Communion Meditation preached by Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens, Sr. Pastor, The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, Epiphany 5, February 4, 2001, dedicated to Kosby Wynne, recently baptized into Christian faith and always to the glory of God!
I Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our salvation. Amen.
The saying goes, "Catch a person a fish and he or she will eat for one day, teach a person to fishing and that person will fish for a lifetime." "Teach, then fish" was certainly the order of discipleship on the day Jesus met his lead disciples Peter, James and John on Lake Gennesaret (or as we call it "The Sea of Galilee"). On that day, the fishermen were exhausted from all night freshwater fishing with no catch. Jesus was fresh and ready to get on the water to impress the crowds with his teaching as they were pressing him for wisdom. Seizing the opportunity to teach and fish, Jesus jumped in Peter's boat (without introductions) and pushed out a bit on the water. Jesus had netted the interest, attention, and following of many people - unlike Peter - who couldn't even attract one fish to his nets.
Whatever Jesus taught, we will never know. But, what he did next shaped the course of Christian history. He told Peter to take the boat out further to catch fish. Although Peter resisted, because he thought he knew more about fishing than Jesus, he eventually went out further and dropped the nets. His nets filled with so many fish that Peter's boat almost sank - even with the extra help he received from friends nearby. Peter goes down on his knees (for the first time!) and confesses to Jesus his own sinfulness. Jesus simply lifts Peter up and leads him on the path to discipleship. So in one morning's work, Jesus met, caught, and led three men away from the freshwater fishing business into the Word of God, Eternal Life Discipleship Business! He did it in five steps: Get in, Move out, Cast down, Lift Up, Follow Me!
1. First, Get in! In order to "Get Out" we have to get in. Jesus knew this. He got into the lake. He got into Peter's boat. He got into the teaching. He got close to Peter. He met Peter where Peter was and led Peter to where Peter wouldn't have ever thought of going. But first he got in!
How many times, have you failed on some project, some relationship, some understanding with another person because you didn't get in where they were? Conversely, how many times have you found yourself immensely successful with another person because you met them in their place, in their need?
I remember a Church Council meeting at my first church in Cleveland when I failed to get in where my church leaders were. The year was 1985. Just out of Yale Divinity School and serving a blue-collar congregation on the westside of Cleveland, I thought I knew much more about ministry and the church than they did. So, I often mismatched their needs with my approach. One such night was the night I recommended we purchase a computer for the church office. We had been given some money and a "PC" was in out future. Wrong! Without hesitation, they voted not to have a computer. I was stunned. (I had many such defeats in those early years!) Later, I didn't have to go fishing for an explanation. Bob Olsen came to me. He said, "We don't want computers in our church. Everywhere we look, computers are putting people out of work in our shops and factories. We don't want them to wreck our church, too." I didn't know what their needs were. I didn't know them. I hadn't gotten in.
Those of you in this room who haven't "Gotten in" at First Church yet, Now is the time. With our ambitious Long Range Plan, "Forward in Faith" I encourage you to do what one member told me she did. Go through the plan and write your name in the margins. Where can you "get in?" How can you get involved? From fellowship opportunities for young adults (How about a 20-30's group - we have over 80 people in this age grouping) and older; to music for newly forming worship opportunities; to sports teams to Habitat for Humanity houses to bible or book studies, to the newly forming Arts Campus group to committees, commissions and classrooms that need your leadership, I encourage to get in. Once you're in, move out . . .
2. Move out. Once he got in the boat, Jesus knew he had to move out on the water. He had to push off the shoreline and move out and move on! But, Peter could not move on. Jesus hopped in his boat and started teaching and all Peter could think about was the night before and the lousy fishing expedition. He was moving back in time while Jesus was moving forward. Peter was stuck in the mud of his memories, while Jesus was sailing on the sea of possibilities.
Are you a person who can get in but can't move out? Are you stuck in the mud of memories of how bad something has been? Or to use another image, shared with me yesterday by David Hansen (via the writings of C.S. Lewis) - are you stuck in a ditch? Lewis, writing in (David believes) Mere Christianity, talks about all roads having ditches beside them - on either side. We often travel the roads of life, but somehow our journeys carry us into the ditches. And I know more than a handful of folks who rather than crawling out of the ditch, or getting towed out of the ditch remain there, believing that their destiny is to be a ditch-dweller, rather than a road traveler. Move on and Move out, and if you can't do it yourself - remember you're in good company. Peter relied on the Messiah Moving Company to move on in his life. You can do the same.
3. Cast down . . . Once Peter had the boat out on the water, he cast down the nets. Once the nets had filled to overflowing with fish, he cast himself down at the feet of Jesus, confessing his sins. Casting down our sins, casting down our bodies before God - this is step most of us seem to resist. There are a few exceptions. While a young monk, Martin Luther was prone to constant confession. He was so often confessing his sins before the Abbott of the Monastery that the Abbott once told him, "Martin, cease from these visits to me until you have some real sins to confess." Many of us have real sins to confess. The more real the sins, unfortunately, the more real the denial of sin. It should be the other way. It should be the greater the sin, the greater the confession.
Cast down your burdens. Cast down your sins. Confess your sins to God. Let God hold them and handle them and forgive them. In The Ragman, author Walter Wanergrin tells the mythic story of a ragman. The ragman picks up the rags and tattered pieces of tattered and torn lives and heals people by wrapping them with clean cloth, with the clothes of eternal life. He carries all the rags, all the bloodied and torn rags, carries them - like the sins of the world - to the city dump. There, having healed the wounded, the worn, and broken of heart, mind and body, the rag man dies and ultimately is resurrected in the trash heap. The Christ, the Savior, the rag man picks up the crud and the waste of our lives and heals us. That's what Peter saw in the face of Jesus as he lay at his feet. He saw that casting down all his sins upon the teacher, the healer of Nazareth, he would be healed.
4. Peter, having cast down, Jesus lifts up. Nets are lifted. Peter is lifted. Sins are lifted. People are lifted. For some of us, fishing heals our souls. But, I promise for all of us, faith heals our souls. Faith heals. That is the conclusion of psychiatrist Dr. Dale Matthews, associate professor of medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. In his book, The Faith Factor, Dr. Matthews identifies twelve aspects of faith that may help deliver healing benefits. I will only list them today, but they (and other factors) deserve much more attention. The 12 faith factors are: structures of social support, temperance (related to drunkenness, sexual immorality, smoking and overeating), serenity, appreciation of beauty, worship, confessing and starting over, the power of ritual, hope, unity, meaning trust and love. ( Found in Prayer, Faith and Healing, edited by Caine and Kauffman, Rodale Press, 1999, pp.18-22).
Dr. Matthews concludes The Faith Factor by saying that we won't enjoy the full benefits of faith by warming a pew. As we are lifted up by God, we must grow in our faith. As he says, "Mother Teresa was not religious because of her great desire to achieve better health, but because of her desire to worship, praise, and serve God." Or in the words of Simon Weil, "My job is not to worry about myself. My job is to focus on God, to worship God. God is concerned about me. God will take care of me." Or in the words of Jesus, "Seek first God's kingdom and God's righteousness, and all these things will be given to you."
5. Finally, follow Him! After we get in, we move out, we cast down, and we are lifted up, we follow him. To follow him - this is the hardest work we do on our walk of faith - that is - the part of the walk when we are not beached, or ditched, or ragged, or face down. In her book of 14 essays, Teaching A Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard writes of meeting a boy on the distant edges of her Virginia farm. Upon meeting her he asks, "Do you know how to catch a fish when you haven't got a rod, a line, or hook?" Without her answering, he keeps going, "First you get a stick (he explained what sort of stick), then you get a thread of honeysuckle, and if you need a hook . . . " Annie interrupted him, as she had to leave. "One more thing!" he called as she turned to go, "When you get in the honeysuckle, watch out for the big old snake!"
To follow Jesus most likely will involve days when you have nothing but a stick, some honeysuckle thread and no hook. Undoubtedly, you will feel the ground moving beneath your feet as you move through the honeysuckle in search of a fishing line. It might be a big old snake. And it might be the challenge and uncertainty of moving out in faith. But do not fear, for our Savior, Jesus Christ is in the business of catching sinking disciples. Amen.
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