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Flotsam and Jetsam

Trinity 5 BCP

08 July 2007 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

Passing through I have never had the personality or patience for fishing, except for mackerel you know you’ll catch off the coast of Devon or Dorset on holidaymakers’ boat trips. Of course I can understand the excitement of making a haul after long periods of calm and inactivity, and I can appreciate too the sport of luring and tempting fish to the bait. But the word itself, 'fishing', has ambiguous overtones. For example we speak of people 'fishing' for compliments. Anything 'fishy' is doubtful. ‘Ee that sounds fishy’! You’ll also have heard that guests, even family, like fish, start to go off after 3 days. We don't like to feel 'caught' like fish, to be gobbled up, after all! So we focus on the positive image of fishing with Christ – for souls, not least the constant reclaiming of our own, and rejoice that we are in what we believe to be the best boat for this – the Church of England.

St. Luke deliberately links the call of the first disciples with the miraculous catch of fish. St. Peter follows the call to follow the Lord and to catch souls. We might wonder: does the pursuing of vocation imply stability (as in today’s story) or change? Later on from today’s story, there were huge changes for Peter as he is given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and follows the Lord to an ultimate death in Rome. But today’s story is about stability. When Jesus said to St. Peter ‘launch out into the deep, and let down your nets’ and Peter responded ‘at thy word, I will’ he wasn’t going to do anything different to what he normally did as his ‘day job’, but this commonplace task of fishing he now did with a sense of vocation and also as an act of obedience to the command of the Lord. Any sense of vocation, to be a doctor or nurse, or teacher or priest may alter the course of some lives…and the new course might necessitate leaving behind the office for a new life. We are told that the apostles left everything and followed Jesus. They gave up their security and journeyed with Jesus into a wonderful but unknown future. But equally a sense of vocation may simply deepen the joy in what we are doing already, as it did for Peter in today’s gospel story. A sense of vocation might only change the motive and quality of the life affected, leaving life the same in terms of work, but transfigured and enriched, as it is lifted from a profession to a vocation. The deep satisfaction and joy in knowing you are doing what you should do, in the place in which you are meant to be with the people who need your help and love. Doing what God wants, and feeling wanted in the doing of his will. The radical call to ‘leave everything’ might for some people mean abandoning self-sufficiency and trusting in God's power, and not our own.

The other thing I notice regarding the call of Peter is that he wasn’t allowed to get away with excuses for remaining ‘on the surface’, as it were. Peter felt mean and sinful in his hitherto pitiful response to whom Jesus really was, and the place he should take in any life, and he is overwhelmed by the presence of someone who is quite beyond him. He protests his sinfulness, but then, significantly, addresses Jesus no longer as ‘Master’ but ‘Lord’…the title of God in the Older Testament. And Jesus does indeed become Lord and Master for Peter. So Peter’s excuses did not work in the end. I wonder what are our excuses? Why do our lives lack largesse, and bold generosity? And why is our style so stilted and cautious? We trawl the waters of life listlessly, lacking eyes for those ripples, those signs of life in calm and still seas, the waiting in hope for God’s moment for us. When it comes we might well like to try Peter’s ruse and say ‘surely not me, Lord, leave me…I’m not good enough’. There is a hollow ring in such humble protestations, and their bluff needs to be called. Because a new way of living, a new vision, and new gifts are offered, and God is reluctant to take ‘no’ for an answer.

But new life, new vision, new gifts, new glory, are qualities that are not found easily on the surfaces of existence. They don’t drift, like deadwood or debris on the waters. Rather they lie hidden below the surface. And many of us don’t have the patience or alertness of fishermen. Eyes begin to fail and we miss the moments of change or opportunity. Hearts become weary. Hands hang as empty as those fishing nets of Peter.

We are called to enter those deep waters, to launch out and discover the riches that are beneath the surface. Discipleship is a life-long and life-giving allegiance to discovering the divine in the daily. ‘A task not only for temples but in trains,’ as I’ve heard it said. Whoever is chosen to fish with Christ must learn to look long and patiently, for the hidden and lost…both within ourselves, and in others. New life, new vision, new gifts, new glory begins with that moment of meeting the divine. Are we ready for these moments, or have we made of our lives constant excuses for avoidance? Each Eucharist is such a holy moment. A moment of glory and grace and bold generosity. How long will it be then, before our lives really begin?

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