February 10, 2019

Series: February 2019

Category: Faith

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Luke 5:1-11

1Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He 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. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch."

5Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So 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. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" 9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and 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." 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.


          A week ago yesterday, a number of us were at the Presbytery meeting, the regional gathering of the church.  During our opening worship we were treated to a retelling of the creation story, Genesis as appears in the children’s book, Big Momma Makes the World.  On a day that focused on the Christian mandate for humans to live more sustainably on the planet, it was a fitting inclusion of the divine feminine, God as “Big Momma.”  Sometimes a simple shift in imagery for the divine can open up new understandings not only of God, and by extension one’s own direction in life.  A number of years ago, a book that was just flying off the rack was The Shack.  Perhaps you know it.  It’s not perfect by any means.  I have some theological qualms with the way it treats the subject of abuse, and yet it’s undeniable how much it opened for people different conceptions of God, with its alternative representation of the Trinity.  I’ll leave it at that, in case you want read it for yourself.

          If, as Christians, we hold to the mystery that in Jesus we glimpse God, then we should pay attention to how Jesus presents himself as well as the images he holds up for others.  Jesus does not come as a conqueror.  He does not claim for himself the title others want for him, king.  In today’s story when interacting with Simon a fisherman, he says, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” (Lk. 5:10).  He meets Simon and the others where they are, as fishers, and pulls from within their work the makings of an even deeper vocation.

          Consider the imagery he draws out of the encounter, the casting of a net and gathering in.  Jesus, and God by extension, is the great gatherer in.  We can take the metaphor too far.  The “fish” in the imagery are not to be eaten(!), though now that I say that, it might be fair to say they will be nourishment for others.  It’s a remarkable image even for our context, perhaps especially for our context, where we are measured by our ability to distinguish ourselves from one another.  We are guided largely by competition and excelling.  In fact, our cultural myth is one of heroes who stand out.  You may quite like that notion.  Jesus, at least here, holds up a very different model, one of those who gather others in.

          Jesus gathers time and again with those cast aside by communities and societies, touching the untouchables, healing those whose ailments have left them estranged, comingling with those who are hated, including those hated for good reason.  Often the secondary result of Jesus’ actions is restoring the person to the communal unit, which may not be of secondary purpose at all.  A central piece of following Jesus is looking out for and restoring those who society has left on the margins, and yes even those whose choices have marginalized themselves.  Recently I attended a parenting workshop led by someone who has done a lot of work in restorative practices.  Whether in prisons, schools, or families, she helps shift people from the binaries of crime and punishment, victim and perpetrator, to a focus on the communal unit, its wounds, and what steps are necessary for its healing.  It’s quite amazing to see a video of school children in restorative circles learning to name their feelings, acknowledging the harmfulness of their actions, or both—and its often both—and then working together as a body to restore and strengthen shared life.

          Not only are we fragmented socially or communally, but we are often psychologically and spiritually fragmented as well.  That can be an exhausting way to live, and yet sometimes we turn to fragmentation as a strategy because we think it will help us attain what we think we want.  You may remember in the news the story of the general manager of the professional basketball team the Philadelphia 76ers named Bryan Colangelo.  The Colangelo name is somewhat basketball royalty, and you’d think this would come with a sense of security.  However, it was learned that Colangelo was secretly operating a handful of anonymous social media accounts through which he was criticizing some of his own players.  It caused significant organizational strife, ruining morale, became a public relations nightmare, and Colangelo was subsequently fired.[1]  This notion of maintaining “burner accounts,” in which people maintain several online identities for any host of reasons has become commonplace—workplaces dealings, trolling people with provocative or offensive opinions for fun, having secret explicit relationships and the list goes on and on.   What does this do to the whole self?  Aquinas reminds that, “Every cell in us worships God,”[2] which is to say every cell is to be oriented in a unified direction.  Remember when Jesus heals people, he is in effect making people whole again. 

          Who is Christ, but the one who shows us how to cast nets and gather in that which is adrift?  Have we considered how this is our calling too?  This morning you will hear a bit about two examples of gathering activities in the life of this congregation.  Commissioned at 10:00 will be a delegation to go to the border to see first-hand some of what is happening to those who have been displaced from their homeland, find themselves disbursed and in need of being gathered to some safe place.  At each service, we’ll hear from our youth director Jeff about a chance for homes to gather in youth from the congregation for a very special weekend this spring.  I wonder how you will take up the invitation of Jesus to join in the vocation of gathering in your life and how we will continue to envision together how we might do that as a church, particularly as we are about to expand our physical gathering space, this church facility.

          If nothing else, perhaps especially if you are feeling scattered, broken apart, or simply lost, take to heart the image of God as the great gatherer.  Perhaps that’s how you got here this morning or whatever morning you first came.  Acts of gathering are often born of an experience of having been gathered.

          Mike McHargue, “Science Mike” as he’s known on the internet is the author of Finding God in the Waves, a tale of what happened when he lost his faith.  Recently I heard an interview in which McHargue expanded upon a critical portion of that story.  Having grown alienated from and dissatisfied with the faith of his youth, he finds himself in a series of “comings out” about his lack of belief—first to his wife, to his family and friends, to his church, and eventually in a rather dramatic moment at a conference featuring the nationally renowned speaker Rob Bell.  McHaurgue stands up during a question and answer time and laid it all out – his doubts about his fundamentalist upbringing in light of his embrace of scientific understanding, his qualms about the Bible as he’d been taught to read it, his uncertainty about the very existence of God. 

          He was received with grace, particularly by Bell, who didn’t attempt to talk him out of or into anything.  At one point, McHargue, like the others gathered, is invited forward for communion.  He’s determined not to go.  He’s just acknowledged who he is by claiming who he is no longer.  He’s not going to be the guy who renounces his faith only to break down in an emotional moment and say he’s again found God.  He finds himself walking toward Bell, Bell whose eyes swell with redness and mounting tears.  Only later is McHargue told he too had tears running down his face.  Bell extends the bread, “This is the body of Christ.”  “I can’t take this,” thinks McHargue.  “Jesus was just an ordinary rabbi pumped up through a game of telephone or a myth,” he thinks, “If I take this I’m lying to people.”  So he goes to turn away and leave and that’s when a moment happens that McHargue calls “insane, just crazy,” undermining his own credibility as an atheist he later described!  In that moment as he turned away from the offered bread, he heard a voice, an audible voice in his ear:  “I was here when you were eight and I’m here now.”  “I was here when you were eight and I’m here now.”

Sometimes we go out and find God and sometimes God gathers us in.  Having been gathered again and again, we become clear about what our vocation is.  Amen.


[2] Thomas Aquinas in, “Every Foot a Shrine” from Love Poems from God:  Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West Daniel Ladinsky, ed. (New York:  Penguin Compass, 2002), 128.