My mother did not tell many jokes; my father was the one who typically would tell jokes in the family. But this is one story she would tell from time to time. It was about an actor, who frankly was kind of a washed up actor. He had come to the point where he was unable to get any parts and he felt pretty desperate. Then his agent called him and told him that he had lined up a part for him in New York. It was on Broadway in front of a live audience. At the last minute the fellow whose part it was had been admitted to the hospital. There was only one line, but the line was to be delivered at a very pivotal place in the play and if done right—well, if done right, the actor could be certain that he would be able to get more work after that! So, great, what’s the line? It was simple, “Hark, hear the cannons roar!” That’s it?” he asked. Yes, now hurry because there is just barely time for you to fly out from California to New York to make it to the play in time to say your line.” The actor hurriedly got to the airport and got on the plane and all the way he was muttering to himself, “Hark, hear the cannon roar!” When he arrived in New York a cab was waiting for him and it rushed him to the theater. They ran him into the dressing room and put his make up on. All the time, he was muttering to himself, “Hark, hear the cannon roar!” They rushed him upstairs to the curtain and as soon as he got there the stage director said, “OK you’re on!” They pushed him through the curtain and he walked onto the stage. It was a huge stage, the lights were blinding; he could feel the large crowd of people in the audience and then suddenly there was this enormous loud thundering noise, and he almost jumped out of his skin and he said, “What in the world was that?”
How do you do in those moments when the pressure is on? Do you shine or do you mess up? We are in the season after Epiphany and in this season the gospel passages all high-light some instance when Jesus is shown to be more than simply a human being. The passage today is no exception. The scene starts off with one morning Jesus simply teaching people who wanted to hear God’s word explained to them. But then the crowd grows and people want to get closer to Jesus and so there is some pushing forward and Jesus ends up walking backwards into the water apparently. So he stops and looks around and sees a couple of fishing boats. A first century fishing boat was about eight feet wide and 25 feet long. So it would fit inside this chancel area. Jesus asked Peter put the boat out a little ways from the shore and then he sat in the bow and finished teaching. But after Jesus had completed his teaching and sent the crowds away he tells Peter to put the boat into the deep water and let your nets down for a catch.
Peter, let me remind you was a professional fisherman. And Peter knew that Jesus was a very wonderful teacher to be sure, and John the Baptist had called him the Lamb of God, but still Jesus was as far as Peter knew the son of Joseph who was a craftsman, a carpenter or a stone mason. Jesus wasn’t a fisherman. Peter tries to explain it to Jesus, “Look, Sir, we worked all night long and didn’t catch anything.” Peter and Andrew and their men are tired. They have worked and had a very unproductive night and they are actually about ready to go home to try to catch some sleep before they go out again that night. You can almost hear the sigh in Peter’s voice. “Yet if you say so we will do it.” So to please Jesus, they go out a bit further and put down the nets. And then bam! Hundreds and hundreds of fish swim into their net. They try pulling up their net and it is too heavy so they call to James and John and the guys in their boat and they come out and pull up the net and there are so many fish in the net that the boats actually are almost swamped, in fact they are beginning to sink because there are so many fish. We are not talking about simply hundreds of fish; no we are talking about thousands of fish. It was the catch of a lifetime. Except all of the sudden, all of the sudden Peter realized this catch was miraculous. This wasn’t normal. This wasn’t natural. This was in fact supernatural. He was a professional fisherman. He had fished in these waters for years and years. He knew average and he knew below average and he knew above average too. But this, this was unbelievable. This was clearly, to put it in today’s vernacular; it was clearly a God-thing. And the person who caused this God-thing to happen was standing right there. Peter realized he was in the presence of someone greater than he was; someone far greater. In our reading today of Isaiah, we heard of the time when he was in the actual presence of the Lord and he said, “Woe is me, I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among people with unclean lips.” There was this feeling of unworthiness. This sense of I don’t belong here; I am unworthy. This is exactly how Peter felt. And frankly Peter felt afraid of Jesus. Jesus was doing supernatural things and it was unnerving. And Peter says, “Go away from me for I am a sinful man.” And what does Jesus say? He says, “Do not be afraid.” Peter actually hears that phrase again and again because Jesus keeps doing things that scare him.
But I want us to look at Peter’s response. He kneels before Jesus and says ‘Go away from me, for I am a sinful man. Granted he is terrified at this point but his response nonetheless is one of great humility and a realization of his unworthiness. This is the response of the truly great people of faith in Scripture isn’t it? Moses felt unworthy to be the leader of the Israelites, in last week’s readings we heard Jeremiah telling God that he did not think he could do it. In today’s readings we heard Paul say that he is the least of all the apostles and we heard Isaiah that he was a man of unclean lips. This sense of humility is what they have in common and it is because of this sense and because of this self-realization that God is able to use them to do great things in His kingdom.
The application for us is fairly obvious isn’t it? We too need to have a humble attitude. Scripture tells us in Micah 6:8 that what the Lord requires of us is to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.
The fact is most of us do not have these incredible experiences like Peter and Paul and Isaiah. Most of us lead lives that are comparatively uneventful. And when and if we are suddenly thrown onto the stage and we have a moment to shine all too often instead of saying, Hark hear the cannon roar; we, like the hapless actor jump practically out of our skin and say what in the world was that. We are not Peter or Moses, or Isaiah or Paul. Yet, we are who we are and we are just as called into God’s service as they were. Christ calls us to follow him just as he did Peter. And we can respond to God’s call with humility like he did. We can turn to God with a humble spirit and admit we are not able to do all that he has for us to do on our own; just as in a few minutes we will confess and admit that we have not loved God like we should nor have we loved our neighbors as we ought. We can admit we need and we can desire his help. And as we do, as we try humbly to follow and obey our Lord, he will use our lives in amazing ways to the honor of his name. Amen