Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Call to the Depths

Luke 5:1-11
Monday nights are swimming lesson nights for our family. I say for our family because William is still in a parent-child class, so when swimming lesson night comes along it means some parent must join a child in the pool. Two weeks ago it was my turn. While I was in the zero entry shallow pool with William, Karoline was with her class in the big pool. This is her first session with lessons in the big pool. She’s learning to swim, but she is by no means a strong swimmer. She’s getting better, but she’s really much more comfortable in the end where she can touch the bottom.

The other week her class started in the shallow end of the pool, but I could tell as the lesson went on it wasn’t the teachers’ goal to stay there. They had the noodles, the floating devices out, and the teachers were sort of coaxing the class into deeper and deeper water.

After the lesson, when Karoline was giving me her play-by-play version of what happened, she said to me, “Mommy, they wouldn’t let me stay where I could touch. They kept calling my name and making me kick farther and farther to the deep end. It was so so scary!”

And it was for her. It was terrifying. Try to remember that time, if you can, when you first felt that feeling of NOTHING below you in the water. How uncertain it felt, unfamiliar, confusing even to have nothing on which to place your foot, to have no ground on which to stand. Imagine, remember if you can, what it felt like to have that chaotic emptiness, even in the stillest of pools, that feeling of the unknown, wide, empty space just below the surface of the water that seemed endless, swallowing even. Remember the deep water.

The deep water wasn’t unfamiliar to Simon and the rest of the fishermen. They knew exactly where it was and EXACTLY how to avoid it. There was no tricking them out there with floating noodles or promises of gold stars. They knew the depths were nothing to mess with. The depths represented chaos, the wild uncontrollable power to destroy and overwhelm. The depths have only ever been contained by the one who is uncontainable. The depths have only ever been restrained by God. No one in their right mind would CHOOSE to set sail for the depths, no matter how desperate.

And those fishermen were desperate. All night long they had fished the usual spots, the spots flush with fish to feed themselves and their families. All night long they had cast their nets and waited, expectantly, hopefully, to pull them in full and heavy. But it was all for nothing. Catching nothing they pulled their boats to shore and began to clean the debris from the night’s fruitless efforts out of their nets.

So really, Simon had nothing to lose when the wandering preacher asked him to put his boat out a little way so that he could speak to the crowds of men and women going about their daily chores on the shoreline. There weren’t any fish to clean and prepare anyway. He took the man out and listened to him teach with authority enough to warrant calling him “Master.” But when the man made an even more ridiculous request, Simon had to argue.

Go out again into the water, and not just the water, the deep water? Cast his nets out there after a full night of catching nothing? Who is this man and what is he thinking? Does this wandering preacher think he can do better than the professionals?

And go out into the deep water, is this guy kidding? It’s the deep water! It’s unknown. It’s murky. It’s dangerous. It’s terrifying. It’s so, so scary. It’s everything Simon feared. It’s everything we fear. It’s lack of control. It’s where we can’t touch. It’s loneliness. It’s out of reach. It’s just plain crazy. No one sails into the depths on purpose. No one faces those fears if they have a choice. In fact lots of us ignore the depths even if we DON’T have a choice. We make the choice NOT to learn to swim, not to face the pressure that is mounting, not to deal with the reality that is right in front of our faces – the reality that we can’t control it all, we can’t be safe all the time. We can’t avoid the depths.

Illness comes. We don’t invite it in, but it comes and it can grip lives. Bankruptcy comes, we don’t go looking for it, but it comes and it beats our spirits down. Joblessness comes, we don’t give them up willingly, but it comes into our lives and shakes the very foundations of our security. The depths come, and while some of us would rather turn our heads and try to ignore their presence, steer our boats around them, avoid facing the reality of their tumult, Jesus has another idea all together.

“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch,” he invites. We may think he knows NOTHING about what we’re going through when he invites us to follow, but we have so much to learn.

“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch,” he calls. Come with me into the deepest, darkest places in your life, the deepest darkest places in your soul. I’m going with you, and there you’ll find a catch, there I will touch you with a blessing.

"Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch,” he PROMISES. Your fear can’t stop you. Your fear doesn’t stop me. Together, let’s go to the depths and see what blessings we can catch.

The deep end of the pool at swimming lessons seems a terrifying thing at first. It really does, but it doesn’t come without its rewards. Immediately after declaring it “so so scary,” Karoline continued to tell the story of how she made her way out there. “My teacher kept calling my name, so I just kept kicking. You know, it’s not swimming if my feet are touching the ground.”

She’s exactly right. It’s not. It’s not swimming if your feet are touching the ground. It’s not fishing if you aren’t throwing your nets into deeper water. It’s not believing, if we aren’t trying things that seem outrageous when we already feel like we’re in over our heads.

The deep waters aren’t the first or the last place any of us wishes to be, but the deep waters are there, and sometimes, just sometimes, like it or not, we have to go right into the middle of them. And right there in the middle of them, right there where the bills are piling up, right there where the kids are getting sick. Right there where our parents are aging, right there where memories are fading, marriages are crumbling, friendships are slowly slipping away. Right there in the middle of it all, sitting next to us in the boat is Jesus telling us to cast our nets, telling us to trust him, calling us to follow.

Because the deep water is no time to turn away. The deep water is no time to lose faith or give up following. The deep water is where we learn to swim. The deep water is where our believing becomes real, not because of some false promise that God will magically turn all our tribulations into triumphs. Not because our risk is worthy of a reward or passing the test will grant us admission to God’s treasure trove. The deep water is where our believing becomes real because it is there we have to trust and believe that the God we know in Jesus Christ is not afraid of the depths we find most frightening.

Whatever Jesus said from the boat to the crowds must have been very convincing, because Simon went. He put his boat out in the deep water, against his better judgment, against the disapproving and flabbergasted looks from shore. He pushed his boat out farther and farther into the lake of Gennesaret until he reached the deep waters. There he and his partner put out their nets and caught so many fish the nets were bursting at the seams. They pulled in more blessings than their boat could carry. They piled so many fish in there the boats they even began to sink!

Simon knew then who he had met in the deep water. He knew then he would believe the truth and this comfort this man would speak – “Do not worry about your life. Are you not of more value than the birds?” “Daughter, son, your faith has made you whole.” “I will not leave you alone. I am coming to you.” “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The God we know in Jesus Christ is MORE than capable of using the deep waters as a place of revelation, if we are willing to meet God there. The God we know in Jesus Christ can turn the deep waters into a source of blessings more than we can carry. Even in the middle of the deepest waters, we can find friends and companions for the lonely journey. We can find relief when commitments are overwhelming. We can find compassion in cold and impersonal systems. We can find understanding when all our cries have gone unheard.


In the deep end we learn how to swim. In the deep waters, we learn how to follow and believe.

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