Sunday, 6 February 2022

Ordinary people, in
ordinary time, doing
extraordinary things

‘He saw two boats there at the shore’ … two boats at the Pier in Kinvara, Co Galway, at the weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 6 February 2022,

The Fourth Sunday before Lent


9.30 a.m. Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, the Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

11.30 a.m. Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert, Co Kerry, Morning Prayer

Readings: Isaiah 6: 1-8; Psalm 138; I Corinthians 15: 1-11; Luke 5: 1-11

There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘The fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets’ (Luke 5: 2) … fishing boats and nets in the harbour in Loughshinny, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

The Season of Christmas came to an end on Wednesday (2 February 2022) with the Feast of the Presentation or Candlemas, which we celebrated in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, last Sunday morning (30 January 2022).

Between now and Ash Wednesday (2 March 2022), we are in what the Church Calendar calls ‘Ordinary Time.’

So often, our celebrations in Church ask us to identify with the great saints and martyrs, in contrast to the ordinary people who are so often the focus of Christ’s ministry in the Gospels: ordinary people who are poor or on the margins in society; ordinary people with everyday jobs like fishermen and tax collectors, or publicans and farmers; ordinary people in the villages and towns; ordinary people with a need for healing or who are hurt and broken by loss and grief.

Ordinary people like you and me, living ordinary lives in ordinary time. Not sinless people, but ordinary people, conscious of our weaknesses and our failings, humbled in and all too aware of our own sinfulness and flaws.

In our readings this morning, we hear the call of Isaiah, a renewed call to David the Psalmist, the response of Saint Paul to his call, and the renewed call to some of the disciples, including Peter, James and John. These calls come not to people who feel they are worthy of this call, that the deserve this, that they have inherited a call, or who think they are entitled to speak on God’s behalf. They start off as very ordinary people, like you and me.

Isaiah is in the Temple, feeling he is lost and ‘a man of unclean lips’ when he hears and responds to God’s call, only to find he becomes isolated from his own people.

The Psalmist is in God’s presence in the Temple when he finds God answers his prayer and gives him a new calling or new spiritual gifts. Yet David begins life as a small and weak shepherd boy.

Saint Paul tells us he feels he is ‘the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle.’

The three disciples, Peter, James and John are called not only to speak on Christ’s behalf, but to do what Christ commands and to follow him.

In all these readings, Isaiah, the Psalmist, Saint Paul and then Saint Peter, all express their feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness, yet accept God’s call to speak in God’s name unconditionally and in faith.

In our first reading (Isaiah 6: 1-8), the Prophet Isaiah hears his call from God to be a prophet. Isaiah feels unclean and unworthy in the presence of God, and yet he sees God. He sees the people as unworthy too, but one of the seraphs purifies him, rendering him fit to speak God’s word to his people.

Our Psalm (Psalm 138) thanks God for his steadfast, enduring love and for his care for his faithful followers. When the writer calls upon God, God not only answers him but gives him a new calling or makes him more confident spiritually: ‘you increased my strength of soul’ (verse 3).

In the Epistle reading (I Corinthians 15: 1-11), Saint Paul tells us that the Risen Christ first appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve, then to 500 at one time, then to James, then to all the apostles, and finally to Paul himself.

Saint Paul realises that he is not the first choice, not the second choice. He is way down the list, not among the first 12, not even in the top 500. Until then, he has been an ordinary Jewish Pharisee of the day, making a living mending tents and sails.

But he now knows that through his Baptism he shares in Christ’s suffering and death and that he has been raised to new life in Christ.

Our Gospel story (Luke 5: 1-11) is a story of commitment to Christ, to his message and to his destiny. Simon is named Peter for the first time in Saint Luke’s Gospel in this reading (verse 8). Christ calls Simon or Simon Peter to be a disciple, promising him he is to be a ‘fisher of men,’ and Peter, James and John leave everything and follow Christ.

Try to imagine the roles or the calls being reversed.

Can you imagine King Uzziah giving up his throne to be a marginalised prophet like Isaiah?

Can you imagine a powerful king accepting God’s call to be a despised shepherd boy?

Can you imagine a Roman Governor accepting the call to work with the disciples in an ordinary fishing boat?

Had Pontius Pilate heard Christ’s call would he have given up privilege, or paid heed to the inevitable obloquy that would follow his extraordinary use of power?

Our Gospel reading opens us to the concept that God does extraordinary things with ordinary people, in ordinary places, in ordinary times.

This episode begins beside the ‘lake of Gennesaret,’ on the south-west shore of the Sea of Galilee. The crowd is pressing in to hear Christ, the Word of God, to hear the Christian message.

Jesus gets into the boat with Simon Peter. There are two boats in this episode, and James and John are also fishing in one of the boats.

Simon acknowledges Jesus as ‘Master’ or teacher. The disciples do what Christ tells them to do, and they are amazed at the consequences. Simon Peter responds by falling down before Christ in humility, pointing to himself as a sinful man, and calling Jesus ‘Lord,’ which becomes an expression of faith.

Peter, James and John are ordinary working men who make an extraordinary and total commitment to Christ; they leave everything, and follow him.

In traditional illustrations, the boat is often used as an image of the Church, while the fish is an image of Christ. In the Early Church, the fish came to symbolise Christ because the Greek word Ichthus (ΙΧΘΥΣ), meaning ‘fish’, is an acrostic for ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour’ (Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ).

The Church is the boat, Christ is the fish, and God calls us as ordinary people, in ordinary places, in ordinary times, to realise that God sees us – you and me, each and every one of us – to work with him, where he finds us. God sees us in our everyday lives as his partners in the boat. And we are all in this boat together.

It is in being the ordinary people we are, in our ordinary lives, in our ordinary times, that God calls us. And if we chose to respond, then, like Peter, James and John, we may find we are amazed at the catch Christ brings into the Church through us.

Are we brave enough to face this possibility? Or is that ordinary challenge too much for us? If we have any doubts, remember how Christ says to Simon Peter, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘He saw two boats there at the shore’ … two fishing boats at the harbour in Skerries, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 5: 1-11 (NRSVA):

1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ 5 Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

An icon of the Church as a boat, including Christ, the Apostles and the Church Fathers (Icon: Deacon Matthew Garrett, www.holy-icons.com)

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

O God,
you know us to be set
in the midst of so many and great dangers,
that by reason of the frailty of our nature
we cannot always stand upright:
Grant to us such strength and protection
as may support us in all dangers
and carry us through all temptations;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Word:

Most holy God,
the earth is filled with your glory,
and before you angels and saints serve in awe.
Enlarge our vision to see
your power at work in the world, and by your grace
make us heralds of your Son,
Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God of tender care,
in this Eucharist we celebrate your love for us and for all people.
May we show your love in our lives
and know its fulfilment in your presence.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch’ (Luke 5: 4) … a fisherman at work at Torcello in the Venetian lagoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

321, Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty (CD 19)
358, King of glory, King of peace (CD 21)
395, When Jesus taught by Galilee (CD 48)

‘When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him’ … fishing boats on a shore at Mount Athos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from The Book of Common Prayer (the Church of Ireland, 2004) is copyright © Representative Body of the Church of Ireland 2004.



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