Sunday, September 26, 2021

Jesus heals a paralytic man

Matthew 9.1-8  - Jesus heals a paralytic.

Imagine, if you will, what being paralysed would feel like.  It’s a chilling thought, isn’t it?  And our hearts go out to anyone who has less than complete control of their limbs, for whatever reason. 

Now imagine, if you will, what it would be like to be a paralytic in Jesus’ time.  There is no National Health Service.  There is no medication that will help.  You are entirely reliant on the goodwill of your family and friends just to survive.  And worse still, everyone around you assumes that your paralysis was caused not by accident or by a medical condition, but by your sin.  So that everyone who sees you lying on the street, begging for scraps of food, looks at you and thinks ‘Sinner!’.

To be sick at the time of Jesus was to be thought of as either a really bad sinner, or the child of a really bad sinner.  It was a superstition rooted in a Hebrew Bible warning that the sins of the Father would be visited upon the sins of the son, up to the fourth generation (See Exodus 20.5).    It’s important to realise that this wasn’t the entire Hebrew Bible’s opinion.  The prophet Ezekiel, for example, softened that teaching from Exodus, by stating, from God, that only sinners would suffer for their sins, not their children (see Ezekiel 18.20).   And contemporary theologians point out that it is the consequences of sin which get passed on to children…such as the consequences of our present sin over Climate Change, which will be paid for by our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

But the effect of such theological debate for the poor paralytic on the street was the same – everyone looked at him and thought ‘sinner!’.

So the paralytic faces a number of problems, on top of his basic problem of paralysis.  Everyone thinks that he must have done something really terrible.  And he is physically unable to get to Jesus, the miracle-worker he has heard about, for the possibility of a healing miracle.

For the second of his problems (his inability to get to Jesus) the paralytic has a solution.  He has friends.  He has people around him, perhaps brothers and sisters, who know that he is not the awful sinner that everyone else supposes him to be.  Furthermore, these friends have faith in Jesus – faith which is strong enough for them to exert the effort required to get their paralytic friend in front of the miracle-maker. 

You see, that’s what faith can do.  Faith can inspire us to go the extra mile for others.  Faith can spur us into acts of generosity.  Faith can drive us to put others’ needs before our own.

For his first problem, however (that is, the issue of whether he is a sinner or not) it is Jesus who has the solution.  By tradition, there were only two people who can forgive sins.  The first is the person who has been sinned against.  And the second person is God. 

Now of course, the paralytic was indeed a sinner – because all human beings are.  We can’t help it.  It’s a natural consequence of being human beings with free will that, as St Paul taught, ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’.  But if we can’t seek forgiveness for our sin from someone who we have wronged, who else can we turn to?  The only answer is God.

The religious teachers standing around that day knew this.  They knew that only God could forgive this man’s sin – or any man’s sin, for that matter. 

Which is why when Jesus says to the paralytic ‘your sins are forgiven’, they are utterly gobsmacked.  ‘Who is this man who thinks he can forgive sins?  Only God can do that!  If this man thinks he is God then he is a blasphemer!’

But Jesus knows their thoughts.  No doubt he can read it on their faces, let alone read their minds.  So he sets them a little puzzle to think about.  ‘Which is the easier thing to say – “your sins are forgiven”, or “arise and walk”?’. 

Of course, in purely earthly terms, Jesus is absolutely right.  It’s easier to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ because that’s a purely spiritual statement.  No physical evidence can prove whether the thing that was spoken has happened.  But, to say ‘arise and walk’ is a harder thing to say.  It takes far more courage – because if the person concerned doesn’t immediately get up and walk, the speaker quickly looks like an idiot.

Jesus has chosen the easier thing to say first.  Why?  We can only speculate.  But I suspect that it’s because he judged that fear of his sin was this man’s greatest spiritual need.  But now, Jesus turns this small spiritual intervention into an empiric victory over the Scribes around him.  ‘So,’ he effectively says to them, ‘if forgiving sins is the easier thing to say, I’ll now say the more difficult thing…and you watch what happens!  Arise and walk!’.  When the man stands up, the Scribes are even more stunned.  For clearly Jesus has power – and clearly he has enormous faith.  Could this really be the Messiah?

Ultimately, then, this is story about faith.  The paralytic has faith that Jesus can heal him.  He has faith in his friends to get him to Jesus.  The friends have faith in Jesus too, otherwise they would not bother to help their paralysed friend.  Jesus has faith, that his own command to ‘arise and walk’ will be effective.  Each person at the heart of this story exercises their faith – and great things happen.

The Scribes?  Not so much.  Their belief in a set of abstract theological concepts prevents them from seeing with the eyes of faith.  They are blind to what is happening before their very eyes, because their closed-minded concepts of what God is like, and how God acts, prevents them from seeing God at work!

And isn’t this true for us today as well?  Those who see with the eyes of faith are able to glimpse the possibilities of taking action in the world.  Whether that’s about deciding, by faith, to continue loving our neighbour, and caring for those in need.  Or whether it’s about deciding, by faith, that each of us can make a contribution to reducing the harm that all humanity is doing to the planet.  Or whether it’s deciding, by faith, that it is better to participate in a service like this one tonight, than to stay home.

Those who cannot live by such faith, like the Scribes of old, are doomed to lives of cynicism and continual darkness.  They will not step out in faith to help the poor or the sick, and so the poor and the sick will continue to suffer.  They will not have faith that any efforts against Climate Change are worth it…and so, potentially, the sins of the current generation will continue to pile up against the lives of their children and grandchildren. 

The question, then, for each of us, is whether we will choose to live by faith.


Sunday, September 19, 2021

Simpler, Humbler, Bolder

Text:  Mark 9.30-37

I realise that the debates of the Church of England, and the speeches of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York are not at the top of most people’s breakfast-table reading-list.  I also realise that the problems of our Diocese, including its large deficit, feel like they have little to do with us in Havant & Langstone.

But, away from these four walls, momentous decision are being made, about the future of the Church of England.  These decisions which may, indeed, affect even us before too long, even in little old Havant & Langstone.  Our Diocese, and the Church in general, has come under huge strain, financially – not least because worshippers at home do not, in the main, donate to the work of the church.  And there was a lot of worshipping from home being done during the last year!

The pandemic, however, has only accelerated what was already happening, year by year, in the life of the church.  Nationally, half of our churches now have congregations of less than 30 people.  We’ve lost something like 30% of all worshippers since the 1990s.  And the downward trend has been continuing, despite the best efforts of the National church to promote fresh expressions of worship, and to plant new, modern forms of worship with coffee bars, guitars and sofas for worshippers!

But this should not surprise us.  The church is up against a massive alternative, in the form of popular culture.  It is challenging to encourage people to worship an unseen God, when all around them their neighbours are worshipping celebrities, politicians and pop stars. It is challenging to call people to live lightly upon the earth, when the marketing machines of billion-dollar companies are calling us to consume, consume, consume!  

Jesus warned his followers that his was the narrow Way.  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God”, he said.  And we, here in the West, are rich indeed.  As the old saying goes:

“If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep you are richer than 75% of the world. If you have money in the bank, money in your wallet, and some spare change you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.”

It is a great struggle for any church to make itself heard in the ears of those who are generally satisfied with their lives – despite the life-giving, life-transforming message we have to convey.

There has been a lot of debate in the church press, in recent months, about the financial crisis of the church.  But among the pearls of wisdom which have dropped from Archi-Episcopal lips in the past two years, perhaps the most profound has been a soundbite.  In November of last year, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York announced that they had concluded that the way forward for the church is to become ‘simpler, humbler, bolder’.

Those three words, ‘simpler, humbler, bolder’, have been a clarion call to those who concern themselves with the future of the church.  And I think they have great resonance with the Gospel reading for today…  

After Jesus’ disciples have been bickering about which of them was the ‘greatest’, Jesus replies that ‘whoever wants to be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven must first learn to be the servant of all’.  Greatness, for Jesus, was found in service.  “It is in giving of ourselves that we receive”, as the old song goes.  

Then Jesus took a child in his arms.  A child.  What greater example can there be of someone who is ‘simpler, humbler and bolder’ than a little child?  ‘Simpler’ because a child does not pile up resources around them, like grown-ups do.   ‘Humbler’ because a child lacks the intellectual tools to dominate the grown-ups around them.  ‘Bolder’ because a child is willing to try new things, to experiment boldly with all the possibilities of life.

A useful model for the future of the church, then, is set before us.  We too, must become like children.  Simpler, humbler, bolder.  ‘Simpler’, first, because we shall need to strip-away the dead-wood of resources we no longer need.  Diocesan posts which are ‘nice to have’ will have to be cut – as indeed our Diocese has done.  Perhaps some church buildings are just too expensive to keep going – causing us to waste so much human capital on fundraising just to keep the rain off our heads when we worship.  (I must clarify, though, that I am not referring to buildings like St Faith’s.  I’m referring to the kind of church buildings which are kept at huge expense, for the benefit of 30 people or less to gather once a week, for an hour.  I’m not talking about buildings which are hubs for their community, and flagships of community life.).  We’ll be ‘simpler’ when each of us learns the power of giving away the wealth that we hoard, for the benefit of the Kingdom, and in service of others.

What might it mean for us to be ‘Humbler’?  I think we’ll be humbler when we learn how to listen to different voices than our own, whether it be in matters of faith or whether it be willingness to challenge our preconceptions about life in general.  We’ll be humbler when we no longer try to cling on to what we have received, as if it is the only way of comprehending the mystery of an infinite God.  We’ll be humbler when we realise that Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Pagans may have caught glimpses of God which we have not yet seen.  We’ll be humbler when we each realise that we can never stop learning about the mystery of God.  And we’ll be humbler when we become hungry enough to want to know more!

We’ll be ‘bolder’, when we learn to experiment, to try new things, to grab every experience of life which God offers, and then shake it to learn more about the God who sent it, or inspired it.  We’ll be bolder when we are able to say ‘Let’s try it!’ instead of ‘I won’t like it!’.  We’ll be bolder when we try new kinds of worship –even if it is different from what we’ve always done.  We’ll be bolder when we embrace new opportunities for growth from wherever such opportunities come.  

Simpler, humbler, bolder.  Like a child.  For perhaps it is only by entering the Kingdom of God like a child, that we can ever see it fully established in our lives, in our parish and in our world.  Amen.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Amazing Grace

Texts: 1 Corinthians 15.1–11 & Luke 7.36–end

This morning’s readings are intended to inspire awe in us.  Awe, because the focus of both readings is on the amazing grace of God.

In the first reason, while reminding his readers of the basic story of Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection, Paul confesses that he was a dastardly sinner.  He reminds his readers that he was a persecutor of Christians – which, in his day, means that he was no doubt responsible for death of many.  From the book of Acts, we know that he stood by watching, with approval, the stoning of Stephen – the first Christian martyr.  Paul had been a bad man – one whose religious zealotry was so certain, and so passionate, that he could approve of the public lynching of a man who spoke only of God’s love.

But as we know from Paul’s story, Jesus reached out to him, via a vision on the Damascus road.  He calls Paul to follow a new path.  He gracefully uses one of the fledgling Christianity’s most ardent opponents, and he offers him new life and new purpose.  Without a word of repentance being said by Paul, God reaches out through Jesus and saves him.

In the second story, a woman whose name we do not know, is described as ‘a sinner’.  Readers of the time would have understood that to mean that she was probably what we would call a sex worker.  (It says a lot about the morality of the time that a sinner is someone so desperately poor that they are forced to sell their body and their dignity to a succession of sweaty men).  This so-called ‘sinful’ woman falls before Jesus, and bathes his feet with her tears and then with ointment.  Jesus, again, acts gracefully towards her.  Without a word of repentance being said by the woman, Jesus offers her complete forgiveness of all her sins.

What might we notice about both these stories?  For me, both stories talk to me about how God reaches out to us.  That’s what Amazing Grace is like.  It’s why John Newton, the hymn-writer, was inspired to coin the phrase.  As you probably know, Newton had been a slave-ship captain.  Like the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet, and like Paul who tortured Christians, Newton couldn’t get over the fact that God’s grace was powerful enough, strong enough, loving enough to forgive even a ‘wretch’ like him.

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between ‘grace’ and ‘mercy’ – two of the most powerful descriptions of God?  Well, ‘mercy’ is when God withholds punishment that we deserve.  ‘Grace’ on the other hand, is when God gives us gifts that we don’t deserve.  (Let me say that again!).

In other words, mercy always precedes grace.  By rights, because of the way we all sin, and all fail, God would be within his rights to punish us.  But he doesn’t.  By his mercy, he withholds that punishment, and he instead pours out his grace.

What does this mean for us? How do these stories impact on us?

For me, the message is clear.  It doesn’t matter who we are, or what kind of life we have led.  Society may have labelled us a sinner.  Our lives may have been driven by hatred, or zealotry, intolerance or extremism.  We may have been selfish, or arrogant, or lazy or greedy.  Whatever our sin, God offers mercy, and amazing grace.  God invites each one of us, just as did for Paul, the chance to take a new road, and to co-operate with him.  He frees us from our past, and offers us a new future as one of his beloved children, invited to take his hand and walk towards to the light.

And that’s pretty amazing.


Thursday, September 9, 2021

Loving your enemies is hard work!

Text: Luke 6.27-38

Love your enemies.  Love your enemies?  It’s one of the more apparently batty statements that Jesus made, isn’t it?  I mean, surely we should batter our enemies?  When an enemy comes at you with an army, or a suicide bomb, or a nuclear missile, loving him isn’t going to be much of a defence is it?

It’s just this kind of namby-pamby rhetoric from Jesus that gives religion a bad name, isn’t it?  Christians are so easily dismissed by a population who lived through the rise of Nazism, or who watched the Twin Towers fall.  People say to themselves ‘why on earth would I follow a religion which has such an impractical message at its core.  Love your enemies?  Preposterous!

But to dismiss Jesus’ teaching so contemptuously would be unwise.  History is full of examples in which conflict has ultimately been solved by Love.  The history of Europe is just such an example.

After the First World War, the Allies imposed punitive sanctions on Germany.  The Allies had no love for their enemies.  War reparations were demanded from the German people, and as a result, their economy went into freefall.  The result was the rise of Adolf Hitler.  He tapped into the poverty of the German people, and their festering resentment against the Allies, to promise a rise to national greatness.  He promised to ‘make his country great again’ (where have we heard that phrase recently?). 

After the Second World War, the victorious Allies realised, at last, that punishing Germany again would not achieve the aim of lasting peace.  Instead, the Marshall Plan was devised – by which the United States donated the equivalent of 5% of its total national income to the rebuilding of the shattered cities and lives of Europe – including what was then West Germany.  Whilst other political issues were also at play – such as the pushing back of communism – essentially the Marshall Plan was a practical attempt to ‘love enemies’, and to ‘do good to those that have hurt us’.  The end result was the creation the European Union, which - whatever you think about Brexit - has undeniably preserved peace for over 50 years.

Perhaps Jesus wasn’t such a crackpot after all?  Perhaps there is something to this message of radical forgiveness.

Jesus’ advice works on an individual level too.  How often do we hear stories of neighbour going to war with neighbour?  It’s usually over some trivial matter – at least at first.  I know people who have fallen out over paint colours, or the mis-placing of a boundary marker, or the cutting down of a tree.  Hatred and enmity builds in these circumstances, as each side justifies their own bad behaviour towards the other.  Whole families can get drawn into such disputes…and sometimes whole communities.

Into such arguments, the voice of Jesus cries out. ‘Love your enemy!’ he pleads.  For he knows that the ONLY answer to the healing of such disputes is love.  

But let no-one imagine that this is namby-pamby easy stuff to do.  It’s often much easier to roll with the hate…however much stress that induces.  It’s in our human nature to be compelled by conflict, motivated by it, energised by it.  Seeking the defeat of one’s enemy, even over the tiniest point of detail, is both stressful and exhilarating – all at the same time.

But it takes a truly courageous person to choose the path of love.  The loving path doesn’t seek to win.  In the words of St Paul from 1 Corinthians 13, the path of love is patient and kind.  It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs.  It always hopes.  It always perseveres.  It always seeks the good of the other.  And it’s hard work.

Which is why we should all pray, constantly, for the strength, the wisdom, the fortitude and the commitment to love our enemies.


Sunday, September 5, 2021

Children and Dogs - the Conundrum of the Syrian Woman

Mark 7: 24-37  and James 2.1-17

Insults. I like insults. I confess it. There is nothing quite so pleasing to an old cynic like me than a well-crafted insult.

Take, for example, the anecdotal tale about Sir Winston Churchill. Once, at a party, he is said to have been approached by one Elizabeth Braddock, who exclaimed "Mr Churchill, you are drunk!" Churchill is said to have replied, "Madam, you are ugly. However, come the morning, I will be sober but you will still be ugly."  Priceless, isn't it?

We all know, though, don't we, that insults can easily cross the line between gentle playful fun, and downright hurt and offence.  Which is why it is quite surprising – even shocking - that in today's Gospel we should hear Jesus describing the non-Jewish races around him as 'dogs'. In the Middle East, calling someone a dog has always been a gross insult.  And yet, when a Syro-Phoenician woman comes to Jesus to ask for healing for her daughter, Jesus' response is 'it’s not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs'.

Jesus appears to be saying that his ministry, his power, his gifts, are meant only for the people of Israel - not for anyone else.  What a shock! What an insult! To the woman in question, it would have been like me saying that only people of my race can come to this church.  What Jesus said was, on the face of it very ethno-centric. (Which of course means – centred, or focused on one particular ethnic identity).

But when we read the Bible, we have to be very very careful. It is too easy to take individual quotes from pages of the Bible, and then to use them to justify our own position on something. There are three words which must always be in our minds when we read the Scriptures: (you know what they are…) context, context, context!

First the context of the story.  Only a few pages earlier, in verse 8 of Chapter 3, Mark reports that many people came to hear Jesus from all around the area surrounding Galilee - including the towns of Tyre and Sidon which were well known Gentile cities. There is no sign that Jesus tried to send those Gentiles fact he preached God's good news to them as much as to the Jews from Jerusalem and Galilee.  In Chapter 5, Jesus heals the man called Legion, who was said to have many demons inside of him. This man was also a Gentile... living in a region which kept the pigs into which the demons were sent, over a cliff. (As I'm sure you know, Jews would never keep pigs).  At the end of Mark's Gospel, (16:15) Jesus commands his disciples to "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation".

So the immediate context of Mark's gospel tells us that Jesus was an entirely inclusive figure.  He clearly wanted all peoples to know about God.

And that theme is repeated throughout the Gospels. There is a wider context too. John's Gospel, chapter 4, records Jesus' conversation with a Samaritan woman. That was an astounding thing for Jesus to do.  Men of Jesus' time would hardly ever have spoken to a woman in public...let alone a divorced Samaritan woman!  So, the context of the story is that Jesus was anything but ethno-centric.

Then there is the context of the writer.  What was Mark trying to say by telling this story?  Well we don’t know much about John Mark – the assumed-writer of this Gospel.  Legend tells that he was a disciple of Peter, and that his Gospel is essentially a transcription of Peter’s memories of events.  But we can’t be sure.  What we do know is that by the time Mark wrote his Gospel, perhaps 20 or 30 years after Jesus, the message of the Kingdom had already crossed many national borders.  Peter was probably in Rome, and Paul had been travelling all around the Mediterranean, following Jesus’ command.  So, this Gospel was written to be heard and received by people of many nations. 

We cannot know, but we can infer that Mark’s purpose in telling this particular story was to underline the universality of Jesus’ message – by showing Jesus himself wrestling with the issue.  In the early days of Christianity, there was a great deal of discussion about whether the new Faith was intended for the Jews alone.  Jewish Christians wondered, for example, whether uncircumcised Gentiles could enter the Kingdom.  I think we can infer, with good cause, that this story was Mark’s way of saying ‘you know - even Jesus wrestled with that question’.  But, Jesus’ dialogue with a Gentile woman in need served to confirm his basic instinct.  It was an instinct already proved by the preaching he had already been doing Gentile cities: that the Kingdom of God is for all humanity.

So, we’ve examined the context of the story.  We thought about the context of the writer.  What is the third context we need to examine?  Our context.  What does this story say to us?  What does it speak into our context?

The heart of this story is the Universality of the Kingdom of God.  Although Jesus, and his message, springs from Jewish roots (and through the lens of Jewish thought) it is a message for the whole world.  The benefits of the Kingdom are not meant for a privileged few.  God’s Kingdom of Love reaches out to all humanity.  This is an insight we do well to remember, especially when we start to wonder whether the benefits of a Christian country, founded on Kingdom principles should (or should not) be made available to those seeking help and shelter from other parts of the world.  On a local level, it’s a message we need to hear when we think about how we use this building, or the wider resources of the parish.  Are they meant only for we who gather in church for an hour on a Sunday morning?  Or are the resources of the Kingdom of God meant for all?

Secondly, in a more inter-personal context - I think this story reminds us to have some patience with each other when we sometimes get things out of balance, or use perhaps hasty words at times of stress.  It’s good to recognise that we are all human, although we all, with Jesus contain a Divine spark.  But in our humanity, we can all mis-speak from time to time...and we all need to be ready to forgive and move on in our relationships with one another.

So, in our context, we have (first) the idea that the benefits of the Kingdom are intended for all humanity.  Secondly, we are reminded to always act with forgiveness and compassion towards each other.  These are the central themes of the story of Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman.  Those are the conclusions we take, from the context of the story, the context of the writer, and our context too.  All three, held together in harmony.  These are ideas to live by.  These are even ideas to die for.


Thursday, September 2, 2021

Fishers for people - an 'Ignatian' exercise

Luke 5.1-11

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 seat beneath you.  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 seat beneath 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 challenging 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 the church website, or even the Corona Chronicle will do the job for you.  Even more so, never assume that your parish priest has the skills or the time to do the work of 'fishing for people' on behalf of the whole congregation!  The task of calling people to faith – of being fishers of people – is yours.