Epiphany 5 - Year C2010-02-07
St. James's Episcopal Church
The Rev. Randolph M. Hollerith
Our gospel for this morning is a great story. Jesus has been preaching in and around Galilee. He has become so popular he has trouble controlling the crowds that push in on him. One afternoon as he taught beside Lake Gennesaret (which is part of the Sea of Galilee), he realized that he wouldn’t be able to manage the surging crowd. Seeing a group of local fisherman nearby, he conscripted one of them, Simon Peter, to be his assistant. Getting in Peter’s boat Jesus asked him to push off a little way from the shore, far enough so that the crowd couldn’t get to him but close enough so that they could hear his voice. Then like all the great Rabbis Jesus sat down and taught them.
Afterwards, Jesus noticed that Simon Peter’s boat was empty. It had been a bad day fishing. Jesus instructed Peter to put out into deep water and let down his nets. Peter probably thought Jesus had no idea what he was talking about. Jesus was a preacher not a professional fisherman. Jesus’ command to let down the nets was in direct contradiction to Peter’s experience; yet he placed his trust in the Lord. He respected Jesus and he knew there was power in this man and in his message. Miraculously, Peter, James and John caught so many fish they almost swamp their little fishing boats trying to gather in their haul.
What happens next echoes our first reading for this morning. Like Isaiah, Peter realized that he was in the presence of the holy. He realized he had witnessed a miracle, that God had touched him. Peter was awe-struck and terrified at the same time. "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" he said to Jesus. How similar that is to Isaiah’s response after his vision of the heavenly host, "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" Both of these men knew the divine had touched them and both knew they were unworthy of such an experience. And yet in both instances they were being called to a higher purpose. God called Isaiah to be a great prophet; Jesus called Peter to be his disciple. "Do not be afraid;” Jesus said, “from now on you will be catching people." Two men touched by God and called by God to proclaim God’s message to the world.
There is a true story that comes out of the early days of the church about Origin the great third century church father and theologian. During a time of religious persecution the father of Origen was arrested for being a Christian. Origen, then only 17, was determined that he would martyr himself along with his father. His mother pleaded with him not to go, but the headstrong boy did not want to listen to reason. His quick thinking mother did what she could. She hid his clothes. Though Origen stormed and protested, she wouldn't reveal where they were hidden. He couldn't leave the house, and so he was unable to turn himself in and die alongside his father. Think about that. Origen was brave enough to be martyred, to give his life for his faith, but not brave enough to go outside naked. Stepping outside without clothing would have sped up his arrest and imprisonment, but it was a step he was unwilling to take.
The fact of the matter is you and I are called just like Isaiah and Peter. We are called to be God’s prophets and God’s disciples. We are called to proclaim God’s message to the world. We are called to stand up for the poor, the weak, and the disenfranchised. And we are called to proclaim the Good News, to share with others the deep purpose and love found in Jesus Christ. Yet as Episcopalians I suspect that talking with someone about our faith is, for many of us, the equivalent of going outside naked. It makes us uncomfortable. We feel exposed. We are happy to work in soup kitchens for Jesus, to build schools in Sudan for Jesus, to care for homeless for Jesus, but to risk a bit of embarrassment for him seems to be beyond our level of discipleship. How tragic.
Now I know many of us have been turned off by over zealous evangelical Christians who hammer people with the need to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. These well-intentioned folks often seem self-righteous and clubby. They are on the inside and they appear to disdain all those who are on the outside. I too cringe when I hear them batter people with what should always be good news. But that fact does not let us off the hook. As the baptized, we are no less called then Isaiah or the disciples. We do indeed have good news to share and we are commanded to share it.
Author Robert Fulghum tells this story of one of his professors, Alexander Papaderos, who worked for many years trying to bring peace between the divided countries of Europe after WWII. His motivation for doing so stemmed from his childhood and a very odd event. "When I was a small child," he said, "during the war we were poor and lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.... I kept one, the largest piece.... By scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine - in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find. I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became [mature], I grew to understand that this was a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of light. The light [or truth] is there, and it will shine in many dark places only if I reflect it." He concluded: "I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have, I can reflect light into the dark places of the world...and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise."
You and I are also supposed to reflect the light, the light of Christ. Not only in how we care for others but also by how we witness to others. By offering to pray for a friend, by inviting a coworker who has no church home to join you on a Sunday, by saying grace at a meal even when you are in a restaurant, by having the courage to say “no” to the extra Sunday morning activity because the Sabbath is a day for prayer and worship – in these and many other small ways we witness to the importance of the good news in our lives and in the lives of others. When Jesus tells us that we are to become “fishers” of men and women we need to trust that like Peter if we are willing to cast our net we will indeed be successful. After all, we do have good news to share - news of love, hope, meaning, and new life. It is a message the world needs to hear. It is a message we are commanded to proclaim. Amen.