February 6, 2022
Rev. Scott Landis
It was early in Jesus’ ministry. By now, he had been baptized by John in the Jordan River, tempted by the Devil in the wilderness, offended the hometown crowd in Nazareth by preaching a controversial sermon on the true nature of God, and healed several of unclean spirits and diseases in Capernaum. Not a bad beginning. One that resulted in an explosion in his popularity – an explosion he could NOT control.
We pick up the story today as the crowds increased in need and in number. He couldn’t get away from them. Everyone wanted to be near him and listen to whatever he had to say – so much so that he asked Simon Peter to put-out in his fishing boat a small distance from the shore so that he might continue to preach and teach unencumbered.
When he had finished, he asked Peter to do one more thing, “Let’s go out a little deeper. I think it’s a good day for fishing. Drop your nets in the DEEP water for a catch.”
Peter couldn’t believe his ears. He could think of none other than how tired he was. He thought Jesus had to be kidding, arguing, “Master, we have worked ALL NIGHT LONG – but have caught nothing…… Yet, if YOU say so, I will let down the nets.”
By now you know how the story ends. They caught so many fish they could barely bring in the haul. Peter had to call in his partners to help out as he was humbled, bewildered, and frightened wondering – “Who IS this man that I am unworthy to follow?” I think it was then that Peter realized he had caught more than an enormous amount of fish. [Pause]
It’s a fascinating tale that each one of us may relate to in different ways. I suppose if you have ever fished in your life – either as a hobby, for sustenance, OR as a vocation – you might hear the story differently. What I hear is an honest struggle by a man who wants to be faithful and do what the “master” calls for but he is – as we say here – pau – done. He and his fishing buddies have been at it “ALL NIGHT LONG.” And they were exhausted.
Fishing for them was NOT a hobby. It was their livelihood. There were good days and there were bad days. This was a really bad one, and they wanted nothing more than to clean up their nets, get a decent meal, and get some sleep – hoping for a better day tomorrow.
But the “master,” “savior,” “Jesus” intervened – inviting them to “Go Deeper” – and that changed everything. [Pause]
Notice Jesus does not come to the fishermen after they’ve had a good night sleep and a hearty breakfast. He came to them after they had been engaged in the back-breaking work of hauling nets “all night long” and had nothing to show for it. He came to them in their frustration and weakness AND fear. How would they make ends meet? It was then that Jesus told them to go deeper and drop their nets one more time. No wonder they resisted. No wonder they complained. Maybe you can identify. [Pause]
Life rarely unfolds on our terms. The refrigerator never breaks down when it’s empty. Our car never gets a flat when we’re on the way to the dentist. Nor do we catch a cold or something worse when we have the time. No, life tends to compound or pile-on even when we think we have had enough. We might try to resist, or refuse, or even reject but eventually we relent and must respond as best we can using what limited strength and resources are left. It’s often when we are at our weakest that even more is required. [Pause]
Let’s return to the Peter’s boat. I believe there is more going on here than a mere successful fishing expedition. As you’ve heard me say often, the stories of Jesus have much deeper meaning than what’s obvious. That’s why we spend so much time reading and re-reading the Scriptures – there is always something more for us to learn.
Notice the language he uses. He invites them to “go deeper” an important metaphor for each one of us even today. [Pause]
Several years ago, I enrolled in an intensive residential program through the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Washington D.C. called, “Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership: Going Deeper.” Initially, I thought it a rather strange title. I understood the spiritual life and leadership part – after all, that’s what we do as pastors. We guide people on their spiritual paths. We serve as leaders in a variety of settings. It was the “going deeper” part that puzzled me.
Shortly after I arrived, we were asked to sit in a circle with our newly formed cohort – an ecumenical group of ministers from throughout the US. We began with prayer. I expected the leader to offer the usual pious rhetoric inviting the Lord to be with us, to guide us and all that. But that’s not what happened. The leader rang the bell (ring a bell) and then we sat in silence – for 30 long minutes.
At first it was incredibly uncomfortable. I noticed all the sounds in the room: throat clearing, the air conditioner, the sound of my heartbeat, chair squirming. But in time I began to settle in. The sounds seemed to subside. I felt deeply connected with the others in the circle and much more in tune with the Presence of God. As I ceased my resistance, I felt something new. In time the bell rang again (ring bell) and my body, my heart, and my mind were opened to a new form of prayer. I had let down my old worn-out nets of expectation and routine – and went into the deeper water – and there I experienced something I am still trying to understand. [Pause]
It is hard to “go deeper.” We want the quick fix, easy answers, fast healing, a quick catch on the first try. But sometimes we need, even when we are completely exhausted, to put ourselves out into the deeper water of uncertainty yet again. There we just might be surprised what we discover. [Pause]
The times we are living through right now are not easy. Most of us long for the day when we can return to what we perceive as “normal.” We want the pandemic to be a distant memory. We want to hold hands and hug, sing and break bread – together. We want to abandon our masks – and all the other encumbrances or nets of restraint and live life once more! It’s a prayer I have offered countless times – for TWO LONG YEARS.
Yet, if you say so Lord, I will put out a little further. I will go deeper. I will be still. I will be patient. And I believe it is there that I will see you.
When we raise our little morsel of bread today and drink from the cup – remember the invitation of our Lord. “Come unto me. Come. Let us ‘Go Deeper’ – together.”