draft of one, anyway
Sermon for Epiphany 5, 2010
“How Jesus Wrecks our Life”
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace ....
I’m going to start right off today by admitting that I don’t have a lot of experience with fishing – with the exception of a couple of memorable fishing trips as a young girl. My uncle was – and still is – a fanatical fisherman. This is not an uncommon breed here in the upper midwest. He liked to take a couple of us out in the boat sometimes, at sunset or at sunrise – the best times to catch fish, he said. I remember these times because on at least one occasion only one of us caught anything and it was – you guessed it – me. I caught the prized northern pike, and it was big enough to keep. But no one else caught a thing, including my accomplished uncle. I couldn’t have been more than 12 years old, I wouldn’t have been caught dead putting the worm on the lure, but I was the one who reeled in the prize. Not fair, but it certainly made my day.
So the scene before us in our gospel today is not a really familiar one to me. In fact, there are many strange things going on in this story, but it helps to consider that the scene itself would have been a very ordinary one – a scene out of ordinary life, ordinary commerce. People are going about their daily lives, making their living for the day, and oh, by the way, there is a large crowd gathering to hear Jesus teach. Imagine if you will if workers were going about their business stocking or cashiering at Walmart, and at the same time a crowd was gathering to hear Jesus, as he steps out of the aisle and onto a ladder so that people can get a better view. They were not in the temple, as Isaiah was when he saw the incredible vision of the seraphim, and heard the words, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” They were by the lake, working, just like every other day.
And the disciples, unlike my uncle, were not engaging in a passionate hobby. They were working, like the clerks at Walmart, like the busboys at your favorite restaurant, like the people who sweep the floors and vaccuum offices at night – they were working to earn their daily bread. They were good at it, of course, they knew that some days you caught a lot, some days you might get nothing at all. When Simon heard Jesus say, “put your nets out”, it might have occurred to him to think that Jesus should stay out of the fishing business and stick to religion, which is something he knew about. “Lord, we’ve been there and done that,” he might have said. Well, actually, he did say something like that.
But Simon humors Jesus and casts his net out into the deep water anyway, and we all know the rest of the story: the incredible, amazing, abundance of fish, Simon’s strange reaction, “Lord, go away from me, for I am a sinful man”; Jesus’ call: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” We all know the rest of the story, but do we really? When I read this story with a Bible study group on Wednesday, I focused on the incredible abundance of fish. It was as if, I told the group, they had won the lottery of fish! After all, fish were their living, and here they were flooded with them. It was as is they got the phone call, “You have already won!” Abundance was theirs, beyond their imagining! No wonder Simon falls on his knees: he knows right away that this abundance has really NOTHING to do with his ability as a fisherman. It was all Jesus’ doing. It was “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.... that saved a wretched like me...” It was “grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved....” Grace, grace, amazing, astonishing, abundant grace.
Like I said, that is always the way I have read this story, focusing on the incredible abundance of fish, all Jesus’ doing. But for some reason, as I looked at this story again, two phrases leaped out at me: “their nets were beginning to break,” and “their boats began to sink.” What do the disciples have at the end of the story? They have abundant fish, that’s for sure, but fish are not like money; fish spoil. It’s not exactly like winning the lottery, after all. And the disciples have broken nets and sunken boats. Today and yesterday and the day before yesterday fishing was the center of their lives and their way of making a living. But after today that will no longer be the case. Their lives have a whole new center. And the broken nets and the abundant fish both have a role to play in this.
With broken nets and sunken boats...this is how Jesus wrecks our lives but at the same time calls us to an abundance beyond our imagining. With broken nets and sunken boats – Jesus exposes to Simon and his friends that the things they counted on, the tools they used to save their lives – are fragile, breakable, insufficient. Our work, our families, our hobbies, our health, all the things we count on, all the things we center our lives on, in the end can break down, sink, and die. None of these things, good as they are, are enough. So Jesus calls out to people who are at the end of their rope, who, in a way, have nothing to lose. “Follow me,” he says, “and I will make you fish for people.” “And,” he might have added, “you will experience great abundance and grace, and you will experience sorrow and brokenness.”
Back in Advent several members of our congregation wrote faith stories. One woman told a story about her father being transferred to a new job in a new state when she was a teenager. She wrote about how difficult that was for her, and how she didn’t want to go, and the pain of being in a new place where she had to make new friends and didn’t know anyone. She might have said her life was wrecked. But at the same time, she realizes now how much she gained from that move, what she learned, new friends she made. Ultimately, she learned to trust God more and more with her life, although the experience was painful for her. She learned, and I think she is still learning, that Jesus really is the center of her life, even in the middle of the wreckage. Another woman told a work-related story about her small business, and how a painful experience with an employee made her re-think the way she ran her business, and really her whole life. Broken nets. Sunken ships. Wrecked relationships. And a God of abundant grace who calls us to follow.
Oftentimes when we hear the word “call,” we think of those who are called to leave a particular kind of work, and do another – like the disciples. We think of a call as a call to live a different life than the one before us. But most often, I think, we are not called to a different life, but we are called to live our lives in a different way – with a new center. Instead of work, or family, or friends, or anything else being the center of our lives, we live and work with God at the center, and with God’s amazing grace and love for us and for all people, at the center of our lives. And that calls us to do whatever we do – whether it is our work, being a parent, being a friend, being a neighbor – in a different way.
I know that several of you have heard the story of Ben Larson, the seminary student who was in Haiti, working there at an orphanage, and who was killed in the earthquake. As I read stories on the internet about relief efforts in Haiti, and about his life, I read these powerful words, from a mother and a woman who knew Ben Larson and his family.... She writes
“Be careful what you teach your children...
When we parents offer our children up to the world, to serve, to give, to go, to heal and teach and dig wells and make justice, we’d damn well be clear about what we are doing.
We are giving them up.
A “brilliant light” and vibrant life has been taken away from this life. He died along with the poorest of the poor, the desperate, precious people of Haiti. A young man whose mother and father taught him to love and risk and sacrifice has paid the ultimate price for his commitment....
Be careful what you do, moms. Be careful what you do, dads. You give your children to the world and it doesn’t always spare them...
We share our children, we share one another with the whole world. They do not belong to us. We nurture and guide them along, we encourage and succor them...it’s a good thing. Yes, it is. It is a good thing. To share our lives, our children, our giftrs with the world. It can be dangerous. It can be deadly. But it is right.
I do the same with my own two girls. Send them off, send them out. To change the world, to take risks and perhaps live dangerously. For the sake of love.
She closes by saying, “life comes from death. Every time. One way or another. Every time. Life comes from death. And it will now, too. It will.”
Quote from Jan Erickson at Palm Tree In Poland
I wonder, in the midst of her grief, how she can write such powerful words? “Life comes from death. Life comes from death.” Perhaps it is because she too has held broken nets and been in sunken boats. Perhaps it is because she knows that, in the midst of the wreckage, the God of abundant fish, abundant life, abundant love, is also the one who is broken for our sake. Perhaps it is because she knows the one who was wrecked, and who came out on the other side.
It is He – Jesus – and he casts his life, his love into the deep water, because his love is so wide, and his mercy so deep... for us. For us.