"If You Say So..." - Sermon for the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany - February 6, 2022
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 6:1–13 | Psalm 138 | 1 Corinthians 15:1–11 | Luke 5:1–11
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” (Luke 5:10).
Is anyone else getting tired of clearing snow? This year the winter storms just seem relentless… and here in New Brunswick, for five of the last six weeks we have had to deal with a big winter storm. I suppose part of the package of living in Canada is the work of dealing with the weather… even if that means escaping South for the season. But even when it feels unrelenting, when it’s tempting to give up and drop our shovels in despair, we know it won’t last forever. We know one day the Spring will come again and we’ll have to shovel and plow no more. For a few months at least.
But there are plenty of things aside from clearing snow that we’re getting tired of dealing with these days, aren’t there? Things that we don’t know how long we will have to endure them. Things like the risks and fears of contracting COVID-19, or passing it on to others. The ongoing and ever-shifting guidelines that have dramatically changed our day to day lives. The constant conflicts and divisions in all areas of our society. Our own bad habits, and the baggage that we can’t seem to get rid of.
One of the things I love about the Bible is that the people we meet in its pages are in some ways so similar to us, despite the thousands of years, and vast cultural differences between us and them… they are still recognizably human: prone to confusion, tiredness, temptations, and fear… but nonetheless drawn into the Good News of the story of God.
In our first reading this morning, we heard about Isaiah, one of Israel’s most well known and important prophets, and a vision he experienced early on in his ministry: a vision of the Living God. Far from a happy occasion, we’re told Isaiah was overwhelmed with his own unworthiness. When God’s glory and holiness was revealed, Isaiah’s faults had nowhere to hide, and so he fell on his face, fully expecting his life to end.
In our second reading today we heard the words of St. Paul, the author of most of the New Testament letters, the apostle to the non-Jewish nations, and founder of numerous Christian communities… calling himself the least of all the apostles, not out of modesty, but because of the burden of his past as a persecutor of the Church.
And in our Gospel reading today, we heard the story of St. Peter’s exciting first encounter with Jesus our Lord. According to St. Luke eager crowds had followed Jesus to the sea shore to hear Him share God’s word, so to help the people hear and see Him more easily, He borrows the boat of a local fisherman, Simon Peter, and moves a short distance away from the shore. After Jesus finished speaking, Luke tells us He turns to Peter and tells him to go a bit further out on the water and cast his nets again.
Let’s pause for a moment and let the strangeness of this request sink in. First off, who would know more about catching fish: a wandering rabbi, or someone who spent their entire life in this trade? Sure, Jesus might have had wonderful teachings about God and spiritual things like that, but why should Peter listen to Jesus about something as down to earth and familiar as fishing? Secondly, it wasn’t actually the right time for a catch. Their fishing was usually done during the night, not during the heat of the day. And finally, Peter was beat. He and his fellows had already spent the night hard at work, and with nothing to show for it. He was worn out, and had every reason to say no to what Jesus had asked him to do.
But what does Simon Peter say? “Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5).
“If you say so, I will”.
Simple words of a tired man who chooses to trust what Jesus says, and does it. Simple words from someone who’s life was about to be turned upside down.
What stands in the way of you and I saying to Jesus: “If you say so, I will”?
Like Isaiah, maybe it’s feelings of unworthiness. After all, what could God want with someone like me?
Like Paul, perhaps something in our past, some failure or sin keeps weighing us down?
Like Peter, maybe we’re just tired… weary from life and all it’s worries?
And maybe it’s something else entirely! There’s all sorts of reasons we can be tempted to resist God’s calling in our lives to trust Him, and put that trust into practice.
In fact, Simon Peter shows us another common reason in this very story: fear.
Following the Lord’s instructions, Peter casts his nets again, but this time instead of coming up empty, the nets are overflowing with fish… so much so that the nets start breaking, and the boat even starts to sink from the weight. Suddenly, amid all the excitement and work being done, Simon Peter begins to see that it’s no ordinary rabbi that’s sharing his boat. Clearly God’s hand is with this Man, so he falls on his knees in fear. “Go away from me, Lord,” Peter says, “for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Like Isaiah, he’s overcome in the presence of God’s holy power. Like Paul, Peter knows that his sins and failures cannot be ignored. The only thought he has is to ask the Lord to leave. He does not see how someone like him could share in what this holy man was up to.
I said earlier that one of the things I love about the Bible is how the people we meet in it are just like us: struggling sinners… confused, tired, fearful people with problems. Real people.
What I love even more is that the God that meets us in the Bible clearly loves real people… and God does what it takes for them… for us to receive the gift of His New Life, and share in His holy love.
When Isaiah felt overwhelmed with God’s goodness and his own wickedness, the LORD sends a Seraph, a spiritual being to touch the prophet’s lips with a holy coal from God’s heavenly altar. This is an act of purification… of decontamination, we could say… ritually burning away all that prevented Isaiah from sharing God’s holy words with His people. Any unworthiness Isaiah felt was not being downplayed… rather, it was being dealt with by God Himself so that the prophet could be sent… taking part in the ongoing work of God to rescue the world.
When St. Paul called himself “the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because [he] persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9), he was not wallowing in self-pity and guilt, but rather reflecting on the goodness and the grace of God, who even despite his past called Paul to serve as a messenger of Jesus Christ to the nations.
And at the core of the Good News that Paul was hard at work spreading far and wide is what the Living God has done to deal with all of our sin and failures… past, present, future, through the Saviour, Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:3-5 “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, [another name for Peter] then to the twelve.”
Christ died for our sins… and was raised to life according to the scriptures. This is how God dealt with all our unworthiness, evil, emptiness, and fear. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God has overcome all our sin, and sets us free to serve Him, and share His holy love.
The Good News of Jesus Christ conquering death is God’s gift to set us free from all the things that are wearing us down… all the obstacles that seem to keep us from saying yes to God’s invitation to share in His New Life… all the guilt, and fear, and frustration, all the worry, and despair. In Jesus, God has given us a whole new kind of life. And He wants to turn our lives upside down so we can help others receive this gift too.
Back in the fish-filled boat, with Simon Peter trembling in front of our Lord, Jesus does not leave because He wants precisely this sinful, overwhelmed, weary, frightened man to share in what He had come to do. Because Jesus, the Holy Son of God was sent to save real people like Peter… and Isaiah, and Paul… real people like you and me.
“Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:10-11).
No matter how weary we are, how unrelenting our problems may be, no matter how burdened we are by the past, or worried we are about what’s to come, Jesus is inviting us all today to trust and follow Him. To find our lives turned upside down by His goodness and His grace. To let Him deal with our darkness and sin, and set us free to serve Him well. To leave behind all that would keep us from sharing His holy love. And to take part in helping others to trust and follow Him too.
This is the invitation that Jesus our Lord has offered to each generation, and offers again to us today. By God’s grace, may our response always be: “Lord, if you say so, we will”. Amen.
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Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School