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Putting Out into the Deep

Luke 5:1-11

A young family decides to leave their life in France behind and come to Canada with their three young childen risking a whole new beginning in a strange land. Now that’s putting out into the Deep. A call comes from you doctor asking you to come to the office that afternoon. Tests, supposedly routine, reveal cancer is present in your body. You’re thrown into deep water. An earthquake devastates your home community leaving you desperately wondering whether your family are alive…Surely you are in deep water… This week I had a call from a colleague in Ottawa who serves as a military chaplain. He was going to Kandahar this week. If he were to die while he was there, would I take his funeral service he asked….I certainly felt invited into the deeps. As I have with the death of beloved congregational member, Rev. Doctor Charles Johnston, whose life of faith has been an inspiration to me and to so many in this congegation… Preparing to celebrate and honour his life. holding his story in God’s grace touches very deep places of the soul. And there are unexpected riches that come when we go to those places. It’s often where we are cracked open to the Holy.

I know that each of you have your own stories to share; Times when you have chosen to put out beyond your comfort zone into deep places, Times when you’ve been thrust there by life. Times when God has called you to go deeper; stories of deep encounter; stories of unexpected turns in relationship; stories of when same old, same old gets upended and you are surprised with a new beginning.

These experiences can help us enter into this gospel story from Luke. The story in Luke begins with disciples exhausted and burned out ready to throw in the towel? Ever been there? The story begins with ordinary people going about their business, not having much success. It begins with a sense of paralysis, of scarcity, of exhaustion, of frustration, but it ends with a deep sense of purpose and a call to a whole new way of being. God calls unlikely people at a time they least expect it.
From paralysis to purpose…. by going into deep water….I think there’s a sermon in that!!!!

The fishing community and culture of the Galilean coastal region forms the context for this passage. By some accounts as many as 8 of the disciples of Jesus were fishermen. Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus made his home in Capurnaum, a coastal fishing village. Jesus knew well these men he is speaking to. He has witnessed their life, and in the story he invites them to a ministry of witness.

We know that at the time, the Roman Empire had begun to extend its greedy paws into taxing not only produce of the land but also produce of the Galilean lake. Times were getting tougher and tougher. Jesus must have watched the lots of these workers go down in the years he knew them. He knew there was discontent. He must have known the deep longing they had for justice, and for deeper meaning.
In my imagination, those who become disciples may have been with Jesus and John the baptizer out in the wilderness, where John had started a whole movement of transformation and resistance; a renewal movement in a time of despair. In Luke we read of the arrest of John by Herod, the puppet ruler, but not of his death. In other gospels, Jesus begins his ministry in response to John’s death.

We meet the disciples sweating with exhaustion from a night’s fishing, catching nothing. They felt burned-out and no doubt pretty much in despair. A night with no fish, meant there would not be food on the table, or money to buy anything.
Jesus goes to his friends and they get into a boat and he teaches the crowd. Then he asks them to move further out …Do you suppose he laid some heavy theology on them? or maybe they talked about how hard it was to keep their heads above water. How the taxes were killing them. How difficult it was to find the money needed to keep the boats and nets in repair…..Maybe he talked about the need for things to change…We don’t know..but it makes sense doesn’t it?

Then Jesus calls them to fish not just near the shore, in the shallows, where they are used to fishing; to go beyond their comfort zone; to risk going out into deep water- where the fish are. I suspect it was their hunger for food for their families that drove them to listen to this strange request. After all he was telling them to fish where they knew there were no fish. He was telling them to use the wrong kind of net for day time fishing. But such was their respect for him, or the hunger in their bellies that they did as he asked.

The disciples gripe a bit, but grudgingly go out deeper…not expecting very much. They set out into deep water- Then came the shock of abundance!!! Nets overflowing!!! Beginning to tear with the weight!!! Old nets not able to hold the new catch. They had to admit they needed help from partners; to work with others if they were going to harvest the rich gifts of the sea and so they asked for help.

Now they thought what they needed was fish, but Jesus gives them a whole new purpose: to catch people not fish. Into deep waters again and again. Apparently, going into the deep took them places they hadn’t imagined. Caught by the mystery of the experience of overflowing abundance and the call Jesus gives to them, they follow-not an easy path-but a path of learning to be disciples.

I’m struck by this image of going into deep water. It is the metaphor that really resonates with me this week and so I have been meditating it quite a lot. Our congregation is called into deep waters, as we move into this transition in ministry. I am certainly called into deep waters as I move towards retirement and a whole new phase of life. Through the work of the Joint Needs Assessment Committee and later the Search Committee, there will be invitations to trust God’s leading and call into the future. One can only begin to imagine where Christ might be calling us deeper at this time. Is it into stronger French ministry? Is it to look beyond the places where we are always doing our fishing…in the places we are comfortable?

These times certainly challenge us to create welcome for the unchurched; welcome for those seeking church home, for those who may have little experience of worship, or of all of the norms we have as congregations. We cannot expect young people who come to be how we have always been. If we embrace this challenge, we WILL be changed. It is already happening in many ways. As new people, with new ideas come into our community, they may even have some brand new ideas about how and where to fish. Just like Jesus did in our story from Luke.

Will we let them? or tell them that this is how we’ve always done things These are the nets we use. These are the grounds we fish. These are the ways we do things. And then watch them gradually drift away because they do not feel valued or welcome as they are.

There is a workshop called the Magnetic Church which St. Columba by the Lake and the Presbyterian church are sponsoring on …..which invites congregations to look at how we welcome, how we integrate and call people into ministry. A number of us are going. I hope you might join us. There are registration forms on the bulletin board.
As well there is a workshop sponsored by the Vision and Transformation Committee on New ways congregations are finding of being church.. It’s called Re-United and will be held in April with one of our staff people from Toronto…Going into the deep Doing church differently, finding new ways to connect with where the fish really are, learning to expect and to hope and plan for abundance not scarcity!

How different our approach to ministry or indeed to life is, when we expect and hope for abundance rather than wringing our hands about scarcity and all the reasons things can’t work. We are already practicing this in many ways. I see abundant life thinking happening in our music ministry. Look at the size of this choir! And the Voices for Hope…Shocking abundance when you go into the deep…Or our roof. We could have sat around and whined about how expensive it was and poor us, wasn’t it terrible and aren’t we poor….But instead, we embraced abundance thinking and have raised over $176,000. And that figure is about a lot more than money. It is about our faith in what God is doing through us in this community; and it is about our commitment what happens under our roof in ministry now and in the future. Abundance thinking also allows us to create amazing new programmes, a men’s and women’s group, a healthy kidzone, a scouting programme that is one of the best in the area, a couples group that will be starting in the future, for all kinds of couples….a faith discussion group, a website and blog, our study groups that allow us to grow and deepen our spiritual community. Abundance! Shocking abundance! It’s amazing what you can bring out of the deep when you trust Christ’s call and leading!

Going into deep water….For some that may mean going deeper in risking a journey of faith. It may mean going beyond a superficial social faith to a faith that listens for the leading of God’s Spirit, and has the courage to risk new ways. For some it means training for Pastoral Care, deepening our compassion and our ability to be present to pain. We have 16 people from our congregation doing that. For some it may mean training for healing ministry through Healing Pathways, we’ve given over 400 treatments this last year. For some it may mean taking care of the earth, changing how we use energy in a world where global warming is a huge crisis. For others it may mean finding ways to put our faith into action in creating justice and healing for others. It may mean getting to know people of different faiths as we will have the opportunity to do in our Lenten programme. Or finding a way to serve your church during this time of transition to strengthen its ministry to all people.

Putting out into deeper waters….a powerful metaphor for our personal lives…….and also for our life as a congregation.
If Jesus were to come to our congregation I wonder where he might ask us to go into deeper waters….to risk beginning again when we are tired out.

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