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Sermon for Sunday, November 13, 2016

Pastor Anna V. Copeland
Luke 5 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

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.

Bigger Than Yourself

There are events in our lives we will always remember, depending very much on when we were born. The eldest among us remember Pearl Harbor and D-Day, when the United States entered World War II on two fronts and when it ended in 1945. We remember the day John Kennedy was assassinated and later his brother Robert. We recall Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I have a dream Speech” and the day we lost him, too soon.

We vividly recall where we were and what we were doing when the twin towers fell, how we called our loved ones and came to church looking for signs of hope. The Presidential election this past week will long be remembered by everyone. The results blew apart the dreams of some and brought hope to others.

Our family will long remember this week for another reason. Our eighth grandchild, Kate Penelope Blocker was born to our son Chad and daughter-in-law Mehrasa in southern California. As I remember my first President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, so baby Kate’s life will be shaped by the yet unwritten story of our new president elect.

Whatever your emotional experience of this week, remember this. We are citizens of the upside down kingdom of God. While we are in the world, as Jesus said, we are not of the world. We’re grateful for our nation, but we belong to another country, that cannot be shaken regardless of the changing face of the governance under which we live. This is the way it has always been. “Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”, Jesus said, “And give unto God, that which belongs to God.” In Jesus’ fantastic tongue in cheek humor, everything belongs to God.

Whatever box we checked on election day, what unites us as people of God is our mutual citizenship in another empire not made with human hands. When the views of political candidates tend to line up with our own values, we become lulled into the false sense that the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God are the same. They are not. While some world leaders are wiser than others, the greatest wisdom of the world pales next to the wisdom of God.

Back in 1996 when traveling in the back of an open pickup truck in rural Guatemala, we were stopped by a blockade of young guerilla fighters dressed in camouflage and equipped with assault rifles. Guatemala was still deep in civil war at that time, and America was considered an enemy for reasons beyond the scope of today’s conversation. After our host explained in Spanish and in their native language Quiche that we were there working with the poor, they spent an hour or more giving us a message to take back to our country as advocates for the peasant farmers fighting for land and for their lives.

While we felt more than a little anxious surrounded by machine guns in the middle of nowhere, we were most shocked by what they said as they let us go. They said, “We do not hold you responsible for the policies of your country. Our leaders do not represent us and we are not like them, so we do expect that your leaders represent you and therefore we do not think that you are like them, either.”

It struck me then in those anxious moments, how markedly our path differs as followers of the Way of Jesus from the ways of the world. We belong to the Kingdom of God. Knowing this changes everything.

When faced with challenges, we may be tempted to hunker down and batten down the hatches. When we’re anxious we may feel reluctant to risk anything or try anything new. The Kingdom of God isn’t like that. Jesus noticed that the disciples were fishing the way they had always fished. They had been up all night and hadn’t caught anything.

When the fishermen were packing up their nets to call it quits, Jesus asked them to risk something different. “Don’t go home yet. Don’t quit. Resist the temptation to call it a day.” What happened next was hard. They were tired. Jesus said, “Cast your nets into deeper water. Simon Peter didn’t want to do it. He’d rather go home empty-handed than to try something another way. He almost missed out on winning the fishing lottery because he couldn’t get out of his own way.

“Simon answered Jesus, “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.

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.”

Simon took the risk of trusting this Jesus without any evidence that things would turn out all right. When what we’re doing isn’t providing the results we hope, Jesus says, “don’t give up. Cast your nets in deeper water where you can’t see the bottom. If you can see the bottom and only fish where you know what’s going to happen next, you don’t need God.

Simon took the risk of trusting this Jesus without the ability to harvest what God was about to provide. We see through him that we can’t be successful alone. When we trust God and follow his lead into the deeps our nets will overflow with God’s provision. Then what will we do? What if we’re actually successful? We may feel afraid right now, paralyzed to act as we stand on the far shore at dawn clutching no more than our naked grief and empty nets. But know this, when we trust, then God will send helpers to haul in the abundance yet unseen.

Setting our nets in deeper water requires unflinching courage. In mid-October, just about a month ago today, we considered together what it means to be brave.

Brave faith simply trusts God with everything and acts accordingly. Brave faith isn’t about what we say we believe or what we think about anything. It’s about how we show up everyday in the world.

What we said then is even truer today. It will take courage in this new world to be kind, to forgive, to remain calm when the foundations of the world are shaking. It will take courage to engage in transforming action when we’ll want to take refuge in comfort food, and traditions and ways that things have always been done. It will take courage to invest money we don’t think we have for the possibility that God will multiply all our talents and resources in abundance for Kingdom work. We’ll be tempted to take the path of least resistance and live as comfortably as possible. Jesus didn’t come into the world to make us comfortable. He came into the world to provide a light to the nations and utterly transform the world.

God has created us for a purpose bigger than ourselves. Jesus looks us in the eye and says, “Cast your net into deeper water and I will make you fish for people.” It will take courage to leave our familiar nets and boats and follow the Way of Jesus into the Kingdom of God.

         God is loosed in the world looking for courageous people willing to follow Jesus into the deeps. We’ve been engaged in a prayerful visioning process throughout this fall discerning how we might respond to this invitation. It’s clear that God is calling us to dream the impossible dream for First Parish Church. The church of the future will be different than the church of the past. We won’t get there by standing on the shore.

We are born of a kingdom not of this world. As followers of the Way of Jesus we walk the path of forgiveness, reconciliation, and trust regardless. We engage in compassionate action even as the world around us grows meaner. We will raise children, and feed one another, and try to be kind to one another and compassionate toward those most different from us whether it is popular or not. The Caesar’s of the world rise and fall, regardless of who wins or loses any election, but the word of the Lord endures forever.

         For as the apostle Paul said, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This is sufficient.

God’s grace, mercy and peace be with you.