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 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. 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
I'd like to take a
moment of personal privilege to thank your pastor, Dan, for the
invitation to share some reflections on God’s word this morning.
In 1974, when Dan came to Indianapolis to work with our general offices
as a youth ministries intern, I was 14 years old. Dan stayed with
my family for a time, and he became like a big brother to my two sisters
and me. My older sister, who ran track in high school, still owns
the pair of cleats that Dan bought for her. Dan was a gift to us,
as I know him to be a gift to this congregation. I know as well
that you are a gift to him, and I thank God for the opportunity to be
present here this morning in this community.
Last year I went on
vacation to Mexico, a country that I absolutely love. A couple of
decades ago I spent about three years living in Mexico and working as a
Global Mission Intern for our church, but not very much of that time was
spent on any of the numerous beautiful beaches that Mexico has to offer.
But on this trip my friend Christy and I decided we would spend a couple
days at the beach, and on one of those days we went snorkeling.
I’d never been
snorkeling before, and to be honest, I’d never gone out looking for
opportunities to go snorkeling, because I’m pretty much of a chicken
when it comes to the ocean. I love the ocean, the sound and the
smell and the feel, but to actually get in it scares me. But since
the opportunity was right there, I decided I might as well try it.
I rented the snorkel and mask and flippers, and went down to the part of
the beach that was best for snorkeling. We had a guide for this
snorkeling experience, named Jose, and he gave us a two-minute
orientation…the best place is right out here, try not to go over there
because the waves might push you into the rocks. Great Jose,
thanks a lot.
As I adjusted the
strap on my mask and got the rocks out of my flippers, the question
“why am I doing this?” crossed my mind, but by that time I was
committed to it, and I finally made it into the water. It took
about two minutes to get used to breathing through a tube, to realize
that water was not going to come down through the snorkel and choke me,
and that the undertow was not going to pull me under and out to sea,
never to return. A couple minutes for me to relax, to go
under water without tensing up, and from then on it was an awesome
It was like swimming
with Nemo. We saw bright blue angelfish about this big, and we saw
the babies which have even brighter blue spots, almost neon blue.
We saw some smaller ones that were purple and yellow, we saw
rainbow-colored fish, we saw bright yellow and orange and green fish of
various sizes and shapes. Hundreds and thousands of fish.
A whole new world was
opened up to me once I got underwater. A world I’ve learned
about, seen pictures of, heard people talk about…but as long as I
stayed on the surface of the water, I didn’t have a clue what it was
It was morning of
that day when Jesus came to the shore of Lake Gennesaret. The
fishermen had been out all night and were scrubbing their nets –
cleaning up, getting ready to go home and get some rest. Even at
that early hour a crowd followed Jesus. He was getting pretty
famous by now, after all the hubbub at his home synagogue in Nazareth,
and then from the exorcisms and healings he was doing. The crowd
pressed in on him – listening, wanting to hear more. It made it
a little hard to talk, so Jesus borrowed the boat of one of the
fishermen, Simon, and pushed out a little ways from shore so that he
could do his teaching.
After he was done, he
said to Simon, Why don’t you put your nets down? Simon said,
We’ve been fishing all night, haven’t caught a thing. Jesus
said, Why don’t you try again and go a little deeper? Simon
shrugged his shoulders, didn’t really think this was going to be worth
his time, but…what would it hurt? Maybe the stories he’d heard
about Jesus, and the words he’d heard him speak that morning, made him
feel inclined to do what Jesus was asking, even if they didn’t catch
anything, and just had to clean their nets again and miss a couple hours
So they went out into
the deep waters, put their nets down deep, and drew up a huge catch of
fish, so huge that their nets were stretched and strained and about to
break. So huge a catch that they had to call over their partners
in the other boat to help them, and they filled both boats with fish.
So full that they were dangerously low in the water as they made their
way back to shore.
“Why don’t you go
a little deeper?” is a question that I need to hear on a regular
basis. We live in a culture that, generally speaking, encourages
us to live broadly and shallowly. Where major world events are
covered in 30 seconds on the evening news. Where to be considered
well-rounded and successful, we should have a job, and a family, and a
social life. We should keep up on current events, take in some
concerts or plays, and go see the Ducks play from time to time.
We should read, exercise, eat well, entertain, decorate our house,
travel, and shop. Trying to cover all these bases leaves us
frustrated and anxious and exhausted.
“Why don’t you go
a little deeper?” Jesus says when he calls his first disciples.
Go a little deeper into yourselves and into the life of the world.
Go beyond the shallows, go beyond living shallowly, and into the depth
of creation, into the depth of human experience. Find the richness
that is abundant in the depths of life, see what you can gather if you
are willing to go a little deeper.
As Disciples of
Christ gather during these days in Portland, we are reminded that the
church is far bigger than all we personally have seen, far broader than
all we personally have participated in, far deeper than all we
personally have experienced. We see Disciples from Oregon and
Texas and Kentucky and Alabama and Nebraska and New York. We hear
of brothers and sisters in Korea working for reconciliation between the
North and the South. We learn about how children and youth and
adults can work together as peacemakers.
As Christians living
in the 21st century, Jesus calls us to go beyond the shallows, to move
into the deep water where life is teeming. And because we don’t
always know what’s there, and aren’t entirely sure that we won’t
drown or be swept out to sea, for me one of the best parts about this
call is that it’s not a call to do it alone. As the General
Assembly theme reminds us, Jesus calls us into community. Jesus
calls us out of our sense of ourselves as one individual trying to make
his or her way in the world, and into a vision of brothers and sisters
– working, growing, living, loving – in community.
One of the reasons,
I’m convinced, that we are called into community is because there is a
strength in community that we cannot muster as an individual person.
When Simon pulls up his nets overflowing with fish, he calls over his
buddies to help carry this huge load of fish. It’s dangerous to
do it himself, but together they’ll make it.
I heard Jane
Lawrence, who works for our Disciples Home Mission, once tell a story
about a horse pull, a contest at a state fair or someplace like that to
see which horse could pull the most weight. The winner pulled 9000
pounds. The horse that came in second pulled almost 8000 pounds.
Then they hitched the two horses together to see what they could pull as
a team. Adding up what they did individually, they should have
been able to pull about 17,000 pounds. But in fact they pulled
over 30,000 pounds.
Which of us
individually could shelter and clothe the homeless and naked in Eugene?
Which of us could run a Helping Hands ministry? Which congregation
on its own could run a camping program, or start a seminary for training
future leaders, or send missionaries to Botswana and El Salvador and the
Philippines? There is a strength and a power in community that
allows us to put down our nets and reap harvests beyond our imaginings.
But strength in
numbers is not the only reason Jesus calls us into community. God
knows that we need community to en-courage each other, to give each
other courage to go beyond the shallows and into the deep water.
In a society that idealizes pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and
blames the poor for their predicament, it takes courage to not only feed
and clothe and house the poor, but advocate for and with them for fairer
In a culture that is
pulled toward the right by Christians who would claim that their way is
God’s only way, that their political stances are the only Christian
stances, it takes courage to say that we can respectfully disagree, and
that our Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers have a share of God’s
wisdom as well.
In a world that is
attracted to easy answers, it takes courage to embrace complex questions
and wrestle with them from the perspective of the gospel, and come out
saying, “This is what I believe, but I might be wrong.”
Elaine Prevallet, of
the Sisters of Loretto says: “We need a community – a church or a
covenant group within a church – some group of friends committed to
Christ who are willing to risk grounding their lives in values that may
make them marginal to the larger culture, who are willing to be
responsible with and for and to each other, who are not afraid to ask
hard questions…The pull of individualism is so strong that we cannot
afford to go it alone. We have to find or create communities –
containers – if we are to be faithful to God’s call.”
As Christians, we
find great strength and encouragement in community, when we gather
together to celebrate the ways God is at work in our lives and our
world. But of course, the point is not to stay here. The
point of Christian community is to scatter as well. Jesus calls
the disciples to COME (follow me) but then to GO (become fishers of
people, go two by two to the towns and village to tell them the good
news). And we are always in this dynamic of gathering and
scattering, gathering and scattering. Gathering together to
worship and study and support each other, and scattering to be disciples
of Christ in the world, to be expressions of God’s love in every way
we can possibly think of.
I’ve heard my
father, who’s a retired Disciples preacher, say on occasion that the
test of discipleship is not how many people come together on Sunday
morning, or how well we sing, or even how powerfully or sincerely we
pray and preach and listen. The test of discipleship is to follow
the members of the church around Monday through Saturday, and see what
kind of life they are living as they are scattered in the world.
In my own life, there
was perhaps no time or place that taught me more about the power of the
gathered and scattered community than the years I spent in Guatemala as
your missionary. My job description was pastoral accompaniment –
providing physical and spiritual accompaniment to Guatemalan refugees as
they returned and resettled in their country following more than a
decade of living in refugee camps in southern Mexico. Their return
was not easy, it was marked not only by the anticipation of going home
but by anxiety, as the same army that had driven them from their homes
years earlier remained in place to “welcome” them home. Tensions ran
high, and the refugee community put out a call to churches and to other
organizations, for people to come and accompany them as they returned to
their country. Your Global Ministries responded to that call and
shipped me off to Guatemala.
In February of 1994 I
walked with a group of Guatemalans along a muddy dirt road toward the
village of Santa Maria Tzeja in the northwestern part of the country.
Twelve years earlier, at the height of a bloody civil war, the army had
entered their village and burned every house and building to the ground.
They killed the animals and went looking for the people, who had fled
into the surrounding forest. A group of 13 women and children was
massacred when some soldiers came upon their hiding place. For
weeks the families remained in hiding, but when they realized that the
army was not leaving the area, and they were either going to starve or
be discovered, they made their way to the Mexican border and relative
Twelve years later,
these representatives, one from each family, were making their first
trip home. They would spend just a few days on this visit to check
out the conditions before coming back for good with their families and
belongings a few months later. As I walked with them toward the
village I wondered, how in the world can a bunch of Indian peasant
farmers stand up to the Guatemalan army? How will they ever eke
out a living in this rain forest so isolated from “civilization,” so
far from all the amenities I consider basic to a decent life? How
can people without even a 6th grade education ever hold their own
against those who would continue to exploit and oppress them?
I have had the good
fortune to visit Santa Maria Tzeja many times, while I lived in
Guatemala and since I returned to the States. They’ve now been
back over 11 years, and each time I go I witness the power of the
community working together. Concrete-block houses, new schools,
shops, community buildings, a church, a health clinic, people wearing
glasses, children carrying books, young people doing theater, a new
computer lab. There’s only one community phone in the village,
yet they’re now connected to the internet!
All of this has been
gained through a great deal of struggle and hardship, with many
setbacks, and only by banding together. Nobody got a
concrete-block house until they had enough funds for everyone to get
one. No family had a water-storage tank, meaning that the women
and girls did not have to spend hours a day carrying water from the
streams, until there was enough money for every family to get a tank.
They learned the
power of the gathered community and as time went on they heard the call
to scatter as well. With some help from the church gathered
together in places like Eugene and Indianapolis, our Week of Compassion
offering has provided scholarships to several students from Santa Maria
Tzeja. These young people were the first in their village to leave
their homes and go far away, first to high school and then to college.
Scores of others have now followed in their footsteps. Now Edwin
is almost finished with his university studies to be a lawyer. Cesar
will be a doctor in a couple more years. Benjamin is well on his
way to a degree in agronomy. Every one of these young people is
committed not only to the welfare of his own community, but to sharing
what they have learned with other rural villages in Guatemala,
empowering them to go beyond the shallows, to claim and live deeply
their status as children of God, and become the community that gathers
and scatters. And when they talk about what they’ve
learned, when they talk about their hopes and dreams for the future of
their community, there is a light in the eyes of these young people that
will reach the deepest depths.
Here in Eugene, and
in Indianapolis, and in places all over our country and world, the
community called by Jesus gathers and scatters. We gather each
Sunday and we scatter, back to our jobs and schools and homes and
circles of friends and acquaintances. This church of 300 people in
one location becomes the church in 300 locations, as we go out to be
students and teachers and scientists and social workers and construction
workers and waitresses and bankers and garbage collectors and doctors
and parents and friends. We gather in General Assembly every two
years, and we scatter, back to Georgia and Ohio and Arizona and Nova
Scotia to be the people of God.
So let us go today
from this gathering, renewed and refreshed in the depth of God’s
spirit, to live and love and serve as Jesus calls us. Amen.