Never Be the Same

Passage: Luke 5:1-11
Date: February 10, 2019
Preacher: Rev Laurie M. Newman
Guest Preacher:

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Valentine’s Day is this week. Some people anticipate it with great gusto and joy. Others do their best to ignore it.It’s an important time for businesses: purveyors of chocolate, flowers, wine, and food. It’s tempting to be cynical about it, but isn’t there something important in the invitation to “give our heart” to someone?

A professional person who is very self-confident recently told me: “The only thing I’m afraid of is asking someone out on a date.” We face that monster, fear, when we put our heart out there, don’t we? It’s the same with anything in which we invest ourselves. Loving a child can be a terrifying emotional investment! We become vulnerable because we care. The same is true for caring for the world. But once we say “yes” the first time, it opens us to a way of life that may never be the same.

The passage from Luke is about followers of Jesus whose lives change completely. That final line in the scripture passage really packs a punch, doesn’t it?

“. . . they left everything and followed him.” Here is a one-sentence summary of faith which raises just a few questions. Have you ever left all behind to follow someone or something? Do you give your heart? To whom or what? What does it mean now to follow Jesus? What stops us from following? Fear? Worry? Have you had an experience in which you said “yes” regardless of the practicalities and fears because you just knew it was right?

In a spiritual vocabulary, we are talking about vocation, our “calling.” Traditionally, pastors and missionaries have been said to “be called.” In the Presbyterian church, we ordain elders and deacons because we do believe in a priesthood of all believers. But calling is for everyone, not just those ordained. I’m not necessarily talking about our jobs, but about how we give of ourselves and our gifts when we discover where they meet the world’s deep needs. 

And our world has some deep needs, doesn’t it? It may be difficult to hear our calling because there are so many needs: homelessness, poverty, guns, climate change, and racial injustice to name just a few.

Margaret Wheatley in So Far from Home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World talks about the challenges of working for good in the world we are faced with now. She talks about the courage to keep on without knowing what the result will be.

“As our hearts are wholly engaged, we experience ever more compassion for others, ever more confidence and energy that we can do our work. Our human heart seems capable of infinite expansion when we find the work that is ours to do. And that’s a delightful feeling. . . It is a deeply spiritual practice to open our hearts to those we serve, without judgment, without a sense that it is all up to us, and to let go of saving the world, or even our church.”

The scripture today is about calling. When Jesus called Simon Peter and the other fishermen, they left all behind to follow. We may be tempted to soft-pedal this. It’s not an easy model to follow.

But Simon Peter compels us to consider it because he shows very human traits of enthusiasm, loyalty, fear, and betrayal. He enthusiastically proclaimed Jesus as teacher and master. But he was also the one who denied knowing Jesus—three times!—when Jesus was arrested. Simon had a mother-in-law, so presumably, he was married and had a family. So when he spent all night fishing and came up completely empty, this had an impact on the whole family. You can picture it, can’t you? Finally, after a long, discouraging night, the fishermen were washing their nets, about ready to go home and get some rest. Jesus comes along, sits in prow of Simon’s boat and begins teaching the crowd along the shore. Then he says to Simon: “Go out in the deep water and let down your nets for the catch.”

You can imagine a bit of exasperation in Simon’s voice: “Teacher, we’ve worked all night long but caught nothing. But if you say so, I’ll let down the nets.” He’s simply going through motions, out of respect for Jesus, knowing full well that there are no fish to be caught.

They go into the deep water and catch so many fish that the boats begin to break. What began as scarcity is now boatloads of fish! Simon is stunned with gratitude. After a long night of no-fish worry,they receive more than they ever imagined. It’s a miracle story, along the lines of feeding the five thousand from a few loaves and fishes. Their lives would never be the same.

Now, we may be tempted to read this passage as a proof of God’s provision of material success if only we trust enough. The prosperity Gospel is very attractive (and it fits with our American culture). Many churches have been built upon that philosophy. But Jesus gives a clue that something more is going on in this miracle of abundance. He says, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will be catching people.” What does it mean to catch people? It’s about the abundance of community and not an automatic guarantee that God is going pay the bills or pad the bank account.

The miraculous abundance is about people. It’s about going beyond our narrow vision and self-concern. It’s answering the call out of authentic compassion. It’s about the miracle of God’s love that changes our hearts to bring about forgiveness, generosity, hope, and kindness.

When we say that “yes” to God, when grace touches our lives, when we are “catching people,” it may mean giving in a way we never thought possible or going where we never thought to go. It may mean letting go of fear or worry and allowing God’s spirit to grow in us. When, like Simon Peter, we put aside our hesitation and go out into the deep water, life will never be the same.

The Reverend William Sloane Coffin said that “There is no smaller package in all the world than that of a man all wrapped up in himself.” Leaving everything behind to follow Jesus is being unwrapped and serving others.

Louise Scott is someone I think of when I think of saying “yes” and following Jesus. She died a few years ago. She was a longtime member here at Westminster and a force for good in the community. In the late sixties, through their involvement in the World Affairs Council, Louise and her husband opened their home to Ophelia, a woman from Romania. After that, they hosted exchange students. It became a pattern of hospitality that just kept going. After her husband’s death, Louise continued the pattern, including sharing her home for a year with refugees from Kosovo during the war there. Her confidence grew every time she hosted. She said that she never regretted saying yes to this kind of hospitality. She learned that in taking the chance, things worked out. Good things happened. After that first “yes,” her life was never the same.

Another person who says “yes”is a volunteer with teens in the Grant Constitution Team. He says volunteering is an obligation he has, to give back. He was so grateful for the mentors in his teen years who opened doors and who were patient with him. He can never repay them, but he can pay it forward. For him, his call is to care and to listen and teach those who will be here in the future, to make the world a better place. 

Thirty years ago, four women at Westminster had a vision to make our sanctuary more beautiful, and to celebrate the beauty of the stained glass, by needlepointing cushions. The 30-year needlepoint project brought over 150 people on board! Talk about overflowing boats, just think of the number of tiny stitches that made Westminster even more beautiful and crossed generations of artists.

Whether your “yes” leads to an immediate big change or to incremental change, every “yes” will deepen our love and trust in God. 

What would be different about your life if you said “yes” to that thing you fear? How might God be calling us? Remember what Mother Teresa said. “There are no great things.Only small things done with great love.”