Preached at All Saints, King
City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 6 February, 2022.
  Texts for this Sunday:  Isaiah 6:1-8; Ps 138; 1 Cor 15:1-11; Lk
5.1-11.

But when Simon
Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me,
Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)

 Perhaps you’ve been
in a meeting where a bunch of people say “So and so knows this, so and so is
good at this, so and so can fix this, let’s ask them” and you suddenly realize
that they are looking at you and you’re thinking “What, me?   I don’t even
know how I got hired here!”  Or perhaps someone says to you “you’re such a
good mother!” or “you’re such a good grandmother!”, and you think “what,
me?  All I do is let the kids watch TV while I drink wine”.

If you’ve ever had
thoughts of inadequacy like this, then you’re not alone and there’s even a term
for it, the Impostor Syndrome.   Many people feel, despite their
accomplishments, their diplomas, and their previous successes, that they are
totally unqualified to do something, that they are frauds, and impostors.

 Even famous people
feel this way.   The actress Jodi Foster t
old a magazine that
‘When I won the Oscar, I thought it was a fluke. I thought everybody would find
out, and they’d take it back. They’d come to my house, knocking on the door,
“Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else. That was going to Meryl
Streep.” 

 I think we can also
suffer from the Impostor Syndrome in our church lives as well.   Someone
may ask you, “You go to church, you read the Bible, tell me why God allows
children to get cancer?” and “You go to church, you know how to pray” and
inside you may be shrugging helplessly.  Or you may wonder, “Yes, I go to church,
but I don’t really think I’m a good person.”

 I’ve been ordained
for seventeen years and I’ve often felt like an impostor.   The collar
doesn’t make me feel wiser, or holier, or closer to God than anyone else.
  Sometimes quite the reverse.  When I was in uniform, and soldiers would
salute me and call me padre, I sometimes wondered, “How did I manage to
convince anyone that they should give me this job, this uniform?”

 Of course, the
problem with all of our doubts and self-doubting is that we forget about God
and we never think that God may have more confidence in us that we have in
ourselves.  Why would God call us as disciples if God didn’t believe in
us?”  Which brings us to this morning’s Gospel reading (Luke 5:1-11).

 I’ve read this
passage many times, and much of it is very familiar.  The story of Jesus
calling the fishermen and telling them from now on they will be catching people
instead of fish is also told in Matthew (4:18-22) and in Mark (1:16-20). 
In past I’ve focused on the boats, and the fish, and Jesus’ “fishers of men”
comment, but until now I’ve never thought much about Peter’s reaction to Jesus.
  Clearly Peter has a version of the Impostor Syndrome “Go away from me,
Lord, for I am a sinful man” but I’ve never really thought about Jesus’
response, or his lack of a response.   More about that in a minute.

 First, this passage
is chosen as one of the traditional Epiphany gospels because it is one of those
moments when people see something about Jesus’ true identity.    At
first, when Jesus tells the fishermen to go out into deep water, Peter’s
response “Master” seems politely respectful, the way one would speak to a
rabbi.   It’s probable that Peter knew Jesus, at least from a distance, as
this was a village society and Jesus had already built a reputation as a
preacher and healer.

 Probably because of
this respect for the teacher, Peter agrees to the odd request, even if he has
to have a bit of a grumble first: “we have worked all night but have caught
nothing”.   After the amazing haul of fish, the grumbling turns to wonder
and some sort of recognition that Jesus is something more.   However,
rather than focusing on Jesus, Peter looks at himself and sees his own
inadequacies, recognizing that he is a ‘sinful man”.

 What has Peter done
that he should be so sinful?   After all, he’s just a fisherman, how bad
could he be?  But that’s not the point of the spiritual Impostor Syndrome.
  Peter judges himself unworthy to be in God’s presence, and here he may
remind us of people that we know who avoid church or faith because they don’t
think they’re good enough for God.  Certainly Peter is no different from
many other prophets that God calls in the old testament, such as Jonah and
Isaiah.  

 In our first lesson
we heard how Isaiah’s first reaction to God is a kind of horrified sense of his
inadequacy.   After an overwhelming vision of God’s holiness, Isaiah is
almost obliterated: “Woe is me!  I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips,
and I live among a people of unclean lips” (is 6:1-13).   The story of the
coal touching Isaiah’s lips may function as a kind of act of forgiveness and
absolution, but it also seems to be a symbolic  sealing of his new
vocation as God’s spokesman, who will now speak only God’s words.

 But the story in
Luke is so different.   One 
podcast I heard
this week made the point that Jesus never actually forgives Paul.  I don’t
mean that Jesus punishes him or denies him anything.   It’s just that
there is no grand act of forgiveness or purification as there is in our first
reading.  Instead, Jesus simply says “Do not be afraid; from now on you
will be catching people”.

 Jesus says “Do not
be afraid”, which are words that we often hear in Luke’s gospel when heaven
touches earth, but he never revokes the job offer because Peter thinks that he
is unqualified.   In fact, Jesus acts as if Peter has accepted the offer,
for his next words, “
From now on you will be catching people” are
spoken as if this is Day One of the new job.  Peter is now a disciple,
whether he thinks he is ready, or not.

 I think this story
is helpful for those of us in our faith lives who think that we are, well,
impostors, and that some spiritual deficiency or flaw might somehow keep God
from wanting or even needing us.   If that is you, or if that is someone
you know, think about Jesus and Peter.   If Peter knew, in his own
bumbling, blustery way, that he was less than perfect, how much more clearly
would Jesus have seen him and seen through him?   And yet it doesn’t
matter for Jesus.   Jesus sees the worth in Peter and calls him to this
new life of attracting others to God.

 Some of us who
suffer from the spiritual Impostor Syndrome may think that we need some grand,
Isaiah-like vision or action to purify us so that we can be worthy of God, even
if we aren’t keen on the hot coals part.   If so, then I submit to you
that you’re not likely to get that grand act of forgiveness.   I would
encourage you instead to think of how God knows you far, far better than you
know yourself, that God loves you and believes in you, and that God has a use
for you.
 

 So the good news
for us today is that we may are the only ones judging ourselves.  God’s
already signed us up, we’re in the crew.  We may say, “But Jesus,
we’re not good enough for you, we’re sinners”, and his answer is
“Yes, of course you are, come on let’s go”. 
 

 “From now on you will be catching people”.   This line is often used in sermons on
evangelism, a subject we Anglicans aren’t always comfortable with.
  A final thought – what’s more attractive than
quiet self confidence?
   What’s more attractive than a confident
church?
 Not self-confidence as in self-righteousness
or arrogance, but confidence that we are loved by a God who sees our value and potential.
   I submit to you that a church embued with
this quiet confidence, the opposite of the spiritual impostor syndrome, will be
attractive to others, which is where evangelism starts.