I Invite you to join me a word of prayer. Almighty God, once again, we are so ever grateful for your love towards us and your presence with us. And so now we ask that you might hold us, unite us, and fill us for all of the places that you are preparing to send us. This is our prayer. Amen. You may be seated.
Certainly, as we gather on this morning, throughout the recent days and years and months, I’ve had so many conversations with so many different individuals. Most of those conversations have focused in some manner on life. Wondering about the day that we are in, where we are headed, or perhaps even wrestling with what really matters in life. We can all recognize that we’ve been pushed together into a particular time where we’re reflecting upon where we’re going and who we are becoming. Truth is there are seasons, there are errors. And there are generations where looking back where separation and even subjugation has been more valued than liberation and unification. On this morning, as I been flipping through so many different readings and books, I came across this poem from Langston Hughes that says, “ I’ve been scarred and battered. My hope the wind done scattered. Snow has frizz me. Sun has baked me. Looks like between them, they done tried to make me stop laughin’, stop, lovin’, stop livin’. But I don’t care! I’m still here!”
While there are so many different aspects of life, when we in to think about that, that have been impacted by the pandemic over the recent years; one of the simple enjoyments that I have missed greatly has been simply strolling through a bookstore. I know we live in a technology, technologically oriented world of audio, Kindle, digital conveniences. But for me, there is nothing perhaps comparable, and something special, about holding a book in my hands. Turning the pages, writing notes in the margin, and more often than I would sometimes like to admit, writing questions in the margins. While there are others who will admit to the enjoyment of strolling through clothing stores, supermarkets, antique shops, hardware stores, and new numerous other merchants that are available to us, there is something about moving through the aisles and pursuing the numerous different departments that I find there.
If I recount even some of the experiences I loved moving through the communities and culture history and art, the education, the sports, and of course the religion and philosophy sections. There are other sections as well, but the shelves filled with biographies would always consume a good portion of my time. As I would reflect upon name after name, who were telling their story or whose story may have been captured by someone else. And although during these times where we perhaps have been limited, I can go from book to book. But there’s always one book that grips me. One book that has kept me. One book that has kept my family. One book that has kept the generations before me. And most of you know, I’m talking about that book known as the Bible. It is a book that is a collection of books filled with names of those who are telling their story. And as well, those whose stories have been captured by others. When looking at other stories, we are drawn to examine and question our own story. What is it that we are really writing? What is it that will be said about us? What is it that will be told about us? Not only by ourselves, but truth is, when others are telling the story. In the gospel, we cannot help but be captured by the narrative of Jesus’ life. When looking at his life, we cannot help but examine our own lives.
And we are drawn today to Luke’s gospel. Luke wrote his gospel in two books, one book occupies and claims the space of the third gospel, The Gospel of Luke. And the second portion that second book of course is The Book of Acts, affectionately called by some The Gospel of the Holy Spirit. But it was the French historian and biblical scholar, Joseph Ernest Renan, who said, “It was the most beautiful book ever written”. What a great statement. What a claim to make, as we hear Luke’s narrative and a portion of his writing on this day. In Luke’s gospel, Luke was inspired to share in his words, all that Jesus began both to do and to teach until the day in which he was received up. Luke’s gospel is full of narratives that capture numerous episodes where the record provides us details on what Jesus began to do and what Jesus began to teach. Luke’s writing seemingly implies, that to truly embrace the meaning and to truly grasp the transformational power received through the life of Jesus, that the teaching and the doing, the teaching and the doing of Jesus, were profoundly linked together.
His gospel is beautiful with references to the devoted men, the devoted women and children whose lives were transformed by the ministry of Jesus. It should be. And it is noted that the poor, the afflicted and the outcast classes find here a ready friend. This portion of Luke that is familiar to some tells the story of Jesus’ calling of disciples. Jesus returned to Judea, through Samaria, and was standing by and was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret. Upon his arrival, it is evident that his name and his fame had already been spreading. As we see, the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God. Already, his teaching and his doing had been creating such a shift in the routines and in the lives of those who were witnessing who he was and all that he had been doing and teaching. Already there shift in what was taking place in their movements. In response to the crowd in Luke’s gospel, Jesus saw two boats at the shore of the lake belonging to Simon. Simon, who had later become Peter. Simon, who would later be talked about in terms of “upon this rock”. Simon, who was always ready to speak up and to stand up. It doesn’t mean he was always right, but he was always at the center of what was going on.
The fishermen were not present with Simon in the boat at the moment when Jesus showed up. But most likely they were not far away, cleaning their nets. Seeing Jesus must have drawn Simon and the other fishermen, back to the boat. As Jesus tell Simon to push out a little from the shore. Then Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. And if we are paying attention and listening, it is at this moment that Jesus is placed squarely at the center of the scene and at the center of this narrative. Jesus steps into the boat, tells Simon, “push out a little from the shore”. Here Jesus is not on the shore and has not yet journeyed to the deep, but there is something powerful that happens when we invite Jesus to occupy the center of our life’s situations and circumstances.
In looking at this I am reminded that life is full of contrast. When Jesus occupies the center, these contrasts become even more apparent. We begin to see contrast between the known and the unknown, the mountaintop or the valley low. When Jesus is at the center, we pay more attention to the contrast between good and evil, love and hate, young and old, shallow and deep. Think for a moment about the contrast in the familiar opening of the lines of Charles Dickens that you’ve heard before, The Tale of Two Cities, that contrast the differences between England and France or London and Paris. When he says, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, the age of foolishness. It was the epoch of belief. It was the epoch of incredulity. It was the season of light. It was the season of darkness. It was a spring of hope. It was the winter of despair. We had everything before us. We had nothing before us. We were all going direct to heaven. We were all going direct to the other way. In short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of the noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only”.
Think for a moment that these words could even apply to . In the contrast, it’s the best of times, the worst of times. In thinking about Jesus’ teaching and all that was taking place, Luke’s text takes a swift turn and almost as soon as the boat is comfortable in shallow water, we hear Jesus. And we hear the text saying, “when Jesus had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “’put out into deep water’”.
Now from the shallow into the deep, the course begins to turn where he says, “let down your nets for a catch”. Simon answered, “We have worked all night long, but we have caught nothing. Yet If you say so, I will let down the net”. In hearing this text and in knowing it’s inevitable outcome, I reflect upon the land and the water, the contrast between the risk and safety, the contrast between the shallow and the deep. And I wrestle with the question as I look at Simon, knowing the outcome of his life, and I ask the question, what are we becoming?
To make it personal. As I read it, I had to ask myself, what am I becoming? There are different phases of life we all go through. As we grow older, being able to move from one point to another, to reach certain birthdays, to receive just news, that I’m gonna be an expectant grandfather, to think of life in a different position. What am I becoming? It is a question that moves through this text and the opportunity that is given to each of us, if we dare to move by faith and act upon his word. This word that Jesus was teaching, this word that tears down and builds up, this word that kills and makes alive, this word that the old preacher declares that it turns midnight, even into daybreak. What are we becoming?
We look in this moment at ourselves and dare we admit, we are asking this question, not just of ourselves, but we’re asking ourselves this question and asking it of our families, our communities, our nation, and dare I say the world. What are we becoming? In a month where we know it’s Black History Month, in a month where we can’t even talk about the history, in a month where we cannot even deal with the truth that talks about not just one’s history, but all of our history. What are we becoming? The divisions and the contrast that have divided us on the real issues about what really matters. The divisions become glaring day by day, month after month, year after year, all the while we find ourselves speculating and trying to determine when looking at ourselves, our society, our nation, and dare I say again, the world, and wonder where are we headed and what are we becoming? Are we content to stay in shallow water and not deal with the real issues? Are we content to stay there and not make it into the deep, but it calls us not to play in shallow water. Because if we look at statistics, there are many who have drowned, even in shallow water.
When we look on this day, I cannot help but reflect upon the current day without recognizing yesterday. As I look at the spirit of many and also spirit of many of my elders in this black history month who heard the word and took a great leap of faith. A leap, not based upon what people said about them or what was thrust upon them, but a leap of faith rooted in what God said to them. Jesus turns to Simon when he had finished speaking, he said, “Simon, put out in the deep water, let down your nets for a catch”. Peter, an experienced fisherman responded, “We have worked all night long, but we have caught nothing. Yet, If you say so, I will let down the nets”. It was not the right time to fish. They had already tried to fish. There have may have been an element of being tired and even frustrated at the last effort from fishing.
And we all can suffer from that moment where we think we got all the answers. We think that we have done it already. We are tired from all of our efforts, but Jesus says, “try it one more time”. Our call is to do not based on how we feel it is based on our faith. And there are times we’re called to be faithful in spite of how we feel, knowing that when our duty is done, we feel better. I remind you, as I think about here, when I was raising my child and raising my son. When my child cried at 2:00 AM in the morning, I didn’t feel like getting up. But I knew what my duty was. I heard the cry, I got up. I got in there, I changed the baby, changed my son. And on my way back to the bed, I felt a little bit better. I remind you today that we are being called by faith to get up, when we don’t feel like getting up. To speak up when we don’t feel like we’ve got the words to say. To stand up, when we don’t feel like we’ve got the energy to stand up. To go one more time. And there are times that we are called to be faithful, even in spite of how we feel. And when we’ve done this, when we moved into deep water it’s, then we can let down our nets and try it one more time.
I remind you, you know, the inevitable outcome of this text, they let down their nets. The nets became so full that they began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boats to come and help them. And they came and they filled both boats, so much so that they began to sink. The disciples called to the second boat, Simon then fell on his knees and realized the experience and his knowledge was needed, but it was not a substitute for his faith. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon, were watching nearby and listened to Jesus and here Jesus said, to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, from now on, you will be catching people”. In other translations, “I will make you fishers of men”. When they had brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him. They followed him in order that they would be knowing not just who they were, but with faith, they would be all they had been created to be.
I stand here today, hearing the voices, once again, of those who have gone on before me. And this month where we’re talking about history and the faith that has sustained, the faith that has kept, the faith that has opened doors, I remind you today that he’s telling us that it’s not time to play in shallow water. It’s time to cast out into the deep that we all might be able to say, “God is the joy and the strength of my life. He removes all pain, misery and strife. He promised to keep me never to leave me. He’s never, never fallen short of his word. So I’ve got to fast and pray, stay in the narrow way”. And if I do that, there will come a day when we are pulling the net. And we’ll not just say that we are fishermen, but fishers of men. Amen.