Date: Feb. 6, 2022
Scripture Lesson: Luke 5: 1-11
Sermon: Net Worth
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
In a recent archeological find, a boat was discovered on the shores of the Sea of Galilee or Gennesaret. It was dated to the first century. This gives us an idea of the size of the boats that may have been featured in the story that we heard this morning. The size of the boat was 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and 4.5 feet deep [The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, v. VIII, p. 94.]. That would pretty much fill up the chancel.
Now we want to imagine boats that big filled to swamping with fish. Overloaded with fish. On the verge of sinking because of the haul. That is a LOT of fish. It is an enormous demonstration of abundance. Like the wine referred to in the story of the wedding at Cana where the water is turned into wine, or the story of the feeding of the 5,000, this is another story with a vast manifestation of something that is needed. A demonstration of the provision of the grace of God offering more than enough. It is another story of overflowing abundance.
And this story occurs on the shore of the lake. Not in a holy shrine or at a special spiritual site where God’s power is supposed to be demonstrated. And it happens not in the presence of prestigious priests who are supposed to oversee the dispensation of the grace of God but it involves a rural rabbi and some random fisher people. And there are no extraordinary instructions given or special commands to the sea or the fish. There is no incantation or ritual. The purview of religious officials. There are simple instructions given to average people who have no special qualifications or character. In the presence of these everyday people, in this everyday setting, there is a ridiculously abundant catch of fish.
In this ordinary scene, Jesus reveals the extraordinary gospel. There is a demonstration of the abundance of life in the commonwealth of God. The gospel is a path of liberation and abundance. It offers more than enough. For everyone. It meets human needs – physical, spiritual, social, and emotional. And it is not an elitist teaching meant for some. It is available, offered, accessible to all. It is a message of liberation from all of the social, cultural, and, sadly, religious messaging that we are to try harder, that we are not enough, that we aren’t receiving because we aren’t deserving. The gospel of Jesus nixes all of that. There is no meritocracy with God. Jesus shows us more than enough. For everyone. No conditions. No requirements. No entrance exams. No qualifications. No documents. No fees. Like the super catch of fish in the lake, the gospel is readily available, accessible, waiting, to meet the needs of all people, to give people a better life.
Ah, but Jesus is well aware that there are nets that entangle us. We get caught up in the social structures around us. We get enmeshed in the racial constructs of our culture. We get pulled in by the current of consumerist capitalism. We get trapped by the alluring images of wealth and success that assault us. And while promising a beautiful life, we find that we are trapped in a system of spiritual and moral death because that supposedly beautiful life comes at a cost, a human cost and an environmental cost. There is the untold suffering that is required to keep some people in their materialist heaven. There is the degradation and subjugation that is necessary to access resources, including human labor, so that the beautiful lie of material happiness can be maintained.
Consider the contrast of the story from Luke where there is an untold abundance of fish which will feed and sustain people and the recent story of the huge kill of fish in the Mediterranean Sea, in the Bay of Biscay off of the coast of France. There was recent discovery of over 100,000 fish, blue whiting, a sub species of cod, used for fish fingers, fish oil, and fish meal, found dead, floating like a huge white carpet on the sea covering over 3000 square meters. The kill was perpetrated by the second largest fishing vessel in the world, the Lithuania-registered trawler Margiris [https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/feb/05/shock-in-france-after-giant-trawler-sheds-100000-dead-fish-off-coast] Here we see the devastation, the death, the waste, of our current system of industry and economics. It is evidence of our moral malnourishment that such a thing could happen. It is a consequence of greed.
All around us, in small and large ways, we see the depletion of life. And Jesus offers an alternative. He offers life, full and abundant for everyone. Through the gospel of love of self, neighbor, and enemy, through the teaching of generosity of material goods as well as spirit, through the demonstration of forgiveness and reconciliation, through the promotion of community and celebration and gratitude, we see the values and way of a good life. A life that is not lived at the expense of others or at the expense of the environment. A life of harmony and balance. A life grounded in the sacredness of all life and the interrelatedness of life. Each and every life beloved, holy, worthy.
The gospel is a message of liberation, especially for those who are being abused by the system. For those on the bottom. For those who are taken advantage of by the institutions and systems of society. The rural, Jewish fisherman were certainly in that camp in the first century. And millions upon millions of people are in that camp today.
But Jesus’ gospel is not just good news to the poor. It is also good news to those who are simply born into the injustices and immoralities of society. It is a message of freedom and liberation, another way, for everyone. And that is important, because as Dr. King put it, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” [The Radical King: Martin Luther King, Jr., edited and introduced by Cornel West, p. 128.]
The overwhelming obsession of our culture is on money and it is harming us all. There was a cartoon in a recent Christian Century magazine showing an older man with has arm on the shoulder of a younger man. They are looking out the window of what is clearly a corner office on an upper floor at a skyscape of office buildings. And the caption has the executive telling the underling, “I worry that we’re headed for a future where you won’t be able to earn three hundred times the salary of your lowest paid worker.” [Condron, The Christian Century, 1.12.22, p. 8.] There it is. The obsession with wealth strangles the labor force. It rapes the environment. It creates false divisions among people. And, as we have discovered in this pandemic, there are negative outcomes for everyone, not just those at the bottom.
Dr. King did not just focus on the uplifting of Black people in America. He was committed to the uplift of all people everywhere because he knew that our well- being is connected. In the last chapter of the book, Where Do We Go from Here, written in 1967, King talks about the world house and that we are all living together in what essentially amounts to a common dwelling. He tells us, “When we arise in the morning, we go into the bathroom where we reach for a sponge
which is provided for us by a Pacific Islander. We reach for soap that is created for us by a European. Then at the table we drink coffee which is provided for us by a South American, or tea by a Chinese or cocoa by a West African. Before we leave for our jobs we are already beholden to more than half of the world.
“In a real sense all of life is interrelated. The agony of the poor impoverishes the rich; the betterment of the poor enriches the rich. We are inevitably our brother’s keeper because we are our brother’s brother. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” [The Radical King: Martin Luther King, Jr., edited and introduced by Cornel West, p. 87.]
In Luke, when Simon and James and John see the demonstration of the abundance and liberation of the gospel, they are awe struck. They are the ones who supposedly know how to fish and yet look what they have just seen. What Jesus offers outpaces their wildest dreams. And they are just every day working people. Not the elite. Not the power brokers. Not the structure legitimators. Just every day working people. And Jesus enacts for them this vision of what the gospel offers. The freedom. The care for all. The abundance and joy. It is so compelling, they leave everything, we are told, and follow Jesus. They leave everything. Boats. Nets. Family. Livelihood. Routine. Identity. World view. And, as the story is told, yes, they even leave the fish. The greatest catch of their lives. The greatest economic success of their careers. They. Walk. Away. And follow Jesus. For the gospel. And there’s no joining fee. They don’t have to pass an entrance exam. There is no interview process. They only provide obedience, humility, and trust. And Jesus takes care of the rest.
We, too, are surrounded by evidence of incredible abundance. Nature, human ingenuity, the incredible productivity that we are capable of. The overflowing bins of produce in our grocery stores, the shelves of foodstuffs. So many things day in and day out testify to the abundance around us. And yet our society is wracked with injustice and poverty and oppression and hypocrisy and greed. As King describes it, “We must honestly admit that capitalism has often left a gulf between superfluous wealth and abject poverty, has created conditions permitting necessities to be taken from the many to give luxuries to the few, and has encouraged smallhearted men to become cold and conscienceless so that, like Dives before Lazarus, they are unmoved by suffering, poverty-stricken humanity.” [The Radical King: Martin Luther King, Jr., edited and introduced by Cornel West, p. 91.] We don’t have to live like that. The gospel is calling to us. We are being invited to an alternative reality of goodness and compassion. We are being lured into a life lived in solidarity with others not at the expense of others. We are being called to healing and wholeness.
And especially here in America, we have the resources to live in a society in which all can live flourishing lives enriched by recreation, the arts, entertainment, and sports, as well as work. King saw the potential of America. He tells us:
“America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing to prevent us from paying adequate wages to school teachers, social workers and other servants of the public to insure that we have the best available personnel in these positions which are charged with the responsibility of guiding future generations. There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American citizen whether he be a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid or day laborer. There is nothing except short-sightedness to prevent us from guaranteeing an annual minimum — and livable — income for every American family. [This was an issue in the last presidential election.] There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from remolding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.” [The Radical King: Martin Luther King, Jr., edited and introduced by Cornel West, pp. 93-94.]
This is what the church is to be about. This revolution of values. There is nothing to prevent us from living into the Jesus reality of abundance for all. But like those fisher folk in the story from Luke, we have to leave something behind. Maybe even everything behind given the way things now stand. So, what are we being called to leave behind so that we can live into the gospel dream of abundant life? What systems perpetrating our moral, spiritual, and even physical death are holding on to us? We, too, are being called to break loose. To be liberated. To live from the abundance of the grace of God. To let Jesus catch us and give us life.
We are being called to be part of God’s dream of abundant life for all people and all creatures. May we let ourselves be caught by Jesus who frees us from being strangled, constricted, and squelched by systems of exploitation and degradation. All it takes is obedience, humility, and trust. And we all have that to offer. In abundance. Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.