An old story we hear from the Gospel of Luke, an old story the community of faith has remembered and told over and over again; the story of the calling of the disciples, the first people to be caught up in the vision of Jesus, the first people to follow the divine invitation.
It happens down at the lakeside, the Sea of Galilee…a mysterious invitation to Simon Peter, to James and John.
So there he is… Simon Peter… That’s a type of guy we usually identify with. Just minding his own business, getting on with his ordinary daily life, fishing, and then after that, all the clean-up work, the tidying of the nets, making sure everything is ready for the next trip out.
And that’s when Jesus enters his life. In the ordinary… everyone’s ordinary… That’s where and when Jesus is going to drop by for a visit.
We don’t have to be a saint, or hang out in synagogue or church. It’s just as likely to break through in whatever we are doing… fishing, working, taking care of the kids, spending time with friends, dealing with daily routine tasks.
And all of a sudden, we see things differently; all of a sudden our world opens up in the ordinary, and we realize we haven’t just visited this world. We are living – truly LIVING – and realize the Breath of Life has touched us. In our ordinary lives, the Spirit arises… And suddenly we see deep into this world, deep into the life of our own.
Jesus comes up to Simon Peter, and the others, when they have returned from fishing with their nets empty. And then, Luke says, “Jesus got into their boat.” … That’s probably how Jesus gets into our boat, into our life…when the nets are empty in our daily life. Simon Peter fished all night long and caught nothing, which left them utterly exhausted.
Maybe we are familiar with this kind of feelings. We’ve worked all day long, for years…and yet, it feels like our nets are empty. What we’ve managed to catch seems disappear on the waves… What we expected, what we hoped for, what we thought we deserved – all just seems disappeared. Even with all the time and energy we spent, our net still looks empty.
I am familiar with this kind of feelings from time to time…especially since I came to North America, since started spending enormous amount of time and energy working in the United Church in the middle of this foreign land. I’ve sweated blood and tears…yet…sometimes my nets look still empty. As I get older, there seem to be more of this coming right up to me. It seems endless.
Have you ever felt like this before?
Sometimes that’s when the encounter with Christ might happen – when we’re running on empty. Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Do it again. Try one more time. But this time, do it differently.”
As most of you might know, he did. Well, Peter could’ve said no. It’s just an invitation. He could’ve looked at Jesus and said, “Well, things can’t change sometimes, you know. I’m too exhausted today for another ride.” Peter could’ve said that, but he didn’t. He said “Yes” to the invitation, though he was free to say “No.”
“Yes… I’ll go fishing again; and with you Jesus in my boat, I will go deep and do it differently.”
He never knew…that was the moment when his entire life had changed until the end.
Jesus didn’t just say, “Try it again.” He had a suggestion about what to do: “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets.” Go deeper; don’t just skim the surface. Go deep. Deeper than the limitation you created. Let your nets down where perhaps you’ve been too uncomfortable to fish before.
Then what happened? The nets came up so full of fishes that it was strained to the breaking point, hundreds and hundreds of fresh fishes, bright scales catching the sunlight. Peter saw the Light of God…in a huge abundance of life, overflowing with vitality…wonder…delight…full of mysteries. That’s what he saw at the day. The nets became a glimpse of how Jesus sees the world, a glimpse of what the world is really like…what each of us is really like.
That’s what Peter saw. And, sisters and brothers, that’s what we see today.
A patient of a rehabilitation center in the U.S. left this over 100 years ago.
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve more
But I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey…
I asked for health, that I might do greater things
But I was given infirmity, that I might do better things…
I asked for riches, that I might be happy
But I was given poverty, that I might be wise…
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of people
But I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God…
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life
But I was given life, that I might enjoy all things…
I got nothing that I asked for
But I got everything that I had hoped for
My life is a blessing indeed.
Maybe Jewish Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was right when he said, “Just to be is holy; just to live is a blessing.”
Today’s story ends with a dramatic conclusion. Seeing the nets full of blessings of God, “they left everything and followed him.” They left the old self and “followed” the voice, followed the one who has shown us the wonder of the world, wonder of ourselves, followed the Way that shows direction and what this world is all about. Responded to the invitation… Said “Yes” to the Holy Invitation…
Many years ago when there was not yet much understanding on the mentally challenged persons in the U.S., a mentally challenged young girl named Annie was locked in a basement cell in a mental institution. She was declared hopelessly insane. Confined to a living death in a small dark cage, she was given enough food to keep her alive, but little else in the way of care.
A nurse, nearing at her retirement age, however, believed there was still hope in Annie’s life. Although this violent little girl had ignored the nurse, the nurse had always spoken words of care and respect to her from outside of the cage. The nurse often left small treats for her, some brownies and some cookies. Each day when the nurse returned to Annie’s cell, the treat was gone yet Annie never turned her face to her benefactor, as if she wasn’t even aware of the presence of the nurse.
Slowly, however, a change came over to Annie. She gradually became less violent, and finally began responding to the offer of friendship from the nurse. Over time Annie improved enough to be allowed to move upstairs of the institution, where she attended school and began to develop more and more, and learned how to read and write.
After a while, she was at last released from the institution, and much to people’s surprise, began to work as a teacher for difficult children like herself in the past.
Little Annie… Her real name is Ann Sullivan, probably best known as the teacher and life-long friend of Helen Keller who was the first blind and deaf university graduate in the world, a well-known activist for humanity who has inspired and encouraged people all over the world, even after her own death.
When Hellen Keller was small, people once gave up on little Helen who was suffering from her physical difficulties. Helen’s frustration often made her too aggressive. Maybe you just have a beautiful image of Helen Keller from all the wonderful stories in her adulthood, but she was so much different back in her childhood – arrogant and aggressive just as little Ann Sullivan used to be.
Many people saw nothing hopeful on little Helen, but Annie was different. Annie broke through the isolation, frustration and apathy of Helen, and had continuously supported her to blossom as this deaf and blind girl could learn to communicate.
With Annie’s ceaseless support, Helen Keller began to find her world is quite different from what she initially thought, and gradually regained her strength to see the world and herself differently. Many of you, I think, already know what she became out of darkness after that.
The nurse went deep into the spirit of little Annie, and Annie went deep into the spirit of Helen Keller who later crawled out of darkness to see the world differently. Sometimes with pain and suffering, sometimes with anger, sometimes with much frustration… the nurse, young Annie and young Helen dared to explore the deep water of the reality, their own life and the people in front of their eyes…dared to explore the life once even they themselves almost gave up on.
Today, we will leave this sanctuary like the nurse, like Anne Sullivan, and like Helen Keller… like the one who doesn’t play around on the surface, like the one who sails out far deep, far beyond.
Today, with the One who shows us the way, we go out holy fishing. With hope, with faith, with all that we are, we go into deep water and do it differently.
Today, we discover the life once again – despite of all the same things around us – we discover the world just as Simon Peter did.
The world we live in is a blessing. Just to live, just to be is a blessing. With this divine mystery, we go holy fishing…deep into the life of our daily life, into the life of others, into the world God has been and will be touching.
Your nets are empty?
For God’s sake, we do it differently.