Sermon: Amazed and Afraid

February 6, 2022


Isaiah 6:1-13

Luke 5:1-11

by Eric Anderson

Ordinarily, the koa’e kea nests in the cliffs above Kaluapele, the Kilauea caldera. Well, the koa’e kea of Hawai’i Island do. Koa’e kea, the white-tailed tropicbirds, live literally around the circle of the world, so they don’t all nest on Kilauea. But a lot of the ones who live on this island do.

Their nests are… simple. Basically, they find a nook or a shelf in the rock and… that’s the nest. If there’s a spot that will hold an egg, that’s the nest. They don’t construct anything. They don’t soften it with anything. They basically say, “Look, I can put an egg here and it won’t roll away. Perfect.”

Truthfully, it’s hard to argue with that.

One koa’e kea, though, had been watching the ‘apapane constructing their nests one season, and for some reason she was completely intrigued. An ‘apapane nest is a much more elaborate structure, built down into the gaps between small branches and built out to fill the gap securely. An ‘apapane is about five inches long, including the tail. It builds a nest that might be four inches across and extends down even more than that, to support a hollow at the top just two inches across.

The koa’e kea was impressed, and not just impressed. She thought this would be just the thing for her next egg.

So she set out to build a nest like an ‘apapane.

It did not go well. For one thing, she had to build a bigger nest. For another, she didn’t have help from her spouse, who was totally lost about this whole thing. And finally: She didn’t really know what she was doing.

Through trial and error – a lot of error and it really tried her patience – she found ways to jam twigs and grasses and mosses together. What she didn’t find was a way to prevent the size of it from overwhelming it. At one bright shining moment she thought she had finished it, but when she took her place on it, the supports on one side crumbled away. It was no place for an egg.

An ‘apapane was watching as the nest fell to pieces. “Can you help me?” asked the koa’e kea. “How do you build a nest that stays together?”

“I suppose I could,” said the ‘apapane, “but why do you need to build an ‘apapane nest?”

“You do,” said the koa’e kea.

“Yes, and I know more about it than you,” said the ‘apapane. “But I imagine you know more about a koa’e kea nest than I do.”

“It’s hardly anything,” said the koa’e kea. “It’s just a spot on a rock.”

“Does it work?” asked the ‘apapane.

“Well, yes. But it’s not impressive like yours.”

“It seems to me that you could make something you’d like better,” said the ‘apapane, “but I’d suggest starting with what you know, and going from there. Your egg will thank you.”

When Jesus told Simon – that’s Simon Peter, by the way, but Jesus hadn’t given him the nickname “Peter” yet – when Jesus told Simon to put out into deeper water and go fishing again, he crossed into Simon’s area of expertise. I have to say that Simon the fisherman was fairly gracious about it. As D. Mark Davis writes at LeftBehindAndLovingIt, “The livelihood of fishing depended on the meticulous activity, at the end of the day, of keeping nets clean – removing corrosives and gunk, mending, and drying, ready to be used again on the next day. It is no small thing that a fisher like Simon, after doing this kind of finishing work, would let a non-fisher like Jesus direct him back into the depths to try again.”

In Luke’s Gospel, this was not Simon’s first encounter with Jesus. In chapter four, Simon invited Jesus back to his house after worship in the synagogue, during which Jesus cast out a demon. At the house, Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law. After sundown, when work might be done again, people came flocking to Jesus – apparently still at Simon’s house – where some of the cast-out demons would shout that Jesus was the Son of God. And finally, Jesus had just spent the day in Simon’s boat teaching the people on the shore – and Simon as well. Simon had seen and heard a lot from Jesus.

I imagine he didn’t expect what he got, though, that net full of fish to the point of breaking. In fact, it’s clear that he didn’t expect what he got. He asked Jesus to go away. There’s nothing quite like expertise, is there? Jesus kept healing people around him, and he was impressed – but not overwhelmed. Jesus could be called the Son of God by evil spirits, and Simon was impressed – but not overwhelmed. Jesus could speak stunning words in his hearing, and Simon was impressed – but not overwhelmed.

Catch fish where a professional fisherman had caught none? Now he was overwhelmed. Amazed and afraid.

Encounters with God’s grace are likely to be overwhelming, amazing, and frightening. It wasn’t just Simon Peter. In our other reading this morning, Isaiah had an overwhelming experience in the Jerusalem Temple and his reaction was a lot like Simon’s – “Woe is me! I am lost!” How about Ezekiel, who was a member of the priesthood and presumably accustomed to the idea of Divine presence. What did he do when he had a vision?

Ezekiel 1:28: “When I saw it, I fell on my face.”

Overwhelmed. Amazed. Afraid.

God is present in, well, all of our lives. In most of those circumstances, we’re accustomed to that overwhelmingness. It no longer amazes or frightens us. Sunrises and sunsets, for example. The depth of space overhead. The reshaping of our island by volcanic processes – I grant you that those frighten us from time to time, but they’re familiar as well, aren’t they? They can and do awe us, but overwhelm us? Not so much.

Until God becomes manifest in the things we know.

As Debie Thomas writes at JourneyWithJesus.net, “If we’re going to follow [Jesus] at all, we’ll have to do it in the particulars of the lives, communities, cultures, families, and vocations we find ourselves in.  We’ll have to trust that God prizes our intellects, our backgrounds, our educations, and our skills, and that he will bless and multiply the daily stuff of our lives for his purposes.”

That’s likely to frighten and amaze us along the way. It’s like to overwhelm us as it comes along. It will also change the direction of our lives.

That might be a change that’s hard to see from the outside. Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, their partners James and John? They left the boats and the nets when the followed Jesus. One hopes they also did something about that big pile of fish. Most of the writers of the New Testament, the Gospel writers, the apostles: they appear to have made big changes in their working lives. But.

They wrote to people who still farmed and fished, who still built and barbered, who still carried and quarried. They wrote for bakers and tax collectors and weavers and midwives. They wrote for dyers and sailors and servants and people held in slavery. They wrote for people whose lives seemed little different from the outside, but people whose spirits had transformed on the inside.

Your call in this day might be to lay aside the equivalent of the fishing net. But it also might be to change how you employ that net, or how the fruits of your labor are employed. Your call this day might be stride off into a new profession, or it might be to pack up those fish for others to eat. Your call this day might be into the unknown, or it might be firmly within what you have known, or at least thought you’d known, until that moment came when:

God became manifest, and you were overwhelmed, amazed, and just a little afraid. And in that moment, you pledged to follow Jesus.

Amen.

Watch the Recorded Sermon

Are there differences between the prepared sermon and the delivered sermon? Not to spoil the ending, but… Yes. There are.

The image is The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew by Lorenzo Veneziano (ca. 1370) – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9708970.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on February 6, 2022

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