Luke 5: 1–11
This evening I am so full of thanksgiving that after more than a year we brothers are able to welcome you back to our Tuesday evening Eucharist. It is so appropriate that our Gospel today is all about vocation: about how God calls us to life.
The monastery is here because in 1866 Richard Meux Benson, Charles Grafton, and Simeon Wilberforce O’Neil answered God’s call and founded the Society of St John the Evangelist. We are all here tonight because in different ways we too have heard the call of God in our own lives and have said yes.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls Peter, James, and John to follow him, and they say yes. It is one of those passages that give me goose bumps, as I imagine what it must have been like to have had Jesus come up to you and look into your eyes and say, ”Come follow me.” Those first disciples must have been amazed, puzzled, perplexed. “Who is this man who so draws us to him, and in whose presence we so profoundly sense the presence of God and the Spirit? Who is this man?”
And those crowds in this story are no different. Crowds and crowds, so many that Jesus was beginning to get swamped by them. He looks around at the lakeside and he sees two boats, and he turns to Simon who owns the boats and asks him if he would put out a little way into the lake so that he could better speak to the crowds. After speaking for a while to the people he spoke again to Simon and says, “Simon, put down your nets into deep waters. Simon did not want to do so. He had been at it all night and caught nothing: there were no fish around here. But because Jesus asked him to, he does so. And this time the nets are full to breaking with fish. It is as if this was a sign to show how Simon’s life was about to change. Until now, until this encounter with Jesus, his life was pretty shallow, but now his life was to be fulfilled in a way he could never have imagined. Simon began to live life abundantly. The same is true with James and John. When they had brought their boats ashore, they left everything and followed him.
What I love about these stories of Jesus calling men and women to follow him is that we are always told their names. Jesus does not just choose another few men or a couple women. It says he chose Simon and called him Peter. He chose James and John. When Jesus calls us to follow him he calls us by name.
In the following chapter of Luke’s gospel we read that Jesus spends a whole night in prayer before, the following morning, he chooses his twelve disciples. And the next day he chooses each one by name. I think that is very important about vocation. In Isaiah chapter 43 we read, “Thus says the Lord who created you, who formed you. Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine.” Those disciples were called by name, and so are we. Remember those first pages of the Book of Genesis, when God created the heavens and the earth. Everything he created he immediately named. “God called the light day, God called the dome sky, God called the dry land earth.” God called me Geoffrey! God called you by your name, for we are created for relationship. God yearns to know and love everything he has created intimately.
The first important thing about vocation then, is that God creates us and calls us by name. The second is that when God calls us by name he calls us to be fully who we ARE and not to become somebody different!
There is a story I like about the Russian rabbi Zusia. One day some students were talking with him and the first said, “Rabbi Zusia, I am afraid that when I appear before the Holy One he will ask me, ’Why did you not have the faith of Abraham?’ A second student said, ‘I am afraid that when I am before the Holy One he will ask me, ‘Why did you not have the patience of Job?’ Then a third student said, ‘Rabbi I am afraid that when I stand before the Holy One he will ask me, ‘Why did you not have the courage of Moses?’
Then they all asked Rabbi Zusia, ‘Rabbi, when you appear before the Holy One which question do you most fear?’ Rabbi Zusia answered, ‘When I appear before the Holy One I ‘m afraid he’ll ask me, ‘Zusia, why were you not Zusia?’”
So often we look around and compare ourselves unfavorably with others. ‘I wish I were really intelligent like her. I wish I were as confident and accomplished as him. If only I had her gifts. But God made you to be YOU. And God does not make mistakes! He does not create you and say, ‘I want you to be like him or her.’ God calls you to be more the ‘you’ that God had in mind when he created you. My vocation is not to become like someone else, perhaps the image of a saint who I think I should be like, but to become more ‘me’. My life is about becoming more that wonderful person whom God created me to be. I am not there yet. Sin and selfishness and pride all hold me back, but I do dare to hope that, by the grace of God, I am on the way! I believe God longs for each of us to become more and more that marvelous person God created us to be. There is a great Psalm, number 139, which puts this beautifully: ‘for you created my inmost parts: you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will thank you because I am marvelously made.’
I wonder how often in your prayers you pray that sort of prayer? We are so often aware of how we have messed up, sinned, fallen short. Why not, when you are praying, try looking at yourself in the mirror, in the presence of God? Don’t look and say ‘O no another gray hair!’ No, look at yourself and say in holy wonder, “Thank you God that I am marvelously made.”
“I am made in the very image and likeness of God”: so look in the mirror at someone who is marvelously made in God’s very image, and give thanks.
Every day God calls us to become more fully who we were created to be: to grow in holiness day by day. St Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians puts it this way: “All of us with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (Ch. 3: v. 18)
God wants us to become fully the person he created us to be and not to settle for anything less: to become so alive that when people see us they actually see something of God radiating through us and glorifying God. I think that is what those halos which painters put around holy people are about, trying to express the sense that they were reflecting God’s light. This church this evening is full of extraordinary people – you and me. Each one of us is a unique vocation. Each has been called into being by a loving God, and called by name. God longs for each of us to become the unique person that God made us to be, and to reflect the glory of God out into the world.
So what is your vocation? Who are you at the deepest level? When Jesus looks at you and loves you, who does he see? What is it which truly makes you come alive? Have you discovered it yet? Is God inviting you to take a risk and to go deeper?
You can be sure that like those first disciples, God will never abandon you to a life lived in the shallows. In today’s gospel, Jesus I believe offers us a challenge and a promise.
The challenge is, “Let your nets down into deep waters”.
The promise is, “You will be filled to overflowing with abundant life.”
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