>One of the few memories I have of my father is the morning he took me fishing. We sat on the end of the pier in Rodeo and he showed me how to bait the hook, cast the line – and wait. And wait. Oh, and wait some more. It was frustrating, just sitting there, though it was nice to watch the morning sun on the water, the barges coming in and out of the refinery wharf, the goats in the field across the road from the pier – I desperately wanted to keep those goats at a distance. So much preparation went into the adventure before we even left the apartment, that I thought surely we would come home with something to eat.
My father stopped by the market and brought home a can of tuna.
Fishing is hard work, an art form, and one needs a lot of patience and perseverance to succeed, and for the people of living around Lake Gennesaret, the location of this morning’s Gospel, it was their whole economy. A day coming up empty was discouraging to say the very least. We’ve just heard that it was here Jesus asks Simon to take him out in the boat so that he could teach the crowds gathering at the shore. After preaching, he asks Simon to go further out, into deeper water and drop the nets again. Simon knows Jesus – he came to Simon’s house and healed his Simon’s mother-in-law – Jesus can heal, can teach, preach, but can he fish? And yet Simon says, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing; yet, if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Simon does what is asked of him, perhaps in the midst of doubt, for his experience is that the lake is empty. As always, when it is least expected, the Lord provides with abundance, and the catch pulled in begins to break the nets and a second boat is called for. Simon cries out, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” This response is not so much a confession of guilt, or moral failing, but an expression of awe to be in God’s presence, and to witness the working of such power and to receive the grace offered without condition. Jesus reassures Simon, James and John not to fear, for they will be bringing in a different catch soon – men and women to new life, using as bait the good news of the Gospel in Christ.
The lessons we hear during Epiphany call us to focus on a new direction to ministry – they focus on the actions of those who hear and respond to God’s call, and this is illustrated in the Gospel and in the Hebrew scripture this morning. The lessons speak to the unwilling, ever-cautious, if not fearful, evangelist in all of us. Standing at the shore and listening to Jesus’ message is one thing, but climbing into that boat and throwing the nets overboard and expecting a catch is another. Doubt of our abilities, lack of self-assurance, stint our efforts. Maybe it’s the need to keep the faith to ourselves, or the fear that no one will hear us, or think we’re something we’re not, or just think we’re crazy. Sometimes, when we tell people we’re Christian, they take two steps backward and nod slowly. Or, it could be one simple thing – maybe we think we’re not up for the task or the challenge. We’re flawed, intemperant at times, selfish, just not what what we think God wants in a servant, someone to proclaim the Good News.
Here’s where Isaiah and Simon are our instructors.
Isaiah assumed he would perish gazing on the Lord, and voiced a profound sense of his own unworthiness in the presence of the Lord, and as a sinner, he expected to die. Once he has the assurance of God’s grace, he jumps at the chance offered, answers the Lord’s call. “Here am I! Send me!” He is prepared to deliver a disturbing, dark message to the people of Israel – anything but Good News.
And then, there’s Simon.
Simon is a flawed hero – he is a failure more times than not. He tries, he swings and misses, he fails and tries again, and again. He doesn’t get it at first, and he bolts at the worst of times – but he comes back. He’s pretty brave. He doesn’t let his shortcomings block God’s work, or muddy the Good News with his own interpretation. Despite all these flaws, Jesus loves him so much that he entrusts the church to his care, changes his name from Simon to Cephas – the rock. The foundation.
Do you and I have that courage? Are we brave enough to try and fail repeatedly until we get it right? Remember how it felt to say, “Here I am, Lord!” when you heard the call? Remember the elation, and then the dread? Wondering if you could follow through?
Let’s think about the invitation Jesus extends.
For Peter, it was walking away from everything he knew and loved, and the certainty of death. For we Christians today, I believe it is laid out in the New Commandment, to love one another as Christ loves us, in his instruction to the disciples that whenever we act in compassion towards another, we do the same for Christ, and in the baptismal covenant, five questions after the affirmation of God and Christ: Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
To each of these questions we are compelled to respond, “Yes, with your help, Lord! Here I am! Send me!” Easy enough to say, but sometimes a bit difficult to live into – no? Yes? But we are up for the challenge and equal to the task. We are asked to do something revolutionary for today’s society. We are asked to put God before all else, we are asked to love, we are asked to reach outside our comfort zones and what is safe, to make a lifelong commitment to love and service. Christians of all denominations are truly blessed with a wealth of gifts that address each of the five questions in the Baptismal covenant. It is a living and continuing proof that each of us, with our unique gifts, and by the grace of God, continue to say “Send me!” when the call comes, and go willingly when Christ says, “Come, put down the nets.”