In Jesus, God initiates And invites And illuminates And includes, and inspires you to go out in the world and be the good news to the people.
Last week I briefly mentioned this concept of star words, and a few of you even reached out and got one of your own for the year. One person drew a difficult word, “surrender.” After sympathizing with him, (and thanking God this wasn’t my word) I was hit with an old memory, of having to face a similar word that was so scary it had me second-guessing my decision to answer my call to ministry.
It was in the fall of 2010. My school counselor handed me a sheet of paper with all the class requirements to receive my Masters of Divinity. On that list was a word that terrified me. Was it Greek? No. Was it Hebrew? You’d think, but no. In fact, it was not a foreign language per se but it was foreign to me. The word was conversion.
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. Luke 5:1-11
In Luke's Gospel, we see how God speaks to Simon Peter and others, inviting them to drop their nets and embrace their true calling. Now Simon’s just an ordinary guy. As far as Luke tells us, there’s nothing special about this fisherman other than he has a boat. We don’t know who works for who, but when Jesus greets Simon and his business partners, the Zebedee brothers, they are washing their nets and closing down shop for the day. Jesus initiates the conversation, because Simon has something Jesus needs. Which seems to be all they have to offer….a boat.
The first thing I want to point out is that it’s God in Jesus who first initiates a relationship. God makes the first move to be with us – even if it means finding us in the dullness or messiness of human life. You don’t have to be special, or extraordinary for God to call out to you. We all have something God needs.
Simon, James and John have just completed an unfruitful night of fishing – which is hard, backbreaking work. And it’s harder to do when there is no reward at the end of your shift. But somehow Jesus convinces the trio to go back to work. And for whatever reason they agree.
The next thing I want to point out is that in Jesus God not only initiates the relationship, but also assumes the risk by inviting us to partake in a relationship.
Peter could have easily refused. James and John could have clocked out and taken their empty buckets and tired butts home. But instead they climb back in the boat and shove off one more time. God takes a chance in us… hoping that we will respond positively.
The three will come to discover, responding to God’s friend request isn’t as simple as keeping a boat steady a few feet from shore. After Jesus speaks to the crowd of people, he asks the men for another favor. “Take me out to the deep water and get your nets dirty again.”
Even though there’s a little pushback, Simon, James and John do what Jesus asks of them. And they are rewarded greatly for doing so. After they pull up more fish than they can handle, Peter eyes are opened. And he sees something so amazing that causes him to drop to his knees in repentance.
In Jesus God not only initiates and invites us into a relationship, but God also illuminates our awareness and understanding to the divine presence that is all around us.
Peter saw something that he’d never seen or ever experienced before. And it changed him. In this man Jesus God had a face and a heart he could see, and a voice he could hear. The Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas said the only thing that really converts people is “the face of the other.” Once his eyes are opened to God in the flesh, he will never see life the same way again.
I often wonder how other people might react seeing the presence of God in us? And what might God’s presence look like? Kindness, gentleness, forgiveness?
You don’t have to take a class on conversion or whack someone on the head to get them to see who Jesus really is. It only takes engaging with the Incarnate One – putting to practice the way of life he showed us to live. Our call is to be more like Jesus and less like ourselves.
Through Jesus God initiates the relationship, invites to respond, illuminates our understanding, and also includes us in his ministry and his mission – to spread the good news of God’s grace and love to everyone. The question then is how will we respond?
Getting in the boat with Jesus is a scary proposition. It’s scary because we have to risk facing all our insecurities, fears, and doubts. We have to risk going out into the deep where the seas are rough, and the winds push against us. We have risk letting go of our safety nets we have relied on all our lives. And let's be real, this is scary.
But fear stops us from growing and experiencing the richness and fullness of life. It paralyzes us from really experiencing the freedom that Jesus is offering us. Fear causes us to maintain the normal and resist growing into who God is calling us to be. Fear convinces us that we are not worthy of love – from others, ourselves or God. In other words, fear leaves us on the beach with empty nets, tired and hungry for more.
In Jesus God initiates and invites us; illuminates our seeing and includes us in the mission. All to inspire us to be the very best we can possibly be…the living presence of Christ in the world. We just have to drop our baggage around our fears and follow, like Peter, James, and John did when they brought their boats, overflowing with fish, to shore.
Their story teaches us that once we decide to follow God’s child, our lives would never be the same. And that’s the whole point of salvation – the reason God initiates a relationship with us in the first place.
In their commitment to follow Jesus, the disciples are no longer ordinary, everyday people. They are extraordinary, beloved children of God. Their nets are no longer empty. But filled with the abundance of everlasting life. Through them God’s grace and love will spread like wildfire across the land. All because these ordinary people responded and took the extraordinary risk to get in the boat with Jesus.
What might our lives would look like if we followed Jesus this seriously? Maybe instead of bashing people with religion and dogma, we could win them over like Jesus did – embodying gentleness, living with peace, administering self-control. When you see and do what Jesus does, you learn and teach the will of God so that others might follow and go and do likewise. This was my original purpose for answering my call – to help the world see that God was all loving, ever present in life right now.
Are you willing to get in the boat with Jesus and do what he asks you to do? I hope that you will consider saying yes. You don’t just have something God wants, you are precisely what God wants.
In Jesus God initiates. And invites. And illuminates, includes, and inspires you to go out in the world and be the good news to the people. To the crowd by the lake. To the beggar on the street. To the woman at the well. To your neighbors and strangers. And to the least of these our brothers and sisters.
Following Jesus is a risky business. But as the Bible assures us, the reward is abundant and plentiful.
Ashley, Danáe M. Trusting Jesus. episcopalchurch.org. 02 -10-2019
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word, Year C Vol 1. Westminster John Knox: 2009, pp. 332-337.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”