In today’s lesson, Jesus is desperate for some personal space. He is experiencing something many of us can relate to when we get overwhelmed by the demands of our lives, and by those extra loud personalities that seem to drain us. When we are feeling overstimulated by life, do we delve deeper into the chaos? Well, truthfully, sometimes we do; and usually come to regret it later. When we are healthy though, we do the smart thing, and take a step back. We slow down, take a deep breath, and create the space we need so we might realign with our inner selves and God.
As Jesus was standing by the lake, this crowd was so hungry to hear his message of God’s love, that they were pressing in on him like a bunch of close talkers. Knowing he needed to create some space, Jesus saw two boats at the shore, walked over, and got in one of the boats. Is it his boat or his friends boat? No. Jesus just went and got in some guy’s boat. Over the years, Jason and I have made friends with a few lobster men and women back home, and let me tell you, you would be out of your mind to enter another person’s boat uninvited. Honestly, it’s a good way to find yourself seriously harmed or maimed.
Have you ever been in a situation, where something completely socially unacceptable begins to unfold, but you are too shocked by the behavior to really do anything about it? I’m pretty sure that’s how Simon Peter felt, when he saw Jesus sit down in his boat, and then ask him to let out a little ways as he began to teach the crowd. Because this tired fisherman, who had been at work all morning and had come home empty, seemed to be captured by Jesus’ message. When Jesus was done teaching, he instructed Simon Peter to set out into deeper water and let down his net. A weary, yet captivated Simon Peter tries to give Jesus the cold hard facts: We’ve been at this all night, and didn’t make a single catch, but if you want to give this a go anyways, well sure…
Simon Peter lets down the net. In the moments that follow, Simon Peter discovers the greatest catch of his life. The sheer abundance of fish required help from James and John, who worked the other boat. Still, the numerous fish nearly sunk both boats.
Simon Peter was so overwhelmed by the bounty of God’s grace, by the strangeness of Jesus, that he fell down on his knees to claim he was unworthy of such abundance. Because God’s grace is like that. The sheer abundance of God’s grace will overwhelm us, because the full extent of it is beyond our comprehension. We don’t understand how we could be good enough for this kind of abundance, whether it be the fish on Simon Peter’s boat, or God’s love for us. It may even scare us.
The good news is that each of us are God’s beloved children, in spite of the selfish things we may do or the hurtful things we may say.God’s love is here to overwhelm and transform us.
This great catch forces Simon Peter to see God’s grace in all its glory, and he feels both moved by such love, and at the same time, scared he’s not good enough. And yet, what does Jesus say to him?
“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” (Luke 5:10).
Don’t be scared by this good news. Instead, share it. Help others to know about such love and grace. Simon Peter was asked to start catching people, just as Jesus had caught him. It was Simon’s turn to help others hear this good news.
When they brought their fish to shore, these fisherfolk were changed, and left everything to follow Jesus. And when we say they left everything, we are talking about their homes, their jobs, their family and friends. But maybe more importantly, we are talking about what they are choosing to turn away from on a daily basis.
Instead of turning to alcohol, drugs, or gambling, they are turning to God.
Instead of turning to overeating or unhealthy food, they are turning to God.
Instead of turning to consumerism, or the acquiring of meaningless stuff that will destroy us and the planet, they are turning to God.
Instead of turning to their smartphones or social media, they are turning to God.
Instead of turning to the ceaseless amount of work or email, they are turning to God.
And we are invited to turn with them. When we leave everything to follow Jesus, we are leaving behind some of our dysfunction. We are leaving behind the unhealthy ways we have coped with our stress, or not feeling good enough, or loved. When we choose to follow Jesus, to be in relationship with Almighty God, we are recognizing that we are indeed good enough, just as we are, and in spite of the ways we may feel broken. We are worthy of such abundant grace and love. May our boats be so overwhelmed with fish, that we literally are enveloped and transformed by God’s love for us.
Which is why, when Simon Peter, James, and John returned to shore, they turned away from their old lives to become fisherfolk for people. When they were out on their boats with Jesus, they were mere fish, who were so captured and transformed by the message of God’s love, joy, hope, and healing, that they accepted a call to choose this way of love. To become fisherfolk of people.
Where are you on your journey?
How do you feel today?
Are you on the boat ready for some fishing, or are you a bit lost as you swim in the water?
There are times we are the fish. We are going about our business, and we think everything is fine. Then, something catches our attention, startling us to a new level of being awake. In those moments, we are invited to remain awake, and join Simon Peter and become fisherfolk of people. As followers of Jesus Christ, there will be times when we are the fisherfolk, and our job is to create the space, time, and environment to catch fish. We do this by building relationships, as we respond to the needs of our neighbors in pragmatic ways like providing community meals and everyday essentials, and maybe even more importantly, as we make ourselves deeply present to the people in our lives who are experiencing pain, angst, or loneliness by walking together.
We are fisherfolk when we heed Jesus’ words to not be afraid.
We are fisherfolk when we are “...quick to love and make haste to be kind…”
We are fisherfolk when we, “rest assured that God is infinitely more concerned with the hope of our future than the sins of our past.”
This is the good news that we fisherfolk are called to share, as our world is hungry for such good news.
Let us walk together as we go and fish for people. Amen.
By Rev. Heather J. Blais, Rector
Today’s lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures features Jeremiah’s call story. Jeremiah’s ministry as a prophet took place during a uniquely difficult time, which included the fall and destruction of Jerusalem, as well as, a mass deportation of the population into captivity. Including Jeremiah and his scribe, who were forcibly taken hostage in Egypt. Nevertheless, he persisted in his prophetic ministry to the nations. Yet, it didn’t begin so boldly...
“The word of the Lord came to me saying,
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations’”
God identified a task and commissioned Jeremiah to be God’s agent. However, as often is the case when one is called, Jeremiah had a bunch of excuses as to why he wasn’t the right person for the job:
“Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy’” (Jeremiah 1:6)
Then, God more or less shakes her head and tells Jeremiah to lose the excuses; after all, God will be with him every step of the way:
"Do not say, 'I am only a boy';
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord" (Jeremiah 1:7-8)
And then, God put out her hand and touched Jeremiah’s mouth. Scholar Anathea Portier Young suggests the word “touch” would be better translated as a “jolt” or a “shock”. It wasn’t a comforting touch, but probably hurt a bit, possibly left a scar or wound; just as Jacob’s hip hurt after he wrestled with God (Genesis 32). The Lord said to Jeremiah,
"Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant" (Jeremiah 1:10).
When God calls Jeremiah and touches his mouth, it forever changes who Jeremiah is and how he understood his role in the world. Because that is what our call stories do. They help us understand who and why we are, and how we are called to live out our lives in the world.
Yet call stories are not just for biblical characters. We each have our own call stories, and often more than one. I experienced my call to married life and to motherhood as a truth about myself, that I had always known, as much as I had always known my eyes were blue. My call to ordained ministry was a completely different matter, that felt more like a series of knocks on the door. God would gently knock on the door, I’d peak in and stare in awe for a moment, only to say, “Thanks, but no thanks”.
The first time I noticed a knock on the door, I was eleven and entranced with the Eucharist. I wrote a paper on how I wanted to be an Episcopal priest when I grew up. Then I realized my peers mostly wanted to be teachers and doctors, and that maybe I ought to be a JAG lawyer and serve in the Navy like the rest of my family.
I heard more knocking at the door when I was sixteen. I felt so strongly a call to spend my life’s work in service to Jesus, whether that be in youth ministry or non profit work. I’d go anywhere God wanted, just not parish ministry--parishes cared too much about buildings and money, and I watched my burned out priest struggle to manage parish dynamics. Ordained ministry felt like the only thing I couldn’t say yes to if God asked. Yet these knocks would show up like black flies in June. Each time I’d politely decline, and say, “Everything but…” .
Until finally, when I was twenty-two and led a retreat for young adults on vocational callings, and I heard this beautiful reflection from the dean on his priestly ministry, I realized this thing I kept saying no to, was the very thing God wanted me to explore. And so that time, I said yes, and began the journey of exploration with God, the Commission on Ministry, my parish, my family, and ultimately, it did lead to ordination.
We all have these experiences of calling, yet we often don’t use that language to describe them. Many of us have experienced callings to be married or intentionally single; to parenthood; to be teachers, doctors, social works, and a variety of other lay ministries. Yet often, we don’t spend enough time in the Church equipping all of our members with the tools needed to examine and reflect on our own call stories.
Last year, our Renewal Works Team, spent some time with a tool that helped us, in a fairly painless way, examine our spiritual journeys, and in turn, take a temperature reading on our relationship with God. It’s an exercise that I would invite each of us to do in the coming month before Lent begins on March 6. I think it will help us reflect on our own call stories, spiritual journeys, and take a pulse on how we are doing in our relationship with God.
I’ve prepared handouts (download here) of the life-line exercise, and sometime in the coming weeks, take twenty to thirty minutes and engage in this spiritual inventory. Take some time to think back over your life. Select some key events and people that have had an impact on you, for better or worse, and place a word or symbol for each in the appropriate place on the drawing. Then after you’ve done this, look at the life line again and consider your relationship with God over the course of your life. Afterwards, take a few moments to notice where key events and people in the first line are related to your experience of the nearness or absence of God. How is your life and faith, different than it was five years ago? What are the themes that you notice?
No matter how many times you’ve done this or a similar exercise, your life line will never be precisely the same. Because we are always growing and changing in our relationship with God, through both good and difficult times. God wants us to continually be gaining a deeper understanding of who and why we are, and how we are called to live out our lives in the world. God wants us to stay as fresh, as deeply engaged in our spiritual lives, and in our understanding of our callings, as we would in our marriages, parenting, and commitment to our jobs and our communities.
As we prepare to do this work, I’d like to close with the prayer of self dedication from the prayer book:
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our
imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer p.832
Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
In this first Sunday after Epiphany we leave behind the stable and star, the shepherds and the wise men, and turn our attention to the life and ministry of Jesus, beginning by remembering Jesus’ own baptism.
Today is one of the occasions in the church year that the Prayer Book commends as being particularly appropriate for the sacrament of Baptism, and today we are particularly delighted to welcome Clara Rose Patrick into the Body of Christ.
We commemorate Baptism of our Lord every year for two reasons:
While Jesus’ baptism by John is referred to in all four gospels, it has also been a problematic story for Christians. Theologian David Lose refers to it as a “scandalous” story.
Christians have asked, apparently since time of the early church, why Jesus needed to be baptized, if he was in fact, the Messiah, the Savior
Judaism originated practice of ritual cleansing – the symbolic of washing away past life in preparation for new life to come. This might give us a clue as to why baptism was important – even necessary - for Jesus.
All four gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism are unique. Luke’s version is interesting that it doesn’t include the baptism itself – reading closely we see that
Luke is interested in what happens afterward.
Luke tells us the important thing happened while J was praying. Prayer is what Jesus did, what Jesus taught us to do, as means of creating space away from the demands and occupations of life, to be quiet and open himself – ourselves – to the presence and the voice of God.
We can imagine Jesus stepping aside, after the baptism itself, as the water dried, to create a quiet space to ponder and cherish the moment, to open himself to God’s presence
It was at this moment, Luke tells us, that
the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
That image of “the heavens opening” is such a powerful & compelling detail.
It suggests that what has separated us from God is no longer, that God is no longer behind the firmament, up in the clouds, at a distance, but rather, here among us.
In that moment, I believe that something was made complete in Jesus:
I believe the experience of knowing God’s loving voice, after his baptism, not only confirmed, but completed something in Jesus that made him ready to venture forth to what lay ahead.
Let’s not miss, in the voice of God to Jesus after the baptism, the clear and close echo of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
When he heard God’s voice, Jesus knew in the depths of his being that he was loved, that he was chosen and claimed. He knew and felt God’s Spirit, God’s grace, inhabiting and directing him.
And here is the real point:
In our own baptism, God offers the same to all of us.
In Clara Rose’s baptism this morning, we recognize God claiming her as God’s beloved child.
Twentieth century theologian Paul Tillich said "Salvation is simply accepting the fact that we have (already) been accepted."
God claims us.
God seeks to tear open all of the barriers and boundaries we construct to separate us from God.
G calls out that we are beloved, and moves to fill us with the grace that enables us to -
Pass through the rivers, that they will not overwhelm us,
Through the fire, that we shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume us.
As we know, Jesus’ path ahead was 40 difficult days in the wilderness. His path was then a ministry of love and forgiveness in a world of hate that wearied him, wounded him, and eventually killed him.
We believe, though, that his knowledge and experience of God’s love, received in his baptism, was the gift he carried with him, that enabled him to endure, and finally, rise again on the third day.
This first Sunday after Epiphany, this memory of Jesus’ baptism, and our own, is a reminder of God’s promise, and God’s call –
Do not fear, says the Holy One. I have called you by name and you are mine.
And, the Holy One promises, I will give you what you need
In Jesus’ name. Amen.