Rev. Lyndon Sayers Lutheran Church of the Cross Luke 5:1-11
Push off the wall.
Extending arm forward.
Pushing water down across body.
Swimming is just like riding a bike some people say. You never forget. Going for a swim at the municipal swimming pool you learn that we come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, ages, and abilities. For those doing lap swim there are the slow, medium, and fast lanes. There is often an aquafit class for seniors or parents and tots. There are also stations of grace at the hot tub, steam room, and sauna where you do not have to exert yourself and just relax, rest, and take in the warmth in your body.
Swimming is also a habit, like speaking a language, like fishing, something your body learns to do through repetition. Your body reminds you when you haven’t done it for awhile. One thing I appreciate about the swimming pool is that there is not one body type or ability for spending time in or around the pool. There is one man who needs to stay out of the pool while his wound from surgery heals, but he can do light exercise at the pool gym and then spend time in the sauna. Best of all he connects with friends. So many people lead lonely and solitary lives. They find community around the water. Despite injury there is healing and grace.
We know stories of how people struggle when friendships and community are disrupted or taken away for any number of reasons.
Consider that Simon, James, and John are willing as fishermen to leave their livelihoods, identities, friendships, and community. And they do so not for a better business opportunity, but because Jesus tells them to leave their nets and follow him. Jesus calls and they follow. Jesus is the kind of person we warn our kids about. We say, “Finish your education. Go for the good job opportunity. Watch out for those weird friends who will lead you astray.” No one says, “Follow a peripatetic preacher who tells you to quit your job and follow him.” And yet as a church we hold up the first disciples as examples for others to follow. At times this leads to a disconnect between what we lift up in scripture and the practical advice we give to others.
Let us explore this seeming disconnect thinking about the first disciples’ big leap following Jesus. There are three themes I want to consider.
1. Abundant Hospitality
The first theme is abundant hospitality. Jesus doesn’t do things in half-measures. He doesn’t just tell a fishing story about the big one that got away. Instead he goes out on the water with Simon and takes him fishing. Jesus asks Simon to cast out the nets into the sea. After a night of failing to catch anything, Jesus tells Simon to bring in the nets and immediately there is an abundance of fish. There are so many fish the nets begin to break and the boat begins to sink under the weight. When Jesus is present there is abundant hospitality.
Consider our own experiences of abundant hospitality. Ways in which we have experienced God’s grace overflow into our lives. I think about the abundant hospitality of the municipal pool in its own humble way. It’s a place a lot of people feel at home in their neighborhood. There is childcare available. There is a wheelchair lift for those differently abled to get into the water. I’ve seen folks who are homeless come in with a suitcase on wheels and use the showers and the pool. There is free wi-fi and TV in the foyer. Like the public library it’s one of the few places people can go and stay as long as they like even if they don’t have much money. No one asks them to buy another cup of coffee.
Yesterday here at Church of the Cross we offered abundant hospitality, hosting the first of the BC Synod’s intentional conversations around mission. Bishop Greg and Rev. Kathy Martin, Assistant to the Bishop, were present.
Charles Holmes, a professional facilitator, guided us in conversation about our hopes and dreams for ministry and life together as a church. There were opportunities for sharing about ourselves and our experience as Christians.
There were opportunities to take stock of the divine hospitality we have experienced, the ways we already support one another through our ministries, congregations, synod, ecumenical and community partners. I invite you to think about the ways that church and relationships in your life nourish you with hospitality or where you are given opportunities to share that hospitality with others.
The second theme is obedience. After experiencing Jesus’ abundant hospitality, the disciples respond with obedience. They leave their nets behind, their identities as fishermen that give them stability and social standing. Now, who are they? Jesus says they will become fishers of people, but what kind of vocation is that? They answer Jesus’ call with the obedience of faith. Trusting in the one who has been sent by God.
Sometimes I wonder if we face a similar disruption wondering about our identity as church today. Yesterday at our discussion I heard the often-repeated concern that younger generations are under-represented in our church. It is telling when “younger people” in the church more and more identifies anyone under 60. One observation someone made at my table was that often we get trapped in a kind of self-preservation mode of thinking.
Not only do we think back to how the church was way back when. But we also engage in a kind of magical thinking. As though we could get in a time machine and bring back the old church into present day. One way to think of it: Make the Lutheran Church Great Again.
One problem with this kind of magical thinking is what is implicit in these kinds of dreams. Wanting to replicate the church “as it used to be” for many of our predominantly white churches is yearning to attract more white middle class folks who look like many of us. While never explicitly stated, this kind of magical thinking is often steeped in white supremacy. Most of us are horrified, even insulted, by such an implication. And yet we need to reflect upon the consequences of this kind of magical thinking. White supremacy isn’t just about people wearing white hoods or red hats, but an erasing of brown and black bodies, making invisible the voices and faces in our midst who may be seeking a church home, who the Spirit is calling us to wake up and recognize in our midst.
Let us imagine ways we can safeguard ourselves against the false idol of magical thinking, yearning for a bygone era. Following Jesus here in this place and this time is not about nostalgia, but an obedience to a different kind of living, a different kind of following Jesus in which we are willing to take risks.
3. Risk Taking
This leads us to our third theme of risking taking. Experiencing Jesus’ abundant hospitality and their obedience to his call prepare them for risking taking. The obedience of answering the call make them up to stepping out and trusting the Holy Spirit is guiding them, that Jesus has their back.
All we are told is that the disciples leave their nets and follow Jesus. There are no great testimonials. Their actions serve as their testimonials. They simply follow. They make the leap of faith. No less is expected of us and that can be scary. Part of our risk taking is to leave our nets, to stop fetishizing the past, which can become a false idol.
The same is true if you dare learning something new as an adult, including breaking old habits. I think about swimming and stroke improvement. Perhaps we have an arm flail that is impeding us, that is making us drag through the water. But it’s hard to unlearn old habits. I remember awhile ago being told that some of the swimming strokes have changed to become faster and better for our bodies. It’s the equivalent of learning to ride a bike a different way. It’s not always something we are prepared for.
Leaving our nets behind is hard. Jesus invites us to die daily to our old selves and reborn as children of God. So too we often need to let go of habits we find comforting and familiar.
Consider the grace God is opening us up toward. Consider the faces all around us who we haven’t been noticing both inside and outside the church. Consider how the Spirit is opening us to new possibilities.
Yesterday someone said, before I felt scared and overwhelmed by all the problems in the world. They seemed insurmountable. Now I feel empowered.
What are ways we feel empowered today as a congregation, as a synod, as Christians on the island? I believe we have been blessed with an exciting crossroads, a turning point in which we can thrive as church, even if we don’t yet know what that looks like.
I encourage you to feel the love of God this day, as we join the disciples on this journey led by Jesus.
Receive abundant hospitality.
Respond with faithful obedience.
Engage in divine risk taking.
Know you are loved by God.