This Lent, let’s go deeper.
We recently heard Lindsay Mack, pastor of Luther Memorial Church, give this sermon to her congregation on Chicago’s north side. Not only was it beautifully and thoughtfully written, it made us think about this story from Luke 5 in a fresh way. And it seemed like just what we needed to hear right now, in this season before Lent - a call to venture out into the deep water to see what’s there for us. Thanks to Lindsay for letting us share it with you here.
1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 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. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." 5 Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 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. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Our gospel story today begins with Jesus needing some space. It’s early morning—dawn in Galilee. The time of day when summer is fresh and waking up with birdsong. It’s the time of day that the fishermen drag their boats up onto the shore after a long night of fishing. Folks are starting up the cooking fires. Children asking for breakfast.
And in today’s story, Jesus on this early, cool morning, is surrounded by crowds pushing in on him (as the Bible says). That’s a way to start the day. Perhaps Jesus has been up with the people, talking and healing all night. Maybe he did actually manage to get some sleep but now, as soon as folks see him awake, they come to him with questions, problems, eagerness… Just as the cool sky is turning pink with dawn, the bible tells us, the people are pressing in on him. Jesus sees some boats on the shoreline, there at lake Gennesaret makes a beeline, and without so much as a, “Hey man, you mind if I borrow your boat,” he jumps in and pushes out away from the crowds and into the lake.
Of all the boats to commandeer, he happens to have made off with Simon Peter’s boat. Jesus and Simon Peter aren’t really tight yet at this point in the gospel story. Jesus had just healed Simon Peter’s mother in law a few days earlier, so it could be Simon Peter would let Jesus get away with just about anything, even making off with his boat without asking. You can kind of imagine Simon Peter, tired after a rough night at work (they didn’t catch anything) hungry for breakfast, And he kinda double takes as Jesus starts pushing the boat into the water, I imagine him running over and calling out: “Dude, what are you doing! We just pulled the boats in and cleaned the nets! You don’t even know how to sail.” And then I imagine Simon Peter awkwardly climbing and fumbling into the boat as the current catches it and pushes it out.
Out there on the boat, Jesus teaches the crowd for a bit. Leads a little Torah study, And as things die down, he’s hanging out, drifting with the guys in the boat, and he says to Simon Peter. “Hey, man, go out into the lake, out into the deep water, and put out your nets.” Simon Peter argues it. He tries to talk Jesus out of this crazy idea, which never really works very well. And they put out for the deep water.
The Bible story could have just left it with telling us that the disciples threw the nets in the water, but, Luke has to add this little detail that the water was deep. It had to be deep water.
Deep water can be freaky. I don’t know if you’ve ever been out on a boat and far from shore, and you hop out to swim in the deep water? If so, you might kinda know I’m talking about. You’d think that after almost 45 years, we’d be over the movie “Jaws,” but seriously, you don’t know what’s down there. In deep water, you don’t know what’s going to eat you or sting you. Your place on the food chain is suddenly uncertain.
This isn’t our first encounter with deep water in the Bible. From the very beginning of creation, we hear about God’s spirit moving over the face of the deep. Then, there’s Jonah, that prophet that ignores God, is thrown off his boat in a storm, swallowed up by a whale, and sits for three days in that whale’s belly--deep down in the water. The well that the woman draws water from in Samaria, that hot afternoon when she runs into Jesus, is deep. Noah, in his tiny ark floats above the deep, dark waters of the earth.
Something important and holy and transformative always seems to be happening when our sacred texts talk about deep water. And that’s no different in the story today when Peter finally does as Jesus asks and puts the nets out into the deep water.
There are some things I know are true about deep water. First off, as I mentioned a minute ago, it can be scary. You can’t see the bottom. Even if we’re confident swimmers or sailors, there’s this knowledge that we’re not fully in control. Then, deep water can be uncomfortable. I’ve never scuba-dove, but I hear that there is a lot of technicality to coordinate and the deeper you go, the more intense the pressure is. Finally, deep water can be easily ignored. One could just float in their boat on the surface and gaze at the sky. You can decide to never actually jump off the boat. But Simon Peter, after arguing a little with God, goes there. And he throws his nets into the deep water.
In the ocean, nutrients sink towards the bottom of the deep. There they settle, miles below the surface, along the cold ocean floor until currents and wind pull and pick them up and send them up to the surface in a process that scientists call upwelling. In this ocean upwelling, nutrient rich and life-giving sediment rides these currents, lifts up through the waters to the surface. There, they provide sustenance for most of the oceanic life in the top layer of the water. In these places where the currents meet, where the waters of the deep upwell to the surface, that is where the plankton and algae—which feeds the ocean ecosystem—swell. That which rises to the surface from the deep gives life and nutrients.
Jesus tells his disciples to throw their nets into the deep water.
The origin of this word “upwell” that scientists use to describe this oceanic process is exactly what you think it might be. To bring something “up” “well” From the deep. In the case of the ocean, the upwelling feeds, nourishes, changes and sustains oceanic and thus, planetary life. In the case of the human experience, you hear this word “up-well” used to describe something like an upwelling of grief that had been buried or quiet or, maybe an upwelling of support which hadn’t been apparent before. Something that comes up well out of the depths is right in line with our Bible story today.
Turns out, that when Simon Peter throws his net into the deep water, he pulls in a magnificent catch of fish. It’s a catch so incredible in a dead lake that one could only call it miraculous. Throw the nets out into the deep, Jesus insists, because, there is something of God that meets us in the deep.
Usually, we know about those deep places in our in our own lives and souls. There are the stories buried deep within. Stories that are sad, or embarrassing or shameful or piercing with their truth. God dwells there, in the deep.
Out there, in the deep, is the pain we feel when we grieve for someone or something we’ve lost: a family member who has died, a relationship ended, a dream for the future that has, for some reason, cracked… God dwells there, in the deep.
Out there in the deep, are the questions about our faith. The ones we’re not quick to say aloud. The ones that have to do with our doubts and uncertainties, our anger with the church: questions so profound that they lead us to wonder about the very existence of God. God dwells there, in the deep.
Out there in the deep: that’s where the things that provoke us settle. It’s where those truths about justice, fairness, and our privilege, huddle and wrestle uncomfortably with our complacency… God dwells there, in the deep.
I’m not sayin’ that we should live life all the time in the deep. Not all of us are called to be Henry David Thoreau and live in solitude on Waldon Pond, right? More often than not, we live life on the surface. When there are emails to answer, dinner to figure out, plans to pull together. There, on the surface, we move from text message, to homework assignment, to appointment to phone call, and the slow moving currents of the deep barely register. But, Jesus compels us to go there.
Time and again, our Bible highlights stories of God sticking with people who reach down into their souls and ask questions about life, identity, pain and their place in the world. In the story of Job, a man who tragically loses his wife and kids and rails against God asking, “why,?!” God sticks with him. And shows up in a magnificent whirlwind. When the Ethopian Eunich asked profound questions about why tradition said he couldn’t be baptized and why he wasn’t beloved to God, God was there in the desert and the Eunich is unexpectedly baptized. When the daughters of Zelophehad courageously questioned ancient social systems that worked against them as women, God was there, and the winds of change blew into Moses’ tent and God’s law was changed.
Out there, in the deep, and in the upwell from the deep, that’s where God moves and works. That’s where change, and transformation and new life happens. Thoreau himself was a changed man when he returned from those two years on of solitude on Walden pond.
Where is the deep water where you are being called to cast your net?
Because here’s final thing that blows my mind from the Bible story today: Perhaps whatever is there in the deep is meant for your own transformation (probably), but somehow, our individual transformation is always connected to something bigger.
When Simon Peter and the other fishermen on board haul their nets up out of the deep water, they are bursting with richness. They can barely contain the fish. The catch is so absurdly abundant that it almost capsizes their boat. And then, they haul their catch to shore and leave it. Did you catch that part of the story? They leave it there on the sand and they go on their way, following after Jesus. Imagine how that catch out of the deep blesses that community on the beach that morning: An abundance of food to eat, sell and trade…
When we reach down into the deep and share something of our fears, our imperfections that we struggle with, and our painful stories, the result of that up-welling is transformational and abundant blessing.
God dwells there in the deep and takes us there. God doesn’t ask for permission to get involved in our lives. God just is. Climbing into the boat. Prodding us with questions. Believing in us and our ability to connect with ourselves and with one another. Calling us to abide with Her as she hovers over the face of the deep of our lives. Calling us to throw our nets into the deep, pull them up, and bless the life around us.
All Jesus asks is that we follow. Blessed be the journey.
Want some help going deeper this Lent? Deeper in understanding yourself, deeper in your connection with God, deeper in your compassion for the world and commitment to make things better for all of us on this tender trembling planet? You might want to check out our Lent Another Way e-course, a self-guided creative reflection that comes to you as an email in your inbox every day throughout the 6 weeks of Lent. Learn more and sign up here.