Don’t Give Up On Us

“Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” -Luke 5:5

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Luke 5:1-11

Sometimes as I’m pondering the scripture for the week, I get a song stuck in my head about it. This week, the song in my head has been…The Gambler, made famous by Kenny Rogers. Maybe you know this chorus:

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em / Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away / And know when to run[1]

The song is talking about a card game, not quite the same as fishing, like Peter and his friends are doing in our reading from Luke today, but both the song and the story talk about knowing when to give up and when to try again.  [2]Peter and his partners were done fishing, cleaning up and getting ready to go home after having caught nothing.  But Jesus says, “Try one more time,” and so they do and catch so much fish that the boat is about to sink.

How do we know when to give up and when to try again?  It sometimes seems like the impossible question of discernment.  And we also must note that although trying again brings great success for these fishermen, a miraculous catch of fish, they don’t hang around to enjoy their success, they leave everything behind to follow Jesus.  So maybe it’s not so much about their success, as about their willingness to do what Jesus says, and to do it together.

One of the first Bible verses I ever memorized is Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  I didn’t set out to memorize it. I just kept coming back to it when I was getting tired because I needed the assurance that there was hope for the future if I didn’t give up. In our story for today, we see the weariness of the fisherman who have been working all night and caught nothing. They’ve already given up. They’re cleaning up and going home. But then Jesus borrows one of their boats to use as his pulpit for preaching, and then when he’s done, tells them to go out into the deep water and try one more time to catch some fish. Peter, ever the one to say what he’s thinking, begins with an objection.  “We’ve already tried, all night long. The fish have been evading us. But, if you say so, we’ll try one more time.”

[3]

After the nets fill up with fish, Peter realizes that there’s something fishy going on here….something greater than he imagined is at work. He has a glimpse of the divinity and greatness of God in Jesus.  His response, to fall to his knees and confess that he is too sinful to be in Jesus’ presence, is similar to the response the prophet Isaiah had when he had his vision of God seated on the throne of heaven. Isaiah says, “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!” (Isaiah 6:5)  Isaiah is then commissioned to be God’s messenger, like Peter and James and John get commissioned to follow Jesus and fish for people.

Both Isaiah and Peter felt insufficient to the call and yet were willing to trust God and go.  Our feelings of insufficiency can really hang us up.  We don’t feel good enough or strong enough or wise enough. The task looks too hard or too big or too complicated.  And often it is. But for Peter and Isaiah and us, the way forward is to simply say yes and trust God for the rest. To realize that it doesn’t depend on us, but rather on God.  Simple first steps can be hard, though.

[4]

Friday was the birthday of Rosa Parks who became famous because she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama during the days when black passengers were supposed to give up their seats to white folks.  It was a small thing to do but it had big impact. Rosa Parks became a prominent face of the civil rights movement from that simple act of standing up for equal rights…or rather sitting down for them. A year later, in a federal lawsuit, that Montgomery bus law was struck down because it violated the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the constitution.[5]

Almost 100 years earlier, the 14th amendment had been voted into the constitution because the southern states were putting in all sorts of laws to restrict the rights of the newly freed slaves.  But 100 years later, those restrictive laws were still happening, and still needing to be fought, and still the fight for equal rights continues today.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” 

“Let down those nets one more time.”

Ecclesiastes 3 says that “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity…a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away…” (Eccl. 3:1,6)  How do we know when to keep going and when to give up?  When to hold ‘em, or fold ‘em, or walk away?

[6]

I see two common factors in our story today – Jesus and Peter’s fishing partners.  We are not alone in deciding whether it’s time to try again or give up. Jesus helps us as we follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  And we do not need to discern the Spirit’s guidance all alone.  Peter is the one speaking, but he’s got James and John there with him, and all of them are a part of their fishing experience, and all of them are a part of Jesus’ call to follow him.  They go together.

Sarah Wiles, pastor of Blacksburg Presbyterian Church in Blacksburg, Virginia wrote about this passage in this week’s devotional from Street Psalms. She says she’s always had trouble with the way she heard this preached growing up.  Pastors would ask, “Would you follow?” and her first thought was, “Nope.” She says the part that bothered her the most was that it was all up to her. “Would I let Jesus in my boat? Would I follow? Would I fish for people? My salvation depended on my choice alone,” she says.[7]

But what if it’s not just about our choice alone?  Peter is the one speaking but he’s not alone in the boat. And when the boat starts sinking, he doesn’t handle it alone, he calls for help from his partners.  When he follows Jesus, it’s with his friends.

[8]

Sometimes we do have to go it alone, but even then, there are other people involved in helping us make the decision, in supporting us and praying for us.  Even the gambler in that Kenny Roger’s song is not alone.  He’s learning from the guy who’s giving him the advice about knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.  And he’s not playing cards all by himself either.  He’s with a group of card players.

At the beginning of our reading, Luke tells us that the reason Jesus had to get in the boat in the first place is that there were too many people crowding around to hear him speak – to hear the word of God.  How did they know this was the word of God?  Why were they so drawn to hear him?  Because the Holy Spirit was at work in them. The Holy Spirit draws us toward Jesus and draws us together.  We often hear God through one another – through sermons and devotionals, through conversations with one another, in small groups and in larger gatherings. 

The pandemic has made it harder to gather, and harder to have conversations with one another about what we’re hearing from God, and we’re tired and in a lot of cases ready to give up on trying. It’s tempting to give up, especially when we’re tired, but let’s not give up without making sure we’re hearing from God and hearing from one another.  Maybe what we’ll hear is it’s time to rest, or maybe what we’ll hear is to let down those nets one more time.

Whatever we hear, let’s not be afraid, because Jesus promises to be with us always.


[1] By Don Schlitz The Gambler lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

[2] Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

[3] Photo by Jakub Kapusnak on Unsplash

[4] Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash Poor Peoples March at Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. Negative by photographer Warren K. Leffler, 1968. From the U.S. News & World Report magazine photograph collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division. Photograph shows Rosa Parks, one of the speakers at a rally near the Washington Monument, Washington D.c. on June 19, 1968 held as part of the Poor People’s Campaign. https://www.loc.gov/item/2017650273/

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosa_Parks

[6] Photo by Cassiano Psomas on Unsplash

[7] Sarah Wiles in email dated February 4, 2022 https://mailchi.mp/streetpsalms.org/word-from-below-from-now-on?e=3ffe033bca

[8] Photo by Cassiano Psomas on Unsplash

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