Let’s give “Anglican issues” a wee break. They’re not going away anytime soon, and they won’t be resolved in the twinkling of an eye glancing at a blogpost here!
Yesterday’s Gospel reading was Luke 5:1-11. I wasn’t preaching but I gave the reading some reflection and that included thinking about its parallel in John 21:1-14.
First, the fascinating parallels between the two passages: both involve an unexpected catch of fish, against the grain of failure to catch, but in response to direction from the (carpenter, not a fisherman) Lord Jesus, with Peter a central character in each story, and some connection (direct in Luke, imminent in John) of Peter being (re)commissioned for ministry. But pretty much the parallels end there. Luke’s story sets Peter on the road to being an apostle who will contribute to catching people for God - a great big catch as the Acts of the Apostles tells us; and, by implication, sets others on that apostolic pathway, because Luke’s story substitutes for Mark and Matthew’s fishing-call stories of Peter, Andrew, James and John. John’s story is part of the larger lake/beachside story of Peter being forgiven for his three denials of Jesus and re-called to “Follow me”, with the emphasis on the renewed ministry not being the apostolic mission to grow the Jesus movement but on the apostolic role of pastoral care for the flock of Jesus: Feed my lambs.
Aside: on some matters previously touched on here, this year, with respect to Anglicanism’s relationship to the Roman Catholic Church and its claims to be “the” church of God because of its Petrine roots and continuing Petrine office, John 21 is also fascinating because of the interplay there between Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, or, we might say, between differing poles of Christianity, Petrine and Johannine. Anglicanism is (we could argue) at its strongest when it both respects and honours Petrine Christianity and confidently but humbly forges its own pathway according to a different pole. We can always do worse that allow ourselves to be inspired by Johannine Christianity!
Back to Luke 5:1-11.
While I wasn’t preaching yesterday, I did hear a sermon on Luke 5:1-11 (and its related OT reading, Isaiah 6:1-8). The preacher skilfully worked from both passages, and from the specific parallel between Isaiah’s and Peter’s recognition of their uncleanness/sinfulness in relation to “the Lord’s” holiness, to highlight the power of God to change us, to transform our lives from within (when so much of what the world talks about re change is change via external factors, behaviour modifications etc).
As I continue to reflect on the relationship between church and gospel, because I believe that beyond all diagnoses and prognoses of the church’s ills and ailments, lies the simple issue of the message we proclaim and the power of that message to win adherents in our day, it struck me that yesterday’s preacher put his finger on something very important.
Whatever words, or actions we use to describe and to present the gospel, the good news of our message must be that there is a God who is able to make a measurable difference to the human situation - that is, God can change us when other means and methods cannot; in a world of amazing transformations (this amazing device on which I type these words to you via the miracle of the internet; development of a virus beating set of vaccines in record time; etc), the challenge of transformation of ourselves remains, and if the gospel offers nothing in response to that challenge, what goodness does our news of Jesus offer?
Now there is lots more to say about the content of the gospel - about the good news of Jesus as an understanding of the world which provides purpose and meaning for human existence, even in the midst of pain and suffering, and thus is a message of hope, joy, peace and love, filled with authentic and eternal content. The gospel is nothing but the good news of lots of “both-and” goodness from God, with the cornerstone message that change to our lives and hope for our lives comes from God graciously reconciling us to himself, dying in Christ on the cross that we might live abundantly and eternally, sharing in the resurrection of Christ. But today’s post gratefully acknowledges yesterday’s particular insight from the preacher’s faithful engagement with the appointed readings!
Our challenge in these difficult days is to be the church which attests to the work of God changing us, transforming us, because by gathering in Jesus’ name, God through the Spirit is visibly making us into the kind of people other people want to be.
And it is a challenge, because we are often more frail and fallible than we would like to be. God is working among us and has a lot to do, yet. The remarkable encounter between Jesus and Peter in Luke 5 was life changing but it didn’t mean Peter would not later deny his Lord three times. The further life changing encounter in John 21 sorted out a number of issues for Peter but it didn’t means that Peter would not later need sharp correction in his not-yet-mature understanding of the scope of the gospel (Acts 10-15; Galatians).
What is God doing in your life and mine?