Jesus calls us from timid successes to the deep which risks failure but where the making of souls may happen.
I love the prayer of Sir Walter Drake, naval hero:
When Jesus said, "Put out into the deep," Simon Peter at first balked, then consented. And when the fishermen threw their nets out, the nets were so filled with fish that they began to break; and when they began hauling the fish into the two boats, the boats themselves threatened to sink under the load.
Peter suddenly is terrified. He is in the presence of the numinous, the unexplainable and uncontrollable. And now he might drown. Has this miracle turned into a grave? He cries out, "Depart from me; I am a sinful man." He suspects that all that is happening is connected with his sinfulness. (We do that sometimes, interpreting misfortune as judgment on our sins.)
But Jesus says to Simon: This is not about you! You and your little catalogue of sins. This is about the kingdom of God! This miracle is a parable. From now on you will be catching people!
Jesus calls us into the deep. The boat is not tucked safely in harbor. We are called to the high seas. Rowan Williams, the brilliant theologian and soon to be Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote an essay called "Theological Integrity." In it he used the words of Joseph OíLeary: Theology done with integrity is marked by "venture, slowness and strain."1 Our culture values what is safe, what is fast, what is easy. But the theological enterprise, when done with integrity, consists of "venture, slowness and strain." Think of a boat on the high seas, venturing, making its way slowly, enduring the strains of the deep. Venture, slowness, strain.
We are called to a place where "deep calls unto deep." Not where superficialities meet trivialities. Where deep calls unto deep.
It is a journey inward and a journey outward.
In the inward journey we offer to God the depth of who we are. The grace of God wants to go with us all the way back and all the way down so that there is no part of us untouched by the healing love and healing light of God.
Sometimes when life throws us into the deep, we are tempted to rush to the surface; but the way to wholeness and healing is through the storm, not above it or around it.
In our church covenant we say we are "open to all new light." This is a brave affirmation. And not just new light from scripture. The Celtic Christians spoke of Godís revelation coming from two great books: the Book of Scripture and the Book of Creation. We might add to these two a "third testament," the book of your life, of your own sacred self. God speaks not only in scripture and in creation but also into and from the midst of your life.
Let your life speak. From its depths.
Ralph Waldo Emerson addressed the graduating class of the Harvard College Divinity School July 15, 1838. In it he said:
Let your life speak, let God speak, from the depths of your real life.
We also have the phrase in our covenant: "We will sustain a critical examination of scripture, belief and ritual." God speaks to us in scripture, belief and ritual, the treasures of our tradition.
What does it mean to sustain a critical examination of these gifts from the past? It means to ask questions of them. We go beneath the surface to the depths. In this community we can ask all the questions we need to ask in order to come to the truth we most need.
Not everyone needs to ask the same questions. And the questions come from different places of need in our lives. We do not give awards to those who ask the most questions, or to those who ask the least. The point is to ask your questions, the ones you most need to ask.
God honors the questions you need to ask, and so do we.
But to go deep means that we also let scripture, belief and ritual ask questions of us too, as well.
There was a debate forty or fifty years ago between the famous German theologian Rudolph Bultmann and a young American New Testament scholar from Yale, Paul Minear. At one point in the debate the young Minear said, "Professor Bultmann, the difference between us is, I think, that you want us to de-mythologize the New Testament, and I think the New Testament should de-mythologize us!"
God calls us fearlessly and courageously to search out the meaning of scripture. But we are called to let scripture search us out too.
Iím speaking of the mutual vulnerability of the divine/human dialogue. In the "I-Thou" relationship between a person and God, and a person with another person, we are able to ask questions in both directions without fear.
There are questions scripture, belief and ritual place before us. To stay in the mode of the critical examiner destroys the neutrality of the dialogue.
This journey is not just a journey inward but also a journey outward. Jesus turned to Simon and said, "From now on you will be catching people!"
We are called into the deep because that is where people are drowning. Where lives are being lost and saved. Where people are drowning in addiction and self-defeating behavior, drowning in poverty and illiteracy and injustice. Drowning in sins which harm themselves and harm others and harm Godís creation. Drowning in violence and bloodshed. Drowning in self-loathing because theyíve never heard of Godís love revealed in Jesus the Christ. Drowning in despair and hopelessness.
"From now on," Jesus said, "You will be catching people." Thatís more than catching fish or catching the next episode of NYPD Blue. Catching people.
The text ends, "And they left everything and followed him."
Left everything and followed him. What he offered was so important to them and for the world, they left everything and followed him.
When Heaton Hall and the new education building was dedicated in 1960, Marney invited his friend James McCord, President of Princeton Theological Seminary.
We had just seven or eight years before dedicated this magnificent sanctuary. James McCord looked around at Heaton Hall, pointed to a place above the stage and said, tongue partly in cheek, All you need is to have the words inscribed there in gold: "They left everything and followed him."
One spiritual challenge here is with the question: How will we who are among the most blessed of this earth and this nation and this city use what God has given to us for the healing of the world? How can we let our minds, hearts, talents, spiritual gifts and money become part of Godís mission of catching people?
The phrase "And they left everything and followed him" asks its own persistent questions to us who keep so much.
But God doesnít call you to instant sainthood, doesnít expect you to wake up tomorrow and suddenly be Mother Teresa. God invites you to a day-by-day, year-by-year path of transformation that is salvation to you and to the world.
Here is how I like to put it. I got the phrase from somewhere I cannot remember. (Who was it who said originality is forgetting your footnotes?)
To follow Jesus is to give as much of yourself as you can to as much of Christ as you know.
Every day I wake up with this very challenge: To give as much of myself as I can to as much of Christ as I know.
Every day we can grow on both sides of that equation: The adventure of being able to give more and more of ourselves to Christ, and of knowing more and more of Christ to give ourselves to.
The way of the kingdom, the doors of this church, the waters of baptism, the paths of discipleship are all open to you this day. This very day.
1. Rowan Williams, "Theological Integrity" in On Christian Theology
(Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000), p. 15.
2. Essays and English Traits, Harvard Classics, V (New York: Colver and Sons, 1937), p. 34.