David William McKay a

Sermon I will preach tomorrow (in a non-Quaker church)

I want to look at our gospel reading,
by looking at the end first.
Jesus said to Simon,
“Don’t be afraid;
from now on you’ll fish among humankind.”
And when they brought their boats back to shore,
they left everything and followed him.
This is the first time in his gospel
that Luke uses the word “follow”.
For Luke our gospel reading this morning
is all about discipleship.

The word “disciple”
is a translation of the Greek word μαθητὴς [mathetes].
This is the word we get our word “mathematics” from.
A disciple is a student.
And so, as many before me have said,
we are each of us “humble learners in the school of Christ”.
Discipleship is an odd word today —
I think a more understandable word might be “apprentice”.
Like an electrician or plumber’s apprentice.
Or maybe even a carpenter like Jesus.
We learn how to be followers of Jesus
by living in Christian community
and by watching and imitating other people,
as they try to follow Jesus too.
So we have this fishing business being run on Lake Kinneret.
Two boats run by two sets of brothers:
Simon and Andrew, the sons of Jonas,
and James and John, the sons of Zebedee.
We even know what kind of fish
they were probably trying to catch: tilapia.
Has anyone here had tilapia?
We know they were going after tilapia
because there have been commercial fishing operations
on Lake Kinneret
on and off for 2000 years,
and for most of those years,
they’ve been fishing for tilapia.
Tilapia also swim really close together,
which means when you catch one fish
you tend to catch a whole lot.
Which is what happened to Simon in our story today.

Simon and James and John
have been fishing all night long
and caught absolutely nothing.
They are sitting down in front of their boats,
even before their breakfast,
and they are cleaning their nets.
That’s because,
when they couldn’t catch anything out in the deep waters,
they came in close to shore
and started to dredge the mud and the reeds
hoping to catch at least a handful of fish.
Still nothing.
So now they’re picking the algae and the reeds
and the branches and the mud
off of their nets
and perhaps doing some mending as well.
Now if I was Simon,
sitting on the pier cleaning my nets
after a long and unsuccessful night of hard work
I would probably get to thinking;
and my thinking would probably get me worried.
Perhaps that’s just me,
because I tend to overthink everything.
But Simon was worried as well.
Maybe when you think about a commercial fishing business,
you think of big modern day corporations.
But Simon and Andrew and James and John
probably didn’t own the business.
They might not even have owned their own boats or nets.
Just like many small businesses today,
their business is more than half owned by their creditors.
Is family important to you? Of course it is.
But in some ways it was even more important
to the people of Israel back then.
For most people family was all they had.
And family status was very important.
And fishing?
It may have been lucrative, but it didn’t carry much honour.
They worked with their hands
instead of directing slaves or servants to do it.
And they were out and away from their family home
all night long.
And if you were that kind of person,
you didn’t have the wealth
and even more importantly the social connections,
needed to get a license to fish or to buy a boat.
Simon likely owed two thirds of his catch
to somebody else —
a banker or probably a tax collector.
Somebody with the connections,
and the bribery money, and the social status
to set up the business.
And tilapia back then would’ve been a luxury good — 
that creditor would have made much more
than their money back
selling it to upper class households or Roman officials.
That would leave Simon and his partners with just enough,
most nights,
to sell their share at the local market
to support their households
and maybe save a one or two for a family dinner.
Only Simon didn’t catch anything last night.
His creditor will be less than happy with him.
His business and his livelihood could be at risk.
Simon looks up from his nets.
He looks up from his nets and he sees a figure
walking along the shore surrounded by crowds of onlookers.
He appears to be teaching them as he walks.
So-called teachers, rabbis, were plentiful back then.
After all they didn’t have reality show television
to keep themselves entertained.
And instead of pundits
on the Internet or news shows and talk shows
nattering on about what celebrities wore
to the latest award show
or what was going on in politics or sports —
instead of all that –
they had people preaching in the streets.
And like today, what did these talking heads talk about?
They talked about religion and they talked about politics.
Literary critic (and United Church minister), Northrop Frye,
remarked that the one important thing
to realize about ancient Israel,
is that they were not very good
at playing the game of empire.
And the latest bad guy on the block to harass them
was the Roman Empire.
So pretty much anybody
who had anything to say about anything,
had something to say about what Israel should do
about the Romans. 
As that figure, surrounded by crowds, got closer,
Simon recognized him.
This was Jesus.
The crowds pressed around Jesus on all sides.
Luke, tells us they wanted to listen to the “word of God”.
Word of God.
For many of us today this thing,
this book this Bible is the Word of God.
You hear this all the time.
But for the people who wrote this book,
the Word of God was the message from God
through the prophets of Israel.
When Luke says they wanted to hear the word of God,
he is saying the teaching Jesus was giving them
was a message to them from God.
Indeed Jesus himself, and the events of his life,
is God’s message of peace and reconciliation for us.
The good news (or gospel) of the kingdom of God
that Jesus taught and lived began with proclaiming Jubilee: 
the acceptable Year of the Lord.
The Jubilee was established by Moses
and instituted by another Jesus —
we call him Joshua today.
He commanded the armies of Israel
to invade the land of Canaan,
drive the inhabitants out
and establish the kingdom of Israel.
In the Jubilee all debts were forgiven,
land that was sold was returned to the owner
and slaves and prisoners were set free.
The Jubilee was instituted
to celebrate and remember God’s mighty acts
in delivering the twelve tribes of Israel
from their oppression by Egypt.
So when people saw someone like Jesus —
named after that same Joshua
who brought down the walls of Jericho —
and preaching Jubilee,
it either got you very excited or got you very nervous. 
Now we know that Simon
had heard Jesus preach before.
He even invited Jesus over to his house
to teach from the front porch.
He saw Jesus heal his own mother-in-law.
And he saw the crowds queue up at his front door
waiting for a blessing from this holy man.
So he’s at least a little bit sympathetic — 
especially about the forgiving of debts part.
And maybe he heard the story
of what happened two weeks ago.
Jesus went back to his home town of Nazareth
and preached up a storm so controversial
that a riot broke forth,
and the mob tried to kill Jesus.
The interesting thing about that incident
is that his neighbours did not try to kill him
for preaching forgiveness of debts
and a freedom for prisoners.
They tried to kill him
for extending that freedom and that forgiveness
to foreigners, to outsiders, to the Roman armies
that occupied their homeland.
The Jubilee that Jesus preached
was bigger than Israel.
It was even bigger than the whole Roman Empire.
So Simon is probably a little nervous
when Jesus shows up again in his life.
Jesus steps onto the boat
and asks Simon to put out a little from shore.
Jesus sits down and teaches the crowds from the boat.
Simon gets to hear Jesus teach once again.
He listens to the words
and he watches the faces in the crowd.
Time is run out!
The Kingdom of God is on its way.
Turn back from your evil ways and believe this good news!
The Spirit of our God is upon me
to preach this good news: this is the Jubilee year,
make ready the way of our God; clear a straight path.
Free the captives! Release those in prison!
Proclaim the year of God’s favour!
Simon wants to believe this Jubilee-kingdom of God stuff
down in his very bones.
He is tired of living in debt and living in fear.
He is tired of seeing people crucified by the roadside
for speaking their mind
or stealing food so their families can eat.
And he is tired of religious leaders
becoming mouthpieces for corrupt political agendas.
In some ways things haven’t changed a lot in 2000 years.
But Simon has a practical side.
That part of him
who picks the seaweed out of the fishing nets
before he goes home to his family.
And that practical side of Simon knows
that talk like this will probably get Jesus killed.
It will probably get anyone who gets too close to him killed
as well.
We can understand Simon because we have been Simon.
For each of us here,
there has been at least one moment of decision in our lives,
where we had to choose
between the good and the comfortable.
We knew — like Simon we knew in our very bones
what the right thing to do was —
but we stopped.
We didn’t want to pay the price.
We worried what the neighbours would think.
Or our families. Or our friends.
When he is done speaking Jesus stands up
and tells Simon to take the boat out into deeper water
and drop his nets one more time for a catch.
Simon’s exasperation practically drips
from the pages of the Bible.
And a tired voice says,
“Rabbi, we have been working hard all night.
We have caught absolutely nothing.”
He sighs.
“But if you say so I will drop the nets.”
And this is the turning point in the story.
When they begin to draw the nets in
they are suddenly filled with fish.
The weight of the fish is so great
they cannot pull the net into the boat.
Simon hears one of the strands in the net snap.
He is about to lose everything.
He signals to James and John in the other boat
to come and help
and together they fill both their boats.
Their boats are so weighed down
that the waves of the lake
are slopping over the edge of the gunwales.
Simon looks at the bottom of his boat
so filled with fish he can barely move.
And he falls to his knees before Jesus.
Now Luke does something interesting here.
For the first time he refers to Simon
by his full name — Simon Peter.
He wants his readers — and that includes us —
to know that this isn’t just any Simon.
This is Simon Peter.
The same Peter
that follows Jesus around the Gospels like a puppy dog.
The one on the mountain when Jesus was transfigured.
The one who denied Jesus three times.
The one who is afraid of James and argued with Paul.
The same Peter who would eventually die for his faith.
This Simon is that Peter.
Up until this point Jesus has been this
sometimes scary sometimes entertaining teacher
wandering from village to village.
Simon Peter has called him “Rabbi, Teacher.”
But now Simon Peter falls to his knees
and he gives him the title of respect, “Lord.”
As we look back at this story from the vantage point
of 2000 years of Christian history,
we see that as a confession of faith.
In that moment Peter,
perhaps speaking better than he knew,
was saying that Jesus was and is
something more than a mere human being —
he is “the Lord.”
But back then, “Lord”
was a title of respect that ordinary people used
toward people of power and privilege.
Jesus has just paid his debt.
The worries he had this morning
while he was cleaning his nets
no longer apply.
But now he has a new worry —
since Jesus has paid his debt he now owes a debt to Jesus.
And so he honours him with the title Lord
but he also says,
“Leave me! I am a sinner — I am unworthy.
Get out of my life!”
Draw closer to God and God will draw closer to you.
Each Sunday we pray
that God will be a bigger and more active part of our lives.
And yet when the light of God breaks into our little worlds,
our response is fear.
“Leave me! I am a sinner.”
As much as we think we want to change lives,
all too often what we really want
is our old lives,
made just a little bit more comfortable.
Despite all that,
Jesus reaches out his hand to Simon Peter
and lifts him out of the fish and the water
and onto his feet.
“Don’t be afraid;
from now on we will fish among humankind.”
The Spirit of Christ fishes still among humankind.
And the fishing grounds are not just a little pond in Galilee
it is our whole world.
You see the gospel is not just a message
about how to go to heaven when you die.
It’s a message
about how we are to live now and together.
This message invites
both frightened fishermen and Roman soldiers
and in the same way it calls us
to join hands and hearts and minds
across all kinds of barriers and divides.

I want to end this morning with a quotation —
not a quotation from a famous person,
not a philosopher not a theologian not a preacher
but just an ordinary person like you or me.
Her name was Viola Purvis
and I met her at an ecumenical conference in 1987.
And in conversation with her she made a remark
which has stayed with me all these years
and remains a standard for Christian faith and practice.
She said,
“My salvation, is incomplete,
until I have made my enemies into friends.”
As you walk in faith following Jesus
as best you can in your life
it will be your friendships that will shape that walk in faith.
May God bless you with friends who surprise you.
And just as Jesus on the cross stretched out his hands
to welcome those who killed him,
may your friendships include among them
people who can challenge your soul.

Thanks be to God. Amen.