Jesus Asks for Help
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; February 10, 2019
5th Sunday after Epiphany
Psalm 138; Luke 5:1-11
Our gospel reading brings us to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as he calls his first disciples. Already, though, his reputation has spread far and wide. We know this because we are told that by the lake of Gennesaret the crowd is pressing in on Jesus. Seeing two empty boats at the shore of the lake, Jesus gets into one of them—the one belonging to Simon—and he asks Simon to put out a little way from the shore. Simon does so. Safe from the crush of the crowd, Jesus begins to instruct the people.
While there are many teaching opportunities in this text, this morning let us examine two matters of significance. First, notice how the crowd is pressing in on Jesus. Word is getting around about his ministry and, no doubt, he is feeling the stress and strain of it all. We live in days of stress and strain, too. A recent poll of the American Psychiatric Association suggests almost 40% of us are more anxious than we were at this time last year. Roughly 18% of us have an anxiety disorder. We are anxious about keeping ourselves and our families safe. We are anxious about our health. We are anxious about our finances. We are anxious about the future of our nation. Yes, we are an anxious people.[i]
If we stroll back through history, though, we may find that every generation since the beginning of time has suffered from anxiety of one kind or another. Let’s consider 1907, for example, the year the cornerstone of FPC was put in place. In 1907, Americans had a much shorter life expectancy than we do today. 1907 was the year that typhoid spread through water and food supplies, ravaging the nation. America was at war with tuberculosis—a disease that killed hundreds of people before a cure was found. Finally, the worst mining disaster in American history occurred in 1907 when an explosion killed 362 men and boys, leaving 250 widows and over 1000 children without support.
Most assuredly, people in New Testament times had cause for anxiety, too. The Jewish people found themselves occupied by Roman rule. There was no middle class. Poverty was visible and common. Rome cared little for the poor and disabled. High taxation caused many peasants to lose land and livelihood. Moreover, improving one’s circumstances was near impossible.
While we may feel overly stressed in the 21st Century, all peoples down through the ages have experienced stress and strain. Jesus feels pressured, too. How does he respond? Well, first Jesus recognizes the situation—the pressing crowd is creating a problem. Then he finds a way to get some distance between himself and the cause of the stress. He looks around to see who can help him. Yes, Jesus, the Son of God asks for help. Seeing two empty boats at the shore of the lake, he gets into one of them and asks Simon, who will later be called Peter, to push off a little from the shore. From that vantage point, he teaches the crowd. Jesus finds release from his predicament because he humbles himself enough to ask for help. How are we at asking for help? How do we feel about accepting the generosity or welcome or support of another? Do we feel ashamed because we are convinced, we really ought to be able to manage things on our own? Jesus didn’t!
This weekend has been quite busy for our church. The 23rd annual Father Daughter Valentine Dance, was held Friday and Saturday nights—with two dances each night. Over 4200 fathers and daughters gathered in the James Rainwater Conference Center to make memories, and dance, dance, dance. It’s hard to believe that such an event began in the upstairs auditorium of this very church. Soon the event was bigger than the space allowed which necessitated a move to another location. With the increased space came exciting opportunities to enhance the overall experience for fathers and their precious daughters. But it would not have happened without Jeff and Becky Stewart recruiting lots of help. Yes, Jeff and Becky asked for help and help they received. I daresay most of you have helped this past weekend in one way or another. Maybe you prayed for the event, shared information about the event with your neighbors and friends—face to face—or through social media. You may have hung posters in your place of business. Perhaps you baked cookies—hundreds and hundreds of cookies or washed grapes—bunches and bunches of grapes or hung balloons—dozens and dozens of balloons or scanned tickets—oodles and oodles of tickets.
Over the years, helpers for the Father Daughter Valentine Dance have included people like John Plowden and his friend Rick who have fashioned incredible pieces of art for the event: larger than life wooden hearts—and intricate pieces that fold out into trees! Matt Phelps has been critical for his engineering skills because we all know that Becky can dream up some incredible things that might, to the common eye, seem impossible. But with Becky’s imagination and Matt’s skills—it all comes together. Dawn Toth rolls up t-shirts—boxes and boxes of t-shirts—then she and her family work the t-shirt table during the dances. Troy Toth oversees the drink station. It’s a happening place! Deborah Taylor and Katherine Phelps—along with other volunteers—oversee the food trays, assuring there are always delicious treats available. John Vick sets up and manages the coat check area. Of course, there are dozens of people I haven’t named—people from our church and the community who come together to make something incredible happen—something that blesses families far and wide—all because God gave Jeff and Becky a vision and they pursued the vision—asking for help all along the way.
Jesus asks for help, too. In doing so, he makes himself vulnerable. Research professor, Brene Brown, who has done a lot of work on the topic of vulnerability, has this to say:
One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance we place on “going it alone.” Somehow, we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into “those who offer help” and “those who need help.” The truth is that we are both.[ii]
Yes, the truth is, we are both! When we think of Jesus, we can easily muster up images of him helping others—healing the sick, raising the dead, loving the un-loveable, but rarely do we imagine Jesus asking for help. Yet, Jesus does just that. “Can I borrow your boat for a moment? Would you row it out just a bit so I can tell the pressing crowd about the love and mercy and grace of my Abba Father?” Throughout his ministry, Jesus is on the receiving end of help—wealthy women contribute financially to his ministry, people invite him over for meals, others offer a place for him to sleep.
The theme of help continues in our story when, after Jesus finishes teaching, he asks Simon to put out into the deep water and let down his nets for a catch. Since Simon and his friends have been fishing unsuccessfully all night, Simon is understandably skeptical. Still, there is something about Jesus that compels them to follow his instructions. And what happens? They catch so many fish, their nets begin to break. And what do they do? They signal their friends in the other boat to come and help them. When the boats begin to sink because of the weight of all the fish, Simon is so overcome, he falls at Jesus’ feet and Jesus says to Simon Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
And this brings me a second matter of importance. “Catching people,” or what we commonly call “evangelism” has gotten such a bad rap—largely due to experiences of street-corner-preacher-types inquiring, “Are you saved?” plus the downfall of too many televangelist-types who appear to be concerned about people’s souls when their real motivation is people’s wallets. But let’s not allow bad press to put us off. Instead, let us consider the original meaning of the phrase, “catching people.” When Jesus says, “From now on you will be catching people,” he is not saying, “You will be entrapping people.” He is not saying, “You will be tricking people or pressuring people.” Instead, in the original Greek, the idea of “catching people” indicates Simon and the other followers of Jesus will be rescuing people; they will be saving people; they will be inviting people to live full lives, governed by the love of Christ.
It all begins with a risk on Jesus’ part because Simon could have said no. James and John, the sons of Zebedee could have said no. God, in Christ, asks for help. “Can I borrow your boat?” And God, in Christ, is still asking for help, “Will you rescue others? Will you invite others to the full life I can give? Will you?”
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i] “A Lot of Americans Are More Anxious Than They Were Last Year, a New Poll Says,” published May 8, 2018. http://time.com/5269371/americans-anxiety-poll/
[ii] Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.
*Cover Art “Miraculous Catch of Fish” Jan van Orley; Public Domain; via Wikimedia Commons