I Cor 15cl-ll
Epiphany 5C -RCL
HE 2B 10:00
LET DOWN YOUR NETS FOR A CATCH
Credit: Pulpit Resource 2/5/95
Previous: 95,01,04,07 (p.2 para.2-p.3 para.2 only)
By request, I am going to try to speak in regard to the two tragic shootings that have taken place in Westford in the last month. The victims were known widely, and some were neighbors to some of you here. The first shooting was the murder of a wife by her husband, who then attempted suicide himself, unsuccessfully. He has survived. The second was a husband who critically wounded his wife and killed his very popular daughter, aged 17, before shooting himself fatally.
As so many have commented, we never know fully what is in people's minds who carry out such tragedies, or what problems they are really facing. And we never know fully the depths of our own nature; if we ourselves were to be faced with the same pressures and problems, who knows what we might do, but for the help of God? Without God, there is very little to hold on to. It surely does not help if people have guns in their homes; for guns give what is thought to be an easy way out when the going gets tough.
The questions before us probably will find their full answers only in the next life. But we must try to say something from the wellsprings of Christian faith. For if that faith does not speak to us now, it is not of much use. So let us try.
I am perhaps equipped to speak at this point. Some of you know that my brother Timothy, who was then an ordained Deacon in our Church, and a recent curate in a parish, in 1967 at age 31+, took his own life by gunshot. He probably had the gun from his time in the Army. The questions never go away. Now, 43 years later, questions are still here, even though in the family we understood more as the time passed .
Let us begin with today's Gospel. It is the fairly familiar story of fishing with Jesus, and the remarkable catch of fish after a night of no luck. "Go out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch," says Jesus. But Peter protests, "We've worked all night but have caught nothing" - as if to say, "Any fisherman knows that fish bite better at night," - but if you say so Lord, we'll give it another try." And they caught so many fish that they thought their net would break.
That's where we usually end the story in our minds. We love that verse about how many fish the disciples caught after they had had the good sense to listen to Jesus. It is a good stopping point, for every time the Church gathers, we are here to listen to Jesus -speaking through prayer or Scripture, music or Sacrament, maybe even through the preacher.
It is a good stopping point also, because if we've ever spent much time in church, we know that there is lots of failure here, many a long night of fishing with few results. A teacher has taught for years, without anyone's ever saying "Thanks". Youth worked with for years, but no one ever feeling a call to give his or her life specifically in the Lord's service. Congregation about the same size for years. A Bishop, David Johnson, worked with in this Diocese for ten years and then taking his own life. "Master, we've toiled all night and have taken nothing"
So we look for encouragement in this story, and we want to end it with the great catch of fish as a result of listening to Jesus. That makes it a nice, neat story.
II. Now, how do we let down our nets for a catch in the present agony of this community, and of some in this Parish who personally knew those who were involved?
First, we look at the Cross, and what the Scriptures say about that tragedy. Jesus is described as a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief (Is.53:3), as one who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (Is.53:4). That is to say, Jesus cries with us, God cries with us. We are not alone in our agony and grief. Surely, those who kept vigil at the Cross must have felt that somehow God was crying with them. And we can say the same about those left behind in the two Westford tragedies. "God is crying with you." And we can share God's tears with those with whom we talk.
Then there is the immediate question about the burials of those who have died. The young lady Olivia's death is a monumental tragedy, of course. But we can commend her to God's keeping and God's love, and we can pray that what was so incomplete here will be completed and perfected later in God's way. We can say the same for the wife who was the victim in the first shooting. But what about the shooters, especially the husband in the second shooting, Brian Marchand? He is a suicide, no doubt of seriously disturbed mind, but still a suicide. And Frederick Leduc might well have succeeded in his own suicide, in the first shooting.
It used to be that the Church would not bury a person who had committed suicide, because the burial service had a sentence "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away" (Job 1:21) - and in such a case the Lord did not take away, but the person took it upon himself to end his life. We understand more about suicide now, and we know that people who take their own lives are often not in their right minds.
The Book of Common Prayer of our Church in South Africa has a wonderful few sentences that may help us. An opening sentence of one of the burial services reads like this: ||: You are far from being able to love the creature more than God who made him (2 Esdras 8:47, apocrypha), for as God's majesty is, so also is his mercy (Ecclesiasticus 2:18, apocrypha).:|| That is to say, even mentally deranged killers and suicides are still God's children, are lost sheep who have wandered, for whom God still searches and longs. We cannot do less.
Other opening sentences give further help: Enter not into judgment with your servant, O Lord, for in your sight shall no one living be justified. (Ps.143:2
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help In trouble (Ps.46:1)
And then there is the committal prayer at the graveside, which I used for my own brother:
We commit the body of our brother to the ground earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, ||:and his soul to the just and merciful judgment of him who alone has perfect understanding, even Jesus Christ our Lord.:||
There is a line at the end of John's Gospel, chapter 6, where people have turned away in droves from following Jesus. And Jesus asks His disciples, "will you also go away?" And Peter answers, "Lord, where else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:68).
People: this is what we have got to wrestle through. We've got to pray this one through, like Jacob wrestling with the angel (Gen.32:24ff). But no other religion can save us at these times. We have no one else to turn to but our Lord Jesus Christ. That doesn't mean that it is easy. Saint Theresa is reported to have prayed, "Lord, no wonder you have so few friends; you treat them so badly." It's a free world, free to be very evil as well as to be very good. But only in a free world is true love possible.
If we are to know the friendship of Jesus at these times, we've got to lean on Him, wrestle with Him in prayer until He gives us an answer. It won't always be what we wanted, but it will be the best answer for us. And one of the joys of the next life will surely be that we shall know what our prayers accomplished, and we shall know who prayed for us. And likely there will be some wonderful surprises on both accounts!