On the Movement of God
February 6, 2022
Isaiah 6:8 I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
Luke 5:1-11 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He 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. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and 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.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Today’s sermon is titled On the Movement of God.
Some sermons practically write themselves. Throughout the week as I research and pay attention to what I hear in conversation, on the radio, and in prayer, there is often a coalescence, a convergence of ideas and a theme presents itself, almost effortlessly. And then there are weeks when it does not come together. There are weeks when it’s a real struggle, when I might try two or three or four different beginnings and none of them feel right; this week was one of those times. The story we are offered today from the Gospel of Luke offers us plenty to consider. Maybe it’s too much to consider or, most likely, it touches on something I am trying desperately to avoid.
The author describes a vivid scene of a crowd “pressing in” as Jesus is teaching on the lakeshore, so he asks the fishermen to take him out in the boat so he can address the crowd at a distance and they oblige. When Jesus is finished teaching, instead of going back to shore, he tells Simon to go farther out, into the deep, and drop the nets. Simon resists. He is exhausted; they have been fishing all night long to no avail. They don’t want to try anymore. They probably just want to go home. Maybe Simon is in a foul mood. Maybe Simon is regretting letting this guy on his boat because it’s been a really long night, he just sat through a sermon he wasn’t planning on, and now this guy, who is clearly not a fisherman, wants them to row farther out and fish some more. Maybe Simon is thinking unkind thoughts; maybe he is swearing under his breath about what he is being asked to do.
I imagine it was not easy to say no to Jesus, though. So even though they have already cleaned their nets, Simon agrees to drop the nets once again, probably for the hundredth time, into the same waters that yielded nothing all through the long dark night. We don’t know how long those nets were in the water, but I’m guessing Jesus let the tension and the frustration and the doubt build just a little bit more before the ropes began to groan against the wooden gunwales of the boat, so full of fish that the nets were “beginning to break,” so full of fish that the other boat was called out from shore and even then the load threatened to sink them both.
I think Simon had been a skeptic. I think Simon may have been very cross about Jesus’s request to be ferried out in his boat. I think Simon may have even been a bit resentful that Jesus asked him to put his nets in, again, after so many failed attempts. I think these things about Simon because we read that he “fell down at Jesus’s knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’”
I can empathize with Simon. I imagine you can, too. Sometimes it’s really hard to keep going. Sometimes we don’t see the results we are working so hard for and we just want to give up. Twenty minutes into any news cycle on any given day and it’s easy to become a skeptic about the future of humankind. There are times we would rather nurture our grievances and stew in our despair. And the last thing we want to hear is someone telling us to try again. The last thing we want to hear is someone trying to convince us that the outcome may be different this time around. The last thing we are apt to say is, “Here am I Lord, send me.” The only thing worse than coming up with an empty net is coming up with an empty net over and over and over again, all night long. After a while, we don’t even dare to hope.
Do we even dare to hope for an end to this pandemic? Do we dare to hope for truth and justice and accountability? Do we dare to hope for free and fair elections? Do we dare to hope for all people to be fed and sheltered and fairly compensated for a day’s work? Do we dare to look for miracles in our midst or are we guarding ourselves, like Simon, guarding ourselves against disappointment and prone to doubt even though Jesus is in our boat?
Jesus’s message to Simon is a message for us, as well, “Do not be afraid,” Jesus said. I hear: Do not let your fear and your doubt define your past, your present or your future. I am in your boat. I will see you through your disappointments, your failures, and your pain. I will encourage you to keep trying. I will invite you to make room in your heart and mind for the movement of God. Follow me.
Simon followed. His companions followed. They bore witness to the stories we can only read about, the events we can only imagine. They dropped their nets and allowed the movement of God to define their future.
Friends, I think we are asked to do the same. It is unsettling. I am more prone to wrap myself in my net and stick with what I know, guard myself against disappointment and be cautious in my optimism, careful not to hope beyond reason, careful not to expect too much. There have been times, though, when the movement of God carried me to places I was completely and utterly unprepared for.
At 22 I moved west and into a commune where I lived without electricity or indoor plumbing, learned to grow my own food and cut my own firewood. My first job for the Forest Service was working alone, at night, in the deep forests of the pacific northwest. I married an unconventional man and we centered our lives around our children, living for years in a tent in Hawaii so we could afford to raise our young children, together. At age 49, I gave up my life-long career to go into the ministry and back to school. Sometimes I am able to say, “Here am I, Lord, send me.”
In closing, Friends, I hope that in the moments we are tired and hopeless and filled with doubt, we will remember Simon and we will risk failure and disappointment and keep trying. Christ is constantly reminding us to make room for the movement of God, and to not rely solely on our own understanding. When we work for truth and justice, for equity and security for all people, we work with the force of goodness we call God, just as our teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, continues to show us. May the light of Christ guide our way, now and forevermore. So be it. Amen.
Pastoral Prayer: God of all the seasons of our lives, I thank you for being with us in all we face. Help us to remember to look for the light of your guidance in every situation that challenges us. If we are in need of help, may we be just as gracious in our receiving as we are in our giving. In ways we seek healing, guide us to what heals; in ways we seek knowledge, guide us to sources of wisdom; in ways we seek meaning, guide us, Lord, to the people and the things that will bless us so that we, in turn may be a blessing to others. For our families, our town, our nation and all of humanity we pray for needs to be met, we pray for prosperity and we pray for peace. As we look to Christ for direction, may we remember the words of this prayer he gave us so long ago…Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
Benediction: I leave you with this ancient blessing, from the book of Numbers: “May the Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace.”