Homily for Proper 5, Year C, 2010
Sunday, Feb 7th, 2010
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 5:1-11
“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
Whether or not we enjoy fishing, most of us enjoy a good fishing story. Several years ago, I regularly visited one hundred year old man named Duncan. In his younger days, Duncan loved to fish. Not surprisingly, given his confinement to a wheelchair and his residency in a nursing home, Duncan had come to believe that his fishing days were long behind him. However, for his one hundredth birthday, his son and son-in-law took him to a well-stocked fishing pond, lifted him from his chair into a boat, and drifted out over the water, and for the first time in many years, Duncan fished. When I visited him he told me about pulling fish after fish out of the water. It was the best birthday present a man could have, he said. Duncan and I concluded our visit as we always did, with Communion from the reserved sacrament. Before we shared in Holy Communion I decided to read for him the fishing story from John 21, a passage quite similar to the story we read today in Luke 5. After hearing of Peter casting his net over the right side of the boat and hauling to shore one hundred and fifty three large fish, Duncan exclaimed, “Now that’s a fishing story!” At that moment, the Scriptures came alive for him in a special way. The disciples then shared in a meal of bread and fish with their risen master, and Duncan and I shared in a meal of bread and wine with the same risen Lord.
In the fifth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel we hear of a similar story, yet this story takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, rather than after his resurrection. The crowd has pressed in about Jesus and he has to get into the boat of some fishermen, who were ashore washing their nets, just so that he can get some distance from the crowd and teach them. Just off of the shore, in full view and in good voice, Jesus now begins to share his message with the crowd. After he had finished teaching he turned to Simon the fisherman, a man with whom he had some acquaintance, for he had recently healed Simon’s mother-in-law, and said to him, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon was skeptical. All night they had caught nothing. Was the area fished out? Had someone scared all the fish away? Was it not the right time of day or night? Perhaps we shall never know, but we do know all the usual fishing excuses. Yet, in spite of all his experience as a fisherman, and against his best instincts, Simon obeyed. And what happened next? The nets were so full that they began to break. They caught so many fish that all the fishing boats were filled and began to sink. As my friend Duncan might have said, “Now that’s a fishing story!”
The story does not end there, though, for when Simon Peter saw what was happening he fell down before the Lord and wept, repenting of his arrogance that had previously kept him from drawing in such a hearty catch, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Jesus did not leave him though, rather, in his gentle but challenging way addressed him, “Fear not, my friend from now on you shall fish for men.” Simon Peter, James and John then left everything and followed him.
A fishing story indeed.
The truth is, of course, that this story has nothing to do with fishing, but everything to do with following Jesus and living out his mission in the world. This story could equally be told about a people living in a suburban Canadian community. These people live in relatively wealthy community; they have decent jobs, or are comfortably retired. They have devoted their lives to working hard both for their families, and for their community. They have a lovely little church that has served the community well for nearly two hundred years, indeed, it may be one of the oldest churches in the country. But a sense of sadness hangs over these people because the world has changed so much; their community has changed so much. They do everything they can to preserve the way of life they love so much, have worked so hard for, and have known so well. Yet, the nets seem to come up empty. The demographics of the community have changed drastically, or to put it another way, the fish seem to have relocated. Some will say in despair that the area is “fished out.” Others will suggest that like good fishermen, we just have to wait it out, be patient, the fish will come back. Someone else will suggest that we need different bait. Another will say that maybe we should try fishing at a different time of day or night. Others yet will simply assume that our fishing days are long behind us. All the old fishing excuses are trotted out and no matter what we try, the nets come up empty.
There is one thing that we so often overlook, though, and that is who is in the boat with us. The disciples fished day and night and their nets came up empty. They tried every fresh approach they could imagine, and they used every fishing excuse in the book, but the nets were still empty. Maybe it was time to pull the boat ashore and find a different pond. Maybe their fishing days were behind them.
Or, maybe there was something they were overlooking.
With Jesus in the boat with them, with his voice, his instruction, and with his presence amongst them, they cast their nets and they came up full, so full that the boats began to sink.
You may expect me now to suggest that if only we had Jesus with us in the boat that is called Holy Trinity, Thornhill, the catch would be bounteous. I will not suggest this, though, because Jesus our Lord is with us. He has never left the boat. What I will suggest is that we sometimes fail to recognize this reality; sometimes we forget that we have him as a captain. What I will suggest is that we spend a lot of time trotting out all the old fishing excuses as to why the nets are not full. What I will suggest is that if we let go of our excuses for a moment, as Simon Peter did, and let down our nets into the deep water of our community, that we might just be surprised at the catch we shall pull in. If we listen to his voice, we might just be surprised that the waters have not been fished out, that the fish have not gone away, that we are not fishing at the wrong time of day or in the wrong place, that our fishing days are not behind us. If we listen to his voice we may just be surprised.
What is Jesus saying to us?
He is saying stop making excuses; let down the net where you are. In spite of what you might think, there is deep water here. Don’t wait for the perfect conditions, or the perfect location. Fish on the pond or the lake on which you find yourself, there is deep water here. Whether it is a the country club or community centre; whether it is with your children and grandchildren or around the bridge table; whether you are at the cottage or on a cruise; these are the waters into which Jesus says, “cast your net.” And if the words of Jesus aren’t good enough for you, let me quote a Nike advertisement, “Just do it!”
Jesus is saying don’t be afraid! As Anglicans this may seem frightening, but no one is asking you give anyone the hard sell. Simply be willing to claim the fact that you are a Christian person. Our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters are not afraid to claim their identities, let us not be afraid to claim ours. Be willing to say why you are a Christian and why it matters to you, not in an arrogant or boastful way, but with honesty and love. After all we are not trying to get someone to buy something; we are talking about the love of God for a broken world. If we at Holy Trinity learned anything from Back to Church Sunday, it’s that the roof does not cave in when we invite a friend to church! Back to Church Sunday is not just once a year (or Christmas and Easter). Back to Church Sunday is every Sunday! Cast your net and invite a friend, follow up with someone you invited on Back to Church Sunday, or someone you know who comes only on Christmas and Easter. “Do not be afraid – cast your net!” This isn’t Father Dan or Canon Greg that are telling you this, it’s Jesus – they’re his words, not ours.
Finally, the text today is telling us to kneel before our Lord in humility as Peter did. Peter realized that he was trying to fish under his own strength and when he own strategy did not work, he made excuses. Yet, in a moment of grace, he listened to the voice of his Lord and cast down the net into the deep waters where he was and it came back to him full. When he realized that his sinful arrogance had hindered rather than helped him, he fell down and wept. We, too, must repent before the Lord for thinking that the kingdom is a thing of our own making, that it is all up to us and our church growth programs and designs. We must repent for our fishing excuses, and then receive his gracious forgiveness.
What shall we do then? Listen and obey, let down our nets into the deep water of this community, and let the Lord do the rest. That won’t just be a fishing story, that will be a kingdom story.
c. 2010 the Rev. Daniel F. Graves