Put out into the deep water

Updated: Feb 15, 2019

February 8, 2019


At the beginning of the Gospel story we hear this Sunday, fishermen -- ordinary working folk who would, by the story's end, become some of Jesus' closest followers -- are washing their nets.  They've fished all night long, but have caught nothing. These are not recreational fishermen; fishing is their livelihood. And so it's a bad situation. Jesus gets into one of their boats and teaches. After he's done teaching, he tells the fishermen, "put out into the deep water, and let your nets down for a catch." I'm not sure what strikes Rev. Kelly about this passage and where it'll take her in her sermon on Sunday, but the the part of the story that jumps out at me is Jesus' instructions to his followers (after he has taught them!) to "put out into the deep water." God instructs us to venture out into the deep waters when we, like the fishermen, have been working hard but have nothing to show for it. When we wonder if, despite all our hard work, we're really making any difference. "Put out in the deep water" is a challenge to us when we're stagnating. It's a wake-up call when we're sleepwalking through life...stuck, in a rut, not fully alive. When we're in such times, it's difficult to change. That's because when we're in a rut, it's likely we're not really doing much harm to anyone. What God wants to remind us of is the "opportunity cost" of not being fully alive: when we're in a rut, we're probably not making much of a positive difference, either!  In those times Jesus finds us, and first teaches us. And then Jesus invites (instructs!) us to "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch. Put out from the shore: venture away from what is familiar, but failing. Put out in the deep water." This challenge from Jesus might come from your daily prayer or Bible study. But God's voice is not restricted to prayer and the pages of scripture. God's "still small voice" -- God's instructions for our life's choices -- might come from a book, or a sermon, or even from a seemingly offhand comment someone makes in a conversation. Please note: In all cases, before we set out on any irreversible course into deep waters, that challenge needs to be tested. It needs to be tested so we can be as certain as possible we're following the Holy Spirit'sguidance and not some other spirit's guidance! That testing most reliably takes three forms: First, and most importantly, is it consistent with what scripture teaches? Second, it is compatible what the faith tradition has customarily taught? And three, is what we're about to do reasonable, at least to wise and courageous people to whom we are turning for advice? Finally, with the season of Lent approaching, one last thought: sometimes the "secure shore" God challenges us to leave are the sins or bad behaviors we've fallen into. Sometimes we need to hear God invite us to repent (reverse course) and head out into the deep and unpredictable waters of freedom. One of the counter-intuitive themes we'll be emphasizing during the season of Lent is -- to paraphrase Tony DeMello -- that "we should be grateful for our sins, because they are carriers of grace." And this gets right to the heart of a major difference between shame and guilt: shame paralyzes us (and keeps us self-centered, thinking almost exclusively about our own self) and therefore yields no "catch," and is not from God; guilt, on the other hand can motivate us to actually behave better going forward; it can prompt us to look outward and think about what is best for others, and therefore can be productive, and often is from God. See you Sunday,

John

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