Rev. Tina Walker-Morin
Pilgrim Congregational Church, UCC
February 21, 2015
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This morning I have a message for you on finding God.
Friday night I went to bed wishing I could sleep in Saturday morning, because yesterday was my scheduled day to go to the prison, MCI Norfolk to meet with the gentleman I mentor. I really just wanted to have a relaxing morning, maybe go workout, drink my coffee and finish my sermon. Tracy even said to me, “can’t you reschedule or skip this month?” The problem was I skipped last month, so I said “no, I have to go.”
As I went to bed, the following came to me: “go find God at the prison.” I went to sleep thinking about that phrase “go find God at the prison.” When I got up yesterday morning and began my half hour drive I was still hearing that phrase, “go find God”.
Finding God in the prison…seems like and unlikely place. A place full of criminals, stone cold people, corrections officers on high alert, prison wire, metal detectors, drug sniffing dogs…but that little voice in my head kept saying, “go find God”.
Our scripture today has a similar tone. We find Jesus on Lake of Genesaret, which is the Sea of Galilee. Peter (who is called Simon) and the other fishermen have been out all night and have caught no fish. They have now brought their boats on shore and have begun cleaning up. If it were today, the boats would be docked and the guys would have the hoses out washing down the decks, tying up the loose nets and putting everything back in its place ready for the next voyage. But then here comes Jesus as they are finishing up, and anyone who has ever cleaned anything or put anything away can understand Peter’s hesitancy to take the boat back out and to put the nets out. Why does Peter do what Jesus’ askes, after all he is not yet an apostle? Because this is his call story. This is the story of how he came one of Jesus’ followers.
In the Gospel of Luke the verses preceding this scripture we are told Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law:
38 After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. 39 Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them.
40 As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. 41 Demons also came out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah. (Luke 4:38-41).
So why does Peter oblige Jesus and take the boat out? Maybe because he feels he owes something to Jesus for healing his mother-in-law. So Peter takes Jesus out into the water where Jesus preaches from the boat, to the people on the shoreline.
Peter leaves the shoreline and goes out into the water, Peter “goes to find God.” He goes to find God because our divine Jesus, our God incarnate is out on the water. Jesus is out off of the safety of land and calls Peter to follow him, to go out and find God. It is here that Peter trusts Jesus and puts his nets down again. He places those freshly cleaned nets into the water and is overwhelmed by the amount of fish they catch. So much so that they have to call another boat over to help. Then Peter overwhelmed by the Spirit falls down to his knees and says to Jesus, “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... Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” (Luke 5:8-9)
This story has several symbolic meanings for me. The first is the missionary tone to the text. Jesus has Peter cast his net to the other side of the boat and they were overwhelmed by the amount of fish they caught. The metaphor is in the trusting of Jesus and by following him the disciples will convert or “catch” many people. This metaphor for missionary activity also enables the audience to understand the great catch of fish as the amazingly successful mission that Jesus is starting and that Simon Peter and others will continue.
Yet the even greater symbolism for me today is that we are called to go and find God. I see us as the people on the shoreline at times watching and waiting, we are people on the safe and solid ground waiting for God to come to us. We come here to this church with regularity, listening to what Jesus taught, singing songs that have been pasted down for generations and praying to God for help and to come to us.
We rely on God, we plead and ask, and sometimes even barter with God. And when nothing happens, or when we do not see anything happening, we wonder where is God, why should we pray or why didn’t God act and respond? That is, respond in the way we expected God to act or respond.
Well you know what? I believe God is calling us to come out into the water. To step off shore into the unknown, where the tides are always changing, where we don’t know how deep the water is, where we cannot see the bottom, where we can some ride the waves and surf along and at other times get pummeled by the waves. God is calling us to have faith and step off the shoreline.
What do I mean by this? I mean God is calling us to action, God is calling us to find and meet God, not wait for God to come to us. Personally I struggle with this. There are times when I want God to come right here and answer me, to take away my pain or grief, to take away my depression. I like nearly 15 million other Americans at times struggle with depression and when I am in the throes of my depression, when the waves just keep coming and pummeling me, I want God to come right now and rescue me!
My gut reaction is to crawl back on the shoreline where it is safe and wait for God to come meet me there. To crawl back into my bed, alone, and away from other people and even away from God. I would pray and want God to come to me and help! But as Mother Teresa said, “I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us, and we change things.”
We change things, now I know that no matter how far under the sheets I go or how dark the room or moment may feel, God is there with me and God is there inviting me to come out, to take the first steps and for me to change things. It is up to me to come out and meet God. I must pull myself up out of the sheets and go be around my friends, or go for a run, play with my dogs, or just simply talk to someone and pray. These are the things which help me move through my depressed times. It is in these things where God is waiting. I have to do some work and I have to find God.
During lent we are searching for ways to grow closer to God, ways to step off the shoreline and find God in the water, yet how do we know when have encountered God? When Peter realized that he was in the presence of God, of Jesus Christ he and the others were “amazed”. Have you ever been amazed? Or stood back and just looked at something in awe?
A seminary classmate of mine told us a story how she one day went out for a hike. She was a great photographer so she took along her 35mm camera. Along the way she would stop and notice a leaf or the way light bounced off a tree, so she would pause take out her camera, adjust the F-stop, focus the lens just so getting the angle she wanted and “snap”, take the picture. She continued along this hike, stopping every so often as another piece of nature would catch her attention and imagination. Again taking off the lens cap, adjusting the F-stop, focusing the lens, angling the camera and “snap”.
When my friend got home she was excited to develop her film and as she wound the film back, she noticed very little tension so she quickly opened the back of the camera only to realize she had forgotten to put film in the camera! All those pictures, all that time, was lost. But then she also realized that it was not lost, that the attention she gave to taking those pictures, the wonder, amazement and beauty she had seen was her finding God in the wilderness. She had gone and met God.
Sometimes God meets us and we know it is God. It is like the waves crashing, strong and obvious. But more often it is God inviting us and waiting for us to get in the boat with Jesus.
Once I got to the prison on Saturday my friend and I had a great meeting with the guy we mentor. He has begun really opening up to us. He even said he doesn’t know why but the two of us and one of his professors, at the BU prison program are the only ones he really has opened up to. He has not even talked to his beloved grandmother or sister about the things we discuss. As I reflected, I realized it was not about me, or my friend. It was not because we are able to say the right things or have some great ability, rather we came open to meeting with my guy who is incarcerated and being with God. Like Peter and the others, I was “amazed”, amazed at how open this young man has become and I realized that I did “go find God” there at the prison. God was with us in our conversation, God enabled us to just be with him and not be distracted. God was surely there. I have no idea if the guy that I meet realized it or not, but I know I was there to find God and God as promised showed up.
Showing up is half the battle, then we must trust and have faith to step off the shoreline and go meet God because I promise God will be there ready to meet you.