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What If Jesus Wants to Borrow Your Boat?

What If Jesus Wants to Borrow Your Boat?

Feb 10, 2019

Passage: Luke 5:1-11

Preacher: The Reverend Andrew Van Kirk


A decade ago, towards the beginning of that stretch of my life during which I traveled around the country watching my college and high school friends get married, I found myself sitting in a church outside of suburban Baltimore. We’d arrived early, and being the seminary-attending church nerd I was, I was trying to take in the place. There was something peculiar about the space; it didn’t feel quite naturally proportioned as a building. I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong — church nerd, not architect — but something about it was strange. Then I found a laminated card in the pew, titled “About our Church” or something, and I discovered that the church was built according to the dimensions of Noah’s ark, and then flipped upside down so the keel of the boat became the ceiling.

The reason the building felt weird is that I was sitting in a boat…that was upside down — not the ideal situation for a boat.

There are a number of churches built to these dimensions around the country; apparently this was a thing for some time. In a way, actually, it’s an ancient thing. One of the earliest symbols for the church was a boat — a boat like Noah’s to save us from drowning among the sin and evil of the world; a boat like the one from which Jesus calmed the stormy seas that threatened the disciples; and a boat like the one into which Jesus stepped in today’s Gospel reading, from which Peter caught the miraculous catch of fish before becoming a fisher of men.

But you know, Peter’s boat wasn’t a church. It wasn’t a synagogue with a sail. Peter’s boat was a work boat, his fishing vessel. Peter’s boat was his pickup truck, his company car, the American Eagle jet he boarded early in the morning after kissing his still-sleeping wife and kids goodbye.

It’s great you stepped into church this week, that you boarded the church boat and are here for our weekly cruise along the living waters of the gospel. Jesus is here with us.

But where is Jesus going to be the rest of the week for you while you’re out in the world? And what are you going to do if Jesus stops by and wants to climb in your boat? What are you going to do when Jesus gets in it?

What are we supposed to do when Jesus wants to borrow the thing we do in the world and use it for his ministry? Because that’s what happened here in the gospel.

Peter, after a long and unsuccessful night of hard work fishing on the lake, was on the shore of the lake rinsing out his nets, along with his fishing partners, James and John. So he was doing his thing; minding his own business; just trying to make his way in the world.

And Jesus was doing his thing, teaching the crowds on the shore of the lake. And then, because they were pressing in on him, Jesus got into Peter’s boat and said, “Hey, can we push off shore and go out a little way so I can talk to these people?”

It’s probably not right to call the Son of God annoying, but can we just acknowledge that this is at least borderline inconvenient for Peter. He’s done fishing; he’s tired; he’s gotten out of the water; he’s trying to pack up his things and go home. And Jesus borrows his boat to use as a pulpit.

Now to my knowledge, no one in this congregation actually works on a boat. Some of you do have pickup trucks that serve a similar sort of purpose in your life; and maybe if Jesus had come 2000 years late her would have preached out of the bed of a Ford F-150.

That and minivans; I know a lot you do your daily work out of a minivan.

But it’s not just about vehicles; Peter’s boat was just the tool he needed to do his day job. Maybe you need your office; your smartphone; your laptop. All things Jesus may try to borrow.

Now look. I know that — unless you’re me — talking about Jesus is not an approved use of corporate property. The company IT policy is strict. The IRS might have issues with your deductions if your pickup were also a pulpit.

But the limitation of God to church and the elimination of God from all the other areas of our life isn’t natural to who we are, and it isn’t native to the gospel. Sticking with the modern metaphors, in the gospels Jesus spends a lot more time preaching out of pickup beds than he does out of pulpits. In the scriptures, most people who met Jesus didn’t encounter him first in the synagogue. They met him out in the world.

Most people who will meet Jesus today won’t encounter him first in church. Most people who will meet Jesus today will encounter him first in people like you, people out in the world, doing their work as best they can. People who go to meetings at Starbucks, have conversations in elevators, drive carpool, and whose flights get delayed on the way to the convention. All moments where Jesus may want to sit down at your table, step into your elevator, chat while you wait, or join you in the boarding area. A slight turn in the conversation, a pregnant pause. This may be all Jesus needs to drop by and ask, “Hey, can I borrow this for a minute?”

This isn’t about Jesus co-opting corporate property; it’s just that the best chance he has to talk to people is in their daily lives.

This simply fact is this: for a person who doesn’t know Jesus at all to walk in here to church and come talk to me, that is something just short of a supernatural miracle. For someone who doesn’t know Jesus to talk to you — that’s just part of you doing your job. That’s why Jesus may ask to climb in your boat this week; so he can talk to these people.

The real trick is that, on this side of his Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus is going to let you do the talking. Because let’s be honest, if we could have lunch at Panera with Janet from accounting and with Jesus the Son of God, then when Janet starts talking about her son who is struggling, we could happily just defer to Jesus. The problem is today Jesus says, “No, you take this one. That’s what I put you here for.”

Now, at the end of this story, Peter is called to career change as well. From fisherman to fisher of men. Or, as the translation in front of us puts it — in a way that sounds slightly menacing — catching people. I can’t promise anything, but odds are you’ll get to skip the career change. We’re not all called to give up our day jobs. Most of us, in fact, are just called to let our day jobs serve the Lord’s purpose when he needs us, when he’s got something to teach the people and he need you to help reach them.

I didn’t work all that long in a corporate environment before I left Amazon to go to seminary. But I remember vividly the conversations I had about faith and about God. From the older engineer in the cubicle next to me who wanted to show me pictures of her church back in Minnesota, to the brilliant young Yale grad who wrote poetry in bars after work and asked me questions about God. I remember how strange these conversations felt; how extra they felt; not illicit, but maybe uninvited, like somehow I was stuck in an office hallway and suddenly trying to mix oil and water.

What I wish someone had made clear to me along the way; what I want you to hear this morning, is that sometimes Jesus needs to borrow your boat. Because God doesn’t see the world inside this room as any different from the world out there, at least in so far as it contains opportunities for people to encounter him.

This place is holy — set apart — in a way the world isn’t. It’s a sacred space. But Jesus is out there busy trying to save a secular world. And sometimes, to do that, he’s got to borrow a boat. If he stops by this week, I hope you’ll let him use yours. Odds are pretty good he’ll give it back; but who knows what lives he’ll change along the way.