“Master, we have worked all night long,
but have caught nothing...”
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St. Mark's Church
Year C Epiphany 5
Psalm 85: 7-13
February 8, 2009
In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
As we enter tonight?s Gospel story, Jesus needs a place from which to preach. So he borrowed Simon?s boat for a podium, sat down in it and taught the crowds. It must have been something to see! Whether or not they recognized Jesus as God?s Son, the sermon must have been a good one.
But just after that Jesus goes from “preachin? to meddlin?”. He commands Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch..” Now times were hard. Very hard. Whether they had not worked hard enough or the fish were elsewhere (or perhaps over-fished) did not change the reality: No fish, no food. God must have seemed very far away.
Does this sound at all familiar? It would be easy to feel Simon?s panic. “Master, we have worked all night and caught nothing. But if you say so...”
Every day we hear about and experience more and more of our new economic reality. Unfathomable amounts of money has gone to bailouts, and a good portion of that has been wasted by CEOs on high living, while the Stock Market has fallen sharply. Millions of people have lost their jobs and their homes and businesses. This has touched us right here in Berkeley. The face of hunger in America is changing, so that many in food lines are working, most making choices between food and rent or medicine. And even if we still have a job and a home, our appetite for cars and other material things has helped bring about the climate change that is drying up our water supply. The problems are not just ours. They encompass the whole world. We feel Simon?s panic,“We have worked hard all night and caught nothing.” We wonder: Where is God in our new economic reality?
To Simon's credit, he was at least able to hear Jesus? command and obey it. “If you say so, I will let down the nets.” Jesus? command must have seemed preposterous--counter to anything he knew about fishing. But the result of his obedience was a catch of fish so large he needed to call for help, and Simon recognized that Jesus, the Lord, was the source of his great catch.
Overwhelmed by the miracle, Simon fell at Jesus? feet and cried, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Like Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Gideon (from tonight?s first reading) before or saints and martyrs after him, the recognition of being in the very presence of God, of Jesus, often in their darkest hour, seemed too much and they too unworthy. Perhaps we know best the opening lines of George Herbert?s poem “Love (I)”:
Love bade me welcome, but my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin...
Surely Jesus knew Simon's sins as well as he knew Simon would catch a load of fish, but that did not matter now. Jesus had other plans for Simon and his fishing partners--plans that would change the world. But there was a catch, so to speak. “Do not be afraid.” said Jesus. “From now on, you will be catching people.”
Do not be afraid. Nothing in Simon's past, or yours or mine--no amount of sin, could keep Simon (later named Peter)--or can keep us-- from doing the work Jesus has for us. But, like Simon, we must be willing to listen to him (and he often speaks through other people and events) and to do as he asks.
Fortunately, Simon, and James and John were able to take Jesus at his word and lay hold of the grace that he offered, even if they had no idea what it meant for their future. Moreover, they had the courage to to trust that others would catch fish for the table so they could leave everything--boats, nets and all--and follow him. Were it not for their obedient actions, their willingness to drop everything and follow Jesus, in spite of their sins or whatever else hindered them in the past, we would not be here at Evensong today.
In a few moments we will say the General Thanksgiving. In that prayer, we will declare our trust in God as the source and provider of all that sustains us as we pray in thanksgiving “for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life”. (BCP. p. 71) And we will ask for the grace to “show forth [God?s] praise not only with our lips [as we do here in liturgy and music], but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to [God?s] service”, just as Simon and his companions did. And who knows? With God?s help, our “catch”, whether of people or whatever else God plans for us, may be very large, indeed!
Prayer from Salisbury Cathedral
Help us, Father,
to live like Jesus,
to live freely and joyfully,
willing to take risks for love;
willing to trust ourselves to your wisdon when we cannot see;
willing to believe that even out of the troubles of our lives
and the tragedies of our times
you can always bring new life both for us and for our world;
through Jesus Christ who is Lord of this time and of eternity..
(from Heart in Pilgrimage: Prayers in Salisbury Cathedral
by Hugh Dickenson, The Dean of Salisbury)