“Learning how to cast God’s nets.”

A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

February 6, 2022

Open unto me, light for my darkness

Open unto me, courage for my fear

Open unto me, hope for my despair

Open unto me, peace for my turmoil

Open unto me, joy for my sorrow

Open unto me, strength for my weakness

Open unto me, wisdom for my confusion

Open unto me, forgiveness for my sins

Open unto me, tenderness for my toughness

Open unto me, love for my hates

Open unto me, Thy Self for myself

Lord, Lord, open unto me!

Howard Thurman, from “Meditations of the Heart”

“Oh Lord, your’re beautiful” by Keith Greene

Oh Lord, you’re beautiful,

Your face is all I seek,

For when your eyes are on this child,

Your grace abounds to me.

Oh Lord, please light the fire,

That once burned bright and clear.

Replace the lamp of my first love,

That burns with Holy fear.

I want to take your word and shine it all around.

But first help me to just, live it Lord.

And when I’m doing well, help me to never seek a crown.

For my reward is giving glory to you.

Oh Lord, you’re beautiful,

Your face is all I seek,

For when your eyes are on this child,

Your grace abounds to me.

I want to take your word and shine it all around.

But first help me to just, live it Lord.

And when I’m doing well, help me to never seek a crown.

For my reward is giving glory to you.

A number of years ago I began to have trouble seeing small print. I remember well the experience of holding things closer to my face, and of squinting. I tried every coping mechanism that I could. For a time, all these coping mechanisms worked. But eventually they did not. I will never forget the moment that I realized that I needed glasses.

I had gone to a restaurant in Manhattan which I had wanted to visit for some time. I was quite excited because I had heard wonderful things about it. It was an Ethiopian restaurant, and so I did not know anything about the food. I arrived, and it was beautiful. There were beautiful murals on the wall. It felt like I truly was in a different world. When I sat down, and the waitress brought the menu, though, I suddenly realized that I could not read it. I could see the general categories—appetizers, meat, vegetables, etc. But I could not read the names of the particular dishes. Even worse, I could not read the descriptions. I was so sad. I realized that my inability to see was going to prevent me from enjoying the meal which I had been looking forward to for some time. This restaurant was not close to where I lived in the Bronx, and it had taken some effort to get there. It was also a more expensive place than I often went to. So, I had saved up for the evening.

Fortunately, the waitress was amazing. I explained that I was having difficulty seeing the menu, and that this was the first time that I had eaten Ethiopian cuisine. She kindly explained what the options were—and even made a few recommendations. I followed her suggestions, and discovered, to my delight, that it was an incredibly delicious meal.

Why had I put off going to the optometrist for so long. Perhaps it was vanity. How would I look with glasses? Perhaps it was laziness. Now there would be something else to keep track of? Perhaps it was fear. What if my eyesight did not get better even with the glasses?

When I did finally visit the optometrist, though, and I made an appointment that week, I will never forget what it was like to finally see again. I had not realized that, little by little, my world had been fading. Detail, light, and imagery had receded even more than I was aware. And, when I put on those glasses and went out of the shop wearing them—it was a whole new world. Oh the joy of going to a restaurant for lunch that day and being able to read every word on the menu. Oh the joy of being able to see so many things—all around me—that I had not even been aware of in such exquisite detail! It was as if my tired, failing eyes had been opened and suddenly I could see.

Each year I now look forward to those annual checkups—and when it is time for a new a new prescription, I am happy—because I know that I will be able to function even better.

A theme which I find it our readings today is that of “seeing things in a new way.” These passages speak to us of the surprising ways in which God invites us to see as God sees, and to discover unseen things all around us.

The passage of the call of the Prophet Isaiah which we heard today is one of my all-time favorite passages in all of the Scriptures-Hebrew or Christian. God unexpectedly breaks into Isaiah’s life and opens his eyes to the overwhelming reality that God is. Isaiah’s comment, “my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah is literally blinded by God’s majesty, power, and beauty. It is not only that his lips need to be cleansed, healed, and empowered by the burning coal from the censor, his eyesight also has to be adjusted. Now that his eyes have been opened and he sees God, he can not continue as before. Everything has changed. While he would be tempted to just run away and hide, God offers him another option. Isaiah is invited to make use of this new way of seeing, and through it to open the eyes, ears, and hearts of anyone who is willing to put into action God’s plan to “that they may look with their eyes, listen with their ears, comprehend with their minds, turn and be healed.”

The beautiful and surprising account of the call of Simon—who will later be renamed Peter, in the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke—is another story of changed vision, perspective, and vocation. This story, though, has a very different meaning for those who fish, or who know fishing folk. Laying aside for the moment the astonishing reality that Jesus seems to have “boat-jacked” the vessel of Simon (who was apparently minding his own business and licking his wounds after a failed and frustrated night of fishing), there are a couple of astonishing things which happen. The first is that, for perhaps the first time in all of human history, a fisher is willing to take advice from a non-fisher and try something different! As the son, and grandson of fishers, I can tell you that it not something which often happens!

Jesus invites Simon to go to another spot, to tray another technique, and to expend the time, energy, and effort to fish in an unfamiliar way. Simon is a professional. He is someone who knows everything there is to know about fishing on the Sea of Galilee. He is successful. Today he would be the host of a fishing show on television. He would be the person writing the books about how to fish. He would be the person giving the TED talk. He would be the person that the news channels invite on for an explanation of the world of fishing. But Simon, like all humans, is limited. He is only able to find and catch the fish that he is expecting to find. God, though, is not limited. When Simon says yes to Jesus and casts the nets in a new place, in a new way, he makes the shocking discovery that the lake is abundantly full of fish which he did not even know were there. In fact, the abundance is so great, so  unexpected, so amazing, that it changes everything. And, as a result, Simon’s eyes are opened to the beauty of God’s loving and inclusive creation—which he now sees and understands for the first time.

A huge element of these stories is that the Prophet Isaish and the Apostle Peter come to see themselves in a new light. They are tempted to believe that they are unworthy, flawed, imperfect, frail and insignificant. God does not see them that way. In God’s eyes they have beauty, worth, and potential. As a result, they are transformed!

My dear parish family, is it possible that God is calling us to open our eyes, to try new approaches, and to recognize that there are realities all around us which we have not truly seen or acknowledged? Is it possible that God is asking us to throw open the doors of this church, to go out into the community which surrounds us, and to cast God’s nets in a new way? Is it possible that in Beloved Community there is such an abundance of diverse and beautiful fish that our tiny sanctuaries could not possibly seat them all? Is it time for a new vision, a new paradigm, a new way of thinking and acting?

There is another lesson to be learned in this Black Heritage Month. For literally centuries we failed to love, affirm, and serve our black sisters and brothers. We kidnapped them from their homelands, tortured them on death ships, enslaved them, and forced them to undertake brutal and exhausting work, without recompense, so that we could live lives of ease and comfort.

Despite all that, today our culture is enriched by their music, food, creativity, wisdom, and leadership. Just imagine what we might be, and might have become, if we had chosen a different path? The good new, and I mean that literally, is that it is not too late. May God open our eyes, our minds and our hearts, to love, to welcome, to include, and to serve each and every person created in God’s own image and likeness. In recognizing their worth, magnificence, and beauty, may God’s gaze rest lovingly on us and God’s grace truly abound to us!

One thought on ““Learning how to cast God’s nets.”

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