Jesus 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.
It is no secret that I am an ocean “appassionata.” My soul is renewed as I walk along the shorelines on both the east and west coasts. So as I read this familiar story, I was struck by the contrasting images of the shore and the deep water that frames this narrative. I found myself asking the question – How often do we do our ministry from the shore? How often do we find comfort in that place? There is safety in being able to stand on our own two feet as we proclaim the radical gospel of Jesus. The shore allows us to share the gospel without much risk. We can wet our feet; we can even get our bodies wet, but we are still in control.
When Jesus tells Simon to “put out into the deep water,” he is challenging Simon to go beyond his comfort zone, beyond that which he can control. Jesus is also challenging Simon to go to where he has already been before, with the possibility of something new happening. How often do we resist taking this step in our discipleship journey? Frankly, how often do we apply this ‘limiting’ reasoning to our church ministries – from evangelism to the continued growth of our faith?
How often do we say, “I’m done – I already tried that?” Not only do we do this with ministry, but we also do this with our human relationships. We close doors to new possibilities, forgetting God is much bigger than our human agendas. This text reminds us to take our faith a little farther; to venture deeper into our relationship with Jesus. In John Ortberg’s book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get out of the Boat, he reminds us that in order to experience the greatness of God, we must trust that God can do extraordinary things with us ordinary beings. This is a challenge for all disciples. We can talk about all the possibilities of our faith, but if we do not actually take steps in faith to make those possibilities a reality – if we do not go out into deeper water, our faith will be in danger of remaining along the shore line – comfortable and frankly, a bit shallow.
As I think about the church in contemporary society, I believe this is one of the most significant discipleship challenges today. We must ask ourselves – Do we really believe what we preach – or even preach what we believe? How often do we make decisions for fear of rocking the boat? How often do we prefer to maintain a stationery state that will yield nothing new in terms of community presence or spiritual growth – while focusing on our buildings? We as a leadership are invited to believe that we are God’s vessels, empowered by God to make a difference in this world. We as a leadership are invited to believe that we are empowered by God to bring justice and mercy into our midst. We as a leadership are invited to believe that we are called to be a missional presence in the here and now. If we can’t be part of this witness in this broken world, who can? We too often believe in our own powers, opinions, visioning and planning – forgetting by whose power we serve.
As we prepare to gather as a presbytery tomorrow, I am deeply convicted by the voice of Jesus compelling me – compelling us – to go out into deeper water. I am grateful for the courage of many in our midst who have demonstrated their willingness to step out beyond the shore in faith. I am grateful for a presbytery leadership – Elder Linda Rutkosky, Rev. Randy Barge, and Elder Vijay AggarwaI – who recognize the “God possibilities” in our midst, serving as our moderators and vice moderators. I am grateful for a new denominational leader in the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, whose spirit clearly believes God’s plans for us are far greater than what we can see with our eyes.
I would be remiss, as we embark on Black History Month, not to mention my gratitude for the spirit of our historic African American congregations and leadership who continue faithfully to be open to stepping out beyond the shore into waters that are indeed deep and unsettling – but rich with resurrection possibilities.
May we continue to grow in our awareness of the power of the resurrection within and among us. May we, like Simon, obediently (albeit, at times, reluctantly) cast our nets and our trust into deeper water. Perhaps our “catch” will not be such a surprise.