St. Augustine of Hippo


Episcopal Church

 


“Diving in Deep Water


February 10, 2019


The Reverend Nathanael Saint-Pierre


Have you ever been told by someone totally uneducated that it is a good thing to get an education? Have you ever received advice from someone with no expertise of the subject? Have you already felt the urge to offer your honest opinion to someone and be totally disregarded? My mother, who would have turned 98 last Wednesday, often got in deep waters because she always had an advice to provide, a wisdom to share. She did not have any degree. She was just a mother. 

Jesus, the carpenter, told Peter, the professional fisherman: “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon, having spent the whole night with other professional fishermen and having caught nothing, questioned Jesus’ competence. But realizing (quickly enough) that Jesus was inhabited by an energy far bigger than pure competence, Simon responded: “Yet, if you say so, I will let down the nets.” The result is that the nets could not hold the catch. The good news of the story is that Simon gave credit to Jesus, saying: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

What can a carpenter teach to professional fishermen? What can we learn from those we believe are not good enough, competent enough, sufficiently knowledgeable to guide us through deep waters?

Today, as we hold our Annual Parish Meeting, we cannot deny that St. A’s is in deep trouble. We are worried and concerned; the future is not certain. Our congregation is aging, some of our members died and left their spots empty. Others were not happy or disagreed with the direction of the administration and walked away. We’ve been in a boat for many years (10+ predating my ministry) trying to turn it around and we are failing. Unfortunately, instead of having honest and fierce conversations about the reasons why we are failing, we prefer to find one responsible and put the blame on one. After all, is that not what brought Jesus to the cross? The nation of Israel did not want to look at its own wrongdoing and unfaithfulness to God. Jesus was accused of blasphemy because he claimed to be God’s messenger/son. He deserved to die. He became the ransom; he paid with his life and taught, in his time and our time, the power of love. Can we open our eyes and see that there is no salvation unless we dive in deep water, following Jesus?

Often, we are the blockage that keeps miracles from happening. “This is not the way we do things here!” we say. Where is the room for innovation if we do the same things, the same way, and with the same attitude all the time? Jesus told Simon to go to the deep water. Jesus is also telling us that there are more people to catch deeper in the world than we can catch within the comfort of water in which we can swim. Jesus, from the beginning to the end, is consistently calling us to get outside of our comfort zone. My prayer is that we become like Simon. Yes, Simon did question, but did not REFUSE to do what Jesus suggested.

What is it about human beings that makes us so in need of demonstrating we know better; if it is not our way, it is the highway? Why is a carpenter not able to suggest something different about fishing to a professional fisherman? Do we realize that the boat in which the fishermen were, was built by a carpenter? For those who want to learn, every opportunity is good enough. For those who do not want to learn, the brightest teacher is an idiot. If we don’t do something, we won’t catch something. So, we must do as Simon did: risk. Yes, risk to try something unorthodox, risk to do something different or the same thing differently. Jesus was not asking to fish without a net. He suggested to go in deep water with him. Simon did not understand that going in deep water with Jesus on board could give a different outcome. And it did. All I am asking you today is to have faith and to stay in the boat while Jesus is on board. When he says dive, let us dive. We will be surprised by the miraculous catch.

After all, Jesus is not after those who know it all and find themselves already worthy. Jesus is after failures who desire to be born again, born in him so that they can reach perfection through him. We must not doubt Jesus’ ability to rescue and save us. We don’t come to Jesus to control him or to be in control. We cannot be singing “I surrender all” and want to be one more general giving orders. Like Simon, we need to act quickly and swiftly and entrust ourselves to Jesus. We can disagree and misunderstand one another. But St. A’s is much more important than anyone’s ego. No one needs to be put down, no one needs to jump overboard. When Jesus is on the boat, those who are jumping overboard because Judas is on board or because Simon and Thomas are, misunderstand that the real captain is Jesus himself. We don’t follow a lead because the leader is better or knows better. We follow because we are called to discipleship. We follow because we are all sinful beings. We can receive redemption only through Christ.

In such a difficult time of hostility in the world, what role can the church play if it is itself dealing with division and impossible reconciliation? What future is there for the church if we cannot welcome those who differ from us in shape, form and color? I preached this once, and I am repeating it again today: “God is not God of uniformity. He created us diverse because he is God of diversity. But God is God of unity. God is God of order. God is God of discipline. The God who wants us to be all God’s children. It is in the diversity of our gifts that God blessed us.” The church will not be back to harmony if we want to play our different instruments as we see fit. Music is not out of cacophony. Music is when following the lead of the music director, we learn when to play and when to respect the pause, the half pause and the silence.

May Jesus in his infinite mercy lead us to cast our nets in deep water. So that we can dive and re-emerge, transformed like fish to nurture the world. Amen.