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Life Isn't Always Lived In The Shallow End Of The Pool


Passage: Luke 5:1-11

Speaker: Rev. Dr. Stephen Graham

Popularity tends to swim in the shallow end of the pool. Bill Tammeus, the former Religion Editor of the KC Star, said very much the same, “Sometimes I think popular culture leads us astray in many destructive ways.”

When Jesus began his ministry the response of the people was strong. So strong that it was necessary for him to push beyond their quick acceptance of him. He moved out away from crowd and invited his disciples to push out into the deep. We are invited into the deep waters of trust where we are called beyond ourselves to others.

He pushed out from the shore. The crowds pressed upon Jesus to hear God’s message on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus noticed two boats at the water’s edge. The fishermen were washing their nets. He went aboard Simon’s boat and asked him to push out from the shore. Being a good steward of available resources, Jesus sat down and continued teaching the crowds from the boat.

Pushing out from the shore enabled Jesus to create some clarifying distance; resourcefulness on the part of Jesus. There wasn’t room to accommodate the crowd. So, he improvised. The shoreline contained steep inlets, forming natural amphitheaters. This allowed him to speak in a natural voice and be clearly heard by the large crowd. The crush of his popularity made it difficult to determine where the crowd stopped and where he started. The needs of the people were overwhelming. Jesus created some healthy distance to differentiate between the popular demands of the people and what he most wanted and needed to offer them.

Jesus was attuned to the here-and-now. He can lead us to be genuinely present to life. Contemplatives tell us to be alert to the present moment. They say this moment is always the moment. Now is all we really have. Now is where we intersect with life. Someone brought to my attention that the words nowhere and now here have the same arrangement of letters, and yet the letters are merely separated by a small space. A fine space separates us from experiencing life as either just simply nowhere or now here. Wendell Berry reminds us: “We live the given life not the planned.” Jesus was an artist with an eye for life around him.

He gave this command, this invitation to the disciples, “Push out now into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” He wanted something more for Simon, and yet Simon believed it was a wasted effort. “Lord, we’ve worked all night and caught nada.” Not a thing. The last thing they wanted to be doing was to fish again.

I remember fishing with a guide for Sand Bass at Texoma. When we arrived at the lake, we received reports of record catches they’d made that day. I dreamed that night about the catch we would make the next morning. However, sometime in the night, a weather front reversed, and it rained so hard that the lake level climbed over a foot. Our guide was straight with us. “This very well may affect our success, but we’ll have a good time anyway.”

He was right, and he was way wrong. Right, in that we caught nothing. Wrong, in that it was anything but a good time. It was an expensive, miserable day. After lunch my psychologist friend, with whom I shared the boat and guide, started bouncing his line and hook and bait. Imagine Dr. Larry Dye calling out, “Here fishy, fishy, fishy. Here fishy, fishy.” I can still hear the guide’s tone and disgust when he cut Larry off, “Don’t beg!”

They had caught nothing. No fish to show. It is disappointing when expectations are not met. Luke wrote stories, here and in Acts, of the early church, and their expectations about the shape of their success. Luke tells us in Acts that when problems and disappointments arose the church, rather than letting these problems leave them perplexed and empty, decided to roll up their sleeves and put a plan of caring concern into action.

There comes a point when Jesus directs us into the deeper waters. Life cannot always be lived in the shallow end of the pool.

The deep presents its own kind of crisis. Sue Monk Kidd writes that a crisis is a holy summons to cross a threshold. It involves both a leaving behind and a stepping toward, a separation and an opportunity. The Chinese word for crisis is composed of two characters. On top is the sign for danger; beneath, the sign for opportunity. Crisis is another name for redirection.

Their empty nets presented a crisis of abundant proportions. The dimension of their emptiness yielded the opportunity to be drawn more deeply into the kingdom. As theologian and historian, Martin Marty writes: “Brokenness and wounding do not occur in order to break human dignity but to open the heart so God can act.”

“Launch out into the deep,” Jesus commanded, “and throw out your nets for a haul.” When they followed his lead, they netted an enormous shoal of fish—so big that the nets began to tear. They signaled to their friends in the other boat to come and help. They gave a clear sign that they could not do it alone, and their friends came and filled both the boats to the sinking point.

Jesus affirmed the disciples request for help by asking them to join him in casting the net to reach people. Ministry is not a private affair. Alone, by ourselves, our nets become so filled with human hurts and hopes that not one of us can bear up under the strain. The church learns to signal for help. The church is a lighthouse of support as well as a lighthouse announcing the opportunity to join in serving.

Our goal as a community of faith is to continually invite others into ministry. I first read of this in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together. He writes, “In a Christian community everything depends on whether each individual is an indispensable link in a chain. Only when even the smallest link is securely interlocked is the chain unbreakable. A community which allows unemployed members to exist within it will perish because of them. It will be well, therefore, if every member receives a definite task to perform for the community, that he may know in hours of doubt that he, too, is not useless and unusable.”

I believe that people want to be invited to join in giving care. Some speak of how few are willing to serve, but I have always been impressed with just the opposite. It amazes me how many serve through our church alone. I am grateful for those who give the signal that they cannot do it alone. Many of us could share that our first steps in kingdom work were taken because someone asked for our help.

They brought their boats to shore, left everything, and followed Jesus.

The nature of ministry is that it gets too heavy to bear alone. We may very well have demands made of us that are more than we can do on our own. We should plan and expect that we will need to signal others for help when we follow Christ’s love!

We pray: Let us hear the call and claim of Christ to waters that are deep in consequence, to those in dark waters of suffering from injustice and hate. Call us to the extreme measures where we are in over our heads and must learn to rely upon Christ’s guidance and the support of those around us. Amen.