” “Go away from me, Adonai, for I am a sinful man.” This is a different inconvenience. Peter literally says “Go away, leave me alone.” Why? Because we get very uncomfortable standing exposed before a holy and just God. Peter has just recognized that this Jesus, who he has known for a while now, is in fact “the Lord,” a holy and just God. There was something about this miracle that stripped away his blindness. He’d seen miracles, he’d seen his mother-in-law healed, he’d seen every disease healed in Capernaum. But this miracle was closer to home. He was enough of a fisherman to know that what he had just seen was impossible. Someone else might explain it away, just as he could maybe explain away the healings. But Peter knew these fish were miraculous.
And in recognizing the miracle he recognizes the Lord. And in recognizing the Lord he’s struck by his own sinfulness. He has the instinctive understanding that he cannot, as a sinful man, be in the presence of a holy God. This is taught over and over in the Old Testament, but perhaps most clearly in the experience of Isaiah. In chapter 6. Isaiah writes: In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Simon’s is the response of a man who has had an encounter with the Holy. Like Isaiah he comes to the discomforting realization in the presence of this holy one, his Lord, that he is sinful and unworthy. And he’s afraid. He is afraid of how Jesus in his holiness, ought to respond to Simon in his sinfulness. He knows that sin deserves judgment, and he knows that Jesus has power and authority to pronounce that judgment. But he’s not just afraid, he’s also ashamed. “I don’t deserve to receive blessing from you. Don’t do it.”
But Jesus responds in grace, just as God had responded to Isaiah. It’s interesting that in Isaiah the sinfulness is dealt with directly and with a great visual symbol: Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” 8And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
Yet Jesus does not, at this time, address the sinfulness that Peter is now so aware of. Instead he goes directly to the “Whom shall I send?” He says “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” You were catching fish, that was your life, you were fitting me in in many ways, but now I want to change your whole life, your whole vocation – now your life will be about fishing for men, bringing people to the knowledge of me, of their sin and of the salvation that I offer. It’s interesting that Luke uses a word that means to catch or to enclose something alive. You catch the fish and they die, but you catch men and they live. You will be catching men alive - even teaching them life. Your new task will be to tell others the good news of life in Jesus.
This is the ultimate level of inconvenience that Jesus wants to reach with us. Not just your Sunday, not just your stuff, not just the occasional obedience that goes against your own ideas or experience. No. He wants more than that. He wants all of life, every moment, every day, every energy, every idea, every relationship, every thought, every deed. All of life is God’s. Can your honestly say that that’s your desire? And has your desire translated into action? Verse 11 “And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.” Simon and Andrew and James and John leave everything, probably including that marvelous catch of fish, and they follow after Jesus.
This is a radical change in their lives. Fisherman aren’t known for their people skills, not known for their theological interest, not known for devotion to causes. Fishermen tend to be loners, aloof, hard workers, practical, skeptical. I think it’s the sea that teaches them that. Now these men will willingly change their focus to people, to thinking, to ideas, to faith, to dependence. This is a radical obedience, following the one who had become to them Master and Lord.
And that’s got to be our response too. This is what Simon would tell us to do: “Follow Jesus as your Lord and Master. Make him and his will the first thing in your life, the unparalleled priority, the overriding concern.” But how do you do that on a day to day basis in the 21st century? We don’t see Jesus now. Yet we still see him at work through prayer, and he’s with us through the Holy Spirit. We can still see Jesus the healer in our lives and the lives of others. We can still hear him daily through the Word of God. We can still follow him daily through inconvenient obedience: Because you say it, I will do it.
Now I recognize that it’s often hard to discern his will for our circumstances. We struggle with competing priorities. We have more good things to do than we have time to do them, and more opportunities to serve than we have energy to fill them. And yet. The decisions are simplified if we remember that we are following Him. We’ve learned a lot about him already. We can recognize his agenda. It will always be concerned about people, and about their burdens and oppression, and about the good news of the Kingdom of God. Sometimes he simply asks us for day to day sacrifices. The simple obedience of caring for our families, and reaching out to our neighbors, and doing our work with a godly cheerful heart, pursuing a relationship with him through prayer and the word. This is following him, most of the time
But occasionally he asks for a radical step of faith: Put out in the deep and let down the nets. Leave everything and follow me. You and I can’t close our minds to the possibility that Jesus will ask us to do something radical, something difficult, something involving sacrifice. In fact, something radical, difficult and sacrificial, ought to commend itself to us as his will, more than something comfortable, doable, and unthreatening. Is there something you ought to give up, something that is weighing you down, and messing up your priorities - something you need to put aside to follow Jesus? Is there some caution that you need to ignore, some fear that you need to fight, so that you can obediently follow Jesus? Is there some challenge that’s made you feel guilty, some responsibility that you don’t want to take on, some stretch that you don’t want to make, but you feel like you ought, in order to follow Jesus?
My challenge to you today is to take a step up a level of inconvenience. If you’re just giving him the use of something you own or some time that you can spare, step up to give him the right to tell you what to do, even when that is not what you have thought of doing or would prefer to do. And if you’re more or less there – it’s never complete, is it? – then step up to the next level and commit to giving him your whole life for whatever change he may bring, a complete restructuring of all that you have, all that you do and all that you are.
In “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society,” Juliet Ashton finally has to change her whole life. She falls in love with Kit, the little daughter of the missing Elizabeth McKenna, who it turns out did not survive her time in Ravensbruck. But Juliet is also attracted to the island, to the people, to the Literary society, and to Dawsey Adams, who is radically different and more authentic than the Yank she’s engaged to. So in one radical moment she has to abandon all of life as she’s known it, abandon London, abandon the Yank, accept Dawsey’s marriage proposal, and moves to the island to raise Kit.
Jesus leads us to step up to various levels of inconvenience. But ultimately he wants all of your life. Take a step today.