Feb. 10, 2019 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Feb 10, 2019 in Epiphany, Sermons

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (Year C)

February 10, 2019

Jesus is rather presumptive to commandeer someone else’s boat, and yet it makes sense in the service of allowing more people to “hear the word of God” as our gospel says. I usually don’t pay much attention to this part honestly, and now that I think about it, it seems quite important, because God is like that in our lives too. God doesn’t ask permission to step into our life’s boats, to tell speak the Good News. God simply does it.

After teaching, he presumes to tell Simon how to do his job, telling him to put out into deeper water and let down his nets. Simon finally balks and sets Jesus straight, and then is of course proven wrong when he catches such a haul the nets are breaking. Can you imagine their faces? The awe at seeing so much fish?! It’s a miracle story we sort of gloss over and perhaps even Jesus does. We’d expect this to be about an abundance of fish to feed the crowd who was there to hear Jesus, or to benefit the families of these fisherman in some extraordinary way. Yet this is not at all what he has in mind it appears. Here Simon realizes that what he’s seen is beyond anything he could have imagined and that it is about God acting in his very sight, so he falls humbly to his knees saying his sins reveal his unworthiness to be in the presence of what is clearly an act of God through Jesus’ direction. 

The whole point of the miracle is not the action itself, but that it calls them to be witnesses of God’s power. Rather than address Simon’s confession of being a sinful man until now, he responds in the present telling him not to be afraid. He comforts him in that moment, and never does go back to acknowledge any sins. It’s as if from their encounter forward Simon is a new man. Another of those ways this gospel is trying to teach us; come and be in awe of all God is about, come and set down your sins, your fears, and let the comfort of Christ wash over you.

Jesus doesn’t stop at merely comforting him, he goes on and declares Simon will now be catching people. Is this still part of the miracle, this complete change in the direction their life was going in? For the most part I’m not sure being called to follow Jesus was a big honor. Popular as he was becoming, this was not a call from an esteemed rabbi, priest or bishop to come higher. Jesus wasn’t a priest of his day, nor was he a rabbi who’d studied and been laid hands on to be recognized as such. That some called him that was a sort of colloquial courtesy. Yet somehow his calling them sounds like the most amazing moment; even greater and more spectacularly life-changing than a net-breaking haul of fish after a luckless day. Isn’t that how God comes to call us? Unlikely as we might think ourselves to be called, and in the ordinariness of our lives, God comes. Comes and calls us away from being afraid, away from what we thought our lives were going to be about, and beyond our self-assumed limitations—As when Jesus called his disciples, God calls us to be fishers of others so that they too might know the Good News of God’s love.

I like that Jesus claimed no special background or learned title, and that he preaches in a simple way with little or no explanation. Nor does he expect his disciples will have this either. As theologian Hans Küng puts it, his teaching does not “presuppose any special intellectual, moral or theological  attitudes. People are expected simply to listen, to understand and draw the obvious conclusions. No one is questioned about the true faith or the orthodox profession of faith. No theoretical reflection is expected, but an urgent, practical decision.” (Hans Küng, On Being a Christian, Piper & Co, München 1974, Doubleday, NY 1976) 

Jesus also did not call temple priests to be disciples, nor did he call theologians or religious leaders – as we heard today, he called fisherman; Simon, James and John. He wasn’t trying to change the religio-political status quo, he was trying to change the world. To that end those fishermen, who had worked all day and caught nothing, see God’s power at work and are awed. It’s as if Jesus is saying that as grand as that new catch is, it’s only fish. So with their perspective completely changed, Jesus calls them into being part of that greater enormity; to do God’s work. 

I look out at our congregation and am truly moved by the work of God’s that I know you do, that you have been called to do. You are doing just what we heard from Isaiah this morning, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’” When we answer God’s call, in whatever way we are given to do so, it changes us. We become that much more of what we were divinely created to be. It it as Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.” 

Along these very lines, one presidential candidate recently responded to some sarcastic criticism of his campaign message; that we need to be about love and unity, saying “I had a life’s purpose far before [this person] had an opinion.” Truly, we want to live what Paul said,  “by the grace of God I am what I am” -and yes, we pray God’s grace toward me “has not been in vain.” 

Sometimes I think we look for God’s call to be about great earthshaking things—like bursting nets full of fish, or other miracles, like walking away from the nets, the career, from home. Sometimes it happens that way. But remember the miracle was to get them to see God’s grace and power, not to repeat it like a magic act. The actual call was simply to follow this untitled itinerant preacher, footstep by footstep, one person touched or one revelatory conversation at a time, one meal shared, one act of love offered, one day at a time. Into this we are all called by him, to Christ’s work of changing the world. Amen.

© 2019 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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