3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’
3 Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Many of us know these two stories very well. They are the stories that many learnt in Sunday school or at least on a number of occasions in worship. They are both memorable stories. Perhaps it is easy then to not notice important parts of these stories. Saul never saw himself as a persecutor of Christians he saw him self as a defender of the true faith. Saul could have easily boasted about his righteousness and his credentials to hold such strong views. The fact that he could get letters form the high priest suggested that he was well respected in the Jewish community. Saul did not see himself as a bad man even when he stood holding thee cloaks of those who were stoning St Stephen. He would have seen himself as part of the work of God to keep the people of Israel as a pure and faithful community of God’s children.
When we are feeling particularly self-righteous about something and making the truth know to the offending person we should probably look to our patron saint, Saul, to hold our cloaks whole we hurl words of wisdom. Some of you might say to me, Nicholas, next time you preach about refugees or our need to forgive, we might remind you of “St Saul”. The archbishop once told me he felt admonished every time I got up to speak at synod. Maybe many of us have a little of St Saul in us. We feel very strongly about the rightness of our opinion, the truth, and we don’t mind telling others where they are wrong. When we know the “truth” we can’t see it as our opinion, and that others may have some truth in their perspective. We often see others as being self-righteous but it is more difficult to see that trait in ourselves. Next time you feel the need to offer your words of wisdom finding fault with someone else here in the church or in the community generally, stop and ponder the righteousness of “St Saul”. When the person who does the church flowers fails to do them as you would do them, or the rostered person doesn’t turn up or the Parish council make a completely insane decision breathe deeply a few times before giving your peals of wisdom.
We’ll come back to Saul in a moment. What about Peter? It is easy to see this story of Peter being asked three times do you love me as a reminder of his denial when near a different charcoal fire. In John’s Gospel especially, we see Peter deny who he is rather than deny Jesus per se. Three times Peter says, “I am not” one of his disciples, “I was not” in the garden with him. John 18:17, 25 & 27 So we tend to see this repetition of the question as both a reminder and forgiveness. Jesus never said, I forgive you. Perhaps he never needed to. Peter may have needed to hear himself say three times, yes lord you know I love you, to be able to forgive himself and get on with the ministry he was called to do.
It is interesting however to pay attention to what Peter was doing. He had been a fisherman before Jesus called him and Andrew and James and John. At least that is what the other three Gospel tell us. If we only had John’s Gospel we wouldn’t know Peter was a fisherman. He became a disciple of Jesus when his brother Andrew told him they had found the messiah. John 1:41. Never-the-less if we stay with the premise that he was a fisherman what he does next seems very natural. Even though he had seen Jesus alive and Jesus had breathed on them to received on them to receive the Holy Spirit, Peter went back to doing what he had always done, he went fishing. Even seeing the risen Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit was not enough in John’s telling of the Gospel to spark the Pentecostal proclamation of the Good News. We have to wait for Luke’s stories of the Acts of the Apostles before see Peter preaching with boldness. As we have seen to day it is in Acts that we see eventually counted among the Apostles the self-righteous Saul encountering the risen Christ and beginning his mission.
It crossed my mind pondering St Peter going fishing that perhaps we too tend to resort to the thing we have always done when the world seems confusing. In this past five or six decades the world as we have known it has changed. The feminist movement, the sexual revolution, secularisation of western thought and post modernism, a growing appreciation of scientific thought but also a individualism of truth on the other hand, nuclear power and global climate change are all contributing factors to confusion and fear for many people. People begin to wonder “where do I belong”, and “is there a purpose to my life?”. These thoughts exacerbate the fear and confusion. In the Church we tend to say, “I’m going fishing” or in other words, let’s go back to doing what we have always done. We might make small changes to things like having more contemporary 1980’s songs for family worship or bump youth group from Friday to Saturday to Sunday, We change Religious instruction to ecumenical Religious Education and then back to RI. But all of these things only really tinker at the edges. Effectively we are still inclined to go fishing with Peter.
When we look at Peter and Saul’s encounter with the risen Christ we realise they both change to be able to embrace the calling they have in Christ.
Just on Thursday at our Deepening Spirituality meeting the suggestion was made that we might benefit form a Parish Sabbatical, it could create the space for really listening to the Holy Spirit. The suggestion had been made once before but we kind of ignored it. Maybe we just felt more comfortable fishing. None of us really knew exactly what a Parish Sabbatical would look like. We knew enough to know that individually we go on retreats, or to Alpha or Cursillo or just a quiet day so that we might encounter Christ in a new way. What would it look like to give up as much of our Parish activity as possible to be open to the Holy Spirit as a Parish. The idea generated a certain amount of fear. What if we loose people because we stop doing this or that activity? Sabbath, whether as an individual or a family or as a community is an act of faith in God. Will we have everything we need if we don’t tear around 16 hours a day, 7 days a week? Will God provide for us if we rest one day a week?
If we like Saul and Peter are to encounter Christ in a new fresh way maybe we need to create space for that to happen. If it does happen any self-righteousness or any desire to just go back to how things were will be challenged to the core.
I will have to take this suggestion of Sabbatical to the Wardens and the Parish Council, they may say, that silly lets go fishing. And I guess if the Parish Council do embrace the idea and give it some shape so it ties into our Mission Action Plan and our Business plan then the Parish as a whole may say you are all made, we prefer fishing. But the more I think about it the more I feel it may be the very thing the Holy Spirit is calling us into.