Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
For some time now, I have seen myself as being a bit like Moses. A bit timid perhaps, slow to respond to the call of God. Moses was out tending his father-in-law’s sheep one day when he saw a bush that was on fire, but the bush was not being consumed by the flames. Such an oddity, he thought. “I must turn aside and see what is this great sight.” When God saw that Moses had turned aside to look, God came to him and said, “Moses! Take off your shoes for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. “I have a job for you to do,” God said. “Go to Pharaoh, and tell him let my people go.”
Whoa, talk about overwhelming! Moses came up with a series of excuses, all of which sound familiar: “Who am I that I should go?” “What is your name?” “And why would anyone believe me?” And finally, “I have never been eloquent. I’m slow of speech and slow of tongue.” When even that didn’t work, Moses said, “Please send someone else.” God was persistent. But some of us might be reluctant, like Moses.
Simon Peter had his own call from God in today’s story from Luke’s Gospel….
One morning as day was breaking, two boats drew near the shore on the Sea of Galilee. Simon and his partners, James and John, pulled one of the boats up on the sand and began to wash their nets. The chore was tedious. There had been no fish caught that night, no reward for their work, no food to fill their families to eat or sell at the market, and yet the nets needed to be washed.
Nearby a crowd was gathering, and at the center was Jesus, the teacher. Simon knew him. Jesus had come to Simon’s house one Sabbath and done an amazing thing. Simon’s mother-in-law had fallen ill and was suffering with a high fever. Jesus had rebuked the fever, and it had left her.
On this morning, the crowds were pressing in on Jesus, so he came to Simon and asked him to put out a little way from the shore so that Jesus might sit in the boat and teach the crowds. Simon complied, and out there on the water, Jesus’ voice carried, and he taught the crowds.
When he had finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Now put out in the deep water, and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon resisted; every muscle in his body wanted to pull the boat up to the shore and head home to sleep. He protested that there were no fish to be caught. But then he said, “If you say so, Jesus.”
When they went out to the deep and let down their nets, an entire school of fish came near. They caught so many fish the nets began to break. Their hands worked fast and furious; their arms were in fish up to their armpits. They worked up a sweat; they whistled to their partners to bring the other boat and help them. When they worked to bring in the nets together, there were so many fish that both boats began to sink.
Simon had just fished this lake, and he knew there were no fish to be had. First a dearth, and now a plethora. Simon understood he was on holy ground, so to speak, and he was alarmed. He fell at Jesus’ knees and begged him, “Please go away from me. I am a sinful man.” Somehow being in the presence of Jesus and this miracle of this abundance awakened him to see his own brokenness, that somehow all of this was so big.
Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid….From now on, you will be catching people.” From now on, you will be part of my work, working alongside me, participating in the work that God has sent me to do.
The fishermen brought their boats to shore, and they left everything behind. Amazingly, they abandoned their catch of fish, and they followed Jesus. They shadowed him, and they learned from him. They watched as he healed the sick and removed unclean spirits, and as he forgave sins and ate with tax collectors. “I have come to bring good news to the poor,” he said last week – “to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.” To bring about the reign of God in which there is healing and wholeness and abundant life, and everyone is included. They watched as he spoke harsh words to those whose agenda differed.
This last week, we watched the peaceful transition of power that happens in our country every time a new President is elected. I find that pretty amazing. Ever since our first President stepped aside, 44 transitions from one President to another have happened peacefully. Despite all the campaign rhetoric and reputation smearing that happens during the campaign, there is a scripted, congenial transfer of power from one to the other.
In modern times, it goes something like this: In the morning, the retiring President walks into the Oval Office for the last time and slips an envelope into the new President’s desk. A mad rush ensues during the morning hours as the White House staff redecorates the residence for the new President. As the inauguration ceremony is about to begin, dignities enter the balcony of the capitol overlooking the mall. Music is played. The new President is sworn in. A speech is given. Hands are extended, and kisses are shared. Warm wishes are uttered. They leave the balcony and disappear inside the Capitol.
Then, in the most stunning moment, the new President and the former President, along with their spouses, walk down the steps of the Capitol. The new First Family escorts the former First Family to a waiting helicopter. They exchange another round of handshakes and kisses. The New President and spouse return to the steps and watch as the helicopter rises and takes flight. Cameras are trained on the helicopter as the former President takes leave of his post. And the new President returns to the Capitol to have lunch with Congress. A peaceful transition of power has transpired.
For the last year or so, we have heard so many voices. Beyond the ordinary cacophony of voices enticing us to put our trust in material goods, wealth or power, or to demand privilege, we have heard campaign promises and listened to visions for society. Today’s Star Tribune included an article on the Prosperity Gospel and Social Darwinism and other perspectives that have shaped American policy in the last century. It’s so confusing at times. Where do our allegiances lie? There are so many different voices, various perspectives, differing influences.
Amid the voice of empire of in Jesus’ time that was oppressive and demanded allegiance, Jesus brought a message of hope and freedom for all people. A message that ran counter to the allure of power and control, to the claim of domination. He came to restore health and wholeness for all, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to forgive sins.
We come together in community because we need to hear the words of Jesus again and again. We come to be exhorted to love each other, to speak out for the poor and the oppressed, and to offer forgiveness to one another. We come to hear the words of absolution: your sins are forgiven. We come for bread and wine, the body of Christ, to refresh us and nourish us as we join in Jesus’s work of announcing the fullness of life in the Gospel. This gathering of people matters. And as we know, we have room for more. Room in this place and room in our hearts.
A year ago we took the bold move of joining two congregations together believing that together we could better reach out to others who don’t have a church community. We are still learning, we’re still figuring out how to do it together. But we are committed to being here – to being here especially for the people who are not yet here….Who do you that longs for such a community?
When Jesus said, “from now on, you’ll be catching people,” what do you suppose Simon thought he meant? Do you suppose he was amazed? Do you imagine he was alarmed? If catching people means evangelism, for some of us, that would be alarming.
But on ordinary days when we’re doing mundane things, Jesus calls us to the deep waters. And just when we think we’re unworthy and incapable, God says, ‘I’ll use you.’ Not because of how talented or capable you are, but because of what Jesus can do through you and in spite of you.
Kerlin Richter is an Episcopal priest in Portland, OR. She’s one of the unusual people, I think, who had never been part of a worshiping community, but happened to step inside the neighborhood church when she just had to get away from the stresses in her life, and somehow she had a life-changing experience.
Most people who have never set foot in a church are unlikely to come into ours just because we’re here. People come because of invitation.
Kerlin says, “The best evangelism, I think, is a deep curiosity about the other person. The chance to tell our own stories is a sacred act. When we have told someone our story, there is a sense of a combination of relief and being known and a sense of having given someone a gift….People seek that out. They need to find places where they know that when they do that hard work of telling their stories – when they take that risk – that their story will be honored.”
It’s about relationships. And beneath it all is the foundation of love that runs through the Bible.
We get to part of what God’s doing in the world. We get to carry on the work of Jesus – the work of bringing healing and forgiveness to those who long for a word of grace, the work of bringing those on the outside into the fullness of life in the Gospel. We get to be part of that. It’s a privilege, really. A joy, as we learn to serve one another, and be about God’s mission in the world. Who longs to be part of that? Who might you invite to join you here?
This week, our church council is meeting. In the materials that were sent to the Council ahead of time, was a report from Pastor Ben that contained a couple of sentences that serve as an important reminder to all of us:
“As much as we are living through a season of uncertainty right now – but truthfully when aren’t we – we must stay steadfast in our resolve to look outside our walls, to exist for the sake of those who are not yet here, and to find new ways to be God’s love in this world at a time when things seem more fragile than ever.”
These are important days. When we find ourselves standing on “holy ground,” may we be emboldened to follow Jesus, to say ‘yes’ to his call, and to let God use us as we invite others to be part of God’s “salvation project” for the world. Amen.