Sunday, 16 September 2012

In the fisherman's net: a story for all age worship

Part 1: Follow me…

There was once a fisherman called Simon, who lived with his wife, her mother and his brother Andrew in a town by the sea of Galilee[1]. Day by day, Simon and Andrew cast their nets and brought in their catch. They weren’t rich, but they weren't poor either; they got by well enough.
Then, one day Simon bumped into a travelling preacher, a healer by the name of Jesus. How did this happen? Well it depends on who you talk to – everyone tells a different story. Some say he and Andrew were just fishing by the lakeside when Jesus came along and called them[2]. Follow me! he said, and they followed him. Others though, tell a different tale. Some say he met Jesus first when he came to him for help. His mother-in-law was ill, and wasn’t Jesus a healer? [3] Perhaps it was his wife who sent him, perhaps it was his idea. But either way, Jesus came and sat down by her bedside and in no time at all her fever had left her and she got up and set about making them all a meal. No wonder Simon was impressed – not only had he met her needs, he’d met his for an end to his rumbling stomach too.
(This story can be found in one of our stained glass windows. Peter is shown with his wife, who we hear about much later, travelling with him in the early days of the church, sharing in his ministry[4]. I suspect she was a woman of great faith and patience – she probably had to be to put up with him!)

Some, though, say it was his brother Andrew who first drew him to Jesus.[5] Andrew was a follower of John the Baptist, but John had started to tell his disciples that he wasn’t really the one they should be following – his story was coming to an end. One day Jesus had come to him – to John – for baptism, and straight away John knew that this was the Messiah. Follow him, not me, he had said, and Andrew took him literally – he set off in his footsteps, trailing him through the streets and pathways until Jesus noticed him and invited him home. All that day Andrew listened and talked and listened some more. This man was like no one he had ever known before! At the end of the day he hurried home and burst into the house.
“I’ve found the Messiah,” he shouted! “Come and see!”
Simon didn’t know what to make of this. Was it just one of Andrew’s enthusiasms ( a bit of a religious fanatic perhaps?) or maybe there was something in it?
There was only one way to find out. He went with him to Jesus’ house and walked in. Jesus looked at Simon. He looked at him as if he had known him all his life, as if he had loved him all his life, as if he was looking right into him. “Simon”, he said, “that’s your name now. But you will be called Peter… “Peter” – Petros, that was Greek for a rock . No one had ever thought of Simon as a rock before, not unless it was in the sense that it was something that would have hurt a lot if you dropped it on your foot… But here was Jesus, seeing in him something he’d never seen in himself, having faith in him that he’d never had in himself, and hope for his future too. Simon, Peter – Cephas in his own Aramaic language – was convinced. Whatever this Jesus was about, he wanted to be part of it.
Who knows which of those stories was the true first meeting – maybe all of them, or none of them? But the Gospels tell them because everyone starts somewhere. Why are you here today? Why did you start coming to church? What drew you to faith, to God, in the first place? Maybe you think of yourself as a card-carrying, signed up, committed Christian, or maybe you are just curious, but the fact is you are here…Like Peter it might have been a sense that you were called to do something, or it might be because you had a need, something that needed healing, or it could be that someone else brought you, someone you loved and trusted, or maybe it was just that hope that there was more to you than you had thought, more to life than you had thought.

Somehow each of us must have seen a glimpse of something that has attracted us, just as Peter did, something that matters enough to bring us here.

Part 2: Getting it right, getting it wrong

So, however it happened Peter had begun to follow Jesus. And when we say follow, we mean follow. Everywhere, at his heels, like a large and very devoted dog… And he was full of questions and challenges. “What did that parable mean, Jesus?”[6] “Lord, we’ve left everything to follow you – doesn’t that count for something…?”[7] “How many times should I forgive someone who sins against me?”[8] Sometimes Peter got it right, as we heard in today’s Gospel reading,[9] “you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, but sometimes, often, he got it wrong, spectacularly wrong, as we also heard. “Don’t go to Jerusalem, Jesus, don’t even think about it, and certainly don’t talk about it…It’s bad for morale…”

On one occasion Jesus had had a busy day. He wanted some time alone, to pray. So he sent Peter and the others back across the lake in their boat.[10] They were at home on the water, fishermen through and through, but soon it turned rough. The waves swept the boat and the wind was against them. they were rowing with all their might, but getting nowhere. Where was Jesus when you needed him? But then Peter, peering into the darkness and the spray, saw a figure, walking on the water towards them. “It’s a ghost,” they all said . It must be – it’s walking on the water. But the ghost called out, “Don’t be afraid, it is me.” It was Jesus’ voice. “Is that you, Lord?” called Peter “If it is, tell me to come to you on the water…” “Come on then,” said the figure, and with not a thought in his head, Peter jumped out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus on the water. Like you do. Except that you don’t, of course. You can’t walk on water – I can’t walk on water, you can’t walk on water -  and as Peter looked around at this rough, wild sea, he suddenly remembered that he couldn’t walk on water either, and he started to sink. “Save me, Lord” In a moment, Jesus was there, holding out his hand, pulling him up, taking him safely – across the water – to the boat.
This story features in one of our stained glass windows, as does the next.

And while I’m here at the back of the church, here he is again, getting it right and getting it wrong at the transfiguration[11]. One day Jesus took him, and James and John – the inner circle – up a mountain to pray. They didn’t know what would happen, but they knew it would be important. Suddenly, says the story, Jesus seemed to be all aglow, gleaming white, and beside him, two men – Elijah, and Moses, here with the Ten Commandments. Peter, James and John fell to their knees in astonishment as they watched the three men talking together. It was a wonderful sight, and suddenly Peter couldn’t bear the thought of it ending… “Lord! I tell you what! I’ve got an idea! Why don’t I make some shelters for the three of you, then you can stay here for ever…” and at that a cloud came down and when it lifted, all was as it had been before. Vision gone. Game over. Well done Peter…

But there’s another window in our church (over the altar) where we are reminded of the time when he got it right, and got it wrong in the most spectacular way of all. Jesus knew he was going to die. He told his disciples it was bound to happen. You don’t criticise Rome and get away with it for long, especially if you are criticising the Jewish Temple elite, who might have protected you, at the same time.
On the night before he died, gathering his disciples around them, Jesus told them that this was the moment.[12] “You will all desert me when I am taken,” he said. “Oh no we won’t “said Peter. “At least, I won’t anyway – I’d never leave you. This is me, Peter, remember…!” But Jesus told him that before the morning came and the cock crowed he would have denied him three times. Peter was determined it wouldn’t be so, and when Jesus called him and James and John to stay with him while he prayed out in the garden of Gethsemane, they were glad to be with him. But, the night was dark, the wine had flowed, and soon their eyelids drooped and they fell asleep. Once, twice Jesus came back and woke them. “Couldn’t you just watch with me one hour?” But no, again they fell asleep. And then the soldiers came, and seized Jesus and began to take him away.
Peter sprang up and started to fight. He pulled out his sword and cut off the ear of one of those taking Jesus away. “That’s not the way, Peter – not my way,” said Jesus and he reached out and healed the man’s ear.
So Jesus was taken, off into the dark, as his disciples ran away. Only Peter remained there in the darkness, as his Lord was led away, watching from the shadows. And after a while he followed, picking his way through the dark streets to the High Priest’s house where Jesus had been taken -  his heart was in the right place, and no one else had even the courage he had. When he got there, he found a few people gathered outside the door and he could see Jesus inside. Pretty soon the others gathered there noticed him, though. “Don’t I recognise you’? Weren’t you one of Jesus’ disciples?” Peter thought quickly. “Me, no not me – you must have mistaken me for someone else?” “Are you sure – you sound like a Galilean…” “No, not me…” And then the cock crowed, and Peter remembered, and Jesus, inside the house, turned and looked at Peter outside, and Peter wept. And he went away and hid. He hid as Jesus was crucified. He hid as he was buried. He hid, because he thought it was all over for him. Some rock he turned out to be!

Peter is everyman, everywoman, everychristian. He meant well. His heart was in the right place, but sometimes it just didn’t work out as he meant it to. He failed. He didn’t mean to, and he bitterly regretted it, but he failed. And so do we.

Part 3.
And then what…?

So, there was Peter, hiding, afraid, thinking it was all over for Jesus and all over for him. But it wasn’t so. Three days later, some of the women who’d followed Jesus came to say that they’d seen him, alive and well.[13] Peter couldn’t believe it, but being Peter, he had to check it out for himself. He set out at a run for the tomb, and when he got there, sure enough, it was empty. And soon, he and the other disciples seemed to be seeing Jesus, or hearing from others who had all over the place. Go back to Galilee, Jesus told them, so that’s what they did. But Peter couldn’t quite shake the memory of his denial. Could Jesus really forgive him? One day Peter decided to go fishing on the sea of Galilee[14]. The others came with him, but all that night they caught nothing.  But just as they were giving up they saw a figure on the lakeside. Throw your nets on the other side, he called. So they did, and their nets were filled with so many fish the nets looked likely to break. It could only be Jesus. Peter jumped out of the boat and swum to the shore. After they had had breakfast with Jesus, Jesus looked at Peter. “Do you love me, Peter?” Here it was – the moment of reckoning. After all denying him wasn’t exactly an act of devotion was it? “Yes, Lord” said Peter. “Are you sure you love me?” “ Yes, Lord!” “Really sure?” “Yes Lord – why do you keep asking” Peter was miserable, sure that Jesus would never trust him again. “Then feed my sheep, look after my people for me. I’m trusting them to you, Peter, the Rock”. And Peter knew he was forgiven, and more than forgiven. He was trusted with the most precious thing Jesus had, the people he had called to him, the people he had tried to help. (This story features in the window by the font)

And according to the book of Acts, which tells the story of the early church, Peter lived up to his promise. Time and again he spoke out when it was needed, no matter what the risk.[15] Once he was thrown into prison, and was convinced he would die.[16] James, his friend – one of those three - had already been killed. But that night an angel appeared before him and told him to get up. The chains that bound him fell off, and the door opened before him. There was no one to stop him. He just walked right out. He thought he was dreaming, but when he got outside, it was real. He was free. He went back to the house where the other disciples were gathered, praying for him, and knocked on the door. A maid in the household – Rhoda was her name, and she was a believer too – came to the door and hearing Peter’s voice ran back in, so excited that she left him there, and it wasn’t till he knocked again that they realised that the guest of honour was still outside in the street.

He was determined to get the message out – God loves you, God accepts you, no matter who you are or what you’ve done… Sometimes it was a struggle.[17] When God asked him to go to a Gentile house, all he could think of was all the disgusting unclean things he might have to eat there, but if that was what it took, he’d go. And pretty soon he found that, indeed, people looked to him for a lead, leant on him for support. Simon had become Peter, the rock.

Legend says that in the end he was executed by the Emperor Nero in Rome, and perhaps he was. What is certain is that he didn’t just inspire a generation, he inspired two thousand years of generations. He did that, not by being some kind of hero, but by being like us, faithful and faithless, brave and fearful, right and wrong, a miserable failure, and a man who knew what it was like to be forgiven and loved again.
My guess is that we can all recognise ourselves in his story somewhere, and perhaps in many places. We are all caught up in the net of this story, and just like Peter we can discover the love of God that carries us through our lives and is with us no matter what.

To read all the passages below, go to this link

[1] probably Capernaum – Luke 4.31-39, or Bethsaida.Jn1.44
[2] Matt 4.18
[3] Luke 4.38
[4] 1 Cor 9.5
[5] Jn 1.40
[6] Mt 15.15
[7] Mt 19.27
[8] Mt 18.21
[9] Mark 8.27-38
[10] Mt 14.28
[11] Luke 9.28
[12] Luke 22.31-62
[13] Luke 24.12
[14] Jn 21
[15] Acts 4
[16] Acts 12
[17] Acts10

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