Luke 5:1-11 NRSV

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 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. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 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. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 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.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

MESSAGE “Break Time”    Rev. James R. Renfrew,

One summer during college I worked in a large factory in Baltimore.  Our product was corrugated cardboard.  It started with huge rolls of paper that were fed into a gigantic machine called the “Corrugator” that with spinning rollers, glue and heat transformed the paper into corrugated cardboard, useful for boxes and packaging.  During my first week there I learned that the work could be lethal, because the hot cardboard pieces came out of the Corrugator with very sharp fresh-cut edges.  Just imagine grabbing stacks of razor blades all day long.  Within the first five minutes I had sliced the palms of my hands to ribbons.  The veteran workers thought it was hilarious.  Eventually I learned how to catch the cardboard pieces by holding my fingers just so.  Over the course of the summer I built up thick callouses on the palms of my hands so that when I got cut it didn’t hurt so much.

Other machines at the plant cut the cardboard into smaller shapes, some folded the cardboard, and some printed the cardboard with corporate brand names and logos.  I remember a few weeks when all we did was make cardboard trays for cases of Coca Cola.  We must have made millions of them.  Every so often in the years that followed when I broke down cardboard for recycling I’d find the little symbol for the St. Joe’s Paper Company in Baltimore and I’d remember those guys, Kenny, Gus, and Ronnie and Reggie, some of whom may still be working there for all I know.

The machine I worked on most of the time was called the slitter.  The slitter scored the cardboard in such a way that boxes could be easily folded into shape.  When the machine was running full speed, the cardboard sharp as a razor blade would fly out of the slitter and I had to catch each one and stack it before the next one popped out. It was hard work and there was no air conditioning during the hot summer months.

We started work at 6:00 AM each day, and the first break time happened at 9:00 AM.  Break time began with a loud bell.  The machines came to a complete stop, and everyone rushed to the break room.  The break room was filled with vending machines, snacks, coffee, cigarettes, card games and lots of macho men boasting abut their women, and some  blessed moments of air conditioning  – the workers had about 15 minutes of break time to enjoy before the bell sounded and the machines started up again.  Break time on a hot day in the factory was something not to be missed!

The story of the fishermen is a story about workers eking out a living for their families each day.  The fishermen had to wake up early, there was no break room with vending machines, and there was no air conditioning.  They probably worked long hours before the sun rose and after it set.  Not just being out on the water looking for fish, but fixing boats, repairing nets, and then trying to sell the fish at the market.  I don’t think that James, John, Andrew and Peter got much break time at all.  It was either work or go hungry.

But there is a break in this story.  It happens when Jesus comes along on a day when there were few fish and he gave them advice about where to find them.  They may have heard some things about Jesus, news and gossip travels fast in places like that, but he was no fisherman, they could easily see that by looking at his hands.  Theirs were all calloused and bruised, his not so much.  And his advice?  It was all wrong, the wrong time of day, the wrong place to fish, he didn’t know what he was talking about!

Jesus coming up to give the fishermen advice would have been like me going up to the corrugator crew on my first day to give them advice on how to do their job better.  They would have taken one glance at my soft hands and quickly concluded that I “didn’t know nothing”.  With a million paper cuts on my first day I tried to tell them that working with gloves rather than bare hands would be so much better.  They just laughed and laughed.  Behind my back I am sure they were saying to themselves, “College students!  They’re dumber than a pile of rocks”, though I am also sure that they said it using the more imaginative words of street poetry.

Back to the fishermen.  Instead of laughing Jesus out of town they decided to give him a chance.  Probably not because they thought he had even a spoonful of wisdom, but because they were so desperate.  How many days in a row had they gone home after long hard work with their hands empty?  No fish, no money, no food.  So they followed Jesus’ advice, even though it was completely wrong.

You know the result.  They caught so many fish in their nets that the nets began to strain and were close to breaking.  The breaking nets are the tipping point in the story, when the established life of the four workers was giving way to something new.  This is the “break time” I really want to talk about this morning, when the old gives way to the new.  They went out that morning looking to catch fish, but by the end of the day they were the ones who had been caught by Jesus.  Have you ever a moment like that, a tipping point in your life?  The net is straining, and it’s about to break.  Maybe you’re not so different from those fishermen?

What was it about those workers that drew Jesus to them? They were obviously hard workers, they knew how to work together, they knew how to talk to other workers, they took risks every day out on the water, they could forecast the weather better than anybody, they knew how to make something out of nothing, they were real good at fixing stuff, but most of all they were good at catching things.    (Side note:  During the children’s time one girl when asked where Jesus would find people like us, responded with:  when we’re doing the things we love.)

What is it about YOU that would make Jesus consider you for discipleship?  What would Jesus notice about you?  Are a hard worker?  Are you good at certain things that Jesus might need?  Are you good at working with others?  Do you have an “in” with certain kinds of people, an ability to connect with farmers, teachers, machinists, or nurses?  Are you known for taking risks?  Are you good at spotting trends and knowing what’s coming up next?  Are you good at fixing things?  What is it about you that Jesus would find useful?

Today we’re ordaining and installing new church leaders.  It’s a celebration of discipleship.  On Thursday night I asked them to describe their job description as church leaders:  compassion and caring, setting an example for others, mutual accountability, promoting responsibility and values, decision-making, spiritual leadership.  We’re fortunate to have them!

Halfway through the summer in Baltimore, I got promoted from the slitter machine to printing press helper. I earned 10 more cents an hour.  I wonder what Jesus would have said to someone like me if he had wandered into that factory one day that summer?  “Follow me, you’ll no longer be catching cardboard, from now on you’ll be catching people”.  And why not, people have sharp edges, too!