Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sermon - 5th Sunday of Epiphany

Luke 5:1-11   


I am going to ask you to make a decision this morning.  I want you to weigh the crisis associated with having too little against the crisis of having too much.  Crises of both types occur in the short story which serves as today’s Gospel reading.  There is a crisis of too little, and there is a crisis of too much.  And I am going to ask you to decide which is the most threatening.

The first crisis is upon the fishermen.  When Jesus enters the picture, they are washing their nets.  We learn later in the story that Simon, James and John are washing their nets because they have no fish to sell.  They tell Jesus, “we worked all night and caught nothing.”  We can’t say for sure whether these fishermen lived paycheck to paycheck, but we could be reasonably sure that it wasn’t a good thing to report “we worked all night and caught nothing.”

We can’t say for sure whether these fishermen were willing to let Jesus hop into their boat and row a little away from the shore because they were hoping for a few coins for their efforts.  But this is a possibility.  Their inability to sell fish and thus earn their wage may have been more than an inconvenience.  Certainly, they can’t endure endless days of work and nothing to show for it.

It was not a good thing – this crisis of having nothing to show for ones labors.  It is in the midst of this crisis that Jesus shows up.

Jesus starts to talk.  The crowd seems to listen.  When Jesus is finished he tells Simon to put out into the deep and let down his nets.  Simon’s response was the biblical era equivalent of “stay in your own lane, bro.”  What could this traveling preacher tell Simon about fishing?  Whether Jesus was insistent, or whether Peter thought “I’ll show you”, the nets are let down.  And then another crisis develops.  This time the crisis is of abundance.  There are too many fish!  The nets are beginning to break!  A second boat is summoned – and then both boats start to sink!  There is a crisis at hand!  A crisis of abundance.

Now.  This is where you get to make a decision.  Here is where I would like to get your opinion.  Which is worse?  The crisis of sacristy?  Or the crisis of abundance?

Not catching any fish was not a good thing.  And if that happened for a number of days in a row, these fishermen might be faced with the thought of selling their nets, and/or their boats, and looking for another like of work.  It is a crisis, to experience sacristy.

But when the abundance came, it is not as if they are no longer in danger.  What if the nets did break?  And fall to the bottom of the sea?  Or what would they do were their boats to sink?  What would happen to them then?

Let’s think about our earlier voting.  Which is the greater crisis?  Too little?  Or too much?

For the most part, those of us gathered here this morning face the latter of these crisis.  We have so much.  We live in the crisis of how to handle abundance.  I do not wish to minimize the struggles and stresses of those who suffer from a crisis of sacristy.  If I were preaching in their midst, I am sure God would have put a different message in my mouth.  But today I am talking to y’all – and to myself – and we are those who live in a crisis of abundance.  And it is a crisis.  No less than the fishermen in our story this abundance it a threat.  Our nets can rip and fall to the bottom of the sea, and our boats could sink.

A campus pastor at a different university spoke this week about the crisis of abundance seen in the lives of the involved students.  These students are bright and gifted and talented and capable of so many things.  If they were not so bright and gifted and talented and capable they would face fewer options as they looked to their future.  But being all those things means they can choose, it means they have to choose – and the enormity of options becomes overwhelming. 

What if I choose the wrong major?  Work in the wrong lab?  Take the lesser internship?  Accept a job which won’t bring me happiness? - - The weight of abundance can rip and sink.

A weird and destructive aspect of abundance is the way it fools us into looking for the one place where abundance is not as apparent.  We have plenty of most things, but we perceive ourselves as lacking in this other thing.  Forgetting huge piles and vast resources, we start to fixate on that which we worry might run short. 

Not always, but often this is money.  My grandmother used to say, “If money can fix your problems, you don’t have real problems.”  She said that from a certain level of abundance – she owned an 80-acre farm, and had five healthy children.  But her point is good to take to heart.

We live in abundance.  And our very abundance too often becomes our crisis. 

In order to protect what we have amassed we develop elaborate protections.  We seek ways to safeguard what is ours.  Added to the monthly expenses is a security system or remote cameras.  When we fill up our houses we rent storage units.  When we can’t keep our huge house clean we hire a cleaning service - but of course keep an eye on the workers that they don’t pocket our pretty, expensive trinkets. 

We live in abundance.  And our very abundance too often becomes our crisis. 

We sometimes refer to our abundance as “our way of life,” and it is.  The way of life most commonly lived by us and our peers is one of plenty and obesity and excess. 

This crisis of abundance is threatening.  This crisis of excess is oppressive.  We are so fearful of a crisis of scarcity that we have failed to see the crisis of having too much.

The pivot point in this story, between the two crisis, is when Jesus shows up.  It is the presence of Jesus which moves the disciples from one end of the spectrum to the other.  There is – of course – something theological to be said about this.  When Jesus comes, abundance is sure to follow.  In this story, that abundance even includes fish.  In other stories, it might include restoring of sight, or the ability to walk.  Sometimes the abundance which Jesus brings is the ability to see ourselves as loved and lovable – as is the case of the woman at the well or wee little Zachaeus who climbs up into a tree.

Where Jesus is, there is abundance.  We can feed and house and provide medical care for every man, woman, and child – if only we were to stop wars and building weapons of war and engaging in disputes about who should be in control.

We should not miss the point in this story when Simon and James and John walk away from their huge haul of fish.  Their crisis of abundance is solved by just leaving their earthly loot behind.
Remember your vote this morning.  And muse throughout the week about the crisis which abundance brings.  Pray for those experiencing sacristy, and do something to address their crisis.  Doing so might even begin to reorder your life so as to ease the stress of having too much.


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