Overwhelming Defeat and Tangible Hope

It has almost always been the case that some of my best reflections in life have happened sitting on the edge of a lake. I have prayed tearful prayers and sat and stared at the ebbing water wondering if God is really at work in this world at all. There is something the way in which bodies of water call us to be mindful of things beyond ourselves, but also ask us to turn inward, to question where we are going and what sort of life to which we are called. There is something holy to bodies of water, whether because it reminds us of our human smallness, or because it harkens to our baptism, or maybe even because it is the backdrop to many of our sacred stories.

Today we hear of Christ going out on a boat in the lake of Gennesaret to teach the crowds of people. I wonder if it was a day wherein which the sun shone bright or if there was a cloudy haze. I wonder if the smell of the lake was pungent or if there was a strong wind off the Sea of Galilee, carrying away with it the fragrance of the lake. When I imagine this event in my mind, I hold in my prayerful imagination the crowd; the rough texture of their simple clothes, their shoulders touching as their feet crowded around the Christ to hear the Good News. I can see Jesus getting into the boat, and then I can feel the anticipation as we wait for him to project his voice from the boat out toward the shore where we stand crowded around.

After Jesus finished his teaching, I can feel us all taking the breath that we had been holding while we heard of unyielding hope and of a radical compassion that will no doubt change and challenge us, and then we hear him tell Simon to cast down the nets from the boat. And though they had spent all night out on the lake, I can hear Simon’s weary but respectful response that he would do so if Jesus told him to do so, despite the unproductive attempts that they had made on their own. And maybe it was immediate or maybe it took several minutes, but soon their nets began to sag. They called their partners to come and help and both boats were so full of fish, that they began to sink. I can see the joy and delight slowly playing across the crowd’s faces as they realize that the impossible became possible, and perhaps even the Christ giving a small smile considering abundance made available. But it is Simon Peter; it is Simon Peter’s response with whom I resonate most with in all this whole story.

It is weary, been-working-all night Simon Peter with whom I can see myself most clearly in this story. Because when the boats begin to be overwhelmed with God’s abundance, Simon’s whole-hearted and honest reaction is to slump to his knees and to weep. He weeps because he feels unworthy and incapable, and I can feel it even in my own chest. I can feel the heavy sobs that rock his tired body that spent hours without seeing any results; I can feel it in my own heart, this heaviness with which Simon Peter began to question whether he was worthy to participate in God’s work in the world. I can see his tear-stained face as he squeaked out, “Go away from, Lord,” because I am not worthy.

It is Simon with whom I most identify as I let my imagination roam around this common story of Christ’s work in the world; it is Simon with whom I feel a kinship with as he returns to shore to follow Christ after he has told him to not be afraid of the work that he will give him to do. I’m not sure with whom you most identify with in this story, but there is something so tangible to Simon’s reaction when held in comparison with where we are in our current life right now.

I don’t know anyone, I literally do not know any person, who is not tired; we are weary and exhausted, and my friends, so many of us are living with very thin margins. I think Simon speaks to us. I think Simon speaks to us, because he is confronted with his own presumptions of his unworthiness and how in his own unbearable exhaustion in light of God’s abundance and Christ’s calling, he collapses. He is entirely overwhelmed with tangible hope in the face of overwhelming defeat, and this is where I want to encourage you to stay for a moment.

There is no doubt that God is equipping us and calling us to powerful work in this world, but it is here, in this in-between moment that we hear recounted in the gospel according to Luke, that I want us to pause. I want us to pause and to close our eyes and breathe deeply as we consider where God might be calling us to be fishers of people just as Christ did with Simon Peter. Pause and consider where might God’s abundance feel so impossible in our weariness? Where might we wonder if our baptismal calling is truly worth what it costs us? Where might we be holding on to some presumptions of our unworthiness in the work to which we have been called?

It is here, with the collapsed and weeping Simon Peter that I want us to pause; I want us to pause to reflect where God might be calling you, where God might be calling us in this moment. It is here, at the intersection of overwhelming defeat and tangible hope that I want us to pause, but it is not where I want us to stay.

Because after this the Christ does not turn his attention to the crowd on the shore as they no doubt are celebrating the two boats full of fish, but instead, Christ turns his attention to Simon. And I can see in my prayerful imagination Christ cupping Simon Peters teary face in his hands and tenderly saying, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid, the Christ says, do not be afraid, this is the work to which God has equipped and called you to. Do not be afraid of God’s love and abundance. Do not be afraid to let that abundant hope seep into your exhausted and weary heart and mind. Do not be afraid.

As we take a pause here with Simon Peter in his weeping exhaustion, I hope that we can rest our weary souls into the same truth that God has equipped and called us, too. That God will not call us when we have things figured out or when things are easier, but here in this moment where we feel tender and tired, because just like Simon, it is here where we can remember who we are. It is here when we aren’t sure that we are up to the task or worthy of our baptismal call that we pause and remember Simon; it is here that we remember that through Christ we can do all things. It is here, in our exhaustion and weariness, here at the intersection of overwhelming defeat and tangible hope that we must remember Christ’s tender reminder, “do not be afraid” you are worthy of this work.


A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY on February 6, 2022 for Epiphany 5C on Luke 5:1-11

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