Fish Out of Water
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
The clerk at the bookstore was helpful. He answered my questions. He gave advice about what was worth buying and what material I could find for free on YouTube. He invited me to come for a sit, he called it, when people from the community gather for silent meditation, reading of scripture, and intercessory prayer. That’s how, at 8:30 on Friday morning, I found myself in meditation with about 20 Christian brothers and sisters in a modest neighborhood of Albuquerque, New Mexico, while Kari attended a conference on legal education.
It felt good to be there. We were a diverse group united in our hunger for God and thankful for abundant grace. I remember thinking, God’s house is big. Each of us (and now I’m including all of you) whether we are new or life-long Christians, whether our faith is weak or strong, whether we are seeking or serving, are summoned by the same Spirit, gathered into one body, responding to the same invitation, being drawn by the same divine lure.
Here, in Word and Sacrament, we have God’s promise that what we dare to hope for will not be in vain. But our scriptures train us to look for God beyond these walls. Learn to find God in one another, in other races, in other congregations, in the poor, in the earth, in the weak in every form. Look for God in your own brokenness. Look for God in the midst of every kind of suffering. Our temples, worship, rituals, and theology are only as good as the clarity of heart they inspire to look for God where God lives—out in the suffering world.
As the sun rose over the Sea, Peter and his two helpers, James and John, thought they were simple fisherman. They expected to live out their lives moving between ship and shore following the feeding rhythms of fish. Later that morning, when Jesus persuaded Peter to put out again so he could speak to the people, Peter was still a fisherman. He was a husband, a homeowner, a businessman, and a resident of Capernaum in Galilee. But when he returned to shore, he was a repentant disciple, the first member of Christ’s church, a fisher of people. Peter and his partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, abandoned their boats beside the Sea. They left everything—everything familiar —to follow Jesus (Luke 5:11).
The invitation has your name on it. Each of us, in our own way, is called to leave the shallow comforts of the familiar and put out into the deep water. Much of what is called Christianity today is shallow. It may have more to do with keeping the peace, feathering our own nests, or avoiding treading too deeply into matters of injustice, systematic racism, xenophobia, fear mongering, deathly materialism, and ecological ruin. Religion’s constant temptation to self-righteousness and moralism can make religious life feel like cosmetic piety. It only goes so deep.
“There are two utterly different forms of religion: one believes that God will love me if I change; the other believes that God loves me so that I can change. The first is the most common; the second follows upon an experience of indwelling and personal love.” (Richard Rohr, The Enneagram, p. xxii) The gospel of Christ invites a transformation of our fragile egos. We are being called from death into life. We are invited into the deep water, beckoned to draw closer to pain and suffering.
Peter could feel the pressure mount up in him until it overwhelmed him, and he cried out, “Go away from me, Lord!” (Luke 5:8) In Greek, he said, “Get out of my neighborhood!” It was the same thing we heard last Sunday when the people of Nazareth drove him out of the synagogue and meant to throw him off the cliff. Get away. Leave me alone. Except this time the reasons for Peter’s rejection were different.
The people of Nazareth wanted Jesus out of their neighborhood because he was unwilling to grant them special treatment. But Peter wanted Jesus out because he knew he was not special enough. He is unworthy. Like Isaiah before him, he felt himself to be in the fullness of the presence of God and that filled with equal measures of shame and awe, so he was afraid.
God doesn’t withhold love for you until you are changed; God’s love is what enables us to change. Jesus’ invitation to discipleship had nothing to do with Peter’s (nor James’ nor John’s) qualifications, character, or potential. God’s call is as unpredictable as it is unmerited. Jesus did not issue the call to simple fisherman in a holy place, in a temple or a synagogue, but in the midst of daily work and routines. Their energies are re-directed and given new focus. From now on they would fish for people. They would learn to find themselves by drawing closer to the suffering of strangers. In this difficult path, they would find joy and life in abundance. Jesus sought to reassure them. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus said.
When you feel ready to give up, Jesus says, ‘go deeper’ –push out into the waters, examine your faith, entrust yourself to Jesus’ vision for your life. God gently pushes us forward into new adventures. The Spirit urges us to explore –to ask, ‘where do I need to take a risk to answer the call following in Christ’s way of life for me?’
Answering Jesus’ call leads him to embrace a mission that was well beyond Peter’s imagining, that far exceeded his own strength or capacity to achieve. Jesus is gathering us up along with Peter and the other disciples for a new way of life. We are like fish snared in a net, pulled out of the life we know, and deposited on the sandy shores of a new kingdom. Incredibly, unbelievably, we have become like fish living out of water.
We are called to seek out other fish struggling to breathe and gasping for life because they don’t know yet how to live. We engage in a kind of fishing that is life-giving rather than life-taking. We use the bait of love and grace and mercy; rather than fear or threats or intimidation.
Jesus is calling. Jesus speaks in a voice to calm our fears, embolden our strength, and inspire our dreams. Answering Jesus’ call will issue in a choice that could redirect our lives, foment unrest, and create instability. We set sail to journey deeper into suffering and pain. In the face of such a daunting challenge we all feel unworthy, out of our depth, and inadequate. Like Isaiah or like Peter, we may not feel up to the task, but God’s indwelling love somehow empowers us to become more than we could ever have previously imagined. God’s house is big. God’s people are diverse but see, we are all becoming part of the One Life, and what joy there is this Life Together. May God be praised!