(Sermon delivered at Epiphany Lutheran Church on Sunday, February 10th, 2019.)
This text is about many things: it’s about the start of Jesus’ ministry and crowds beginning to gather to hear “the word of God”, it’s a fishing tale, it’s a fishing tale for people, it’s a fishing tale FOR Jesus’ first disciples. But mostly, it’s a fishing tale about GOING DEEP.
Go Deep Jesus says. A carpenter telling a professional fisherman – Go deep! And what happens? It’s a net-breaking catch! So much so that the boat is about to sink and aid is called in! And when the help arrives, then two boats are about to sink! What’s going on here? What’s God up to? What’s God doing?
It’s all about going deep.
In the game of football “going deep” means to run deep down the field as the quarterback throws up – OFTEN AND IRONICALLY – a “hail Mary” of sorts in hopes that that the ball will be caught for a touchdown. It means to go further and farther. It means taking a risk for a greater outcome. Going deep means doing something more – greater – than you’ve ever done before.
Go deep Jesus says.
Which is exactly what Simon Peter does as the master tells him to go deep – to go back to the place they had spent the last evening fishing to no avail. Try it again – go deeper. While Simon goes under some protest, he ultimately obeys the master, and what happens – fish galore! And what then does Simon do in response to this amazing catch of fish? He falls to his knees not only realizing his lack of faith and trust, but mostly his sinful self, crying out for Jesus to leave him for he is not worthy.
Are you struck by the results? When it didn’t seem possible, here is an enormous catch of fish! What’s Jesus up to here? To prove he’s a better fishermen?
Here’s what I think: Jesus is going deep! You see, He takes this sinful, humble in faith human, Simon Peter, who in spite of his lack of trust, obeys the master, and then this Jesus picks him up FROM THE DEPTHS and says to him – “don’t be afraid – don’t be afraid of my power, don’t be afraid that you are not worthy, don’t be afraid to go deep. DON’T BE AFRAID TO RISK. For I choose you to go deep in my name for the sake of others. “
To go deep means to give up self gain or self doubt for the sake of sharing the good news with another. It means to take a risk.
AND IT STARTS HERE. WHEN WE GO DEEP- DEEP IN THE WORD, WE MEET JESUS. AND ITS HERE THAT JESUS CHALLENGES US TO BE THE CHURCH THAT LOVES RADICALLY AND ACTS RADICALLY IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
COMING HERE ON A SUNDAY MORNING ISN’T SO MUCH ABOUT YOU – IT’S ABOUT THE WORD STRIRRING IN YOU, IT’S ABOUT ACCEPTING THIS MANTLE OF RADICAL LOVE , GETTING OUT OF THIS BOAT, SO THAT WE CAN cast our nets AND GO DEEP – NOT FOR YOU OR ME BUT FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORLD – SO THAT OTHERS MIGHT KNOW THIS AMAZING LOVE. AND THAT’S RISKY. Pulitzer prize winning author, Annie Dillard, writes about THIS encounter with God. ‘When we go to church we should wear crash helmets, receive life preserves and be latched to the pews in case God shows up!”
You know why? Because when we encounter God, when we go deep, we should expect that God will show up and show up in magnitude! AND WHEN GOD SHOWS UP – God CALLS us to plunge into the WORLD, NEAR AND FAR – to go deep into the lives of those around us, in a way that brings OTHERS WHO MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE HEARD THE GOOD NEWS to an encounter with God. And I’m sure when we go deep, we will be amazed and may need to hold on to our fishing poles when we see what happens when God shows up! Go deep Jesus says.
I WANT US TO GO DEEP. WHEN YOU INTERVIEWED ME, YOU ASKED ME HOW I WAS GOING TO GROW THE CHURCH – HOW WAS I GOING TO CATCH FISH. AND MY RESPONSE WAS, FIRST – I DON’T GROW THE CHURCH, BUT THE HS GROWS THE CHURCH. BUT REALLY – WHAT DO WE MEAN WHEN WE SAY “GROW THE CHURCH?” – MORE BUTTS IN THE PEWS? MORE MONEY TO FUND OUR BUDGET? WHAT I SAID TO YOU WAS THAT MY DESIRE WAS THAT WE GROW DEEP IN OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD, ONE ANOTHER AND THE WORLD, AND IN SO DOING – GO WIDE – TO SPREAD GOD’S LOVE IN THE WORLD FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORLD.
Last week I attended an ELCA CONFERENCE ON VITALITY TRAINING in Las Vegas – WAS ASKED BY the Rocky Mountain SYNOD TO BE ON A TEAM THAT ADDRESSES THE VITALITY OF OUR CHURCHES IN OUR SYNOD. AND HERE’S WHAT I HEARD: ELCA CHOOSES NO LONGER TO MEASURE OUR “SUCCESS” OR IMPACT IN THE WORLD BY NUMBERS IN THE PEW OR BUDGETS WITH HIGH % OF BENEVOLENCE. OUR CHURCH NO LONGER WANT US TO KEEP DOING WHAT WE’VE ALWAYS DONE BEFORE, OUR CHURCH WANTS US TO TAKE A RISK. TO GO DEEP. TO
Do Church differently… NOT FOR THE SAKE OF BEING DIFFERENT – BUT FOR THE SAKE OF A WORLD THAT NEEDS TO HEAR THE SAME MESSAGE OF GRACE IN A NEW AND LIFEGIVING WAY. 20 YEARS AGO WHEN I GOT INTO THE MINSITRY IT WAS BECAUSE OF THE CALL TO BE AND DO JESUS DIFFERENTLY. I CANNOT BE COMPLACENT.
WHY AREN’T PEOPLE COMING TO PLACES OF FAITH? BECAUSE MORE TIMES THAN NOT, WHAT HAPPENS THERE, THE PEOPLE THEY ENCOUNTER, THE MESSAGE THAT THEY HEAR, IS NOT AN EMBRACING WORD – NOT ONE THAT IS RELEVANT. THE CHURCH DOES NOT OFTEN SPEAK TO THEIR LIVES. IT DOES NOT SPEAK TO THE ISSUES TO WHICH THEY ENCOUNTER IN A WORLD THAT SPREADS HATE AND BROKENESS. THE CHURCH DOESN’T HELP NAVIGATE THE CHOPPY WATERS. INSTEAD OF CASTING NETS OF INCLUSIVITY AND ACCEPTANCE, THE CHURCH CASTS NETS OF JUDGEMENT.
DO WE DARE TO GO DEEP AND WIDE? DO WE DARE TO DO CHURCH DIFFERENTLY. DO WE DARE TO BE RELEVANT? I say – what do we have to lose?
OUR CHURCH BODY IS DOING AMAZING THINGS. AS OUR WORLD BECOMES MORE DIFFICULT TO NAVIGATE, MANY OF OUR POPULATION ARE FINDING THEMSELVES HOMELESS. THE ELCA IS RESPONDING. I MET SEVERAL PASTORS WORKING WITH THE HOMELESS: ONE WHO HAS BEEN SHOWING UP AT THE FLYING J WITH MEMBERS OF HIS CONGREGATION AND LISTENING TO THE FOLKS HE MEETS THERE. THAT HAS LED THEM TO LOOK FOR LAND TO BUILD TINY HOUSES AND CREATE A COMMUNITY, A SECOND -THIRD- FOURTH CHANCE FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NO PLACE TO GO.
I MET A PASTOR WHO HAS A “LAUNDRAMAT CHURCH,” POSTING AND GETTING THE WORD OUT EACH WEEK WHERE SHE’LL BE AND OFFERS FREE LAUNDRY SERVICES. WHILE THERE THEY ENGAGE IN WORSIP.
I KNOW OF A CHURCH IN OUR SYNOD THAT BOUGHT A VAN TO DRIVE DIABETES PATIENTS ACROSS THE STATE FOR DIALYSIS TREATMENTS ONCE A WEEK.
AND I HEARD OF BREW PUBS AND COFFEE HOUSES LIKE WHERE I SERVED PRECIOUSLY WHO ENGAGE IN REALTIONSHIP BUILDING AND FAITH-FILLED TALK – BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, THE CHURCH GOES TO WHERE THE PEOPLE ARE.
I SAW A BIN OF “MATTHEW KITS,” LARGE ZIPLOC BAGS FILLED WITH ESSENTIALS FOR THOSE LIVING ON THE STREETS, PUT TOGETHER BY THE YOUTH OF THE CONGREGATION AND TAKEN OUT TO THOSE IN NEED. OVER 2000 WERE PASSED OUT IN THE PREVIOUS CALENDAR YEAR.
I TALKED TO A PASTOR WHO TOOK A NEW CALL WHERE THERE WAS A LARGE MAGNIFICENT FULL KITCHEN (NOT UNLIKE OURS) THAT WAS BASICALLY UNUSED. FOR SOME DAYS HE STOOD IN THE MIDDLE OF THE KITCHEN AND PRAYED ABOUT HOW GOD MIGHT USE THIS SPEACE FOR KINGDOM WORK. A WEEK LATER LUTHERAN SENIOR SERVICES CALLED WITH A NEED TO FIND A PLACE THAT COULD FEED LUNCH TO SENIOR CITIZENS. THEY SERVICE OVER 1000 LUNCHES A MONTH.
FOLKS – I WANT US TO BE THE CHURCH THAT RISKS FOR THE SAKE OF THE GOSPEL. IT’S NO LONGER AN OPTION FOR US TO BE WARM AND COZY, HAPPY IN OUR PEWS. BECAUSE THE LIFE OF THE WORLD IS AT STAKE. AND THE WORLD IS AS CLOSE AS RIGHT OUTSIDE OUR FRONT DOOR.
I WANT US TO BE THE CHURCH THAT PULLS OUT ALL THE STOPS AND ISN’T AFRAID TO LET GO OF SOME OF IT’S OLD CONSTUCTS TO BE RELEVANT IN THE WORLD TODAY. I WANT US TO GO DEEP. I WANT US TO LOOK AROUND AT WHO’S NOT HERE AND GO TO WHERE THEY ARE. I WANT US TO NOT BE AFRAID TO EMBRACE INNOVATION WHEN IT COMES TO DOING CHURCH DIFFERENTLY, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME HOLD ON TO THAT TRADITION THAT MAKES US WHO WE ARE – A PEOPLE with a message OF GRACE for the world.
WE PLAY IT SAFE – WE STAY ON THE SURFACE OF THE WATER – WHEN WE STAY INSIDE THESE FOUR WALLS. SO WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE FOR US TO GO DEEP? I WANT US TO RALLY AROUND THE QUESTION OF WHAT GOD IS CALLING US TO BE AND DO IN THE WOLRD FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORLD. AND I WANT US TO WRESTLE WITH HOW DEEP GOD IS CALLING US AND I WANT US TO EMBRACE THE RISKYNESS, THE SCARYNESS, THE UNPREDICTABILITY, THE UNCOMFORTABILITY,THE UNKNOWN. BECAUSE I AM CONVINCED THAT GOD DIDN’T CALL US TO WADE IN THE WATERS. GOD CALLS US TO GO DEEP.
But listen to this: when Jesus says “Go deep” he also says “Don’t be afraid!”
You see, in the depths of life, God is in control. In the depths of life God is in control AND WILL PROVIDE… in the depths of life, God is in control and will provide in ABUNDANCE. For there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. God’s love is endless AND BOUNDLESS –
WE CANNOT GO TOO DEEP FOR GOD.
WE CANNOT GO TOO DEEP FROM GOD.
MY FRIENDS, LET’S Go deep TOGETHER. Amen.