Let us pray: “Lord, you give the great commission: ‘Heal the sick and preach the word.’ Lest the church neglect its mission, and the gospel go unheard, help us witness to your purpose with renewed integrity. With the Spirit’s gifts, empower us for the work of ministry.” May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to you. For you, O Lord, are our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
About six and a half years ago, Marvin McMickle, president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, delivered a sermon addressed to some women and men of the Upper New York Annual Conference during the Service of Commissioning and Ordination. In the sermon, McMickle said, “We know that we can trust God; the real question is ‘Can God trust you?’ If I am honest, the reason I remember this sermon is two-fold: 1) I was one of the women being ordained that year and 2) the question, “Can God trust you?” is not a question we generally ask ourselves.
Instead of asking, “Can God trust you?” we turn to the familiar and beloved hymns: Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so; What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grieves to bear; Leaning, Leaning, safe and secure from all alarm…, and while there is truth in each of these hymns, the fact remains that there is much more to the person and nature of God. There is much more to our relationship with God. There is much more to what God requires of those who accept the call to follow.
Our passage today from the gospel according to Luke is a fairly familiar passage, and at first glance seems fairly straight forward. Jesus teaches; Jesus gives Peter a directive; Peter listens; a miracle occurs; Peter is scared; Jesus teaches; Peter and the other fisher-people respond. Yet, if we look a little more closely, we see something in the nature and person of Jesus. Up until this point, Jesus had been baptized and declared God’s Son, the Beloved. He was then led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil for forty days (4:2); he returned home to preach in the synagogue, and his hometown tried to drive him off a cliff (4:14-30); Jesus then preached in a synagogue in Capernaum and a person with an unclean spirit recognized him as the Holy One of God. Jesus called the demon out of that person and left the people in the synagogue amazed (4:31-36). From there, Jesus went to Simon’s house where Simon’s mother-in-law had high fever; Jesus rebuked the fever and Simon’s mother-in-law began serving them (4:38-39). Jesus left at daybreak for a deserted place, but as you might imagine when demons have been called out of people and mothers-in-law have had high fevers rebuked, the people wanted Jesus to stay and to continue to do these strange and marvelous things right in Capernaum. Jesus responds that his purpose is to proclaim the kingdom of God to other cities also, so he continued to teach in synagogues throughout Judea (4:44).
As Jesus continues to teach, more and more people become aware of his presence and want to know more, so much so, that, as we heard this morning, there was such a crowd pressing on him at the lake, he asked Simon to let his boat out a little way. Now, the reason that the boat is there in the first place is because Simon and the others had been fishing and had not been successful. They were packing up and cleaning the nets. Yet, Jesus asks Peter to take this boat which had sat in the water all night and caught nothing and let it out. Jesus takes a boat that had been unsuccessful in its purpose and uses it as a platform from which to teach. We are not told, in this passage what Jesus said, and I suspect that is because the gospel writer wants us to pay close attention to what Jesus does. After he finishes teaching, Jesus says to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon had not caught anything all night, and yet Jesus takes a risk and invites Simon to let his nets down for a catch in deeper waters. Jesus takes the risk; Jesus initiates his relationship with Simon and the other fisher-people.
When Simon and others experience the bounty of fish, the overwhelming evidence of God’s love for them, Simon becomes afraid, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Simon declares that Jesus is Lord and recognizes his own sinfulness in the presence of the Lord. At the same time, though Simon and the other fisher-people recognize the abundance of Jesus’ love and are amazed. Jesus commands them, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” Jesus takes the risk; Jesus initiates the relationship; Jesus extends the invitation; Jesus transforms the lives of Simon and the others; and Jesus reassures Simon and his partners, James and John.
In the book, Not Safe for Church: Ten Commandments for Reaching New Generations, E. Douglas Powe Jr. and Jasmine Rose Smothers remind us that as congregations and faith communities we typically push ourselves as far as our cerebral knowledge will allow and then we stop. Why? Because as humans, we fear what we do not know (30). As membership in mainline denominations continues to decline and the number of people who identify as non-religious continues to increase, we as a faith community try not to offend and hurt the feelings of the members who are here, and consequently miss opportunities to reach out to those in our community who are seeking a transformational relationship with Christ, and who like Simon, might not even know it yet. Now hear me when I say it does not have to be one or the other. There is no “us” and “them” in the kingdom of God. There is only all of us: those of us who have experienced the transformational love of Christ sharing that love with those of us who long for that transformation in our lives.
Jesus did not call Simon to continue to fish in shallow water, he called him into the deep waters, where as it turned out, Simon would need to call on others to help him haul in the load of fish. Jesus has never called a disciple or transformed anything or anyone without taking a bold step. The good news is that: 1) Christ goes with us and 2) as a community of faith, while we are each called individually, we are also called together as one body in Christ. What is God calling you to do? What is God calling us to do? Is this your church or is it God’s church? Do you love all people, or do you love all the people in your church? What are you afraid of?
Beloved, you have been made in the image of God. You have been known by God since the time you were knit together in your biological mother’s womb. God has created you for a purpose, and God’s love has been demonstrated to us by the self-emptying of Jesus Christ on the cross. We can trust God, who calls us into deep waters. The question, Church, is: Can God trust us? I offer this to you in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, mother of us all.