Rev. Ed Musson
Psalm 138; Isaiah 6: 1-8; 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11; Luke 5: 1-11

Today is the fifth Sunday in Epiphany, the season of the church year when we are to be looking for Jesus’ presence among us. It directs us to ask ourselves a question. Where have you seen Jesus this week?
Our Gospel lesson today is a story of obedience. It is also a story of blessing. Blessing comes hard on the heels of obedience. First, obedience — then, blessing! Obedience isn’t a popular word today. Marriage ceremonies used to include the phrase, “love, honor, and obey,” but it seems that we long ago took scissors to that word, “obey.” That isn’t necessarily bad — just a fact — but a fact that tells us something about our values. We don’t prize obedience. We prize independence — freedom — creativity — individuality. Those things seem incompatible with obedience. How can a person be both free and obedient? How can a person be both creative and obedient? How can a person express his or her individuality while obeying another person? Obedience seems out of step with the things that we really prize. And, if there is anything worse than obedience, it is blind obedience. It is one thing to obey, but another to obey without questioning. Before we act, we want to know where we are going. We don’t like to trust another person to give us the right answer. We want to check their math – to make sure that they haven’t made a mistake. We want to be sure that their directions won’t take us somewhere that we don’t want to be. And there is certainly something to be said for that. We must get a thousand messages a day telling us to do this or to buy that – every message promising to solve grievous problems with the click of a mouse — each message requiring another decision.
Most of the decisions are easy. When I check email, I keep my finger poised over the delete key. Sometimes I delete a dozen emails at a time. I do that, because I know that people who send those emails aren’t trustworthy. They might deliver the product, but not the promise.

The question, then, is “Who can we trust?” The answer, happily, is that we can trust lots of people. Most people with whom we rub shoulders day by day are decent. That doesn’t mean that they are always right – or even that their motives are always pure. It does mean that, if we mix in a bit of common sense — reasonable caution — we can go through life trusting most people. It helps to know them first, of course. That is why we pastors encourage young people not to marry too quickly — they need to know a person really well before committing to a lifelong relationship. It’s also why the story this morning is about “seeing Jesus”.

I want to tell you about a little girl named Amy. Amy was five years old. She’d come home from kindergarten eager to tell her mother about her exciting day. She’d been all giggles and energy as she bounced along on the school bus, and she’d thought she just couldn’t contain herself any longer. She wanted to share her wonderful day with someone she loved. But, today hadn’t been a good day for Amy’s Mom. She’d hoped to have so much more done by the time Amy came home from school. But, a nagging migraine had laid her low most of the morning. It was all she could do, after cleaning up the breakfast dishes, to put a load of clothes into the washer and transfer them to the dryer before Amy’s bus had pulled up in front of their little house.
So, giggles and energy weren’t very welcome at that particular moment. As she climbed down off the bus, Amy could see her mother wasn’t feeling well. So, she didn’t share all the wonderful things she had wanted to say. Quietly, Amy ate her lunch. And, Mom asked her to pick up the toys in her room and pull up the covers on her bed when she finished. Mom was going to lie down because of her headache. Now, Amy loved to please her mother, and she had really good intentions of doing exactly as her mother had asked. But, twenty minutes later, when Mom went in to check on Amy’s progress in cleaning her room, she was annoyed to find it just as messy as it had been when Amy had left for school that morning. Ready to scold Amy for not doing as she’d been asked, Mom went looking for her little girl. Mom was surprised to find Amy in the laundry room, carefully folding each piece of clothing as she took it from the dryer and put it into the basket Mom had left waiting on the floor nearby. Amy just looked up at her mother and smiled. She said she was going to clean her room in just a minute, but she knew Mom needed some help today, so she thought it would be okay to fold the clothes first and then do her room. Mom’s anger evaporated as Amy smiled up at her. She kneeled down and brought Amy into a bear hug and held her close for a long warm embrace. The two of them finished folding the clothes, went into Amy’s room and picked up toys together, pulled up the covers on Amy’s bed. They then and then laid down together on Mom’s bed so Amy could tell her all about her day. As the giggles and wonder moved from Amy’s stories into Mom’s hurting head, Mom said a silent prayer thanking God for the healing gift of her little daughter. On that day, Jesus’ healing touch came through the words of a little child who shared love. Where have you seen Jesus this week?

The fishermen in our gospel reading today shared an amazing experience with Jesus that day along the Sea of Gennesaret. Tired after fishing all night, the men were repairing their nets before eagerly heading home for a meal and a time to sleep before they’d have to go back out on the lake to start all over again at sunset. But, along came this guy who asked them to take him out in one of the boats, just a little way off shore so he could talk to the crowds that were following him as he walked along. Now, I’m sure the fishermen were curious about what Jesus had planned. Maybe they recognized him from the reputation that was beginning to grow around him wherever he went. Simon may have recalled that Jesus helped his mother in law’s headache. So, loading up their nets again, they went along with what Jesus asked them to do. We don’t know how long Jesus taught the people from the boat. But, when he was finished he made an unusual request: “Put out into the deep water, and let down your nets for a catch.” Any good fisherman knew it was nearly impossible to catch fish in the Sea of Gennesaret in the middle of the day. The waters were too warm, the fish had all retreated to the bottom where the cooler water protected them. Still, Simon did as he was asked — maybe just to teach the teacher a lesson.

Simon was amazed and energized by what happened next. Practically as soon as he let down his nets, the fish were jumping all around his boat. His partners, James and John, rowed over to help Simon bring up the nets, and both their boats were nearly capsized with the abundance of fish, caught in the midday sun. What in the world was going on here, Simon must have thought. Almost instantly, Simon realized he was in the presence of someone who had power and authority. Simon, the tired, dirty, hungry fisherman, who wasn’t allowed to enter the synagogue because of his daily work and othordox hours realized he was confronted with the very presence of God in the person of Jesus, the teacher. “Go away from me,” he begged Jesus. I think he was afraid he would be judged sinful and unclean. But, Jesus reached out to Simon and to James and John that day on the Sea of Gennesaret. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus said. “You’ll soon be catching people!” I can almost see Jesus smile, a little slyly, as he watches to see what effect his words will have on these men. And, he is not disappointed when all three fishermen leave behind their investments and their way of life and follow after him, eager to find out more about this one who can do such amazing things. As the explanations and examples of love moved from Jesus’ words and actions into Simon’s hurting heart, Simon must have said a silent prayer thanking God for the healing gift of this amazing teacher. On that day, Jesus’ healing touch came through the acceptance he showed for someone the world had cast out. Where have you seen Jesus this week? Jesus shared his life with Simon and James and John and the other men and women who chose to follow him. Looking beyond their neediness, and beyond their status in society, Jesus reached out and included them in God’s love. They didn’t always understand just what this inclusive love really meant for their lives. It took them a long time to learn to imitate Jesus’ loving inclusion. But, I’d like to think, after repeated exposure to Jesus’ embodiment of God’s love, they might have caught on to the fact that they were to pass this love along to others, just as Jesus had brought it to them.

My friends’- You and I have received God’s loving kindness. Like Simon, we are not really worthy to get such a precious gift. We’re often tired and dirty and hungry and choose to do things that will hurt other people.
We don’t take care of God’s good earth the way we have been asked to do. Sometimes we just forget. Other times we make an active choice about how we will behave. But, Jesus — the same one who laughed with the fishermen, who served lunch to 5000 hungry, inquisitive outsiders. who comes to you and me and loves us.
Jesus forgives us when we’ve turned away, and yet when we remember to ask for forgiveness. we find to our surprise that that even before we ask, that forgiveness is waiting for us, a promise made to us at our baptism. Jesus — the same one who ate with the cheating tax collectors, who promised a woman living in sin living water, who healed lepers and the mentally ill without ever asking them to confess faith in him — that same Jesus comes us and loves us. You and I have a responsibility to show our thanks for this precious gift by passing it on to others. It’s a lesson our children teach us time and time again. It’s a story that’s been told by believers and non-believers alike. When you think someone is on the outside of God’s loving embrace, because they “have unclean lips” like Isaiah, or their every day work is not very respectable like Simon, or even if they’ve spoken critically about Christian faith like Paul, think again. Reach out and include that one in your loving embrace. That’s what Jesus has done for you. Where have you BEEN Jesus this week?