Sunday Sermon 6th February - Time for change
A transcript of our sermon and chosen prayers for the week can be found below.
Time for change
Welcome to our reflection for 6th February.
What do you do when things are going against you?
When things are just piling up on you and life is a struggle?
I know my temptation is to concentrate on myself, my own problems. In my head, I believe that if only I can get my crisis sorted out, get my life sorted out, then I will have time to do the other stuff that I want to do;
like create relationships or develop a more spiritual life.
But what if we have it the wrong way round?
That’s what we will be looking at today.
If you were to look at the news just now you would think that the world had never been as hard as it is now.
We have potential war in Ukraine, ongoing war in Yemen,
we have inflation really putting a dent in our standard of living,
fuel bills pushing people into poverty,
we have a government in crisis as it goes from one allegation, through to investigation to a report and the consequences of that report, followed by another allegation and another report,
we have the NHS stretched beyond capacity,
councils claiming that they are running out of money which means that essential services are being stretched if not cut.
Things are pretty bad.
The truth is, things have always been bad.
We look back with the rosy tint of nostalgia and presume that because we survived the past that it must have been less frightening than the present and the future.
Those that are old enough may look back to the Billy Graham campaigns in the last century and remember Celtic Park being packed with people coming to listen to a Christian preacher. We long for those days that such a thing would be possible. We forget that the reason Billy Graham came over was that people felt the country was going down the sewers.
This was a time of our churches, our political parties, our television companies discovering that they had paedophiles working freely within them,
we had wars in Korea and Vietnam,
we had countless economic crisis with inflation running around 15%,
racism was endemic and it was standard for women as well as minorities to get a lot less pay for the work that they did.
It was a time that rape within marriage was legal and that if a woman tried to leave an abusive husband, if she went back to the parental home, the most common response she would get was to be told to return to the abusive husband because, ‘you made your bed, so you have to go and lie in it.’
Each era has its own struggles.
And that is not to decry the struggles that people are going through now.
And that is not to decry the struggles that our churches are going through now.
The question is NOT ‘Are we in a tine of struggle?’
The question IS ‘What should be our response?’
This brings us to our Bible verses today.
Because I think we often look at these verses in some kind of vacuum; that their life was idyllic. Jesus is having a stroll round the beach, the disciples are waving at him as he goes by, Jesus asks Peter if he could use his boat and Peter looks up from sunbathing and says, ‘Sure why not?’
But if we are always in a time of struggle, then what was their struggles?
If you look at this map you see that just south of Gennesaret is a city called Tiberius.
This was a brand new city created by Herod over hot springs that could be used as spas. It cost a fortune to create and where did that money come from? Well taxing the local population.
What really rubbed salt into the wounds was that the local population would not get any benefit from this new city.
Because Tiberius had a cemetery for non-Jews in it, it was regarded as an unclean city and so no respectable Jew would live in the city.
What then happened was that all the non Jews would then be attracted to the new city taking with them a lot of local manual workers, people who would work on farms bringing in harvests. That put strain on the Jewish population paying for this city through their taxes but with less manual labour to create the produce to pay for the taxes.
There is a fair chance that when Jesus was living in Nazareth that his family would have felt an initial increase in wealth as his father and himself worked in the construction of the city. But then that wealth rapidly disappeared as the city was finished and the local non-Jewish carpenters lived and worked in the city to the exclusion of the Jewish carpenters that lived outside the city.
That story would have been reflected hundreds of times over as the city sucked the wealth away from the local area and into the city, yet still expected the local area to pay the same taxes to support it.
It caused great poverty, a huge sense of injustice and anger, and became the fermentation of various rebellious groups that wanted to see the world differently.
And then there is a day...
Peter’s family and John’s family have created a cooperative of fishing families, working together to help each other through the crisis.
They have fished throughout the night when the sun wasn’t creating a shadow of the boat in the water and the fish couldn’t see them coming.
But it hasn’t worked and they have caught little to nothing.
It would mean hunger for the families and stress for the business as taxes still had to be paid whether you got fish or not.
If things got really bad there would be conversations about selling some of the children into slavery to pay for the taxes.
This was a stressful time.
Even though they had caught nothing they still needed to tend the nets before they got home. That would mean cleaning them from any debris that might have got caught in the nets and repairing any damages.
They would have been tiring and frustrating work, probably fuelled with a bit of anger because of the problems looming over them.
Then along comes a local preacher, with a huge crowd in tow.
What is worse the crowd are completely thoughtless, only concerned with getting close to the preacher, not looking where they are going, they could get their feet tangled in the nets, they could rip the nets if they aren’t careful; more damage and costs that they don’t need.
So it might have been with a sense of reluctant inevitability that when Jesus asks if they could go on his boat to create a bit of distance and a natural platform for Jesus to speak from,
that Peter just agrees to put the nets back in the boat and take Jesus just off the shore. Better to get this guy done and away so they can get back to their nets.
We don’t know what Jesus said to the crowd that day.
It might have been the best sermon ever, had the best parables, the best teaching, the most profound insights; we don’t know, it was never recorded.
But what we do know is that what happened next touched Peter and his crew.
It touched them because it didn’t make any sense.
‘Push the boat out further to the deep water, and you and your partners let down your nets for a catch.’
It was wrong because it was the wrong time of day, the sun was up the boats would be creating a shadow on the lake.
The crowd had been big and noisy; it would have distresses the fish and driven them far away to quieter places.
They hadn’t had time to properly fix the nets so there would be a chance the any fish they tried to catch would escape in the holes in the nets.
It didn’t make sense...and yet it worked.
Then Jesus offered them a new path; to become disciples, to work towards something different; a new kingdom of justice and fairness where we follow God’s guidance no matter where it led.
And I think that is where we are today.
We find ourselves at a time of struggle and uncertainty.
Uncertainty for us as individuals, struggle for us as a church community.
When I look around at the people here, when I look around at what we have as a community, we are really fortunate, we like those disciples lifting up their nets, have an abundance of good in our lives. We have been given a gift of fellowship and care
And we would have the same temptation that Peter and his crew would have.
This goodness is a great blessing,
we need to be careful with it,
we can’t waste it,
we need to horde it, store it for a rainy day,
we need to think of ourselves first and make sure we are all right,
we need to protect what we have.
That is our temptation, the same as Peter’s.
But the offer that Jesus gives us is the same one that is offered to Peter.
Take the risk.
If God has given you this blessing, why wouldn’t he continue to do so?
So if you believe God is looking after you then you are free to look after others.
Why not, instead thinking of yourself, follow a life of reflection and growth and outreach?
Why not follow a life where every day is a day when we grow closer to God, and in doing so grow closer to his love of others.
Instead of trying to escape from the world, of protecting ourselves from the world, of hiding from the world, we instead take God’s gifts and engage with the world,
we become a vision of hope for the world where people can see a better future,
a light for the world so that others can see the pitfalls and avoid mistakes,
a healing for the world where we can help those that have fallen and need a helping hand back on their feet again.
Let me put it this way; no matter what happens in the future to us and our buildings, the truth is
we don’t need buildings to be kind,
we don’t need buildings to show love,
we don’t need buildings to be a good neighbour.
Jesus did not offer the disciples a new building; Jesus offered the disciples a kingdom to work towards.
God’s kingdom is still there, the offer still stands; all we need to do is have a wee bit of trust, and follow.
You did not start with a challenge; you started with a gift; so we remember the gifts that you have given us.
The gifts of relationship...
The gifts of ability...
The gifts of wealth...
The gifts of stability...
Once the gifts had been seen, then you gave your challenge; what do we do with our gifts, use them to protect ourselves from the world? Use them to engage with the world on your behalf? To be ambassadors of a better way? To live our lives as if your were constantly beside us, guiding and inspiring us to reach out in faith?
You have a path for us, give us the courage to follow it.