God Quite Likes You, You Know (Luke 5:1-11, 1 Cor 15:1-11)
Aha! I thought to myself, pulling into Asda carpark, there’s a space here, but what’s that, the person in the other bay hasn’t parked properly. You know the type of thing, when they’re not in the lines. We all come across it, and it’s one of my pet peeves.
Right then! I thought, I’m going to teach them a thing or two, I’m going to park in the bay next to them to teach them a lesson.
Or so I thought. Arrogantly, I know best.
And lo, as I did pull into that space something went terribly wrong, I scratched that car, and mine in the process. Afterwards it was like an opera singer singing MISTAKE! Behind me, and a few choice words shall we say were uttered from my mouth. They weren’t darn it, or blast I can assure you.
There are times in life when we respond in the wrong way, and we can feel bad about ourselves, but the question I want to ask you today is who does Jesus call? And How do we respond to that?
I believe that Jesus calls the flawed and we need to respond to God with understanding, as our Gospel reading shows today.
So let’s begin…
How do you feel about being told what to do? Perhaps by your Mum and Dad? I’m sure all our young people respond with obedience every time don’t you?
Perhaps it’s the way that you’re asked to do something, that indicates the way you respond, to a friend or a partner? A wife or a husband?
I shan’t get into all that this morning, as some of my family are actually here today, but suffice to say it’s not always a bed of roses, responding with grace when being told what to do can be a bed of thorns.
There are some examples though, when people who really shouldn’t be giving advice do.
I’m now a qualified first aider, thanks to the abundant generosity of the PCC and Churchwardens of this church, but imagine me giving medical advice to Dr Clare, or interrupting her and giving my own opinion, over the top of hers. Imagine how Clare would feel? Imagine how stupid I would look.
Can you imagine then how Peter must’ve felt when Jesus told him what to do with his own boat. Who the heck does he think he is? He must’ve thought. What the absolute heck does a Carpenter know about fishing? Stick to building boats mate, not fishing from them.
And yet despite his reservations, Peter sees something in Jesus, something about who He is, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. He instantly recognises that he’s a person of authority, and politely calls him Master, which is probably a bit closer to the way we say sir. ‘If you say so.’ He replies to Jesus’ request, sceptically.
I’ve always found Peter to be an encouraging character in the Gospels. I think I’m quite a lot like Peter in many ways.
“Of all the personalities of the New Testament perhaps we know most about Peter.” He’s constantly getting it wrong, denies Jesus, he’s boisterous, hot-headed and rash and overly enthusiastic. He’s got good intentions, and self-confidence that quickly disappears in times of trouble.
Considering all of these flaws, it’s very surprising that Peter is the rock on which the church is built isn’t it. Sounds like a title to a film doesn’t it Peter; the Surprising Rock. Surely if Peter is credited as one of the founders of the church, with all his flaws, then we have a place at the table too?
Even Paul in our reading from Corinthians notes that Jesus appeared to Cephas first, by this he means Peter.
Paul is another unexpected person who responds to the call of Jesus. He talks a little
about it in the reading.
“For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace towards me has not been in vain.”
If God calls people like Paul and Peter to the table, to be his friends, to be his missionaries, then is there hope for each one of us?
We live in a society that constantly tells us we’re not good enough, it starts in our school system, it continues through advertising, and ends with the way our society is structured.
When we’re at school, when we have a test for example which bits are highlighted?
Our mistakes are highlighted, not the questions that we’ve got right. We are measured, weighed, and boxed each and every one of us, but the gospel of redemption is not about that. It’s not simply ethics, right or wrong, but knowing and feeling. Understanding and growing.
Paul says “I am what I am.” That it is through God’s grace that he has been saved from himself and his former life. That happens to Peter too, through this extraordinary encounter with Jesus on the lake. His life is transformed, he is saved.
We’re obsessed, with earning our forgiveness, with earning our place in heaven, and making sure that the worthy get in. But God’s grace gives it to us. Each of us, everyone.
We breathe in Ungrace, as Philip Yancey calls it, in his amazing book “What’s so amazing about Grace?” He says;
“We live in an atmosphere choked with the fumes of ungrace. Grace comes from outside, as a gift not an achievement… Every institution, it seems runs on ungrace and its insistence that we earn our way. Justice departments, airline frequent flyer programs and mortgage companies cannot operate by grace.”
It’s not just the secular world that is ungraceful, the church can be to. A letter went around a couple of weeks ago, signed by many Church of England clergy, condemning the new pastoral responses for welcoming transgendered people that was passed through the General Synod, and the house of Bishops.
Why? Why would we want to make anyone feel unwelcome? Why is it such a monstrous idea to respond to people, who are rejected and unloved by much of the world to welcome them into our church families?
Paul murdered Christians, Peter abandoned Jesus, yet they were welcomed into God’s church.
The notion that we’re not good enough, that we’re somehow aliens from God, comes from society, it comes from deeply flawed human beings, it comes from our own need to demonise others, it does not come from God.
All of us yearn for the love of our creator, even if we don’t know it, but if you take one thing away from this sermon, or thinly veiled rant, I want it to be this.
You are good enough for God. God accepts you, God owns you, God holds you forever and ever. God loves you.
But this is cheap grace? People might shout.
You’re darn right it is. Grace is free, if we had to pay for it, it wouldn’t be grace, it would be like everything else. We cannot earn it. We’re called to be something else.
When Peter realised the miracle in front of him that day on the lake, he responded with awe and with enthusiasm.
I became a priest because I want the world to know the all surpassing love of God, the grace in which we live. I want the world to know it, and I want you to know it deeply, personally.
Jesus quite likes you, you know.
God chose ordinary fisherman, ordinary people to be the agents of his love and Grace to the world, and He still does today.
You are His agent. You are empowered, redeemed and loved.
Peter responded with understanding, knowing that Jesus was from God. Go away from me, he said, shrinking away from the grace shown him.
You silly sausage, replies Jesus. I’m giving you a new task now.
Friends, this is our task too. To understand and remember that love, to show God’s powerful grace in the world.
Peter left his old life behind, he abandoned the best catch of his life, he could’ve been rich. What should we leave behind in our lives? Maybe our sense of shame, that sense we’re not good enough for God.
Jesus calls each and everyone of us, the flawed, the transgendered, the straight, the homosexual, the bitter and angry. The ones who scratch other people’s cars in carparks when trying to prove a point. All of it, all of the mess he takes us with joy.
As Peter was amazed, so we should be Amazed too. We should respond to God’s grace with amazement, and enthusiasm, modelling a different sense of being. Thankfulness, laughter, joy, there is space for all this, because you never know where God is, what God’s grace is doing.
Let’s take his hand, and go along for the ride shall we? Though hopefully there’ll be fewer fish along the way.