Saturday, February 6, 2010

What Was That?

Darn that groundhog!

OK, maybe it wasn’t the fault of Punxsutawney Phil or any of his imitators. But it seems too much of a coincidence that a couple of days after that rodent was scared by his shadow, we get dumped on by Snowmaggedon! I didn’t make that up. I saw it in an online news report before it happened. It was a prediction. Snowmageddon is coming! Run for the hills! Or the beach. Or someplace warm. A desert.

OK, reel it in a bit here. Still, February snow storms always catch us by surprise for some reason. Maybe we had a taste of warmer weather (Hey, this is Indiana, 40 is warmer in January), maybe the previous snow had melted, and despite the prognostications of burrow dwelling creatures we were setting our minds to the end of winter. Then, BAM! Another storm hits. We’re out there shoveling again wondering where this came from. We’re out there, and it is deeper than we had thought it was going to be. Deeper than we were prepared for. Deeper than we had imagined.

So, now we have a taste of what those first disciples felt that day on Lake Gennesaret. Here is our passage for this first week in February.

Luke 5:1-11 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.

In the conversation we learn that it hadn’t been a good night for Simon. Fishing was done at night in those days. The fishermen would spend the night in the shallows tossing their nets and pulling in the catch. Then as dawn broke, they would bring the fish to shore and sell them at the market. Because of a lack of facilities for preserving fish, this was a daily event. Except this day.

This day, for Simon, was a hungry day. Nothing to sell, nothing to take home for his family. Nothing. It might have been that he was still sitting in his boat because he didn’t want to go home and tell them that he had nothing. It might have been that he was sitting there feeling empty, feeling worthless, feeling shallow. Until that man came and asked him to go out into the deep.

Luke says that Jesus was teaching and everyone kept pressing closer and closer. The crowd grew and pressed in to hear. So, Jesus looks around for options, and sees Peter sitting there in his boat with failure on his hands. So, Jesus steps in and asks if he would mind rowing out a little way so that he could teach without risking getting wet.

An amazing thing, don’t you think? A little invitation, a small inconvenience and before you know it, Simon was in over his head. Did Jesus show up that day looking for followers? Or was that a bonus? The catch of the day?

And what was the lesson that day? I find it interesting that Luke doesn’t say a word about what Jesus taught. In Luke’s haste to get to Simon Peter’s story, we skip over Jesus’ words. Typical, I suppose. We sometimes miss what is right in front of our faces, because we want to get to something more personal. We skim over the article to see if our name is there, we glance through the program to find someone familiar, we scan the crowd to find a certain face, and in so doing we miss everything and everyone else. Jesus may have been talking about paying attention. It was a common theme in his teaching elsewhere, no reason to think it would have been absent here. "Consider the lilies," he would say, "look there, wheat and weeds growing together," that road, this seed, those fields – Jesus was always asking us to pay attention to what was around us. Like a preschool primer, Jesus said "Look and See."

Yet it was never just the appearance of things that interested Jesus. He was really saying look deeper. Which is what he said to Peter when the teaching was over. "Let’s go deep." That’s where the drama is, isn’t it?

I know that tomorrow is the Super Bowl, and I first thought about using that as the entrance into all of this today. But given that I live in a house with non-sports fans all the time, I thought it better to go with the sudden snow storm (besides who could resist a word like "Snowmaggedon"?) Yet, even a nominal fan knows the excitement of a long completed pass that moves down the field with a combination of skill and grace. Going deep brings the big cheers. And while I will join those who are hoping for a Colts win, my secret hope is for a exciting game, filled with going deep - to Reggie Wayne, and Pierre Garcon and Dallas, and Austin and all those other Colts players! Go deep.

Peter was open. He didn’t know it, because he wasn’t paying attention, but he was. He was open to going deep. Even though it was against his better judgement. Even though it wasn’t the way things were done in his business. Even though he had been unsuccessful the night before. He was open. And that small opening is all it takes for miracles to occur. A willingness to look deeper, to live deeper. There is so much right in front of our faces, and we miss it.

Peter knew he was in over his head. "Go away from me," that’s the first thing he thinks to say in the face of someone who lives so much more deeply than he did. Go away, I can’t handle it, I’m not good enough for it, I don’t have the strength. Remember he had been up all night, struggling with his failures. Someone once said Jesus doesn’t come when we are well rested and ready all that often. Usually it is when we have labored all night and caught nothing, often it is when we want to give up, when we think there is nothing left and we aren’t any good at life. Then Jesus comes and says "go deeper."

"From now on you will catching people." Like he did that day on Lake Gennesaret. Like he did because he lived deeply. Like he has done for the past two thousand years, gathering up those who long to live deeply, to live aware of life. It is no wonder that when they came to shore, they walked away from the fish, the biggest catch in their careers. They walked away to go deep.

Snowmaggedon drifted as it fell last night. There were bare spots in the driveway as Rhys and I shoveled this morning. Bare spots and deep spots. Some of it was easy to move, a light touch, a minimal effort. Some of it required more attention and effort and energy. And yet, somehow there was more satisfaction, more of a sense of accomplishment from going deep. Don’t you think?



Got Plans?

This will probably be shorter than usual. Partly because I’m not preaching this weekend, and partly because Maddie have the place to ourselves. La Donna is off at a UMW Spiritual Retreat, the first for the new Indiana Conference. And Rhys is in Elkhart for an overnight debate meet. Which leaves just Maddie and me. And she’s got plans.

Plans are good, I like plans. Or at least I like them when they coincide with what I wanted to do anyway. Or with something I would enjoy doing had I thought of it. But sometimes Maddie’s plans don’t interest me all that much. Not always, and today we’ve worked out some compromises. But often we rebel against someone else’s plans. We like being in charge of our own destiny. We like being the decision makers of our own lives. In fact we would have trouble with the idea that someone else is making plans for our lives. We can’t think of anything worse than arranged marriages, for example, or indentured service. We would rebel against that, we would rise up in arms. We would charge the perpetrators with oppression, or worse. It is in our cultural make up to determine our own direction.

Which makes me wonder how we hear our scripture for this weekend. It seems to counter our natural, or at least cultural tendency. Or am I misreading something here? Take a look.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, 5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." 6 Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." 7 But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD." 9 Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

Got plans? Here is the question, is this just for Jeremiah, or is it for all of us? Does God indeed have our lives planned out for us from conception? Or before conception - depending on how you read verse 4? Is this irrefutable proof of predestination? Or are we missing something here?

Jeremiah seems stuck, to be honest. And I’m pretty sure that is how he feels about it. He is called the weeping prophet, because on his days off he spends time running around saying "I wish I had never been born!" He seems to hate his calling. He wishes he could unload it, and given the chance he would. Except that he says that when he tried, he couldn’t. It was a part of him, it was a "fire shut up in his bones" when he tried be silent. It was what he was made for, and even though he didn’t like it, he had to do it.

Seems like a trap. On the other hand, it seems like a gift. I know, talking out of both sides of my mouth there. But I have to confess, I know what it is to do something that you seem born to do. I was called the preacher boy by my grandfather before I was sure that was what I was going to do. When the time came to decide, it didn’t seem like much of a decision. Everyone around me seemed to spend a lot of time wondering, deciding, thinking about what they would do when they grew up. I never worried about it much. It was just a part of me.

I see things in my kids. I can’t say exactly what they are going to be doing to make a living in the years ahead (unless someone comes up with "professional shopper" as a career - Maddie would be all over that in a moment!), but I have a pretty good idea of how they are going to do it. I know their personalities and inclinations. I know their preferences and their leanings. So, am I limiting them? Not at all, I just know them. And I love them. That gives insight and a certain amount of wisdom when it comes to those we love.

Not complete, I’ll admit that. I didn’t know them before conception. I didn’t know them before they were born. But then, I’m not God. I want to know them like that, I want to love them like that. But I’m not there yet. A infinitesimal bit like that, but not there yet. So, I ask again, am I limiting them?

Maybe the point is not that God forced Jeremiah into something against Jeremiah’s will, but that God knew Jeremiah so well, loved Jeremiah so much that he knew what he was going to do and who Jeremiah was going to be. And God told him. Maybe that was the difficult part. Maybe knowing is what makes it difficult.

I’ve been like Jeremiah at times, I have to confess. I have complained about the lot that God has given me. Wished I could work in a factory tightening bolts and not trying to deal with people, wished I could herd cats rather than try to exhort people, something easy. I understand the struggle. But I also understand the passion. While they’ve never complained to me, I’m sure any associate pastor I’ve worked with would like to preach more. But I have a hard time stepping aside. I enjoy a weekend off every now and then, but there is also a desire to be up there. It is hard to keep it in sometimes.

Was I trapped? Tricked into doing what it is that I do? Were you? No, definitely not. But I was shaped into what I am and what I do by a God who works through parents and teachers and examples and friends to make me and you what we are. Take comfort in that. Even when we aren’t as sure as Jeremiah that this is where God wants us to be. Take comfort in the faith that tells us God has plans, God gives gifts, God blesses us with abilities and inclinations and when we follow them, we are usually doing what God wants us to do. Shaped to serve.

And sometimes those who shape are smaller and less patient. Gotta go!