by Rev. Chris Jorgensen
March 1, 2020
I LOVE this scripture. I love it. It might be darn near my favorite scripture in the whole bible. In fact, I love it so much I wrote the words to the hymn we just sang as a project for my worship class in seminary. [See bottom of page for hymn lyrics.] We had to choose a tune and write new words for it. I felt like I had never seen a hymn that tells the whole story of this scripture, so I wrote one. It was a really fun activity actually.
Now, the last time I preached on this scripture, I told you the story of how Jesus’ call to go fishing in the deeper waters led me to leave my job in academia and to move my whole family out to the New York City area to attend seminary. Those kinds of things definitely happen: a one-time decision to do something big and follow Jesus.
But it’s also true that this idea of God calling us into deeper waters is not something that happens just one time. It happens every day in my life and especially in the life of the church. In fact, every time I start to feel unwilling or unable to do what is needed of me as a parent or as a pastor, this is my mantra: “Deeper waters. Deeper waters.”
I love this story so much. I love it because I see so many parallels between these early disciples, those first followers of Jesus, and us. So let’s walk through this story together.
Some context: before today’s scripture starts, Jesus has gotten pretty popular. He’s been wandering around the area of Galilee casting demons out of people, healing folks, teaching and declaring that the kingdom of God is at hand. That’s why all these people have gathered around and want to hear him teach.
Well, it’s pretty crowded, and he’s next to a lake. And he sees that there are two boats at the shore. So he just up-and-gets into one of the boats. He doesn’t seem to ask for permission – he just hops in the boat and then asks Simon (who is also known as Simon Peter or just Peter) to put his boat out a little ways in the water. So Simon does that, and Jesus sits down and teaches the people from the boat.
When Jesus is done speaking, he says to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let your nets down for a catch.” Well, this is apparently more than Simon bargained for, and he argues with Jesus. He says, “Sir, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” Which is true. The text told us that the fishermen had been cleaning their nets. They had fished all night long, and they had to clean their nets because (I learned from Adam Hamilton’s book on Simon Peter), if you don’t clean your nets, they will rot. In other words, they had worked a full shift, and done what they needed in order to just go home and rest. And Jesus is like, “Throw your nets out in the deep water.” I mean, I would have hesitated, too.
But, Simon decides to obey and says, “If you say so, I will let down the nets.”
It turns out Jesus knows something about fishing! They catch so many fish that they have to call their partners over to help haul them in. But! It was so many fish that even with two boats, they were getting so full that they began to sink.
Simon Peter could hardly believe it, and he’s filled with the kind of awe-of-God that feels like terror. He’s like, “Holy cow, there is something bigger than me going on here.” And he falls to his knees and says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Simon is afraid and does not think he is worthy to even be with Jesus – much less work with Jesus. His friends James and John are pretty freaked out by this as well.
In my imagination of this story, at this point, Jesus laughs….and he says, “Simon, do not be afraid. From now on, you will be catching people.”
Have you ever felt like Simon? Do you relate to any parts of this story? Like you’ve been working all day, and all of a sudden God shows up and is like, “Just do this one more thing.” And you’re like “Seriously, God? I’m tired. And besides we tried that before and it didn’t work last time, so how about not?”
Have you eventually thought, “Oh heck, I guess I’ll do it even though I don’t really feel like it?”
Or…have you ever been overwhelmed with the success that God has given you? Like, “Oh shoot, we started this thing and now more and more people are coming,” and it’s starting to get a little overwhelming? But maybe you have had friends and fellow disciples who have stepped in to help like James and John?
Have you ever, when you have sensed the presence of God or the magnitude of what God is calling you to do, felt unworthy? Have you ever said, “I don’t think I am the right person for this job”?
Now, did you notice Jesus’ response to Simon? Simon says, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus never tells him, “No, you’re not! You’re fine. You’re great.” Jesus doesn’t try to downplay Simon Peter’s flaws. I imagine he’s kind of like, “Yep, you are a sinful man. You’ve got flaws and shortcomings just like everybody else.”
Even so, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid. From now on, YOU will be catching people.”
Here’s how I interpret this part of the story:
When we say, “Jesus, you’ve got the wrong person. I am flawed. I can’t do this.” Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid.” And when we are impressed with what God has already done and we think that’s it, Jesus says: “Hold my beer…You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
See, I think that like Simon Peter and the boys, we are sinful. We are fallible. We are flawed, and we are afraid. We are, in summary, not perfect. We are not God. This means we will fail. We will make mistakes. We will totally mess things up from time to time. It is inevitable.
In fact, the bigger the risks we take; the more likely we are to fail. But if we don’t take those risks, then we’ll never know what might have happened if we had actually trusted God and put our nets out in deeper waters.
Friends, deeper waters means, for me: “You better go big or go home.”
Sure, you can stay and catch a fish or two in the shallow water for the rest of your life, or you can follow Jesus out into the deeper waters. When you do that, God will do something amazing, and you will think, “This is awesome. Things are going great. Now, let’s just stay right here. We’ve got plenty of fish in this boat. Good work, Jesus. Thanks so much! See you later, Buddy.”
But God is like, “Hold. My. Beer. You’re not staying in that boat. You’re coming with me. To fish for people.”
I know that you know that we have been going out into the deeper waters with Jesus ever since I arrived here at Hanscom Park church. We have started thriving Grow Groups led by gifted and equipped leaders. We have developed an amazing relationship with JP Lord School. We have done two major Christmas giving campaigns for Heifer International and Youth Emergency Services. We have welcomed Circle Theatre and the Girl Scout camp and now the Ethiopian Community group to use this building. We started Worship in the Garden. We reached more and more neighbors through our Garage Sale & Craft Fair and our Community Block Party.
And our boat is filling up with fish. Did you know that our average weekly worship 2.5 years ago was 96 people per week? Last month, it was 139. I think that is amazing! I can hardly believe what God is doing here at Hanscom Park church. And I also believe that God is saying, “Hold my beer. You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Like Rich announced, we are exploring a building campaign to make this church accessible so that we can welcome even more people. At the same time, I’ve been in conversations with our friends at J.P. Lord School about how our two organizations might be the heart of a South Central Omaha “Compassion District” – an area of development based not on entertainment or commerce – but on people and organizations that exist with one purpose alone: to advance God’s shalom (peace and prosperity) in this area of Omaha.
I will be honest with you. I am afraid. I see what’s happening here at Hanscom Park church, and I can hardly believe it. And sometimes I think, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful human.” I am flawed, I am weak, and sometimes (more than I would like to admit), I feel like I don’t know what I am doing.
But I am going to get out of that boat and follow Jesus anyway. Because since I’ve started following Jesus, I’ve found myself in a hundred situations for which I did not feel prepared. I’ve been asked so many times to do holy work for which I did not feel qualified or worthy. I’ve stood at so many hospital room doors, and I knew that I couldn’t do what needed to be done. I couldn’t possibly be what this family needed me to be. And I was right. I couldn’t do it. But somehow, miraculously, God could do it through me.
With God, we can do this, too: this building campaign, this transforming the neighborhood, this transforming the world. We might fail sometimes, and have to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and get at it again.
But no matter what, I know we will meet God in the Deeper Waters, and our lives, if we give them over to Jesus, will never be the same.
Thanks be to God.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
1) What is your favorite scripture or image or story from the bible? Why?
2) Look again at today’s scripture. What part of this story do you relate to? (Do you feel tired and overworked? Do you feel overwhelmed with what God can do? Do you feel like you are not worthy? Are you ready to leave your old way of life and follow Jesus?) What part speaks to you?
3) Have you ever sensed God working in the world and felt surprised, hopeful, or even overwhelmed? How did you respond?
4) Bonus question: how do you feel Jesus is calling you to follow him at this point in your life?
Tune: Morning Has Broken; Lyrics by Chris Jorgensen
Through with our fishing
All of us wishing
We were at home
But then you call us
Throw your nets deeper
Trust in my promise
You’ll find them full
Obey without blinking
Nets filled ’til breaking
Lord, we are sinking
It’s too much to bear
Call out to others
Sisters and brothers
Catching two boats full
Plenty to share
Swamped with emotion
Tossed by the ocean
Brought to our knees
You reassure us
Fear not, my loved ones
Then you implore us:
“Come follow me…
Fish now for people
Exit the steeple
I go with you
Leave your old lives now!
Soon you will see how
All is made new.”