Let Down Your Nets
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, September 25, 2011
Simon Peter and his companions had been up all night fishing and had caught nothing. This was no little tragedy for fishermen whose families depended on the fish they caught. Frustrated and defeated they sat on the shore early in the morning mending and washing their nets for the next evening’s work. Jesus shows up and says to them, “Go back out and cast your nets again.” You can hear Peter’s frustration simmering under his words. “Lord, really? We were out all night. We are bone tired. We caught nothing. The fish are not biting. And you want us to go out again?” “Yes, I do.” So, Peter manages somehow to do as the Lord commanded. And, of course, the nets they cast this time were filled with fish, so full that two boats were in danger of sinking. Peter had to die to his pride and humble himself in front of his companions, who, I’m sure were completely surprised by this, knowing him as they did, in order to learn a simple truth: that Jesus is Lord of the fish!
Here is a story you may have heard from me before, but it is relevant. It is told by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom about another proud person, this time a woman who had worked for many years to make spiritual progress and had come up empty-handed. Her net, too, was empty.
Right after Met. Bloom was consecrated bishop an older woman came to him with a question, “Vladyka, I have been praying the Jesus Prayer for thirty-five years and I am still the same mean old woman I was when I started! What should I do?” Bloom answered, “Stop praying!” Startled and surprised like Peter must have been, she replied, “What should I do instead?” He continued, “Do you knit?” “Yes, I do.” “Then go to your room, put a sign on the door that says, ‘I am not here’, turn off your radio, grab your knitting, sit in your favorite chair, and knit in the presence of the Lord and don’t say a word.” The Metropolitan was instructing her to die to her old way of praying because it did not work, and do something very different.
What was the problem? She had not first taken care of her meanness. She tried to bury it under the Jesus Prayer thinking that it would just go away and, of course, it doesn’t work that way. She had to face her issues, not avoid them, not bury them. She thought that by plastering the Jesus Prayer over the noise inside, the meanness would just go (poof) away like magic. But it does not work that way. Her prayers had become part of the problem.
For those who remember the sixties and seventies, it’s like record producer Phil Spector’s invention he called “the wall of sound.” At first it was awesome! So much music! Layerings of track upon track! But what was first awe-inspiring soon became tedious. There was so much sound you couldn’t hear the music!
The Jesus Prayer had become part of this woman’s “wall of sound.” In order for her to make any progress at all, the Metropolitan knew she would have to first get rid of the noise in her mind. How could God get a word in edgewise with all that ruckus?
I think we create these “walls of sound” in order to keep God out, as a protection against his penetrating gaze and his voice. It is as if we knew that to come under his gaze and to hear his words in our depths would be to risk everything we had worked so hard to build. As if we intuitively knew that to listen to the sound of his voice would be to change everything, to bring the walls of Jericho that surround and protect our hearts crashing down, that we would at last be free. And who of us frightened souls actually want that?
Go back out into the sea, cast your nets again in a different place, take a different road, break the pattern of your life, allow the changes that must take place to take place.
The disciples were disappointed that morning, the lady was disappointed that day with Metropolitan Anthony, but the little niche of disappointment gave the Lord the opportunity to break through the defensive walls of Peter’s and the woman’s hearts, like a tiny plant that finds a crack in the asphalt and reaches miraculously up to the light.
Silence, stillness, slowing down, knitting in the presence of the Lord is how we deliberately create these opportunities for the Lord to make Himself known. Sometimes self-denial just means to simply stop trying to fill up the holes in our defenses, allowing the pain, the disappointments to be what they are, to feel them, to embrace them so that the Comforter Himself has a chance to actually do His work.
St. Paul knew this and wrote about it in the Epistle today, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of the Lord Jesus, so that the life of Jesus many be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
My last point is this. The light does not break through so much from the outside as from the inside of us. The treasure, St. Paul speaks of, if within the earthen vessel. The door to the treasure room is in the heart.
One more quote from the Great Mystic, Paul. “I bow my knees to the Father…that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, being rooted and grounded in his love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ, which surpassed knowledge, that you may be filled with the fullness of God.”
So, go sit quietly and knit in the presence of God.