GUEST POST by Fr John Ackland, preached at Croydon Minster Sunday 6th February 2022
Isaiah 6:1-8; Luke 5:1-11
In this sermon I would like us to explore what could be called Theological Psychology - but then I thought far too pompous and I might have some of us rushing for the door! But the intention is to consider how we ‘think as Christian people’ and how we respond to those thoughts?
Our Gospel repeatedly makes us look at the church, each other and ourselves from our Lord’s perspective.
We are called to reimagine the church through the eyes of God.
Often at our Ministry Team Meetings held every Tuesday we have explored the concept of what it means to have a Culture of Abundance or a Culture of Scarcity. It has been truly fascinating! Personally, I love this sort of inquiry because it really makes me think!
"Is the glass half empty or half full?" is a proverbial phrase, used rhetorically to indicate that a particular situation could be a cause for pessimism (glass half-empty) or optimism (glass half full), So if we replaced the word pessimism for scarcity and optimism for abundance, well, we can ask ourselves- does our Minster church have a Culture of Scarcity or Culture of Abundance? Half empty? Half full? And why does it matter?
Well, this scarcity/abundance dynamic is at the heart of so many human encounters with Jesus.
Do you know that there is only one miracle that is found in all four gospels, only one that we find in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? What is it? It’s not the calming of the sea or raising Lazarus from the dead or changing water in to wine: it’s the Isaiahfeeding of the five thousand. It starts with ‘scarcity’ -so many miracles and parables begin from a perspective of scarcity.
Just five loaves two fish and five thousand people. Quite clearly there is not enough food. In the moment the disciples reflect that culture of scarcity! “we haven’t got enough, we cant do it” And rightly so in one sense. There is’nt enough food amongst so many. Scarcity.
But Jesus reflects that culture of abundance and miraculous things can happen when we have a culture of abundance.
So let’s briefly explore today’s Gospel reading.
You have probably heard this reading many times.
The scene is set; it is morning. Crowds have gathered to listen to Jesus on the shores of the lake.We see two fishing boats. The fisherman have been fishing all night without success.
So, they are washing the nets before returning home to eat and rest.
As more and more people gather to listen to Jesus, he decides
to climb into one of the two fishing boats asking Simon to put out into the water so he can speak from there to the crowd. Sound over water is amplified and he is now facing all the people and he speaks- but we don’t know what he says!
When he is finished he tells Simon to put out into deep water and let down the nets. Bearing in mind they had been working all night they are exhausted and the nets have already been washed, it was a big ask.
But he does it anyway and, as we know, miraculously, the nets are overwhelmed with fish. The nets threatened to snap so he calls for the other boat to help and they both came back to shore weighed down with the weight of the catch.
Simon Peter says to Jesus to “Go away! ….I am a sinful man”
Jesus says “ Do not be afraid, you will be catching people”
Then they all left there boats and everything else in there lives and followed Jesus.
What does that mean?
Did you spot the culture of scarcity at play? We find it twice- once because they fished all night and caught nothing, what’s the point of doing it all again- a scarcity mindset.
Second- Simon tells Jesus to “go away” he feels he is not good enough nor ever will be-a scarcity mindset!
Abundance is expressed in the catch of the fish. Abundance is expressed in the faith Jesus has in the imperfect Simon and the fisherman.
In today's Old Testament reading, the magnificent Isaiah is in the presence of God and is being called by God to take a message to God's people. How does Isaiah react? He protests and says "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”. A statement of scarcity.
Both Isaiah and Simon Peter feel the magnitude of their unworthiness, there ‘feeling not good enough-ness.
A seraph cleanses Isaiah lips with a burning coal and’God asks Who shall I send and who shall; go for us?” and Isaiah says “Here I am, send me!” and Jesus has words of abundance for the fisherman “be not afraid I’ll make you catchers of people!”
Whatever troubled their hearts was let go as God set them on a new course and empowered them for new work in the kingdom.
That half full or half
empty observation is linked to our ‘mindset’.
Our mindset is a set of beliefs that shape how we make sense of the world and ourself.
A very recent national Church report speaks of a church “captivated by scarcity”. That’s an interesting phrase- “to be captivated?” The Cambridge Dictionary tells us that Captivated means
to the of someone by being , , , or :
Oh- so how does that work with being Captivated by Scarcity? Now I don’t know for sure yet because I am following up with that report to find out exactly what they mean.
But could it be, could it possibly be, that actually, a culture of scarcity is attractive and seductive because it is easier.
After all, ‘the church is struggling’, ‘we’ve done that or this before, didn’t work’, and ‘we don’t have the funds’… ‘Whats a church to do?’ You see how menacing it is. Scarcity can become a captivating interpretation because it makes no new demands, no need to change, you see?
Remember, a Culture of Scarcity is a culture without hope!
Whereas abundance speaks of endless possibilities, yes, but it also speaks of risk! The safest, easiest way, is to do nothing- but God does not call us to do nothing- his call is abundant!
Research shows that mindsets play a significant role in determining life's outcomes. By understanding, adapting and shifting our mindset, we are told, we can improve our health, decrease our stress and become more resilient to life's challenges.
We are all imperfect Christian people and we are called to create that mindset, that culture of abundance that we find everywhere in our Christian Gospel- God wants this for us …. for our Minster church, for our faith and in our hearts and lives.
A culture of Abundance.
We have had two grim years of restrictions and prohibitions of previously unimaginable struggles.
But something happened in our Minster church this Christmas, an event that was the clearest example of what can happen when we are guided by a culture of abundance instead of scarcity and it was at no small risk!
We had Carols of the Green- ‘Abundance?’ Yes, this event was to be as professional and generous as we could make it.
Those transforming Christmas lights in the trees, the quality of the food prepared with hired professional catering equipment and hot drinks, the wonderful Salvation Army Band. a log bonfire burning brightly and chocolates for all……if we had welcomed 150 people-we would have been delighted, whereas we had over double that amount. Most of those three hundred people were strangers to us.
People of all ages all backgrounds it was, truly,
‘joyful and triumphant’
Risk? Yes. Of course. One cloudburst and it would have been a washout. Where there is culture of abundance there is always risk.
But the Minster church did it anyway.
There was great fear and risk for those lakeside fisherman who dared to follow Jesus
But they did it anyway.
There was fear and risk for the great prophet Isaiah.
But he did it anyway.
Of course, we must always be careful and act with wisdom and discernment in the decisions we make…to be prudent-of course- we must always be good stewards.
But our gospel calls us to be bold and brave.
Again, we are reminded that where there is a Culture of Scarcity there is no hope.
Where there is abundance there is hope-filled ambition where we reimagine the church through the eyes of God.
I’ll close by recalling our Pre Pandemic Minster Awayday- it seems an age ago. On that day the Minster people said wonderful things about what they wanted for the Minster church, words like ‘alive’ ‘a place of belonging’, ‘welcoming’ and ‘joyful’, ‘a church reaching out to the people of Croydon’.
That is the ambition of abundance!
And, in God’s name,
In God’s name…..….we can do this………AMEN