Invitational: Deep Waters
I’m fascinated by the fact that for all that we know, as much as we have discovered, for all of the world we humans feel like we have conquered, there are still so many that things that we don’t know and can’t control, so much that we are learning yet, every day. Even today, every year, scientists discover entirely new species of plants and animals. And one part of our world that is rich in things yet-to-be-discovered is in the mysterious fathoms below – the deep, deepest waters of the ocean. In 2015, for example, scientists discovered this Ceratioid anglerfish that lives in the nicknamed “midnight zone” of the ocean. It doesn’t look like other anglerfish – one news article described it as looking like a “rotting old shoe with spikes, a scraggly mustache and a big mouth with bad teeth. And it has a long, angular fishing pole-looking thing growing out of its head.” Or there’s Greedo, named after the Star Wars Bounty Hunter, or these things, which as of late summer, scientists had not yet been able to determine whether they were a kind of jellyfish or something else entirely. They were discovered on the sea floor near Australia. It fascinates me – and let’s be honest – unnerves me – to think there is so much undiscovered in the deep, dark waters of the ocean.
I had those images in mind this week as I was reading our gospel lesson from Luke, and thinking about deep things, deep waters, bringing to the surface what has been deep, deep down. In our gospel lesson today, we find a familiar scene – Jesus preaching and teaching, the crowd gathered, and the setting – the
where many fishermen would be busy at work. When the scene opens, we read that
Jesus is standing by the lake and the crowds are “pressing in on him to hear
the word of God.” What an image! They’re impatient – anxious – hungry to hear
God’s word – that’s how excited they are about what Jesus has to say. They want
the words that he’s about to speak. Have you ever been so eager to hear the
Word of God? lake of Gennesaret
Now, in the chapter before this one, after his baptism, after spending 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus had just begun his ministry, marked by preaching and healing, including a woman described as the mother-in-law of Simon. But we haven’t yet met Simon, really, until this passage we read today. So keep in mind that when Jesus encounters Simon Peter with his boat, he’s already connected with him through the act of healing. So, with the crowds pressing in, Jesus sees fishermen washing their nets and their boats nearby on the shore, and he gets into the boat of Simon Peter and asks him to put out a little way from the shore. This way, Jesus can comfortably teach the crowds from the boat without being smothered by them in their excitement. When he’s done teaching, he turns to Simon, and tells him, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Not a suggestion – not a question – but a direction, an imperative. Peter responds in a way that I admire, since I think most of us wouldn’t respond so openly. Jesus wasn’t a fisherman; he was a carpenter, and now a teacher; Simon Peter was the fisherman. And Peter knew where to fish. And Peter knew that they had already been fishing all night without catching anything. But Simon Peter didn’t respond that he knew better than Jesus, or that they tried what he said already and it didn’t work, or that this new way wouldn’t work. He said instead, “Master, if you say we should try it, we’ll try it.”
So they let down their nets, and begin to catch so many fish that their nets are breaking. They signal for help, and another boat comes, and still, there are so many fish that both boats are filled to the point that they can barely stay afloat. Peter, overwhelmed, falls on his knees before Jesus and says, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” But Jesus responds, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” And with those strange words, Peter, along with James and John, the sons of Zebedee, partners with Simon, leave their boats and nets and everything, and they begin to follow Jesus.
“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” I’m struck by the phrase, and all the meaning this biblical image holds for us. If we think of our spiritual lives, our souls, as this water, we can find many ways to think about this text. Shallows waters are safe places in our lives and in our hearts, where we can put our feet on the ground and keep our heads well above water, and where everything that is there is easily visible to the eyes. The deep waters – there is so much there that you might never see or know it all, and you can’t touch bottom, and you have to work harder to stay afloat, but some of the most fascinating things are found in the deep water, and you have to be a strong swimmer, or a strong boater, or with someone who is strong enough for both of you, to spend a lot of time in the deep waters. You can spend all of your time in shallow water, but most swimmers aren’t satisfied with that, are they? I spent some years as a lifeguard, and administered many swim tests to young people who wanted permission to swim in the deeper water in the lake, or in the deep end of the swimming pool. Even knowing it was really too much for them, children just wanted to try out that deep water. So if we’re thinking about our souls as the waters of this passage, what is Jesus saying to us? Go to the deep water. Go again. Go deeper. Simon Peter makes it clear they’ve spent all day out on the lake, fishing, without catching anything. But Jesus won’t let them give up, call it quits, move to another spot, or bring the boats back to shore. There are more fish than the disciples will know what to do with in that lake, and Jesus will help them find them, if they trust him and do what he commands.
Where are we spending our time in the waters of our soul? I think it is astonishingly easy to spend all of our time, all of our lives, in what God would consider the shallow waters. Not taking risks. Not digging deep. Not exploring the unknown. Keeping our feet firmly planted, never heading out to the deep where we’d have to rely on having Jesus in the boat with us in order to make it through. I can tell you that I’m generally not a risk-taker. I don’t like roller coasters. As some of you probably know, I don’t even like statistically safe airplanes. Spiritually, I wonder if I have any more sense of adventure. How easy it is to do the bare minimum instead of giving heart and soul to God. It is easy, sometimes, for me to understand exactly what the scripture is saying, what Jesus is asking, and somehow easier to make a list of reasons why I can’t quite do what is required.
We’ve been talking about being an invitational people – thinking about the invitations God extends to us, and the invitations we extend to others. God’s invitation to us today is to explore the deep waters of our faith. When I think about the dreams for Apple Valley that we’re exploring this year – being fruitful and prayerful and invitational and missional, I see them all as challenges to head to the deeper waters of our faith. So even as we struggle with the straight-forward invitation of asking a friend to come to church with you, I think God is already calling us deeper – not just to invite someone to church, to attend worship, to attend and event, but to invite someone into relationship with God, to invite someone to come and see what God is doing in your life, to invite someone to journey, along with you, in discipleship, in faith. When we talk about being invitational, we’re not talking about attending an event with a start time and an end time. We’re talking about inviting people into a relationship that will change their lives – even as we ourselves again and again say “Yes” as God calls us to let down our nets one more time.
Last week, I asked you to think about how you might do a bit of Show and Tell during worship today. I told you I’d ask if there was anyone who might be willing to talk about something God is doing in their life. Well, it’s next week. So I’m extending an invitation, an invitation to share with us a minute or two about what God is doing, or has done in your life that needs sharing. This is chance to practice – here where there are plenty of lifeguards on duty – going a bit out into deeper water. Would anyone like to share what God’s been up to?
Peter’s response is so powerful, so moving. “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” The deep waters are full of abundance that God invites us to discover, and in the life of the church, even when it means letting down our nets for what seems like the millionth time in the same waters, I believe that God promises us a catch of fish that is beyond our imagining.
“When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.” Let us go and do likewise.