Sermon Archives

"We're Going to Need a Bigger Boat."

Lexi Boudreaux
Sun, Feb 17

Texts: Isaiah 6:1-13, Luke 5:1-11

        “Are you sure this is going to work?” I expressed timidly from the back of a white Dodge Caravan that was hurling towards a shallow river in the hot Arizona desert. Our associate minister at the time, a.k.a. our fearless leader, turned around towards me from the driver’s seat. I remember her saying something to the effect of, “It’ll be fine! Our group isn’t completely alone out here if something happens. The red pickup truck that we’ve been following to the location can help if we need it.” She had a confidence that I certainly did not possess in our white clay-caked rental car. Come to think of it, she had the kind of confidence an adult would have when a large group of young people have been entrusted to them in the middle of a desert— or so I now assume, looking back on this memory as an adult who is frequently entrusted with the well-being of young people. We had been driving several hours towards the heart of the Navajo reservation outside of Flagstaff, Arizona and as much as I wanted to reach our destination in this land that seemed like a foreign country, my teenage self doubted that we could make it across this shallow, but daunting swath of water.

I was on this trip because it was a pilgrimage for my Sunday school class the summer before we would be confirmed at the church I grew up in. We traveled to the four corners area of the US, planning to live and work with some members of the Navajo tribe that live in that region. At the time I had a lot of mixed feelings about going on this journey and at the start, wasn’t sure how much help a group of teenagers from Brookline, MA were necessarily going to be to the people living there. What I did know was that I was saying yes to an opportunity to delve deeper into my faith as a young adult with people I loved and trusted, and that was something I could get on board with.

If you are waiting in suspense, we did cross the river safely in our minivan turned make-shift duck-boat. We were greeted by our hosts who generously housed us in their combination community center/ place of worship. As I brushed my teeth with water from a bucket that evening under a sky unlike any I had seen before, I noticed the cool night air on my tired face, felt very aware that I was definitely out of my element, and very confident that I thought I had an idea of what was going to happen next.

Before I continue, for a moment, I’m going to ask us to leave the desert of Arizona for the shores of the lake of Gennesaret, more commonly known as the Sea of Galilee. As I read our portion of scripture from Luke in preparation for today I wondered if the way I was feeling that first day of our trip was remotely close to how Simon felt as he was asked by Jesus to cast his nets into the deep waters off the shore. Simon is a fisherman who thinks he knows what he’s doing. He thinks he is an expert on how to fish properly and is confident in what he expects in his work. He is also the sort of someone who thinks he knows himself pretty well. All great qualities for him to list on his fisherman’s resume, perhaps something to put on his Galilee Linked In page, but not necessarily helpful for the unexpected journey he’s about to sign up for.

This story of a miracle of abundance occurs not too long after Jesus almost got thrown off of a cliff after preaching in his own hometown of Nazareth. In this instance, crowds are pressing him to preach the word of God near the boats of some local fisherman. How quickly things have changed for Jesus, it seems! In order to speak to the crowd Jesus climbs into Simon’s boat and asks him to push it out into the water a little bit further. Notice, Jesus doesn’t ask permission to get into Simon’s boat. He isn’t worried about if there would be enough room, nor does he tell him the reason why. He just steps right in there, whether Simon was prepared to receive him or not. Most often, Jesus shows up without our permission and in unexpected ways, in times when it’s not necessarily convenient, and certainly not within our designated categories for time devoted to becoming closer to God. He shows up in our boats, the places in which we get things done and feel productive, and shows us that the Spirit is there too, just waiting for deeper connection with humanity.

Now let’s check back in with my teenage self wondering what she is doing in the desert in the middle of August. A couple days into our time together we planned to cook dinner with some individuals who lived close by. Some of these folks were elders in the community who only spoke their dialect of the Navajo language and some of them were people we had been spending time with previously, like the aforementioned helpful individual in the red pickup truck. We set up big battery powered flood lamps for after the sunset to combat the pitch-black darkness of desert evenings in that area. We had been waiting for some time for the truck to come in with the rest of the supplies for dinner, so some of us were assigned some tasks to make do. I found myself standing next to an elderly woman no more than 5 feet tall near some basic ingredients like flour, cornmeal, and water.

As I saw the sky rapidly turning from blue to a deep sherbet orange I was told by someone in the group to help the woman who was next to me with whatever she needed. Within a moment, my new friend grabbed my arm with her warm, sturdy hand and started pointing to piles of ingredients on the folding table in front of us, speaking quietly in her language. From what I could tell we were making some sort of bread, what I later learned to be fried bread for some delicious dish called “Navajo tacos.” I couldn’t quite understand what she was trying to get me to do and so I looked at her with a confused and expectant expression. She smiled warmly and said something that I can only assume was a reassurance and slowly demonstrated how to mix the ground grains together with the water. As I attempted to imitate her practiced, methodical kneading, every so often she would gently grab my hand to correct what I was doing and then would nod to encourage me even when my batch did not even look remotely close to hers. We became aware that we were neighbors that night, so she showed me compassion even though I, as a white American from New England, probably represented everything that was stifling her way of life, her language, even her religion. She welcomed me into her life, her personhood, with an openness and kindness that was communicated not by words, but by our being present to each other as fellow human beings, human beings that have a desire to be known by one another and the divine, to be fed.

This simple activity, the task of making dinner together, wasn’t something I expected to affect me in any particular way. It was just something that needed to get done at the time. It was another task to be completed, another item to check off our list in order to get our physical needs met. I think I didn’t understand what it would mean because it was so simple. How could this ordinary work be a place for me to step out deeper into the Spirit of God? How could this moment show me something about following Jesus when our work is so small and God is so huge?

It turns out I wasn’t there standing in the pitch black night—save for those nearby flood lamps—for what I thought I was there for. I didn’t know what my experience was going to be as well as I thought I did. It turns out, I was there to be served by this woman and to be shown radical hospitality that was, in so many ways, unearned. In our short time together our eyes were opened to God’s abundant grace and love, which often hide in places that are just a part of the routine. Henri Nouwen, a Catholic theologian and spiritual director, said in his posthumously published book Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, “Our capacity for intimacy with God was interrelated with our ability to love and live with others in community.” I deeply believe this to be true and yet, it is something that I have to be reminded of frequently. It is easy to forget this when I don’t intentionally shift my perspective to a mode of being open to wonder and to God’s presence in all things. In the end, the time I spent in the desert that summer wasn’t about figuring out how to build accessible entrances to housing on that reservation or even learning more facts about life as a Native American in our country like I expected (although I did end up learning those things). It was really about understanding that going deeper for me meant listening to the Spirit of God in our ordinary interactions that often masquerade as mundane tasks and knowing that there is a possibility of being fundamentally changed because of it.

Jesus shows up in ordinary places where people are planning out and accomplishing ordinary things. This story from the gospel of Luke would be the equivalent to Jesus showing up at one of our First Church committee meetings, perhaps at your place of work, or even in the Friday café kitchen. God shows up in the task-oriented parts of our lives in ways that we least expect. Sometimes I feel like in our day-to-day we put “getting things done” in a different category than “deepening our spiritual practices.” I believe this to be a false assumption and here’s why: The focus of this passage isn’t Jesus’ moment of teaching the word of God in the waters just off the shore in the beginning of our story. The focus of the story is not telling us to spend more time learning facts, going to lectures, or absorbing more information, all of which are very worthy endeavors to take on—As we well know, the text says people were hungering for this kind of engagement, to some extent. But, the passage actually never tells us the content of the message that he provided. That teaching will be lost to time for us. One of the real opportunities for understanding in this story is the moment when Jesus invites Simon to do something that is related to his practical work, something that he assumes he knows everything about. He asks Simon to take the risk that when he engages in his work while being grounded in his faith in Jesus that he will indeed be fed, despite what his experience had been in the past. He asks Simon to go deeper by doing something that at first doesn’t seem connected to his spiritual life at all, but as we know, is the very thing that compels Simon Peter to leave everything he knows to tell others what is possible through Jesus Christ.

In our culture today it seems like one of everyone’s main descriptors of themselves is the word “busy.” We are busy with errands, with volunteering, with commitments to our families, our friends, our work, and even our church. Everyone sings the praises of their color coded Google calendars and timed reminders for appointments and various meetings we have committed to. I know for me nothing happens if it’s not in my Google calendar. I fall prey to this way of thinking as well, that if we fill our lives with enough opportunities to gain knowledge, that maybe if we try just a little bit harder, then maybe we will feel more spiritually fulfilled. It makes me feel a little less alone that Simon might have felt the same way in our passage from the Gospel of Luke. He laments to Jesus: “we have worked hard all night long but have caught nothing” after Jesus requests him to take a chance in saying yes in a new way, with a new perspective to the work he was already doing.

I was in attendance at the leadership retreat at First Church last weekend. It was so inspiring to hear about all of our hopes and dreams for this place, a place that everyone loves deeply, a place which has become another spiritual home for me. One of the sentiments that was expressed was this feeling of: “I’m so busy” and also “I want more.” Another wise phrase that was lifted up was: “I didn’t join a committee to be on a committee. I joined a committee to be in relationship. I don’t care what I’m doing here, I just care that I’m spending time with you while doing it.” In our lives we often feel like we are working into overdrive with all the wonderful things that we try to accomplish and yet, we also cherish the time that we spend with loved ones doing those very things. Perhaps, going deeper for us is being intentional about seeing our ordinary work as an opportunity for spiritual deepening and for fostering authentic connections with each other. Maybe, going deeper means searching for God’s voice in the everyday. As our passage from Isaiah says this morning, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of God’s glory.” Perhaps, part of recognizing God’s call to discipleship for all of us is to bear witness to the truth of that statement in our every thought, word, and deed.

In a couple of weeks we will be paddling out into the deep waters together to listen to God’s Spirit during the season of Lent, our liturgical season leading up to Easter associated with Jesus fasting for 40 days in the desert. Personally, I love Lent because it is an opportunity to try new ways to open myself up to what God is doing in my own life and in the world. To realign what I say I believe, and what I am actually doing. A sobering task to be sure. I also find that committing to doing things a different way is a risk and oftentimes I find it initially anxiety inducing.

We might be afraid to step out into the deep waters because once we take that leap of faith, that terrifying risk, what if our nets come up empty, yet again? What if once we shift our perspective on the work we are already doing we feel just as tired and hungry as before? Worse yet, what if our nets actually come up overflowing? What if by saying yes to going deeper with God and with each other, we discover something beyond our wildest dreams? Something that is so big we can’t ignore it, something that will transform our lives. Something, that we just can’t help, but tell people about.

Amen.

Please pray for the victims and their families who were terrorized at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in California.

Please attend the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) Healthcare Assembly on May 29 from 7 until pm. The location is TBD, and will be announced soon.

To address institutional racism, please call your state representative and Senator, and ask for abolishment of mandatory minimums in sentencing. Ask them to contact the Joint Committee dealing with this legislation. For more background on this...