Thomas J Parlette
“Stepping into the Scene”
Luke 5: 1-11
One spring afternoon, not long after she and her new husband John moved into the community, Marianne Siebert of Florence, Kansas, decided to visit their elderly neighbors, the Mc Linden’s, who lived about a mile and half up the road.
The weather was perfect, so Marianne decided to saddle up her 12- year- old Arabian stallion, Phar, and ride him over to the neighbors. When she got there, she dismounted and, reins in hand, approached the back door.
Apparently, the neighbor had just polished the glass in the storm door, because it shone like a mirror. Marianne knocked twice and waited with her horse peering over her shoulder. After a minute a two, she decided her neighbors weren’t home and she turned to leave when she noticed that Phar was staring at the gray stallion in the glass with fascination. He squealed and pawed the ground – and so did the stallion in the window, because it was, of course, his own reflection.
Marianne tugged on the reins, but old Phar refused to move. Marianne was starting to get a bad feeling, and she became more forceful, tugging hard and slapping Phar with the reins. Finally, the big horse moved. He swung around, and with both hind legs, bashed in the door!
Glass flew everywhere and the metal grill work caved in. Marianne was sweating bullets and was just about to jump on Phar and make a quick getaway when she heard Mrs. McLinden call to her husband, who was a bit hard of hearing, “Honey, I think there’s someone at the door.”
“I could have strangled that horse,” said Marianne afterwards. “But instead, I helped the McLinden’s clean up the glass, promised to pay for the door and I got out of there. My reputation, however soon spread throughout the county – “If Marianne Siebert comes to visit, be sure to get there after the first knock, or she’ll kick in your door.”(1)
We often talk about opportunity knocking – it rarely bashes in the door, but it does come knocking on occasion. Someone once said that if opportunity came disguised as temptation, one knock would be enough. That may be true. We also think about Jesus standing at the door and knocking. You probably all remember that classic painting that depicts a saintly looking Jesus with long flowing hair and glowing white robes just about to knock on a little cabin door. I wonder how many have noticed that there is no door handle visible in that painting. The only way to open the door is from the inside. Jesus isn’t going to break down your door – you have to open it on your own.
These two images – opportunity knocking and Jesus knocking – converge in our Gospel lesson for today. Two fishing boats stand empty by the side of a lake. The fishermen have given up for the day. They are standing near the boats, cleaning up their nets. Their faces are weary with discouragement. They aren’t fishing for sport or amusement or relaxation – this is their livelihood, this is their profession – and things are not going well.
We know how they feel. We’ve all been there. If you’re in sales, you know what it feels like to have prospect after prospect say, “No thanks, not interested.” Someone once said that’s why they have afternoon matinees at the movies – for people who can’t hear
“No” one more time.
If you’ve ever started a business, you know the feeling. There are a lot of rewards running your own business, but there are also a lot of times when it feels like the wolves are right outside your door, too.
Farmers know the feeling. You realize with a sinking feeling that this year’s crop is not measuring up. It’s not because you didn’t work hard – that’s the frustrating part. You worked harder than ever. But the rain came at the wrong time, there was too much, or there wasn’t enough – it’s just not going well.
Even young people know about times of discouragement. You work hard studying for a test, but when you look at the questions, it seems like you studied all the wrong things. You had hoped for an “A”, and now you just want to pass.
We’ve all felt the same sense of discouragement these fishermen were living with, haven’t we?
There was once a troubled man who paid a visit to his Rabbi. “Rabbi,” he said, wringing his hands, “I am a failure. More than half the time, I do not succeed in the things I have to do. I am a failure. Please, tell me what to do.”
The Rabbi thought for a moment. “Here’s what I want you to do, my friend, go look on page 930 of the New York Times Almanac for the year 1970, and you will find peace of mind.”
The troubled man went away and did what the Rabbi said, and here is what he found – the listing of the lifetime batting averages of all the greatest players in baseball. Ty Cobb, the greatest slugger of them all, had a lifetime batting average of only .367. Not even Babe Ruth could match that.
So the man went back to the Rabi. “Ty Cobb - .367 – that’s it. That’s supposed to give me peace?”
“Yes,” said the Rabbi. “Ty Cobb, .367. The greatest hitter in baseball only got a hit once out of every three times at bat. He didn’t even hit .500 – so what why do you expect to do better?”(2)
All of us get discouraged at times. We can sympathize with those fishermen standing by their boats with empty nets, nothing to show for the work, batting a whole lot less than .367. All they can do now is clean out their nets, wash down the boats and hope for a better day tomorrow.
But then, into the scene steps Jesus. The great actor Charlie Chaplin was once directing a play and he was sitting out in the audience, trying to tell his lead actor what he wanted him to do. But the actor just didn’t understand what Chaplin wanted, so Chaplin walked down the center aisle, jumped up on the stage and showed the actor exactly what he wanted him to do.(3)
Whenever Jesus jumps onto the stage – whenever Jesus steps into the scene, he does just that. He shows us struggling children of God what to do.
There was once an old lady in a land hostile to the Christian faith who was thrown into prison because of her religion. She was frightened and alone – but into the scene stepped Jesus. Instead of being bitter or scared, she learned to thank God for confinement, as Jesus had thanked God for his trials. “Now I can be alone with my Lord,” she said.(4) Jesus had shown her what to do – be thankful to God in all things.
According to legend, some neighborhood boys were visiting the famous artist, Leonardo DaVinci. One of them knocked over a stack of canvases. This upset the artist because he was right in the middle of some sensitive work, trying to paint the face of Jesus. He got angry, threw his brushes and hurled some insults at the boy, who ran crying from the studio. DaVinci tried to go back to work, but found he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t paint the face of Jesus and hold onto his anger at the same time.(5)
Wouldn’t it be great if every time violence and anger, hate and frustration tried to sneak onto the stage of our lives, we could say – “But into the scene steps Jesus, and I can let go of my anger and hate.”
Evangelist John Wesley was once robbed by a man as he was travelling on the highway. Wesley said to him, “If the day should come that you desire to leave this evil way and live for God, remember that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses all from sin.”
Years later, Wesley was stopped by a man after church, who asked him “Do you remember me? I robbed you one night, and you told me that the blood of Christ cleanses all from sin. I have trusted Christ ever since, and he has changed my life.”(6) That reformed criminal was just one of many through the centuries who were headed down the wrong road until Jesus stepped into the scene.
Here we have the answer to all our feelings of discouragement, disillusionment, and emptiness. Let Jesus step in to the scene. Let him jump onto the stage of your life and show you exactly what to do.
These fishermen in our story from Luke had worked all night and had caught mothing. They were tired. They were discouraged. They were frustrated. Then Jesus stepped into the scene. Notice what Jesus told them to do. He told them to push out into the deep. He told them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat. What he was really telling them to do was exercise their faith. Faith in him, faith in their own abilities as fishermen, and faith in the abundance of the sea. It was Peter who spoke up- “Lord we’ve been at this all night and we’ve caught nothing.” But Jesus’s gaze never wavers, there is a long pause, a deep sigh from Peter… “But if you say so, we’ll do it.” Jesus restored their faith, and that was precisely what they needed at that particular moment.
I wonder how many of us need that same word. Do you know what the biggest barrier to success is for most people? It is the fear of getting started. It is the fear of pushing out into the deep unknown. It is the fear of change. Our biggest barrier to success is our reluctance to take action, because we are afraid.
But then Christ steps into our lives and says, “Don’t be afraid. What are you worried about? I am with you. Go ahead, push out into the deep, venture into the unknown. Put down your nets just one more time. Trust me.”
That’s what the disciples did and you know what happened? They caught so many fish that they nearly sank their boats. It would not have happened if they had not exercised their faith. But they pushed out and took a chance and what a catch they had. But they had to get out there and put down their nets first.
There’s a story from the sailing ship days about a vessel stranded off the coast of South America – unable to move because there was no wind. Week after week went by. The sailors were dying of thirst, but it was just too far to swim ashore. Finally another ship came close enough to hear their cries for help. And they shouted back – “Put down you buckets.” When the stranded sailors did that, they found water fit to drink right beneath their keel. Turns out that even though they were far off shore in the ocean, the fresh water current from the mighty Amazon river surrounded them. All they had to do was reach for it.(7)
Our lesson for today says the same thing – let down your buckets, cast out your nets. Don’t be afraid to exercise your faith. This is still a wonderful, abundant world that God has created for us. Trust what Jesus says and push out into the deep waters of your life. You are not alone. For Jesus is ready to step into the scene, onto the stage of your life. Answer the door when you hear the knock of opportunity. Jesus isn’t going to break down the door, but if you trust him, he will give you new life.
And for that, may God be praised. Amen.
1. Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXVI, No. 1.