s172g01 Somerton Park 4/2/01 Epiphany 5
"Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man" Luke 5.7
We are, time and again, overwhelmed as we read the stories in the accounts of the life of Jesus at the quantities of things brought forth. There was the 180 gallons of wine, the food for the 5000 and today, this huge catch of fish.
And I might l know nothing about fishing, but I do know that fish need to be eaten quickly. There is nothing like fresh fish to eat. The efforts our tuna farmers go to, to deliver fresh chilled tuna to the Japanese souchi market is incredible.
And faced with this huge catch of fish, in any ordinary circumstance, an ordinary person would immediately work out how he could get this sort of haul to others. It might be to the market for sale, it might be to friends and family, or to acquaintances in the village. One can't keep the catch to oneself. They couldn't eat it all themselves. It is meant to be shared.
I said that this was the case in ordinary circumstances, but of course this was not an ordinary encounter. The catch was somehow linked to the presence of Jesus and the soon to be disciples readiness to do as Jesus suggested.
In the face of this extraordinary event, in awe of Jesus, Peter confesses his sinfulness. And the church down through the centuries has assumed that this is what God wants. Myself as much as anyone else, have spent at least some of our existence, berating ourselves for the things we have done wrong, thinking that God likes us doing this.
Now there are indeed things I have done wrong and things I rightly have berated myself for, but I wonder if the assumption that God likes us doing this is accurate. I wonder if we are not doing what God wants, by forgetting who this Jesus is, and getting on with the job at hand, sharing the fish around?
The message of the miraculous catch of fish is that God's grace is poured out in abundance, not particularly to satisfy our own personal needs, but to satisfy the needs of all of those around us as well. And this is also true for the Church, as the primary (but not only) recipients of the grace of God, that that grace is given in far more abundance than we can possibly use, and so it is meant to be given freely away, simply because God loves others too.
And this is the importance of Jesus' call. We are told that Simon, James and John left everything and followed Jesus - they even left the fish that they had just caught!. Those who caught the fish in fact did not have an opportunity to eat any of them. The fish weren't for Jesus, they weren't for the disciples, the fish were for others.
Do we really think that we as individuals are so important in God's plan that we come to the "pearly gates" with each and every sin confessed and forgiven? I don't know about you but I can't actually recall Jesus mentioning that this is what concerns God ...
Surely God is more concerned that the mass of humanity is fed, that the mass of humanity has water to drink, that the mass of humanity know the love of God.
Over the past few weeks I have been revisiting the word "righteousness", and while it does not appear in our readings for today, it is of the essence of this catch of fish and Peter's response.
In the face of the overflowing abundance of the grace of God, as evidenced in the number of fish caught, it would not be right to keep them to oneself. It would not even be sensible, as they would soon go off and be suitable only for being burned or buried. So we are called to be righteous, but not in the sense of never doing the wrong thing, always in the sense of sharing the blessings, as it is indeed right to do. And the witness of the Church is that God is ever thus, so that we can give what we have been given away - untroubled that our own survival ever may be threatened, that we might personally be "caught short".
Now perchance we haven't personally caught a huge number of fish recently to be able to give them away. Perchance we haven't had 5 loaves and 2 fish to bless and distribute ... I personally don't have any large stone water jars at home that if they were filled with water might prove to be wine, to give away ... (Perhaps I might just invest in some :-) Perhaps we haven't won a lottery, that we might devote the rest of our lives to good works?
What have we got in abundance, that others might appreciate? Surely we have the knowledge that God loves others enough to give things to us to share with them? It does not matter who they are, which creed they follow, what is the colour of their skin, or to whom they relate in an intimate manner.
And God cares for them, not that they might all become "card-carrying" communicant Anglicans, but that they too might share this knowledge of God's love for all to others too.
No power is given to do anything other than this - yet when we do this we find the wherewithal is always close at hand.
Now the promise to Peter is that he would catch people, and there is no doubt at all in my mind that the fact that God gives grace to us in order for it to be given to others, will indeed be attractive to others. Others will perceive this good news, it will not have to be explained to them.
I wonder if we've ever thought about how God caught us ... Each of us has got some faith story to tell.
St Paul lists all those who had had some experience of the risen Jesus in our epistle for today. Each of those could testify themselves to how the Lord had dealt with them. For some it might be a perception of forgiveness, an act of deliverance from an illness, an acceptance of an offering, a perception of the transitoriness of this life. Whether earth shattering or mere hunch, it is given that we might share with others, that others may identify in their own lives similar actions and graces of God. And when thought about it in this manner, the most valuable witness is given by those whose faith is founded on a mere hunch, for that will be the experience of many, who already know and act on their perception of the essential egalitarian nature of God.
For again, the important thing is not that we have faith or lead sinless lives, but that we communicate to others that God loves them as well as us.
It was only recently that I realised with some force that it was essential to St Paul's proclamation of the faith that God had appeared to all these different persons - Cephas, the 12, the 500, James and the apostles. God didn't just work through him, or any other individual. Some of these people had had "run-ins" with St Paul, some no doubt questioned St Paul's conversion, for he had to repeat it on a number of occasions. Yet St Paul recognises that the risen Jesus had appeared to many others besides himself - people who thought differently, who acted differently ... And I wonder if we look for grace to do likewise?
But as I was preparing this sermon, the phrase to "catch human beings" was used in another context, in quite the opposite way to which Jesus meant. It was in Jeremiah chapter 5: "For scoundrels are found among my people; they take over the goods of others. Like fowlers they set a trap; they catch human beings. Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of treachery; therefore they have become great and rich, they have grown fat and sleek. They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy." (verses 26-28). Christianity is ever concerned with sharing blessings with others, not that others become card carrying communicant Anglicans or Christians, forever bewailing their inadequacies, but that all people may come to know this God who loves all people, specially those who are orphaned from the Father, those who are obviously in most need to know of that love.
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