First Congregational Church
March 5, 2017
First Sunday after Lent, New Member Sunday
“The Fear of Inadequacy”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Because of the famine of jokes that deal with today’s topic, you’ll have to put up with a plain, funny offering that has little, if anything, to do with the morning message.
The famous Olympic skier Picabo Street (that is her real name, pronounced Pee-Ka-Boo) is not just an athlete...she is now a nurse, currently working at an Intensive Care Unit of a large metropolitan hospital. She is not permitted to answer the hospital telephones any longer. It caused too much confusion when she would answer the phone and say, Picabo, I.C.U.
I think that a sermon series is a good thing to do during the season of Lent, because A. it can allow for more time on a particular topic that might not otherwise happen, and B. if it’s a bad series, it makes the Easter resurrection all the better. So the theme for this year’s series came from a journal called “Reformed Worship,” a publication that tends to have some really creative ideas.
The theme is that of freedom from fear. There are so many fears in the world: from alligators and monsters under the bed - to all the phobias - to all those fears we don’t even know we harbor. Many of us were raised to ignore or discount fears, so the topic of such may seem a little removed. Except that I think you may “find yourself” more often than you think in the weeks and passages and messages ahead. At least, I hope that’s where God will lead all of us.
Our scripture passage for this morning is one that was written by a Gentile to a Gentile audience, who tended to focus on Jesus’ humanity, while other gospel writers focused on other audiences and foci. When listening to and creating the mental scene of this passage, it is easy to see how it was rumored that the apostle Luke was a painter. At any rate, up to this chapter, Luke has shared the prophetic birth announcements of John the Baptist and Jesus, Mary’s and Zechariah’s songs, Jesus’ baptism, his temptation in the wilderness, his inaugural sermon and rejection at Nazareth, and a series of healings.
To guide your listening, there will be a question that will follow the reading of this morning’s passage, and the question is, “what fears to you see in this passage?”
1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who 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 from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began 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 full that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Thank you, Jim. So, what fears do you see in this passage? **** Thank you all for your contributions.
Arland J. Hultgren, from workingpreacher.org, suggests that “The story of the church is reflected to some degree in this story itself. When Jesus calls, Peter is hesitant and thinks that what Jesus asks of him is both unnecessary and too demanding.” Which begs another question, “What, in your mind, does the church/God call us to do that is too demanding?” That may be a little too tender of a question to ask for answers from this - or any - gathering. But I suspect there are answers to that question that we’d just as soon avoid.
Interestingly, by doing what Jesus asked him to do, Peter experiences an epiphany of God. Not only does God sometimes fill our nets to overflowing when it seems least likely, but as it is so often, God is manifest in the ordinary, even seemingly unnecessary events of our lives. On top of that, despite the whinings and reluctances of individuals and the church at large, God’s purpose carries on.
The Rt. Rev. Robert Wright of day1.org grew up as a city boy not knowing much about fishing, which is sad for him. But he had his own interesting epiphany. He said, “Some people don’t catch fish because they refuse to go into deep water.”
While that is a good principle in general, I can tell you that sometimes, when you’re in the boat, on vacation, on a Sunday morning in Canada, and it’s just about time for the guest preacher to do his or her thing, and you are hanging out near the shore - in say, 18 inches of water - to get weeds off the motor - or whatever - an 18 inch walleye can be caught.
And sometimes there are 28 foot holes, just before you get to the perch pond, and there are always huge fish marking down there. But no matter what you throw down into that hole, no matter the time of day, you will not catch a thing. Just saying.
By-and-large, Rev. Wright is right; sometimes you have to trust - when you’re tired, when it seems ridiculous, when you’ve done all you thought you could do. And besides, fishing is only the metaphor for grasping the deeper points of life.
Rev. Wright pointed out that “Deep water is where the increase is. Deep water takes faith. Deep water is a risk. Focus of mind and heart are needed. The visibility in deep black water is next to nothing. You've got to trust the words and directions of others who have passed through deep water to make it there. Jesus is always inviting people to the deeper end of things. Shallow water is pleasant. It tickles our ankles when we walk in it. The minnows and the half-grown fish gather there. You can see all the way to the bottom in shallow water.”
Too often we think we don’t have what it takes to do that sort of fishing, faithing, risking. Sometimes we feel inadequate in our night vision, in our trust, and ability to “see” in the dark. Sometimes it feels good, after we’ve been on a fishing trip of faith, to sit on the couch of complacency, liking our solitude and the safety of shallow water living - even catching our breath. And yes, even Jesus went away once-in-awhile to rejuvenate from a particular time.
I wonder if it “counts,” giving a sermon without fishing stories? Anyway, so when we were in the boat “going out” to fish for the day across the big lake, who knew that it would be blowing like a banshee on the trip home? Even if we could have received a weather forecast, would we have changed our plans? Even though we were swimmers, if the boat turned over, and fell down the 6-8 feet, the shallowness causing for greater waves, we’d still have to figure out a way to get the gear back, and the boat and motor back, and that may have been days away, if we couldn’t do it ourselves. So then one has to add those costs to the trip. Even if the seats were swapped, so that the more experience boater would drive, Murphy’s Law says that the temptation of fate and flipping the boat is increased by 1,000 percent.
But once you get across all the waves and pounding and bouncing and spraying of water, and you go around the bend that narrows the lake into a river, and the water is calm, you may need a moment to let the motor idle, to breath and to cry the tears of pent-up anxiety. But you aren’t home. And by golly, now that you’ve made it this far, you’re going to finish the trip or else….
The creator of this series, “Freedom from Fear,” is a gentleman named Marcus Roskamp, pastor of Faith Reformed Church in Lynden, Washington. (If you look him up, he’s the one that looks like he’s all of 16 years old!) Anyway, he saw the fear of inadequacy in this passage from Luke. The more I thought about it, and perhaps as you think about it, you may see how much his insight makes sense.
Because isn’t it a perceived inadequacy that plagued the “greats” from the Bible? Abraham’s perceived inadequacy was that he was too old to be of use to God. Elijah was suicidal, Joseph was abused and Job went bankrupt. Moses had a speech problem, Samson was a womanizer and Rahab was a harlot. The Samaritan Woman was divorced, Noah got drunk, Jeremiah was young and Jacob was a cheater. David was a murderer of all things, Jonah ran from God and Peter denied Christ - not once, not twice but three times. And God still had plans for him. Martha was a worry wart, Zaccheaus was small and was money hungry, all the disciples fell asleep in the garden, and Paul - even the great Paul - persecuted Christians before becoming one.
Even with all those examples of God overcoming an individual’s perceived inadequacies, we still fall to our own special ones. So added to those perceptions, we have guilt for past failures and pain and despair about the future, which is created and sustained by perceived past failures, and the circle goes on.
So many of our fears feed off of other fears, especially fears of inadequacy. People can be afraid of their child’s well-being, but behind that fear is the fear of wondering if they were raised well enough. Economic fears can trigger the fear of inadequacy in worry over wise saving, purchasing and investment. Hidden pasts can feed inadequacy, because what if people find out, will they think me to still be good enough to be my friend. Will I still be of enough value that they would “keep” me?
There is, ironically, a value in feelings of inadequacy - if you want to fish for it. It can drive us to God. When we figure out the feeling - of trying to do God’s will in our own strength - we can rely more on God’s Spirit to hold us up and to reflect strength and adequacy back to us. Even way back in the book of Genesis, Joseph - of the many colored coat fame - had a stroke of wisdom, which basically says that whatever we humans may do or think, God intends good to “accompany what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” On top of all that, when God’s adequacy shines through, God can get the glory - so we don’t have to carry the burden of holding that glory rightly or correctly or regally or whateverly, and so it allows us to live in contentment.
A boy and his father were walking through the woods together. They came across a large log, blocking their path. The boy turned to his father and said, “Do you think I can lift this log, Dad?” The father replied, “If you use all your strength, absolutely you can.” The boy rolled up his sleeves, bent his knees, and got his hands under the log. He locked his arms and heaved with every ounce of strength he had. But the log wouldn’t budge. He tried over and over again until at last, exhausted and breathless, he gave up.
He looked at his dad with disappointment and frustration and said, “You told me I could lift it!” His dad smiled and said gently, “I told you you could lift it if you used all your strength. You didn’t ask me for help.” So the boy asked his dad to help him and together, they lifted the log out of their path.
Your strength isn’t held by you alone, but also from God and by the people who walk alongside you. When you feel unequal to the task in front of you, perhaps it is simply because you aren’t using all your strength.
Maybe Peter’s great fear was that he would be inadequate to whatever Jesus was calling him to do. But he hadn’t had time to really understand and experience the adequacy of Jesus’ words, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you have a purpose.” And maybe we are all in the “still learning” place of what it means when Jesus tells us, “Don’t be afraid. I have a purpose for you, and you are more than adequate for that purpose. Trust me.” So for this first week of Lent, let us pray for our belief in what God has promised us, that it may fuel our inadequacies with adequacy and contentment.
Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our fears, especially fears of inadequacy, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.