Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
There is no part of your life that God is not in relationship with – whether you are aware of it are not. “God comes to us disguised as our life.” – Paula D’Arcy
Before I told a slightly different version of this story in chapel on Tuesday, Everly raised her hand with a question. She had a look on her face like her question might cause some trouble.
“Rev. Arianne, are these stories true?”
I love their questions, especially those. “That is a great question.” I said, followed by, “what do you think?”
She thought, smiled, and slowly nodded. “Me too.” I said
Then, because I couldn’t help myself and really wished I could just keep exploring this question with those children said, “You know, in a different story someone asks Jesus if what he says is true – and do you know how he answers? He doesn’t.”
That’s because the person asking the question is not in relationship with Jesus. You may remember Pontius Pilate asks Jesus about truth, wanting to know what it is. Jesus doesn’t try and answer because he can’t, they have no relationship and Pilate isn’t interested in one, he is interested in power, and holding onto it. Relationship with Jesus is all about letting go and letting God.
It’s about turning our lives over in a relationship that never ends, “I will with God’s help.”
This morning’s story ends with Jesus explaining that whatever truth Simon Peter, his brother, and any other would-be followers might find will be known through relationships. From now on you will be catching people, Jesus says. What is true comes through our relationship with others. The questions and explorations those relationships pose – just like, in a way – the relationship I have with children in chapel – or in church – or in any other part of my life – same is true with you.
Truth in gospel stories always points to something lifegiving, liberating and loving – that’s what it’s good news. That’s what the good relationships in our lives give us too – good relationships with people – with work – with the outdoors – those relationships bring us life – we love who we are in those relationships.
Here are three of the loving, liberating and lifegiving truths my net has caught onto this week.
The first. I don’t know where in your life you are about to give up – but maybe don’t. Peter, Jesus says, put out into the deep water and let your nets down for a catch. Peter doesn’t want to. It’s a waste of time, been there done that. He fished all night long already and nothing.
But sometimes we hear the still small voice of God urging us again and again to keep going, keep trying, especially if it is something that will bring us life – that nourishes us and feeds us, literally like fishing, or feeds us in other ways, like vocationally, when we’re doing what we feel called to do.
Where do you feel like giving up? Not trying anymore? In the chapel version it says Peter tries again because Jesus asked him to and he wants to do what Jesus asks him to. Try again, Jesus says. Don’t give up.
Lesson two: deep water. Jesus makes it clear he wants Peter to go out farther than he is used to – go out past where you typically go. The shallows are where we know everything there is to know – the shallows are the safe places, in our comfort zone places – the place we can wrap our heads around.
Go out into the deep water Peter. Past your comfort zone – past the place that is just the busyness of the tasks you know and are comfortable with – to the place you cannot entirely comprehend – because it is just too deep – literally and figuratively. (In some ways Everly’s question was deep water, that’s why she seemed slightly concerned about asking it, she was unsure of my response).
Sometimes the leader in the room isn’t the one with the impressive title, it’s the person who asks the deepwater question.
Where is deep water for you? A conversation you are afraid to have? Alone with God or with someone you care about? Is deep water a place of listening, of choosing an open, quiet stance of the heart and mind so you can really take in the perspective of another.
Or is deep water a literal place – an unknown territory – a wilderness outside of your comfort zone? Every hero’s journey includes venturing out into the deep water, the place they wanted to avoid at all costs, or where they were afraid. The deep water, like the mountain top, is where we encounter God because it is more than we can entirely fathom.
And finally, lesson three – after they catch this bounty of fish – an abundant display of God’s beyond comprehension generosity and goodness in the blessing of the basics – what does Peter do? He falls on his knees awash in shame at his unworthiness. His immediate response is that he is not worthy of the gifts God has given him. He is not worthy that Jesus even sees him, knows him, wants to call him friend.
What is it about God’s generosity, abundant life that scares you? Joy is vulnerable, something good happens and we’re worried the other shoe will drop any minute. God promises we will have life and have abundantly.
Listen to what Jesus says – do not be afraid. You and I and Peter – are actually afraid of our goodness – of how much loving, liberating and lifegiving goodness God could fish out of us if we actually gave all of ourselves over to God! The shallow cynicism and apathy that pervades so much of the noise in our world – that is an empty temptation, one that fools us into believing there is something outside of us that will make us, and our society, whole.
Keep the faith – try again. And maybe leave the shallow safer spaces and venture into the deep waters – deep and wide – like the mercy of God – you cannot plumb the depth. And maybe there are relationships where you need to remind someone of the same. You may called upon to be the voice of a liberating, loving and lifegiving truth to points someone to faith, hope and love.
It is in the ordinary moments where God comes to us, disguised as our life. Keep your eyes open!