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Fishing in abundance - Assistant curate's sermon for the 4th Sunday before Lent

“Master we have worked all night long

but have caught nothing.

Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Life as a fisherman in the first century

on the sea of Galilee

is quite hard for us to imagine.

It would have been a hard life.

Sure, a mainly warm climate,

and a strong flow of freshwater through the lake

bolstered the number of fish there,

so it was a centre for fishing for centuries

before the time of Simon Peter.

The most common fish caught would have been

species of tilapia, a type of cichlid;

indeed, it still is,

with one common species now known

colloquially as St Peter’s Fish.

But sometimes they might have caught eels and catfish,

non-kosher fish, that would have to be sold

in Gentile marketplaces.

At other times severe squalls and storms

would blow up from nowhere,

endangering the boats,

and the fishermen’s very lives.

And sometimes, just no luck on the waters.

Days when nothing got caught in the nets,

when the fishermen would return empty-handed to the shore,

with nothing to eat and nothing to sell.

“Master we have worked all night long

but have caught nothing.”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

When we consider the life of a fisherman

in the first century on the sea of Galilee,

we can perhaps get a glimpse of why Jesus

started to recruit his disciples there.

These were tough characters,

used to dealing with difficult situations,

resourceful, brave, determined;

if not, they wouldn’t have stayed in business for long,

or even have survived.

I think the cockney term for them

might be ‘rough diamonds’ –

strong, beautiful inside, but rough around the edges.

It was from these men that Jesus drew his first disciples,

and in Luke’s Gospel Simon Peter is the first of these.

He has lent Jesus his boat,

in order that he can escape the crush and teach the crowd,

and in return Jesus does something for him.

But Peter is tired, perhaps despondent,

and has really had enough.

“Master we have worked all night long

but have caught nothing.”

How often have we felt that way,

as though we have nothing more to give?

As though we just want to give up

and walk away, even if just for a little while?

“Lord, I’m tired. I don’t think I can do any more.”

How many times have we uttered these words in our hearts,

or even out loud, our eyes turned heavenwards?

“I can’t do it anymore.”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

But what happens next?

What is Peter’s next line?

“Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets”

“Yet if you say so.”

A leap of faith from Peter,

the courage of a Galilean fisherman

not to give up but to have another go.

And how is he rewarded for his faith?

A couple of fish for his supper?

Maybe a reasonable haul,

that he could sell at the market?

No, for our God doesn’t do things by half-measures;

nor even by full measures according to human parameters.

God’s grace and love is overflowing;

God’s grace and love is an abundance

that we cannot comprehend.

The nets are full to breaking;

there are more fish than they can haul in,

and they need another boat to help.

There are so many fish that the boats are at risk of sinking,

swamped by the haul of fish,

swamped by the abundance of God’s grace.

Peter took a leap of faith,

he said ‘yes’ when he was tired,

and he was flooded by the abundance of God’s grace.

One cannot help but think of Mary,

her ‘yes’ to God’s invitation,

and the grace which overwhelmed her.

Hail Mary, full of Grace,

The Lord is with thee.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

But there is a significant difference

between Peter’s response and Mary’s

when swamped by this overflowing grace.

For Peter’s falls to his knees, saying:

“Go away from me Lord,

For I am a sinful man.”

In this he echoes the response of Isaiah

when called by God:

“Woe is me . . . for I am a man of unclean lips”.

As the author of the letter to the Hebrews says:

“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”.

However, we must look to Jesus’ response to Peter;

did you notice his words?

“Do not be afraid.”

“Do not be afraid.”

Sometimes, God calls us to do extraordinary thing –

to move mountain on his behalf.

Sometimes, He calls us to do ordinary things,

to do something small for an individual

or for our church or community.

And sometimes we are tired,

and are tempted to say,

“Not now Lord, for I’m tired.

I’ve had enough.”

But we must remember that God’s grace is abundant,

His grace is overflowing and cannot, will not, be contained.

And that in the face of this abundant and over-flowing grace

we need not be afraid to take that leap of faith.

“Do not be afraid.”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

On this day [eve of] the 70th anniversary of

Her Majesty the Queen’s accession to the throne

at the age of just 25

on the death of her beloved father King George VI,

we have another example to look to.

While Princess Elizabeth knew her destiny was

to be the monarch one day,

it came sooner than she expected;

indeed, sooner than she wanted,

and yet she answered that call.

She took that leap of faith

into such a high-profile role

at such a tender age.

As a woman of faith, she must have prayed,

and one can only wonder what her prayer was;

but I suspect that there were echoes of

the words of Isaiah and of Peter in there somewhere –

“Yet if you say so.”

And God’s grace was over-flowing as always.

Yes, she’s had tough times,

but she won the heart of the nation,

and has done for these 70 years.

Who could fail to be moved

by the image of her sitting alone

at the funeral of her beloved Prince Philip.

Leading the nation by following the rules.

Certainly an example to us all of

responding to God’s call in faith.

God save the Queen.


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