Who am I?
Self-realization. Self-actualization. Finding your identity. Finding a sense of direction. Thousands of books, articles, websites, and millions of printed pages have been produced seeking the answers to the great mystery of our purpose in life. I have, in my own small collection of books, no less than a dozen books on the subject. As I was looking at the topic this week on the internet, my first Google search gave me more than 812 million results. An Amazon search will give you about seventy thousand books to choose from and an academic search engines will give you millions of results as well.
What are they saying to us? These people are all writing on this same subject trying to tell us something about the idea of purpose in life, purpose for life, all writing from various perspectives and viewpoints, affiliations and aspirations. What do we make of it?
One of the writers, Mark Manson, had this to say,
“…when people say, “What should I do with my life?” or “What is my life purpose?” what they’re actually asking is: “What can I do with my time that is important?”
He goes on, like most others, to list seven questions to ask yourself to find out what important things you might do with your time. But I found that idea of answering the question of What should I do with my life? by asking What can I do with my time that is important? to be an engaging thought. I think it speaks into the sermon today and helps us to reframe our question perhaps to say, what can I do with my time to be a disciple of Jesus?
That question, I think, has the power to drive our thoughts, actions, and yes, purpose of life, toward a greater faith and greater expression of faith in our families and community. So, how do we answer this? I think the best way to answer this question is being a good disciple and follow the example of Jesus. We’ll tell a story, a story about a couple of fisherman and the fish story they have to tell.
It was this big
There are good days fishing and then there are good days when you get to fish. When I was a kid, my great uncle took my father and I fishing at Lake Weiss on the Georgia-Alabama border in northwest Georgia-northeast Alabama. Usually, my Uncle Burl could find white bass and striped bass near an old submerged roadbed. We happened to catch a good run of them this particular day and at one point my uncle had one fish in the pocket of his overalls, one in his hand and one on the line. That was good day’s fishing but I don’t think it compares with the morning Simon Peter and his friends had in our story.
Simon and company had been out all night, casting nets over the side and pulling them in with nothing really to show for. By all accounts, it was a wasted night, full of frustration and exhaustion. I’ve tried my hand at fishing with a net before and I can tell you, it is a tiring exercise, on a boat doubly so. You have a net with rocks on the edges for weight that is bunched up in a certain way and then thrown out so that the net spreads out and falls flat on the water’s surface before sinking down and catching everything beneath it. Simon and his partners, James and John, were coming off a back breaking, muscle aching night of casting their nights just this way.
Enter Jesus. In the story the author of Luke is telling, Jesus has just come from his hometown after having been nearly thrown off a cliff, then casting out a demon, healing people, and teaching in the area of Capernaum, he comes to Lake Gennesaret where he finds Simon and his fishing partners sitting on the shore, washing their nets and trying to recover from an exhausting, fruitless night.
Jesus walks up to Simon’s boat, hops in, and asks Simon to row out a little way so he can talk to the crowd of people that have gathered. I can’t say whether it was some authority that Simon recognized in Jesus or if he had already heard of this Nazarene rabbi and preacher, but something compelled this exhausted fisherman to listen and obey. So, Simon rows the boat out a little to create a floating amphitheater near the shoreline and from there, Jesus taught the crowd of people.
I imagine the message Jesus offered must have resonated with Simon because when Jesus was finished, he asked Simon to go out a little farther from shore and cast out the nets again. Simon’s response? You gotta be kidding me. The story says Simon responded with, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.” In other words, nobody else could get me to that after the night I’ve had, but because it’s you and I see something in you I don’t see in other people, I’ll do it. The result?
“…they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink.”
Simon’s second response?
“Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught. James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were Simon’s partners and they were amazed too.”
The fishermen are amazed. It’s miraculous, it’s like one of the stories of old, when God shows himself to Israel through a wonder of nature like parting the Red Sea or the pillar of fire or Elijah calling fire from heaven. They are astounded beyond their belief. At this point, the fishermen are not expecting what comes next but like any good day on the water, it’ the surprises that keep you coming back.
Calling all fishermen
“Don’t be afraid. From now on you will be fishing for people.”
I am reasonably certain that Simon was not expecting this. When Jesus looks at him and makes this statement, the fisherman is still recovering from the miraculous catch of fish he has just seen. Given his Jewish heritage, Simon is most likely now seeing Jesus as a great prophet like Elijah or Isaiah as well as teacher of truth. Prophets rarely ever called people as disciples but it is clear to Simon that Jesus is doing that to him in this moment. We read from the text that Simon answers the call by leaving everything behind and following Jesus.
Simon’s response may seem odd or unorthodox, but there are some things here that I see as parallels to the calling we as followers of Jesus experience here and now. First, this statement is imperative. If you remember your grammar from school, an imperative statement is one that insists you do what is being told to you. In other words, Jesus is not saying to Simon, “You know if you don’t have anything better to do for the next three years, and you want to see some really cool stuff, and learn some things about God, you could give up this fishing thing and we can go walkabout.” No. Jesus looks at Simon and says, “From now on, you’re with me. We have work to do and you have to follow me to do it.” Simon not only hears this but he feels this. Something deep within propelled him to “leave everything and follow Jesus”, to leave his livelihood, his family, his life. Why else would he walk away from what was most likely a reasonable trade as a fisherman to become the disciple of an itinerant preacher.
Second, Jesus reassures Simon. Notice the words, do not be afraid. This phrase shows up throughout the text in Luke and is usually about something miraculous or difficult. In this case, Simon has just been on the best fishing trip of his life. But he is also being asked to join Jesus on an even bigger trip, discipleship. This is the same trip we are invited on when hear the message of the gospel. Yet Jesus is saying to Simon, “Look, I get it. It’s a big commitment, a big life change. I’m asking you to be like me, do what I do, go where I go, and live how I live. And I get that it’s scary, not knowing where you are going, where your next meal will come from, but don’t worry, if you’re with me, I’ve got you. Don’t be afraid. We’ll walk together.” For all of us who hear the message of the gospel, Jesus makes the same invitation, the invitation to follow but to know we do not follow alone. He is with us.
Finally, Jesus gives Simon purpose. Simon probably started learning his way around a boat as a boy. I imagine he was given smaller responsibilities like carrying gear or storing equipment and worked his way up to throwing nets and hauling in fish. Fishing was his purpose, his reason for being; that is, until Jesus redefined the reason. “Simon,” Jesus said here in the story, “from now on you will be fishing for people. You will be learning the message, seeing it lived out in front of you, and given the task of sharing it with the world as you meet it.” Simon is still a fisherman, still casting out a net, but now he casts a spiritual net of truth with the intent of hauling in disciples.
The Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, ““The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” We as followers are disciples. The word disciple implies that we not only learn from the Master but that we share the Maser’s teaching with others so that they too can become disciples. When we look for our purpose as followers of Jesus, this is our most basic expression of it, that we are those who feel the imperative call to follow, that we do so without fear and we do so with the purpose of leading others to follow as well. At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus makes this point clear by expression the mission in a fifty-thousand-foot view:
“…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.”
Living with purpose
One of my favorite movies is Young Frankenstein. For the first half of the movie, Frederick Frankenstein tries to convince the world that his grandfather, Victor, was not the true scientist that Frederick is. By the middle of the movie, we see he is only trying to convince himself and by the end, he has embraced the work of creating life from death. The story, for all its comedic veneer, is one of embracing your life purpose, even if it’s not what you expect it to be.
While we are not normally in the business of making monsters in the church, we have a definitive purpose. We are called to live a life that embraces the imperative call on our person; to live a life without fear because we do not walk alone in this world; to live a life of purpose, the purpose being to be disciples and make disciples.
 Luke 5:5
 Luke 5:6-7
 Luke 5:8-10
 Luke 5:11