There’s a technique for contemplation, first described by St Ignatius of Loyola, one of the founders of the Jesuit order. Ignatius taught that our spirituality could be brought alive by active use of our God-given powers of imagination. He advised that we should spend time imagining the great biblical stories – seeing ourselves within them, and allowing ourselves (and our Christian discipleship) to be shaped by them.
So, this morning, I want to invite you to engage in a little Ignatian spirituality with me. I promise you that I won’t embarrass you! All I want you to do is close your eyes, and listen to my voice.
First of all – I want you to relax. Focus on your breathing. In, out, in out. Become conscious of your body. Gently wiggle your toes, and feel your nerves sending messages down from your brain and back again. Focus on your legs. Feel how your body is connected to the pew you are sitting on. Feel your breath, going in….and out.
Now, let your imagination run free – sailing through the air to the Sea of Galilee. You are by the shoreline. The sun is hot on your face, and the sound of sea-birds is in the air. All around you are crowds of people. Everyone is here to hear the words of the new prophet, Jesus. There are so many people, all pressing against each other to get close enough to hear what this Jesus has to say. There are so many, that Jesus himself is in danger of being pushed into the water.
Nearby, are a couple of boats. Fishing boats, with rough, tough fishermen on board. You see Jesus hail one of the boats to the shore. He climbs in, and then asks the fishermen to row a few yards from the shore. That’s better. Jesus can see the whole crowd now. He can speak to the whole crowd now. He gestures for everyone to sit down on the shore, as he takes a seat in the boat.
There is a moment of silence. And then Jesus begins to speak. What does he say…to you? Perhaps he speaks of what his Kingdom is like. Perhaps he tells one of his fabulous stories – the Good Samaritan, or the story of the wheat and the tares. Or perhaps he says something only to you. Take a moment, in silence, just a few silent seconds together, and listen to what the Master is saying to you.
The time of teaching is over. Jesus says farewell to the crowd, promising to teach them again tomorrow. One by one, the crowd drifts away. But you remain on the shore, longing for more. Jesus notices you, and invites you to wade out to the boat, to join him and the fishermen.
Now you are in the boat, and Jesus encourages the men to throw out their nets. One of the fishermen, Simon, is dubious. He says “We’ve been at it all night, and we haven’t caught anything!”. But Jesus insists, and so the men throw out their nets on to the water.
Suddenly, the water is alive! Fishing are splashing and slapping the water, wriggling and writhing in the nets. Simon calls you over to give a hand. Together, you, Simon, Jesus and the other fishermen are hauling on the nets, laughing out loud, pulling the nets and all the fish into the boat. The same thing is happening in the other boat, too. There are so many! The boat even looks like it might sink!
When the last of the nets has been hauled into the boat, Simon kneels down in front of Jesus on the deck. You kneel beside Simon too. Together, you both look up at Jesus. Simon has awe in his eyes, and he says, “I think you had better get away from me, Lord; for I am a sinful man.”
But Jesus just smiles. He looks down at Simon – and you - and says, “Don’t be afraid. Follow me…and from now on, you will be catching people”
How does that make you feel? Jesus has just called you – and Simon – to follow him. He wants you to re-arrange the priorities of your life so that your first task, of every day, will be to lead people to him?
How do you feel? Are you wondering what gifts and talents you can possibly bring to such an awesome task? Are you wondering how you could possibly do such a thing?
Perhaps you’ve forgotten that when Jesus calls us, he also equips us. After all, if he can fill nets with miraculous amounts of fish, he can surely provide everything you need.
How do you feel?
Perhaps you are excited. Excited at the idea that you might go from this boat today, filled with a new sense of purpose. For Jesus has just given you a mission…a mission to tell everyone you know about him.
How do you feel? Take a moment to let what has just happened sink in. What do you need to change as a result of your encounter with Jesus.
And now, it’s time to come back home. Become conscious of where you are, physically, once again. Feel the pew underneath you. Sense the people around you. And when you are ready, open your eyes.
I hope you enjoyed that experience. I find Ignatian exercises very useful as ways of bringing the stories of Jesus to life.
There are just a couple of things I would like to say to wrap up.
First – never forget that Jesus called ordinary people to carry out his work for him. He didn’t call the lawyers and priests, he called the fishermen, the carpenters, the civil servants. He has never stopped calling them.
Secondly – Let me just leave you with this thought. If everyone here today had the courage to ask just one friend or family member to come to church, this congregation would double overnight. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your excellent church website will do the job for you, nor even your parish priest! The task of calling people to faith – of being fishers of people – is yours.