A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on February 6, 2022
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, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 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. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 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. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 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.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Life, the good life, is about balance.
And getting balanced, achieving balance, maintaining balance, is doable… but, like so many things in our world, it works better if we pay attention.
Think about it….. how often do we do things in the same way that we always have, like Simon, fishing in one way, maybe always from the port side of the fishing vessel? and have never thought about letting down the nets on the other side, doing things from a different direction.
I don’t know about you, but changing things up to see things from the other side, or at least another direction, is not my default setting.
My default is all about doing things in the same way, preferably at the same time….
My saving grace is that I’ve learned, over the years, that my default is a sure road to nowhere, that even my life needs both routine and out of the box in order to continue to be faithful to God’s call.
It’s church life that taught me this. I didn’t come up with it on my own. It’s reading stories like today’s Gospel lesson and realizing that when Simon tried another way, he found abundant gifts – think of every one of those fish as a little wriggling opportunity – that he would have missed had he not followed the call to try something new, something different.
Church can be like that as well. We, too, can fall into habits that keep us fishing from one side of the boat, which prevent us from see the gifts just waiting for us when we’re open to new ways, other ways, of being
At it’s best, church, like individual life, is a balance… the way our bulletin cover puts it – for churches – is that at its best church life is a never-ending circle of belief, compassion, and action. No one of them is primary, no one of them is the single most important. The three work together to create a balanced way of being.
In the UCC essay I included today, John Thomas, who was president of the UCC from 1999 to 2009, wrote of a visit he’d made to Emmaus Homes in Missouri. Emmaus was founded by German immigrants, part of our denomination, who had learned that faith called forth compassion, and compassion led to action, and so they had created this beloved place for people with developmental disabilities and epilepsy to live in safety and comfort, surrounded by love. He tells of the resident, who believed that a mural of the Emmaus story in Luke, where the disciples meet the risen Christ, was more importantly, a mural of the day Jesus visited her home. John adds, “what our resident friend may not have grasped with her head she knew in her heart.”
Jesus is where head and heart and hands come together. Whether it’s the Emmaus of the Bible, or the Emmaus of St. Charles MO, Jesus is there where head, heart and hands work together in harmony.
Just as that’s true in our church life, it’s true for our personal lives as well. We are made to use our minds, to think things through, to check out the long-term implications, to learn the background history, and even to understand the math behind the proposals. But life is so much more than head can ever show us.
I kinda think of it as head stuff is just one dimension of our world. And there’s so much more. When it all plays out the way it’s supposed to, our head knowledge should help open our hearts, to call us to care about what we’re learning. And, as much as I love academia, I’m not talking here about making us love the abstract, but to draw us inevitably to love the world to which our studies expose us. In many ways, that’s just what we’re trying to do with racial justice – move from a head knowledge of the evils of racism to a heart which cries at the pain we now see at the base of Black life. Our head knowledge breaks open our hearts.
The broken heart of compassion yearns to do… compassion, at its best, calls forth action. I learn about a wrong, I feel the effects of the wrong, now what can I do. Think of what we’ve done, year after year, through the Christmas meal that’s led by Julie. Think of the volunteers, who come from all over, because they know what food insecurity is, and because they feel they have to do something.
Sometimes we get stuck and keep doing the same thing over and over, even when its time has come. I’ve known plenty of folks who, having lived through the Depression, could not stand to leave a roll on the table when they went out to eat. They had plenty of money, and good food in their larder, but the experience of being hungry all the time had never left them. My own mother told me she took up smoking to kill the pangs of hunger as she worked as a nurse, because she did not make enough money to afford adequate food. When life was better, she was hooked on smoking, no longer hungry, but unable to stop. She died at the age of 64 of emphysema. Sometimes we hold on to things we do well beyond their use-by date.
And so we work our way around to our heads. It’s a constant process, this learning to fish from the other side of the boat. It’s not just move from this side to that one and now you can forget about it. We need to always keep up with what’s going on around us, with how the world is changing. So the interaction of head, heart and hands is circular, not linear.
Head, heart, hands – the building blocks of Christian community. Knowing, loving, changing our world, one day at a time, that we might be a community steeped in love, immersed in mercy, and moving towards justice, today and always.
© 2022, Virginia H. Child