Sermon: EPIPHANY 5, February 10th, 2019
In the Name...
Who likes a surprise? Are you sure? Depends, doesn’t it? We all love surprises like a winning a prize or hearing that a new child or grandchild is on the way, but, nobody likes to be surprised by a tragedy or a bad test result. Some years ago, I showed up for work on a Monday and went home without a job. Not a good day.
But, can you imagine the good surprise which Peter had that day out on the Sea of Galilee? Peter and his crew had been working all night, the best time for fishing, and had caught nothing. They're tired, frustrated, they've tied up the boat and are stowing the gear. And Jesus says, "Push out a bit and let down your nets."
Now think about what is going on here. A carpenter is giving advice to a fisherman. Peter is a professional, this is what he's done all his life. He knows the waters like the back of his hand and he knows that if conditions aren't just right you can try your hardest, but, you won't catch a thing. Fishing is a delicate balance of skill and luck. This wasn't the first time he'd come home empty-handed. That's just part of how it is. And what does Jesus know about that? He's a builder, not a sailor.
It really is a measure of their friendship, and Peter's regard for Jesus, that he agrees to have his men break out the nets again to do something completely pointless. I can imagine, though, there were a few choice comments by the crew about their captain.
But, what a surprise! It might have been the worst night for fishing, but, the best morning ever. And not just a few fish. So many that the nets could barely hold them. Even the most skilled and experienced would be surprised to have that kind of catch. In fact, Peter is so overwhelmed that he falls at Jesus' feet. But, Jesus replies with words of comfort, words of assurance, "Fear not. From now on you will be catching people."
Peter, the rough, tactless, and impulsive fisherman is called to be one of Jesus' first disciples. He has no special religious training, no academic qualifications, no family background, and no one is more surprised than he. And yet, right through the Bible we find that God is a God of surprises. We read of how a warrior named Goliath had a surprise when confronted by a shepherd named David and how couples named Abraham and Sarah, Zachariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph all had their share of surprise birth announcements.
We see Jesus surprise the Pharisees by associating with sinners and tax collectors. He surprised a woman in Samaria by talking to her in defiance of all custom. He told stories with surprise endings about rebellious kids and mugging victims. He gave the family of Lazarus quite a surprise. And we mustn't forget the one he pulled on Easter.
Today's scriptures tell us that you and I should always expect God to surprise us. Just as Peter was surprised by the big haul of fish in spite of obviously unfavourable conditions, you can bet that the Lord will surprise us with the plans he has for our lives. When we, like Peter, say "That won't work. Never worked before." God says, "Try it, you'll like it."
For when we do listen to what our Lord says to us, when we believe his promises and obey his Word, and, yes, even if we do it reluctantly and muttering under our breath about what a waste of time it is, we will experience more than just surprises, we will experience the blessings that God works in our lives and in the church.
Take Georg Frederich Handel. He was a talented musician and composer, but, he had no talent for handling money. It is a good thing he lived before credit cards were invented. Even so, by his 50's he was so far in debt that he'd suffered a stroke, a nervous breakdown, and even considered suicide. Then, a friend asked him to write some religious music for an orphanage fund-raiser. His friend knew Handel's situation and hoped that concentrating on religion, music, and the needs of others would help him out of his depression. The result, only 24 days later, was the "Messiah."
For Handel, life had hit rock-bottom. That anything good could happen to him looked impossible. Nothing he did for himself seemed to turn out right. But, in the depths of his self-pity and spiritual poverty, he was challenged to do something for God. It might have seemed a foolish thing, a waste of time, but, God brought a surprise out of Handel's pen. And Handel himself was revitalized. He found new spiritual and physical energy.
Back in the 90's, there was a congregation meeting in a church building which they didn't own. The sad thing was they had owned it. They'd built it in the 80’s. But, they'd lost the title to the property when, after an economic downturn, they couldn't pay the mortgage. The congregation was still allowed to meet there, rent-free, since banks hate to evict churches, but, eventually, the bank sold the property and the congregation was faced with a choice. Should they throw in the towel and disband? Or should they try again and start over?
They chose the latter course. They believed they heard the Lord telling them not to give up. So, they gathered their few resources, bought some land in a new location and made plans to build again. In 2000, they opened a new building and, within ten years, having more than tripled in size and income, paid off their $1.2 million construction loan. It was St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Hurst, Texas, and I was the rector there from 2002-2008.
God's surprises turn out far better than we ever dream. What surprises does He have in store for St. Paul’s, Kent? And, not just as a church. I believe that if we are obedient to what the Lord is saying to us today then we will experience such a blessing of personal growth as individuals that we won't know what to do with it. These past weeks we've heard the story of the wedding in Cana when Jesus provided 120 gallons of wine. We've heard St. Paul describe the super-abundance of spiritual gifts which every Christian believer enjoys. And today, we've heard that God's simplest act of giving results in more than we can either imagine or desire.
All it takes is faithful obedience to God's instructions, even if, no, especially if, they are contrary to what we want to do. How simple it would have been for Peter to say, "Thanks, Jesus, but, I know all about fishing. Besides, my crew needs a rest." How simple it would have been not to have lowered the nets. How simple it would have been to have missed out on the miracle.
Let's not miss out on a miracle here today by thinking up good reasons why it can't happen or why we can't lower our nets into waters we figure have already been fished over. The only people for whom God does not provide are those who've decided He can't. I'll say that again. The only people for whom God does not provide are those who've decided He can't.
So, let's decide He can. Whatever the present or future needs are for us, our church, or the members of our families, God wants to provide them, but, He only can if, and only if, we are willing to let Him.
So, why not? God's surprises will always be our blessings.
In the Name...