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Epiphany IV-C

  • To:
  • Subject: Epiphany IV-C
  • From: Grant Mauricio Gallup <grant73@turbonett.com.ni>
  • Date: Wed, 24 Jan 2007 16:40:23 -0600

H O M I L Y    G R I T S    EPIPHANY  5-C

by Grant Gallup
February 4, 2007

Judges 6:11-24a: An angel under Ophrah's oak
Psalm 85 Benedixisti, Domine
I Corinthians 15:1-11: Tradition--a gospel reminder
Luke 5:1-11 Jesus, Peter, and the boatful of fish.

Calvin Coolidge used to go fishing in the cold, clear streams of the
upper peninsula of Michigan, where I myself fished for brook trout as
a boy. Once he was asked how many trout there were in his favorite
creek, and he replied "about 45,000. I haven't caught them all yet,
but I've intimidated them." Fishing lends itself to such stories, and
> from one of them comes our gospel for today. G. K. Chesterton wrote
that "exaggeration is the definition of art," and that "in one sense,
truth alone can be exaggerated, for nothing else can stand the
strain." Luke is unwilling to exaggerate little Lake Gennesareth into
a rolling Sea in Galilee, as do the other gospels. It's only 13 miles
long and seven and a half miles wide, and Luke had been on the Great
Sea, the Mediterranean. But he has nevertheless the heart of an
artist and shows his brush strokes in the story of the great catch of
converts in the Messianic fish pond of that name. This is not, after
all, a "fish story" but a report of the first evangelistic crusade in
the Springtime of the church. The gospels give us such broad and tall
tales of Jesus with the food and drink of our "canasta basica", the
basic food basket of our lives, to make us broader and taller, too.
Thus loaves are multiplied for thousands, wine flows abundantly for
fiestas from water pots, and fishes gladly swim by boatsfull into the
nets of the apostle's preaching. Not a bad menu, recast into the
abundant life for all. The timid little Petrine church is frequently
being coaxed by Jesus to "put out a little from the shore" so that
Jesus can be seen and heard in the great world. Hugging the shore,
the church clutches at its safety, but thereby keeps Jesus marooned
and mutes the evangel. Jesus here, as so frequently in history
hereafter, borrows the church--Peter's boat--even when his fishermen
are otherwise engaged, in maintenance tasks, mending nets. The
ministry of church management? Mending nets isn't as close to fishing
as cutting bait is! But it's what we got good at after two thousand
years of church life. Wherein the fish were sometimes raised in a
barrel and harvested by clubbing them into submission. Not
sportsmanlike, but efficient.

The letting out the nets after Jesus is clearly heard, the invitation
to respond to his word of the Word, is reluctantly accepted by the
church. "We have worked for years" or "we've tried that and failed"
or "we've been there, done that" is the pessimistic Petrine response,
an ecclesiastical response, an institutional response. But "at your
word" -- at the gospel imperative, we hitch up our pantaloons and
pursue the odious task of trying once again. We don't have much
choice if we preface our remarks to Jesus with the title, "Master".
The resulting phenomenal catch of fish scares Peter into repentance.
Paul's first letter to the Corinthians mentions the burgeoning
numbers--from Twelve to "more than five hundred brothers and sisters
at once"! The apostolic church is astonished at the success of the
evangel, but it does not then do what contemporary evangelists so
often do: claim credit for the success of a crusade, and embrace
triumphalism as a way of life. As the Mexican revolution lost its way
when its leadership was taken over by those who called themselves the
"party of the institionalized revolution." They knew about
institutions, but not about revolution. The apostolic response is
instead, appropriate repentance. "I'm a sinful man! I'm not worthy to
be near you, Lord!" Jesus' as KYRIOS is now recognized, as well as
(earlier) Jesus as Master, as Boss, as Chief Executive Officer. When
Gregory was chosen to succeed Pelagius as Pope in 590, he wrote to
the Emperor Maurice asking to be excused, but his letter was
intercepted and another from the Senate and people substituted,
asking for his appointment. When the Emperor's confrmation of the
appointment came, Gregory fled the city--it had been laid down by Leo
in 649 that instead of campaigning for bishoprics (as we do
nowadays), no one ought to be made a bishop except against his will.
"When asked, he should recede, and when invited he should fly." So
Peter's response to Jesus: "Lord, I am not worthy." A forgotten
versicle, a lost chord.

And Jesus' response to that versicle is the promise to Peter (you,
singular), "From this moment you are in the business of recruiting
people," of yes--catching up humanity into the church's boat, to save
life, not to destroy it. And the result is extended to a life-long
commitment, for Luke declares that when they had brought their boats
to shore, they left everything and followed him. Discipleship is not
to be a part-time vocation, but a lifelong adventure of abandonment
and hope. Now it is "church membership" and reduced to denominational
identity, complete with registered trade-marks and corporate logos.

Everybody knows of the Gideons from their Bibles, which we find in
hotels and motels around the world, which include their handy indices
to a simplistic hermeneutic. They are named for the hero of our first
reading, Gideon, who in the midst of a Bedouin siege, lives as a
guerrilla farmer, clandestinely beating out wheat in a winepress
between raging raids of the camel riding nomads. And God comes (as an
angel, a messenger) to sit under the the sacred oak at Ophrah (no kin
to the TV one) and have an interview with our farmer, and persuades
him of Yahweh's appointment, to change his religion from Baal to
Yahweh, from trendy New Age to dependable Old Gospel, and to be a
prophet warrior on his behalf. The angel agrees to wait for Gideon to
prepare a eucharistic banquet for him/her , then tips his/her staff
to the altar and brings fire from heaven to accept it in sacrifice,
all according to the rubrics. A Julia Child feast--roast lamb and
some blintzes, and some soulful broth as well--actually a sacrifice
in honor of a new vocation. A vocation to serve God some Lord's
supper with some sauce.

Paul reminds his students what it was that he received and now wants
to pass on to them--to hand it over, to make it a TRADITION--which is
a receiving, and a handling of, and a handing on. Tradition is not a
conserving of the past, like putting last year's crab apples into
mason jars to be stored in granny's root cellar. To be brought up and
tasted from time to time on serving spoons to appreciative guests.
Instead, tradition is a handing on of growing trees, and grafts, and
seedlings, so that the tree will bloom again, and carry perfume from
its blossoms into the air, and the crisp and wholesome goodness of
its fruit into the mouths of those not yet born, who will recognize
the taste and cry praise. Paul had visited Jerusalem around 35 A.D.,
and this letter is being written about 53 A.D. He is reminding them
in these closing remarks of his letter that there is integrity to his
presentation of "Gospel." It's the same gospel he preached years ago
to them! Paul appeals to the Old Time Religion. Most people when they
talk that way mean the debased sentimentality and bad taste of 19th
century piety, with sugary and self-centered gospel songs and an "I
am saved!" mentality of "Just Me and Jesus Swingin' on the Outhouse
Gate!" James Baldwin writes of these in his book "Just Above My

"The most dreadful people I have ever known are those who have been
'saved'as they claim, by Christ--they could not possibly be more
deluded--those for whom the heavenly telephone is endlessly ringing,
always with disastrous messages for everybody else. Or those peple
who have been cured by their psychiatrists, a cure which has rendered
them a little less exciting than oatmeal. I prefer sinners and
madmen, who can learn, who can change, who can teach." That's what
these three readings are about today. And we are presented with three
sinners and madmen--Gideon, Paul, and Peter, all dreadfully "unsaved"
types. They are all of them filled with a sense of their own
unworthiness. Paul calls himself a miscarriage. Un aborto! That's the
word. One born out of due time, the translation hedges. "Leave me!
I'm a sinner!" Peter declares to his Kyrios.
"My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I'm the least in my family,"
declares Gideon, in response to Yahweh's call.

All of them insist that it is mission, not status, which is to be the
consequence of calling. Calling to service, not style; to work where
we are, not to escape into fantasy. God doesn't ask Gideon to give up
being a soldier now and study for holy orders--indeed, he is like a
Salvationist, called to be a different kind of mighty warrior, and
addressed like General Booth. Jesus doesn't call Peter to don a white
cassock in perpetuity and sign up for Infallibility 101. He bids him
use his skills to save the Ark from sinking and bring the boat to
shore. Jesus now calls the disciples to stop hugging the shore of
their infallibilities, put out into the deep water, and let out the
nets. Peter is bidden to respond to the gospel as a servant of it,
and a rescuer of the church, not as a domination system himself and
his successors in perpetuity, world without end.

Anglicans dismayed their "evangelical" constituents and their
protestant sister churches, and even some of their Eastern Orthodox
friends, when a few years ago they called for all Christians to look
to Rome once again as a center of unity, and to see the Petrine
office as an inevitable and necessary element in a reunified
Christian witness in the world. There was nothing new in the
statement, but perhaps new repentance for our failures, and a new
reminder that astonished and dismayed many, while it gave hope and
courage to others. The Anglican hope for Unam Sanctam has always,
however, included a papacy "other than she is," a Rome faithful to
the Petrine office to rescue and defend the Church--a papacy of
purity and spiritual strength, and not of arrogance and disregard for
the life of all the churches. For we are all indeed in the same boat.
Peter's boat. Though we are also modelling in our own church life how
we can gladly live with a Presiding Bishop named Katharine.  One day
along the road there may be a MaMa in Canterbury as well as a Grand
MaMa   in Rome.

Christ's epiphany now in the world is to be through this servant
Church, and the Church which is the Maid of Honor.