February 10, 2019
Luke 5:1-11, Isaiah 6:1-8
“Get into the Boat”
How many of you have a list of things you want to do when you finally have time? Does that list include the books you are hoping to read? My friend Lee Albertson told me to read the book Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory.I bought it right away and it sits in that pile of “to be read” books. I thought of it this week as I reflected on the scriptures. Using Lewis and Clark as examples, Tod Bolsinger talks about how to navigate when “the world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you.” That is a fair statement of church. In June, I will celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of my ordination. If ministry is anything, it is improvisation every single day. We can say the same about life. It is not carefully scripted, even when we would like it to be. It is instead, adapting to the unexpected things large and small that come our way each day.
Both of our texts are stories of improvisation. Isaiah is sitting in the temple in what was likely an ordinary service when he sees God and angels and it takes his breath away. His initial reaction is humility and awareness of his failings as a human being. He is forgiven and immediately hears God asking, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah enthusiastically says, “Here I am; send me!” Of course, he is caught up in the emotion of the moment, but it is a little curious that he doesn’t ask what the job entails or if there is a travel budget or a retirement plan or health insurance. He just leaps in and says, “I’ll do it!!”
It is not unlike the gospel reading. The fishermen are quitting after a long night and no success. Jesus just hops into Simon’s boat and tells him to go out into the deep water and drop their nets. Simon is somewhat skeptical, but he does what Jesus says. Then he has a new problem. There are so many fish that their nets are breaking. They fill the boats and they begin to sink. Simon is also humbled by this overwhelming abundance of fish. He too sees his human failings. Jesus tells him that he doesn’t need to fear because they will be catching people from now on. They get to shore with a huge haul of fish, leave everything behind and follow Jesus.
What would make you leave everything and follow Jesus? I hear Simon’s story and think that if I were in his shoes, I would want to stay at work and collect on all those fish. I can’t imagine leaving at that moment. It sounds a bit like winning the lottery when it has reached a million dollars and setting the money down on a picnic table in a park and walking away.
Let’s be clear: neither Isaiah nor Simon and his friends knew what they were getting into at all. Would you say yes if you had no idea where this was going?
I wonder if we are less like Isaiah and Simon and more like the Impala. The Impala is an African deer with a supercharged spring. It has a vertical leap of over 10 feet and can broadjump over 30 feet. You would think that the zoos of the world would find it impossible to keep such an animal enclosed. Not so! It's rather easy. Because the experts discovered something about the Impala. It will not jump unless it can see where it is going to land. Therefore, a solid wall even 6 feet tall is a sufficient enclosure.(Bill Bouknight, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com)
The truth is we don’t know where we are going to land. If you read the Bible, you will see that God called people over and over without telling them how things would turn out. And they went. God’s promise each time is the same promise we get today, “I will be with you.” Wouldn’t we like to know what we can expect from God? Wouldn’t we like to be guaranteed that things won’t be too hard or that there will always be indoor plumbing or a comfortable bed? That isn’t what we get. We simply get the promise that we don’t travel alone.
A group of us traveled to Santa Fe on Wednesday for a briefing on legislative issues that are important for faith communities. Ruth Hoffman is the legislative advocate hired by the Lutheran Church. Each year, she works closely with churches and the legislature on issues that we value like children, poverty, education, healthcare, and hunger. Ruth has been doing this for twenty years and she says that the outcome of our work is not in our hands. It is like a redwood forest. We are in this for the long haul. We cannot stop when our particular situation improves. We are in this until everyone is living the life God intends. Let me be clear: that is impossible. Thank God it is not up to us. Our job is to say yes and to go into the mountains in our canoes trusting that God is in the boat with us. Even better, trusting God to steer the boat.
This is hard stuff. It is difficult to trust in what we cannot see. It is difficult to work for something that seems impossible. We may have a few feverish moments of commitment before we realize that it is harder than we thought, and we don’t know that we have the energy for it. How many times have you found yourself profoundly inspired to do something great only to discover weeks later that inspiration forgotten as your everyday obligations stepped in and took over? It reminds me of Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard’s duck church parable:
There was a community of ducks who waddled off to church to hear the duck preacher. The duck preacher spoke eloquently of how God had given the ducks wings with which to fly. With these wings there was nowhere the ducks could not go, there was no God-given task the ducks could not accomplish. With those wings they could soar into the very presence of God. Shouts of “Amen” quacked throughout the duck congregation. At the conclusion of the service, the ducks left, commenting on what a wonderful message they had heard—and waddled back home.
When I hear the stories of Isaiah and Simon, I am astonished at the miracle that they both said yes. There was no waddling back home after that. It makes me think of my experiences white water rafting on some tricky rapids. It sounded like a really good idea before we got into the boat. When the raft bounces around and the water pours in or when I have popped out of the raft, I wonder why I thought this would be fun. At the end, I am pretty grateful to be alive. I think that may be what it looks like to be a church that follows God. It sounds like a good idea and so we jump in the raft and before we know it there are boulders in front of us as the rushing water pushes us toward them at alarming speed! Ironically, in those moments, it is often more important to paddle than to hold on and eventually, we find ourselves on the other side. Lest we get too comfortable, there will soon be another boulder ahead. In the raft, our job is to follow the command of the guide. That is not easy when the guide says to paddle hard, but all we want to do is hold on for dear life. We are not responsible for getting the boat through the rapids, that is what God does. Our job is to get into the boat. Let’s be clear – that is no small thing. The most courageous thing we can do is say yes to God and then get into the boat.
Can you hear God’s call for us to get into the boat?
My beloved children are victims of sex trafficking in your city.
My beloved is going to bed hungry.
My beloved is sleeping under bridges.
My beloved is wrestling with addiction.
My undocumented beloved is trying to find work to support their families.
My beloved is not receiving the healthcare they need.
And then God, asks us, “Whom shall I send? Who will get in the boat with me?”