The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
People who claim to do miracles have attracted crowds in the past. You don’t hear of miracle workers today – in the mainstream, anyway. Many of them have been debunked, or disappeared, or gone on to have their own religious TV show. I followed with interest one who came through Virginia some years ago. He took faith healing to a new level – Rev. Denny, who did Creative Dental Miracles. I think he did fillings, straightened teeth, bridges, root canals, crowns, who knows. I was able to curb my enthusiasm. I didn’t attend a show. Don’t know what became of him.
In Jesus’ day miracle workers were not so fringy. They brought supernatural powers to earth. Crowds flocked to Jesus – to hear his teaching and see what miracle he might do next.
One day Jesus was holding forth by Lake Gennesaret. So many crowd around Jesus, they nearly push him into the lake. I guess walking out and standing on the water might have been over the top miracle right then. Looking over to the docks, he spots a few fishermen and recruits them to row him out on the lake so he can finish the lecture.
These fishermen are tired. They’d been fishing all night – not a fish caught. Now they’re cleaning their boats and nets, not paying much attention to Jesus’ show. Getting ready to go fishing again is their concern. Jesus just walks over to Simon’s boat and gets in like he owns it: “Push us out from shore.” Too stunned to say no or too tired to resist, surprisingly, Simon complies.
So Jesus finishes his lecture from a floating pulpit. The crowd leaves, amazed. Instead of saying, “Row me back in,” Jesus says to Simon, “Let’s go fishing. Go to deeper water and put down the nets.” He’s got to be kidding. Just because you sit in a boat no more makes you a fisherman than standing in your garage makes you a car. Jesus might know scripture, but not fishing. So Simon patiently tries to explain: “Good sir, we fished all night and came up empty. So, why do think…?” Then Simon caves, “Okay,” and rolls his eyes at the others: “Let’s go.”
They arrive at the deeper water, drop nets, and watch them sink. Laughing and winking at each other, a little later the fishing dudes start to pull the nets up – well, they try. They pull until they’re red in the face. The nets don’t move, so full they might break. Simon yells and waves at the other crew back on shore, “Get out here, now!” They finally get the nets up safely, so many fish the boats nearly sink. Simon Peter falls to his knees before Jesus. No fish, empty boats – tons of fish, sinking boats – go figure – saying this is a miracle, an understatement. All Simon can say – “Get away, Lord, I am a sinful man.” That doesn’t seem to bother Jesus at all. He’s not going away. He’s come to recruit Simon Peter for a mission – God’s. Guess who’s been caught now?
Some years ago zealous evangelicals sported bumper stickers cars that read: “I found it.” Feigning ignorance, I would ask a driver stopped at a light what it was he found. The answer of course was, “Jesus!” “Sakes alive – I didn’t know he’d gone missing.” I got some very interesting looks back.
Simon Peter, James, and John didn’t find Jesus. Jesus found them. And that’s how faith works. When one takes the leap of faith and falls into the hands of a loving God, our intellect, sound reasoning, or smarts didn’t get us there. God’s Spirit was already at work within. And that same spirit that catches Simon, and awakens him to the one sending him fishing is the same spirit you’ll experience calling your name. You and I haven’t found God. We come to see God had us all along. We just hadn’t noticed.
When we respond to God’s call, Jesus will take us to deeper places if we let him. Wonder how the story would have turned out had Simon said, “You’re crazy. No fish are here. We’re going in.” We, too, have to say “Yes” to Jesus’ invitation, just as Simon does. He awaits our response, our trust. Hearing is one thing. Doing something with what you hear is another. So be careful. Simon, James and John are so dazed and amazed, they leave everything to follow Jesus. That’s pretty darn miraculous, too.
The real miracle, though, is incarnation; not just THE Incarnation of Christmas, but the incarnate, the indwelling of Jesus’ life in people like you and me. Jesus opens us to a new way of thinking, being and seeing the world – through God’s eyes. And we respond and follow, or row back to shore. When we realize we are becoming more other-concerned than self-concerned, that’s God at work. When we seek to love others first rather attract love for ourselves, that’s God at work within us. When we find we forgive and love some we haven’t wanted to – well, God’s spirit is there, reminding us of how much we God loves us, and forgives us first. When we start seeing Jesus in the eyes, the needs and cries of the poor, the hungry, homeless – God’s at work. I mean, think about it – would you ever think about loving your enemies rather than whacking them – if God wasn’t first at work in you? Of course not. It doesn’t make sense. We most likely won’t do this on our own. The divine life fills ours – incarnates. God comes to others through our flesh, blood, commitment, and love. And we will continue to hear God’s call in new ways, to new places, to new people. You have heard your name called. That’s why you are here.
Simon gave up the old ways, everything, when he realized he’d been found, and he said, “Yes!” not knowing where the journey would take him. We say “Yes,” too, turning toward God and giving all we can as vessels of God’s love and light in this world. That’s our mission at St. Paul’s.
Congratulations – we’ve been found, though God never loses us. And as we turn toward God, see the divine gaze of love falling on us, hear God’s voice within our hearts, and know God’s love, we find God’s life filling ours. Now that is truly miraculous. So, now let’s drop our nets and fishing poles, and go do some real fishing, with Jesus.