Sermon for Super Bowl Sunday
(5 Epiphany, Luke 5.1-11)
February 4, 2007
Well, here we are once again at that High Holy Day . . . . known all over the world as Super Bowl Sunday. Amidst all of the hype of today, I want you to remember the immortal words of Cowboy running back Duane Thomas. Who, after starring in the Cowboys win over Miami in Super Bowl VI, was asked about his claim to fame in the ultimate game.
“If it is the ultimate game,” said Thomas, “then why are they playing it again next year?”
Indeed. And here we are up to number 41 now. But this particular game happens to have some very interesting dynamics. I am sure that all of you have heard by now that not only is this is the first time that an African American has coached a team in the Super Bowl; both teams are coached by African Americans. Lovie Smith who is the coach of the Bears, is one of our own. He grew up just north of Tyler, in Big Sandy, TX. And Tony Dungy is the coach of the Colts. And they are both outstanding coaches.
But what you probably have not have heard about these two coaches is that they are very devout Christian men. And they have both said that their faith is a much more defining characteristic of who they are than their skin color. So we have a Super Bowl in which neither coach shouts nor swears at their players.
And while Dungy is naturally proud that he and Smith have proven that African Americans can succeed at football’s highest level, he also says, “I want to show people that being a Christian and being successful are not mutually exclusive.” That nice guys can win too.
And Dungy truly is a nice guy. In fact, he probably got fired from his previous team in Tampa Bay because the owner thought that he was too nice to effectively control 50 football players. Dungy is a devoted family man and even goes to Wednesday night Bible study at his church when he can find the time. And for several years, he has also been a spokesperson for a national organization called All Pro Dads.
It is a group that organizes local groups of fathers and provides resources to improve their parenting skills.
Dungy says, “Coaching the Indianapolis Colts is a big job, but not nearly as big a job as being a dad.”
So imagine the horror that he felt a little over a year ago, just three days before Christmas, when the phone call came in the wee hours of the morning. The voice on the phone said the words that are every parent’s worst nightmare. Their eldest son, eighteen year old James, who was attending college in Tampa, was dead. Apparently from suicide.
Dungy and his wife Lauren were in shock. “Why us, why me?” he kept asking. “God, why did this have to happen to us?”
And as they held each other that night and cried together, Dungy’s mind kept going back to the last time that he had seen James – at Thanksgiving. He had made a short visit to Tampa, and as they parted, Tony rushed off down the concourse to catch his plane, and he and James waved goodbye to each other. And over and over again that night, he asked himself, “Why didn’t I take the time to stop and hug him?”
Simon Peter and the other fishermen were tired to the bone. They had fished most of the night and had very little to show for their efforts. Now as they tended to their nets on shore, they saw a large crowd coming toward them. As the crowd got closer, Simon could see that they were following the prophet from Nazareth, Jesus, that he had heard about.
Jesus stopped when he got to the edge of Lake Gennesarat (Gehn_nĭs’_uh_ret) – also known as the Sea of Galilee.
And we read that the “crowds were pressing in on him to hear the word of God.” (Wouldn’t I love to have that problem at Grace!)
Anyway, Jesus comes up to Simon and asks to borrow his boat so that he can use it as his speaking platform. Simon nods his assent, and Jesus gets in the boat and goes a little ways out from the bank and sits down (as rabbinic teachers always do) and begins to preach and teach.
And as usual, the crowd is amazed at his words.
After he is finished teaching the crowd, Jesus decides to further to instruct Simon and his friends in a less orthodox way (sort of a parable by demonstration).
And he begins by telling the disciples to get back in their boats and to go back out into the deep part of the lake and put down their nets for fish. Simon immediately protests.
“But we tried that already – and it just doesn’t work here. What’s the point of doing it again??”
But because it is Jesus, Simon gives in – and he and James and John – the sons of Zebedee – gather their nets and go back out to fish. And lo and behold – in no time at all, their boats are overflowing with all of the fish that they catch in their nets.
You know, life is like that. It often rewards persistence.
Not stubbornness – but persistence. The Apostle Paul often refers to it is endurance – something that he was very good at. Hanging in there for the right reasons – trying again to do what you believe you are called to do, even if it has been tried and tried before without success.
Often our reluctance to try things has to do with a fear of failure or maybe embarrassment. Simon and the others did not want to go back out and fish, because they anticipated failure, not success.
But as my wife Sherry often reminds me, when I am anxious and worried about failing – you can only fail if you don’t try. You only fail if you don’t try. The growing and learning is always in the doing – not in the result. Because we draw closer to God and closer to each other through our striving together to bring others to Christ.
Whether it is one person or a hundred, we are the better for having cast our nets and tried again.
And we see in Jesus’ actions this morning, that the main point of the story is not the fish. After the fishermen return with their awesome catch, Simon Peter falls on his knees in front of Jesus and begs forgiveness for his disbelief. But Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” And we read that Peter and James and John left everything of behind and became followers of Jesus. Left everything of their old life behind, and became fishers of people.
So it is the testimony of the fishermen – not the size of the catch that provides the insight. It is not what they do while they are fishing that matters – it is what they do when they get back to shore that informs us.
Peter and the others have witnessed the first of many Jesus events that they will see, but still not fully understand. And yet they are willing to leave everything behind to follow him.
And what does Jesus tell them?
One – Do not be afraid.
Do not fear failure. Do not fear going hungry. Do not fear being without a place to stay. Trust in me – have faith in God’s provision for you. Live into your faith and God will be faithful in return.
Do not be afraid.
Life is much more manageable when Jesus is in the boat with us. Our nets are half full instead of half empty when we understand that Jesus is with us and that he will provide for us.
Do not be afraid, he says to the disciples, and to us. Stay the course. Hang in there and endeavor to do what you are called to do. Even if you already tried it before and it did not work – cast out your nets and fish again.
Which gets us to the second thing that Jesus says. You will no longer catch fish – now you will catch people.
Fishers of people. And how do they catch people?
By telling the stories of their encounters with the Son of God to others. By being witnesses in the world to what they have seen and heard with their own eyes and ears.
And that is what our job boils down to also. We tell our stories. Our stories of what God’s love means to us. Our stories of how we felt the Holy Spirit touch us – we can’t say exactly how it happened or how we know for sure. But just as the faith of the disciples convinces us of their encounter with God, it is our faith that makes others want to know more. It isn’t the details of your story that are important – it is your faithful response to God that others see and to which they respond.
Fishers of people.
Tony Dungy will coach today in front of millions of people – something that he is well prepared to do. He has made locker-room speeches to his teams; been an inspirational speaker at hundreds of fundraising dinners; run football camps for kids; talked to more business leaders and politicians than he can count. He has literally been in front of all sorts of people for most of his working life. So he is ready for today.
But nothing; absolutely nothing he had ever done before, prepared him for that short walk from his front row pew to the pulpit, at his son’s funeral service. He was not sure what he was going to say; not even sure if he would be able to get through it without breaking down. But he knew that he had to do it. Knew that God had called him to demonstrate his faith in times of tragedy as well as in times of success. In fact, he later said that he believed it more important to publicly declare his belief in a loving God at that moment than at any other time in his life.
So he stood in front of that church full of people and he talked.
He talked about trying to be a good parent and wanting only good things for your children; but that life didn’t always work out the way you plan. And he talked about the comfort he found from God’s love at those times when life didn’t follow his plans. He talked about how the love of Christ was sustaining his family now, in this - their darkest hour.
Then he looked out at the athletes that were there and called on them to be role models for their children and for all the children that looked up to them.
He said, “Our young boys in this country, they need to hear from you. Because they are getting a lot of wrong messages about what it means to be a man in this world. About how you should act, and how you should dress, and how you should talk, and how you should treat people. They don’t always get the right message, but you guys have the right messages. You know it. You live it.”
And then he told the congregation the story of that last time with James at the airport, and wishing that he had stopped and hugged his son. “Parents hug your kids every chance you get,” Dungy said. “Tell them you love them.”
His voice finally cracked when he added, “You never know when it will be your last time.” 1
Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” And when they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Tony Dungy is a fisher of people.
1 Bianchi, Mike; “Leave it to Tony Dungy”, Orlando Sentinel, December 27, 2005