"When it Comes to God, there’s Always a Catch"

Date Sunday February 10, 2019
Service Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Text Luke 5:1-11
Author Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Previous Sermon "Love, Walls and the Christian’s Conundrum"

     It’s another case of coddiwampling! Do you remember that word? It means to set out in a purposeful way toward a vague destination, or in a vague direction. For some people to coddiwample is exciting, but many find it disconcerting.

     Pastor Lauren Dow Wegner, writing in Christian Century, mentioned her husband’s love for projects, but only when he can imagine the desired result. So, for example, when sees is a jumble of tools and wood cluttering up the basement, he sees a beautiful finished product or when she shakes her head over the screws and parts strewn on the garage floor, just waiting to trip her, he sees the working machine they will become.

     I can’t identify with his point-of-view very well EXCEPT when it comes to jigsaw puzzles; then I can imagine those 1000 multi-faceted and variously colored pieces forming the picture on the box. But, what if I didn’t have the picture? What if I had to put the jigsaw puzzle together without the slightest idea how it would end up? Or, asks Pastor Wegner, how would her husband react if he was given instructions – go to the garage, gather together your tools and wood, and prepare to build - but had no idea of the end result? (1) In short, what if he was asked to coddiwample?

     That’s what’s happening in today’s Gospel lesson, on a couple levels. It’s an event that takes place early in Jesus’ ministry, yet due to a series of healings, he is being sought out by crowds of people. Standing at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus borrows a boat to use as a stage, of sorts, from which to speak/teach. Having done so, he instructs Simon Peter to “put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch” – a task without clear results.

     There are several problems with this request. First, the fishermen have already been fishing all night and caught nothing; they are tired and a catch seems unlikely. Second, if they do catch anything, say 4 or 10 or 20 fish, will it be worth it because, third, to casts nets again, this time in deep water, involves more time and work, and does not seem worth the effort.

     Simon Peter’s initial response contains a bit of what I’m calling the three “D’s”, disbelief, distrust and a bit of defensiveness. Yet, he lets down the nets anyway. Before I continue, let’s note that the focus of this story – besides Jesus – is Simon Peter. He is mentioned five times; it’s his boat the Jesus uses, he is the only person to speak to Jesus and the only one whom Jesus addresses directly. This isn’t so much a story about fishing as it is about the transformation of a fisherman, that he probably didn’t see coming.

    The boats and moved and the nest as cast, and in spite of Simon Peter’s hesitation, his expectations are exceeded by a net-breaking, boat-sinking multitude of fish. The fisherman’s initial response is shame, perhaps because he hesitated to trust Jesus and to do what Jesus asked of him, or because he feels unworthy of the miracle due to past indiscretions or broken promises.

     It’s interesting, though, that Jesus does not dwell on the ways Simon Peter has fallen short. He doesn't point out that Peter was defensive or bring up a past indescretion. Instead he gives new instructions, “Do not be afraid (which I view as a word of forgiveness); from now on you will be catching people.”

      What do you think, was that reassuring to Simon Peter? I don’t know; it sounds like another coddiwample to me. Who knows what is on the horizon?Except, it is somewhat reassuring that in the boat that day Jesus merely asked Simon Peter to do what the fisherman knows how to do. When he does it, the result is up to Jesus.

     My experience has been that God uses us within the parameters of who we are and what our abilities may be. We may be stretched some as time passes, and by the power of the Holy Spirit may even grow into new abilities, as was true for Simon Peter. For Simon Peter, this is the beginning of his journey and he has no idea what "fishing for people" will involve; the future is unknown and the destination is vague, and yet he stepped out in a purposeful way, as one does when coddiwampling!

     Listen to what Pastor Wenger writes about this: “Rarely does God reveal to us our destination. Instead, God reveals to us the means through which we are called to participate in God’s end result. While we do what we are equipped, and skilled to do, we entrust the result to God. Because, when it comes to God, there is always a catch.” (2)

     Ah, yes …how true that is! When it comes to God, there’s always a catch … and it does not have to happen in a boat on the water with fishing nets. In the January edition of Living Lutheran there is an article titled, “The Gym Pastor”. It’s about Pastor Ginny Price who, after being called to New Hope Lutheran Church in Columbia, Md., made joining a gym her first priority since she has a passion for fitness.

    Between weight sets she read books on social justice, like Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and A New Jim Crow by Michele Alexander (both of which I recommend, by the way). The books were noticed by fellow gym goers and led to conversations on racial justice and faith. That led to a friendship with a young African-American man, which then led to “Conversation in Community”, bi-monthly meetings that connected members of the gym, New Hope and the community at large. These talks have been a source of racial healing and reconciliation for all involved.

     Other initiatives grew out of that effort and Pastor Price, much to her surprise, has become the gym pastor. So, from the pulpit she asks her congregation, “Where is your gym?”, meaning where is the place you have the opportunity to minister to people in ways you would have never imagined? (3)

      This question is a reminder that when it comes to God, there’s always a catch, and that “catch” may be that we are involved. The catch may be that we must go out into deep water in a purposeful way, not knowing what the catch will be. But, guess what, that second part is not up to us; instead, like Simon Peter, we do what we know how to do, and the result is up to Jesus. AMEN


  1. “Living by the Word” by Lauren Dow Wegner, The Christian Century, January 16, 2019, pg. 18
  2. Same as #1
  3. “The Gym Pastor” by Erin Strybis, Living Lutheran, January 2019, pg. 17