A Sermon for the Last Sunday after Epiphany

So the disciples have spent the entire night out fishing. They caught nothing. And Jesus comes along as says, “ Put out into the deep water, let down your nets for a catch.” Now Peter informs the Carpenters Son, “ We’ve worked all night but have caught nothing….but if you give the word, we’ll give it another try.” And they caught so many fish that they thought the net would break ! End of Gospel; at least we want it to stop there. After all who doesn’t love a story with a good ending ? And look for once those disciples had the good sense to listen to Jesus.

And well they should have. Because every time the church gathers we are here to listen to Jesus. “ At your word, Lord, we’ll let down the nets.” At your word. Stop at the big catch, now there is good news. Because if you’ve ever spent much time around Church, you know there’s a lot of failure around here. Jesus has called us to be “ Fishers of people.” “ Follow me.” He promises his disciples, “ I’ll teach you to catch people.”

But oh my, we don’t want to do that! God someone might think I’m religious or something! Can’t you just hear the echo of St. Peter now; “ Master, we’ve worked all night long; we’ve caught nothing.” I’ve been going to this church for years and years and the pews still aren’t full! And more to the point we’ve done that before! I tutored that kid for two years, every Tuesday for two full years, and she’s still flunking out of school! “ Master we’ve worked all night; we’ve caught nothing.” We just should have stopped at verse six. The verse about success; nice and positive, sweet Jesus all nice and candy coated and easy to swallow. But, foolish me I read on.

The story of Jesus’ fishing trip doesn’t end simply with the great catch of fish. In the 8th verse we have this scene: “ But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees saying, ‘ Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man!’ For he and everybody else with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken.”

Doesn’t that strike you as a bit odd ? Why would Peter have said, “Get away from me Jesus, I’m a sinful man?” You’d think he would have been overjoyed, all those fish after a futile night’s work. Why this, “Get away from me, Jesus….!”

You know that might just be the big question here – what was Peter afraid of ? And you know, come to think of it, there is something about all of us which knows how to handle fishing failure, something in us that wouldn’t have minded if this gospel had just ended in a fishing futility.

Something about you and I is downright comfortable with fishing all night without a bite, being in a church that’s forgotten how to grow, something in you and me, content with Good Friday, but scared half out of our wits by Easter morning. We all know the litany of excuses, “ Canadians aren’t religious anymore.” Amen. The one’s who are religious all go to those other churches or watch on TV. Amen. There are just too many churches in this town, the service here is too long, the preacher is no good, we haven’t got the money for that. Master we’ve worked all night long, but have caught nothing. Something in us just wishes this mornings Gospel could have ended there. We can handle Good Friday. It’s Easter, the deep waters of God’s unmanageable, mysterious, powerful all embracing grace that scares us, makes us want to cry, “Get out of here Jesus !”

“We’re sending you to this old inner city church,” said the Bishop. “Some wonderful people there. But, they’re old, been in decline for the last 30 years or more. Just a handful of them left. They won’t expect too much ministry from you. Just go there and help them die.” She gulped, her first parish was to be like this, so be it.

In her first meeting with the Board, she could see the reality of what the Bishop had described, mostly older women, a room full of white hair and pastel dresses. “ I had previously thought I had a gift for working with children,” she told the board members when they asked her about her interests. “ Then the Bishop has sent you to the wrong place,” responded one of the women on the Board, bluntly. “ We are long past those years around here.”

Yet, in the days that followed she noticed many young children walking home. They weren’t the congregations children, but they were children. “God show me a way to do ministry here,” she prayed.

One afternoon as she was sipping tea with one of the elderly ladies she asked Mary what she had done in her life. Well, Mary told the story of her marriage, husband children, her childhood on the farm. And then a big smile crossed her face; and of course I played the piano for a while on the old vaudeville circuit. “I played some of the best clubs on the east coast,” she said with some pride. “ Count Basie, the Dorsey Brothers, I knew ‘em all.”

And the bells all went off at once in the young priests head. “Would you play for church….say next Wednesday afternoon at around 3:30 p.m.?” “ Sure, if these old fingers will let me,” said Mary. “ I’ll take an extra dose of aspirin and I think I can be ready.

A couple of the other ladies made peanut butter and jam sandwiches and on Wednesday they opened the double doors of the Parish Hall and Mary sat down at the piano, which had been moved to right in beside the doors, and she began to play. She started with some hits from the 1930’s and did a little ragtime to. And by 4:00 p.m. there was a crowd of children and Mary slid right into Jesus loves me. The children clamored for more.

That was a year ago. Today nearly a hundred children crowd into that church every Wednesday afternoon. On Sundays the old Sunday School rooms are almost full, each class being taught by a group of retirees. The children brought their parents. Where there was once was death, there is now life. Easter.

And the Board met the next year with the Bishop and asked him if wasn’t time for him to move their new priest on to another parish. “It’s just not the same at the church, since she came,” they said. Jesus said, “ Come on out in the deep water, cast your nets.” And we said in unison, “ Get out of here Jesus….” We would rather have failure, fish all night and catch nothing.

A psychotherapist tells this story:

I had a young man come into my practice with bone cancer. His leg was removed just below the hip to save his life. He was 24 years old when I started working with him, and he was a very angry young man with a lot of bitterness. He felt a deep sense of injustice and a deep hatred for all well people because it seemed so unfair to him that he had suffered this terrible loss so early in life.

I worked with this man through his understandable grief, rage and pain, using painting, imagery, and deep psychotherapy. After working with him for more than two years, there came a profound shift. He began coming out of himself. Later he started to visit other people who had suffered severe physical losses, and he would tell me the most wonderful stories about those visits.

Once he visited a young woman who was almost his own age. It was a hot day, and he came into her hospital room in running shorts so that his artificial leg showed. The woman was so depressed about the loss of both her breasts that she wouldn’t even look at him, wouldn’t pay any attention to him. The nurses had left a radio playing in her room in an effort to cheer her up. Desperate to get her attention, he unstrapped his leg and began dancing around the room on one leg, snapping his fingers to the beat of the music. She looked at him in amazement and then burst out laughing and said, “ Man, if you can dance, I can sing !”

A year later we sat down to review our work together. He talked about what had been significant to him, and then I shared what was significant in our process. As we were reviewing our two years of work together, I opened his file and there discovered several drawings he had made early on. I handed them to him. He looked at them and said, “ Oh, look at this.” He showed me one of his earliest drawings.

I had suggested at the time, that he draw a picture of his body. He had drawn a picture of a vase and running through it was a deep black crack. This was the image of his body, and he had taken a black crayon and had drawn the crack over and over again.

He was grinding his teeth with rage at the time. It was very, very painful because it seemed to him that this vase could never function as a vase again. It could never hold water.

Now, two years later, he came to this picture and looked at it and said, “ Oh, this one is not finished.” And I said, extending the box of crayons, “ Why don’t you finish it?” He picked up a yellow crayon and putting his finger on the crack, he said, “ You see, here – where it is broken – this is where the light comes through.” And with the yellow crayon he drew light streaming through the crack in his body. We can grow strong at the broken places.

“ Come on out in the deep water, cast your nets. And we said in unison, “Get out of here….” We’re too old, too small, too poor, too this and that…..we can’t. And Jesus said, “ I’m going to teach you to catch people….or I’ll die trying !” But of course Jesus knew what we’re afraid of….Easter can happen – Easter did happen – and if we were not so scared it could happen again here at St. Margaret’s! The only question is what are we afraid of? Amen.

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