Two weeks ago I had the great privilege of traveling to South Florida to participate in a leadership fellowship with other young clergy. My travel began early on Monday of the week. I woke up extra early to be at the airport by 5:30. There was a lot of uncertainty with the travel because it was during the government shutdown, and there were reports of log delays due to TSA agents calling in sick. Frankly, I felt bad for them being forced to work with no pay. There were no delays on the flights down south.
Then we had a full week of learning and exploration. This meant late nights and early mornings all week, but it was great. My journey home was not so great. I came back on the day that Air Traffic Controllers were calling in so much that they shut down air traffic in New York. Again, I couldn’t blame them, but I figure that this caused delays all up and down the eastern part of the country. I had an hour delay on my planned departure. The plan kept being delayed and by the time we finally got to Atlanta, we were stuck on the plan waiting even longer. This whole time I was worrying about missing my plane to Chattanooga. When I finally got off the flight, I had to run to my next gate, and got on the plane just in time. My travel day began at 1:00 and I finally got home at 9:30—then I had an hour drive home.
When I was scheduling my travel, I did not realize that I was doubled booked with Resurrection. After a hard day of travel and a week away from home, all I wanted to do was to be at home and spend time with my family. But early Saturday morning, I loaded up again and headed to Pigeon Forge to participate in Resurrection with our youth group. Though I was tried and just ready to hang it up for the week, I was blessed at Resurrection. God was working in the lives of our youth group, and on Saturday evening, about half of our students went forward to either make a first-time commitment to Jesus or rededicate their lives to Christ. When I finally made it home, I was physically and emotionally exhausted.
Sometimes life and our schedules can just be tiring. I know that most of you can identify with having too much to do and not enough time in which to accomplish it. Sometimes it can just seem exhausting to get done everything that needs to get done. Sometimes all you can do is just get by. But there does come a time when you need to stop and rest from the never-ending grueling schedule.
The problem happens when fatigue has set in fully and yet there is one more thing to do. This one more thing may be something great, like my Resurrection trip, but it doesn’t make it easy. Today, we are going to look at a time when Jesus encountered some people that were completely worn out and then asked them to do one more thing. If you have your Bible, turn with me to Luke 5:1-11.
One day Jesus was standing beside Lake Gennesaret when the crowd pressed in around him to hear God’s word. 2 Jesus saw two boats sitting by the lake. The fishermen had gone ashore and were washing their nets. 3 Jesus boarded one of the boats, the one that belonged to Simon, then asked him to row out a little distance from the shore. Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
The crowds are pressing around Jesus as he stands beside Lake Gennesaret, which is just another name for the sea of Galilee. The crowds are trying to get closer and closer to Jesus so that they can hear him and perhaps they are seeking healing. Jesus wants to keep teaching the eager crowds, but things are getting jumbled and crowded, so he looks around for another way. Nearby, he sees two boats from fishermen that had come back to shore. So, he hops in one and asks Simon, also known as Peter, to row out just a bit for Jesus to use his boat as a platform.
Peter and the fishing crew had been working overnight fishing. This was hard work and now they are cleaning their nets and trying to put everything away, so that they can get home and get some sleep. Then, Jesus asks them for one more thing.
When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.”
5 Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”
These fishermen are worn out and tired. All they want to do is head home. They have been fishing all night and had no success. Not only that, they had put their tackle away, their nets had been cleaned, and they are ready to get back home to rest with their families. But in the midst of their exhaustion, Jesus asks one more thing—"row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.” These professional fishermen who had been fishing their whole lives knew when and where to fish. Jesus is a teacher, a religious leader; he’s not a fisherman. But, Peter, seemingly grudgingly agrees: “Because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”
It’s like being at the end of a crazy week and having one more thing to do. I imagine it’s a bit of how I felt after coming home from my trip only having to turn around and go to Resurrection. On the cusp of giving up, they took the risk and threw their nets again. By this point they had exhausted all of their opportunities to catch fish. They had exhausted all of their expertise and hard work—if there was going to be success at this point, it would have to come from God.
6 So they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. 7 They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” 9 Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught. 10 James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were Simon’s partners and they were amazed too.
Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” 11 As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.
When I talk to people, I know that they are tried. Your lives are busy, and you are pulled from one place to the next.
This same thing is true when it comes to church. When I think about our church and really church in general, I know that people are tired. If you are sitting in worship today, perhaps you are tired. The same people seem to do most of the work of the church. Meanwhile, churches aren’t as full as they were 20 years ago. People attend church less frequently. 20 years ago, a regular church attender would be at the church perhaps 2 or 3 times a week. These days, someone would probably consider themselves regular if they attended 1 or 2 times per month.
On top of that, it’s getting harder to fund the basic ministry of the church. Used to, if people started attending your church, you could count on them to be faithful givers or even tithers. Older generations valued the church as an institution and (for the most part) could be relied on to be faithful in their giving. If you were born after 1946 this is less and less likely for you and your peers. It’s not that people aren’t faithful or that they don’t want to give, but they generally don’t value giving to an institution. Today people are more likely to give to a cause or a vision.
It’s good that people want to support a cause, but the back side is that when people don’t give to support the basic ministry of the church it makes it harder and harder to reach out and try new things. If a church struggles to pay utility bills or the pastor, then it makes it harder and harder for that church to reach out into its community and make a real difference.
All of this to say, many people are tired of the struggle. Many are ready to bring in their nets, wash them, and fold them away. Many see the good days of the church or their life as in the past. Many want to keep the church open not so they can change their community and tell people about Jesus but because Mama sat in that pew and she’s buried in the church cemetery. We had some good days, but they are gone. Many see their church as more of a waiting room than a church, a waiting room for heaven—just a place to pass the time until they die. For some, church is more like arguing over which sibling is going to get the furniture once mama dies.
Honestly, if you are tired, that all makes sense. If your faith is built and sustained on memories and feelings of the past, it makes sense to give up and put away the nets. If your faith is sustained by memories of what church once was, it makes sense to just hang it up and stop trying. Remember, Peter was cleaning and folding his nets, ready to go home and rest.
When I think about The United Methodist Church, I think some people feel this way too. For some forty years, the people of The United Methodist Church have been struggling over issues of human sexuality and what means in the church. And frankly, the church is divided on what it views as best. There are Christians of honest conviction that disagree with each other and the see the world differently. Some are of the opinion that Christian cannot honesty disagree about things, others, including myself, think it is a healthy thing to be in relationship and ministry with those that you share an honest disagreement with. I know that my life is constantly enriched by those that view the world differently than I, those that think about God differently that I do.
At the end of this month, we have a special General Conference that is designed to address this and help the people called United Methodist find a way forward to do ministry together. If you have questions or want to talk about this, I’d love to get together with you to listen to your thoughts.
In my opinion, some see this as an opportunity to clean and put away the nets and fight over the furniture. Here’s the thing, though, even at a time of division and disagreement, Jesus says—Church,row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets.
Let me tell you, the water is deep. If you look at the area around the church there is so much need and so much hurt. People often talk about places like Meigs county was being in the Bible Belt, as places of deep faith. But in our community, only about 1 in 5 people think faith is important. They might do lip service to God, say that they believe in God or something like that, but 80% of people around our church have no real interest in a faith that deeply affects their life. On top of that, even fewer people attend worship. The water is deep.
Reason and experience tell us that, perhaps, it is time to hang up the nets—being in church is hard. Being in relationship and in church with people who think differently than us, is hard. In church, we talk about taking Jesus seriously; we talk about loving people you don’t like; we talk about giving 10% of your income to support the work of God in the church. I mean these things aren’t always popular topics at the party.
Even so, in the midst of this deep water, people are hurting. Families are dealing with addictions and compulsions. Children don’t have a safe and warm home to go to at night. People are fighting diseases. Depression and anxiety are crippling to some. Many struggle to make ends meet and are working multiple jobs while trying to juggle childcare. Families are struggling; friends, the water is deep.
Eduard Schweizer, a 20thcentury theologian, once said that faith comes not in remembering the things of the past, but “as trust in Jesus’ call to try once more, contrary to all dictates and reason.”Try once more, row out to the deep water, and cast the nets again. Sometimes it can seem as if all your grace is worn out. Sometimes it can seem as if your best days are behind you. Sometimes it can seem as if the church has outlasted its importance, but then, Jesus walks up and says, “row out to the deep water, cast your nets again.”
It’s not about arguing about being right or getting your way; the ministry of Jesus is about casting the net to try again. And, you try again, because your community is full of people who need Jesus. Your community is full of people who are hurting and lonely. Your community, is full of people who need the true hope that only Jesus can offer—So, will you row out again, cast your nets again?
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.