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New in the Old
February 9, 1992

LUKE 5:1-11

Even though Simon, whose name was changed by Jesus to Peter, became a respected leader of the church, I’m glad the Biblical authors did not censor the old stories and try to attempt to portray Peter as a saint. Simon Peter was a delightful character. I'm glad the gospel writers allowed his irrepressible, spontaneous and impetuous nature to shine through. Can’t you just hear him muttering when Jesus told them to put their nets down in the same place where they had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. “We've already fished there. There's nothing there. You never go back to the same places. We've never done it that way before— mutter, mutter, mutter.” But he conceded, “Yet, if you say so, I will let down the net.” He was willing to humor Jesus. After all, Jesus was his guest.

When the crowds gathered around Jesus on the shore of the lake and wanted to hear him, Peter invited Jesus to get into his boat. Peter then rowed them out into the water where the boat served as Jesus’ floating pulpit. By floating offshore, a surprisingly effective PA system was created. As Jesus was his guest, Peter humored him, even when Jesus told him where to fish. Peter took the boat out into deeper water and dropped the nets even though he knew it was a worthless gesture and a waste of time. Peter was so sure. Peter was one of those individuals who know everything about everything. Do you know anybody like that?

But Peter was wrong. There were fish there. The new catch was in the old place. And Peter was a big enough man to admit when he was wrong. Not only did he rejoice in the new catch, he admitted he was wrong. The previous night's failure was transformed into a stunningly successful new day. Confronted with a tremendous haul of fish, Peter’s heart was transformed. He recognized that not only had he been fishing all wrong but now in the presence of Jesus, he confessed he'd been living his life all wrong. Peter fell down at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

It was quite a fishing expedition. There in the old fishing ground, in the midst of old friends, living his old life, doing what he always did, Peter’s life was transformed. He caught so many fish he had to call James and john to bring their boat to help. Peter took a long hard look at his life, admitted his inadequacies, his sinfulness and he found a new vocation. He was called to follow Jesus. He entered into a new profession where he assisted Jesus in His ministry, where he learned from Jesus, where he accompanied him to Jerusalem, where he witnessed the power of the resurrection, where he received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and where he launched into missionary journeys that took him far beyond the boundaries of his homeland, took him even as far as the capital of the Roman Empire to Rome itself. What a day he had fishing, doing what he always did!

And Jesus confronted him within the context of his old life. He found new fish in the old fishing place, he found new possibilities in himself. The good news of the gospel is— there is hope. There are new possibilities in your life, in every situation, in every event, in every experience, in every relationship. That’s the good news. You are not compelled to repeat endlessly. You are not programmed by old tapes which are drummed into your head in your childhood. They do not control you. You are not controlled by the past. There is freedom of choice and an abundance of new possibilities in every event.

The fact there is freedom of choice with every occasion replete with possibilities is found in the natural world as well. Every event is partially spontaneous. Science has not always agreed. Mechanistic materialists taught that everything is determined. Everything is pre-determined. In theology, this belief is called predestination. You've heard the old story about the Presbyterian who fell down the steps, got up, brushed himself off and said, “Thank God, that is over.”  Predestination. But if everything were pre-determined, were predestined, why did it take millions of years for the universe to arrive at the present? Why wasn't just everything supernaturally decreed? Why? Because there is freedom and spontaneity; because each event is not only a product or a result of the preceding event, but is partially spontaneous, or self creative. And God was and is at work in each event.

From the beginning of time, God is at work in each event, influencing and persuading. God is at work in the natural world as well as the human world, bringing order out of chaos as we read in Genesis 1. God offers possibilities in each event. There is freedom so we are free to choose. But God is at work, influencing, loving, pushing towards beauty, goodness, justice. In fact, we might call God the creative possibility. God is the locus of all possibilities. God doesn't determine which possibility you choose. But God does urge and push you to make the ideal choice. God is the one who opens up new possibilities leading the universe forward to actualize new possibilities. There is new in the old, there is always a new possibility.

A rabbi in a small town in Russia began to get very meditative after many years of searching for the ultimate purpose in life. He was getting old and had been in this village for many years. One morning, the constable decided to harass him. The constable asked the rabbi where he was going. The rabbi said he didn't know and so was taken immediately to jail for not telling the truth.The constable yelled at him for insulting him. “You've gone to the synagogue every morning for 20 years, and yet you dare to tell me, to mock me, that you do not know where you are going.” As the door to the cell was being closed, the rabbi said, “You see, one never knows what will happen next.” Every event is filled with new possibilities. He was right. He didn't end up in the synagogue. He ended up in jail.

Just because an event seems to be unfolding itself according to a pattern does not mean there is no hope of a new possibility. Ernest June, a Jew who was born in Vienna, lived in Tel Aviv and now lives in this country described such an event. He said “One day I found myself face to face with an Arab in Israel. We were 10 feet apart, pointing our guns at each other. My duty was to kill. As I stood there, I realized I couldn't do it. So I asked, Do you have children? A family? Yes, the Arab replied. And then I knew I could not shoot. If he had fired first, I would not have returned fire. He had a family, how could I kill their father? As it turned out the Arab asked if I had a family. When he found out I had a family too, we both put our guns down, turned and walked away.” Using the guns was not predetermined. The face-off did not have to run to its logical conclusion. Long time enemies did not have to shoot each other. There is new in the old. 

When you find yourself getting into the same argument again with your spouse, or your child, or a friend and you see the tape begin to run repeating the same old routine where no one wins, where a great deal of energy is expended, feelings are hurt, old wounds reopened, stop the cycle. Repetition is not preordained. It's not predestined. You can break the cycle. There is something new in the old. Do something unexpected like the Jew asking the Arab if he had a family. Break that cycle.

Take heart there is hope. God is at work in every situation offering new possibilities. Jesus is there telling you to put your net out into the deep waters and catch the fish. Fish are waiting, the nets are breaking. In the midst of the old there is Jesus pointing to the new, working for salvation. Maybe even a new career. Peter, James and john received a new vocation. They became disciples, fishers for people.

Benjamin Carson was born poor in a rich nation. He was born black in a predominantly white culture. His mother had to cope with being abandoned by Benjamin's bigamous father and she suffered bouts of clinical depression while trying to raise two sons. Young Benjamin feeling the pressure and stress sloughed off his schoolwork and concentrated on cultivating a volcanic anger. By the ninth grade, Benjamin's temper had reached a rage point so hairpin fine that any incident might instantly trigger it. On one fateful day, Benjamin and his best friend were listening together to his radio. Good naturedly harassing him about his choice of music, his friend reached over and switched the stations. Benjamin’s rage erupted so rapidly that he automatically grabbed his camping knife out of his hip pocket and plunged it at his friend's stomach before he even realized what he was doing. Too late, aghast at what he had done, Benjamin could only look with wonder at his knife—his knife blade lying on the ground, snapped in two by his friend's belt buckle. God had spared him with a belt buckle! Benjamin ran home and locked himself in the bathroom with his Bible. When he finally reemerged, he was a changed young man. He was converted. He vowed he would no longer allow his temper, his poverty, his schoolwork, or any other obstacle to control his life. He responded to the grace of God which met him in a belt buckle. And today, Dr. Benjamin Carson is a remarkably gifted and successful pediatric neurosurgeon. He was made chief pediatric neurosurgeon at John Hopkins Hospital at age 33. He is most famous for performing the first completely successful separation of Siamese twins joined at the head. All from a belt buckle.

God is at work in every event, in every relationship, offering new possibilities, new directions, new possibilities for healing, growth and adventure. Don't be chained to repetition. Be on the alert for the new.

© 1992 Douglas I. Norris