A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Sunday, February 6, 2022

By: Kilpy Singer, Director of Youth Ministries


Have you ever changed jobs? Or careers? Have you suddenly had to move or switch schools? Moving and making changes is exciting, but it’s also disorienting. It’s part of life, it’s part of growing, but it’s also inherently uncomfortable. A job change or a move can be slightly more palatable if we know it’s the right thing to do. Even better if we actually feel called to do it, but even that doesn’t make it easy.

Our gospel lesson today is about one of those big life changes. When we meet Simon, he is an unassuming fisherman, just finishing up a tough day. Then this random man appears and bring with him this huge crowd. People are pushing in and trying to catch a glimpse. He comes over to Simon and sort of just grabs his boat. Not only that but he then tells him how to do his job, how to fish. In a doubtful and smart-alecky way, Simon says something like, “Yeah, we’ve been out here all day and found nothing, but sure. You can totally do my job better than me.” Why would he trust a strange man who, based on the wear of his calloused hands, is more of a carpenter type than a fisher?

Still, Simon does what the man says, perhaps to prove a point or just to humor himself. Then, lo and behold, he catches so many fish that they’re about to break his nets and overflow his boat. I imagine he’s feeling a bit overwhelmed and also a bit embarrassed at this point. He’s suddenly having to scramble with all the fish. He doesn’t even have the equipment to handle it. He was wrong, but how? Who is this guy named Jesus showing up and shaking this up?

I wonder if there are any parts of Simon’s encounter with Jesus that sound familiar. The doubt, the overwhelm, the confusion. Encountering Jesus isn’t always a straightforward thing. Like Simon, we don’t always recognize him, even when he’s right in front of us. I, for one, am really good at keeping myself busy and distracted. That can make it hard to tune into Jesus’s presence. Or sometimes I flat out don’t trust him, and sort of halfheartedly go along. “You want me to do what now? Okay, sure, you totally know better than I do. Whatever you say, Lord.”

It’s hard to talk about this doubt or reluctance. We trick ourselves into thinking that we are the only ones. But, although I don’t know all the details of your faith journeys, I’m pretty sure we’ve all had a moment, or two, or twenty-five, like Simon. Most, if not all of our ancestors of the faith have dealt with this in some way. Mother Teresa, C.S. Lewis, Moses. It’s not uncommon, and it’s something Jesus can handle.

Notice that Jesus still called them. Amidst their uncertainty, Jesus still used them to do beautiful work in the world. Looking at our passage, we see that Jesus still calls and uses Simon, too. His array of emotions and confusion doesn’t anger Jesus or even deter him. With compassion, he opens Simon’s eyes and reveals his glory. Then, he gives him work to do. Jesus tells him that, from now on, he will be catching humans instead of fish. Simon’s life and job are transformed by this call. His work now is to minister to the people, to be a fisher of people. He is to proclaim the Gospel, walk with Christ, and serve the world, just as he is.

We, too, are called to this work, just as we are. We don’t need to have it all together or have it all figured out. Jesus invites us to follow him just as we are. And as follows of Christ, we inherit this ministry that began with Simon. We carry on his work as ministers to the world.

Now when I was younger, I thought that “ministry” was reserved just for those folks who wanted to work at churches or be some type of “Professional Christian”. In time, I learned that wasn’t true at all . We are actually a part of a tradition that sees all of us as ministers of the Church.

If you look at the back of the pew in front of you, you should see a book with a cross on it, The Book of Common Prayer. If you’re a visual learner like me, you can pick it up and turn to page 855. Otherwise, you’re welcome to just listen. This section of the BCP is called the Catechism, and, in a question-and-answer format, it teaches the essential truths of the Christian faith and how we as Episcopalians live those truths. Halfway down the page you’ll see “The Ministry.” Question: Who are the ministers of the Church? Answer: The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.
There it is. Every single one of us in this room falls into one of those categories. We all are ministers of the Church.

So, since the vast majority of us are lay people, let’s look at the next question: What is the ministry of the laity? Answer: The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.

Represent Christ, bear witness to him using your gifts, carry forward Christ’s reconciliation, and be present in this community. When we came to believe in Jesus, and when we responded through baptism, confirmation, or being a part of this parish, we inherited this ministry. Jesus began it with the disciples and he continues it through us today. As Christians, we have a deeper purpose and are called to live it out in all that we do.

You all already live into this call in so many ways. Last week at our annual parish meeting, we had the chance to look back at some of those. We remembered and reflected that, despite it being another challenging year, Jesus still showed up in this place and worked through us. The Annual Parish Report, which can still be found in the narthex, is full of pictures and highlights that tell that story. Now, we are in a new year and trying to figure out how to continue answering our call to ministry.

And in the Rector’s Report at the meeting last week, David shared a beautiful vision for what this ministry might look like. He said that “we, St Mary’s church, are called and prepared to be a part of Jesus’s work, to bind up and heal what’s hurt, to proclaim the Good News of Christ.”

I love his vision, and I especially appreciate the reminder that we aren’t asked to go at this alone. David didn’t point to “you”, he spoke as a “we, the church”. Notice in the gospel lesson that Simon has people alongside him the whole time. When Jesus fills his nets with so much fish that they’re about to break, what does Simon do first? He signals to his friends for help. He asks them to share the load. And when he follows off after Jesus, he doesn’t follow alone. James and John are with him, and we’re told they are his partners. In fact, the last few verses don’t even focus on Simon as an individual. “He” changes to “they”. When Simon encounters Christ and receives his call, he becomes a “we” and not a “me”. He is simultaneously called to follow Christ and to do it with friends. Together, they will be catchers of people.

All of us here are also a “we” and not a “me”. We are bound together in Christ. So when the tasks of ministry seem too overwhelming, or you aren’t sure what really needs to be done or how to even begin in the first place, don’t forget about who’s beside you. Look to your left and your right, in front and behind, and lean on your partners, these partners, for help. Together, we will continue the ministry of Simon and all the disciples. Christ has called us, just as we are, and Christ has united us, so let’s go fishing.