John Conway – Epiphany V – 10/02/19

Epiphany 5

(Isaiah 6.1-13; 1Corinthians 15.1-11; Luke 5.1-11)

In the name of God, creating, redeeming and sustaining. Amen.

‘As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.’

That sparse and direct account is the version of Peter’s call from Mark’s Gospel. In Luke’s account that we just heard, there is a certain expansion, elaboration on the story. Indulge me, as I take that expansion as the template for something similar – if a little more extended – an invitation to enter for yourself this most redolent of stories. To revisit, in its light, your own call and invitation, your encounter with Christ.

And Simon Peter said:

We had been at work all night – a long fruitless night with no catch to show for the hours of back-breaking toil in the darkness – no catch to sell, no money to take home. A long, fruitless dark night. But now, as the sun rose, and the warmth of the day took hold, we were cast up on the seashore, in the solitude of tending our nets – the endless repetitive work of making everything secure and right – washing them free from the debris of the night – wondering as I did so if it was all worth it, this endless cycle with often nothing to show for it. But after all, I thought, it’s all I know, all I’ve been brought up to do – fish, fish like my father, and his father. It runs in the family this fishing and somehow we get by.

And then suddenly all this quiet thinking, this tidying up and setting right was interrupted – crowds appeared – people running for the best view, pressing in some chap who was in the thick of it – surrounded by people, shouting to him, and at him, oblivious to others, they were. And he, well he wasn’t panicked by all the attention – he moved amongst them with quiet grace and determination. Saw our boats, in fact, and made a beeline for us. Oh, what’s going on here I thought – not what I need at the end of a long night’s fishing – to be overtaken by the latest ‘sensation’, the latest know-it-all from Jerusalem, or rabble-rouser from the sticks. The kind who whips up a crowd, starts a riot and then disappears. Not what I need, not right now. And there he is making straight for our boats – as if they were his, as if the whole world were his. And without a by your leave he’s stepping into my boat, and asking me to push off. Well with the crowd pressing in, it seemed a fairly sensible move – but I wasn’t best pleased – to find myself bobbing along the seashore, trapped in my own boat, having to hear the man’s sermon, when I wanted my bed!

But there I was, and the strange thing was I found my resentment giving way to attention – for he spoke like no-one else I had heard. His words made sense – at least, they made you think, and think that somehow he must know you. What he said didn’t build him up – make you think what he clever chap he is – they made you think about yourself – made you think that you mattered, mattered in ways that you hadn’t thought possible. Well that was a bit of a shock – sat there in my boat.

And then he finished, with no great flourish, but somehow the crowd had had enough and quietly dispersed, broke up to share food and talk I suppose, but he turned to me and my companions, and asked us to put out into the deeper water. Well if he’d asked an hour earlier he’d have got an earful about our night’s fruitless fishing, but now – well I did tell him we were a bit tired – but he was the kind of man it’s hard to refuse, and actually I don’t usually need a second invitation to head out onto the lake. To put out into the deep is what keeps me a fisherman – that journey out away from the hubbub of the shore, out into the deep waters. Those deep waters have a mystery, an allure, all their own – the sense of floating on all that water and who knows quite what else. The occasional glimmer of fish, and the possibility of so much more. The deep waters – and so we did put out, once more – in response to that strange summons. And let out our nets, once more. Did this man even know anything about fishing?

That wasn’t a question we contemplated for long. For suddenly the nets bulged – we were in the midst of a shoal of fish the like of which you never did see. It threatened to capsize us, the nets heaved so – we had to shout for the other boat to join us – it was all hands needed, and even then, there was such a flurry of activity, of shouting orders, and heaving, and making sure we didn’t tip over, and exclaiming at the fish, the fish – everywhere. Too much, too much.

And in the midst of all this – this excitement and bewilderment and frenzy – he, he just laughed and delighted in it all. But me, I was suddenly struck dumb, and it hit me – this was no ordinary Tuesday morning in February. My world was threatening to turn upside down – and he, he was the cause of it. All things flowed from him – I was in the presence of something incredible, something both fascinating and fearful; of the holy, I suppose. Holiness – not something I thought about much – except when those smug types – the Holy Joes – appeared to tell us how to live – making us feel inadequate so that they could feel good about themselves – but this was very different. This was like nothing I had met, and yet he was just like you and me. He seemed to know and see stuff, and yet he talked with such simplicity and directness. And now, well I was overwhelmed, there in that boat surrounded by fish, and him laughing and me gaping, and thinking ‘this can’t be real, this is like something out of the pages of the bible – like I’m Isaiah in the temple overwhelmed by God – it was all too much, too much. And so I fell to my knees – I could no longer look him in the eye. And I begged him to leave; to not disturb my settled world. For this, this holiness, asked too much of me. It was like I was plunged into those deep waters I was used to navigating. Suddenly up to my neck in the mystery of it all, with who knows what fish swimming about me. I felt afraid and unprepared and not up to it – not worthy, not worthy to be in this man’s presence and company. I, I was a fisherman, what had I to do with this man, with his talk of God, and his healings and the press of the crowds. “Go away”, I cried, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” You are you and I am me and we are not the same. I cannot, I cannot do this.

And from him – no words of condemnation – he understood, and somehow knew all that my heart dared not say. “Do not be afraid,” he said, lifting me from my knees, and staring into my eyes. Not to judge and find wanting, but to fill me with strange courage and faith and hope. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” You areyou, he seemed to say, a fisherman born and bred – and that is enough. Enough to fish in the mysterious deep waters that I will show you – the deep waters of the lives of others. Not to judge them and find wanting but to fill them with courage and faith and hope.

And so when we reached the shore I left everything and followed him. For I had been found. And that was enough – more than enough. I left everything and gained – the world. For this was just the beginning.

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