Monday, February 8, 2010

Epiphany 5, Year C, Feb. 7, 2010

Isaiah 6:1-8 [9-13], Psalm 138, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Luke 5:1-11
People Fishers, Preached by Fr. Peter Courtney

In the film “Catch me if you can” the protagonist, a brilliant improviser and con-man asks the question: “Why do the NY Yankees win all the time.” The usual answer is “They have Mickey Mantle.” The clever fellow’s answer is the key to the con. He says, “They win because all the opponents can see is the pinstripes.” The Yankee’s famous uniform camouflages them so that opponents see the pinstripes and begin to feel and act like losers.

Peter felt like a loser. Everything he did turned to ashes in his mouth. His mouth was his principal work piece and it got him into trouble at every turn. So when Jesus invited him to put out to sea, all he could see was pinstripes. All he could see was an endless parallel repetition of the previous night’s failure to catch anything. In effect he felt like the professional fisherperson who catches nothing on her side of the boat when the brand new tyro is pulling them in like crazy on the other side. “Go figure”, Peter thinks to himself.

But Peter goes and does it anyway. He knows in his heart that this exercise will be fruitless, an exercise in complete futility. But he goes and does it anyway. He goes and does it anyway. Perhaps because he was told to by one who had authority; perhaps because of Jesus by now famous reputation for preaching and healing; or perhaps because there lived in his cold, dark soul a spark which said, “what the heck!”

The great draught of fishes resulted. No wonder Peter says to Jesus: “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” He is confessing his unfaith. He is admitting that he did the right thing only under duress, not because he thought it would do any good.

A friend of mine invited me to go bone fishing for a week in Belize. I would love to go to Belize. I would love to go with the person who invited me. And truth be told, I would love bone fishing for about 20 minutes whether I caught any or not. Better tell the truth here; I have zero interest in bone or any kind of fishing. I wouldn’t mind going to a warm place with a guy I like for a few days, but having to go fishing is a pretty high price to pay. We learn from Peter the apostle that the most important thing about being a fisher person is to want to fish.

Jesus calls us to be fishers of people. If we believe the fishing business is someone else’s business, then we won’t go to Belize or anywhere else to do it. We won’t do it at home either. Somehow we need to hear Jesus call to each one of us to be fishers of men and women.

How do we do that? I like the ones King Oemig suggests in the Three G’s.

1. Go to church. Church going is like fishing for Peter. A lot of the time it seems fruitless, pointless. The preacher is well, a preacher. The congregation is, well, the congregation. The music is too, well, whatever we don’t like; the pews too hard; the children too loud, too few, too many, whatever.

Jesus told Peter to Go. For some of us going to church is easy. We have found ways to make it work for us; mostly by regular, unceasing practice. For others going to church just doesn’t seem like it is worth the trouble. Jesus’ answer. “Go.”

2. The second G is Give. Give money. Give of your time and talent. This is not a law any more than Going is a law. But it does work to make disciples out of us. It makes us fishers since we are willing to stand up for what we believe and write a check for it too.

God deals only in gifts. God is about uncalculating generosity as the prodigal son and the workers in the vineyard evidence.

I read recently that the God we believe in is the person we will become. If we believe in a vengeful, absent, capricious God, we will become like that God. If our God is generous, selfless, ungrudging, compassionate, open-minded, we will become that kind of person. Choose a generous God and Give!

3. The third G is to give up grudges. Father Layton Zimmer was my rector when I was a teenager. He had retired in Hawaii when I moved there. He gave me some good advice: “Peter, the Islands are small. There is no room for binges, love affairs, or vendettas.”

Vendettas are the logical extension of grudges. The truth is there is no room for them anywhere, especially in churches. So if we have them, give them up. This giving up will make the first two G’s much easier to do!

Notice that when Jesus addresses the crowds who came to hear him, he gets into a boat and pushes far enough off shore so that the crowd cannot mob him, either in misplaced enthusiasm or splenetic self-righteousness. At the very least the water would be deep enough to slow them down so that he could push off further if necessary. But Jesus is not the fisher. He is calling us to do the fishing. He just cleans the fish we catch.

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