February 6, 2022 Sanctuary Worship, Sermon, “Getting Out of the Shallows”

February 6, 2022

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Scripture: Luke 5:1-11

   My grandfather was a fisherman.  Not as a profession, but as a hobby – a diversion.  He would sometimes take me with him and try to teach me the nuances of fishing.  But, I wasn’t very good at it.  It took too much time.  It involved sitting for long periods of time.  And my grandfather was rather insistent that fishing was to be done in silence so as to not “scare the fish away.”  I have never uncovered any evidence that fish can hear the human voice under water, but silence was the rule.  So, fishing was not for me.

   And we always fished from shore.  There was no boat, so the ability to cast the line far enough out into the lake was critical.  The big fish weren’t near the shore.  The big fish were out there – where we could not go.  So, fishing was boring and unrewarding.

   I thought of those days on the shoreline of North Park Lake in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh when I read the story from Luke that serves as our central text for the morning.  The scene is set before us.  Jesus is walking on the shore of the lake of Gennesaret.  The Lake of Gennesaret is also known as the Sea of Tiberias, Lake Kinneret, and the Sea of Galilee, so don’t wonder about that.  A large crowd was gathering to hear from Jesus and he requests the use of a nearby fishing boat from which to address the crowd.  That boat belonged to a fellow named Simon. Creating something of an amphitheater, Jesus taught the crowd, presumably while Simon and his fishing companions washed their nets from their unsuccessful fishing expedition the night before.

   When Jesus finished speaking, Jesus invites Simon and the other fishers to “put out into the deep water and let down your nets.”1  The invitation was not warmly received by the fishers.  They had been up all night and had nothing to show for it.  Now, some itinerant preacher – who presumably knew little about fishing – wants them to go back to work.  Finally, Simon agrees to Jesus’ request and you know the rest of the story.  They haul in a catch so large that the nets nearly broke and they had to call in another boat to land their haul.

   Before they arrived on shore, Peter has an epiphany moment.  He realizes that he has come into contact with someone unlike anyone he has ever known.  “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”2  There was something about this teacher that was holy.  Simon was fearful, felt unworthy, undeserving.

   But Jesus ignores Simon’s protestations.  “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”3  Then Luke tells us that Simon and James and John land their boats, filled with fish, and left it all behind and followed Jesus.

   If you have been around the church for any period of time, you’ve probably heard that story before.  It shows up in Sunday School lessons with great frequency and is heard from the pulpit – in one form or another – at least every year.  And, in all honesty, the story becomes predictable and unsurprising.  And as the preacher, there is less chance of finding a good word with every passing lesson and sermon.

   But, this time around, there is something new for us.  “Put out into the deep water…”  At its deepest point, the Sea of Galilee is only about 140 feet deep.  It is the largest fresh water lake in Israel – then and now.

   Yet, the invitation to “put out into the deep water” is an invitation to go into the unknown, into something new, into a new adventure.  It is in the deep water that the great haul of fish is to be found.  It is in the deep water that provision and abundance will be found.  It is in the deep water where discovery will be made.  It is in the deep water where epiphanies await.

   Too often we live our lives in the shallows.  We prefer the predictable and the routine.  The pandemic has made that abundantly clear as we yearn for and await the return to “normal” – whatever that was and whatever that means.  We have had to alter our approach to life over the past two years in order to stay well and even alive.  We have bemoaned and lamented the impositions of life – from supply chain shortages, to closures and quarantines, to wearing masks and keeping safe distance.  The pandemic has muddied the waters of the shallows where we tend to spend our time.

   The shallows are also a place where judgmental conclusions abound.  In the shallows, people are judged as worthy or unworthy, more or less.  In the shallows, some are derided for their opinions and beliefs.  In the shallows, prejudice flourishes.  In the shallows, some are regarded as “less than human.”  In the shallows, hatred leads to anger and then to separation.

   The shallows are a place of blandness and drabness.  There is no adventure in the shallows.  There is no exploration in the shallows.  There is no growth in the shallows.  In the shallows, we seek only entertainment, amusement, and mind-numbing distraction.

   It is time to get out of the shallows.  It is time to “put out into the deep water,” for that is where authentic life is to be found.  When we “put out into the deep water,” we are opening ourselves to new challenges and new opportunities.  It is in “the deep water” that new discoveries are made.  It is in “the deep water” where new visions are perceived and new dreams are dreamed.  It is in “the deep water” where a new way to live life can be discovered.

   It is in “the deep water” where we can rediscover our humanity and the humanity of others.  It is in “the deep water” where we can learn to love one another all over again and put away the divisive patterns of life into which we have fallen.  It is in “the deep water” where we can rediscover hope and peace and love and joy.  It is in “the deep water” where we can reassemble and rebuild the beloved community that God invites us to enjoy.

   But, “the deep waters” are not controllable.  We are reminded that on these same deep waters a storm arose that threatened to swamp the disciples and Jesus.  When we “put out into the deep water” there are inherent risks and dangers.

   And God knows that.  Jesus knew that.  And we have the promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God.4  We have the promise from Jesus, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”5  There is nothing in “the deep water” that should cause us fear or anxiety, for God is the Lord of seas and skies.

   Our shallows living is dangerous – perhaps even more dangerous than putting out into the deep water.  The shallowness of our living is robbing us of what God intended life to be.  The shallowness of our living is creating the frustration and pain we are experiencing.  The shallowness of our living is what is dividing us.

   The deep waters are a place where we can be restored and renewed.  The deep waters are a place of healing and recovery.  The deep waters are where our spirits can be joined to God’s Spirit and we can be made new.

   It may just be time to get out of the shallows.  It may just be time to put away the boredom and sameness of each day and begin something new.  It may just be time to sail into the unexpected, the unforeseen, the unanticipated and allow God to offer us something more than we have and are.

   Mark Twain told us. “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”  It just might be that your “why” is out in the deep waters.  It surely isn’t in the shallows.  If it were, you would have found it by now.

   Let’s get out of the shallows.  Let us “put out into the deep water.”

   Let us find ourselves.  And then, let us fish for others, offering them the opportunity that God has set before us.

   For now and evermore.  Amen.

1) Luke 5:4b

2) Luke 5:8b

3) Luke 5:10c

4) Romans 8:39b

5) Matthew 28:20b

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