Sermon for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany

Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 138
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Luke 5:1-11

Anyone here like to go fishing? I sure don’t. I think it’s probably because I’m just really really bad at it, and I’m really really bad at it because I can only remember going like two times in my entire life, both times within a month of each other, and both up at Horseshoe Bay. So my experience is really limited. A group of us rented a chartered boat with a captain/guide and everything, and it had like 6 fishing rods hanging off the sides. Basically we were assigned a rod each, which rotated every 10 minutes or so. So it was all luck if your rod caught a fish, really. That day went ok, especially when this pod of killer whales came into the bay. It was amazing to watch, but they at all of our fish that we wanted to catch.

Anyway, the rod that was assigned to me did catch something, but the captain/guide said that it was too small and I had to throw it back (I don’t think he liked me very much). Our boat only caught one more fish after that.

The second time we went was basically the same kind of deal, we went out on a boat that had a bunch of rods attached to it. Except this time we went ourselves, without a guide, and let’s just say instead of trying to catch fish we sped around the bay catching waves off the ferry and trying to untangle this big ball of fishing wire that somehow appeared out of nowhere.

So I can admit that as a fisherman, I’d make a pretty good preacher. Some might say vice versa as well, but let’s just not go there right now. Some might say that if I were to just fish more, then I’d be better at it. Well, how’d that work out for my sermons? Because I preach pretty much every week and you get stuff like this…

So I wonder if my inability to really fish comes more from not having an actual guide to teach me how to do it properly. Sure, that first time I had that captain/guide person, but he didn’t really like me so he didn’t care how I turned out, fisherman-wise. But if I had someone to actually take me under their wing (or fin, as it were), and actually show me the ropes, who knows? Maybe I have what it takes after all. That and probably just desire to be able to fish worth a darn would help too.

Today’s gospel lesson gives us a story of a bunch of lousy fishermen as well. Ok sure, we don’t know if they’re really bad at what they do or if they’re just having an off night, but let’s just say they are really bad because it’s a lot funnier that way. Anyway, these really bad fishermen were just finishing up a night of really bad fishing, and what did they catch? Nothing. Nada. Ziltch. Not a negatory. And then oddly enough, just as they were getting ready to call it for a night, Jesus just kind of gets into their boat and hangs out and teaches the people from there, and no one says a thing. You know I might be a bad fisherman but I don’t know if I’d stand for someone just getting onto my boat like that. Also keep in mind that back in these days, people would often fish in their birthday suits so that made it even more awkward. Like, Jesus just sitting there and talking to the crowds while Simon was just minding his own business, all naked and stuff.

And then when Jesus is finished, he has the nerve to tell them to go back out to fish again!

I dunno, Jesus, they were out all night already and no bites, not sure if going out is going to solve the problem of being bad at what you do. But, they go out anyway. Maybe in spite. Maybe to show Jesus that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Maybe just to get away from the crowds that just spent the last however long looking at their nakedness. And they put down their nets like Jesus said and suddenly, so many many fish that their nets could barely hold them all.

Abundant fish. Caught by a bunch of not very good fisherman at the advice of a carpenter/preacher. What a strange sight that must have been. Stranger yet, Simon then tells Jesus to get away, calling himself a sinner of all things.

What did he mean by that? And why does him being a sinner have anything to do with fishing? Was it that he saw what Jesus could do so he felt humbled by his greatness? That he was embarrassed that this carpenter was so much better of a fisherman than him, and actual fisherman, making him feel like a fraud? Or, was he just tired of what Jesus was saying he wanted to give any excuse he could find to get rid of him?

You know, I’m not sure if I’d be all that surprised if it were the latter. I mean, how many times do we make excuses when we don’t want to do what we know is good and right? How many times do we automatically think that it isn’t our problem when we know we can help? How many times do we say that we have nothing to offer when we feel perhaps a nudge from God to go in a certain direction?

If we’re anything like the Bible greats, it would be like every single time. I mean think about it, everyone had an excuse not to answer God when God calls. . Abraham was too old, Moses wasn’t good at speaking, Jeremiah was too young. Jonah hated the people he was sent to. Today we saw that Isaiah had unclean lips, Paul persecuted the church, and again, Simon Peter is a sinner. See? Everyone has an excuse. Everyone has a reason to not do what God was asking or to believe that God wasn’t actually calling them because they are unqualified. Everyone was “held back” from answering God’s call by something out of their control, something unsurmountable, something that they were absolutely powerless against.

But that didn’t stop God, did it? It didn’t. And it doesn’t. By God’s grace, God isn’t powerless against whatever it is that is holding you back, rather that might be the very reason that God is calling you.

See, in spite of Abraham being too old, he was provided with a son and called the father of faith. Moses wasn’t an accomplished speaker like me, but he was still able to free the people from Egypt. Jeremiah was young but spoke God’s message to the people. Jonah preached to the people he didn’t like and they changed. Isaiah’s unclean lips were cleaned and his words gave hope to multitudes and generations. Paul persecuted the church in a huge way but turned and grew the church in ways that would put our modern churches to shame. And Simon, dear old sinner Simon Peter without a lick of fishing skill, was ironically made to be a fisher of people and became the rock upon which the church stands.

So you don’t have to be super good at what you do in order to contribute to God’s purpose. You don’t have to have all the skills and talents and words and wisdom to be able to add to God’s kingdom and be included in God’s love. You don’t have to be able to even fish for fish for Jesus to equip you to fish for people, captivating others with the gospel of Christ, showing all people just how loved and valued they are, just as they are.

But even hearing these words sometimes makes us uncomfortable doesn’t it? So we come up with excuses, valid or not. We don’t have time or energy. We don’t have the training or the money. We don’t even know the order of books of the bible, how can we ever think we can show God’s love to anyone?

Just over a week ago we had our inaugural “Food and Faith: Exploring the ‘God thing’ Together” event, and I must admit it didn’t go the way that I had expected, and honestly not the way I really wanted. But after talking to some of those who were there and participated, well, I can’t say that it went that bad either. Instead, what I saw and heard was God moving, acting, present among those who don’t even recognise God as being in the building. Rather they named God as other things like “empathy,” or “affection,” or “morals and ethics”.

Well, what do you think God is, anyway?

The thing is, God works in us, through us, and most often in spite of us. Because regardless of what our best intention might be, God can use whatever the situation is and bring about something beautiful.

We will all have questions. We will all have doubts. We will all have some sort of excuse that we perhaps hope would bar us from proclaiming God’s name. But the good news is that God doesn’t rely on us and our abilities, rather God relies on God’s own reason and wisdom, and provides us with the gifts, the strength, and the opportunity to serve and to glorify and to proclaim. And in that, God is pleased.

And above all, God does not leave us alone in our journey, but we are surrounded by God’s people, God’s community, God’s kingdom providing us support, helping us in our struggles, and lifting us up as a beloved child of God, given the ability to be, redeemed by grace and mercy, and empowered to love.

Today we have our Annual General Meeting and sometimes these things can seem daunting as we look to the future and compare it to the past. Some of us remember the glory days of the golden years of the church in general as well as this specific congregation. And look at our dwindled numbers, our growing needs and expenses, and the changing world in which we don’t seem to understand or even catch up to, and we sigh and think that perhaps we can’t do this. We can’t be a church anymore. We can’t fish. But to that God continues to call us, empower us, and fill us with every good thing that we might find joy and peace in the Spirit, and continue in our work for the sake of the gospel in the world.

In this season after the Epiphany, may we continue to see God’s hand acting and moving in our lives through the work and words of Jesus, reminding us that we are chosen and called, equipped and empowered, beloved and believed in that we can be all that God asks us to be. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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