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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
February 06 2022
Grace and peace to you from God, our creator, and from our savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
For the last few weeks, we’ve been reflecting on Christian community – focusing on the importance of lifting up and supporting one another for the sake of the community, because the health of the community depends on it. And that the foundation of it is God’s love, and that God’s love works through us to make it all possible.
Running parallel to that, the gospel readings have been revealing more and more of who Jesus came to be when he was born and what that means for us. Because he wasn’t born just for a small group of people, but for the world.
When he returned to Nazareth, his hometown, after having been away, he was recognized and praised for being a good teacher. But things went a little sideways when the people realized that they weren’t going to get any special favors from Jesus just because “they knew him when…” and they tried to throw him off a cliff.
But Jesus kept going and teaching and ministering to people. And by the time we get to today’s reading, there are so many people wanting to learn from him that they have him pinned against a lake shore and he has to go out into a boat to teach. But he ends up doing more than teaching.
In this story, the vision of who Jesus is for the world and how that continues to impact us begins to take shape.
In this story, Jesus calls Simon to do work that doesn’t have any clear results – “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Jesus doesn’t say whether it will be a good catch or an abundant one or even an adequate one.
Any of you who are project managers, or anyone who’s had to complete a task for their work, knows how important it is to have an end goal. You need to know what you’re working towards. For Simon and the other fishermen, the end goal was always a net full of fish at the end of each catch.
But here, the call to Simon is clear and simple but, at best, the results are difficult to imagine because he and the others had already been fishing all night with nothing to show for it. It’s totally understandable that Simon doesn’t believe Jesus and maybe he’s even feeling a little defensive. Nobody would blame any of them for not wanting to try again that day.
But Simon does it anyway – he lets down the nets. And after hauling them in with so many fish that they start to break, Simon confesses to Jesus that his own sin prevented him from trusting in what Jesus could do.
But instead of rebuking Simon, Jesus recruits him.
As individuals, we tend to measure our lives by the milestones we accomplish.
Kids go to school and participate in extracurricular activities for years so that they can be considered successful in society. Adults work toward a retirement.
As a congregation, we have those same measurements.
We put together programs for Sunday school, youth ministry, and adult education. We plan meaningful worship experiences. We partner with outside organizations to expand our ministry footprint.
But as we go through life, we learn that we are rarely – if ever – promised a clear result to our work. Because much of life exists between the work that we do and its results – those milestones. But that doesn’t seem to matter to Jesus. When he asked Simon to put out into the deep water, he asks Simon to take one more step – to cast nets one more time and catch fish.
But this time, the result of it is left to Jesus. In effect, Jesus asked Simon to trust him. At first, it was about the yield of the catch. But it quickly became much more as Simon and the others left everything to follow Jesus.
Their call ultimately became about trusting Jesus with their lives, and that the yield of their work would be different and also more abundant than they ever could have imagined.
In the Bible, there is story after story of the people who resist when God calls. There’s always a reason as to why they can’t do what God asks. Isaiah is one of the few exceptions. He didn’t know anymore than anyone else what the end result would be. But he went anyway, without hesitation.
But in all of the call stories in the Bible, God doesn’t wait for what might be called a “perfect time” or for people to have what might be the perfect set of skills. God simply calls them to be willing to take the next step, and to trust that it will yield an abundance.
It’s what Isaiah did. And it’s what Peter did, too, when Jesus called him to put out into deep water.
When we talk about faith, and call, and following Jesus – a lot of times it feels like these nebulous concepts. But they all come down to trust – being willing to take one more step because God has asked, to keep moving forward, and to trust that what we do is in Jesus’ hands. To trust that it will open our eyes to God’s abundance.
This trust is certainly something Jesus calls us to as individuals, but it’s also something he calls us to as a congregation. And it’s sometimes hard to hold onto that trust because we have our own idea of what abundance is – or should be. And we want some certainty that we’ll have tangible results by “X” date so that we can measure it.
But trust in Jesus means being willing to take the next step even when we don’t know what the results will be.
This matters especially now when we’re all so exhausted by the pandemic, with the changes it has caused to our lives and the way its “end date” keeps getting moved further out. Instead of taking the next step, it’s easier to sit back, to wait for things to improve – to have some sense of a guarantee before we try again.
But this is when our discipleship – our willingness to follow Jesus – is needed most. Because he isn’t calling us to change the world, he’s calling us to take one more step and to follow him.
And it doesn’t mean doing anything extraordinary. It means showing up – and to you at home, I don’t just mean be in the building. It means being open to who Jesus is and to trust that he will make the yield of our work more abundant than we can imagine.
So what does that mean? It means that – as a congregation – as we continue to plan worship services, lead meetings, sew more quilts and knit more prayer shawls; as we learn to confront racism and homophobia and transphobia, care for children, encourage and pray for one another –
– as we do all of these things, we also ask the bigger questions. We pay attention to who is here and who is not, who we’re welcoming and who we’re not. And we give serious thought to what we want to do about that. We evaluate all of our resources for ministry and ask whether we’re using them to their fullest. And if we aren’t, we look for ways to do that.
We go through those processes – and then we take the next step. Again, and again, and again.
Following Jesus in faith – in trust – isn’t easy; it stretches us. It’s work that doesn’t have an end date and produces a yield that we may not be able to measure. But the abundance it brings is beyond anything we can imagine or accomplish on our own because it’s in Jesus’ hands. Thanks be to God! Amen.