Letting Go: A Stewardship Sermon Series from Luke
I. “Letting Go” – Stewardship means Relinquishment (Luke 5:1-11; Matt 4:18-22)
Focus: Stewardship means Relinquishment
Application: conversion of mindset
This sermon will introduce the series by defining stewardship generally as relinquishment. Stewardship, more than anything else, is realizing that God is in control and we are not. Because we are seized by fear, we make most of our decisions based on what will keep us safe and secure. Jesus gives the miraculous catch of fish as a sign that when we follow him, we are opening ourselves up to surprises. This gives us courage to follow his command not to fear, which in turn enables us to let go.
Can you imagine the smell? You feel enclosed by it even though you are outdoors. It crowds your nostrils so that no other smell can get in. You would complain, but you have come to love this smell. It means so much to you. The smell means food on the table and smiles on your child’s face. It means security. What is this powerful smell? It is the smell of fish.
Now I am not talking about the near empty can of tuna fish you set out for the cat. And I am not talking about the overdone fish sticks in the oven. I am talking about piles and piles of fresh fish. Not caught one-by-one with a pole, but whole schools by the net. If you have ever been to a fish market in New England or San Francisco, you have a sense of what I am talking about. Yards and yards of fresh fish – the livelihood of a fisherman.
Imagine you are a fisherman. Begin to grasp what the smell of fish means to you. Keep that smell in the forefront of your mind. Now, imagine a man walks up to you. He looks around at your piles of fish. He looks at your boats and nets. He looks at you. Then he opens his mouth and out comes the strangest thing: “Follow me.” You immediately think to yourself, “Follow you? Where? Why? What have you done? What will you do? What do you have to do with me? Why should I leave my livelihood to follow some guy?”
Of course, this isn’t just “some guy” asking you to follow him. This is Jesus. You have heard what he can do. You have seen him at work. You know who he is. This Jesus is certainly someone worth following. He can preach and heal. He challenges authority and welcomes sinners. His resume is impressive.
Yet you hold back. You do not drop your nets and follow him. For good reason, too. You are not some self-centered egomaniac. You are a good person. You don’t hold on to your nets for power or fame. You hold on for the sake of your family. You hold on for the good of society. You hold on because it’s the right thing to do. But Jesus keeps issuing this irrational command: “Follow me.”
I should not be making such hasty generalizations. Certainly many if not most of you have let go. You have dropped your nets and followed Jesus. You have given up many things to be a disciple of the Lord. However, if you are anything like me, you have turned back to once again grab hold of your nets. You have let go one minute to find yourself back in control the next. One day you gave up your security to serve God, but today you have slipped into a comfortable life again. And that is totally understandable. When you have been pulling on those nets for so long, your fingers get bent into shape. It actually feels better to carry that weight than to let go. Letting go strains your fingers as they try to straighten out. So it seems more natural to stay in control of our lives because we have been bent to be in control. And in the face of this normalcy, Jesus keeps saying, “Follow me.”
Whether it is the first time or the fortieth time you have heard Jesus say this, it always stings. You want to follow but you just can’t let go. You are genuinely afraid of what will happen if the people started actually living like Jesus. The whole world would turn up side down. Daily life would change. Business would change. Government would change. Religion would change. The world just isn’t ready for that kind of revolution. Maybe there are some super-Christians out there that can pull it off. The rest of us normal Christians are busy keeping the world afloat, thank you very much.
If all Jesus did was command us to follow him, all these excuses would be justified. But Jesus’ command to follow is not the whole story. There is so much more to it than that. If we were there the day he called Peter, we might not have noticed the irrational call to follow at all. We might not have even noticed how we just suddenly let go of our nets. Why? Because before Jesus says, “Follow me,” he performs for them an astounding miracle. He displays for them the abundance of his power. Jesus doesn’t issue a bare command; he accompanies his command with a promise. His vocation flows from a vision. His proclamation is paired with a powerful sign. His call for faith is preceded by his gift of grace. Jesus does not just run around telling everybody to follow him. He proves what he can do and then simply invites us to come along for the ride.
Why does the miraculous catch of fish make such a difference? Why does such a display of power make it easier to let go of our nets? Jesus’ own words provide the clue. He says to Peter, “Do not be afraid” (v. 11). You see, Jesus knows that the one thing holding us back is fear. We can’t let go because we are afraid of what will happen if we do. We genuinely fear for our wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us. So we horde our resources of time, skills, and money for the good cause of serving our loved ones. Jesus knows our hearts. He knows we are afraid. So he gives us a sign that he is in control. He does not rebuke our fears; rather, he calms them with his wonder-working power. Having been released from fear, we now have the courage to let go of our nets and follow him.
If your courage wanes from time to time, think again of this story. Perhaps you can simply think about the smell of fish. But if that doesn’t do it, then at least keep gathering here among the people of God. Because if you haven’t seen a miraculous catch of fish lately, there is certainly a miraculous catch of people right here. The church itself is an even greater miracle as the fulfillment of Jesus’ words. Jesus certainly made Peter and the others “fishers of people.” On the day of Pentecost Christ’s Spirit gathered 3,000 into the fold. Talk about a miraculous catch! So although we take a risk when we let go of our nets to follow him, there is ample evidence that Jesus’ ministry has not failed. Rather, he continues to have the greatest catch of the day.
There are a lot of definitions of stewardship out there. I think this story captures the heart of it. Stewardship at its core is about relinquishment. It is about letting go. The crucial attitudinal shift is that we are not in control, God is. There is a hard edge to letting go. It means a radical change of priorities. It has immediate implications for how we invest our energies. It even requires sacrifice.
But the positive side of letting go far outweighs the negative. Notice that Jesus never tells the disciples to let go. He just calls them to follow and promises a big catch of people. He merely asks them to come along for the ride, but they know exactly what it takes to enjoy that ride. It takes letting go. It is not as if Jesus is calling us to let go of a life-preserver. Stewardship is more like letting go of the handrail on a rollercoaster. It is about enjoying the ride to its fullest potential. Sure, you can ride a rollercoaster all tensed up and curled over. But it is a lot more fun to just let go and scream. Letting go simply makes the ride better. It is my prayer for you that as we delve into the deeper meaning of stewardship, God will open your heart and life to practical ways in which you can let go and enjoy the ride.