Encountering Jesus

Themes: Timothy Luke

Annette James

I think the two readings today complement each other perfectly, it’s not always the case...well I realised last night that I had made a mistake and should have been preaching on Luke 15: 1 to 10 but I don’t believe in coincidences so I guess we were meant to consider these passages today.

So, when I first read these passages, they seem to be comprehensible, which has not been the case with some of the readings we have had recently...

And of course, as always when I began to unpick them and consider what was meant by them there is always more to learn.

In the epistle – the first reading today - Paul writes to Timothy... and gives a personal testimony...and tells who he was, a persecuted, a blasphemer, a man of violence, the word used here is thought to mean - violent, insolent or reckless behaviour. He tells what happened to him and who he is now...a sinner... who recognises Gods transforming power.

Many of us could tell stories of our awakening to the love of God, and we should. I say awakened rather than conversion because I suspect few of us may have had the experience that Paul had, struck down...literally by the presence of the risen Christ. Is that your experience?

Last week I had the privilege to share on several occasions with families who had suffered loss, the death of someone very dear to them. These encounters always involve a lot of listening and learning as I share with the family in their grief and pain and help them through a passage of time in life that will come to us all. At the end of life there are always tears and laughter, pain and humour, and always a bitter-sweet time of reflection on life and mortality. Each encounter adds to my knowledge of God.

As I visit families there is always a sense of inadequacy and I can truly say along with Paul... I am grateful to Christ Jesus who has strengthened me, who judged me faithful and enabled me to serve..... me a sinner... who needs the transforming love of God.

As I prepared for this morning – on the train, travelling to Birmingham to share with our Grandson on his 3rd birthday, the following question jumped out at me - “Have we lost the art of wonder in God’s Grace?” As I considered this another question formed. Do you believe that God’s transforming power still exists?

I would like to share with you this morning a consideration of the “wrong” - New Testament passage, which itself is an example of the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Today we will learn of and consider the reaction of the disciples of the grace of God and a glimpse of how they were called to serve.

In calling the first disciples Jesus aligned himself with ordinary working folk and interfered with their working life, with their expertise, with their knowledge. Jesus challenged them to do things they knew would not work. Simon and his friends were skilled fishermen and they had had a long and exhausting night fishing the catch had been disappointing, and they were cleaning their nets.

Jesus taught the crowds alongside the shore. he saw Simon and other fishermen cleaning their nets and climbed into the boat...we are not told what the teaching was, only that it happened. We are not told that Jesus was invited into the boat, only that he got in. Maybe the fishermen, tired and exhausted had loitered in their boats to listen to Jesus words....

And then Jesus challenges them in front of go out into deep water and cast their nets .... Simon is packing up to moor the boat, he is tired, disappointed, discouraged, “Master we have been working all night and have caught nothing...but if you say so, I will let down the nets”.

We all know what happened next... for some reason Simon obeyed Jesus, trusted him. From what we know of Simon/Peter in scripture we can hypothesise that he was a man to take a risk, impetuous... maybe he was curious to see what would happen if he obeyed this teacher who seemed to speak with an authority he had not seen before.

So he takes his boat and crew, and his cleaned nets out to deep water and casts them again .....the nets were so filled with fish that they were breaking, the fishermen called for help, and another boat came along to enable them to land the catch. When they hauled in the fish the boats began to sink - the generosity of God was overwhelming and almost disastrous.

All who saw what happened were amazed, and those far away on the shore must have been desperate to see what in fact had happened ... they wondered at God’s grace, and Simon was overwhelmed we read that Simon Peter fell at Jesus knees saying, “Go away from me for I am a sinful man.

Jesus response must have been even more puzzling... first Jesus favourite phrase - ”Do not be afraid”, and then… “from now on you will be catching people...” even Simon’s name changed - in the middle of this passage Simon becomes Simon Peter who is now an example among his contemporaries.

The story reminds us that God is creator, human and divine, and an awakening to God and the power of the creator is challenging and transformative – God says my ways are not your ways – there is a different, a better way, which may not always make sense to us as it is not the way of the world.

When Jesus was human and lived on earth - they were extraordinary times...

We are now living in extraordinary times and if ever we needed a different way to see a way forward it is now. (September 2019)

Simon Peter was transformed by his encounter with Jesus, he had enough fish to sell, to share, to preserve and now he has a reputation as someone who landed a huge catch at a time when others may have worked hard for little reward.

That said, I don’t think this reading is about a gospel of prosperity, that if you are a follower of Jesus you will be rich, successful and powerful. I think it is more an illustration of the authority and power of God, creator of the whole universe to transform to change to see things in another way. There are many examples in the bible of Gods power in, with and through creation – from the garden of Eden to the City of God – through Moses parting the red sea and Noah recognising the great flood, Daniel in the Lion’s den - that in exceptional times God will command the waves. In the story of Jonah we read of a great fish.

And in our reading today - God influences the fish of the sea. Or maybe it was just that Jesus saw something in the water, or there was an exceptional event in the lake that the disciples had missed. But whatever it was Jesus saw things slant – differently - from the others. As followers of Jesus we are transformed. Let me read you a short passage from Sara Miles book ‘take this bread’. Sara is a journalist and writer and had covered news stories from war torn nations before encountering Jesus – this is her story.

“I still can’t explain my first communion. It made no sense. I was in tears and physically unbalanced: I felt as if I had just stepped off a curb or been knocked over, painlessly from behind. The disconnect between what I thought was happening, I was eating a piece of bread; what I heard someone else say was happening – the piece of bread was the ‘body’ of ‘Christ’, a patently untrue or at best a metaphorical statement; and what I knew was happening – God named Christ or Jesus was real and in my mouth- utterly short circuited my ability to do anything but cry. All the way home, shocked, I scrambled for explanations. Maybe I was hyper-suggestible and, being surrounded by believers had been enough to push me momentarily, into accepting their superstitions.

…Yet that impossible word ‘Jesus’ lodged in me like a crumb. I said it over and over to myself, as if repetition would help me understand. I had no idea what it meant; I didn’t know what to do with it, but it was realer than any thought of mine, or even any subjective emotion. It was as real as the actual taste of the bread and the wine. And the word was indisputably in my body now, as if I’d swallowed a radioactive pellet that would outlive my flesh.”

My Christian journey was more a slow awakening rather than a single transformational experience, we will all have our own stories which we can and should share. What was it/ what is it that brought you to this point in your journey? Following the way of Jesus is a life-long journey and as we travel it is not just ourselves who are transformed, but our whole community.

Rowan Williams writes…”it is the really hungry who can smell bread a mile away”, for those who know their need God is immediate – not an idea, not a theory but life food, air for the stifled spirit and the beaten, despised exploited body.”

God gives us each other to enable us to deal with the abundant, miraculous shocking outpouring of grace… in return we are expected to respond by sharing that abundance of love … by following the way of Christ – which we know is not always an easy Pathway, and maybe different for each of us. The discovery of truth is a continuing journey guided by the Holy Spirit.