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Caught by fish – what gets you hooked?

Isaiah 6: 1 – 8     Luke 5:1 – 11
Rev. Ian Brown
4 February 2007

We humans are hooked by many attractions, many good things and some bad and it’s not just a modern phenomena.

Emperor Qin declared himself the first emperor of all China some 2,230 years ago. He had the famous clay army built to guard his afterlife and more recently was Mao’s hero.
Qin conquered all his neighbours, standardized laws, weights and measures, money and writing. He built roads, canals, the Great Wall and his China yielded much to culture and art. All very attractive.
When he was 45 he had 260 Confucian scholars buried alive.
These scholars, he complained, confuse my people.
He had all their books burnt too,
Every book in the empire in fact – apart from his own library.
He ordered his soldiers to kill those who quoted books or sung old songs.

Perhaps Pol Pot had read history after all.
What went gone wrong? How could something so alluring turn so bad?

We look to the certainty of facts for reassurance,
but even numbers can frighten us.
Not much more than 100 years ago English policy was responsible for starving a million people in Ireland,
Pol Pot killed 1 or 2 million,
Stalin is estimated to be responsible for some 20 million deaths,
while Mao’s great leap forward policy killed 30 million in 3 years by hunger.

We should learn to question numbers more seriously.
Or do something more than lament the passing of the ‘good old days.’

The Adam and Eve of legend had every reason to think they had botched their way out of paradise. The men of the fifth century BCE who wrote their stories, along with those of Noah, Abraham and Moses, depict them all lamenting to God about their corrupt generation.
Kali Yuga is Sanskrit for ‘our own degenerate and unfortunate times’ – it was first used in 300 BCE. Paul of Tarsus thought the world was ‘shot to hell’
‘Nowadays’, wrote an 11th century Chinese Buddhist master, ‘we see students who sit diligently, but do not awaken.’

Speaking of such realities, Annie Dillard concludes:
"There was no former pure generation, no rustic heroic times.
There never was a more holy age than ours, - and never a less."
The church may have had more attenders at some times and less at others, but this is not a harder time to be faithful, nor an easier one.

God does the attracting, the Spirit is not more or less active – we are confronted and called by God’s invitation, just as Isaiah, Peter, James and John.

The notion that there was once a time when things were easier, faith was stronger and God was more active, is attractive one, but only to our laziness.

What was it that really hooked Isaiah, Peter and fishing friends for God’s mission?

Our gospel story starts with a fishing tale and ends with new disciples. The connection between fishing and discipleship might not be immediately obvious, is there a connection?

"Put out into deep waters," get back to work is effectively what Jesus tells the tired, professional fishermen who had labored all night and then listened to the teaching of this carpenter, come itinerant preacher. "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." What would a carpenter know about fishing ? The fishermen all knew that daylight fishing was for holiday makers who were only interested in fishing as an excuse to down a few cold ones, besides, they had already tried, there were no fish!
If you listen carefully, you can hear the fisherman mumbling quietly under their breath, "for Pete’s sake, get real and stay on your own turf, preachers ought to talk about God and faith - leave our business to us!"

Jesus challenge is to do something perhaps that didn’t work the first time, but to do it anyway because that is the nature of faith - no guaranteed results, no firm promises and always an element of risk, vulnerability to ridicule and a challenge to change. Going Jesus way is not made attractive, not offered as a soft option.

Isaiah was rocked by God’s approach to him. He was a trembling mess as the foundations shook and the voices cried out – ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts’ – and smoke filled the room.
But Isaiah’s response is not to look for a means of explaining the event away, he doesn’t look for help with his post traumatic stress. Or as we might do in our age – enjoy it as a spiritual experience, then look for a way of sharing the experience for a profit – that’s profit with an ‘f’ in this case.

No, Isaiah hears the voice of God address him.
"Whom shall I send, who will go for us?"
And he responds with audacious simplicity,
"Here I am, send me."
The call of God can be dramatic or quiet, but whatever the drama classification, the need for us is to respond.

Jesus way of calling disciples is not one promoted by enticement, not dressed up with glittering illusions or promises.
It is offered as a challenge, a direction; do this, in response to the word preached - cast out again and see what happens!

There is a miraculous catch of fish, but nothing is made of the miracle in the gospel because that isn’t the point of the story.

Luke has led us to the climax of the episode and the content of that climax is an encounter of one ordinary fisherman ....with the kingdom of God,... embodied in a man.... .....Simon Peter, we read "saw the Lord," and just like Isaiah meeting God in the Temple, Peter at that moment knew his utter unworthiness.

Peter got to this awesome point of confronting God and himself, simply because he was prepared to "put out into the deep" again, he was prepared to take a risk in faith, to respond to the words he heard even though it was against common sense, even though he must have been tired - some glimmer of hope within him led him to respond to Jesus invitation.

Now when Peter had this meeting with God he was struck by his sinful nature. We need to hear this as a theological statement, rather than a moral one. Peter, and we too recognize when we are close to God, that our status is lacking, It’s an honest and real statement of human need, rather than a mark of God’s displeasure at us.

Note here!! - Jesus doesn’t give Peter a course on repentance,
he doesn’t prescribe a long course of penance or a punishment for "his sin."
Jesus says to Peter, and I’m sure it was in a kind warm voice,
"Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people." Peter’s sin doesn’t disqualify him from being a disciple. His moral state is not examined, his experience and qualifications aren’t checked, instead Jesus lifts Peter into God’s service. Peter is given new direction, new identity by Jesus.

Sin disqualifies no one from God’s service, in fact the message of the gospel is that all are welcome, especially those who know that they are lost because, then, we know our need and can change.

The real miracle of this story is, I think, twofold;
firstly it is a miracle that Jesus calls ordinary people to be his disciples. He calls fishermen, tax collectors, farmers, business people, mums, dads, boys and girls to go his way, to share his ministry.
And we do well to remember that this is a matter of grace; an amazing, free offer of God to us all.
It is a conceit that we need to be wooed, won over or attracted by God. The marketers and advertising industry have skewed our sense of self importance in their greed for our business. Everything is already given to us by God, what more could we reasonably want?

The second part is that sometimes we actually manage, in the mysterious grace of God, to catch on, to hear the call and respond. And in the responding, in the getting hooked, we find a new identity in God.

The fact is that before God we are all the same, all challenged to put out into the deep water of trusting God and in faith to follow the example of Peter!

Then, for the church, we often wonder what will attract new people and how this ‘fishing of persons’ can be done in today’s world.
Having said that God doesn’t need to hook us, there was that miraculous catch of fish for Simon Peter and a fairly dramatic show for Isaiah.

So an openness to being awed might be a good thing, creating some space where awe of God might be noticed – like in a church, could be useful.
Pointing out God’s awesome work in creation,
Talking about God’s awesome grace in our lives,
Celebrating the awesome love of God – all these might be very helpful in letting others encounter our awesome God who offers each of us the chance to launch out into our own deep, to see what might hook us. And then, being hooked, what fishing mission we might have a part in here where we live.

Amen.

© Rev. Ian Brown, 2007


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