"Letting down our Nets"

October 6, 1996 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland  USA
based upon Luke 5:1-11

Congregational Megatrends Series #6

"Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch," Jesus said to that husky fisherman... We often walk away from this story with a call to evangelism, and rightly so. At the end Jesus tells Simon, who would one day be renamed Peter, that "from now on" this fisherman "will be catching people" instead of fish. Speaking of evangelism, of reaching out to our friends and acquaintances with the good news, tossing our nets into the deep water (so to speak), how are you doing with your homework assignments?

In case you’ve forgotten, let me refresh your memory once again, which also might be helpful for those of you who haven’t been with us this past month. My first homework suggestion 4 weeks ago was for you to simply think of 3 people you know personally who, as far as you’re aware, do not attend church. That’s all I asked. The next week’s assignment was for the imagination: to think of at least one way that each of these persons could benefit from a stronger relationship with God. In the following weeks, we brought these individuals into our prayer life, first asking God to communicate with these persons what it would mean for them to have a deeper relationship with him. Then, last Sunday, the assignment was to ask God: "if there is any way I can help these people have a stronger relationship with you, let me know."

Well, has anything happened? It may be a bit soon to see any results. After all, evangelism is a long-term affair. Still, have you seen anything happen? Or, in response to last week’s prayer, has God revealed to you any ways of reaching out to these 3 persons? Maybe it wasn’t in some grand gesture on God’s part. Perhaps, instead, it was in a "still small voice" or "the sound of sheer silence" that God spoke, touching your awareness deeper than your senses. Let’s continue these past 2 homework assignments again this week, a reminder that the art of reaching out to others is grounded in our prayer life, our spiritual journey with God.

"Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch," Jesus said to that husky fisherman... Yes, we often walk away from this story with a call to evangelism. However, today I want us to explore how this story calls us to the deeper waters of our life in the spirit.

In case you haven’t been with us for the past 5 Sundays, we’ve been examining some of the shifts taking place in the church of Jesus Christ in this society at the end of the 20th century. So far, we’ve looked at how evangelism, Christian education, missions, and leadership are all changing. In his book, Congregational Megatrends (which we are following, somewhat, in this series), C. Jeff Woods, suggests that we are moving "from reasonable spirituality to (what he calls) mysterious spirituality." I’m not sure I buy his choice of words, but I believe he has his finger on the pulse of what’s happening, and this shift is especially profound and, perhaps, most unsettling - as it should be. After all, we’re speaking about the movement of God’s Spirit in our lives, a wind that blows through us. We can imagine it to be a gentle breeze, but we should know that the wind of God can also blow at gale force. We do not control it. Instead, the wind blows where and as it will.

Now, as I said, I’m not sure I like the phrase "mysterious spirituality," for in my head it conjures up a Twilight Zone of images that are foreign to my understanding of the Holy Spirit. It brings back memories of me sitting outside the TV room on evenings my parents left me under the charge of my older sisters, and they watched the spooky shows that gave me nightmares, the programs I wasn’t supposed to look at. "Do not try to adjust your set. We now have control of your television," the announcer would say accompanied by that wierd music which could haunt my dreams as a child. Such is not the mystery of our spiritual life. Instead, what is meant by "mysterious spirituality" is the direct experience of the presence of God which goes deeper than our ability to rationally talk about it...

Deeper than reason. Deeper. It was in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. A crowd had gathered one morning to hear him speak beside the sea, nearly pushing him into the water. Two boats had been pulled up on the beach, fishing boats. Having been out all night without anything to show for their work beside the seaweed stuck to their nets, the fishermen were busy cleaning up before heading to bed. Jesus got in one of the boats, Simon’s boat, and asked him to take him just off shore so he could more easily address the crowd, which Simon did. In my mind’s eye, I picture this burly fisherman nodding off while Jesus talked, just like some of you do on a Sunday morning.

When Simon opened his eyes, the crowds were gone. It was just him and Jesus in the boat. "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch," Jesus said to that sleepy fisherman. As I listened over and over again to this story this past week, it was Simon’s response that really spoke to me. What was his reply to what must have been a rather puzzling request on Jesus’ part? "Master," Simon said, "we’ve worked all night but haven’t caught anything. Yet, if you say so, I will let down the nets."

Why did this line catch me? Interesting to talk of a fishing story catching us as listeners, isn’t it? But Simon’s response really touched me. You see, it’s not that I view myself as being a spiritual workoholic. Often it seems like I am anything but that. I easily get frustrated when my fishing excursions into the life of the spirit seem to bring up little but seaweed. Can you relate to what I’m saying? I was at a 2-day spiritual retreat for ministers this past week. A full day was spent in silence. Part of that time was tossing the net out into the deep water, part of it was picking out the seaweed. No big catch. God didn’t part the waters. I’m afraid I get frustrated easy.

In the middle of my frustration, though, this scripture spoke to me. "Master, we’ve worked all night long, but have caught nothing." There it is, somebody is singing my song. Do you know the same tune? But that’s not what caught me. What Simon said next was: "Yet, if you say so, I will let down the nets." That’s what caught me. It was through that burly fisherman that God spoke to me, in ways that went beyond the text. The other side of frustration in our life in the Spirit is simple obedience. "If you say so, I’ll let down the nets." Again.

Letting down our nets. That’s what Jesus is calling us to do, isn’t he? And I’m not talking evangelism here. Head back to deep water, he says. So what if you’ve been to that spot before. There may be a new spot you haven’t tried. So what if your net came up empty. Does that mean there are no fish out there? So what if you had to clean off the seaweed. Nets always need maintenance. Put out into the deep water. Toss the net out again.

My friends, what/where is the "deep water" in your relationship with God? Perhaps it’s where you’ve been going all along but have grown tired of fishing. Maybe it’s a place you hit only sporatically. Does God speak to you directly through the Bible? How, then, has your fishing been? Does God speak to you through prayer and meditation? How often do you make time to listen? Do you pay attention to your dreams? Do you think God still relates to us through dreams and visions? Have you ever fasted from talking? or eating? or anything? Have you ever witnessed what you would call a miracle? Have you ever shared with anyone in the church about a "deep water" experience you’ve had with God? Do you think people here would listen with open hearts?

What/where is the "deep water" in your relationship with God? - the place Jesus is calling you to toss out your nets. Yes, it may be a place of frustration. It may also hold some fear. Do recall the rest of the story for Simon. He did row out to deeper water, because Jesus said so, and threw out his nets. And the catch was overwhelming. Simon then fell on his knees and begged Jesus to leave. "I am a sinful man, Lord." Seems to me most of us feel pretty guilty when it comes to the deep water. "Don’t be afraid," is still Jesus’ response.

In the next few minutes of quiet, ponder what/ where your deep water is....

1996Peter L. Haynes

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