The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s172g16  Sunday 5  7/2/2016

‘Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret’  Luke 5:1

One cannot but parallel the crowds who flocked to Jesus and the abundance of the fish caught, with the abundance of the wine at Cana and the number of people fed in the wilderness.   When Jesus was around, God never does things by half!

And we are bidden to not be afraid and superficially why would we?   There is strength in numbers and if we are all going the same way, worshipping the same god, all singing from the same hymn sheet; all straight, white, baptised, confirmed, communicant, wealthy enough to tithe, male Anglicans; all the more the merrier!

However life never was and never will be that way.   Clearly when no two people are the same, the likelihood that anyone we will attract will be the same as us is exponentially remote.  Everyone we catch, the multitude, will all be different.   And Jesus’ words tell us that we do not have to be afraid of this multitude of difference.   We do not have to be afraid of people who think differently, call God by a different name or believe in God in different terms to us.  

If God does nothing by half when Jesus is around, we in the church will need to be prepared for the sheer diversity of people whom are caught by the divine net.

I have observed before that sometimes leaving family and acquaintances has its attraction.   Those in the antipodes who so eagerly enlisted to serve in the world wars thought it was their one big opportunity to ‘see the world’, to leave the parochial drudgery of the colonies and experience ‘the big smoke’.   But we need to hear Jesus’ reply to Peter when he asked him: "Look, we have left everything and followed you.”: "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions — and in the age to come eternal life.’  (1)   Be careful what you pray for!   You might actually get what you are hoping to escape from, only a hundred-times over!   Why would anyone want to be a bishop when the diocesan dynamics are only those found in a parish, multiplied by the number of parishes!

One of the things I have come to observe is that we really only want other people if they come to admire what is.   It might be the building and the architecture, it might be the music and the liturgy, it might be the neat selective reading of the scriptures that justifies our own particular predilections, it might be the superficial friendliness towards those they hope and pray come only to admire.

But Jesus was elsewhere, standing beside the lake of Gennesaret.   He came to where people were at, physically, yes, but more importantly spiritually, and the crowds flocked to him.   While we are devotedly praying in our holy huddles that others will come and be converted by the building, the architecture, the music, the liturgy, the scripture interpretation and theology so elegantly complete, the superficial friendliness; we will be forever waiting.

It will only be when we go to where people are at spiritually, that people will flock to us.   In the spectrum of religious activism, I suppose it’s only those of us in the antipodes who don’t actually fear suicide bombers.   We pity those who shout ‘Repent!’ to one and all in malls and street corners though the eternal damnation this implies is more lethal than the physical explosive.   But if our religious activism is limited to sitting in our holy huddles waiting for others to join us, this can hardly be described as activism, or loving!

For when we catch people; who is glorified if they are caught only to be suitably compliant sycophants of our theology, our scriptural interpretation, our liturgical practices?  Time and again passages in the Old Testament forbid the chosen people to benefit personally from the victories wrought by the Almighty - even the hapless King Saul. (2)

No, we are to go, like Jesus, and be with people of good will where they are at, spiritually.   We have no business blessing bullies of whatever religious persuasion - for Jesus is expressly concerned about ‘orthodox' ones.   This he makes abundantly clear in Matthew 23.   But we are to be with people, in their ordinary, day to day struggles, and how they make sense of them.   In this sense, God’s work is always in the marketplace, trying to be with and uphold others.

And real ordinary people welcome anyone who will be with them where they are at - indeed they will flock to such a one - as they flocked to Jesus.

One of the difficulties with the institution of the church is that it has monopolised orthodoxy and spirituality, and everyone else just has to come, admire, subscribe to this and then spend their lives and livelihoods perpetuating this monopoly.   But Jesus is found where people are at, seeing religion and spirituality elsewhere, in real life rather than just in the confines of temple, synagogue, church, mosque, or cathedral.   For monopolies inevitably benefit the few by exploiting the many.   Jesus turns this upside down.   Many are called - no-one gets anywhere at the expense of someone else - those who think they are chosen.

If the Cross and Resurrection is just one more powerful monopoly vanquishing a less powerful monopoly, where is the good news for anyone else; let alone for everyone else?

We are to not be afraid to leave the ‘stability’ offered by the Church and stand by the sea - the metaphor for life in all its exigencies and vicissitudes, like Jesus did.   It is beside the sea that we will actually find Jesus, authenticating our own existence and our own spirituality as well as the existences and spiritualities of others.   And it is when we find Jesus authenticating our own existence and our own spirituality along with those of other people that we will rejoice to find ourselves ‘caught’.

1.  Mark 10:28-30
2.  1 Samuel 15:14