This morning’s sermon begins around 15 minutes in.
I am no fisherman, although I enjoy fishing with Deanne’s father and brother on the dock of a Minnesota lake or in the ice house on the frozen water – sitting on an overturned bucket, looking down an icy hole into the depths. Frankly, I would have just as much action and luck sitting in my garage. But today Quentin read us a fishing story… Jesus tells Peter to fish in deep water after he had fished all night long. And so, I too, want to cast into deeper waters.
There is a lot going on today in the life of the church and maybe in your life too!
We ordain and install Elders and Deacons today. If you are visiting and haven’t witnessed this, I hope you come to see the depth of our understanding of the importance of leadership.
We share in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. We witness to the heights and depths of God’s love for each of you – you are invited to the table.
It is also the first Sunday of Black History Month. Jesus is calling us to get deeper here too – and witness to the segregated world that God is calling us to be a renewed and missional church – dropping our nets into deeper waters.
Black History month causes tension. It isn’t a liturgical season like Lent, or Advent. It is an arbitrary month of recognition… which is good… but what about the other 11 months?
Malcolm X decried “Negro History Week” as a sham.
In predominantly white churches, Black History Month meant we put up photographs of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and maybe Rosa Parks and tried singing gospel, and mostly spirituals.
But Jesus is calling us to go deeper than that. God is inviting us to put our nets down in the deeper waters of becoming the beloved community.
I bet some of you were thinking and perhaps came to hear Rev. Goines preach on the first Sunday of Black History Month – instead you get me – a white man of German descent!
But it is important that I am preaching today –because it breaks expectation, it breaks stereotyping, and it causes me that agitation to risk embarrassment as I talk about things that are not always easy for me to talk about. Jesus is calling: “John, cast your net into deeper waters.”
(Now, if I get in over my head, you will have to throw me a life line.)
Let me begin with this:
I remember when I was doing research for my doctorate. I was writing on St. Paul in the book of Acts. I remember my professors trying to move me away from this topic – they said that ‘everything had been written and said that needed to be written and said.”
I read all these scholars: from Josephus and Pliny the Elder of the first and second century to most American, British, German and French scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries. I had been dropping my nets in the known waters of all these brilliant, dead, white, male Europeans.
It wasn’t that they were wrong … but it did make me wonder.
It wasn’t until I set my net on the other side of the boat (so to speak), and started reading scholars who had a different take; women, minorities – new voices that made me look at the Paul of Acts through the lens of class and social status. I caught some new fish (so to speak.)
Sometimes, Jesus calls you – against convention and habit- to drop your nets into deeper waters.
Peter was already an experienced fisherman, he had been fishing all night – he was cleaning his nets, wanting to go home. But Jesus needed him.
Perhaps you too are caught in the rut of doing the same old thing and Jesus is telling you to fish in deeper waters!
I remember reading the book The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson and that blew me away. She was sharing stories of people who migrated north to escape Jim Crow to find a new life. I never really thought about this. I had never heard these stories and voices. All of a sudden, I found myself fishing in a very deep pond!
I begin to see shirts at the Rec Center proclaiming family reunions in Arkansas, and Mississippi.
“Midnight Train to Georgia” and “Dock of the Bay” were no longer just familiar popular ballads. No, these are types of migration failure stories; they are laments.
“L.A. was too much for the man….He was goin’ to be a super star but he didn’t get far! He’s leavin’ on that midnight train to Georgia.”
“Left my home in Georgia…headed for the Frisco bay. But I’ve got nothing to live for, and nothin’s gonna come my way. So I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay watching the tide roll away…wastin’ time.”
I had spent too long fishing in shallow waters – hadn’t gone deep.
I had always loved the writing of Dr. King – but now I wanted to read Malcom X and James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and Howard Thurman, Maya Angelou and Alice Walker…. Ta–Nahisi Coates and Zora Neale Thurston and WEB Debois. I am not listing these brilliant authors to show off – it is pathetic that I hadn’t read black authors… and that is only scratching the surface.
It isn’t to be “woke;” it is to open myself to the wonder of voices that were long silenced to me. It is to fish in new waters and expand the catch! To be caught up in something large.
Here I am with all these letters by my name, and I have been cut off, and have cut myself off, from freedom, from release, from transformation, from hope…. from redemption!
That is why it is not only good, but holy for us as a faith community to be intentional about Black History Month, and to see it as our time to drop our nets into deeper waters. Because Jesus would have us do that.
It is a path to redemption, you see, to listen to Jesus when he calls us to listen to Black and Brown voices – Latino voices, women’s voices, children’s voices, men’s voices, Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Trans and Queer voices – even if they make you squirm sometimes.
Cast your net into deeper waters.
Jesus is calling you into the deep waters of listening to your own voice. Because it too has, perhaps, been silenced. Doing the same old same old. You need to cultivate the practice of listening to Jesus’ voice saying, “Go deeper.”
We have to grow more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Because it is in the tension where God is most present to you. It is not a condemnation of old, monochrome voices, or the usual ways of doing things – but it is an invitation to Lift Every Voice and Sing!
And that is the whole point of the gospel: Jesus came to liberate you and everyone else too – to call you to go deep and to find your call and to spread good news and expand the catch.
Voices of the Samaritans, and tax collectors, and women, and children, and fisherfolk, and the oppressed, and the blind – Jesus called us all beloved children of God, worthy…
Jesus even accepted the voices and stories of the rich and the powerful! He loved them too – but he challenged them not to buy off the voices of others or use their power to silence, or to keep others from casting their nets into the waters.
It is why the Syrophoenician woman story is so profound – she spoke up and challenged Jesus to toss his net in deeper waters.
People in Jesus’ day didn’t think Samaritans had anything to say – and so Jesus had to teach a parable about a Samaritan
Zacchaeus – a hated tax collector was screaming from a tree – Listen to me!
And the woman with a bleeding problem. People told her to “Shut up… not you again.” But Jesus said: “Come on!” Come on and throw the net on the other side into the deeper waters!
Elders and Deacons, your most important job is throw your nets into the deep waters: mix things up, do things differently, listen to Jesus and love the people. You’re called to lead us into transformation, so find your voice and go deep in the waters. If you aren’t catching fish doing the same old thing, do something different!
We come to the table – it is this great invitation: “fish or cut bait!” – Jesus is inviting you: go deeper.
St. Peter said, ”We have been here all night!” He was tired.
But there was something about Jesus, and look what happened to old St. Peter…. I believe there is a cathedral named after him somewhere. That is a long way from the shores of Gennesaret.
So, if you, are in a rut, sensing a change needs to be made, pay attention to the voice. It may be the voice that comes to the ears of your heart. It may be the words if a child, or someone very different from you. Jesus’ spirit shows up in all sorts of people and in places you never thought of, catching you off guard: “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Do it! See what comes up!
I was tired. I thought I had done it all, seen it all, read it all. God was through with me. I was cleaning my nets and going home. But then Jesus said: “Throw it out on the other side into the deep water!”