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6th February 2022

He’s Got the Power

Passage: Luke 5; 1-11


This story strikes me as being all about space. Not “outer space,” as in stars and planets, but space as in “my space;” a term we use these days, about territory of place and time allocated for a particular purpose. “I need my space,” where I can be quiet and alone. Or the right “space” in which to do my job. Or “family space” ring fenced for family time. And if something or someone we have not invited happens to enter this space we say that they are “invading” our space. I guess it could be linked with the concept of mindfulness; counteracting stress by focussing exclusively on where you are right now; not a bad thing in a hectic life.

But this story starts with Jesus invading Peter’s space. Peter was fisherman. The boat was his professional space, from which he caught his fish. Boats were not preaching space. Preaching was done in places of worship. Sometimes you might hear preaching in a market square or out on a hillside, but these were public places, open to everyone.
I wonder how Peter felt at first about Jesus being in his space. Imagine if that were you- in the place where you work or used to work. Suppose Jesus walked into your office or boardroom or shop or school or hospital or bank and started preaching- what would you think? “Sorry Jesus, but not here, not now. This is neither the time nor the place.”

I remember meeting a young man who, I thought was doing the same University course as my nephew and suggesting that the best way of meeting him would be to call out in the lecture hall “is there anyone here with an aunt who is a Minister in Orpington” and watch to see which student dived under his chair and hid up….. Perhaps we all, if sub-consciously, distinguish our “religious space” from our “non-religious space.” In which case, Jesus was invading Peter’s non-religious space.

Then, when Jesus had finished preaching, he invaded even further by giving Peter advice about fishing. Fishing was done at night and Peter had had a bad night, catching nothing. Jesus suggested he tried letting down the nets again in broad daylight. But fishing was none of Jesus’ business! Before he took up preaching he had been trained as a carpenter. What right had he got to advise Peter on how to fish?
Again, think if this were you. And Jesus was telling you how to run your business, cope with your boss, provide medical care, teach students- how would you feel? Nowadays, if any Christian person tries to speak up from a faith perspective about a workplace matter, they are told to go away and mind their own business. “This has nothing to do with your religion. You are invading our space.”

Peter, though, did do as Jesus suggested, and the result was incredible: so many fish that two boats together could hardly hold them. Wow.. I think.
It is actually quite difficult to know what to make of this. Is Jesus saying, “Do what I tell you and your business will prosper, your project will succeed, your nation will be powerful and you, yourself will be wealthy?” Maybe. But we have seen too much go wrong when religion and prosperity start to share space. Look at the “prosperity Gospel” which declares that those who follow Jesus will gain plenty of money; which ignores the claims of social justice; and which produces leaders who use spiritual blackmail to extort huge sums of money from their followers. We have also seen too much of religion and politics working hand in hand, where the religion, far from purifying the politics becomes itself corrupt.

OK, so Jesus produced a huge catch of fish for Peter, but we don’t hear of him creating vast crops of grain for friendly farmers or huge profits for sympathetic merchants. And he certainly did not support the freedom fighters who hoped-understandably- to be free of enemy occupation. So, what did he think he was doing here?

I wonder if the clue lies in Peter’s reaction- he was awestruck. He fell down at Jesus’ feet and said, “Get away from me. I’m not good enough for you.” Peter had felt the full impact of a power and a presence he had never known before and it was as though this power and presence, in the person of Jesus, had now invaded his very deepest and most personal space, meaning that there was now nothing about Peter that Jesus did not know and Peter was afraid of what Jesus might have seen. This kind of experience is repeated many times in the Bible, where people are confronted with the presence and power of God; they are awestruck and feel a deep sense of personal inadequacy. This power is far greater than anything I can ever hope to be. I cannot cope with it. And once this presence sees what I am really like, it will reject me because I am not good enough.

But what Jesus says to Peter is the classic response in the Bible: “Do not be afraid.” Over and over again, people are told not to be afraid of God. (The advice to “fear” God is more about deep respect than about being terrified.) Yes, Jesus had seen right into Peter’s heart and soul. And yes, there was a lot there which was weak and damaged and inclined to go wrong. But what Jesus had seen in Peter did not put him off. Maybe because he saw a capacity for true faith.
For, did you notice, Peter had not rushed in and laid claim to Jesus’ power for himself: “this is my boat and my business. Jesus has chosen my business to prosper because I did my bit in letting him use my boat for his preaching.” Echoes of the prosperity Gospel here??

No, Peter realised that this was not about him but about Jesus. Peter recognised Jesus as being God and he needed Jesus to tell him that he was OK. He needed Jesus to come right into his space, all of his space and transform it with his power. Real faith is not territorial. Real faith does not distinguish between religious space and non-religious because it is about a whole-life relationship with God. And the best and strongest relationships in our lives are not territorial. They “invade” and transform every single part of us.

So, what happened next? What happened was that Peter and his friends were invited to enter Jesus’ space. Come with him and share his mission to reconcile people to God. And, in entering Jesus’ space, Peter came to know God and to see life so much more clearly. Did you notice how he left all those fish behind? He could have become very rich if he had waited and sold them but that was not so important to him as it might once have been. He had found something better.

Obviously, following Jesus does not mean for everyone leaving their home and job to preach all-round the country. But it is about Jesus Christ being invited into our space as we are invited into his. And this relationship will transform every space in our lives.
No, people of faith cannot compel their whole nation to become Christians, but they can stand up for democracy and freedom of speech and honesty and integrity in the way their country is governed because these are the values of the kingdom of God as Jesus taught them.
No, it is not always appropriate for people of faith to preach to those they work with, but it is appropriate for them to work with integrity, to stand out against corruption and treat their colleagues with compassion because these were the standards Jesus taught.
Yes, we do have to be careful about what we say in public places and with people we meet but there are times when offering to pray for someone, inviting them to a worship or church community event, handing them a Bible or a leaflet or directing them to a website which explains something of the Christian faith is the right thing to do because Jesus told his followers that the people around them were lost like sheep without a shepherd and needed both the comfort and the challenge of God’s presence in their lives.
And yes, there will be times when we just want to hide from God because we feel too confused, too weary, too inadequate to face Him. We want “our space” back. But it is precisely at these times that God’s power and presence and saving grace can become their very strongest in our lives if we open them to God.
Peter hit rock bottom more than once, but Jesus was always there to lift him up again and Peter did indeed -as Jesus promised him, become the rock on which the whole Christian church came to be built and although it undeniably feels a bit shaky right now, it has not yet crumbled to dust…….

A story about our space and how sharing that space with Jesus Christ transforms your life and through that life, the world. Because he has the power.