Do Not Be Afraid

Ascensioncast

Sermon by The Rev. Patrick J. Wingo, February 10, 2019

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The Gospel: Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. 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.

Sermon Text

Sermon for Epiphany 5C 2-10-19 CAK PJW   Jesus said, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching people.”   In his book The Founding Fish, the author John McPhee writes about his and others obsession with fishing for shad in the Delaware River. He describes how American shad are schooling ocean fish, how they will mill around the estuary of the river, waiting for the temperature to rise to about forty degrees so they can begin their migration northward to spawn. Soon, he says, a single spoken human sentence moves northward with them—in emails, on telephones, down hallways, up streets—sending amps and volts through fishermen of all types. The phone rings, and someone says, “They’re in the river.”   McPhee goes on to describe what he calls his own “terminal mediocrity” as a fisherman, especially compared to two men named Erwin Dietz and Gerald Hartzel, whom he calls legends in the annals of shad fishermen. He describes their fishing abilities this way: “(Dietz) recovers his dart and casts anew faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. He brings fish in rapidly, and swiftly releases them. Then his dart is in the air. He is very sensitive on his jig, his rod tip high, his twitch minimal. While I am fishless, Dietz’s rod is electric with excitement. Two. Three. Four. He works fish. I watch. And watch… How… Does… He… Do… It…? He says he can feel the shad bump the dart in the center of the current, bump it again, and then go for it. His rod and his lures are identical with mine. I imitate him as precisely as I can. He hooks fish. I hook water.”   I see Jesus and Simon Peter in these shad fishermen. In our Gospel lessons we see Jesus show Peter and the people standing on the bank that he was different from other moral teachers of his day, that he had a message that no one else had. Here were these experienced Galilean fisherman who had let down their nets all night and caught nothing; yet when Jesus came on the scene they caught more than they could have imagined. But Jesus’ call to them was to hook people, and the message was that even on the days when one fishes for people and you only hook water, Jesus will fill up the net. So they threw away their own nets and they followed him, probably not realizing that they were on the road to becoming evangelists. The were beginning the process of learning to fish for people.   What does it mean to catch people? The last few days the clergy and several lay folks from Ascension attended our Annual Diocesan Convention. Now, I’ve been to at least 30 of these things in three different dioceses, and if you are thinking “bor-inggg,” I would not be hard-pressed to disagree.       There’s business that has to be done in these conventions, and while there is usually an interesting theme and sometimes a compelling speaker, the business of the church can sometimes be as riveting as listening to sales figures at a cement convention.   But the Diocese of East Tennessee did a great job of giving all of us who were there an opportunity to have meaningful conversations about reconciliation. We talked to each other about our faith, about the things that draw us close to God and each other, about how we can reach out to others, to the whole world, with God’s love and healing. After each period of conversation in pairs and at tables representatives from each table spoke about the topics that were discussed. The overwhelming theme that came from those reports was that in order to bring Christ’s reconciliation into the lives of people out in the world who desperately need it, the most important thing we can do is to be present. We heard about a woman who is now in her fifties and whose career is in the healthcare field. She was led to this career because as an eighteen year old woman she sat at the bedside of her dying mother, and experienced the care and compassion of a nurse who helped her bathe her mother to get a fever down. We heard a powerful story from Amy Morehous, formerly of Ascension, about how reconciliation came out of a tragedy in her family. We heard from a priest who, when he was twenty years old, went to live and work at Coventry Cathedral in England for several months. He spoke of feeling out of place and alone as an awkward and shy young man from Alabama, and how the other students who were there continued to reach out and accept him and draw him into a loving community.   When I was in college I was involved in some Christian student organizations that will go unnamed, but let’s just say they weren’t Episcopalians. The overwhelming message from those groups was that if you weren’t “winning people to Christ”using their tried and true methods then you really weren’t a real Christian.   It took me a while to come to the place where I could grow in Christ’s love and be the unique individual God made. See, you can’t love people with a method; you can’t share your faith with others if you haven’t experienced it in an authentic way. And what we heard at our diocesan convention were stories of real people in crisis or in pain who experienced God’s love touching them through the presence of other loving, faithful people. That is nothing less than evangelism.   Peter, James and John were called to be evangelists. That word has bad connotations for some of us. The bishop who sent Sara-Scott and I to seminary used to say that when he traveled on airplanes in his purple shirt and clergy collar, inevitably the person next to him asked what kind of minister he was. If he felt like talking he would say, “I’m an Episcopal Bishop,” and they would usually have a very nice conversation. But if he was tired and wanted some time to himself, he would tell the person, “I’m a traveling evangelist,” and for the rest of the flight he would have total silence. Those bad connotations probably come from images of hellfire and brimstone televangelists, and, for some people, personal encounters with religious bullies who try to control and degrade others in the name of Christ. But the word ‘evangelist’ literally means ‘messenger of good news.’ And the good news of Christ is shared when people of faith love in a way that comes from a deep connection with the one who is making them catchers of people.   We live in a river town. We know fishermen, or at least we see them on the river. We probably know people who get up at four am to throw a hook into the water because it’s deep in their blood, and they can’t not do it. Imagine what it would be like to have that kind of passion for telling the story of your faith, not in a way that is burdensome to you or abusive to others, but because it’s the best thing you’ve ever experienced, and you can’t not do it. Imagine seeing the face of Jesus in the harried checkout clerk at the grocery store, or in your friend who is in crisis. Imagine seeing the face of Jesus in a sad child, or even in a difficult person with whom you work. Now imagine that those people see the face of Jesus in you. That’s where God’s possibilities for the reconciliation of all things live.   Where are those people? They’re in this river town, they’re in the river of life, and when we share our faithful lives they, too, might just be compelled to leave their own empty nets of hopelessness, and despair, and loneliness, and follow Jesus. And then they, too, might feel the amps and volts that one feels when they know something profound is happening, and become catchers of people. Evangelists. A beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.