A sermon by Randy Hyde, Pastor, Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ar.

February 10, 2013

Psalm 138:1-8; Luke 5:1-11

A local pastor does television spots, perhaps you’ve seen them, and in one of them he quotes a sign that he says graces a major league baseball clubhouse. It has to do with humility. I don’t know about that. I have been in a major league baseball clubhouse or two, but never noticed it. I do know of one that is in every clubhouse because my brother-in-law played major league baseball sixteen years and he has told me about it. It warns each player that walks through the door that gambling on the sport will not be tolerated in any form or fashion.

Pete Rose walked by that sign every day for 23 years, and that is why he is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I can almost guarantee you, however, that there is another sign hanging prominently on the wall. From high school to professional sports, in just about every locker room or clubhouse in the land, you will find a sign or poster that says, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

There are various other ways of saying it, of course. I was a Paragould Bulldog in high school, and we were reminded constantly that “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” It simply means, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

When you’re in the trenches and you think you can’t go any more, that is when you find within yourself the reserve to go on and get the job done. When you don’t think you can block another time, when you don’t think you can run the floor yet again or throw another pitch, you keep on keeping on. That’s the lesson that every coach everywhere tries to instill in his or her athletes. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

I used to love watching college basketball games announced by the late Al McGuire. McGuire had been a coach himself, at Marquette, and, largely because of his personality, after retirement was hired by CBS to provide color commentary for their signature games. Near the end of the game, when the players were fatigued, he would point out the ones that were grabbing the bottom of their shorts (this was in the day when the shorts were really shorts!). He would then say the odds were good that these players would lose. They were hanging on to their shorts because they were gassed. They had no more to give. The going had gotten too tough.

I know what he meant. Any basketball player will tell you that near the end of the game, especially if the score is close, they love it when there is a foul committed. Sometimes it’s the strategy of the team that is behind. They foul in order to try and get the ball back in their possession as quickly as possible. But regardless of the reason, the players don’t mind the foul. Why? It means the action will stop, if for just a moment as they go to the free throw line. It gives them a chance to catch their breath.

Before any one can play basketball for Mike Anderson at the University of Arkansas, he has to be able to run Cleveland Hill in Fayetteville. Coach Anderson wants his players to have the necessary conditioning reserves when it comes to that point in the game when players are tempted to give up and give in. Tuesday night, in their surprising upset of the #2 Florida Gators, the Razorbacks’ conditioning came into play. And it didn’t hurt that he was able to run players in and out while the Gators depended on only seven people. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

I wonder if that’s how Jesus’ fishing disciples were feeling that early morning at the lake of Gennesaret. They’ve been out all night and haven’t caught a blessed thing. This is not the kind of fishing where they just drop a line in the water hoping for a bite. This is commercial fishing that requires the casting of nets… over and over and over. And what do they have to show for all their toil and trouble? Nada. Not a blessed thing.

Now, they’re cleaning their nets and no doubt are looking forward to a good sleep. They’re gassed. All they want to do now is finish up and go home. What makes it even worse is that they’ve got nothing to show for their efforts, and that makes their fatigue seem even greater. It has not been a good night. If this had been a baseball game, it would have been a complete shutout. The only thing left to do is clean the nets – not an easy job of itself – and go home.

Jesus comes along, commandeers one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon Peter, and uses it as his pulpit while he teaches the people who have gathered there to listen to him. The chances are Jesus hasn’t gotten any sleep either. If he was true to form, we can guess that he’s been up all night praying. That seems to be when he spends the best time with his Father. When Jesus finishes telling his gathered congregation of the kingdom of heaven and sends the people on their way, he turns to Simon and says, “Go back out into the deep water of the lake and fish again.”

And what does Simon Peter do? He starts pulling on his shorts! The last thing – the very last thing – he wants to do is go back out on the lake and fish again. They’ve been at it all night. The fish simply aren’t there.

It’s a gamble every fisherman takes. They do their best to study the conditions and know what the trends are. They’ve gotten pretty good at knowing when the fish are going to be available and when they’re not. This is a family business, after all, which means they’ve been at it a lot of years. So they’ve come to know that sometimes you hit it big and you win, sometimes you get nothing and you lose. It’s just the nature of the business. They know that. They may not like it, but they know it’s going to happen on occasion.

They also know that if you’ve been fishing all night and nothing happens, it’s best to go back to shore, clean your nets, accept your losses, take some time off, and give it a try another time. Going right back out and doing it again is an exercise in futility.

Luke, the teller of this story, provides us with some interesting details. But, there is one area in which he does not give much inside information. Let’s explore that for a moment…

Jesus tells Simon Peter, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” What is Simon’s response? At first he protests, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” And then, seemingly without hesitation, he says, “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

Do you think it really happened just that way? I mean, this is Simon Peter we’re talking about. We all know Simon Peter… at least we think we do. We’ve certainly heard enough about him in our years of attending Sunday school and listening to sermons. Simon was the one who, at times, stood between the disciples and Jesus and acted as a buffer of sorts. When it seemed that their Master (or was he a coach?!) was asking too much of them, it was Simon who would intervene on their behalf. Think of Simon as the team captain, if you will. Do you really think he gave in to Jesus’ demand that easily and that quickly?

I can just see him B can’t you? B taking Jesus by the arm and leading him off away from the rest of the group so they could talk privately. He did that later, didn’t he? It got him into trouble, didn’t it? “Master,” he says quietly, “you know we’ve been at it all night and haven’t caught a blessed thing. Now look, you uh, you, you’ve taught us many things and we’re truly grateful. Why, you’ve opened up the very clouds of heaven and shown us what God is like. You’ve encouraged us and pushed us and led us into a way of life we never thought imaginable. We didn’t think we’d ever get up Cleveland Hill, but we did it, and we did it for you. But, Coach… I mean, Master… we’re tired, tired to the bone. We’d like to go home. And besides, this is fish we’re talking about, not people. You came to save people, not catch fish. Fishing is our business, not yours. The people who gathered here to day to hear you have now gone home. Can’t we do the same? Can=t we just give it a rest?”

And then Simon looks into Jesus’ face. Without a word, without having to say a thing, Jesus conveys to his fisherman disciple that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” And Simon, in quiet resignation, says, “Okay, okay, you win. You win. We’ll do it.”

Now, I don’t know if it might have happened that way, but it makes sense to me that Simon would have protested before he gave in easily to his Master’s wish. It just seems to be his nature. I know that’s what I would have done if I had been out working all night. How about you?

We know what happened. They caught so many fish the nets were beginning to tear from the weight of them. What made the difference? I have a theory. Would you like to hear it?

Jesus has told Captain Simon to “Put out into the deep water…” I wonder if he had observed his disciples earlier fishing from the shallows, and this time he wanted them to cast their nets into the deep instead.

I’m not a fisherman, so I won’t even try to get into the technicalities of such things. I would be (please excuse me for this) a fish out of water. But I know there’s a lesson in this story that goes beyond what appears to be (please excuse me for this) on the surface of it. And that is, when the going gets tough and the tough get going, the tough ones also have to be smart, not to mention faithful. And being smart and faithful means that continuing to do things the same way they’ve always been done probably won=t cut it. You’ve got to look at new ways of doing things, even if what you’re trying to convey is as timeless as the gospel.

Consider this… The first thing Jesus encourages Simon Peter to do is move beyond his comfort zone. Perhaps he had made a career out of fishing in the shallows, and now Jesus wants him to go explore the deep waters. The second thing is that Simon Peter is willing to do it. But there’s a third element involved here. When the fisherman gets back to shore, he falls on his knees and says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Now, why would he say that just because he’s caught a boatload – and then some! – of fish? Because there’s more involved here than just fish. Jesus knew that all along, and Simon Peter is just now (please excuse me for this) catching on. The issue is not fish, it is faith.

Simon thought he had seen at all. Don’t we feel the same way? And when he comes to understand that he hasn’t, he recognizes his limitations, his unworthiness to be with and to follow Jesus. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” And then Jesus lets him know that it isn’t a matter of knowing it all, it is a matter of finding the willingness to do even more when you think you can’t go on. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Why was Peter willing to do it, to go back out there into the deep water, even though he wasn’t certain that taking out to sea again would yield a better result? Despite his later protests of being a sinful man, he shows his faith and trust in his Master. He is willing to venture into an area of life and faith he has not known before, only because Jesus encourages him to do so. When was the last time you gave that a try? When was it?

When I was in seminary, my preaching professor was enamored with a Swiss theologian named Eduard Schweizer. I did not find him so captivating, but then again, I struggled with most theologians and their concepts of faith. But Schweizer did say something that has stayed with me. He said that faith is not so much a willingness to believe as it is to trust in Jesus’ call and then to try once more.

To try once more.

When you find yourself pulling at your shorts, when you hear the voice of Jesus telling you to go out into the deep and cast your net of faith once more, when you know you need to go on but you don’t think you have it in you to do it, try once more… because in your trying you will not be alone. You will find Jesus beside you, casting that net with you. And you will discover that the going may not be all that tough after all, for you have him at your side.

Lord, as we go fishing, as we seek to be and do the church – this church – be w/ us, we pray. In your name we ask it, Amen.


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