Many years ago now I attended a youth event and my home group leader had each one of us close our eyes. She asked us to imagine holding the hand of the person who taught you about your faith. Then to imagine that person holding the hand of their teacher in faith and so on down through the ages until through this long line of witnesses you are holding Jesus’ hand. This image of somehow holding Jesus’ hands across the generations is a powerful reminder that each one of us in our own way is called to bear witness, to be a living witness to the love that we find in Jesus.
That’s what drew in the disciples in after all. Simon, James and John were going about their business – cleaning the nets from last night’s fishing trip. When Jesus interrupts their routine and climbs into the boat. He didn’t call to them from a distance. He didn’t wave his hands and shout “what are you doing?” He walks out the place where the boats are, asks him to put the put just off shore and he climbs into Simon’s boat. No introductions or normal pleasantries he just climbed into the boat.
What would you do if a stranger walked up to you and climbed in your boat? I’d start yelling, “What do you think that you are doing? Get out of my boat.” But that’s not what happened. Jesus started teaching the crowds from Simon’s boat. And Simon said nothing about it. Then when Jesus was done teaching the crowds, he says, “Simon, put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4) I can’t figure out why Simon didn’t say, “Are you out of your mind? I’m not going out into the deep water. I worked all night and caught nothing. And now you want me to put my nets out in broad daylight when the best time for catching fish has passed?”
Simon stares at Jesus. Jesus says nothing. He waits. Simon finally says, “If you say so, I will let down the nets.” And when he does the nets are full to bursting and he called his friends to help him. Even so they filled two boats so full that they almost sank. That’s the second miracle of the day. The first one was when they didn’t tell Jesus to take a hike. He disrupted their routine and their lives. And it doesn’t stop there. Simon can’t believe what has just happened so he throws himself at Jesus saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful!” (Luke 5:8) Then Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” Then another miracle – they brought their boats to shore, left everything and followed Jesus.
It is an amazing story and in this one story Jesus shows us all that we need to know about discipleship. Step one – go to where the people are. Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to come to him. He gets into the boat with them. It brings new meaning to the expression “we’re in the same boat.” Step Two: Tell the story. We don’t know what Jesus said to the crowds that day but it must have been powerful words of hope and of God’s abiding love. Step Three: do something amazing – Jesus told the disciples to drop their nets and they filled up two boat loads of fish. Step four: Encouragement. Simon can’t believe what just happen with all the fish so Jesus says “Don’t be afraid.” Step five: A new identity. Jesus gives Simon, James and John a new identity. “from now on you will be catching people”
From Jesus’ example we have the necessary steps for being living witnesses to the good news. It is not a “no fail five step process” to discipleship but it points us in the right direction. Are we going to get all five steps all the time? Not likely because not one of us is Jesus. That is why we are part of a congregation, members of the body of Christ each individual sharing their unique gift to make the process complete. Each of one of us can do something. Some of us excel at meeting people where they are and getting in the boat with them. Some people are story tellers and can change lives with their stories. Others do amazing things that open people’s eyes to living their lives following Jesus. Some people excel at encouragement and others at helping form new identities as disciples of Christ.
Since Jesus’ time people have been using their gifts whatever they may be to be living witnesses to the good news that is ours in Jesus Christ . Paul says it so well when he writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1) Each generation is a living witness to the next as it hands on the story of the one who died to give us new life by doing exactly what Jesus did going to where the people are, telling the story of faith, doing something amazing, encouraging people and offering them a new identity in Christ.
This week Eric was telling me how his father was a lay reader in his church in Main Point and he learned by following his father’s example. I’m guessing that one thing Eric learned was how to encourage others because Eric excels at encouragement. Lloyd Brown told me this week that one of Eric’s greatest gifts to Cochrane Street was how he encouraged the involvement of lay people in the life of the church especially worship. I know that even before I started working here, Eric encouraged me in my ministry and shared with me his wisdom. It is not just me but countless others have told me of his support in difficult times and his encouragement. Eric bears witness to his faith in his words that encourage and lift up.
Through his encouragement Eric is a living witness to the good news. Today we honour Eric as our minister emeritus but we all in our own way are living witnesses to the good news. Each one of us is called to share our gifts. Maybe one day someone will imagine holding your hand in the long line teachers that begins with Jesus. As we boldly proclaim our faith and live it out in our homes, our communities and in our world, Jesus guides us along the way. Can you hear Jesus whispering in your ear, “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will be catching people.” Amen.