Saturday, February 9, 2019

Year C, Epiphany 5, Luke 5.1-11, Abundant Grace

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
I’ve been preaching a series on grace these last few weeks, and we will continue with that theme today.
I actually didn’t intentionally choose to do this, it’s just how the Spirit moved me.
Grace is offensive.  That was the first observation.
Grace is offensive because it runs counter to everything we believe about right and wrong, justice and that strong belief we have that those who do wrong should be punished, while those who do right ought to be rewarded.
I used the example of granting amnesty to those who have come to our country illegally.  That would be offensive to us.  Our sense of right and wrong says that if foreigners want to live here then get in line, apply for a visa, and wait your turn.  Anything else offends our sense of justice.
But so also does the grace of God’s forgiveness.  It’s just not fair.  Punish the evil doer.  Reward the righteous.  That seems right.
But Jesus proves his love for us in that “while we were yet sinners, he died for us.”  While we were yet sinners. 
God’s grace offers forgiveness, not punishment.  It’s offensive to us until that point when we become aware of how desparately we need it.
But we are not entitled to grace.  That was last week’s theme.
One of the reasons grace is offensive is because it attracts those people who most need it but least deserve it.
That's the nature of Jesus' love.
Whether it was the people in his home town, or the religious elite, the scribes and Pharisees—the people who felt as though they deserved God’s special favor often left empty handed.
While at the same time it was those who the world had rejected, tax collectors and sinners, the leper, the outcast, foreigners, the riff raff of Jesus’ day who were drawn to Jesus and the message of grace and love he shared.
Bottom line is that you cannot merit the unmerited favor of God.  That’s grace.
Today, we shift our focus.
What is the nature of grace when it touches our own lives?
Grace splashes in on us like breaking waves on the seashore with a message of the goodness of life and the unconditional love of God.
When one’s life is deeply impacted by a grace filled moment it’s as though the whole world is filled with goodness leaving us to say, “This was a God thing.”
That’s grace.
Grace is even more overwhelming than it is offensive.
Such is God’s extravagance.
Today’s Gospel lesson gives us a good insight into the grace of God.
Jesus’ was teaching the crowds gathered on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, also known as the lake of Gennesaret.
He asked to use one of the boats there, and Simon Peter let him speak from the boat just off the seashore so that the crowds would not push in upon him.
After he was done speaking, Jesus tells Simon to set out into the deep and let down his nets.
Peter objects at first, saying “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
And so they did.
What happened was beyond their wildest expectations.
So many fish that the nets were breaking, and even with the assistance of the other boat there, they almost sank trying to bring the fish on board.
When we were first married we had fishermen as our neighbors in Gig Harbor, WA.  Purse Seiners. 
One of them told us the story of the ‘good old days’ salmon fishing in Puget Sound.
It was 1930.
There was a worldwide depression.
They set their nets, and in one setting they gathered in 10,000 salmon.  10,000.
Back then they got $1 per fish, so that was $10,000 in one set of the nets.  Adjusted for inflation that’s the equivalent of about $150,000 in today’s market.
That’s the kind of catch the disciples had that day.
And this was after a night of fishing where they had caught absolutely nothing.
Jesus overwhelms us with grace.
Not only that, but grace is God doing for us, what we cannot accomplish through all of our hard effort and labor.
I’ve shared with you my struggles with alcohol.
I apologize for returning to that, but it’s one of the most significant life experiences I’ve had.  And through it, the grace of God abounded.
One of the most grace filled moments of my life is that Karla stayed by my side when I hit my rock bottom.
As my drinking started spiraling out of control those last few months, Karla made the decision to get out of the situation.
When I drank to excess, she would retreat to a friend’s home where she’d spend the night.
And then came that day, October 14th, 2012.
I had received news of a major conflict brewing in my congregation and I went into a rage.
I tried to drink the rage away.
I started drinking at 2 in the afternoon, and that afternoon and evening I went through a fifth of Scotch, and then at the end, some of the Ativan I’d been prescribed which made matters much, much, worse.
For some unknown reason, Karla stayed by my side that night.
When I finally collapsed, taking a nasty fall, she was there to nurse me and help me through the remainder of the night.
The combination of alcohol and Ativan almost killed me.
The next morning my journey to sobriety began.
Since that time, I’ve never even been tempted to pick up a bottle and drink again.
Grace.  Far more than I deserved.
It came in the form of a wife staying by my side during the worst of times.
And in God’s removing from me the desire to drink.
And in hind sight, it was just overwhelming.  I didn’t deserve it.  We never do.  And neither could I have won that battle on my own.
But by the grace of God, I’m here today to tell the story.
One of the responses we often have when we’ve been overwhelmed by the grace of God, is the response that Peter had.
“Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
But God will have none of that, and that again is grace.
Jesus responds to Peter’s declaration of his sinfulness by calling him to ministry.
“Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.””
There are two things I’d like to point out about grace that are evident in the turn of events in this story.
First of all, God can use anybody to carry out his ministry.
Peter says:   “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
Paul says:  “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 toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.”
And I say: “How is it that I, a recovering alcoholic who suffers from bipolar disorder, and who has sinned in many and various ways, can be and remain a pastor?”
The answer for Peter, Paul, and pastors such as myself is the same.
It is not I, but Christ working through me.  And Christ is not hampered by our sinfulness.
The question each of us is faced with is NOT “are we worthy to be servants of Christ?” but rather “can Christ work through us?”
And the answer is that yes, Christ can work through you and me, in spite of our unworthiness.
The second aspect of God’s grace in this story of the abundant catch of fish is that God can do for us what we are unable to accomplish on our own.
It’s not about you.  It’s about Jesus.
I’ve struggled to an extent since I’ve come here to be your pastor.  I was full of optimism and quite confident as I began my ministry here.  I thought that my thirty years of experience might bring significant growth to the congregation.  Maybe.
But often it feels a lot like Peter may have been feeling that morning alongside the shores of Galilee.
“Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.”
I don’t know what the future holds for us.
I’ve kind of resolved myself to the reality that we are not likely bound to become a large congregation.
But this is the thing.
We might not make an impact on a lot of people’s lives.
But through us Christ can make a lot of impact on a few people’s lives.
That’s what I think about today.
It’d be wonderful for my ego if we had so many people coming that we couldn’t fit them all in the sanctuary, like the disciples couldn’t fit all the fish in the boat.
That’s not likely to happen.
But we can touch people with a word of grace.
If even one person comes to know and believe in the love of God for them, and the grace freely given to them, then it is enough.  It makes it all worthwhile.
Now I think less about how many people we will reach and more about who that one person will be whose life will be transformed by the Gospel we share.
We may never even know who that person is. . .
All we need to know is that Jesus can work through us to share his love with the world and his grace to all in need.  Amen

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