Isaiah 6:1-9; Luke 5:1-11
Ah Ha! That is one word which expresses Epiphany. Eureka! I found it! Wow! Even open-mouthed speechlessness. All describe a response to epiphany – an appearance of the holy, where it is least expected. Truth be told, the appearance of the Holy One always takes us by surprise. We never expect it. We never concoct it. The Spirit, like the wind, moves where it will.
Today we watch as two of God’s people, in their own places and times, are brought to their knees by an epiphany – a sudden knowing of the presence of God.
When Isaiah had his epiphany, he was going about his ordinary duties. The work of a prophet is to speak the word God gives for the people. And in order to hear that word, Isaiah would most naturally have taken much time in the Temple, the place of God’s abode.
And on one ordinary day, going about his business, Isaiah had an epiphany. He saw God! For Isaiah, God was high and lifted up. Often the way we think of an epiphany – drawing our gaze upward into the light, to behold glory. Awe.
Have you ever wanted to have a big powerful vision of God? Something that would make you absolutely sure of your path? Something that would change the world? Yes, me too. But when I look at this encounter, and then Simon’s, I realize that it would be a pretty terrifying thing. Both Isaiah and Simon are terrified by their experience. Both Isaiah and Simon give up everything in order to answer the call from the epiphany. Do I have enough courage to endure an epiphany? Hmmm.
Luke’s account of the fishermen focuses on Simon, so we will too. We don’t get a picture of how the other fishermen responded, even though we do know that two others who were present that day would become followers of Jesus – James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Simon was there with the people who knew him best, the people he worked with and lived with. They knew his crusty, blustery character. Out of that role, Simon has an epiphany! Simon! The most unlikely of characters! Who would believe it?!
Jesus is standing on the shore of the lake, teaching the people, but they are pressing in so tight that he is backing into the water. And he is tired of standing to be heard. So he climbs into one of the boats and asks its owner, Simon, to put it out a little way from shore, so he could sit down to teach. No problem. That done, everyone went back to what they were doing.
There are all kinds of questions though: Did Simon already know Jesus? Were Simon and the other fishermen listening to the teaching? Were they talking among themselves? Were they in a hurry for Jesus to finish with their boat so they could bring it in and go home? Were they annoyed?
Maybe a little annoyed, I think. Not in awe. No epiphany yet. You can hear the impatience seep out between the lines in what comes next. After he is finished teaching, Jesus asks Simon to put the boat out into deep water and go fishing. Simon protests. What had they been doing all night? In the best fishing time? And with no success! Does this man think he knows fishing?
Simon protests, but he obeys. There must have been something persuasive about Jesus.
And when they put down the nets in the deep water, there are so many fish, it is beyond one boat’s ability to bring them in.
And this is the moment of epiphany for Simon. When he saw this catch, he fell at Jesus knees. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
Sounds a lot like Isaiah’s: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips!”
In the presence of an epiphany, we feel unworthy. In both cases, the epiphany touched the shame bone. This gives me pause. Do I really want an epiphany? We live in a society of self-help, standing up for ourselves, doing what gives us joy. These are some of the highest values in our popular culture. We don’t want to own up to feeling unworthy.
The work of sociologist, Brene Brown, touched a nerve in 2010 when she gave a talk on vulnerability at TEDxHouston. It went viral and has more than 30 million views! She has written 5 books since then, all of which have become NY Times #1 best sellers. She hit a nerve. Shame is a big deal. What do we do with it? Brown gives us permission to have courage, to be vulnerable, telling us that it is what will make us whole.
What is shame? Brown defines it as “that warm wash that makes you feel small and not enough…. Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” 
Simon reacts to Jesus exactly like shame would. Go away from me. I am a sinful person. Simon seems to be saying, I am no good. I don’t deserve even to be around you! I am unworthy of connection. He was undone by shame. Who knows what would have happened next if it was not Jesus he was talking to. But Jesus knew what to say. “Don’t be afraid.”
We might have thought Jesus would have said, “I forgive you.” Jesus was a forgiver, and Simon had confessed to being sinful. But instead, Jesus spoke to Simon’s fear. Do not be afraid. Fear is our most debilitating emotion. And when God comes, when an epiphany comes, it is for a purpose. If we let our fear paralyze us, we will not get through to what God has in store, what God is calling us to do.
Brown has found in her research about shame that the only way through shame is vulnerability which takes us to courage. First we have to be vulnerable, honest about what we have done. No secrets. And that is hard. It takes courage to be vulnerable. And it is this courage which Jesus is calling Simon to. Jesus wants to teach Simon to catch people. He is going to have to walk that path through vulnerability to courage many times in his life as a follower of Jesus. Don’t be afraid, Simon. I want you. And I want you because I see in you the ability to kneel. That is the kind of person who will be able to catch people.
There is one more detail for us to ponder from this story. Where are the fish? Well, they were not where they were supposed to have been all night! A lesson we might take from this is that just because we are out fishing like we have always known how to do, it doesn’t mean we will catch fish. Or, in this case, catch people. And Jesus doesn’t even tell Simon that he is going to teach them to catch people. He just says that is what they will be doing.
Sort of like the amazingly, over-the-top, boat-sinking abundance of fish. They didn’t catch them with all their skills as fishermen. A carpenter told them what to do. A carpenter gave them the catch of a lifetime!
Where were they? In the deep water. We too are called to the deep water, to welcome into community the people God is throwing into our nets. It isn’t about us doing things right. Having all the right skills, all the right equipment, all the right anything! The fishermen on the beach that day had all that, but no fish. It is about following Jesus and picking up what he throws in our path, bringing these people into the community of Jesus. Welcoming them with the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid.” I know that I was fished out of the deep by Jesus. I am another one God threw into the net. And now I belong. And I walk along trying to catch what Jesus tosses my way.
Jesus calls us to the deep water. I was thinking about what we mean when we describe a writing or a movie or a conversation as “deep.” Life Coach, Jennifer Russell puts it this way: “To me, ‘going deep’ is being willing to have my mind irrevocably changed by another. Letting them in enough to rewrite what I thought was true or real and, for a moment, assume if we don’t agree, I should adopt their point of view…. It’s being willing to surrender into their future vision of me, even (and especially) in the face of my own resistance…. It’s sharing all my parts, even the ones without ribbons and bows, knowing that they are in the hands of a loving physician who can help me heal, and love, and grow in areas that I don’t like others to see.” 
When we row out to the deep water to do the work of Jesus, it will change us. When we draw new people into the boat – boat is an image the Jesus people have always used for the church – when we draw new people into the boat, we go deep. We are willing to listen, to change and to be changed. We will be asked to have the courage to be vulnerable, breaking through our resistance.
Jesus is still coming to us to say, “Do not fear.” Jesus is still coming to us to call us to things we can’t imagine. Jesus isn’t finished calling people who know their sins and doubts and fears and inadequacy first hand. And Jesus is still coming and speaking to us. And that call, that conversation with the Holy is what gives us courage. So, let us put out in deep water.
Grace & Peace,