This is the sermon the Rev. Paula Jefferson preached at the featured live streamed worship on the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 6, 2022, at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Keller.
I am not throwing away my shot.
Last Wednesday evening, I had the chance to see Hamilton at Bass Hall in Fort Worth. I also had the chance, compliments of Mother Nature, to have a dicey sleigh ride home. Outside, it was cold, wet, and icy. But inside Bass Hall, there was energy, excitement, and heat.
Early in the show, Alexander Hamilton tells us his story: born in the Caribbean…an orphan early in life; he had a tough youth. By his 14th year, his intelligence was recognized…and he was trusted. He became a deal maker in the city square. When his island suffered a catastrophic hurricane, he somehow survived. With a long road of economic recovery in front of them, the locals took up a collection to send Hamilton to NYC…where he could have a chance at a better life. He boarded a ship and sailed away from the only life he knew.
The refrain of Alexander Hamilton’s song: I’m not throwing away my shot.
In our Gospel reading, Luke is introducing the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Over the past few weeks, we have seen Jesus leave behind his life as a carpenter, his life a person in the fabric of Nazareth. He has begun healing in the countryside, and though it is not part of this week’s reading, Jesus has just healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Peter saw it happen.
Today, Luke tells us a little more about Peter and the disciples Jesus will call from the sea.
Peter and his buddies have been fishing through the night, but they caught no fish. In the Gospels, Night and Darkness are often metaphors meant to tell us that these are people who do not yet understand the Nature of Jesus. They are “in the dark”. And, so, it is no coincidence that Jesus meets them on the shore in morning light. This day will be the dawn of Peter’s understanding.
The fishermen have brought their boats to shore and they are busy mending their nets.
A few years ago, I sailed on the Sea of Galilea in a boat substantially bigger than the one belonging to Peter. Our captain had equipped his boat with fishing nets like those Peter would have used. Each net was shaped like a large, circular, tablecloth. All along the outside perimeter, there were weights attached to the net.
As the fishermen hurled the net overboard, it opened like an umbrella. As it was sinking, if it encountered a school of fish, the weighted ends of the net would close under the fish, allowing the fishermen to haul their catch into the boat.
It’s a clever way to fish. But, inevitably, the weights get caught in the net. And the fishermen spend as much time sorting the nets as they do fishing. It is a job like unraveling a string of Christmas tree lights…and it takes that sort of patience to do it.This is the work Peter and his partners are doing when Jesus boards Peter’s boat. He asks him to drift into the water, a little way from the shore. Then Jesus, in the light of day, began to teach the crowds who had gathered to hear him. He finishes speaking to the crowds, and says to Peter, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
This is what a calling sounds like.
Peter has been fishing all night. He and his partners have come back to shore at dawn—empty-handed. After a long, fruitless night, what they want is food and sleep.
And then a carpenter says, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
Peter responds: “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet, if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
This is what discipleship looks like.
Peter sails back to deep water. He knows that fish are not near the surface feeding in broad daylight. Why does he go? In the story, Peter’s nets gather so many fish they are at risk of sinking the boat. The abundance of the catch when Jesus is at the helm of the boat is hard to miss.
Peter sees it. This is not what should happen. He kneels before Jesus and says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” He understands that Jesus is calling him…and he will follow. Peter is not throwing away his shot.
Many years ago, our Episcopal diocese began a long, painful journey of healing…of returning to wholeness in our relationship with The Episcopal Church. This opportunity did not come by our own choosing. And it did not come without sacrifice. After decades of being “different” than all the other dioceses of our denomination, we were suddenly free to choose a new course.
We gathered with leaders from The Episcopal Church and our diocese…folks who would guide us through the early days of our new life. There was chaos. Yet, as I listened to the passionate voices in our first meeting, I knew…I knew…we were not throwing away our shot.
Over the past 14 years, the parishes and people of this diocese have been asked to “put out into the deep water and let down our nets” over and over. We have been called away from the shore…from the clear, shallow water where we could see the bottom of the sea and feel the security of terra firma.
Parishes without church buildings began worshipping in theaters and shopping centers. We were called away from the familiar structures—to understand in a new way that a parish is not a place. It is a people…people who gather to become the Body of Christ.
All over our diocese, new ministries emerged: Ministries that feed hungry families, college students, and children. Relationships with social justice organizations gave us space and place to respect the dignity of every human life. Ecumenical relationships emerged. Women, like me, were ordained in our diocese for the first time. Allyship ministries emerged to support those beginning an LGBTQ journey.
We were in deep water, throwing out our nets without deep pockets, sometimes without buildings, and always without a map telling us where we’re going.
And then a global pandemic entered the scene. God called us into deeper water. We could have waited it out…sat on the sidelines. But we did not. We discovered people with gifts in technology within our parish communities — and we began gathering virtually for Sunday worship. The Daily Office liturgies came to life, with technology helping us gather to be a Body in prayer.
Today, St. Martin’s online presence is experienced throughout the world. We welcome new people to our worship every week. It is an abundance we would not have known without being called to the deeper water of a pandemic and learning new ways to throw down our nets.
Peter was called away from his fishing trade. He was called to follow Jesus, to grow in discipleship, to begin the journey of becoming the person God created Peter to be…to flourish.
Dallas Willard says, “The mechanics of discipleship are different today. We cannot literally be with Jesus in the same way his first disciples could…But the priorities and intentions of disciples are forever the same….The disciple of Christ desires above else to be like him.”
Following God’s call into a life of discipleship is not the easy path. Peter could have told Jesus that his crew really needed to sleep so they would be ready to fish that night. It would have been the rational thing to do. But, he did not do the rational thing: the path he chose awakened him to the experience of God’s abundant, overflowing life.
In Willard’s words, “Non-discipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring.”
We do not know why Peter said “yes” to Jesus’ call. We can only answer that call for ourselves. In the 21st C, God continues to call the Church, The Episcopal Church, our diocese, our parishes, our people, you, and me. We are called to move more deeply into the life of Christ; to grow in discipleship, to flourish in God’s Love. And, we are called to keep casting our nets into our broken world…to walk in the Way of Love. The rest is God’s.
Go forth from here
As those who hear the call of Christ,
As those who respond to that call,
As those who live in the high calling of God
In Christ Jesus.
And the blessing of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be upon you
and remain with you for ever.
 Devotional Classics: Selected Readings For Individuals & Groups; Dallas Willard excerpts from the Spirit of the Disciplines p 15
 ibid p16