God’s Love is a Whale of a Tale: One worth Believing in!

Epiphany 5 2022 Year C- Also, St. John’s ANNUAL MEETING DAY

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Florida is the sunshine state with water surrounding most of it.

We know fish, don’t we?

Fishing competitions, fishing boats, swimming with manatees, dolphins, fish.

We have also heard our share of fishing stories, too, haven’t we?

The honest ones- we didn’t catch much

The nearly honest ones- the fish were plentiful and we caught our limit (not telling you the size of the fish)

And the whale of a fish story, “That fish was on the line for hours, my bicep tore, and yet it got away.”

I did not grow up fishing, but we lived in Seattle, Washington when I was little and my father took us fishing once. All four of us had poles. My father was outnumbered by small people with long sticks with sharp objects at the end (he deserved combat pay for this) and after we put bait on the hooks we were allowed to sling our pole towards the water.

And of course, disaster struck.

My pole hooked by brother’s sweater. My brother dropped his pole, someone was crying and I am pretty sure my father asked himself, “Lord why me?!”  We were all exhausted at the end and caught absolutely nothing (My brother’s sweater did not count.)

This was the day I learned about the true meaning of “a whale of a story” and the whale of a story that we sold to my mother was that the store bought fish from Albertson’s were caught by us that morning. (She was not fooled) The point, though (I think?!) was that we tried a new thing, we spent time together, and learned a lot even if we didn’t have nets breaking with fish.

Fishing takes time, practice, and stillness.

The sea of Galilee (also known as the Lake of Gennesaret), nestled into the hillside of the present day Israel, is not really a large sea. It’s more of a lake. Measuring 13miles long and 8 miles wide, it’s a sea that has the Jordan river running through it, keeping the sea stocked with fresh fish. The sea is small enough that you would see your neighbor’s boat, and find your own favorite spot too.

The sea was both commercial and personal economics at work. Your livelihood and your own nutrition were dependent upon your daily catch. It’s a space where weather could blow up (think of the storms we hear about later in the gospels) and also be still and calm.

The lake sits as a dividing line also, dividing the Jewish communities and the gentiles. The northern and eastern shores hosting those who were not Jewish.

As one might expect, towns have settled around it’s shores fostering commerce, living spaces and thriving economies (both now and in Jesus’ day). Nazareth was inland, west of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus started his ministry with his baptism in the river Jordan, he then wandered east towards the desert for 40 days and then back to the western shore of galilee to teach and preach and travel from town to fishing town.

It’s no wonder he encountered fishermen as some of the first people he encountered while teaching.

In Luke’s Gospel, Luke takes his time to introduce us to the extraordinariness of Jesus. From Angels appearing to Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Jesus presented at the temple, Jesus the boy left at the temple, the arrival of John the Baptist, the baptism and temptation of Jesus, Nazareth rejecting Jesus, and then all before he calls his disciples, in Luke , Jesus teaches, heals and preaches. In the Gospel of Luke, those who will be called have already seen and potentially heard of Jesus’s words and works.

And the first called are fishermen.

Today we hear Jesus on the edge. He is on the shore and it’s the end of the day for those who spent the night fishing. The fishermen are doing their daily maintenance of nets and ready to finish their night shift and rest.

This day is different though, at the end of their workday they hear a new message and they see big crowds.

Jesus gets into Simon’s boat and continues to teach.

Jesus asks Simon to put the boat out a bit so he can have some space to teach.

After teaching Jesus says, “Why don’t we go out deeper and fish a bit in a new space”

After this third request Simon finally says politely ,but I would expect a bit firmly, “We worked all night, we are tired. But if you ask us to, we will.” (I think Simon was trying to get Jesus to say “well never mind”)

Jesus doesn’t back down. (He never does, does he?!)

And fishing in those deep waters, those nets cast on a different side–

The fishing is overwhelming. Nets so full they almost sank the boat.

It’s a whale of a story!

Fish too many to count, nets nearly breaking.

Others came to help.

Listening and receiving abundance.

How does Peter react to all of this? Peter is ashamed. He is ashamed that he didn’t believe despite his exhaustion.

And Jesus says, “Don’t fret, come with me- there is more to see. I am here with you, in the boat and on the dry land.” (Like the coach Ted Lasso, he points to the word believe, trust in me, I trust in you)

The Good News we carry with us is a whale of a story. It sounds too good to be true.

A God who loves us so deeply that he created his only son to become one of us, live amongst us and be killed by us for our own salvation.

The thought is exhausting.

The faith journey can be tiring and yet Jesus calls us in the midst of our own “I am tired, I have done enough, it’s a pandemic” excuses to do a new thing.

Today is our annual meeting, a time where we look at the year past and also to the goals and joys of 2022. I give such thanks for each of you in this past year. Your faithfulness, here in the pews, in the meetings, online and beyond.

When easily you could have said, “I am too tired,” you have each said the words in Isaiah, “Here I am Lord.”

From patiently preparing to serve with Kearney center or Riley Elementary Mentoring, you have been willing and ready to be present, listen, teach and serve in the midst of uncertainty.

We have been able to continue our in-person worship services in the morning and adding back our mid-week Healing service and our Sunday evening 5:30pm services with parishioners sharing their own moments of grace and love, all the while continuing our online opportunities for folks to continue to participate.

Our music program continues to excel with an amazing choir, evensongs, guest instrumentalists, all under the leadership of our team of Betsy Calhoun, Elizabeth LaJeunesse and Mike Norris.

Sunday school for all ages has resumed in creative ways to bring all ages into the digging deeper in their own spiritual journey. The Front Porch has taken off with offerings that appeal to those who have a spiritual foundation and those who have never encountered a formalized church experience before.

We have gathered again in familiar ways with the St. John’s Market and small groups, bible studies and the café.

Our committees have been hard at work with finishing the 5 year Capital Campaign and the upkeep of the buildings and property of this campus and our cemetery.

And we too, in the midst of the longevity of these pandemic times, are fishing in a new way- we started and continue to have a Pastoral Care Shepherd program that seeks to extend the pastoral care of the clergy team to all those in our parish who need pastoral care and connection.

We are visioning the St. John’s Choir school as an offering to all children for learning.

We are continuing the conversation about Becoming Beloved Community and how we too can speak honestly about our own history as a church and live in relationship with our larger community.

We are dynamic part of the Capital Area Justice ministry here in Tallahassee as they research and work towards justice work with an action on affordable housing and gun violence.

All of these new programs come from within our strategic plan, each involves all of us to say, “Here I am” even in the midst of fatigue.

As I, too, read through the St. John’s parish profile in December, I thought to myself- that must be a whale of a tale…. It’s too good to be true. ….

And here is the thing, the love of God is present here.

The love of God is present here and CALLING each of us to keep on fishing.

The fishing might be messy, there might be tears, but Jesus is in the boat with us and that deeper water is worth going to, to catch those fish, to be called into ministry together.

For this work I say, Come join our Whale of a tale- it is too good to be true…and you are worthy of that goodness. Because the good news of God’s Love here at St. John’s is true and there is a space for you to belong here and now.

Amen.

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