From Successful to Significant

The First United Presbyterian Church
“Successful to Significant”
Rev. Amy Morgan
Feb. 10, 2019

Isaiah 6:1-8
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.
 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.
 3 And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."
 4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
 5 And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"
 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.
 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out."
 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"

Luke 5:1-11
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God,
 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.
 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch."
 5 Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets."
 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.
 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.
 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"
 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;
 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people."
 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

For more than a quarter-century, he reported heat waves, cold fronts, rain and snow for channel 4 news in Detroit. He was at the height of his career, a respected meteorologist and TV personality. He’d won Emmy awards and appeared on nation-wide broadcasts. And then, Chuck Gaidica walked away from it all.

These sudden departures are typically the result of some falling out or personal tragedy or even scandal. But that wasn’t the case for Chuck. He left his job, as he says, so that he could turn his life from “successful to significant.” He left his profession to pursue his calling, taking up the role of pastor to a local congregation. He left his nets filled to overflowing with fish and followed Jesus.

Simon and James and John were not at the height of their careers. In fact, they didn’t really have a career to speak of. There was no great fame or fortune to be gained in the fishing trade. If they were lucky, they could make a living.

And on the morning when they encountered Jesus, they were not feeling very lucky. They’d been out all night, dusk till dawn, throwing heavy nets over the side of their boats, and hauling them in, empty. Through monotonous hours of darkness, they waited for a catch that never came. Hungry, exhausted and frustrated, they came ashore and began the tedious process of cleaning their nets, picking out all the weeds and muck and garbage they’d accumulated instead of fish. The only thing they had to look forward to was getting some sleep after a long and fruitless night.

And then Jesus comes along, with a crowd of people, and asks to borrow their boat. Can you imagine? “If you wouldn’t mind…I know you’re trying to wrap things up here…but could you just…you know, row the boat back out a little ways so I can make a speech?”
What on earth compelled Simon and the others to agree to such a request is beyond me. About the only appropriate response I can think of in this circumstance is “Go jump in a lake – in fact, this lake.” But Simon agrees to take Jesus on a little cruise so the crowd can have better sight lines.

Luke’s gospel doesn’t give us any of the content of Jesus’ teaching. Maybe we’re hearing the story from Simon’s perspective. Half-asleep in the boat, all he heard was, “Blah, blah, kingdom of heaven…repent, for blah, blah, blah…Blessed are the blah, blahs.”

Or maybe, for Luke, the content of Jesus’ message isn’t important to this part of the story. The gospel is a game of show and tell. Sometimes it tells about the reign of God. Sometimes it shows it. This is obviously a show time.

Jesus encourages Simon to put out his nets into the deep water. For all sorts of reasons, this is a completely foolish idea. First of all, they’d been fishing all night because all fishermen knew that night time is when you catch fish. Secondly, they’d been trying to catch fish all night, and if there were any fish to catch, they would have caught them. Thirdly, in the deep water, the fish would have been, well, deep. Like, too deep for their nets to reach. You put your nets in the shallow water where the fish congregate, and you can reach them. And anyway, who is this guy? He doesn’t know anything about fishing, and he’s trying to tell us what to do.  

Simon puts up a small protest, but again, he humors Jesus and puts his nets out in the deep water. And there is a miraculous catch of fish, so many fish that their nets start to break, and they have to call in reinforcements and even then it almost sinks their boat.

Pulling up to shore, Simon and James and John are more successful than they’ve ever been in their lives. Their live could be dramatically altered by what they could potentially gain from this haul of fish. They could grow from a single fishing operation to owning a fleet of ships. This was the first-century fishermen’s equivalent of winning the lottery. This was the very definition of success.

But Simon and his pals decide to turn their lives from “successful to significant.” In an instant. They walk away from it all, and they follow Jesus. They leave their jobs and follow their vocation.

Now, why on earth would they do this? Most people spend their whole lives dreaming of this kind of success. Material wealth, security, status. Who among us hasn’t played the mind game of “what would I do if I won the lottery”?

To finally achieve that long hoped-for goal, and then just abandon it all and walk away? It makes exactly no sense.

As far as we know, Jesus doesn’t exert any mind-control power over his future disciples. He doesn’t offer them a better deal. Other than “fish for people,” whatever that means. So what gives?

This clearly isn’t a rational, reasoned decision. There’s no conversation about, “you know what sounds like an even better idea than getting rich and retiring? Following this guy around.” All the gospel tells us is they pulled their boats up to shore and left everything and followed Jesus. Bizarre. This is not rational human behavior.

Something happened in that boat that changed Simon and James and John in a significant way. And it had nothing to do with fish. It had nothing to do with reason or rationality. 

Chuck Gaidica did not make a reasonable choice. He didn’t suddenly get his priorities straight or make a list of pros and cons. He just left everything and followed Jesus.

Gaidica once said that, as a weatherman, he was “paid to out-guess God.” Gaidica knew all there was to know about weather patterns. He had complex models to simulate and predict the weather. Just like Simon and his crew were experts in predicting where to find fish and how to catch them, Chuck Gaidica forecast when the snow would fall and when the sun would shine. (As a side note, this is not a difficult job in Michigan. It is usually snowing and the sun is never shining.)

Still, God beat the odds from time to time. Chuck got it wrong and God got it right. And perhaps it was not a miraculous change in the weather so much as a slow realization over time that led him to understand God was going to win that bet in the end.

And this is what led Chuck Gaidica, and Simon, James, and John, to walk away from it all.
They knew they were beat. They thought they knew what they were doing. They thought they knew what their lives were about. Perhaps they even thought they were fulfilling their God-given vocation, their purpose in life.

But God revealed to them that they were wrong.

Simon’s response to the miraculous catch of fish is revealing. Instead of, “gee thanks, this is awesome! It’s everything I’ve ever wanted!” he declares, “I am a sinful man!”

For Simon, the miraculous catch of fish didn’t represent a future of wealth and prosperity. Instead, it revealed that he had no idea what he was doing, that he was on the wrong path, and that Jesus had it right and was in control. For Simon, seeing Jesus’ power and goodness reflected his own impotence and failure.

Now, when we think about things like sin and confession and the total deprivation of humanity, all sorts of, what we consider to be, “bad” emotions come up. Guilt. Anger. Resentment. Sadness. Self-recrimination. We don’t want to feel those things. So why would Simon want to leave everything to follow a man who made him feel this way?

Because what we are really feeling, underneath all those uncomfortable emotions, is cognitive dissonance. This mental break between who we think we are or we want to be and who we find out we actually are.

Last summer, I spent 10 days traveling in an RV. The bathroom had very little light, and the mirror was a little dusty from our travels. Most days, I would just wash my face and pull my hair back. I thought I looked great in my natural state. No make-up. No blow dryer. I looked great. For a minute, I even thought, “I may never wear make-up again!”

Then we arrived at my aunt’s house, and I got a good look at myself in a clean, well-lit mirror. Dark circles under my eyes betrayed how poorly I’d been sleeping in the RV. My hair looked dirty and scraggly. I looked worn and haggard. It was not a pretty picture. 
And it was a very different image from what I had seen reflected in the RV mirror.

I suppose I could have beat myself up about my poor cosmetic choices. I could have felt bad or guilty or resentful. But what would be the point? All that was needed was a shower, some rest, and some quality products. And all it took for me to know that was a better mirror. One that showed my true reflection.

That is what Simon got when fish started breaking his nets and sinking his boat. He got a better reflection of his true self. He had been gazing into the murky mirror of humanity his whole life. Comparing himself to other fishermen, other guys his age, others Jews, maybe even to the Romans and Greeks who showed up from time to time. From this reflection, he learned what to expect from his life. From this reflection, he saw his potential and his limitations. From this reflection, he learned to expect too much or too little of himself.

And then Jesus holds up a different mirror. One that is so clear and bright that he can’t help but see the dark circles of sin and the dirt of his unrighteousness. Instead of gazing into the mirror of humanity, he was gazing into the mirror of God. In that reflection, he saw how the image of the divine resided in him. But he also saw how unkempt and worn that image looked. He had not been attending to his spiritual grooming, and it showed.

So of course he didn’t beat himself up, or feel bad or guilty. That wouldn’t have done any good. He simply changed his routine. Instead of fishing for fish, he went fishing for people. He cleaned up his act. And he kept ahold of that mirror that would always show him his truest reflection.

Frederick Buechner wrote that “There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Super-ego, or Self-Interest. 

By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you've presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you've missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you're bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren't helping your patients much either.

Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”

To find that elusive location, the intersection of your passions and the world’s needs, we must begin by seeing ourselves clearly. We need someone to hold up that clear, bright mirror so that we can see the image of God we carry within us, and so that we can see where that image is haggard and grimy and needs a good, long bath. And once we’ve recognized our true selves, God can clean us up and bring us along on the mission of restoration God continues to conduct in the world.

Once, when Chuck Gaidica was giving a speech, someone’s phone rang just as he was wrapping up. “If that’s God,” Giadica said, “tell Him I’ll be done in a minute.” No matter where we are or what we’re doing, no matter how long we’ve been trying, no matter if we’ve been successful or failed miserably, God will keep calling. When we’re tired and worn out and frustrated and think we’ve got nothing left to give, Jesus may ask us to put out our boats one more time, to throw out the nets, one more time. When we’ve achieved the summit of worldly success, Jesus may invite us to walk away from it all to follow him. And if we are seeing ourselves clearly, if we’re gazing into the reflection of God, we might just leave everything and follow Jesus. And in doing that, we might just go from successful to significant.

To God be all glory forever and ever. Amen.


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