"How Sweet the Name...": Sermon for the Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year C

"How Sweet the Name...": Sermon for the Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year C

Feb 10, 2019

Passage:Luke 5:1-11

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Epiphany

Category: Love, Grace, Repentance

Keywords: grace, hope, love, repentance, sin


In Luke's story where Jesus "calls" Peter using and abundance of fish, Peter reacts in fear and trembling. He falls to his knees and asks Jesus to leave because "I am a sinful man!" I think many of us worry about how we can approach God or church or "church people" because we, too, have things about us we are ashamed of. But Jesus calls Peter anyway. Jesus loves Peter anyway. In this sermon, we explore how Jesus also calls us and loves us too!


In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Today I want to start off telling you a story.  This is a true story.  It happened about 350 years ago.  There was a man named John.  He lived in England and, when he was a small boy, his mother had great plans for him.

John grew up in a Christian family.  His mother hoped that he would be a preacher.  She encouraged him to read the Bible as a youngster. She taught him verses. She took him to church. She encouraged him.

 But even as a young child, John had a bit of a wild streak. He wanted to have adventure.  He craved to see the world, like his father, who was a sea captain.

Then, when John was seven years old, his mother died. 

John's father remarried.  But John's new step-mother did not really look after him.

He was allowed to run wild in the streets with other children. His father finally sent him to boarding school.

At school, John was a terror. He acted out and caused trouble. He was liked by other boys, but he always flaunted the rules.

Finally, his father agreed to allow him to leave school and come with him on the ship out to sea.

 John, now 17 years old, was thrilled to be on his grand adventure.

After a few years at sea, John joined the British navy. But there, he no longer had the protection of his father. John's attitude and poor behavior meant he got crossways with his Naval Officer superiors. They punished him severely. They stripped him and whipped him in front of his fellow sailors.

John was ready to desert.

But instead, he begged to be relieved of his duties to board another ship headed for the African coast. The navy was glad to be rid of him.

John was now working on a slave ship, but he was, himself, little more than a servant to the captain. They landed off the coast of West Africa, and John had nothing but the clothes on his back. For more than year, John worked like a slave alongside the captives his captain was rounding up.

Finally, with the intervention from his father, John was able to get work on another trading ship and leave that slave port.

He set sail, heading back toward England. After the ship had been at sea for three months, a violent storm crashed over the boat. Water filled the cabin where John was lying.  He watched one of his fellow shipmates wash over the side of the ship.

The mast snapped. The ship was now disabled in the North Atlantic in the middle of a terrible storm.

In the midst of all this, John remembered his mother.

He remembered her hopes for him.

He remembered her teaching.

And he prayed.

He remembered the scriptures she had taught him to read and memorize.

But he also remembered all the many, many sins he had now committed in his life.

He felt he was not worthy to be saved from this storm.


Let me pause there... I'll come back in a minute and tell you what happened to John.

But let's reflect a minute why I've even brought you this story today.

I'm sure many of you can hear the connection to our Gospel reading from Luke.

Of course, one connection is the water and the boat.

Jesus has so many folks pressing in on him when he's preaching there by Lake Gennesaret that he needs to commandeer a boat to go out a little ways for them to hear him.

But what intrigues me about this story is the recruitment of Peter (and James and John).

Peter and the gang have been fishing all night, without success.

They've brought their boats to shore and are cleaning their nets.

Now Jesus invites them to take him out in the boat.

Peter responds. He takes Jesus.

This is actually quite remarkable, if you think about it.

They had been out working all night...probably exhausted...but Peter obliges Jesus anyway.

But the part that really connects here is when Jesus tells Peter to throw his nets into the water once again... even though he's exhausted...even though he's had no luck up to now...

He does so...

Now he has more fish than he can haul in!

And let's look at Peter's response to this.

Peter immediately responds by falling down at Jesus' knees. He tells Jesus: "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!"

In other words: "I do not deserve the Lord's favor."

"You don't know the things in my past that I could tell you, Jesus, that maybe mean you shouldn't be choosing ME!"

I think so many of us approach Jesus in this way.

I think we all have a bit of guilt or shame or anxiety about our pasts in some places. We wonder if we TRULY can even dare to be in the presence of God. And, of course, when we start to think about it, we say "No way! God is God, and I'm not nearly good enough...

And that can lead to just staying away from anything related to church or prayer or religion or, sometimes even hope... We try to push God away...

But in this story, when Peter tries to push Jesus away, Jesus basically ignores Peter's plea.

Jesus says to Peter: "Do not be afraid."

"From now on, you will be catching people."

In other words, from now on, you are with me.

From now on, you are part of spreading the Good News of God's love and God's grace to all people--whether they think they deserve it or not!!!.....


So back to our friend John. He's on that ship. It's disabled. On the Atlantic. He feels he's too sinful to be saved from certain death.

But he is saved. The scriptures his mother taught him give him hope... They provide hope for all on that ship. They are rescued from the storm. And John would write of the day, "with humiliation, prayer, and praise" for God.


But, most famously, he would later also become ordained, like his mother wanted him to. Then he would write a hymn to reflect his experience of being on that ship and knowing he was a sinner. But also knowing God loved him no matter what. Knowing Jesus loved him like Jesus loved Peter on that boat.... Like Jesus loves each one of us!

The hymn that John Newton wrote is: "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found. Was blind, but now I see."[1]

We are all--like Peter, and like John Newton--sinners. We all has pasts. We all have those parts of us that cause us shame or grief. But Jesus comes to tell us, "I love you!" We are ALL beloved children of God. Now we are to follow go into the world and share God's love with others.



                [1]For the biographical information on John Newton, see