Sunday, February 07, 2010

Today's Sermon: Jer. Isaiah 6:1-8. Luke 5:1-11 "Out in Deep Waters"

I am, at heart, a pretty shy person. You may not think so, because I become an extrovert every Sunday morning – you bring out the outgoing in me!

But as much as I can get in the groove for church on Sundays, and for other events with you all, it is hard work for me, and I usually take a nap on Sunday afternoons. That’s a secret that most clergy know – we almost all of us take naps on Sunday afternoon – even the extroverts!

Being an introvert at heart means that going to events like Diocesan Council are hard work for me. I see lots of people whom I love and enjoy, and really have fun talking with them, but it is, in a way, too many people, too much talk, too much commotion. It is not my natural state. It is not my comfort zone.

That said, this Diocesan Council that was held a week ago was a wonderful one, because the end result of it was something very good for St Middle School – I’ll tell you a little more about that in a minute – but it definitely took me out of my comfort zone.

The work of the Lord does that, so often…it takes us out of our comfort zone and into deep waters in the middle of the lake.

Jesus has this way of calling us out of the place where we feel all relaxed and easy. He certainly does that with Simon Peter in today’s gospel.

Picture it: a sandy beach, a couple of fishing boats pulled up above the waterline, a large crowd of people begging Jesus to teach them. The crowd pressed in on him – Jesus could not be heard or seen – he knew he had to do something, so he grabbed Simon Peter and one of the boats, and rowed out a ways, so he could be seen and heard by all the people on the shore. He taught and preached for a while, and the crowd, sitting now on the shore, rested and contemplated what he had said to them.

Jesus turned to Simon Peter and said, “Let’s do a little fishing, my friend.” Simon Peter did a double take. “Fishing? We were out fishing all night and we didn’t catch a thing!” But Jesus just kept looking at him. “Let’s do a little fishing.”

Simon Peter thought “you’re a carpenter, not a fisherman. What do you know from fish?” But he said “You want to go fishing, we’ll go fishing.” So they rowed out to the middle of the lake and put out the nets.

He doubted, because his experience as a fisherman told him that there were no fish to be caught in the Lake of Gennesaret that night, but he did what Jesus said, because Jesus is just not a man you can say no to, even if it takes you out of your comfort zone of fishing.

The ordinary rules don’t apply when you’re working with Jesus.

Suddenly, there was a tug at the nets, and another and the boat was nearly tipping with the violent activity in the nets…the nets were full of fish, beyond any catch that Simon Peter and his friends had ever experienced. A ton of fish, now so much that the nets were breaking, so Simon called out to his friends on the shore to bring out the other boat. The others rowed out quickly, and started to haul the catch into the boats. Two boats so full of wriggling, silvery fish under the light of the moon that they seemed not boats, but living organisms, settling deeper and deeper into the water, starting to sink under the weight.

None of these fishermen had ever had a catch like this, no gift of abundance from the waters, no wriggling mounds of hundreds of glistening fish …what was this? Who was this Jesus, in whose presence such abundance was found?

Simon Peter was not an educated man. His hands were rough and callused, a workman’s hands, his knowledge was the lore of the watermen, and his experience of the divine what he had been taught by the rabbi in his little town. In that moment, though, he knew that this was something remarkable, beyond his experience of life in Nazareth, and he was in the presence of someone who both frightened him and struck him nearly speechless with wonder. He fell to his knees in the small boat, oblivious to the fish around him, to the damp wood pressing against his knees. “Go away from me. I am a sinful man.”

Go away. I am afraid of the power you have. I am afraid of what you expect of me. I am afraid I am not enough.

The others, James and John, Andrew…they were afraid, too. Out of their comfort zone? Oh, it was well past that.

Jesus saw their fear and wonder, and smiled. It was good that they sensed how much would be expected of them. To be afraid of a task is to respect it, isn’t it? If you think it is easy, you don’t understand it.

So he told them: “Don’t worry, I will help you do something different now. Not in boats, hauling nets full of fish, but going out into the world, telling people about the Word, hauling in people.”

We don’t know what they said in response – perhaps they were speechless still over what had happened – but they rowed those heavy, fish-filled boats to the shore and…did what?

Left them there. Left their familiar existence, with the boats and the wives and the local gossip and the well with the water. Left it all behind, to follow Jesus, whatever he had in mind for them.

Were they out of their comfort zone? Without a doubt. But something drew them to this Jesus, and they had no choice but to say yes, even as they grappled with the fear of the unknown.

Fear is, in fact, a normal and appropriate response when God calls us to do something.

That was true for Simon Peter in the boat. That was true for Isaiah, when God called him in our Old Testament reading today: “And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’”

I am lost! How great an expression of fear, and awe, was that? God takes us out of our comfort zone, into some other place, out in the deep water in the middle of the lake.

We are afraid, and yet we cannot say no. It’s God, after all.

So what has this got to do with Diocesan Council, and my introverted personality?

It is about proof that God uses us, outside our comfort zone, to do what God wants to get done.

We here at St. Middle School are looking forward to calling a permanent vicar to this place. We want the best possible person. God wants us to have the vicar who will help this community of faith to spread the gospel, to care for each other and the larger community, to grow inward and outward.

And that cannot happen without a full-time, fully committed shepherd of this flock.

So at Diocesan Council, with the blessing of Bishop J, I approached rectors of several of the largest and most well-resourced parishes in this diocese. I told your story, the story of this parish, and I asked for their help, their money, to take us from a ¾ time position to a full-time one.

Out of my comfort zone? You bet. It is not easy to ask people for money, even for the best of causes. But our God gave me the words, and the help of a friend or two, the funds have been committed. Even Bishop J and his wife are helping us out.

I tell you this story not to tell you what a great thing I did. No, I approached this with fear and trepidation. I don’t like large crowds, I don’t like to ask for money, I don’t like to talk with strangers and say I need their help. Left to my own devices, I’d much rather sit in my office and figure out alternative plans by myself, or with Sharon and the Vestry. But God wanted me out of my comfort zone, in the deep water in the middle of the lake, and he made it possible for that to happen by giving me what I needed when I needed it, to do his work. God delivered, with abundance, like a boat full of fish after a day when nothing had been caught.

Saint Middle School is in a time of transition. We are all out of our comfort zone. The founding vicar is gone. Uncomfortable, but with the love of God, St Middle School survives. The Search Committee is working through packages from a variety of candidates, and they are sworn not to tell us about any of them until the final decision is made. Uncomfortable, but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they will make a wise selection and St. Middle School will not only survive, but prosper. We work towards the acquisition of the land, a process that has taken a long time, and is not yet completed. Uncomfortable, but with the knowledge that Christ walks the journey with us, St Middle School will have a place for a permanent home.

It is only when we step out of our personal comfort zone, when we row out into the deep waters, that we find ourselves in the comforting and comfortable arms of God. Then we can take holy risks that God’s work will be done in us, with us, and by us. There is a new comfort zone that awaits us. So set the boat of the familiar on the shore, take up your pack, and follow…something new awaits.



Rev Dr Mom said...

Great sermon!

And I would never have guessed you were an am I, as introverted as one can be on MBTI, but the way you describe yourself and your interactions sounds a lot like me.

I think (just my own speculations mind you) that introversion/extroversion does not quite cover it....sociability needs to be factored in some how. I say that because I think I am a "sociable introvert"--and it sounds like you,too--we like people, relate well with people but it's exhausting, and we'd just as soon be in our office most of the time, vs introverts or extroverts who just don't relate to people. I say that based on my previous boss who was very extroverted but really, really not sociable on a day-to-day basis.

Argh. Sorry to hijack your thread, but that's something I've thought about from time to time.

mibi52 said...

Not a hijack, at all, RDM...around our house, we refer to getting ready to be a part of a large group of people as "putting one's game face on." Not being artificial, just girding our loins or our personalities so that we can interact with a large group of people. I love my parishioners - they do bring out the outgoing in me - but I get my energy in contemplative tasks rather than in interacting with folks. And that's how MBTI-II describes the intro/extro facet. We can love others, be sociable as all get-out (up to a point), but when we need to recharge, it is by being alone. And I suspect there are an awful lot of clergy who fit that bill.