Sermon
February 8, 2004
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Reading

Luke 5:1-11

1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 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. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." 5 Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 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. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 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." 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. (NRSV)

Isaiah 6:1-13

1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." 4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"

6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!" [9 And he said, "Go and say to this people: 'Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.' 10 Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed." 11 Then I said, "How long, O Lord?" And he said: "Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; 12 until the LORD sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land. 13 Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled." The holy seed is its stump.] (NRSV)

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Sermon: Sounds Fishy to Me

Our scripture lesson this morning is about call – it is about God’s call to Simon Peter - it is an unexplainable story – Simon and his men had been fishing all night – but had caught nothing – Jesus comes along, seems to know where the fish are and the catch is so great that their boats can not contain it. At that point Simon realizes that there is something holy about what is happening, and gives his life over to Jesus. A big fish story, that just doesn’t make sense. And the truth of the matter is, call usually doesn’t make sense at the beginning. I know that my own sense of call to the ministry baffled my family, to say the least… and I did ask myself repeatedly if I was crazy. In January, Bishop Desmond Tutu’s daughter Mpho Tutu was ordained into the Episcopal Church. His comment was “If you look at my bank balance she is not so smart.” Her sister said, You lived in a priests house and you want to be a priest? You must be crazy.” Her comment was “on a list of the top ten things to do, becoming a priest was about 570.” But here she is – ordained and taking on the mantle of Christ. Simon – Simon Peter must have had that same kind of experience… he must have been asking himself, “what am I doing?” But looking back must have put the whole experience into perspective. Hindsight is always 20-20 -

Let us go to the end of the story of Simon Peter and Jesus. Remember that after the resurrection Jesus appeared to the disciples 3 times, first while the disciples were locked away our of fear in the upper room and then a week later, so that Thomas would also believe. Then Jesus appeared one last time on the edge of the Lake Gennesaret. Jesus builds a fire and cooks the fish that he has sent the disciples out to catch.

As Simon Peter watches the disciples eat, he kneels in the sand on the beach. He has a stick in his hand and over and over again he writes 153… 153…. “153 fish” he says to himself - “why is this all so familiar?” he lifts his eyes and stares off over the water of the lake. “This has been the strangest day. I came here to get away from everything that has happened, the awfulness of the crucifixion, the surprise and joy of the resurrection and then the disappearance of the one I gave everything to. I needed to go fishing - I just wanted to go back to my old life – but we caught nothing. Then that man appeared on the beach and said to us ‘children, you have no fish, have you?’ ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat and you will find some’ and what a catch. Large fish – and so many… we knew then that it must be the Lord. Why he is here now – what does he want us to know – my heart aches – what he must think of me… after all that I did or maybe I should say, all that I didn’t do.”

“There I was – at the that last supper we shared, so sure that I loved him, so willing to say that I would lay my life down for him. And what did I do? Every time I had the chance to claim my faith in my Lord, I denied him instead… 3 times, just like he said that I would… I failed him – Why did he come here? What will he say to me?”

Peter stared down at the number that he wrote in the sand… “153 fish, so familiar”, he thought, “I remember the first time I met Jesus – he was just traveling around – talking with people, teaching them – and he stopped at my house. My mother-in-law was sick with a high fever, Jesus went to her and the fever was suddenly gone… I was just focused on how now she would be able to serve him dinner – I never noticed who he was.”

“Then the next time I saw him he was teaching on the side of this very lake… that’s it – 153 fish… it was that day… what a day that was…

We had fished all night and returned with no catch… the others were washing the nets when Jesus asked me to row him out away from the shore so that the crowds wouldn’t crush him… I was tired and discouraged, and I was hungry, but I said, “Of course, master” – I was trying to be polite – after all he must have been a rabbi the way that he taught. But all I really wanted to do was go home. When He finished teaching he turned to me and said, put your nets out again – I argued with him…we tried that already, the fish aren’t biting. He persisted, so I finally relented – I could tell that the faster I dropped those nets, the sooner I would get my breakfast.”

“The fish seemed to jump into our nets – just like today – so many and they were so big… we filled 2 boats and our nets began to break. 153 fish”.

“That’s when I knew – oh, my heart nearly exploded - this was the Lord – this was the one we had waited for, the one who would save us. and he was there right in front of me – “master” I had called him –like he was just someone to be obeyed. Why hadn’t I recognized him the Lord, the one who had the power to save, the holy one – I was meeting God, …”

“Wait - Who was I Simon to be in the company of the Lord, - just an ordinary person – a sinner? Oh how deep my sins were – I couldn’t stand it – I remembered every person I had cheated as I weighed out my fish – I was always looking out for my own interests. I remembered the way I treated the people who needed my help, how I looked away from them when they held out their hands … how I thought that they should just work harder, like I did… I remembered how I would take my frustrations out on my wife and her mother when the catch was slim or my brothers were late to work… I remembered how I would rush to judgment – usually saying or doing the wrong thing – “

“How could I such a sinner stand before the Lord – it was too painful – I dropped to my knees ’go away from me Lord, I said – for I am a sinful man’ ”

“And what did Jesus say to me that day - ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people’ I remember how the pain in my heart dissolved – It was though my lips had been touched by a hot coal – just like Isaiah said happened when he met God. I remember how I began to feel an incredible joy building - I thought that my heart would burst… he loves me I thought. For I knew that if he could forgive all that I had done with my life, all of my sinfulness, that he must love me – this ordinary man who had an ordinary job, the Lord could forgive me and love me… What joy flooded into my heart.”

“I looked at those fish – the biggest catch I had ever seen – all mine – and I knew that they meant nothing to me… I would follow my Lord anywhere… and I thought that I would lay my life down for him…but I didn’t”, Peter concluded.

Suddenly Jesus is beside Peter on the beach – he looks down at the number Peter had written… “153 – Good, he remembers the day that I called him to catch people” Jesus thinks… he remembers the day that I lifted his sin and offered him a new life… he remembers me…”

“Peter, Jesus says, “do you love me?

Peter looks up, “yes Lord, you know that I love you”

Three times Jesus asks “Peter, Do you love me?” Each time Peter grows more uneasy and hurt. Finally he says – “Lord you know everything – how I denied you, how I have sinned and you know that I love you” tears stream down Peter’s face.

Jesus kneels down and gently lifts Peter’s chin so that he can look into his eyes… “Peter”, Jesus says, “I need you to feed my lambs, tend my sheep – follow me Peter, follow me.”

Peter knew that he had met the risen Christ – the holy one and in that meeting his sins were forgiven, for he was loved and accepted. And – he was called – an ordinary man – doing ordinary work –to reach out to God’s children and love them as he had been loved.

Looking back – it all made sense. Jesus didn’t call him because he was already perfect, Jesus didn’t call him in the midst of his greatest joy, Jesus called him in his weakness, Jesus called him in his sinfulness and his pain, because that is when we are most vulnerable… that is when we can hear his voice, that is when we are willing to look at our sins and repent. he had something to offer to God’s people.

We are in this story - for we are Peter, we are the ones who God has called – we are the ones God knew when we were in our mother’s womb, we are the ones who have sinned and we are the ones that God has promised to forgive … we are the ones God calls to feed and care for the people. Ordinary people in ordinary lives still meet the risen Christ and find themselves forgiven and called to follow Jesus and to feed his sheep. That is our call – to allow ourselves to be touched by the tender love of our Lord, to find our sins forgiven that we might tend to God’s sheep. Let us be open to all that Jesus wants us to hear as we unite our hearts in prayer.  Amen

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