Thank you for the many kind messages following the death of my mother on February 4. They have brought us much comfort.
I was looking forward to sharing the following words with you on Sunday, February 6, but I know that you will understand that family commitments took precedence. These words won't be as appropriate later, but I still want to share as they reflect not only on the readings for the Sunday past, but also the Mission Action Plan process that our parish is beginning to enage with. I hope you will read on.
I speak to you in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Some time ago a friend told me about a stimulating lecture they had attended, given by a theologian we both admire. The talk was followed by an invigorating, hour-long question and answer dialogue. It was apparently quite a morning! But my friend shared that afterward, he and three or four of the students that attended the lecture, together with another clergy person, and one or two laypeople, went to someone’s house who lived in the neighbourhood and talked for about another hour and a half, or so. They didn’t talk about the lecturer, or even the content of the lecture. They didn’t discuss books, or engage in shoptalk about the church or the academy. What did they find to talk about? They talked about God.
How novel is that? I wonder if people ever come to church and hear one of my sermons and go home to talk about God. I know that sometimes they talk about my delivery. “I thought David looked tired today.”
In the before times people talked about who was in church and who was missing and who we haven’t seen in a while. People talked about the music. What they liked, but mostly what they didn’t. Whether the preacher had anything interesting to say. How we could cure what ails the church. But I do wonder, how often does our conversation come to speak about God?
Our scripture texts today have quite a bit in common, actually. People have an encounter with God. Isaiah meets God face-to-face in the temple. In the midst of that experience, he realizes his unworthiness, yet he hears God’s call and answers, “here I am, send me.”
We haven’t heard the reading appointed from 1 Corinthians today, but if we had we would have heard the Apostle Paul speak about the death and resurrection of Jesus, and how Jesus was seen by several witnesses after his resurrection. Paul goes on to speak about his own encounter with the risen Christ, who appeared to him as “one untimely born,” as Paul adds, “for I am the least of the apostles.” That experience of God in the resurrected Jesus, of course, turned Paul’s life completely around.
In today’s Gospel from Luke, we have heard how Simon Peter encounters Jesus after Jesus shows him and two other fishermen how to dip down in deep water and catch so many fish that the boats begin to sink. Simon’s response is similar to Isaiah’s and Paul’s. He falls down on his knees and confesses his own sinfulness. After that he is then called to follow Jesus and become a catcher of people. Simon, together with his companions, James and John, meet God, are humbled and respond to the call to serve. For all three, the God we Christians know in the person of Jesus Christ is central. It is all about an encounter with God.
If you are a recipient of our Parish News or if you have visited our parish website recently, I hope you have heard that our parish is beginning a process of developing a new Mission Action Plan. Over the next number of weeks, we are inviting you to be part of a total of four consultations, the first three of which are going to be conversations about adult faith formation, changing parish culture to enable ministry, and fullness of life in the neighbourhood.
In some ways, it doesn’t sound much like we will actually be talking about God. But I do ask you to pray that God will be in our conversation. What is God up to in our lives and in our life together? Where is God at work among us and in our neighbourhood and how can we join in. Yes, this should be a conversation about God!
I am conscious that inviting you to be part of a conversation about God, and about ourselves and our neighbours and world, in relation to God, might seem a little frightening. That’s one of the reasons that I am grateful for today’s texts.
Luke begins today by telling us about Jesus’ success. People want to hear him. People seem to clamour for a taste. Luke tells us that they were “pressing in upon him to hear the word of God.” All this is wonderful, because last Sunday we read about how his own people, from his own hometown, wanted to throw him off a cliff!
But now the crowd is gathered all about wanting to hear him teach. Then Jesus gets in the boat of Simon, James, and John, who are washing their nets. Jesus teaches from the boat for a while. After Jesus finishes teaching, he asks the fishermen to put out into the deep water and let down their nets for a catch.
In some ways, I think that is what we are afraid of: we are afraid that Jesus might calls us into deep water and expect something from us. Simon is quick to explain, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” And we work hard too! And it feels that often we don’t have much to show for it. We can relate to the consternation of the fishermen, working all night and catching nothing. In the boat with Jesus, they have been cleaning and fixing their nets, and we can imagine them holding on to those nets in frustration. Those nets were the tool of their trade; they knew them well. In many ways those nets represented their lives and their own sense of control over the day-to-day tasks of their lives. Its what they had to work with, and so when Jesus was teaching, they naturally clung to their nets and focused on what they could control and upon their own resources.
Our nets, of course, look very different, but are every bit as integral to our lives. One of the nets that I handle every day is my ever-present to-do list. It is the line up of all the things that are awaiting my care and attention: write the sermon, make the phone call, answer that e-mail, plan that worship service, update the website. I know this net well as I cross the items of my list and get anxious about the tasks that remain. This is the net of my vocation and I know it well. The big challenge of the pandemic for me, was that suddenly the net changed; it was filled with different sets of tasks, so that I wondered if it was still the same vocation at all. I have been heard to complain, “I used to be a priest, now I have become a YouTube host.”
Here is something that today’s texts remind me, and it really is the point: I should not confuse the nets I handle every day with my response to Jesus’ call to discipleship.
You see, Jesus asks Simon and his companions to put out into the deep water and to cast out their nets. It doesn’t matter that they have fished all night and caught nothing, because Jesus is asking them to sacrifice their self-sufficiency along with their former perceptions of their identity as fishers for fish. Jesus invites them to risk the net, throw it into the deep water. He asks them to let go of their old routines with the promise of something more abundant. The net of their lives is literally torn so that it can be transformed.
Its no surprise that Simon doesn’t feel worthy of what is happening to his life. I reflect on my own fears in the midst of this pandemic—at the end of the old familiar resources and patterns, my worry: will anyone ever come back to church? The breaking of the net exposes Simon’s limitations in the way I suppose the pandemic has exposed some of our own. But in the breaking of the net there is an invitation to see a new purpose. Like highwire artists, they will work without a net, they will leave the sea and take up a new vocation as fishers, not of fish, but of people. The nets of their lives will have a new purpose.
We hope that our God conversations—our holy conversations about our new parish Mission Action Plan—will also call us into deeper water. I understand that this might seem risky and a little frightening. We might feel out of our depth. But Jesus is here, not to trick us or find us out. Nor is Jesus asking us for, or expecting, perfection. His request and invitation is simple. He asks us to follow. He asks us simply to follow him. His ministry will change our lives. Participating with Jesus in his work will challenge our expectations and transform our gifts with abundance and grace. Our lives will find purpose beyond our imagining. As grow deeper in our relationship with God through his Son, Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we will become a kind of holy net, knit together in love and service.
Friends, let’s take courage and answer Jesus call to venture into deeper waters. Please join us in our conversations about God and with God. Amen.
Office hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 am - 12:30 pm
We acknowledge with gratitude and respect that our parish is located on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples. We are located in the Lower Chedoke Watershed.