February 7, 2010
University Christian, Seattle
Rev. Janetta Cravens Boyd
“The Other Side of the Boat”
// Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch."
Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"
For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who are partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.//
At 6:00 EST, 3:00 PST, the 44th Super Bowl begins. And 5 minutes before that, the Colts team will bow their heads to pray, their team molded by Tony Dungy and now coached by Jim Caldwell, two devout and openly Christian men. The coaches don’t hide their faith in interviews, don’t hide their faith from the players, don’t require it of the people who play on their teams, but they do make faith a part of their ethics for coaching. Which means that they try to coach in such a way that players get to lead real lives, make time for family, and understand the stresses that the game puts on the players.
The faith of the Colts coaches and some players has had a lot of attention, especially by Christian television and news teams. Even though the Colt’s coaches have said repeatedly that they don’t prostelytize, and don’t speak about their faith to convince anyone of anything, they are Christian and so speaking faith is just a part of who they are -- it’s been mostly conservative news and media sources that have covered the role that faith plays in this team.
Now wait a minute. Only conservatives speak about their faith?
Following a stream of comments on an article on belief.net, several readers thought so. One person commented on the article that praying before a game was not something that a good Lutheran, or Episcopalian, or Presbyterian would ever ask someone to do. And I was saddened to think that they may be right.
But I have to wonder why good mainstream Christians like ourselves, have turned the microphone over to other brands of our faith and stopped speaking about our faith. I’m Christian. Is God a Christian? No. But this is my path for getting to God, following in the way of Jesus. Are fundamentalists the only ones who pray? Are they the only ones who speak their faith openly? Are they the only ones who, in an interview, explain what they believe to a crowd? Are they the only ones who believe that faith results in different outcomes?
So, here is Jesus, publically speaking his faith, sharing what he believes before the crowds -- and people are listening to him! A crowd gathers around him, and Jesus positions himself better, in a boat just a little off shore. The crowds hunger to hear his words, to pay attention to what he says, to fall on his phrasas. People want to hear about faith, they don’t know who Jesus is -- or if he’s qualified, or if he believes the right doctrines, or supports the right causes -- they just want to hear someone speak to them about God. And Jesus does that.
Jesus preaches to the crowds from a boat, a little way off shore. When he’s done with his sermon and instructions, Jesus asks Simon to take his boat out again into the lake. Simon protests, they’ve already been out fishing and its a crummy day for it, and they lowered their nets all day and not a thing’s gone into it, and there’s nothing for them out there in the lake, they might as well call it a night.
But Jesus compels them, and so they eventually follow his instructions. And the results are surprising. Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat and they get so many fish -- that the boat almost sinks and they have to call over another boat to help them, and it too almost sinks from the load of fish they haul aboard.
Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. The instructions that Jesus gives doesn’t really make sense. Why would the fish be out now? Why would they be on one side of the boat, and not the other? What’s different about the other side of the boat? But that’s not the point of the story. The story isn’t about fishing, it isn’t even about have God bless you with abundance -- It isn’t even about doing something different.-- but it is about coming to know God by trusting Jesus. When the soon-to-be disciples listen to Jesus and follow his instructions, a fuller understanding of God is revealed to them.
I think this is a metaphor for the church today. We have all these skills we know how to do, all these instruments of our faith that we’ve built our professions on, but we do them without listening to the instructions of Jesus. We keep taking out our nets, and leaning them over the side of the boat, and doing the same thing over and over and over again. And you know the definition of insanity don’t you? It’s doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting different results.
Under the instructions of Jesus, the disciples have a different experience. Those same skills, cast where Jesus tells them to, bring in fish. And of course, later, he’s going to tell them that keep listening to him and they won’t need to fish for fish any longer, but for people. Too often, when we feel stuck, we assume that our empty nets are telling us to Do something, or at least “DO something” different. And we would be right. We do need to do something different. But the different thing that we need to do is listen to God. For the disciples, one side of the boat isn’t that different than the other. But what is different is that they were listening to Jesus. What we need to do differently is listen to God, and check in with God. Are we on God’s plan? When we feel that we have to just “do something” it’s then that our empty nets should tell us that it’s time to start listening. Listening to the instructions of Jesus who brings us into a relationship with God.
Christ is the head of the church, and Christ is still speaking to us, asking us to follow his instructions and get to know God. But like Simon, we protest, especially when the instructions don’t make sense. Or challenge what seems reasonable, or feasible, or rational. Casting the nets to the other side of the boat, isn’t rational, it’s obedience. Following the still speaking voice of Christ is our faithful challenge.
So, how do you know when to cast your net on the other side of the boat? How do you know when it is time to change directions? How do you listen to Christ?
Listening to anyone, but especially to God, requires that we set aside our ideas and our plans first. Listening isn’t about sharing ideas. Listening to God isn’t about getting an audience or a fair trial for a good ideas we’ve had. Listening to God isn’t about opinions either. If two people have different ideas about what we should be doing, then one or both, of them hasn’t heard from God. God doesn’t send mixed messages. God’s impulse, God’s energy, God’s Spirit is pressing into us all the time, waiting for us to respond, sending us signals to know what it is that we should do. If we are receptive, then we understand what it is to follow. If we are not receptive, then we will get locked into debates and feel stuck. God isn’t concerned about what is feasible, or reasonable. God is concerned that God’s mission be accomplished through God’s Spirit of Eternal Energy, and God is concerned about God’s children. And the question is not what is the best idea, or what the opinions are, but the question we need to be asking is -- how do the things that we talk about move us and those around us closer to God?
As we go into our time together as a congregation, it’s time that we set aside our ideas about this and that, and come again to the basics of our faith. We know a lot about fishing. But Jesus knows things that our expertise can’t reveal. What is it that God is asking us to do? What direction is God asking us to apply our skills? Where do we cast our nets? I’d like to propose, that we begin thinking differently, and listening differently -- and asking different questions. Like, what does God want us to do?