February 10, 2019
Isaiah 6:1-8; Luke 5:1-11
The God we worship is one who allows the tiniest of things (seemingly insignificant) to become greater than anything we could have ever imagined. The sense of diminishment that is often felt with disappointment, loss, perceived failure… with God’s help, that sense of diminishment can be transformed into new insights and unanticipated growth.
Catechesis of the Good shepherd, our approach to the religious formation of children, began with two women in Rome back in the 1950’s, and is now offered with trained catechists all over the world. The Godhead: One who entered this world a tiny infant in the lowliest of circumstances; died a painful death and planted in a tomb as a tiny seed, only to rise to new life so that his love may – with God’s help – flourish throughout the world and into eternity. So, with this resurrection, a diminished, grief stricken group of Jesus’ followers became church: that is, disciples around the world, following Jesus for the past 2,000 years. So, yes, the God we worship, is one who allows the tiniest of things (seemingly insignificant) to become greater than anything we could ever imagine.
Today’s Gospel tells a story about Jesus taking something seemingly impossible, and multiplying the possibilities beyond anything anyone could have imagined. In this story we are given the opportunity to learn something about our own encounters with God through Jesus, and how – with Him and His help – extraordinary things are possible.
In this story, Jesus meets a group of fishermen at a time when they desperately need his help; they’ve been fishing all night and haven’t caught a thing. They’ve given up: the sea has its rhythms and is not producing what they need. So the fishermen have come in and they are washing their nets. When Jesus comes by, they are cleaning and mending their nets, worrying perhaps about their lack of success and thinking, I suspect, about what they might do next.
Jesus meets the fishermen when they need help. As we enter into this story, we might want to remember times when we have felt desperately in need of help. Times when we were preparing something important and worried that it might not work out; or sad to the point of despair; angry, confused, anxious… So many times throughout the course of a day, or week, or month when we may feel the need for such help. And this is the thing: If we are truly doing what God expects of us, we are given the gifts and resources to follow that call. (Keeping in mind that the outcome may be different than what we are expecting.) No matter how tiny, insignificant, diminished, broken we may feel, Jesus is there to strengthen, help, comfort, and support. This comes to us through the wisdom of Scripture, the nourishment of Sacraments; it comes to us through people who uphold, guide, and encourage us along the way.
Jesus meets the fishermen when they need help and he offers help. This is an important fact of Christian life. We come seeking something; every one of us in some way longs for help. The promise of Jesus is help is available.
Jesus meets the fishermen when they need help and he helps them in an unexpected way, as he says, “Put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch.” So they do, but they’re doubtful that this will work; Peter points out that this strategy didn’t work the last time. But because Jesus has instructed them to do so, they do put out (set out) in their boats and they do catch fish. (An important insight here is that sometimes Jesus pushes us to do what we may not especially want to do.)
Jesus met the fishermen when they needed help and he helped.
But his help results in things they hadn’t imagined. They don’t just catch fish, they catch lots and lots of fish, hundreds of fish. They catch so many fish they have to call over another boat. They catch so many fish nets begin to break, precious nets their fingers know by heart. They are not just successful, they are wildly successful. It’s a miracle. They hadn’t planned on it. They might have hoped this teacher would bring good fortune but this is more, this is bigger, this is success beyond anything they ever imagined.
So this miracle – in a sense - is a problem. They hadn’t planned on this much success. They weren’t ready for this much success. Over and over again Jesus speaks of a miraculous abundance and over and over again we miss the point. Tiny seeds growing into tall trees; the smallest amount of loaves and fishes managing to feed the multitudes… Continually, Jesus speaks of a miraculous abundance.
These fishermen would have been happy with a basket of fish to sell in the market, but now their nets are breaking and they’re working harder than ever just to remain afloat: they almost sink, they almost drown. The miraculous catch they hadn’t expected swamps the boat. All fishing villages live in the shadow of lost sailors. Everyone who goes out in small boats knows there’s a chance they won’t come back. No wonder Peter tells Jesus to get away; the man has practically drowned them. First the miraculous catch, now the swamping, sinking boats, what in the world will Jesus do next?
Perhaps that’s our question as well. Like the fishermen, we come asking for a little help and sometimes get overwhelmed by the result.
Two years ago, this parish asked Jesus for help. While we were blessed with continued vitality, teams of strong leaders, and numerous effective ministries, some long term projections indicated that our current structure was not sustainable. So, we asked Jesus for help. His response? He helped, and He continues to help. He said, “Set out in deep, unknown waters of collaboration, and let down your nets.” Despite our fear of the unknown, we did what we believed we were being called to do. Well, the energy, vision, enthusiasm that has been caught in those nets has, at times, been nothing short of breathtaking.
We experience growth, not just numerically, but: (1) theologically through a newfound search for theological depth: (2) organically through a newfound understanding that we (our teams and committees) function best, not as silos – separate and apart from one another, but as organic organisms working harmoniously together and intimately linked. What one ministry offers is intimately linked to another; (3) pastorally, with a longing for creating a culture of interconnectedness and belonging. This shift is more deeply rooted than anything we could have imagined; messy at times; challenging at times; but the fruits of this new direction are proving to become more than anything we could have ever imagined.
Indeed, God is stretching us. The fishermen are still trying to work out what to do about their broken nets and the experience of almost sinking, when Jesus says casually, as if it’s no big deal, “By the way, from now on you’re going to be catching people.” It seems that catching fish is a transferrable skill.
The same thing happens to Isaiah. Sitting in the temple one day, he actually sees God. Even Moses knew that seeing God is death and Isaiah says, “Woe to me! I am ruined!” And he is—except that God provides a way out, something new, because God has something in mind for Isaiah and before you know it, this priest who was just getting good at the ins and outs of the liturgy is a full fledged prophet blurting out, “Here am I, send me”, when God asks who will go.
God is stretching us, and it takes just the smallest opening: think of the fishermen, think of Isaiah. One moment for God to slip in and before you know it, you’re an apostle, a disciple, a prophet, you’re involved in collaborative ministry at St. Peter’s Anglican Church. William Willimon, a Methodist bishop, says, “One of the most challenging as well as the most invigorating tasks of the saints is the constant struggle in our little minds to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ, that love which clearly surpasses our knowledge. It’s big. So big. So big we are stretched by it, stretched to become bigger, greater than we had ever imagined.”
So big: God is bigger that we imagined. God’s hope for us is bigger than we imagined. God’s love is bigger than we imagined.
Indeed, Jesus comes to us when we need help, and through experiences with Scripture, Sacraments (regular Eucharist), supportive and wise people (some with whom we are acquainted, others who speak to us through such works as books and the arts)… Through all this, Jesus offers the help we need. This help may not provide the result we’re looking for; we need to be prepared for surprises along the way. But rest assured that the God we worship is one who allows the tiniest of things (seemingly insignificant) to become greater than anything we could have ever imagined.