Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
It was an ordinary day and the disciples were doing what they ordinarily do. They were expert fishermen who knew the waters well. Their families and the people in the villages were waiting for their catch.
The disciples had toiled all night long and caught nothing. When the passage opens, Jesus steps away from the crowd. Having been teaching and healing, he approaches the lake of Genessaret and enters a boat owned by Simon Peter and pushes off a ways from the shore in order to be heard.
The disciples were washing their nets and were likely tired, frustrated, and feeling like their labor had been in vain. Can you relate to that?
When he had finished teaching, Jesus said to the discouraged disciples, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
Now, this was an interruption from what they were doing. And I like to imagine myself in this moment. This moment of emptiness when it appears that there is no success at all. This moment of fatigue and discouragement; anxiety about the outcome and potential criticism; when that which is desired and worked for, hoped for, and expected does not come to pass.
We are a culture prone to success. We like to win all the time and at everything. We have a hard time when things don’t work out as we expect. We think we have clear ideas about what success looks like and we pursue that with great effort. We expect the first job on the first try. Passing the exam right out the gate. One lost love often sets us up for never again!
Sometimes, we can be afraid to try again, but there is no failure in God. Those moments that appear like failures, so traumatic and debilitating, can be opportunities for introspection, clarity, reflection and drawing closer to the source of our strength. They can be moments of awe and wonder; confession and clarity in which we see ourselves for who we really are and begin to recognize our need for a holy God and what God wants.
All too often we give up too soon just when God wants to enter our horizon, even if by surprise, and urge us to go a little further. Try again. Stay the course.
My brothers and sisters, sometimes we have to get into deep water if we are going to get the good thing. We have to stretch wide; push away from what appears to be the safety of the shore and take some risks.
Overwhelmed by the possibility of the divine moment, Peter said, “Master we have worked all night long and caught nothing, yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
It looks like a bad night for fishing. It looks like a complete mess but if you say so, I’ll let down the net and try one more time. That’s called faith. When all the pieces are not sorted out, when we don’t see anything and staying the course doesn’t make any sense.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are times when things need to end but sometimes before we shut things down, we might want to try to discern, “Lord what do you say?” What do you want me to do? Us to do? Increase our faith so that we can trust you even when there is no evidence before our eyes.
Sometimes, we have to give faith a try. We ought not to always ascribe our limitations onto God. Just because we can’t doesn’t mean that it cannot be done.
I can’t tell you how many times I have reached the end of my rope: “Lord I can’t! I don’t know where to go, what to do. If it’s going to be, you have to make it so. But if you say so, I’ll try. I’ll give it my best; my all in all.” Maybe that’s the place God wants us to be.
Luke tells us, that when the disciples obeyed Jesus, when they tried again and let down their nets, when they did not give up and did not quit, they caught so many fish that their nets began to break and they filled not one boat but two boats, so much so, that the boats began to sink. Oh my goodness!
What is the message here?
Despite your fears and limitations, despite coming up short, despite the sometimes painful and ridiculous restrictions we place on ourselves or others place on us, God chooses to do something with us anyway.
Can you hear this today? Can we hear it as a church, the body of Christ in this day? This is the great mystery of all. God still chooses us and chooses to use as we are. And there is, I think, something inherently in us that yearns to be claimed and used by God and sent forth into the world.
In her book, Your Holiness: Discover the Light Within, author Debbie Ford writes:
Within each of us is a hungry ghost that is always craving more, whether it’s more money, fame, recognition, acknowledgment, or material things. ‘Hungry ghost’ is a Buddhist term that refers to an aspect of the self that is emotionally bereft, starving to have its needs met but not knowing how to accomplish it. No matter how much we have, if we are deprived in the inner world, the hungry ghost takes over, and we find it impossible to feed its insatiable appetite. The hungry ghost is never satisfied … We hunger for anything that will give us the illusion that it makes us feel better. The only satisfaction for the hungry ghost is to fill it with God, with love, with higher consciousness, to connect to all that we are and all that there is.
God says yes to us even when it appears that we might be a failure.
When Peter saw the great catch, he fell down at Jesus’ feet saying “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Because they were so amazed at what they had seen.
Who was more inept than Peter, more impetuous, more likely to say the wrong thing – and at the same time, more faithful? Peter – who in one moment denies Christ three times and yet, Jesus gives him the keys to the kingdom and declares that it is upon the Peter’s faith that the Church is built.
In the Old Testament passage, the prophet Isaiah caught up in a vision of worship declared: “Woe is me. I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips. I dwell among the unclean and yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
And yet the Lord touched his lips. And the voice said, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” And Isaiah said, “Here am I; send me!”
In the epistle for today, that we did not read, we find the Apostle Paul making confession. There was no bigger killer of Christians than Paul, once Saul. And yet, he is attributed to having written three quarters of the New Testament and is often called the father of the early church. Paul said, “I am one untimely born, the least of all the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God. But by God’s good grace, I am what I am, and God’s grace toward me has not been in vain.
Is that not true for most of us? Unfit to be called the children of God but by God’s good grace here we are. Not by our own excellence or goodness but because of the excellent extravagance of a loving and forgiving God, we are what we are.
And we must ask ourselves whether God’s grace toward us is in vain? Is God’s love and generosity, God’s trust in us, in vain?
Can you launch out into deep waters though they are unknown and dangerous?
“Do not be afraid” Jesus says to Peter. There it is again, do not be afraid Peter. You will catch people and yes, it will be scary and daunting; you will be amazed and horrified. You will have to leave some things and some people behind and take on new directions. The waters will be rough at times, unchartered but do not be afraid.
Saying yes to God does not exempt us from anything. Truth be told, our yes sets us up for all kinds of hardships, rejection, criticism, ridicule. But nevertheless…
You will fish for people. They will be drawn to your light and God’s way in you.
And the people are waiting.
 Debbie Ford, Your Holiness: Discover the Light Within, (Harper One), pg. 34.