May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a week where I feel like my nets are empty. A week where I’ve worked all night and yet my nets are empty. Where I’m hungry and tired and I feel like I’m getting nowhere.
And all I can see around me are my empty nets.
We have times in our lives like this, don’t we?
Times when we feel that things are not flowing right or easily. We’re stuck in a difficult job, or with a chronic health situation that’s hard to grind our way through – and our nets feel empty.
Or we’re someone who struggles with depression – and we just can’t pull ourselves out of that – and our nets feel empty.
Or we feel stuck at a certain period of history – and we’re just not moving quickly enough through it – waiting for the abolition of slavery, women’s vote, rights of working people, rights for disabled people, minimum wage, the NHS to be properly invested in… and our nets feel empty.
In the gospel today, Simon has fished all night – he’s an experienced fisherman, this is his job and yet his nets are empty. He’s tired, worn out, discouraged. He’s worked for nothing. His nets are empty.
I think we’ve all been there. A time when life does not feel fruitful and our nets do not feel like they are brimming with fish.
I’ve been there this week. Worn out and discouraged by empty nets, rather than overcome by the delight and joy of nets brimming over with gleaming fish.
And yet, and yet, this passage has still spoken to me. And given me hope. Hope like a candle in the darkness, rather than a blazing sun, but still hope.
And I’d like to share some of that hope with you, as well as the struggle of the empty nets.
Firstly – just like the miracle at the wedding in Cana in Galilee, this miracle is an image of abundance. There’s gallons of wine and oodles of fish. When Jesus does these miracles, they act as visual metaphors for the abundance of God’s love and grace. There’s nothing stingy in these images and they have nothing to do with whether or not we merit them – God’s love seems crazily abundant – it’s like a neon light in the sky – “I LOVE YOU SOOOOOOO MUCH! What will it take for you to see it?” There’s generosity, abundance, a sense of things not running out – and this is a beautiful image for us to hold on to.
Secondly – there’s an interesting question of timing in this piece – which I think we need to grapple and wrestle with. Jesus promises Simon that from now on he will be catching people – or as the old version had it “I will make you fishers of men.” It’s not immediately clear what Jesus means by that, it’s a kind of poetic way of speaking but it seems to imply that Peter will begin to ‘make disciples, catch disciples’ for Jesus rather than catch fish.
But the timing is important.
Peter does make a lot of disciples – think of his amazing sermon at Pentecost where hundreds of people put their faith in Jesus on one day – but for three years he doesn’t do that. He follows Jesus. And he doesn’t make/create/catch one disciple. Not one. He simply follows Jesus. He follows Jesus, he learns from Jesus, he talks to Jesus, he loves Jesus, he’s sees Jesus transfigured, he betrays Jesus, he denies Jesus, he watches Jesus die. He lives with the grief of that. He’s a witness to the resurrection of Jesus, he has a fish BBQ with Jesus, he’s there at the Ascension of Jesus, he waits 40 days for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – and THEN HE CATCHES hundreds of fish.
But that is three years later! Three years after Jesus’ promise.
And Peter’s life still ends in martyrdom – where’s he’s crucified, according to tradition, in Rome.
There was abundance. But there was hardship.
Why do I share this? Like this?
Because a lot of our lives and our spiritual journeys are uphill struggles, where are nets are empty and things are not turning out as we might have thought they would and yet, and yet… Jesus is still there. We still have hope and promises and light to hold on to. Still there are diamonds in the dust. Still there are small miracles. And sometimes occasional miracles that blow our mind.
But Jesus – or more specifically faith in Jesus, is not like one of these slot machines, where you put a pound in and get a Mars bar. Faith in Jesus is not ‘touch the screen and you’ll be healed’ or read this clever book and you’ll become a millionaire or more beautiful or more powerful.
It’s more like this: There are promises and waiting and empty nets times and times of abundance. There’s light in the darkness. There’s power in weakness. There’s hope in bleak places. And sometimes the nets fill with an abundance of fish.
It’s more like this: “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me…” rather than “walking on sunshine”.
This year, I’m finding the concise depth of the collects so moving. Perhaps I’m getting older and wiser. I encourage you to take the notice sheets home and ponder the Collects. Pray them daily. This week it reads: “O God, you know us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright”. We cannot always stand upright. I know the truth of that and I’m sure you do… but our prayer is “grant to us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations…”.
Perhaps this Gospel account this morning is the journey of our discipleship.
- Peter recognises and knows full well that his nets are empty – he has nothing – recognises his need of Jesus
- We encounter Jesus – the one in whom all our hungers are satisfied
- Jesus blesses us with an abundance of love
- We resist this love – “Get away from me Lord, I am a sinful man” because we are aware we don’t deserve it
- Jesus – despite all this calls us to follow him and the compulsion of this call is so great that we leave everything and follow him
I don’t think this journey is linear and one-directional. I think we travel through this cycle frequently and with different levels of intensity. Life, circumstances, personality type will make all of us travel this route differently – but through it all – whether we know this morning that our nets are empty or filled with fish – may we know something of the abundance of God’s love in Jesus, something of his blessing, something of his grace and may we follow – in all our brokenness and frailty – that call of Christ on our lives – to leave everything and follow him.
These are the sermon notes from Sheridan’s sermon on 10 February 2019