Bishop Election Devotional for May 1, 2019
By Rev. Erin Heidelberger (Zion Lutheran, Aberdeen)
One of my childhood memories is from the third grade. I was stuck on one word on my spelling test and opened my desk up to steal a peek at the spelling list laying inside. It was the very first time trying a stunt like that. And Ryan (I’ll leave last names out to protect the innocent) Ryanover there in the row next to me just had to see me and say, “Erin! What are you doing??”
And the jig was up. I was found out. It left me feeling exposed and vulnerable and waiting for the hammer to drop. Fortunately, Ryan—bless his heart—extended some grace to me and didn’t turn me in to the teacher.
Simon has a similar reaction to Jesus out in his boat on the Sea of Galilee. After a long night of fruitless labor, Simon and his fellow fishermen are exhausted and despondent. All their work seems to have been in vain, because they have caught absolutely nothing.
And as they’re back on shore washing their empty nets, Jesus comes along, speaking to the crowd who has gathered and is edging closer to hear him. In order to make it easier for them to hear him, he borrows one of the empty boats, the one belonging to Simon and asks Simon to push it out from the shore.
When Jesus finishes talking to the crowd, he tells Simon to take the boat back out into deeper water and to drop his freshly-washed nets back in for a catch.
This, of course, must sound ridiculous to Simon. Night is the best time for fishing. And what does Jesus know about fishing, anyway? He’s a carpenter! Simon is the professional here. And Simon is the one who has been out here all night, catching nothing, now weary and exhausted and empty.
“But if you say so, Jesus, I’ll do it.” And when he does the nets indeed catch some fish. Not just some, but more than enough, an abundance, so much that that the nets begin to break and the boat begins to sink.
This seems like an amazing, welcome thing. But for Simon Peter, it’s terrifying. This proves to him that Jesus is God. And for Simon, a man who is rooted in the whole experience of the Israelite people, it’s terrifying when God shows up. Because standing before God means knowing he is a sinner. It’s being exposed, vulnerable to the only One from whom we cannot hide anything.
And so fear is the logical response when God shows up. When Simon Peter sees the amazing catch of fish and knows it’s God who is responsible for it, he also knows that this will not end well for a sinner. He sees Jesus not as a provider but as an accuser. He sees a finger pointed right at him. He’s ready for the hammer that is surely coming down on him any second.
But he actually finds no finger pointed at him. No hammer coming down. Instead, he hears the voice of Jesus saying simply: “Do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid!
Instead of the voice of an accuser, Simon Peter gets the voice of a savior. And we do, too. One who has chosen to get into the boat with us. When Adam and Eve were afraid in the garden and hid, God spoke into that: “Who made you think that sin is your identity?” And here he says it to Simon Peter, and to us as well. Of course, he knows the mess we are prone to make, but he doesn’t stand outside of it. He dives right into it, down into the deep waters, where we so often find ourselves flailing and drowning, in search of sinners.
In fact, this is exactly what he will do on the cross. He goes that far down, trawling into the deep, so that he can catch us in his net of mercy. We, too, have been to that cross. In the deep waters of Baptism, we are crucified and raised with Christ. And we ourselves are woven into a net that Christ keeps dragging through the depths of this world, using us to catch more people.
LET US PRAY
Faithful God, by your Holy Spirit, give us ears to hear you say, “Do not be afraid.” For in that word, you promise us that you will be our God and will provide all we could possibly need, including leaders for your Church. Give us ears also to hear the promise that, through us, you will catch people up in your net of mercy. Give us a bishop who will echo your promises to us, so that we may be strengthened to speak the word you have given us to proclaim.
We ask in the name of Jesus and for his sake. Amen.
Lord, Speak to Us, That We May Speak
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