St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Epiphany 5 Sermon
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Corby Varness

When I was in my 20’s my Dad and I used to go deep sea fishing off the coast of Newport Beach, CA. We would leave very early in the morning and I loved everything about it: the smell of the sea, the fishy stench of the boat, the crisp morning light. I was usually the only girl on the boat, surrounded by unshaven, rough looking men. Everybody would put $10 into a pool to award whomever caught the biggest fish that day then we would head for the deep water.
           
Most of the men on these boats were pretty grimy - unshaven, wearing dirty old fishing clothes. I, on the other hand, had ‘cute’ fishing clothes, (usually with a nautical theme), full makeup and my hair was done. I also had beautiful manicures with long, pink nails. I didn’t exactly fit in on these boats. But, I loved deep sea fishing. I was pretty good at it and had developed some tricks which really helped me. I would drink half of my coffee and when it had cooled down, I’d cautiously dip the head of the live anchovy into the coffee and encourage it to drink. Then, with my long, pink fingernails, I’d carefully slip the hook through it’s nose to keep it alive. My theory was that caffeinated bait would be more active and attract bigger fish. I attracted a fair amount of disdain from the other fishermen with this theory!
           
I loved dropping that baited hook down into the deep, deep water, watching the line going out, out, out until it finally hit bottom then reeling it back up just a bit. I would focus intently on my bait, willing it to swim wildly, with it’s tiny caffeine rush coursing through it. When I felt that wonderful pull on the line, I knew I had a bite - I’d yank on it then begin to reel in my fish. Hooo! I caught some good fish this way and once, I caught the biggest fish of the day (THIS big) and won $180.00. My Dad was laughing so hard as he steered me away from the very annoyed fishermen! He was afraid they might throw me off the boat!
           
Let’s look at another deep sea fishing story. Jesus is feeling hemmed in by a large crowd as he preaches by the sea. He sees boats nearby and gets the clever idea that he can preach from a boat. It makes sense, probably his voice would carry very well over the water. He goes out into the shallow water on Simon’s boat. Then he sits down and begins to teach. When he is through he turns to Simon and says, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
           
Simon probably looked a lot like those fishermen I knew - scruffy, unshaven and unkempt. Maybe Jesus didn’t fit in too well with the fishermen. Simon tells Jesus that the fishing isn’t at all good, (he didn’t know my coffee trick!), they’ve worked all night, they’re tired. But, then he says, “OK. If you say so, I will let down the nets.” We don’t know what Jesus had been saying to the crowd or what the nearby fishermen heard while they cleaned their nets. But, it must have been powerful because exhausted, though he was, Simon was willing to go back out and fish some more.
             
Simon and his friends put down their nets in the deep water and right away they caught so many fish that their nets begin to break. They call to their partners on shore to come help and they fill both boats with fish!
There is such a change at this point in the story that Simon’s name even changes - from here on in, he is Simon Peter. He knows that a miracle has taken place and it freaks him out. His immediate response is to be afraid and say, “Go away Lord! I am a sinful man!” Isn’t this a very human response to a miracle? Simon Peter and his friends James and John are all amazed and probably afraid. Jesus tells them “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
 
They brought their boats to shore and left all those fish and followed him. Wow. Those good fishermen were called by Jesus and they stepped right up and followed him.
           
Our readings today are all about being called by God. In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about how he was called by God. He was a terrible person, actively persecuting Christians when, on the road to Damascus, he was suddenly blinded by the bright light of the risen Christ and became the most zealous of the early followers of Christ. He was called to change his ways and boy, did he ever change.
           
The fishermen were called by Christ, Paul was called by Christ. In our first reading, Isaiah is called by God and he says: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then a seraph touches his lips with a live coal and forgives his sins. When the Lord asks “whom shall I send?” Isaiah answers: “Here am I; send me!”
           
God calls all of us to do his work. How do we answer this kind of call? Many good people are called to leave everything and help people all over the world. I really can’t imagine ever doing something like that myself. I can look around our own community and realize that I don’t have to go casting my nets into the deep water of distant places.   There’s plenty of deep water here at home - plenty of people who need to hear the good news. Plenty of people for whom we can model Christian forgiveness and love.  
           
Jesus told Simon to go out to the deep water and put out his nets. Does Jesus tell us through this story to ‘go deep’? Standing here today, preaching to you is shallow work. You all believe, I believe, I say nice things, you nod, we all agree. I like talking to you all but we’re not exactly in the trenches together! How do we go to the deeper waters? Lent is coming up and it’s a great time to take your faith to a deeper level. I like to give myself challenges, physical, spiritual, or mental during Lent. When I choose that Lenten discipline, I stick to it. One year I chose to walk every day and pray while I walked. It was great! I found it a very meditative time and did some great praying... and got physically fit at the same time. Last year Kevin and Jeff and I agreed to eat a lot less meat during Lent. It wasn’t so much about the ethics of meat eating as it was an attempt to be more thoughtful about our food. We did quite well I thought. Taking away something so basic as food made room in our lives to be surprised by God.
           
As we often do, we’re offering a special Lenten study for our Wednesday morning bible study. This year I get to lead this Lenten study. If you’ve not come to bible study lately, this might be a good way to get back into the loop.
           
Maybe your prayer life, like most of ours, leaves a bit to be desired. Here is a challenge to all of you: Start each day, while you’re still in bed, by saying the Lord’s Prayer. End each day the same way.  With this practice, you’ll start noticing that every day before you belongs to God, and every day behind you was guided by God.
           
Let’s put our nets out into deep water. Let’s use this opportunity of Lent to challenge ourselves and go deeper into our faith. 

     
    
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