Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Going Deep

Luke 5: 1-11
Early Morning Fishermen
Photo by Suzanne Wagner

It’s been said that an expert is one who knows more and more about less and less.  Have you ever heard this?  While that seems humorous, it’s true if you think about it.

I receive the monthly enews letter from the American Museum of Natural History in NYC.  I love seeing what’s new at the Museum and all of the interesting finds about this great planet earth.  Recently they had a trailer for a film exhibit called Jean-Michel Cousteu’s Secret Ocean.  He is the son of the famous Jacques Cousteau who explored, researched and photographed the ocean floor. 

Well the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and his son, an oceanic-graphic explorer is now way deep in the ocean exploring the ocean bottom too.  Only he explores it with modern technology like 3-D, H-D imaging.  The colors are absolutely vibrant and beautiful and the sea creatures, some never ever seen before are stunning, creatures like the Christmas-tree worms and basket stars, fishes and nudibranchs of all kinds.  But he – no we – wouldn’t see all of this wonder that God has created unless he dared to go very deep into the ocean.

He is an expert, he knows more and more about the sea floor and animals and plants.  He went real deep.  He explores the vast unknown and is not afraid to delve into this uncharted territory to see what there is to learn.  To see and understand the minutia and then to show others the beauty and richness in what he has found, and usually there is much depth in their research.

Today in our scripture we see that Jesus asks the disciples to go deep, to go out into the middle of the lake where it’s the deepest and fish.  Let’s take a moment now to hear this story from the Gospel of Luke, the fifth chapter.

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God,  he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.  He 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.  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.  But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 

For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”  When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

This is a good old summertime text, especially if you are a fisherman sitting on a lake here in CT or, like where I just was, Lake Geneva Wisconsin.  If this story sounds familiar you would be correct because similar stories about Jesus and fishing boats appears in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John. 

Here Jesus is by a lake, in fact an important lake to the fishing industry in the Galilee, the Sea of Galilee.  And he sees two boats anchored on the shore.  Some men were washing their nets so he chooses one and gets into the boat owned by Simon and asked him to ‘put’ him out a bit.  There must have been a huge crowd there and he needed some distance from them but he still wanted to teach them.  So getting into the boat was the solution for Jesus.  

And when he was done with the lesson he then turned to Simon and said to go out in the middle of the lake to where the water gets real deep.  Simon disputes Jesus’ request.  “Really?”  “Master not for nothing but we fished all night and caught nothing. What makes you think we’d do better over there?  But, if you want us to we will.”  Well wouldn’t you know, the Master did know what he was asking them to do and they came back with the haul of the day!

Can you imagine?  The haul of the day.  It was a miracle right before their very eyes.

For Simon Peter, at that moment, had a real sense of just who this ‘master’ was.  That he, Simon Peter a plain man, a fisher man, a sinful man was in the presence of the divine.

We can understand this as a Biblical call story because certainly it has those elements; lowly mortals being drafted away from their usual tasks in life into God’s mission in the world.  In fact this is the call story of Simon Peter, later known simply as Peter and also the call story of some of the disciples being called to God’s mission of fishing for men and women. One of the lessons that we can take from this passage is that we need to be open to the call upon our lives that God places on us, no matter how far out or how deep the way sounds.

But to do that requires us to be like Simon Peter and be willing to let down the nets into the deep waters of our soul.  His initial reaction is fear.  He fears his unworthiness or maybe there is something else that the Bible doesn’t name that he’s afraid of, whatever it is he wants distance from Jesus, he is skeptical, he doesn’t want to do the work, he is afraid of what he might find.  Sounds just about right, doesn’t it?

Perhaps fear is our underlying obstacle too.  Going deep within yourself is not easy, and for some it may be quite difficult.  It’s really hard work and it’s a challenge because we bury hurtful experiences, or anger, or cruel and unkind words hoping not to deal with them again.  But it is here that Jesus tells us to go, to face our fears, and why?  Because it is an invitation for us to live more fully as beloved children of God because it is below the surface and in fact in the depths of our lives that we find healing and abundance.  It is a place where we will get to know ourselves and experience a sense of the divine.

That’s where Simon Peter found the greatest catch and it changed his life, and that’s where we will find this transformation also. 

It is within the deep, deep waters of our lives that we can mend our wounded souls and accept forgiveness, of ourselves, and of others.  Therein lies God’s plentiful healing, mercy and grace. 

Look, I know it’s not easy.  And you may need to fish deep more than once in your lifetime.  That’s OK.  Simon Peter had help and if you need help there are many ways and plenty of people who can be there with you.  And most importantly remember that the Christ who stood by Peter at that boat stands by you.  You are not alone in this endeavor. 

Go deep, be the expert of your soul and then live your beautiful called life just as you are meant to be.  Beloved and sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit.


Monday, July 6, 2015

With a Psalm in My Heart

Psalm 146
You may remember a couple of years ago I went to a cousin’s reunion in Texas.  Now it had been a while since we were all together and so you can imagine the yakking that went on.  We compared memories about our folks, we compared family medical histories now that we are old, and we talked about our children. 

One of my cousins had lost her daughter a few months before.  She shared with us her journey of living through such a sad experience, her loss, and her faith, how her husband and family were such amazing support, and then she said, “But you know, I was born with the happy gene”.  And so she continued to give God thanks and praise for her life and her other children.

That’s when I realized that the ‘happy gene’ was such a thing and that I was born with the happy gene too and a couple of other cousins had it as well.  That’s not to say that life is always good, or that we laugh off serious situations, no!  When awful things happen we manage to come through with a certain joy in knowing that life is good and Godly and so we can give praise to God in all circumstances of our life.  Bitterness doesn’t set in; we can still sing the song of our hearts.

Today we finish the series we’ve been pursuing entitled, ‘With a Psalm in My Heart’.  The series of six Psalms began with a Psalm of praise and it ends with a Psalm of praise.  And in fact Psalm 146 through the end of the Psalter which is the Book of Psalms all 150, are praise Psalms beginning with the same phrase, “Praise the Lord” which in Hebrew is Hallel or Hallelujah!

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.

The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!

Let’s have a quick look at what this Psalm is saying and its structure before we glean understanding of it’s meaning for your life.  The Psalmist begins by giving God all the praise, for every detail, every circumstance he pledges to praise God throughout his entire life.  He praises God because he puts his ultimate trust that God will always be there for him.  He cautions us not put our trust in human emperors or worldly ways because they will eventually crumble and their shards will blow away in the wind.  But not God!

You will be happy, he says, if you believe in God, the creator of humankind and the architect of justice, because food for the hungry, freed prisoners, and sight for the blind all bring healing, hope and renewal.  God will look kindly upon those who are suffering or alienated and because of that the Psalmist will praise God all his days.  Or, very simply put, the Psalmist offers praise, a word of caution; the might works of God and then praise again.

I think the Psalmist knows a few things about life.  That life can, and does get pretty raunchy at times, that tragedy strikes just as quickly as anything else can but that life gets better, and is better when you allow for God to be a part of it and to remember that God really is in the details, the crevices, cracks, and crags and the minutia of your life. And my friends, that’s where we spend a whole lot of our time.  And yet ‘sing’ the Psalmist says, sing to God like there is no tomorrow.  Sing as lovely and as happily as the birds of the morning.  Just sing a song of praise. 

Only four days after the horrific shooting in Mother Emmanuel AME church in South Carolina the faithful congregation gathered for worship.  And from what I understand it was not a solemn worship service.  African American worship is anything but somber; it is a very exuberant expression of profound joy and love for the Lord.  Israel sings in the face of powerful rulers and in exile and that’s why the Psalmist belts out praise.  Paul and Silas were in Philippi telling folks about Jesus and they were beaten and thrown in jail. Did they fret?  No!  They didn’t get angry, they sang and the other prisoners listened to them.  Would you?  Could you do the same?  It’s been said that to praise God is to live and to live is to praise God. 

There is one line in Wendell Berry’s poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” that I’ve always loved. “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”  Be joyful yes, of course when life is really, really good, but also be joy filled when the facts of life weigh you down.

When you can do that your vision is cast in a different light.  You can know that there is hope even though you can’t really see it yet.  You can trust in the promise of Jesus Christ even when you don’t know what the next step will bring you.  

Being born with the happy gene, or developing the gene helps you to keep within your psyche and heart the ultimate hope that the end of heartbreak will come just as day follows night.  And this is why we should always praise the Lord.  Praise God from whom ALL of our blessings flow.

I pray that you will take these Psalms that we have looked at in the last few weeks and keep them in your heart.  They are songs of love to God about our brokenness and our joy, they express our inward most thoughts and desires and ultimately they help us to find our way in life.  And isn’t that what we all want?