Let Down Your Nets!

We just read from Luke’s gospel… the fisherman had been fishing all night and had caught nothing… Jesus asks whether he can use one of the boats to speak from and he taught the crowds from the boat. And then he said to Simon “Put out into the deep waters and let down your nets.”

Simon grumbled a bit, after all he had been fishing all night and had nothing, and now Jesus wanted him to go into the deep waters? They were shore fishermen; they didn’t go out into the deep, they also didn’t fish during the day, as their nets would be visible to the fish. But Simon obeyed… and the nets came back overflowing and they were amazed.And Luke concludes this portion with these words, “When they brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”

They left everything and followed him…

As I pondered the story this past week, I saw a five-part formula in the story:

  1. The fishermen already had a relationship with Jesus.
  2. They listened to his teaching.
  3. They did what he told them.
  4. They were amazed at the result of their efforts.
  5. They followed him.

How does this story model the Christian life? What does this story have to say about being a congregation that focuses on faith, love and community? Covid19 has intensified some anxieties about the future of the congregation. And that anxiety is valid, even normal, even as we move through this Interim Ministry time.  

On Friday evening, I ready the General Secretary’s Accountability Report prepared for the General Council Executive meeting this weekend. This is what he wrote about communities of faith:

The recent statistical statement continues to show a steady decline in places of worship, membership and average weekly attendance. In the past ten years (2009-2019), we have seen a 17.2% reduction is preaching places – from 3,255 to 2,694; a 26.5% reduction in membership – from 525,679 to 386,479; and we have also seen a 37.1% decrease in average attendance – 183,153 to 115,223. This decline is having an impact on assessments, Mission & Service and Ministry personnel.

So, you can see that we are not alone in our challenges. We can grieve for the days when the SS was bursting… when the pews were full… when the church was the centre of the community…

But we can also remember that many of the stories of our Bible are stories of God’s people trying to get it right. Often under adverse conditions: slavery, exile, wandering in the desert, crucifixion. God’s story is that death is not the final answer… there is resurrection… but it looks NOTHING like what was before.

Let’s get back to Luke and the fishers.

Listen again to that five-part formula:  

  1. They had a relationship with Jesus.
  2. They listened to his teaching.
  3. They did what he told them – even when it didn’t make sense.
  4. They were amazed at the result of their efforts.
  5. They followed him.

Let’s explore those five steps in a little more detail.

  1. They had a relationship with Jesus.
  • How many relationships do you have?
  • I have an exercise for you to do at home – take a piece of paper and write down all the people to whom you are connected.
  • Then ask yourself how many of these people have you invited to church?
  • How many people have you told that being part of a faith community is meaningful to you and you willingly share your money, your talents and your time as part of the Body of Christ.
  • Are we prepared to tell others of our relationship with Jesus?
  • Did you know that 86% of people start coming to church because of an invitation by a friend or family member?
  1. They listened to his teaching.
  • Because of their prior relationship with Jesus, when he spoke, they listened.
  • Do we listen to Jesus’ teachings?
  • Do we hear his message?
  • What if our ideas of God, Jesus and scripture were formed 30, 40, 50 years ago, back when we were children?
  • Let’s not forget that while Jesus welcomed children, he taught adults… adults who most likely had grown up learning the Hebrew scriptures.  
  • Ongoing study and reflection of the Bible and of our United Church is vital for all of us, not just me.
  • Are we prepared to listen to Jesus?
  1. They did what he told them – even when it didn’t make sense.
  • Think about it… they were told to let down their nets in a place where they had never fished before…
  • What if we are being called to let down our nets in places where we have never fished before?
  • What if Jesus is telling us that the way we always did things isn’t working any more?
  • What if Jesus is telling us to stop working so hard at things that don’t work any more and try another way?
  • Are we prepared to do what Jesus tells us? 
  1. They were amazed at the result of their efforts.
  • The nets were overflowing… so much so that they needed help from others to bring in the catch.
  • What would overflowing nets look like to us?
  • What would we have caught?
  • Are we prepared to be amazed if we let down our nets in unfamiliar water?
  1. They followed him.
  • The disciples left their boats and their livelihood behind.
  • What do we need to leave behind in order to follow Jesus?
  • What are we willing to let go of in order to reach people in this time and place?
  • Are we prepared to follow Jesus?  
  • Follow him into the place of abundant life for all?

Abundant life. We may have to give up our definition of what abundant life looks like though.

Along with the anxiety of dwindling resources, we also have the anxiety of the pandemic. And we could just give up. But I am encouraged, indeed inspired, by how many of you still want to engage and commit time and energy into trying to forge a new way forward, even if it’s not fast enough for some of you. 😉

Or in quite the way you envisioned.

When the executive met a few weeks ago and looked at the financial reports and leadership capacity, it would be easy to become discouraged and focus on what we don’t have. But even as I look clearly at our situation, I also look at what we have accomplished over the past year. A year like no other in living memory.

And since a picture is worth a thousand words, can you put it up on the screen now?

Look at all the things we accomplished during the pandemic!

We are being called to use what we already have… the gifts already given, the skills already known and the skills we can learn… to bring the realm of God into fuller measure.  And we don’t have to wait until conditions are just right, we can start right now, right here, with the person right next to us!  

Sharon Salzberg, a meditation practitioner, teacher and writer, says that when she asks people what they value the most, people usually say things like fairness, honesty, generosity, honor, and compassion. They say them almost wistfully, as if they exist in their imagination or in some world to come. Yet the world we can most try to affect is the one immediately around us. She wrote, in an On Being essay entitled Your Three Feet of Influence, “Few people are powerful enough, persuasive, persistent, consistent, and charismatic enough to change the world all at once, but everyone has the ability to affect the three feet around them by behaving more ethically, honestly, and compassionately toward those they meethttps://onbeing.org/blog/sharon-salzberg-your-three-feet-of-influence/ 

We are called to follow Jesus deep into our neighbourhoods,… deep into our relationships… deep into the heart of Jesus’ ministry.  

Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of following Jesus. Amen.

Luke 5: 1-11

Stairs Memorial United Church – January 24, 2021  

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