Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
Year C, RCL
February 10, 2019
North Fork Ministries
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
There are some weeks when the gospel reading seems a little obscure and I feel like I have to work hard to coax some relevant meaning for us out of the ancient words of Jesus. Other times the message, either for me personally, or for us as a congregation, seems so direct, so pointed, that I’m almost tempted to embrace biblical literalism – a turn of events that would likely leave those of you who know me well, somewhat stunned. So stunned that you might be tempted to believe that, not only has it been cold around here lately, but that maybe hell has frozen over.
But today, Jesus’ fishing expedition is so vivid in my mind that I can smell the brackish waters of Lake Gannesaret, feel the ropes cut into the disciples’ hands as they struggle to bring their fishy load to the surface, and hear the threads of the nets begin to pop and break as they yield against the weight of such a magnificent catch.
It doesn’t matter so much to me that this miracle story appears only in Luke and wasn’t reported in ether Matthew or Mark. Multiple accounts are thought to add credence to the authenticity of stories about Jesus. In this case, I don’t require credible sources or historical verification to believe in the tale of the miraculous catch of fish.
Because last Sunday afternoon we witnessed the miracle first hand. The need for Hispanic ministry was apparent to me when I first arrived on the North Fork. Our Hispanic population has grown rapidly of the past decade. These are immigrants who sometimes find themselves in a hostile environment and their spiritual, emotional, cultural needs were not being fully addressed by existing churches. And so, with more faith than certainty, just over a year ago, we convinced Bishop Provenzano that the fishing was good on the North Fork and he agreed to redirect Padre Romo to our care, and we began holding Spanish worship services.
Things started small. When we first began celebrating the Eucharist in Spanish, two families attended - 10 or 12 attendees, counting babies and a small dog. As numbers increased, we tried having services at both North Fork churches, but the time wasn’t yet quite right for Holy Trinity. So we focused our attention on building the congregation at Redeemer, since most of the people attending lived in Mattituk or Riverhead.
In January, Luis Gonzalez, a much valued employee at Harbes Family Farm, was elected as a member of the Bishop’s Committee at Redeemer. And the attendance at Eucharist steadily grew.
And then, last Sunday afternoon, the miracle happened. At 1:00 Spanish service, following Jesus’ instructions to, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch," we opened the doors at Redeemer and 107 people walked in and found a place in the pews and along the aisles. I assure you, the angels in heaven were rejoicing… and so should we.
But you know the story of the disciples and Jesus’ fishing expedition on Lake Gennesaret on didn’t end with filling the nets with fish. Their nets were beginning to break and they had so many fish that their boat was starting to sink. And you know what they did? Luke tells us that “they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them.”
We have been signaled. Our brothers and sisters in Christ need our help. You see, among that 107 people in attendance last Sunday afternoon were about 35 young children. You may be aware that our faithful parishioner and vestry member, Cindy Smith, has over the past year been leading a Sunday School class for the young kids, during the Spanish service. She has done a beautiful job. The kids love her. She has been able to barely manage alone with 10 or 12 kids in her charge. 35 young kids is just way too many to wrangle and she needs help. We need a team of volunteers, from both North Fork churches, to work with and teach these kids. It doesn’t have to be every Sunday. A team of teachers can share the responsibility. We have desired and prayed that our North Fork Episcopal churches grow and flourish again. God is answering our prayers. What do we do with answered prayers?
We are witnesses to a miracle. The question is, what do we, those of us willing to lay claim to the idea of being a disciple of Christ, do with this enormous net full of fish? Are we willing to respond to the call?
I know that the 107 people that came last Sunday afternoon weren’t simply a homogenous school of fish, anymore than we are. They are individuals from Hondurus, El Salvador, Mexico and The Dominican Republic. But they are people seeking family and they may just have found it.
You know, we come to church for all kinds of reasons. And I don’t really know if one reason is any better than another. But one really good reason for us to gather here together is so that we can learn to recognize miracles – be ready to see them, call them out to one another, so that they don’t slip past us. For what is a miracle but an encounter with the holy? And if, in this place, we can learn what it feels like to be in the presence of God, it becomes more likely that when we are outside these hallowed walls, we will see what is holy there too.
“When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.” The bearing of witness to miracles is a call to discipleship. None of us have been called to the mission of the church because the liturgy is flawless, the music is always harmonious, the preaching is poetic, or the building is an architectural masterpiece.
We have been called to climb into this leaky boat together because we, like Simon and the sons of Zebedee, have been chosen as disciples of Christ. Inside this boat we are granted the opportunity to witness miracles and then asked, to leave everything and follow him. Do not be afraid, from now on, we will be catching people.