Daniel Mark Cenci
Sermon for September, 6, 2012
St. John’s, Montgomery, AL
1 Corinthians 3:18-23, Luke 5:1-11
Throughout the Bible, Water is used as a powerful image of God’s deliverance. The word water is in fact used 719 times in the Bible and it is often used to describe life, restoration, deliverance and rebirth. In the Old Testament we see the image of water used over and over again. In Genesis Chapter One, we are told that the Spirit of God hovers over the waters of the deep as creation is spoken into being; Later in Genesis, it is through the waters of the flood that Noah and his family are delivered safely atop mount Ararat; In the Book of Exodus it is through the waters of the Red sea that Moses leads the people of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt and it is through the waters of the Jordan that Joshua leads the people out of the desert into the Land of Promise.
Water continues to be a significant symbol in the New Testament as well. It is those same Waters of the Jordan in which Jesus is baptized and is declared to be the Son of God. It is water which is turned into wine at Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana, symbolizing God’s abundance and provision; it is the stormy waters of the Sea of Galilee on which Jesus walks and delivers the disciples from the storm; and finally it is water and blood which run from his pierced side as he hung dying upon the cross as an atonement for our sins. Water is a significant Biblical symbol.
In today’s gospel reading water plays yet another important role in the Bible story. We see that a crowd has gathered on the shore by the Lake of Gennesaret, and apparently they are so interested in what Jesus has to say that they are literally pressing in on him. In fact, they are pressing in so much that Jesus has to get into a boat and pull away from the shore so he can continue his teachings. It is significant here that Jesus is teaching and proclaiming the word of God as he is quite literally floating or hovering atop the waters. Perhaps this is a harkening back to the hovering of the Spirit over the waters of the deep as creation was being spoken into being? Jesus speaks the truth of the Gospel form over the waters, just as in the beginning, the word of God pronounced the beginning of all that is. Jesus’ proclamation of the word of God over the waters of Gennesaret is evidence that he is the Word of God made flesh, the one who was with the Father and the Holy Spirit at the creation of the World, the one by whose word all things came into being¦ God of God, light of light, very God of Very God¦. By whom all things were made.
The powerful symbolism of water in this passage does not however end with Jesus’ teaching. The story goes on to describe how after Jesus finishes his sermon and the people begin to depart, he then turns to the man who owns the boat, Simon Peter. And what happens next is somewhat out of the ordinary. He tells Simon to go out into the deep waters and to put down his net for a catch of fish. I can imagine that Simon was thinking to himself what does this have to do with anything? This guy has just been preaching about the kingdom of God and now he wants to fish? but it is clear that Jesus’ words must have been powerful and convicting because Simon decides to place his faith in Jesus and to comply with this odd request. He says, well, we fished all morning and didn’t catch anything, but if you say so, we will give it another chance. So they go out into the deep waters (again you have this imagery of the deep where the Holy Spirit dwells) and they cast out their nets, and lo and behold they catch so many fish that their nets cannot even bring them in. in fact they have to call on a second boat, and even the two boats cannot contain the number of fish that are brought in.
At this Simon Peter falls on his knees, realizing the sheer power and authority of Christ, and he say ˜Lord, go away from me, for I am a sinful man, I am not worthy.’ He realizes in this moment that Jesus is not just a teacher or a prophet but that Jesus has authority over creation itself and he falls on his knees in fear and humility. But Jesus responds to him, and he says Simon Peter, do not be afraid, for I have a purpose for you, there is a reason that I got into your boat to preach, there is a reason that I brought you out to the deep waters to catch fish, you see, I have chosen you. From now on you will not be catching fish, but you will be catching people, people for my kingdom.
This miraculous encounter reveals God’s mighty plan of deliverance. It reveals that God’s salvation is an abundant salvation, and that God has chosen regular people, people like you and people like me, to be the ones who will go out and bring all the world into his kingdom. Again, I think this imagery of the fish being brought up out of the water is so significant. If we again look back at the Book of Genesis, those same waters of the deep which the Spirit hovers over also represents the great chaos that exists, and just as God brought forth creation out of Chaos, it is out of the Chaotic waters of this world that God has chosen to bring forth and deliver his elect. As the fish were brought out through the waters of Gennesaret, so too are we brought forth through the waters of Baptism when we place our faith in Christ.
My Brothers and sisters, water is a strong symbol of God’s mighty deliverance. And by his grace, it is out of the waters of this earth that God has called each and every one of us. And it is through the waters of Baptism that we have been born again into a new life with Christ, and have now been empowered, and equipped to be fishers of men. My friends, it is my prayer this day that we may all have the faith of Simon Peter, and willingly cast out our nets, so that others may know the abundance of God’s deliverance.