notre dame montreal

Jesus takes Peter fishing - Luke 5:1-11

Sermon preached by The Reverend Charles Royden 8 February 2004

TICThere are two themes which come across very strongly from our passages today from Isaiah and Luke. They are

  1. Holiness and

  2. Calling

Both Isaiah and Simon Peter both express awe when they recognise the presence of the divine and they both have to be encouraged to understand that they are capable of being accepted. This awareness of the holiness of God is something which we can take for granted.  Listen to the words of Colin Morris

‘The biggest challenge to faith in our day doesn't come from atheists denying God but from believers diminishing him treating him with cosy familiarity, praying to him as though he were our Old Pal Upstairs or singing choruses which portray him as a well-meaning simpleton. Christians who would modestly concede they haven't the foggiest notion what's going on in the head of their pet budgerigar are serenely confident they know what God thinks about Thatcherism, the state of the economy, the Middle East crisis or the future of nuclear power.
In this belittling process, God's love is reduced to sentimentality, his power converted into benevolence, his judgment shades into acquiescence and his holiness into prissiness. In that well-known hymn, `God moves in a mysterious way', William Cowper has the line, `Behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face'. The God often projected in our time has no frowning providence to hide behind; just the perpetual smile of a heavenly Cheshire cat.’

I think Morris has a point, familiarity breeds contempt. Listen to the words of Augustine, they are not easy but I am sure that you will get the point.

‘Let us delight to find thee by failing to find thee
Rather than failing to find thee by finding thee.’

There is not time to look further at this today, because I want us to spend a little more time looking at the calling by Jesus.

The story is told that  Sir Francis Drake, was attempting to recruit a number of young men for an upcoming exploration. He gathered them around and told the group that if they came with him they would see some of the most marvellous things their eyes could ever behold. Sandy white beaches, juicy fruits, foreign peoples, priceless treasures, and gorgeous landscapes. And he told them that this wild adventure could be theirs if they came with him. Not one of them enlisted for the journey.

The next day he approached another group. Drake told them that if they came with him they would encounter storms that would terrify them to tears. Tiger winds would hammer them and blow them off course for months. Water would frequently be scarce. At times they would be so thirsty that their very souls would cry out for simply one drop of water. In short, danger would be their constant companion. Drake concluded by declaring that if they could handle these things, the joys of exploration would exceed their wildest dreams. Every single one of them in the group joined Sir Francis Drake that day, they boarded the boat eager for the journey.

What made the difference in these two groups? Why did the first group turn down the mission and the second jump at the chance? Was the second group different and more adventurous than the first? The answer is probably : No.

It is not the men who had changed; it was the message.

  • The first spoke of rewards; the second spoke of challenges.
  • The first offered comfort; the second promised suffering.
  • The first tempted them with beautiful things ; but the second spoke in way that had the ring of truth about it.

The first message sounded too good to be true. It told of all the wonderful things which would happen, but if something sounds to good to be true then it probably is. If we are considering following somebody then we have to believe that the person speaking is truthful. We are only going to follow somebody who is up to the job.

This is a major problem in our society at the present time. It might be that our leaders and institutions have always been corrupt and told lies, but the public mood at present is that they can not trust almost anything which comes from any source.

As a child I remember being admitted to hospital with appendicitis to Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool. Recently I heard on the television that Alder Hey had been keeping the organs of children who had died in the hospital. I thought what a dreadful hospital, then I hear that they have all be at it. Children have been buried by their families without hearts and brains. The families were not informed or asked and it had been going on for years. So today we hear of the changes to the Human Tissue Act.

I am just making the point that almost across the board, we don’t trust even hospitals who are supposed to care for us. We have no faith in our institutions or the people who run them.

Think of the latest problems to beset the government over the war in Iraq. Most people seem to have considered that the recent Hutton Report is a whitewash. That such a distinguished inquiry should be considered by so many of the people that I speak to as a whitewash is surely an indication of how much we have lost trust.

The general director of the Evangelical Alliance, the Revd Joel Edwards, said: “Even as we are attempting to digest Lord Hutton’s report, there are questions being raised about the trustworthiness of the conclusions. . . If we can’t even trust the referee, then we are in real trouble.”

The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, said on Monday: “The lack of trust for all public institutions has not been helped by the Hutton report.”

I am not making party political criticisms, I am saying that trust itself is vanishing across the board. I note that it is reported that Greg Dyke, the deposed director general of the BBC has concluded a £500,000 deal with Rupert Murdoch's publishing house yesterday. One newspaper expressed surprise over his decision saying

‘Mr Dyke's decision was surprising given the comments of his partner, Sue Howes, at the Edinburgh television festival: "Greg would never work for Murdoch. Greg's got principles, thank God."  she said.

That of course is the whole point, seemingly nobody has. Principles are in short supply. What do I mean by principles. I am thinking of those moral fixed points which help us to navigate through the treacherous waters of life.

Those of you who have read my ethics booklet for the Advent Bible Study Course will know that I do not pretend that moral decision making is easy, ethics is more of an art than a science. We have to be flexible and able to react to different situations in different ways. Choices are difficult and since the beginnings of our faith Christians have disagreed profoundly. We have to accept that sincere Christians who love the Bible understand it differently. The Bible is not a simple rule book and it is often ambiguous at best. Good ethics are seldom a simple choice between God and the Devil. Our ethical judgement are more frequently complex choices between the lesser of two evils.

Nevertheless there is something demonstrably wrong when we now find ourselves with such a massive loss of confidence as is present in our society today. We do not gain the impression that our leaders are having trouble navigating through difficult waters, rather they have thrown away the compass jumped ship and declared every man for himself.

It is into this situation that we gather together and speak of Jesus. And we are faced with the same decision that Peter had in the boat. Peter wanted to go home. He was fed up with fishing and no fish. He believed that there was no point putting out into deeper waters, what did Jesus the carpenter have to teach Peter the fisherman?

Why did Peter do this?  Why did he call Jesus master and behave in a way that was contrary to his better judgement?

One reason must have been that Peter had already good reason to trust Jesus. Jesus had healed his mother in law. Luke 4:38

Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon's mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.

Jesus had shown Simon some of the kind of person that he was. Jesus offered help to others, he did not get the impression that he was in it for himself.

So many people continue with their faith trusting in God, in spite of difficulties, in spite of wavering faith, because they have found God to be faithful in the past and so they trust that all will be well in the future .

We are able to hold faith in God when all others have proved themselves unworthy, we are able to trust even when the outlook is bleak, even if like Simon it is against our better judgement.

The men in the boat were discouraged, as we often feel. Life has ups and downs for all of us and they were in a down, facing failure.

"We have worked all night - and have caught nothing. There is no point to it."

We have all been there? We do our best, work hard. And the results are zero.

  • An important relationship goes sour and there is nothing you can do.
  • You watch a marriage dissolve and you can't save it.
  • Somebody we care for is ill or dies.
  • A project you have worked upon won't work out just will not pan out.

It is then that our faith too is tested and we have to trust in God, that his ways are superior to our own, his wisdom is greater, his timing better.

Simon Peter trusts that Jesus knows best. So must we who are just as in need of God's grace and God's love. We can acknowledge our need and our lack of faith - it is then that we must in spite of our weaknesses be prepared to continue to row out into deeper water.

Our nets may not just be full of fish at the first cast, but we know that in the end all will be well. That is why when our faith in everybody else has worn out, we know that we can still put our trust in Jesus.    Amen.