Sunday, July 20, 2014

Names, nets and healings

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis, Rochester on the Fifth Sunday after Trinity 2014 

 Of all the things in life that we don’t want to do, going to the dentist must surely be near the top of the list. Some of us are of an age where the very sound of the equipment used by the dentist causes the hackles to rise and the pulse to quicken. Even if the technology has moved on to make the whole business better, more friendly and more reliable, going to the dentist can still hold much fear for some of us.

Rationally, it seems strange, especially when you know full well that the dentist is there to help prevent toothache and to treat toothache when it happens. Dentists are not out to inflict pain but to heal. That is not much comfort when you’re facing a large needle being inserted into your gums even if it doesn’t hurt that much.

When you’re faced with the possibility of great pain, even the most competent healer seems to be a figure to dread. Does this explain Simon Peter’s reaction to Our Lord when he says, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord”? Would you really want to tell Our Lord Jesus to go away?


It is clear that Simon Peter is frightened at the sheer power of Jesus as he hauls in a catch of fish larger than he has ever caught before. Clearly he recognises in this preacher the power and authority that comes from God, and it rocks him to his core. Everything that Simon Peter holds dear is suddenly revealed in the very presence of Our Lord Jesus to be corrupt, wrong, sinful in some way. Simon Peter clearly cannot stand this and his first reaction is to push Jesus away.

This is a very typical human reaction. We fear the dentist or the doctor because they might find something wrong in us and in putting that something right, they may have to inflict pain.

We therefore face a choice. We could learn to cope with the pain. Many do just that, even if that pain is treatable and live lives almost oblivious to the fact that something is very wrong. There are some shocking cases of people ignoring treatment because they fear that treatment more than the pain itself, often with just cause. Sometimes the pain of the treatment is worse than the ailment itself.

If you’ve managed to live comfortably with pain, how then do you deal with someone who reminds you that you are in pain?


Before he meets Jesus, Simon is quite content living with the pain of his sin. As a Jew of the first century, he is used to the system of sacrifices for sin offered up by the priests of the temple and trusts that those will suffice. They soothe his conscience but it turns out that they numb him to his sins. They do not get to the heart of the matter; they do not do anything about the sin itself. The psalmist says of God, “For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”

In order for true healing to take place, the heart must be broken – we have to be truly sorry, and that is something we all fear. Simon Peter recognises this in Our Lord simply by His power to help him catch so many fish. Simon Peter is afraid of this power, of its effects and what it will do to his life. “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord”


What is Our Lord’s response? “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” Would this convince you? Would you stop being afraid? Would the promise that you will catch men just as you could catch fish make your fear of pain go away? Perhaps it’s not in what He says to Simon Peter, but the way Our Lord says it. When we have the printed word in front of us, it is so difficult to see just how Our Lord really appears. Clearly there is something about Him that convinces tired fishermen to cast nets into the sea again. Clearly He is trustworthy and clearly His treatment works, and is guaranteed to work!

Look at the effect on Simon Peter. While he is in the boat, he is Simon – the sinner. In recognising Jesus’ power and the presence of his own sins, he becomes Simon Peter. Now we know him as St Peter. He is still the same person, but his true humanity and true identity has been revealed, healed and transformed by God.

The path to our recovery from sin is long, but Our Lord has demonstrated, however many times we fall, however ill we get, however painful life is, that there His death and resurrection guarantee that the faithful soul will be made better and that the pain of the treatment is worth it.

[PAUSE] The mission of the Church is to be a hospital for souls, bringing them to Our Lord for that final, wonderful healing that will make us perfect. Yet, so many people run from the name of Jesus because they deny that they are ill, or they do not believe that Our Lord is willing or able to heal them permanently.

Jesus says, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.”

Simon. Simon Peter. St Peter.

What’s your new name?

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