Saturday, February 9, 2013

Into the Deep (Sermon - Luke and I Cor.)

“Put out into the deep water,” says Jesus.  “Put out into the deep water, and let your nets down for a catch.”
We talk a lot in the church about the outward journey
                The journey of mission
                The journey of caring for others
                The journey of sharing the good news
And especially when we’re exploring the Gospel of Luke, we talk about the outward journey.
Last week, we watched Jesus preaching in the synagogue, and reminding his people that God had chosen through the prophets Elijah and Elisha to heal the woman from Zarephath and Naaman from Syria – gentiles, outsiders, people other than the Jews themselves – and thus we, 2,000 years later, were reminded that God goes to all people.  That God is not reserved for us.

You may recall that I mentioned that the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were probably written by the same author, a gentile author, who was tremendously interested in the movement of God outward, and in spreading the good news of Jesus Christ around the whole world known to him.  In fact, one way of looking at these books is to take note of their structure: The entire Gospel of Luke represents a movement from Bethlehem toward Jerusalem, and the entire Book of Acts represents the movement of the fledgling Christian church from Jerusalem toward the world.  Very much an outward journey kind of framework.

But Luke does not neglect the inward journey, the inward journey of the individual toward God, the journey initiated by God and pulling us ever deeper into relationship with God’s son.  How many times in Luke does Jesus go aside, go apart, to pray?  Always beleaguered by the crowds who seek his teaching and his healing, he nevertheless finds time to meet with God, his father, in solitude. 
Today’s gospel passage is often taught as the epitome of the outward journey.

There will be many sermons preached today on

The call of the disciples – Jesus approaching the fishermen cleaning their nets

The call of Simon Peter – Jesus interacting directly with Peter, and Peter responding  directly to Jesus

 “Catching people” – signaled by the unexpected catch of the many fish, so many that the nets begin to break and the boats begin to sink

Your Bible may even be marked with the caption, “Jesus calls the first disciples”

And so we are accustomed to hearing this as an extrovert’s story, as a call to become a disciple and move outward into the world
And that common and frequently discussed interpretation is an entirely legitimate one

 A meaningful interpretation – it’s so moving to see Jesus institute a relationship with the first disciples, and to ponder the ways in which he reaches out to us

An exciting one – how inspiring it is for us to understand that we, too, are called into the service of Jesus, to leave behind that which holds us back and to follow him
But today I want to propose to you, as we prepare to move into Lent, that there’s an impetus toward the inward journey in this narrative as well.

“Put out into the deep,” says Jesus.  “Put out into the deep water, and let your nets down for a catch.” 
Think about what’s in the deep, the literal deep.

I’m always drawn to the ocean and I’m fascinated, when I’m there, by the thought that the sandy beach along which I walk at low tide will be covered by several feet of water only six hours later, and that the water will churn with fish, and small sharks, and a few rays, and jellyfish, and maybe even a few turtles and eels – most of which will be invisible. 

A pastor friend of mine is travelling right now, and posting Facebook messages about the deep sea diving she’s doing.  A couple of days ago, her page read: Three dives. Tons of turtles, morays, a whale shark, and a manta.  The deep conceals a whole universe about which most of us know little.
We learn something of the deep in The Life of Pi.  How many of you have read the book or seen the recent movie?  (I’ve seen it twice so far; I am completely entranced.)

The basic story goes something like this.  Pi is a young man who lives with his family in India.  His family owns a small zoo, and as the political climate changes in India, his parents decide that they need to sell the zoo and emigrate to Canada, taking the animals with them to deliver to their new owner.  They all set out on a freighter voyage, a terrible storm comes up, and the ship and most of its passengers are lost at sea.  Pi, however, survives, and awakes in the calm to find himself in a lifeboat in the company of a zebra, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger.  Within a few hours, the zebra and the orangutan have been dispatched, and it’s just Pi and Richard Parker, the tiger, alone somewhere in a small boat on the Pacific Ocean. 
The story unfolds into the tale of their mutual survival.  Pi, as he says later, survives thanks to Richard Parker, in part because he needs to find and catch food in order to keep Richard Parker alive, and in part because he has to keep his wits about him in order to stay alive himself, in the face of the danger posed by a very large and powerful carnivore.

As the movie draws to a close, the question becomes apparent: Was there really a tiger?  A literal, actual  tiger?  Or does Richard Parker represent something else, something about the depths of Pi’s character and the ways in which Pi has to grow and change in order to survive?  Does Richard Parker tell us something about the depths of all human nature, both its lighter and its darker sides?
“Put out into the deep,” says Jesus.  For the disciples, those words serve to invite, to offer hope, to command, to challenge.  For Pi, something of the same.  Pi, out in the middle of the ocean, has few options, but every day he does have decide, yet again, to persevere.

And what does Pi learn, out there in the ocean, from its depths?  What do the depths – of the water, of human life – have to teach us, about ourselves, about God, about faith?  And what difference does any of that make for others?
“Know thyself,” urged Socrates in ancient Greece, centuries before the birth of Jesus.  “Know thy God," the writer of the Book of First Chronicles in the Old Testament tells us.  Both exhortations echoed through the Christian world as well as the Greek and Jewish worlds; 1500 years after Jesus walked the earth, the great church reformer, John Calvin, told us that “[n]early all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves (Institutes, 1.1.1). Calvin asserted that we cannot know God without knowing ourselves, and that we cannot know ourselves without knowing God. “[W]hich one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern” (Institutes, 1.1.1).

The ocean and its depths become the place in which Pi learns something about who he is.  He learns to survive – he learns to survive physically by meeting daily challenges and developing new skills, and he learns to survive spiritually by resisting the temptation to let his darker, instinctual, tiger side prevail.  Or is it his fearful human side that is the darker, and his survivalist tiger side that is the brighter? Put out into the deep and learn who you really are – so The Life of Pi seems to tell us.
He learns something of the mystery of God in the depths as well.  There’s a marvelous, eerily beautiful scene in the movie in which Pi, out on his little boat, is surrounded by luminescent jellyfish, glowing white just under the water.  And then a spectacular whale breaches, arching into the night sky, it too seeming to glow against the darkness.  How many times does the Bible refer to the knowledge of God as being “too wonderful for me” – and yet, in the depths, in the deep, some of that knowledge – the beauty, the magnificence of the earth and its creatures -- is revealed to Pi.

And so he learns something of himself, and something of God – and something of faith.  In the vast ocean, Pi learns the sustaining nature of gratitude.  His family gone, his life threatened daily by the elements as well as by the tiger, Pi over and over again expresses his gratitude to God for saving him, for providing for him -- for providing him with knowledge, with food, with rest, with what he needs, day by day, to survive.  

“Put out into the deep,” says Jesus.  Put out into the depths of your life, into that place in which you will come face to face with yourself, with God, with the power of faith.
“Put out into the deep,” says Jesus, into the depths of self-knowledge and God knowledge, into that place in which God calls you to be most authentically yourself – so that you can call others to meet Jesus.

“Catch” is the word Jesus uses here – “put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  Put out into the deep of growth, of encounter with God, of wisdom – put out into the deep first, because in exploring the depths of faith,  in growing in knowledge of self and God, you will find yourself catching, capable of catching others – of reaching out to others, of serving others, of revealing the generous and loving presence of God to others. 
“Put out into the deep” – and Lent is the time for doing precisely that.  When we next gather as a congregation, it will be Ash Wednesday, the first night of the season of Lent, and we will be putting out into the deep of a season of repentance, of practice and discipline, of heightened awareness – of ourselves and of our God.

Paul tells us that it is by the grace of God that we are what we are, and Lent is a season particularly designated for becoming more fully who we are:  disciples of Jesus Christ, self-aware and capable, inwardly focused people of faith, preparing to be propelled outward by Resurrection life. 

And so: Go deep, this coming season.  Put out into the depths, submerge yourself in an encounter with God, and prepare to pull in a great catch of faith in Jesus and love for others from the waters.



  1. Wonderful...wonderful...wonderful. Intrigued by looking at introvert/extrovert lens for scripture. Thanks for your deep (yes...intended) and powerful words.

  2. Beautifully said.

    Just happened to finally go see Life of Pi last night. Wow. Almost makes me want to read the book again and I very seldom do re-reads. I can definitely understand going to see it more than once. Feast for the eyes and food for thought.

  3. I always find lent and Easter hard. You give me a joyful, hopeful focus. My thanks.

  4. I also love this! And, just as an aside relating to some other conversations we've had, in Jungian dream work the ocean, the sea and other large bodies of water usually refer to the Unconscious. And to cast nets into it would be to write down one's dreams .... the fish being the symbols of sustenance offered.

    For a woman (using this scripture passage as if it were a dream) the energy of the masculine is necessary - both for the decision/command "Put out into the deep" and also the energy of actually lowering the nets, catching the fish, cleaning and then going forward with the food for all.

    Another powerful way to enter into the Scriptures, no?