a message by Dianne Hudder
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
February 10, 2019
5Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God,
2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.
3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’
5Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’
6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.
7So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.
8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’
9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;
10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’
11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Our scripture today puts us on the shore of Lake of Gennseraret, but we’re going to travel for a moment to the savanna of Eastern and Southern Africa, home of the Impala.
I recently learned some things about the Impala-not the car, but the African antelope with a supercharged power. It can jump 10 feet vertically and broad jump 30 feet. Zoos were reluctant to try to keep such animals until experts discovered that the Impala will not jump unless it can see where it is going to land. So a solid wall just six feet tall is enough to enclose the Impala. It will not jump where it cannot see its destination, where it will land.
Jesus may have had a bit of the impala in him at the beginning of his ministry-I think we all do.
If you read Luke 4, just before today’s scripture you may discover his initial reluctance to leap into something where he couldn’t see the outcome. He had just started his ministry and travelled back to that place where he was well known, Nazareth, his home town. It make sense, to go back to where you grew up and feel safe, a comfortable place to bring your good news, a place where you can be pretty sure where you will land, how you will be received, the outcome. I delivered my first sermon in the little church that my grandmother had belonged to for 46 years, a church where my Dad had attended Sunday school. They loved me, despite my sermon, I was one of them. And so it was as Jesus started out in Nazareth. He was home, and safe. But soon things changed. The Nazarenes became angry with him and he was run out of town, almost thrown off a cliff. Not a good landing. Not one he saw coming.
So, He moves about a bit, trying out his healing skills and practicing his preaching in some synagogues along the way. Then we meet him this morning – no longer facing death by being thrown off a cliff, but being smothered by crowds pressing in on him to hear his words. It seems he’s become a bit of a star. The press of the crowd is such that he turns to a fisherman and asks to be taken out on the lake where he can speak to the pressing crowd from the safety of a boat.
That’s quite a change from the crowd in Nazareth, isn’t it? A real turn around-being a star among strangers after being rejected by friends.
It must have taken a deep sense of commitment, a special courage, to be forced out of Nazareth and still to continue speaking his message. How many of you, if rejected, are able to pick yourself up, brush yourself off and turn around in another direction, seeking and speaking your truth? Or, if your friends, your tribe, react negatively, you get back into a safe way of being with them?
And, who among you would Jump the 6 foot wall, not able to see where you will land, to follow something, possibly life changing. I suppose anything that new to us is life changing but not always wonderful-it can mean suffering and strife. Are you willing to jump the wall? King Duncan tells a somewhat humorous story of Origen, a third century theologian. When he was 17 Origens father was arrested for being a Christian faced glorious martyrdom-a nice was of saying being killed for his beliefs. Origen wanted to follow his father into martyrdom but his mother hid his clothes to stop him. Unwilling to go out into the streets naked, he didn’t follow his father. He was willing to die for his belief, but not willing to be seen naked on the way to martyrdom. Not willing to jump the wall of what was proper attire, not yet willing to be seen for who he was.
Let’s step back from Origen to Jesus and the fishermen on the lake. You heard that after Jesus preached from the boat he had Simon take them further out into the lake and told them to throw their nets over to catch fish. They refused, saying they had been fishing all night without catching anything. There were no fish to be had. But Jesus insisted and their catch was enough to almost sink two of their boats. Back on shore, Jesus tells them to follow him and they do so, having no idea where they will land. Jesus, telling them not to be afraid, is enough.
Through this story you and I are also told not to be afraid, even if we find ourselves blind as to what will become of us. Like the fishermen and the others whom Jesus calls to discipleship, we are called onto a path which leads to the unknown, to what we cannot see, to transition, to transformation. We’re to jump that 6 ft high wall not knowing if we will go over a cliff, drown in the sea or land on our feet.
But that’s not the end of it, it’s barely the beginning. We don’t just commit to follow, but to continue being transformed and transforming. To welcome change, even if it frightens us. That is the way of life in the spirit.
Too often, even if we take the first leap, we get stuck and go no further. We feel safe-at home within these walls. We have arrived and it feels good. Too good. We become stuck, as Jesus might have become stuck if the people of Nazareth welcomed him and continued to love him. Imagine, he might have set up in Nazareth and people would come to him there, make pilgrimages to see and hear him. Maybe Jesus wouldn’t have actually done so, but I would be inclined to stay-wouldn’t you?
Our call is to step out from the safe and sure landing, to venture into unknown places, to dance with new ideas, to meet people who differ from us. Jesus tells us not to be afraid but to be transformed. It’s tough work and pushes us to soul search, to volunteer at a soup kitchen, not just to serve others, but to engage with them, learn their stories and share yours-they may not be so different. To visit a mosque or a synagogue or a Hindu temple to widen your knowledge of other ways to worship the God who is ultimate to all faiths. To look deep within yourself to identify your needs, your grief, your joy and what is missing for you. To step toward that missing piece of who you are.
Consider this story of Sir Francis Drake, the explorer, as he attempted to recruit a crew for his next adventure. He spoke to those gathered around him and told them of exciting places, warm sandy beaches, exotic fruit, treasures and great wonders. They were asked to come back the next day to sign up. No one came. A new crowd gathered the next day, much the same makeup as the first one.. This time Drake told them if they came they would encounter terrifying storms, scarcity of food and water and constant danger. But if they could surmount these things, the joy of exploration would exceed their greatest expectations. All signed up that very day! Sir Francis Drake knew what Jesus knew- that the paths we would follow must promise to shape us, build our character and change our world view. A leap worth taking is one that will change us, transform us, nourish our being.
We have taken the first step in following Jesus-but remember, he calls us out into the world, away from what is safe and secure in our mind. To grow in the spirit we must be willing to go over those walls and experience, drink in and be transformed, over and over again. Or we will become the Impala, locked in by six foot walls that we could easily jump.
I cannot say what it is you must do with your one precious life-it is not for me to know. But I can share a few words from the Poet, Mary Oliver, who died a few weeks ago in Hope Sound, Florida.
“When its over I want to say:
all my life I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don’t want
To wonder if I have made of my life something particular and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
Or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply
Having visited this world.”
“Listen-are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?”
“You must not ever stop being whimsical
And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.”
I cannot tell you what to do with your life-I am but a messenger.
The message is for you to do as you will- decide whether you will be the Impala caged by six foot walls or the impala, leaping above the walls into outrageous possibility.
Turn around a bit and glimpse the transformation Jesus holds out to you beyond the walls.