Epiphany 5, 2022 – Sermon

Isaiah 6:1-13
Psalm 138
1 Cor. 15:1-11
Luke 15:1-11  
February 6, 2022
St. Mary’s Regina
Epiphany V
Year C

            There have been a few glitches in my life this week.  I won’t list them, but I was unexpectedly called to preach this morning because of illness. So in full disclosure, I have borrowed a large portion of this morning’s message, written by Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor,in her book “Home by Another Way” pp 39-41. 

Have you ever had a day when no matter what you tried, you could not get your work done?  A day when all your plans and schemes and lists and organization skills were in place and still, at the end of the day, you had nothing to show for all your hard work? Do you remember the feelings you felt?  Were you discouraged, frustrated, angry and tired?  Were  there other people depending on you and so they felt let down?  Our failures often have a domino effect on other folks.  That is what has happened to Simon and James and John and unnamed others…the village fishermen…when they pushed their boats onto Lake Gennesaret to go fishing.  

When they set out the night before, the fish sellers in the market began preparations to receive the catch, the spice sellers prepared their stalls with fresh herbs and spices, the drying racks were set up on the beach so some of the catch could be dried and salted for storage, the women made their plans for dinner and even the stray dogs and cats knew they were in for a feast when the boats returned.  There was an air of expectation blowing through the village when they saw the boats push out onto the lake. 

But things do not always turn out the way we expect, do they.  No matter where these fishermen rowed or how many times they let down their nets or what they tried all night long, there were no fish to be found anywhere that night.  Tired, discouraged and hungry, the boats return empty.  The venders closed their stalls, the drying racks were put away, dinner plans were changed and the dogs and cats scurried off in search of scraps of something else.  There would be no feasting tonight.  The only thing left to do after this long discouraging night was to wash the nets and get ready for tomorrow.  They would have to try again tomorrow.

Jesus is watching them from the beach and is recognized by people and soon a crowd has gathered.  No longer waiting for fish, they strike up conversation with Him.  As he teaches, they move in closer…to hear every word…but it is getting crowded on the beach and His feet are getting wet. His eyes catch Simon Peter’s eyes…Friend, can I get in and will you push out a little ways?  Simon nods and rows a little ways away from the shore and sits back to listen to this man, this Jesus, teach about God.  

Did you noticed that Simon, alone of all the people there, is literally held captive by Jesus because they are in the same boat?  If someone on the shore got tired of listening they could leave, but not Simon.  He doesn’t yet realize it, but his life changed the moment he said “yes, you can use my boat.”

Alone in the boat with Jesus, Simon Peter is caught off guard when Jesus tells him to row out farther and let the nets down for a catch.  Peter knows there are no fish today because he has been out all night long and caught nothing.  But there must have been something compelling about Jesus because tired, hungry, discouraged Peter and the others go back out and let down their freshly cleaned nets into the lake and they caught so many fish that their nets began to break; so many fish that they yelled for the other boat, and more help and excitement spreads onto the people on the shore.  There will be PLENTY to eat, more than anyone could imagine!

I’m not sure Peter could make total sense of what just happened but he KNEW he was in the presence of ONE greater than he.  His response is one of deep humility as he looks into the compelling and compassionate eyes of Jesus. “Leave me Lord, go away, for I am a sinful man.” How many of us have been humbled by the presence of the living God?  How many of us have said “go away Lord, I’m not what you want” only to hear…DO NOT BE AFRAID, I HAVE A PLAN FOR YOU; FOLLOW ME!”

The fishermen, 4 of them, bring their boats to shore one last time, leaving everything familiar in the hands of others and followed Jesus. 

This is a story filled with miracles!  However, it is not about the power of human beings to change their lives, to leave everything behind and follow.  This is a story about the power of God…to walk right up to a quartet of fishermen and work a miracle…creating faith where there was o faith, creating disciples where there were none just a moment before. 

This is not a story about us.  This is a story about God and God’s ability not only to call us but also to create us as people who are able to follow…able to follow because we cannot take our eyes off the one who calls us, because he interests us more than anything else in our lives, because he seems to know what we hunger for and because he seems to be food. 

It is a miracle, and to look at it any other way is to deform the story, twisting it into a tall tale about four courageous fishermen who sacrificed all…to serve their Lord.  They did no such thing.   If they did anything under their own power at all, it was simply that they allowed themselves to fall in love. Jesus showed up, they took one look at each other, and the rest was history. God acted, and disciples left their nets on the shore.  

And to be sure, on one level, that moment cost them plenty.  They gave up a lot in that moment, and would lose a lot more before they were through, but to stress that aspect of the story is to put the accent on the wrong syllable.  Their minds were not on what they were leaving but on whom they were joining.  Their hearts did not cleave to what was falling from their hands but to what they were reaching out to find, and in that God-drenched moment of their turning to follow, the miracle occurred:  their lives flowed in the same direction as God’s life.  Their wills were not two, three, or four, but ONE will.  Tie was fulfilled.  The kingdom came…and comes…every time our own lives are brought into the same flow, so that we too, allow ourselves to fall in love, and follow God, and can do no other.  

I am no expert…as St. Paul says.  I have no word from the Lord on this, but if you ask me…then I think sometimes we read this story too narrowly.  I am not sure that following Jesus is always a matter of leaving everything behind.  That is what it meant for Andrew and Simon and James and John;  that is what it meant for their particular lives.  But if the story is about being swept into the flow of God’s will and giving ourselves over to it, then it seems to me that it will be a different story for every one of us in our own particular lives.  

Sometimes following may mean staying at home.  Sometimes following may mean casting the same old nets in a new way, or for new reasons.  It may mean doing something different with the fish you catch, or spending the money they bring at market in a different way.  I may mean reorganizing the whole fishing business so that drifters down at the pier have work to do, and so that everyone who works receives a decent wage.  It may mean doing less every day, not more, so that there is time to watch how the light changes on the water and how the fish leap out of it as dusk, happy to have outsmarted you one more time.

The possibilities for following seem endless to me.  Sometimes they will be big, no doubt about it, and sometimes they will be too small to mention, but it would be a mistake, I think, to focus too hard on our own parts in the miracle of discipleship.  The God who called us can be counted on to create us as people who are able to follow.  Whenever and however our wills spill into the will of God, time is fulfilled…immediately…and the kingdom is at hand.