Sermons

Isaiah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

God does not call us to play it safe, to stay near the shore.  Quite the opposite. God calls us to risk everything, to go to the deep water. The miracle of the large catch of fish appears in this version in Luke, and another in the Gospel of John.  There are some significant differences between the two versions. In Luke, it happens near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and involves the calling of Peter, James and John. In John, it occurs after the resurrection.

 

In Luke, they had so many fish that their nets began to break.  In John, the writer states that that “although there were so many [fish] the net was not torn.” I love this quirky little difference, this attention to detail.  

 

The net’s durability is a concern in both accounts.  Perhaps it was a dramatic way of portraying just how many fish they had caught.  Maybe it was to answer any argument people might make about the veracity of the story. Local fisherman would know that a great haul of fish would be too much for the ordinary nets they used.

 

But whatever the origin, this detail remains.  And I think it speaks to our experience of going where it is God calls us to go, individually and collectively. If we follow.  If we risk going where God calls us to go, will the net hold?

 

 

In John’s Gospel, it is easy to draw a parallel between the net in the story and the early church.  The anxiety in the air was whether expanding the boundaries of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus would be too much for the community to bear.  

 

Would welcoming all in, Jew and Gentile, simply be too much, causing the fabric of that society to come apart, like a fishing net teaming with fish.

 

So, too, in Luke, there is a question of whether the net will hold.  The weight of the fish does in fact cause the net to begin to come apart.  

 

That is when help is called for, and help arrives.  The fish is poured out into the two boats. But the weight causes even the boats to verge on the brink of sinking.

 

At the end of both stories, the nets don’t break.  The boats don’t sink.

 

In neither story are fish thrown back, thrown out, or excluded for the sake of the net.

 

Sometimes, I am more worried about whether the net will hold than the abundance of God’s grace that might be possible if I simply row my boat into deeper water where God calls me to be. Sometimes, I prefer to stay in shallow waters, where there are no fish, but I feel safer, should my boat begin to sink. And sometimes, I keep myself on shore, avoiding the possibility of sinking boats and breaking nets altogether. But when I do this, I leave the abundance that God offers me somewhere out there, out of reach.

 

The disciples, as bumbling a group as they might be, go where Jesus tells them to go, though the water is deep.  They do what Jesus tells them to do, though they have just spent the whole night doing what he is asking them to do now, to no avail.

 

I know from my own life experience that, when I go into the deep water where I am less sure, perhaps a little afraid, that is when I have often felt the incredible abundance of God’s grace in my life.  

 

An example that jumps to my mind is when I put my name in for consideration to be your rector.  I had no business applying.  I had been ordained for ten minutes.  But I felt like it was where God was calling me to be.  I was so afraid the net would break. I wouldn’t be able to do it, it would be too much, I wouldn’t grow into the britches I had put on. But the net did not break.  Because we hauled it in together.  Sure, there might have been times when a knot became loose or the fabric began to strain, but we hauled it in together, and the net did not break.

 

The parish, too, has known that it is in the deep water where the abundance lies.  Rebuilding after the devastating fire. And while we know the net did not break because we are here today, let us not romanticize those early days when the weight threatened to rip this community apart.  Or saying yes to the recent Capital Project.  Talk about deep waters.

 

Yesterday, my good friend, the Rev. Thomas Brown, was elected the next Bishop of Maine.  I spent the day celebrating with him and his spouse, Tom. Thomas is the first openly gay person to be elected as a Diocesan Bishop in the church since Gene Robinson, who was the first, fifteen years ago. Thomas is one of those people who moves through his life with this deep sense that, if we are faithful to God and to one another, the net will not break and the abundance of God’s grace will overwhelm us.

 

It wasn’t until Facebook starting spreading the news that I realized how much Thomas’ election meant; what a profound moment of justice and hope it was for the larger church. And it made me think of all the times the church has gone into the deep waters and how anxious it made everyone that the fabric of the church, the net of the community of Christ would be torn.

 

When Absalom Jones, whose feast day we celebrate this week, was made the first African American Episcopal priest, the net didn’t break. When Pauli Murray was ordained the first African American female priest in 1977, the first year any woman was ordained to the priesthood, the net didn’t break. When Barbara Harris was elected the first female bishop in the Episcopal Church, the net didn’t break. And when Gene Robinson was elected the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, the net didn’t break.

 

If we are to confront the sin of racism, we must go into the deep waters, without fear that the net will break.  If we are to respond to the immigration debate as Christians we must reject the notion that our net will break if we do not discard some.  

 

God calls each one of us to the deeper water.  God calls these communities we call church into the deeper waters.  And God calls us as the entirety of God’s beloved children into the deeper waters. It makes us nervous, for good reasons.  And so we hesitate and obsess about the net. We spread anxiety convincing ourselves and others that there is such a thing as too much of God’s grace.  It is better, we think, to limit our catch, to stay in shallow waters, or to never get in the boat in first place.

 

I am grateful for my friend Thomas who reminded me yesterday not to worry about the net, or the boat for that matter.  As long as we are faithful to God’s call and we love one another with the love of Christ, the boat will remain afloat and the net will hold. And I am grateful to you all, who live lives in the deep water, often going where you did not wish to go, afraid that that your net would not hold, feeling as though your boat was about to sink.  But you went anyway, because that’s where God needed you to be.

 

The final curiosity of today’s Gospel story is that, after all that; getting back in the boat; hauling the fish; getting help and getting back to shore, they leave the fish they have just caught to follow Jesus.  They leave everything; not just the fish, but the nets and the boats, their livelihoods and their families.

 

They leave it all to seek the next catch, to feel that feeling again of the abundance of God’s grace that would all seem too much; to feel the net stretch to its’ limit, the boat beneath them creak under the weight and to know, in the midst of all that, that it would all be okay.  Their net would not break, the boat would not sink.

 

To what deep water is God calling you?  Is God calling us?

 

Will you sit on the shore?  Will we stay in shallow water? Will we limit our catch so we don’t risk a tear in the net?

 

Or will we trust that if we go where God calls us, where God needs us; out in the deep waters of our lives, the deep waters of the world; the net will hold.  The boat will be just fine.

 

AMEN.

 

© 2019 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

 

 

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