Message by Rev. Jenny Carter, February 10, 2019
(Based on Luke 5:1-11)
We humans are amazing creatures. I mean that. The longer I am on this planet the more I am convinced that humans are truly marvelous. Over the years people have graciously shared their stories with me, and I am always moved by their resilience, courage, and ability to love. There is a nobility to humanity that is nothing short of breath taking. There is not a person in this room that has not suffered some kind of grief or struggle, and yet here we all are! We gather week after week, seeking connection and support and spiritual growth, not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of all who call this planet home. I look out at all of you and I see spiritual rock stars!
Yet people can also gather and do some pretty stupid things. Hurtful things. Evil things. Humans have gone to war, and inculcated prejudice and hatred against whole groups of humans. We humans have sought out power and control at the expense of others, and have decided to over consume the natural resources of our planet, believing that it doesn’t matter what we do in this present moment with our one, and precious life. We tell ourselves that today is ours, and tomorrow is someone else’s concern.
I have thought a lot about this over the years. How can humanity – that quintessential humanness that we all possess, that is so beautiful – have members of the collective who are capable of perpetrating such destruction? How is it, that so many humans can see what is happening, and yet feel powerless to affect change? How is it that so many people in this world are seemingly in denial about all that is going on?
A while back I read an article by a group of scientists who study all manner of problems here on earth. They study everything from climate change, to violence, to disease levels, to natural disasters. At the conclusion of the article they write that while they have been very clear about the “why” of things, they are powerless to engage people in the “how” of fixing the things that threaten life, in general, and human existence, in particular. They are clear. The world doesn’t have a science problem, people understand the science. The world, in their view, has a spiritual problem.
I think they are right. The world, at least the humanity portion of it, has a spiritual problem. All of us humans are rooted in systems and cultures that teach us how to view other people and the world itself. We have been taught what is right and wrong, what “normal” is and how we should aspire to be that, and we have been shown what success looks like. The more we learn the ways of whatever system we are caught up in, the further away we get from our true selves, and our spiritual knowing of what is truly right. We become alienated from the natural world, alienated from others, and even alienated from our very selves.
Once alienation happens, we have lost that which binds us to one another and to the earth. We have lost sight of what really matters, and what living fully and well looks like, and we have lost a sense of who we truly are and why all of it matters so much.
Which brings us to our reading from Luke. In the story we heard read this morning, we hear how Jesus was at Lake Gennesaret (or the Sea of Galilee), and how he had to teach from a boat adrift off shore, since the crowd of people was so large. In that story, we hear how after he is done teaching, he asks Peter and the other fishermen to put out into deep water, and let down their nets so that they might catch some fish. To which Peter wearily replies (with I’m sure a deep sigh and the slight rolling of the eyes that tired people are wont to do) that he has been out fishing all night and yet has caught nothing, but since it was Jesus who was doing the asking he would go fishing. Again. Even though it would probably amount to nothing, he would do as he was asked. You can almost hear the doubt in his voice at this point of the story.
Yet Peter is quickly proven wrong. As soon as he lets down the nets, they fill with fish to the breaking point. Such abundance! The village would eat well tonight!
Now, this is where our story takes a turn. Sensing that Jesus wasn’t just some run of the mill rabbi, but perhaps had some insight and connection to the divine and to something far greater than he previously thought – Peter falls to his knees and tells Jesus to get away from him, because he, Peter, is a sinful man. Jesus then tells him to not be afraid, and that from this day forward Peter would be fishing for people. To which Peter and James and John respond by leaving everything behind and following Jesus.
This story is about Jesus calling his first disciples, his first students of the way, if you will. We are all called and we all follow – each one of us here are disciples – followers of the way. Yet for me, the most interesting part of this story is Peter’s reaction. Why was he so filled with fear? Why did he want Jesus to “go away from him”? Why did he declare himself to be a “sinful man”?
To understand this part, we need to understand the system and culture that Jesus and Peter and the rest belonged to. Back in their day, it was taught and believed by everyone that God’s earthly home – God’s actual seat – was in the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem. The closer you were to the Holy of Holies, the holier you were. The further away you were from the Holy of Holies, the less holy, or more sinful you were. It’s all geography and social class. The high priest was the holiest in the land, and the holiness diminished the further out from Jerusalem you got. So, way out in the back water of Galilee, Peter believed himself to be a sinful man. So sinful in fact, that his “sinfulness” might “rub off” on Jesus, and make him unclean. Hence the command for Jesus to get away from him.
And this is where it gets really interesting. Jesus tells him not to be afraid: not to be afraid of making him unclean; not to be afraid of how his culture had labelled him as sinful and unworthy; not to be afraid of embracing a new way to think about himself, his faith, and his world. That Peter would be helping to spread the message of God’s kingdom, and to not be afraid of leaving everything behind.
We often limit this passage to a call to make more Christians. In some ways it is about that – but it is certainly more than that as well. This passage is about the kingdom of God – or the divine order of things – where all are worthy, all are holy, and all are included, no matter their culture, religion or social status. It doesn’t matter who you are, who your parents were, how you live, how much money you make, or who you love. You are included. You are worthy. You are loved. And you are needed, because you are an integral part of the divine whole of all that is.
So this is our spiritual reality. All of humanity and all of creation – are knit into the divine whole of all that is. We are one. When one hurts, all hurt. When one rejoices, all rejoice. We are profoundly connected in this spiritual reality.
Yet our world is not about this divine wholeness. Our world seems to actively seek division. We divide ourselves along any number of lines – and we declare some things as good, and others as bad. The more we learn about these dividing lines between people, creation, and all that is – and the more we believe in these things, the more alienated we become from our spiritual selves.
And that is where the trouble starts. It is absurd to think that some groups of people are better than others, or that our survival as a species is not dependent upon the care we exercise with natural world, or that over consumption of anything at the expense of our environment or our neighbours, is somehow the picture of success. Yet if humans believe these absurdities (which many do), humans can be convinced to commit atrocities (which some have).
The good news is, most of humanity knows what is good and noble and true. Yet many of us have forgotten who we are, how we fit, and what we are to be about. The story from Luke reminds us of who we are, and how our spiritual reality is constructed. When we remember that we are all one, we tend to treat one another with love and concern. When we remember that we are one with all of creation, we tend to treat creation with love and concern as well.
So, if you have forgotten who you are – know that you are a holy and blessed part of all that is. You are worthy and you are beautiful. And once you are able to hold on to that truth, then be like Peter, go and remind everyone else, that they too are a holy and blessed part of all that is, and that they too are beautiful. Not only does this bring abundant life to those we meet, but it will actually save the world we love.