Posted on July 20th, 2014
LORD, why have you rejected me?
why have you hidden your face from me?
Ever since my youth, I have been wretched and at the point of death;
I have borne your terrors with a troubled mind.
Your blazing anger has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me;
They surround me all day long like a flood;
they encompass me on every side.
My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me,
and darkness is my only companion. (Ps. 88, Book of Common Prayer)
So ends the eighty-eighth Psalm. “Darkness is my only companion.” That’s not the beginning; it’s the ending. So can life be in this world, even for the disciple of Jesus.
For this world is a dark place. The Muslims burned the cathedral in Mosul this past week, and the remaining Christians have fled. Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen, remains imprisoned in Iran for the crime of being a Christian.
In America, we burn with lust and are imprisoned by the passions. The darkness of despair closes in on hearts without hope.
St. Peter has just spent the night in darkness. (Luke 5:1-11) “Master,” he says to Jesus, “we have toiled all night and caught nothing.” That is the story of all humanity, wrapped up in this one futile effort by St. Peter: “We have toiled all night and caught nothing.” We have built, but the buildings have crumbled. We have established governments, but they have become corrupt. The garment is ripped, the milk has gone sour, the door has splintered and the hinges have rusted. “We have toiled all night and caught nothing.” Even what man does gain, rust ruins, moths destroy, and thieves break in and steal. Everything is dust and ashes.
So Simon Peter is tired. Perhaps you are too. Tired of work. Tired of an ailing body. Tired of a world careening out of control. Tired of a marriage that continues to struggle. Tired from the baby that fills you with joy but gives you no rest.
The day has broken, but Simon remains in darkness. “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing.” Jesus is about to take him out into the deep, where Simon will confront the deeper darkness.
There is an enormous catch of fish, so much that the nets are breaking. They fill one boat, then a second, the ship captained by James and his brother John, the sons of Zebedee and partners with Simon in his commercial fishing operation. Both boats are weighed down, riding low in the water. The fish in the boat will translate into gold in their pockets.
But this does not lighten Simon’s darkness. He now confronts his identity.
Our culture is presenting us with a deep identity crisis. Uprooted from created realities, people are convincing themselves that they are men trapped in women’s bodies, or women trapped in men’s bodies – or perhaps still some other alternative. Actions are disconnected with being, so that people do bad things but say they are good people, that the bad actions are somehow disconnected from the good person. In 1978 Rabbi Kushner published a book asking the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”, a question that has no adequate answer because it is improperly framed.
It’s a question of identity, and not just your identity or my identity, but a collective identity, a world-identity. We must ask a bigger question, “Who are we as a people? Who are we as a race, the human race?” And the answer is in what Simon says to Jesus after the great catch: “I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Simon is not speaking about a particular thing he has done, nor the particular ways he may be tempted. One person has inclinations to lie or gossip, another to bully and abuse. One person has heterosexual desires, another homosexual desires, but no one, no one lives up to the sexual identity God created us to have. To say, for example, that people with homosexual desires are broken is not to say nearly enough; everyone is broken, and deeply so.
In today’s Psalm, David is afraid. In the Old Testament lesson, Elijah commits the sin of despair, hiding out and whimpering, “I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life.” The congregation addressed in the epistle is admonished about the things you and I so easily do: repay evil for evil, reviling for reviling.
Simon is a sinful man, I am a sinful man, you are a sinful person. Your corruption runs deeper than you even realize. This is why we bring Brendan David and all our babies to baptism. Born in darkness, we are destined to darkness. We need God’s action from the outside, God’s righteousness from the outside, God’s forgiveness from the outside, not only to redeem us from our acts, but to rescue us from our being, from who we are.
The miraculous catch of fish becomes for Simon an image of Jesus’ work, and the work Simon would undertake as a minister of Jesus. Drawn up out of the deep, drawn up out of the darkness, the nets of baptism save men alive.
Perhaps you have said with the Psalmist that “terrors … surround me … like a flood.” But Jesus comes to those drowning. Jesus comes to those over whom the waves wash. Jesus comes to Brendan. Jesus comes to the baptized.
Perhaps you have known the dark, even said, “Darkness is my only companion.” But Jesus comes in the dark. Jesus comes to those in darkness. In the shadows and gloom, your Lord is with you, He has been there too, terrified of the hell that was coming for Him.
Perhaps you have said with Simon, “I am a sinful man.” This you need to say, every day. The Word of Jesus to Simon is recorded in this Gospel for you: “Do not be afraid.”
Now, the accusation of sin against you has, by the Word of Jesus, been canceled. In the entrance Psalm we cried out to God, “False witnesses have risen against me.” That’s what the accusations of the devil now are: False witnesses. They are false because of Jesus’ word, “Fear not.” Simon is right when he says, “I am a sinful man.” But the Word of Jesus, and the baptism that today came to Brendan, washes it away. +INJ+