A sermon by The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, Precentor
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.
This year, we keep company with the story of Jesus told by the writer Luke. The gospel of Luke is known for having woven through it many references to the presence of the Holy Spirit, for having the blessing in it of the presence of many of our most dearly loved parables, and for an emphasis on Jesus’ love of the outsider, often portrayed in his clearly delighting in meals with those whom society shunned. Perhaps the most famous series of parables in Luke’s Gospel, the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost or Prodigal Son, follow on from the religious leaders grumbling about Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. Sinners, though, as we will see from the three scripture stories on which we will reflect this morning, are the ones whom God seems to need.
So far this liturgical year, we have heard the stories from Luke’s Gospel of the nativity told at Christmas, we have watched Jesus experience his own baptism at the opening of his ministry thirty years later, and in recent weeks we have pondered as Jesus entered the temple in Nazareth inaugurating his ministry with the words
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
He has his agenda. But it is not his style to do things alone. God in the incarnation embraced frail human form in order that God’s great love might be made more clearly known. God in Jesus invites frail humanity to join him in his task. He does not seem to be able to do this alone.
And, so, this morning we hear stories of God’s calling out to us for help, really. Of God’s calling out to us. And we will find that each of the three scripture stories given to us on which to reflect have the same pattern. Our Old Testament reading tells of the call of Isaiah. We hear of God’s glory sung in the words of the Sanctus, words that we speak each Sunday in the midst of the Eucharistic prayer, and we hear of Isaiah’s response to the presence of the Holy, ‘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!’ Isaiah, knowing and naming his brokenness, is forgiven, and then he hears the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Isaiah responds, ‘Here am I; send me!’
The story of Paul’s conversion is hinted at in the 15th Chapter from his first letter to the Corinthians – “Last of all, as to someone untimely born, [Jesus] appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain.” Paul writes. First sinfulness is acknowledged, brokenness is named, and then forgiveness is given and Paul, the one called by God, is set free to share God’s love.
And then we have our gospel reading from the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. The scene is of a group of fishermen, fishermen who have had a frustrating night on the lake of Gennesaret, for no fish have been caught.
There is a crowd pressing in on Jesus to hear him speak, to hear him say something of God, and he sees two boats at the shore of the lake; the fishermen have gone out of them and are washing their nets. Jesus gets into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asks him to put out a little way from the shore; then he sits down and teaches the crowds from the boat. When he has finished speaking, he turns to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ The boat has been a place of teaching; the owners of the boat almost irrelevant. But now Jesus turns to the one who will become his dearest disciple, the one who is our patron saint, the flawed one who will struggle whenever he is needed. Just as he does here. Simon answers, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ This is classic Simon Peter. No. No, we’ve fished all night… Well, maybe we’ll give it a try. He is so often resistant at first. He sees the constraints of the physical world, the limitations, the lack, here a lack of fish. It is not as if they haven’t worked all night. And it is not as if this isn’t their area of expertise.
But then something happens. In him, really. It is as if Simon Peter senses something. Something in Jesus’ presence, his voice, perhaps. Something that would have him wonder that, perhaps, all the limitations of things, the finite nature of things, the failure of human effort in things, as if there is something beyond this, imaged in this man who is sitting in his boat, heard in the voice of this man teaching in his boat.
When they put out in the deep water, as Jesus asks them to do, they catch so many fish that their nets began to break. And they need their fellow fisherman in the other boat to come and help them. And they come and fill both boats, until they began to sink.
And then something else happens in Simon who Luke is now calling Simon Peter, we notice. As if his identity is changing and so his name is changing too. When Simon Peter sees all the fish, he falls down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Simon Peter doesn’t call Jesus ‘Master’ now, he calls him ‘Lord’. Jesus’ name is changing too. There is a relationship now, but one that is deeply troubling to Simon Peter. He sees himself as a sinner. Because he doubted Jesus? because he questioned him? Because he took a little while to contemplate trusting him? Jesus doesn’t speak about sin, though. Doesn’t speak about forgiveness here. He points to the fear. He sees right through us, you see. Understands us in all our frailty. Why we resist. Why we struggle to trust. Why we cling to the finite way of things and all its limitations. Why hope can be so difficult at times. Jesus says to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ Because Jesus needs him. Jesus needs Peter and the whole motley crew of disciples. Just like he needs us.
And, as each of these scripture stories invites us to ponder, each of these heroes of faith Isaiah, Paul, and our beloved Simon Peter are flawed, sinful, frightened and at times full of doubt. But he needs us. God needs us. Even now after all these years of faithfully coming to church, hearing the stories of scripture, reaching out our hands for his body in the bread of heaven, … he seems to say again, almost ask us to begin again. Yes, yes, I know you’ve fished all night. I know the pandemic is hard and you wonder if it will ever end. I know you’re scared about whether my precious earth will be ok. I know each one of you has loved ones that you worry for. But you see, I need you, God says. I can’t do it without you.
It is as if the flawedness of us is essential in some way. Isaiah and Paul and Simon who became Peter all knew it, how flawed they were. All wondered why God would be needing them. But it is as if God reaches us there, where we are broken. We hear God there, knowing ourselves inadequate to the task. We are forgiven or our deep fear is named and then we are ready. Ready to hear his voice, saying to us, “follow me.”
When Simon Peter and the other fisherman have brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.