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Sermon for Sunday 6 February 2022

First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-19

4Now 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.” 6Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” 7But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. 8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” 9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. 10See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” 17“But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. 18And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. 19They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.”

Psalm 71:1-11

1In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be ashamed. 2In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; incline your ear to me and save me. 3Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; you are my crag and my stronghold. 4Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor. 5For you are my hope, O Lord God, my confidence since I was young. 6I have been sustained by you ever since I was born; from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; my praise shall be always of you. 7I have become a portent to many; but you are my refuge and my strength. 8Let my mouth be full of your praise and your glory all the day long. 9Do not cast me off in my old age; forsake me not when my strength fails. 10For my enemies are talking against me, and those who lie in wait for my life take counsel together. 11They say, “God has forsaken him; go after him and seize him; because there is none who will save.”

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:31b – 13:13

1231b I will show you a still more excellent way.

131If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Gospel: Luke 4:31-44

31{Jesus} went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, 32and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. 33And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34“Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God.” 35But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. 36And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” 37And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region. 38And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. 39And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them. 40Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. 41And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ. 42And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, 43but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

Out Into the Deep

Throughout both my military career and my academic studies I struggled.  Nothing came easily, but I was determined to do the best I possibly could.  In the military, I worked on advanced technology, with infrared video systems and laser target designation systems and as you may know, over the course of 10 years, I completed two undergraduate degrees and my Master of Divinity degree.  Throughout both these endeavors, one could say I was a disciple of those who were masters in both of these activities.  The Greek culture considered a disciple a philosopher’s follower or sometimes an apprentice learning a trade.  In much the same way, the New Testament writers used the term disciple in different ways.  

Don Campbell shared the uses of the word disciple in The Theological Wordbook as: First, describing the twelve, then often pointing to the larger group of followers who left their occupations, parents, families, and friends to follow Jesus.  Radical demands were placed on those who followed Jesus since He was seemingly always on the move.  Additionally, He constantly challenged, motivated, questioned, and sharpened His followers into people who would eventually suffer for Him, and for most of them, die for Him!  The disciples learned from Jesus the spiritual and social lessons that led to an unfolding of the drama of the redemption story.

Second, the word disciple is also used in the broadest sense of the word and included all who believed in Jesus’s words (John 8:30-31) and grappled with the truths He proposed.  Luke 6:17 relates that there was a large number of disciples who represented a cross section of society.  Unfortunately, they were surface disciples and when the teaching interfered with their lifestyle by becoming too difficult — they defected (John 6:60-66).  Jesus expected true followers to accept His teachings and wholeheartedly fulfill the call to accept, believe and repent.  It was also expected of these followers to go out and make other disciples.  Third, the goal of discipleship is to be Christlike.  

To be a true disciple means we need to allow the Holy Spirit to hone us into the character of Jesus through conviction and our willingness to change through the transforming power of God.  In our gospel reading for today, Jesus, after leaving the synagogue of Galilee, ventured out to the lakeshore and used a boat for His pulpit.  Jesus, it seems, went anywhere where there were people in need or who were willing to listen.  His desire was to see lives changed, physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually.

A few weeks ago I received an unusual phone call from a woman who asked to speak to the pastor.  I assured her that I was the pastor of the congregation and then I asked what I could do for her.  She, rather bluntly, said, “I want to be a member of your church.”  I thought this was unique.  I had never met the lady, she had never been inside our church that I know of, and I discovered through our phone conversation that she knew absolutely nothing about the church.  She had no clue about our doctrines, beliefs, theology, policy, or history.  During this conversation, she informed me that she had no intension of attending the church or giving financially, but simply felt a need to belong to a church and wanted me to take her into membership over the phone.  I shared with her that it wasn’t that simple: she would need instruction, needed a desire to be in a relationship with Jesus, be committed to be involved in the church, and have a desire to bring others to Christ.  I also explained that there were some procedural matters involving the church council.  Needless to say, she decided to forgo her membership in the church.  Unfortunately, too many people are like the lady who called.  They want to be “long distance” disciples, surface disciples without any commitment.  Discipleship by definition demands involvement, it stresses a relationship with God and it requires that we go out into the deep.

Truth be told, going deep isn’t something most people feel comfortable doing.  But the process of going “deep” captures the essence of both psychoanalysis and spiritual meditation, knowledge of self, and knowledge of God.  You can’t hover on the surface of things and expect to be rewarded with either encounter or insight.  Think of how you prepared a research paper when you were in school.  If you don’t go “deep” into inquiry on your subject, you’d end up with 20 pages of “introduction.”

If we don’t allow ourselves to go “deep” in our relationships, you may have a good many acquaintances, but you’ll have few true friends, and doubtful a true partner.  If you don’t allow yourself to go “deep” in anything that interests you, you’ll never truly become immersed in the joy of that activity.  Whether it be at your occupation, in music, sports, or any other hobby, going “deep” allows us to truly embrace the experience, to embody it as your own, and to make it part of who we are, to become part of our core identity.  Take me for example.  

Like most professionals, I introduce myself according to my profession or career.  In the Military I introduced myself by my rank and last name.  Today, I introduce myself as Pastor Steve.  Why?  Because like all who immerse themselves in their calling, I go deep into what I do.  Having spent 28 years in the Air Force, that became part of who I am, and like my call as a pastor, it too informs everything I do.  What I do for a calling is more than just a job.  It informs a good part of my core identity.  If you perhaps don’t much like your job, you may introduce yourself differently.  Or maybe your core identity lies in being a parent, a grandparent, a soccer coach, a mentor, or a faithful member of the church.  The ways we’re willing to go “deep” will, to a great extent, define us.

In the scriptures, both the Hebrew and Christian, we find multiple metaphors for “going deep.”  Think about it.  The journey through the waters of the flood on the ark to be part of a new beginning.  The travail through the Red Sea to escape the Egyptians.  The slosh through the Jordan to reach the promised land.  Jonah’s deep-sea adventure in the belly of a whale before doing God’s will.  Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman at the waters of Jacob’s well.  Jacob’s wrestling with God before he could cross the river to reunite with Esau.  Jesus’ own baptism, as well as ours.  There are of course many, many more.  In fact, today’s scripture continues that theme.

Jesus is standing beside the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Lake of Gennesaret).   The crowd was growing so large, Jesus barely had place to stand.  Two boats are sitting by the lake.  Jesus boarded one of Simon Peter’s boats and spoke to the crowds from the water.  Now comes the interesting part.  After He had taught them, Jesus turned to Simon Peter and told him to “row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.”  Talk about an interesting metaphor!  Large crowd – Large catch.

Jesus’ teaching and message to the crowds – Going Deeper into Discipleship for the few.  I like to call Jesus the “master of the teachable moment.”  And indeed, He is.  He never just tells the disciples anything.  He also showed them in some way.  This day on the lake was no different.  When the disciples dropped their nets into the “deep water,” the catch was so large that their nets were splitting.  Then comes Jesus’ punchline: “From now on, you will be fishing for people.”  In other words, the only way you’re going to do the kind of ministry that will be abundant for my mission is to first “go deep.”

It isn’t enough to sit around and simply work the nets.  It isn’t enough to simply be a good fisherman.  It isn’t even enough to have a sturdy boat.  The only way we’re going to be a faithful follower of Jesus is to “go deep”– to commit ourselves fully to the presence and power of Jesus.  Going deep starts with 5 steps, and all these steps need to be completed.  We see these 5 requirements in both our Old Testament and Gospel readings for today.

First, is the admission of our sinfulness.  For Peter, it was “depart from me for I am a sinful man.”  For Isaiah, “I am a man of unclean lips.”  Second comes the recognition of who God is: for Peter, it was simply “I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  For Isaiah, “my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”  Third, Absolution is received: Isaiah heard, “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”  For Peter, he heard Jesus say, do not be afraid.”  Now most people want to stop here at recognizing God, confessing their sinfulness and receiving absolution.  But to go deep you must also complete the final two steps.

The fourth step in going deep is to hear the call or commissioning.  For Isaiah he heard God ask, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”, For Peter, Jesus said, “from now on you will be catching men.”  The final step is the response to God’s call.  For Isaiah, he said, “Here I am, send me.”  For Peter it was that “they left everything and followed him.”  Five steps to go deep, to become a true disciple.  The five steps needed to be in a relationship with God.  And there’s no way to have a close relationship with someone if you don’t allow yourself to “go deep” and dive into that place of intimacy and authenticity with someone that a close relationship requires.

A successful musician, for example, cannot reach their audience without allowing themselves to “go deep” into that place inside themselves in which they can channel their emotions, and even their pain, and bring them to the surface in the form of art.  We cannot heal our past unless we’re willing to “go deep” and examine the hurts face-to-face that are haunting our spirit.  We’ll never be effective disciples unless we’re willing to commit to “going deep” into our relationship with God, in our relationship with Jesus.

Many avoid going deep, because “going deep” demands something from us –our time, our devotion, our energy, our resources, and our vulnerability.  It requires us to open ourselves up to God in all of our sin and our pain.  It requires us to not only look at ourselves in ways that are brutally honest, but to show ourselves to God, even the parts of us we’d rather hide.  To be a true disciple of Jesus, we need to reveal ourselves completely, and go “all in.”  Can this be uncomfortable?  Absolutely!  Can this be scary?  Quite possibly.  But what does Jesus say to Simon before He tells him what they’d be doing from now on?  “Don’t be afraid.”  There’s a reason, Jesus starts His sentence with those exact words.

Jesus knows how hard it is to follow Him, to take up His mission as our own.  Jesus knows firsthand, how demanding and grueling true discipleship can be –those days of no success, those times when waves are rough and the sky dark, the times when the boat sports a hole or the nets tear.  But Jesus also knows that going “deep” will result in a vast harvest for God, and a huge “win” for Jesus’ mission in the world.

The people on the shores listening to Jesus were hungry –hungry for good news, hungry for insight, and longing for hope.  But they, just like the world around us today, would need help learning how to be disciples, in going from listener to follower.  They would need help going deep.  This is where you and I, and all those who are willing to go deep, come in.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the sign for Jesus the Christ was the ichthys, the fish.  The sign of the fish in early Christian gatherings signaled the presence of disciples, not just gatherings of the curious or the interested.  But those who would risk their lives for the sake of the gospel, and those who would be devoted to sharing the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ.  They would be the brave, the daring, the “fishers of people,” the ones with the heart and the courage not just to go out, but to go deep.

Today, on this Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, I encourage you to “go deep” with Jesus.  To go deep we need to start by truly confessing our sins, recognizing that God is our merciful and loving heavenly Father.  Then, in faith, we gladly accept the abundant grace God offers us in Jesus.  Then, we need to listen to the call of the Master when He says, Whom shall I send, who will go for us?  And in hearing that call, I encourage you, with the prophet Isaiah, to gladly say, here I am, send me. 

I also invite you to the Lord’s table to be cleansed, fed and nourished by the body and blood of the Savior of the world.  In doing so, you will be strengthened in your calling and in your relationship with God.  Then unafraid, we can wade into the waters of the world in order to save the floundering and the lost.  The call to fish for people is before us, as Jesus as told His disciples, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.


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