February 10, 2019: "Go Deep" Rev. Rhonda Blevins, DMIN
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He 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. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So 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. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and 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.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Last Sunday was Super Bowl Sunday—the high holy day of the year for American sports enthusiasts. I watched the game. My big takeaway? The commercials were far more interesting than the Super Bowl itself. Also—I like boneless buffalo wings—a lot.
I was cheered for the Rams (seriously, how many Super Bowl rings does Tom Brady need?) And I’m a football fan. But a low-scoring, defensive battle like last Sunday’s Super Bowl can leave even the most ardent enthusiast bored. The offense on both sides tried to inch their way down the field with runs and short passes—screen plays and quick slants. A good quarterback knows that the short ball is his bread and butter. But as a spectator, I like to see the deep pass. When this high risk/high reward play is called, you can almost sense an extra intensity from the offensive line—you can almost feel the receiver’s heart pound a little faster. And when the quarterback launches the ball high into the air, the fans on both sides hold their collective breath. It’s why we pay our hard-earned money to sit in rain, snow, sleet, and hail just so that we can witness that kind of game-defining moment. Go deep, Tom! Go deep!
In our scripture lesson today, we read about a defining moment in the lives of the three men closest to Jesus throughout his ministry. We find Simon Peter, James, and John going about their daily routine, trying to earn an honest living as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. They’re exhausted, frustrated from working through the night with no fish and consequently, no income. They feel defeated. They’ve given up, and they are washing their nets as a final, dutiful act before calling it quits. They notice a crowd gathered around their friend, a carpenter and teacher; he asks if he can use one of the boats to sit and teach the eager assembly. Peter says something like, “Go ahead, it’s not doing me any good.” After Jesus completes his teaching, he turns to Peter, and asks him to do something ridiculous. “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets.” The scripture doesn’t say what Peter was thinking, but in my imagination it was something like this: “Dude. You’re a carpenter. What do you know about fishing? I just washed my nets. Do you seriously want me to go right back out there after working all night and catching nothing? You want us to go deep, huh? Great. Just great.” But what Peter said was something more akin to, “Seriously? Whatever you say boss.”
And there it is. Their defining moment. Peter, James and John are presented with an invitation, and they have a choice. Now the decision rests in their weary, weathered hands. Peter, James and John can play it safe. They can give into their doubt, surrender to their cynicism—or, they can take a chance. They can do something completely out of character, something nonsensical. They can choose this high risk/high reward play.
I had a friend in seminary named Steven. Steven was several years older than me—I was one of those bright-eyed seminarians straight out of college, but Steven was one of the many middle-aged people there making a career shift. In Steven’s previous career, he had been a photographer for the local newspaper in Waco, Texas. But his work had grown stale. He was beginning to wonder if God might be calling him into vocational ministry, but the idea seemed irrational. It would take years of schooling. How would he support his wife and kids? He was looking for a sign . . . something that would send him full-steam ahead in his career as a photojournalist, or something profound enough to send him down an unknown and illogical path into a new vocation.
Steven was standing at that crossroad when the biggest news event in the history of Waco, Texas broke. It was April 19, 1993. The FBI was staging the infamous raid at the Branch Davidian compound where David Koresh and his followers lived. This was Steven’s big chance as a photojournalist, to have his photographs in newspapers and magazines around the world. Steven wanted to find a way for his pictures to stand out from the rest so that his photographs would have a better chance to be picked up by news media outside his own newspaper. The way to accomplish that, he thought, was to take aerial photographs. Many others would be on the ground getting what photographs they could, but Steven would capture the event from the sky.
With great fervor and intensity, he quickly made plans, grabbed his gear, and soon found himself strapped inside a helicopter heading toward the compound. (This was the pre-drone era, you realize.) This would most certainly be the defining moment of his career. But as the helicopter made its way to the site some nine miles outside of town, the pilot received some bad news. The FBI was shutting down the airspace. No helicopters—no planes—and for Steven, no pictures. Steven missed his big chance. Not only did he fail to capture the aerial photographs, the detour cost him any opportunity he may have had to get good ground shots as well.
I imagine Steven must have felt like those fishermen from long ago: exhausted, frustrated from working through the night with no fish and consequently, no income. Defeated.
And it’s right there, right when the fisherman were ready to hang up their nets, right when Steven was ready to put the lens cap on and leave it there forever—it’s there when Jesus steps in and issues an invitation: “Break from your routine, go against everything instinctual, ‘put out into deep water’ and trust me with the results.”
For Steven, this became a defining moment. Not in the way he ever imagined. The world didn’t see his photographs. He didn’t rise to the top of his field. But this was the sign Steven needed to “put out into deep water.” He cashed in his cameras, moved his family to a new town, and enrolled in seminary. A high risk play for sure.
For Peter, James and John, once they stated their doubt and their protest was made clear, they followed their carpenter friend’s advice, and went back to work. To their great amazement, the deep waters were filled with fish! The nets began to break, and two boats nearly sank because of the remarkable catch! Perhaps even more notable than the catch that day is that Peter, James and John walked away from it. It didn’t seem to mean as much to them now that they had found their true vocation. They left everything, the scriptures tell us, to follow the carpenter. You can almost envision the three men walking away from the boats—scores of fish still flopping around on the bottom of the boats. A high risk play for sure.
Isn’t it those moments that make life exciting? When you follow your heart into the deep waters where unimaginable blessings await? When you find yourself beyond what you know, beyond what you think, beyond what you can imagine.
Jesus calls out to you and to me, “Don’t wash your net just yet! Put out into deep water!” It’s risky—don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t—but high risk often yields high reward.
Early in our marriage (read: before children) my husband and I did some scuba diving. This was not high on my priority list, but it was one of those things you do for love. As he was talking me into this adventure, attempting to assuage my nerves, he explained to me, “On top of the water the waves can be rough. But once you get under the water, the world becomes quiet and still, and a whole new universe opens up to explore.” I thought that sounded like a load of malarkey. But as it turns out, when I did my first open water dive, I discovered he was right. And once I got over my fear of the deep, it turns out I loved exercising without breaking a sweat! And on one particularly deep dive (for a novice like me), as I was exploring a shipwreck, my husband got my attention, and motioned for me to look left. What I saw was not one, not two, but 2,000 sharks swimming right alongside us. (OK, the real number was about a dozen.) He tells me my eyes grew as large as an offering plate. And after I got over my initial shock, I found myself in the middle of one of the most beautiful, memorable moments of my life. All of my stereotypes about sharks dissipated as I observed the tranquility, the majesty of these amazing creatures. Had I been too scared of the deep, I would have missed out on the beauty.
I believe God is calling each of us to something deeper. Deeper faith. Deeper gratitude. Deeper relationships. Deeper commitment to justice, to love, to compassion. Your deep waters will look different than mine—not everyone is called to swim with sharks or pack up and enroll in seminary. But the deep waters are beckoning each of us. “Put out into the deep,” Jesus prompts. It’s our defining moment. Will we say “yes?” Or will we play it safe, and do what we’ve always done?
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Don’t be most men. Don’t be most women.
Go deep, my friend. Go deep!