January 22, 2017
“When there is ‘no way’”
Will you pray with me: Holy One. Be in our listening so that we may hear. Be in our seeing that we may perceive. Be in our touching so that we may feel you draw close. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable to you, O God our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
It had been a grueling night. They had set out early the evening before when a welcomed breeze had just begun to push out the sweltering day’s heat from the face of the waters. As they shoved off from the shoreline, I imagine they felt optimistic, a little hopeful even. With the cooling temperatures, the fish that sought the deep during the day would surely now be coming up to feed. ‘Tonight will bring a catch,’ thought Peter. ‘It has to.’ He could not go on much longer with empty nets. None of them could. Besides mouths to feed at home there were taxes to be paid and God knows the Roman Centurions were not the forgiving sort.
But now it is morning. The sun has risen. Peter has fished all night. He has given it his all, but has nothing to show for it. His hands are raw and bloodied — damp lines ran through his fingers as nets were tossed out and pulled in empty again and again. The empty boat slides easily up onto the shore. Peter hauls himself over its edge, landing heavily in the sand. He then reaches in and hauls the nets out onto his aching shoulders. There is still work to do. The nets, though empty must still be cleaned.
“There is no way – no way I’m going to make it,” he thinks.
The scene may be from long ago, but we know it well don’t we? Don’t we too know the disappointment, the exhaustion, the grief even of emptiness – of working so hard, but not seeming to have anything to show for it? Don’t we know what it feels like to give it our all, only to realize that our all just doesn’t seem to be enough? For so long we have been working for justice, sending our money, giving our time to make this world a better place and yet wars range, the earth groans, divisiveness cuts deep, black lives don’t seem to matter, the world seems to be going to “hell in a hand basket” and all we do doesn’t seem to make any difference at all.
And then closer to home, we throw our shoulder into it day after day and yet the house is in chaos; the kids are stressed about homework, or college applications;, an aging parent needs our care, there just doesn’t seem to be enough. Don’t we too know what it feels like to throw our nets out over and over with all our strength, until our hands and hearts are raw only to find them again and again — empty?
Then there is commotion. A crowd up the shoreline draws Peter’s attention. People are coming and in front of them there is someone Peter does not recognize but on whom the crowd seems intent. “No matter,” thinks Peter. “What does all of that have to do with me?”
But the figure is walking straight towards him now or better said the figure is walking straight towards his boat — in fact, it is getting in his boat! And then the figure, who Peter now recognizes as the one they call Jesus – the one who has been creating such a commotion in these parts with all the healings and exorcisms – is now asking him to push the boat out a bit into the sea.
Was there a flash of anger in Peter? (There surely would have been in me) Was there a “There is no way! I am putting that boat back in the water” – moment? But Peter is tired. Just too tired to put up a fight and the crowd is pressing in — so he does. Peter tosses the ‘still needing to be cleaned nets’ back in the boat. He puts his shoulder to it and pushes the boat back out a few dozen yards from the shore.
When Jesus then stand up to speak and teach the crowd, Peter lays down in the back of the boat to rest a bit as Jesus’ words wash over him.
Next thing he knows, he feels someone jostling him. It takes him a minute to realize where he is but then Peter springs to his feet. The sun is full in the sky, now. It must be noon at least. Jesus is smiling at him which makes him feel embarrassed, and so he quickly diverts his gaze to the crowd that is now dispersing on the shoreline. Whatever it was they needed, they seemed to have gotten it, he thought.
Peter watches them go and then realizes that he too has to get going. He has been away a long time and those he loves must have started to worry. And then he feels the sting of shame remembering that the nets are empty. There are no fish.
Jesus words pull him back “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
“Really! A carpenter’s son telling a fisherman how to fish? Seriously?” He feels the flash of anger again, but then he stops. He is just too tired to fight and so he replies “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
And then it begins. —
Then everything starts to speed up. The rope tightens in his hand. The boat jerks a bit as the net fills. Peter is hand over hand hauling. Over and over again the nets come up and the catch spills into the hull. There are more fish than room in the boat. So Peter calls to the others to share in it. Fish, so many fish.
And then it hits him. Peter realizes something else is going on here. This is not just a lucky fishing expedition.
Something else has broken into his life. Grace, abundance, possibility, hope, promise — all of this is tumbling in on him and it is terrifying. What was, no longer has the power to dictate what can be. Who he thought himself to be, no longer defines who he can now become. What was, no longer had the power to predict what will be. There is more going on, much more than what he had thought possible and it is just too much to take in, just too much!
And so Peter throws himself down saying “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” To which, Jesus says “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
I am not sure that made Peter feel much better, for as I said last week, it is terrifying to realize one’s choseness. Better empty nets and disappointment than have to face a God who is convinced that there is something for you, only you to do with your one precious life. I am not sure Peter felt much better but I am sure what Peter felt was enough to change his life.
For he felt Hope, he felt Love, he felt Abundance and going back was no longer an option.
And so he left that boat now heavy and full with fish. And he left those nets that still needed to be cleaned. For all of what he had wanted — no longer felt like enough anymore. Now that he had tasted what abundant life felt like, he could not simply rest there. He knew that he now must to help make what he had experienced a reality for everyone else. And so said “yes” and he followed the One that has made it all possible.
(As an aside, I just have to share with you what Rose a resident at the Waban Health Center and a regular congregant of our monthly services shared with us where we were pondering this passage during our worship service this past Thursday. Rose said that she thought the reason that Peter caught so much fish was because the fish had come up out of the deep water, up to the surface so that they too could hear what Jesus had to say. They were up on the surface and therefore easily caught, because they too like the crowds on the shore were leaning in to hear what Jesus had to say. Isn’t that just great! )
What relevance does this remarkable story have for us?
Well first, Jesus as a rabbi is choosing his disciples. Standard practice. But to look for them at the seas’ edge? That is unexpected. But Jesus is like a moth to a flame. He is drawn to where the heart’s longing is the greatest. There he goes. There he will always go and there you will find him. Always.
And second, it has always struck me as remarkable that the first thing that Jesus does in his ministry is to call these disciples. Why would Jesus whose divine power is practically exploding from within him take the time and energy to surround himself with what are often portrayed as a dim witted group of followers? I have come to understand, however, that the reason Jesus begins with calling the disciples and spends so much time and energy nurturing their understanding is inextricably tied to Jesus’ incarnation of GOD’s steadfast love.
Jesus’ life is performative of his message. Jesus enacts the very salvation that is crystallized in his life, death and resurrection. Jesus called the disciples because salvation is not something done to the world but something done in the world. By calling and commissioning the disciples, Jesus sets in motion the redemptive power of salvation in the world. Jesus not only shows us the way, but is the Way. Salvation and new life happen not just in the moment of the empty tomb but in the countless moments when we accept the invitation of GOD’s steadfast love to join with GOD in healing, teaching, loving GOD’s new creation into being. Salvation happens not just at the end time but in our time.
This is what Peter felt that day and what changed his life. This is what is offered to us as well.
And third, so what does that mean for us? I think that it means that if we really want to know what Jesus was and is all about, if we really want to know God and live a life in the Spirit we have to cultivate a curiosity and a readiness of engagement. We have to be ready to let ourselves be shown by God what it is to live a life in alignment with God. God will not give us the answers to our questions, instead, I am convinced, God will invite us into an upside down, wildly wonderful life where through our living we begin to discover for ourselves the answers to our deepest questions and our most profound hearts longings.
Now as a final thought, yesterday morning I awoke rather down trodden. I had decided to go to the march on the Common because I felt like I should but my heart really wasn’t in it. I felt empty. Tired. Overwhelmed. But I knew I needed to go. And so I went through the motions of getting on the train, emerging from the station and walking the few blocks to the Common. As we moved towards the gathering place for the march, there were people streaming in from all directions. Not just 25,000 that the organizers had hoped for. Not just 50,000, or 60,000 but over 100,000. There we were packed in shoulder to shoulder in this great, overflowing, net of humanity.
And at one point in the gathering, we were asked to turn to someone we did not know and to look them in the eye. I turned to a woman behind me. It was awkward to meet her gaze, but I did. We were asked to acknowledge the one we held in our gaze, and to wish that person well, to see and honor that person. As our eyes locked, I felt perhaps something akin to what I imagine Peter felt that day so long ago. I felt seen, held and loved by a total stranger. And in being held so, I felt myself come alive again. I felt life and love and hope rise in me again and I felt ready to recommit to love boldly, and act courageously and to trust that in doing so I do so not alone, but as a part of the great net of humanity. And I do so knowing and trusting that the one I seek already has eyes upon me and is there before me bidding me to follow and to share the unexpected, world healing and redeeming Way of hope, love and abundance.
So let the walk begin. Thanks be to God, Amen.