Epiphany 5: February 10, 2019
Year C, Isaiah 6:1-8, [9-13]: Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11;Luke 5:1-11
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The gospel for today is the story of Jesus taking some of his disciples on a fishing expedition on Lake Gennesaret. We are told that Jesus was standing by the lake and saw the crowds fast approaching him. He saw Simon the fisherman and asked to be taken out onto the lake in one of the boats. Jesus then taught the people from the boat and when he was finished, he asked to go out further from the lakeshore.
Once in deep water, he told Simon to let down his net for a catch. Simon, obviously not impressed with Jesus’ credentials as a fisherman, told him “master we have worked all night long but have caught nothing, yet if you say, I will let down the nets.”
Although there have been many technological developments, fishing hasn’t really changed much in the last two thousand years. Despite all our high-powered boats, radar, detailed and accurate charts of the sea, GPS units, fishing is still about setting out on the water, about leaving the safety of the dry land and trusting the laws of physics and the goodness of God. Despite all the technology, all the training, all the experience, it’s still all about hoping and praying for a good, bountiful catch – but not really being able to do a whole lot to make that happens. Fishing is still pretty much about putting trust and hope in finding a good catch.
Today’s gospel passage is a simple story with a clear message, right? It’s a metaphor that by extension is as much about us as it is about James and John and Simon Peter and Andrew. Trust in God, who provides everything we need, and we will find the power and the strength to go and catch people, to make disciples of all nations, and to build up the church through our efforts.
Well, of course, that’s the way we would like it to be – all neat and clean and wrapped up so nice. We trust and God provides. What more could we ask?
But fishing isn’t always that easy is it. Sometimes there are no fish to catch. Overfishing is a real problem in many regions of the world. Frequently, there are tremendous risks and great danger. In Alaska, fishing remains one of the most dangerous jobs in the nation, with a fatality rate that is 23 times higher than for all other workers. If you ever saw the movie, The Perfect Storm, you will remember the unflinching depiction of the challenges of a New England seafaring village.
In this passage from Luke, we have one of the “great catch of fish” stories. Jesus is still beginning his ministry. He’s begun his ministry not among kings or in the temple with the high priests. Instead, he’s begun his ministry with more common people – fishermen, farmers, shepherds.
What follows in this story was a fisherman’s dream. The catch was so big the nets broke, and the boat began to sink! Suddenly, Jesus’ stock as a fisherman began to rise and Simon, James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, were thoroughly impressed.
But the boatload of fish isn’t the point of the story. I don’t think it matters how Jesus managed that miracle. The same goes for the vision of the prophet Isaiah that we heard in our first reading – it doesn’t really matter how the Lord’s hem filled the temple or the prophet get his lips singed and didn’t die. The point of both passages is that God expects each of us to take part in the building of the kingdom of God.
By our baptism, we are anointed as Isaiah was – as Jesus was – as Peter was in today’s passage. It doesn’t matter that we are not among the mighty of the land or the church.
Notice that neither Isaiah nor Peter – nor many of the other great people of the Old and New Testaments: Mary, Joseph, Anna, Simeon – were not numbered among the high priests or important people of government when they began their ministries.
What these passages are about is building up Christ’s body – the church – being who God wants us to be.
Many believe that we are called by God to become “fishers of men”, “fishers of people” and we must haul in as many people as we can get, a boatload, and to measure our success in numbers of people.
Yet, we offer another vision for the church. Our call, like the call that Paul hears, is to remind people that is by the grace of God that we are called to fish, to spread the good news of Christ. That is what the fisherman are being called to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, so they lay down their nets and follow Christ. Isaiah said, “here I am, send me”.
Responding to God’s request of us is often scary. We don’t know what our nets will pull in. We could stay the same, but in order to live out our baptism, we must be willing to believe in the transforming power of faith in Jesus Christ. In Christ, we have an opportunity to experience God’s grace. We do not have to be perfect for this to happen – what we must be is willing – willing to follow like Peter, James, and John did when they brought their boats, overflowing with fish to shore. We can bring others with us – to be fishermen – even when it means going out again and again, not sure of what today’s catch might be. Remember, Jesus told them not to be afraid and that from now on they would be catching people. The boat was returned to shore and the fishermen left everything they had and followed Jesus.
Isaiah in response to the Lord said, “here, I am, send me.” To be called by God to follow Jesus takes more than just a willingness of heart. It takes the humble response of “here, I am”, but even more importantly it takes the response of “I will, with God’s help”. We say that when we baptize, when we confirm, when we ordain.
Like Isaiah, Peter, and Paul, we have been anointed and are full of the Holy Spirit. Each one of us has work to do in proclaiming the kingdom of God, whether it’s by working church or by being a witness to God among our co-workers and in our communities. And each one of us has the same promise that was given to them: Do not be afraid – be at peace.
God is with us. We are nourished and strengthened right here at the altar. The power comes from God – by our very life, through our baptism, and again and again in the simple meal of the Eucharist.
If the disciples hadn’t begun a ministry of catching people alive, we wouldn’t be here in church this morning. If we look again at the word “evangelism”, a word that we Episcopalians are often afraid of, we might realize that was Jesus did was very practical and down to earth. Three tired and disheartened fishermen, who had spent all night looking for a catch were suddenly turned into three astounded and happy men. And likely an entire community was fed. They would never be the same again. We, too, are called to be a people who have experienced that transforming generosity and love and offer it to others.
Our readings today remind us of the season of Epiphany and show us the effect that God’s manifestation in Christ can have on the lives and mission of those follow. If the gospel of Jesus Christ is the way of salvation for us, then we need to drop and nets and hold firm to the message that has been given to us. The world needs the good word. God will be in the boat beside us as we proclaim the good news.
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