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Sermon, Epiphany 5C                                                                                                            Jeffrey B. MacKnight
10 February 2019                                                                                                                St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

Since today’s Gospel story is about fishing, I went looking on the internet for a good fish story to tell.  I was sorely disappointed.  I found things like: “Did you hear about the fight at a restaurant between a cod and a perch?  They both got battered.”  Or this wisdom: “Cook a man a fish and you feed him for a day. But teach a man to fish and you get rid of him for the whole weekend.”

Although the story seems to be about fishing, at a deeper level, it’s about calling – that mysterious, nagging sense of being led to be and do something specific, something significant, in this world.  Religious people naturally believe these callings come from God. 

These callings, or vocations, are so significant, in fact, that they constitute a distinct Scriptural genre – the call story:

In our first reading, the great prophet Isaiah is summoned to God’s heavenly court for his call – wow!  Full of smoke, multi-winged angels hovering everywhere, hot coals touching his tongue…(that part I wouldn’t like so much…).  It’s the most dramatic scene you could imagine.  And at the end, Isaiah responds with his resounding yes to God: “Here am I; send me!” 

Eight hundred years later, Peter and his friends get a much more mundane, down-to-earth call from God.  They are not in heaven, or even on a mountaintop.  They are at home, on the Sea of Galilee where they live and work every day. 

God uses their everyday jobs –fishing - what they know how to do already – as a springboard for their assignments from God – their callings, their vocations. 

Peter had been fishing all night, we are told, without catching a thing.  This sounds to me like God’s methods: frustrating us a bit in our daily lives, so that maybe, just maybe, we might pay attention to God’s new calling – what somebody at our diocesan convention called a “holy interruption.”  Jesus directed Peter to put out his nets once more, and presto! – an enormous catch of fish!  Peter is truly beside himself; he realizes that something extraordinary is happening in his life.  This is his moment of truth, a moment of decision. 

He might have taken the safe route, and simply brought in that huge catch and sold it at the market for a lot of money.  He could have thanked Jesus for the tip, and promised to stay in touch.  But Peter is deeply moved.  At first he feels strongly his own unworthiness to be called by Jesus: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  But that is the last thing he really wanted.  Jesus reassures him: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people!”

And then Peter (and his friends) do what any person would do who is the least bit open to God: he drops everything, and follows Jesus…for the rest of his life.  That is his calling.  And he didn’t miss it. 

I do wonder what happened to all those fish….! 

We should share our call stories in the church more than we do.  Recently in Men’s Group, we talked about how we serve God and other people.  We heard stories many callings: of pro-bono legal work to protect the environment of the Chesapeake Bay; riding a bike cross-country to raise money and awareness for affordable housing; helping family members with special needs, whether young children or frail elderly seniors; or testifying at county council hearings for social justice concerns.  It’s amazing what God inspires people to do in this life!  People are giving of themselves in all kinds of ways -  some splashy, and many very quiet.  Sometimes our callings from God build on our working lives and skills.  Other times, God entices us into entirely new arenas to serve.  In all these cases, though, we are going deeper in our faith as we answer the call to serve. 

In my own life, I have a new calling, for a while: the care of my beloved mother-in-law Nan, who is dying at home with us.  Leslie is bearing the brunt of her care, but it takes the whole family to tend to her needs and keep things going.  I am finding a quiet satisfaction in being able to help this lovely lady live in dignity, helping out wherever possible.  After Nan gave so much to her family throughout her life, it is an honor to care for her at the end of her life.  It’s not easy, but it is my calling right now. 

If we go back to the Gospel, we hear Jesus say to Peter: “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  I take this as an urging to go deeper in our faith in God – to face and deal with the paradoxes and inconsistencies of our faith, to get down to the firm foundation, the bedrock of what we believe and know about God, after clearing away all the chaff and bad preaching and teaching we’ve received in our lives. 

In the end, it’s not about the fish. 

Yes, we have to make a living, and there is dignity in work, in providing for loved ones.  But that’s not the end goal in this life; that’s a means to a very different end: to be fully human, to know ourselves, to know the God who loved us into being, and to learn to love each other deeply and well.  Listen for God’s call.  And do not make the mistake of missing it. 

Finally, my favorite fish story –

An old-fashioned Bishop had a custom of taking all the newly-ordained clergy out on his fishing dinghy in the lake ever summer.  The first time there was a woman ordained, he wasn’t sure what to do about her, so he invited her along with all the guys.  They gathered their gear and set out for the middle of the lake where the trout were.  When they were nearly there, the new woman priest exclaimed, “Oh dear!  I’m afraid I left my fishing gear on the dock!”  So she stood, stepped out of the boat, and walked across the lake to retrieve her tackle.  Soon she was back in the boat with the others. 

The Bishop looked at her, shook his head, and said, “Isn’t it just like a woman, to forget her rod and reel.” 

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