February 7, 2010, 5th Sunday after Epiphany

February 7, 2010
The Rev. Natasha Brubaker Garrison
Isaiah 6:1-8, Ps 138, 1 Cor. 15:1-11, Luke 5:1-11
5th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C

I was not someone who learned to swim easily. My mother was terrified of the water and I absorbed some of that fear. Even though my grandmother had a swimming pool and I liked splashing about in the shallows, I would go no further than where my foot could touch bottom. I spent a lot of time around the steps as you can imagine. It was a very small pool for me! But beyond that I couldn’t go. It was deep down there and I had nothing to hold onto, nothing to make me secure with what I was comfortable with. If someone had tossed me in the deep end to teach me to swim I probably would have panicked and nearly drowned. It took many years for me to trust the deep water of a pool and that if I knew what to rely on I would not perish or sink.

The stories we hear today are about call. That is indeed clear. We hear of a call of a prophet inside a holy place; we hear of the call of the fisherman in the middle of their daily work. Both are calls to bring God’s liberating word to people who are floundering, struggling, in need of freedom and hope, out there in the world. Both are shaped by a first critical step of leaving old patterns and expectations behind. If not, nothing will change. We will stay in the shallows and catch nothing, or we catch stuff that is useless or maybe even harmful. Small fish are in the shallows, not ones to live on. The sea tosses up the garbage and toxins onto the shores.

Quite often we hear sermons that talk about what call looks like and how to catch others. But perhaps we are jumping the gun a bit…maybe we are casting our fishing line with the wrong tie on it. Maybe our nets are a bit tangled. Before we can catch other people for Jesus and for God, and by catch I mean bring them into the joy of being liberated and freed and known as treasured of God, we have to be caught ourselves.

Have we been caught by Jesus? Have we let him guide us into the deep and unknown places of our hearts and lives? Have we trusted that he will be there to give us exactly what we need? Have we, like Peter, made the turn from calling him Boss to calling him Lord, or more precisely God? There is a world of difference between obeying a boss and following and surrendering to the holy.

Before we can bring others to Jesus or at least help point the way, we have to be caught up in him and by him. We are called to take the plunge into the deep of our souls and lives and trust that way down in the depths we will encounter God. We have to. For it is only there that we have stepped out of the shallows, let go of our certainties, and given up thinking we have the answers and solutions all sorted out. It is only there that we stop clinging to our rationales and justifications so that we can really listen, discover and face our truest selves and the possibilities that are out there. All we have left is God to rely on; there is nothing else. We give up expectation and control and strike out into a new world.

We see this in the response of Peter. Okay, boss, I’ll do what you say, but you know we are fishing experts and know all about our trade. We’ve worked hard all night and come up with squat. Not sure what a carpenter knows about fishing, but hey, I’ll do what you say because others seem to think your a big shot, but don’t expect much. I certainly don’t.

Peter gives just a wedge of opening to Jesus in his heart and Jesus comes in and breaks him wide open. The unexpected happens. Their needs are met and then some. And they don’t sink, but rather Peter realizes that all his illusions have been tossed overboard. He is not obeying a boss; he is entering into partnership with God. God has come in and said if you trust in me you will have the riches of true life.

But even then, Peter wants to go back to the shallows. He clearly recognizes that he has just had a head-on collision with God, but he wants out. Leave me alone, he cries. I am sinful, I am not worthy. Go find someone else to fish with. I’m booked every morning from now until the end of the season—trout season, catfish season, salmon season, any season you can name—I’m busy! Jesus pays him no mind. He simply tells Peter he will be catching people. His life is changed and it didn’t depend on any of the worldly status markers we use or even so called divine ones. He is a sinner. So what? Aren’t we all? And God is reaching out for us all the same. God will reach us if we delve into our own deep places and draw us up into a new life, not perfect, but graced and freed to live anew. We see this too in the letter of Paul. A former persecutor of the Church, the least of the disciples, one who encouraged and presided over the stoning of Stephen, yet God called him and changd his life. We are picked as we are.

This is one of those great paradoxes of the life of the soul. When we allow ourselves to go into our deepest places and share them we often get the opposite of what we expect. We think if we really let it all hang out others will run screaming away. If others really were allowed to peek at our failings and fears and hurts they would find us weak, silly, not worth their time. But so often we find that such honesty is met with astonishing compassion, grace and forgiveness. We find that we pull up a net not broken but teeming with truly eternal life-giving gifts. Yes, such work can make us lose things in the world. We might lose a job for speaking our truth about justice or exploitation. We might lose a “friend” by sharing our pain. We might give up a way of relating to the world shaped by control and dominance, but we gain so much more. We gain integrity, we gain love, we gain the gift of true friends over false ones, we gain an ability to serve others first rather than striving to prove ourselves. And so it goes. And here is the truth of God: God never runs away. God says, yes, I know all that my dear heart, so let’s get moving, OK? Where do you want to go from here? I have some ideas.

And where might this take us? Right out into the world we live in. If we are caught by Jesus, truly caught, we can see no other way than to want to feed the hungry, and care for the sick, and visit those in prisons of whatever kind, and work for peace, and if we have much to give it away and to let go of status for service. We begin to be open people, not hiding behind masks and personas. We are willing to be transparent and honest about our own struggles and need. We begin to build true communities. We start to really know what it means to be humble and non-judgmental of others.

When we can go into the deep and encounter Jesus, we are given the opportunity to truly let the image of God within us break free. Perhaps one way to think of this is in the words of Marianne Williamson made famous by Nelson Mandela:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t save the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear our presence automatically liberates others.

In short, we are ready to give up the securities of the world for the risk of being the living Gospel because no matter how much we give up in worldly terms we know God is holding us in his net and the life we are experiencing is one that no one and nothing can ever take away. We’ve been caught in the deeps by Jesus. And we begin to know we can go into the deep without fear of rejection. Jesus net is always open and his arms are always spread wide to say come in. Here you are always wanted and always loved, no matter who you think you are. Trust me on this one.