Luke 5 1-11, 1 Corinthians 15 1-11
Do any of you remember a Sunday school chorus which had the line I will make you fishers of men in it? When I first read through today’s Gospel reading I was transported back into a dusty community hall, a scruffy ten-year-old ginger kid who had this thing about God which she didn’t understand but knew something was being stirred up inside her and had badgered her parents to let her go to Sunday school. As a result she had been taken under the wing of a kind Salvation Army officer and thus began a long journey of faith. At the time I just thought that this was a bit of a confusing song about Jesus and his disciples catching a lot of fish and then going off to persuade other people to go fishing as well. Theological reflection was not a particularly strong theme of my life back in the day. Fast forward several decades and I would hope that my ability to look a little deeper into scripture has improved – but I will leave you all to be the judges of that after you’ve listened to my musings on today’s readings! I am going to suggest that both our readings can be broken down into five key issues :
a sense of need
a challenge to obedience
a demonstration of divine power
a confession of inadequacy
a call to personal commitment
Both of our protagonists, Peter and Paul have an encounter with God which profoundly affects them – they both witness a demonstration of that divine power which fundamentally changes their lives. Paul had been obsessed with persecuting those who he felt were traitors to Judaism in their witnessing of the resurrection of Jesus but at the time of writing his letter to the Corinthians his obsession had been transformed into that of sharing the gospel of Christ. Peter, and his companions were fishermen something they did day in and day out, but at the time they encounter Jesus, something they are not doing at all well. Both men are in a state of need even if they are not initially able to articulate what the deeper meaning of that need is. For Peter it’s not just about the need to make a living although that is clearly the presenting issue. It’s about a deeper need – the need to fulfil his God given potential although he doesn’t yet know what exactly that will entail. For Paul it’s about the need to pass on the baton, to equip others to proclaim the Gospel that he has only latterly in his life acknowledged as the truth. But in the middle of that, they are called to be obedient.
Peter obeys Jesus’s command to let down the nets again – even though he must be wondering what this itinerant carpenter knows about fishing. Yet something compels him to respond, something within him that he doesn’t really understand encourages his obedience. And as a result, we see a demonstration of the divine power of the Messiah – Jesus stands among the humanity into which he has been born, to all intents and purposes just another thirty something man but in what occurs we see his divinity. Through the abundance of the fish that bulge out of the nets we see the abundance of God’s love, we see how full life can be with Jesus as opposed to how bereft it was without him. Peter’s first reaction is to know that he is in the presence of something for which he is totally unprepared. He doesn’t expect it to last, it must be a mistake, he’s unsettled, even frightened and, like all of us, when we are faced with the unexpected, he tries to ignore it. ‘Go away from me’. he says. How often, I wonder, have we done the same? When faced with a situation that we are totally unprepared for and feel daunted by, our gut reaction is often to ignore it in the hope that it will just go away. ‘Go away from me, Lord: I am a sinful man!’ says Peter. And therein, through that confession of inadequacy lies the start of that great possibility. Peter doesn’t yet know who Jesus is. But he does recognise he is in the presence of something miraculous, of maybe someone who is a prophet of God, someone on whom God’s spirit rests. And that is enough to make him realise his sin. In John 16 (8-11) we read “When the Holy Spirit comes he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgement; in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me.” Do we really believe in God? Do we trust in him, properly trust, not merely say the words? It is amazing the difference it makes when we do. But it is far easier to talk the talk walk the walk. Peter has already shown his obedience and trust, by putting out the nets again on the suggestion of a virtual stranger. His initial trust will grow, as will his knowledge of this man and of God. Both Paul and Peter demonstrate their trust through their actions, through their dedication, through their commitment. They have taken a stand. Paul says, at the beginning of today’s reading ‘I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word… Otherwise you have believed in vain.’ These readings are about God’s miraculous power: Peter has witnessed a tiny ripple of the tidal wave of creative power that we see in the resurrection. If you do not believe that God creates the world out of sheer exuberant power, that he holds it in the palm of his hand and wills its transformation with the same energy and love with which he brought it into being then, as Paul says, don’t waste your time, you have come to believe in vain.
Do you believe in that extraordinary power, shown in love? God chose to redeem us by coming to live with us as one of us. He chooses to give himself – and so the whole of creation, into our hands. That is love, true love. Both Paul and Peter knew that they had nothing to offer in response to so much love. They saw God and were grateful to be allowed to join in his work. They saw God’s love and that prompted them to love in return and do all they could to show that love to others. If we really trust and love God, then each of us will, like Peter and Paul, commit ourselves to following Him ever more closely and dedicating our lives to sharing the good news with others. And that doesn’t necessarily mean giving up the lives we have been living – it means allowing those lives to be transformed by God and using that transformation to find ways of serving him through our actions and words in the contexts each of us find ourselves in. Peter and Paul were disturbed, unsettled, unprepared and frightened when they encountered God and his amazing grace, but they also recognised the best path to wholeness and fullness. A realisation of how much we are loved automatically prompts us to want to share the good news so that others don’t miss out. Do you ever get that feeling when you hear or read the Bible that they are personally directed at you? I definitely get that with these two passages. Throughout my journey to ordination and even more so since it, I often get a strong sense of what if sometimes termed imposter syndrome. Even as I stand here in front of you,
I can’t quite believe that God has blessed me with the privilege of ministry. But when I read these words, I sense God is once more saying to me – look woman stop being so self-absorbed, you’re not the only one who feels unworthy. Far greater people than you have felt this and here they stand admitting their inadequacy and acknowledging what I have done in their lives because of that inadequacy, that brokenness, not despite it, because of it. But you know what that is ok – its ok to say that actually I am unworthy, I am not perfect, I am as far from that as I could be but in saying that to realise that God can still use me, he still has a purpose for me in all my brokenness.
Jesus chose to call what some may say was a motley bunch of people to be his first disciples. he chose to build his church on the shoulders of a man who denied him three times in his hour of greatest need. He chose to reveal himself on the road to Damascus to a man who was consumed by a desire to destroy what he had commenced through his earthly ministry. If Jesus can do that, why should he not call all of us to be his disciples, to proclaim the good news that he died that we might live, that our sins are forgiven if we are prepared to admit to them, to throw ourselves on God’s mercy.
If we, like Peter and Paul, confess to our inadequacy then we will be set free from it, God’s grace will release us from it, we will be liberated, free to live the lives that God intends for us, that he has called us to from the moment that we were created. Let me remind you / read you the words of the (alternative) collect for today.
“O God you know us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright; grant to us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers and carry us through temptation”.
It is only when we acknowledge this frailty that we can truly open ourselves to God’s grace and that He can work through us. That is his invitation and promise to us – have we accepted the generosity of that invitation, have we truly opened ourselves up to the possibilities of how we can serve him.
My prayer for all of us is that we do indeed sense our need of God, that we respond to the challenge of being obedient to him, that we have moments when we witness that divine power, that we constantly confess to our inadequacy and that through God’s marvellous grace we make that personal commitment to serve him, to his glory and for the good of all his people.