February 6, 2022

Go Deeper

Passage: Luke 5:1-11

As Christians we are called to be more than "believers." Yes, belief, holding on to values, having convictions, knowing our doctrine, our theological underpinnings, all that is important. What do we stand for?

But "standing," "standing for" is not enough. Jesus, during his ministry, was a man of action. Jesus did not simple "stand for" something. Jesus acted. Last week's Lectionary reading from Luke predicts this as Jesus reads the prophesy from Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth: The

Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to brinq good news to the poor...sent me to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed ggfree and proclaim the year of the Lord's favour. You may remember Jesus' words after he rolled up the scroll and sat down: Today these words are fulfilled in your hearing, (Luke 4:21) Bring good news, proclaim, in other words, enact release for captives, enact release for the blind, let the oppressed go free, and again proclaim—enact—the cancelling of debts in the Year of Jubilee—all actions.

Today's reading from Luke is an example of Jesus in action. Granted it begins with him standing by the lake, but not for long. Soon he is in a boat. Soon he is acting and directing others, especially the boat's owner, Simon, to act. This action results in a miracle and a call. A call to discipleship. This action goes from the mere surface of relationship—just some fellows meeting randomly on a lakeshore into a commitment, an astounding "drop everything and follow me" commitment. That commitment will form into a deep, troubling and challenging relationship. This story is about discipleship. It's a story that shows us how discipleship happens when we go deeper. Go Deeper.

Going deeper is what leads to the miracle of nets broken, ripped apart from the pressure of too many fish. Going deeper comes only after doubts, questions and misgivings are expressed. When Peter says, "Master, we have worked all night and caught nothing." Jesus doesn't say, "Okay Simon, I guess you're right. Haul up the nets. You know best." No, Jesus says, "Go deeper!"

If we want to benefit from our life in Christ, our faith life, don't fear the doubt, don fear the controversy, energize it. Activate it! Go deeper! As Living Faith, our Presbyterian statement of Christian belief says : "Questioning may be a sign of growth."

"Go deeper."

I can personally relate to this command and this call, a call that begins with some random events, a call that results from going deeper. "Go deeper."

Let me share that personal "go deeper" story with you. It didn't begin there in the Old Testament reading, but our scripture reading from Isaiah is certainly part of my story. This scripture was the preaching text for the Rev. Ian Victor at my ordination service which happened just over ten years ago. I know some of you here today were there, and may remember Ian's presence at the service, if not his sermon. Ian was a big man. He was a presence. We became friends. As we got to know one another, his thoughts and words provoked me as we often sat chatting with each other over hamburgers and beers in a pub and talked about faith, our lives, and how God, Jesus, the Savior, and the Holy Spirit, played into them. We shared, he challenged. He advised me to think about my relationship with God. He made it possible for me to feel comfortable, to ask questions about my inner life.

He challenged me to "go deeper." After Ian had left my home church in West Van to eventually become the minister of St. Andrew's Presbyterian in Victoria, I asked him to come and preach at my ordination. He preached, and I can remember almost trembling when he concluded, quoting the prophet: I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall / send, and who will go for us? And I said, 'Here I am, send me!' Words that called in to the depths of my soul. "Go deeper." It is a testament to those words that I stand before you now. I am often surprised by my own presence, when I find myself before you, privileged to speak on behalf of the Power, the God, in which I believe, privileged to be before you in this role today.

You see It wasn't a plan that I had, at all. In fact, those who had known me for many years of my life were surprised, shocked even at my new role.

When my brother told one of our mutual friends from forty years ago, a time when my life had "wandered far away from God" as Georg Beverly Shae used to sing, when brother Vic told him "Woldy has become a minister in the Presbyterian Church," our friend responded,

"What? Is he alright?"

As some of you know, I began my faith life as part of my mother's Mennonite heritage. I was exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ in the tradition of the Mennonite Brethren church which, in that day, was known more for its restrictions and prohibitions than for its professing of Christ's forgiveness and saving grace. My cousin Patsy, whose parents had left the MB fold and joined the United Church, could go. to movies, dances, and even watch the big TV that was the centerpiece of their living room. Not so with our family. "Why not?" I would ask. "Is Patsy not going to get into heaven?"

It just didn't make sense to me. Soon, I was off to the school dance and finding my way inside the Paramount Theatre, to see movies, like the one with Elvis Presley, -- "Jailhouse Rock, "much to my Mom's disappointment and sorrow. Soon I was being shunned by my Mennonite pals, even though I still spent Sunday mornings in the church with them. Soon I found reasons to avoid being in church at all. Soon I found myself exploring the life that a young Canadian boy could find in its fullest. Those explorations took me on adventures across Canada, working in sawmills, hitchhiking, riding freight trains and eventually finding employment in a pretty high-pressure sales business in Ontario. But God was always there, always near— athe Kingdome was nigh." I know that now looking back. I know that's how it was when I "go deeper." Just like Jesus choosing the boat—there were two boats as our story opens. Why did he choose Simon's? Random? In God's world, nothing is random.

Cathy, our son Alex's mom, went to the funeral of a close friend's mother together when Alex was six years old.

Cathy and I were involved in social action and political causes and campaigns, but church was not part of our reality. I was a high school teacher by then. Cathy taught English literature at a college. At the funeral that Cathy and Alex attended that day, the service concluded with the unison saying of the Lord's prayer.

"What are they saying, Mom?" asked Alex. Cathy suddenly realized that Alex had no religious background. He was a bright and curious kid. He was bound to go to university. He would miss a lot of the beauty and depth of his culture—literature, theatre, film—if he had not been introduced to the Bible and religion. She realized he needed some exposure, just so he wouldn't be ignorant, like most of her students, to the rich references in Shakespeare,

Yeats, or T.S. Eliot. "Would you like to go to church?" she asked him. "Sure, mom, where can we go?" "Well, there's a church across the street—we'll try it out." That was West

Vancouver Presbyterian Church, where Cathy, unchurched by her own parents, eventually became an Elder and even Clerk of Session!

Cathy and Alex had gone to church for about three months without me. Alex would come back and say, "Dad, you should come. Look what I made in Sunday School." He'd show me a paper plate craft that had been the project for the day. "No, I've got this work to do here on the weekend. Sunday is the only day I have free, son, after marking papers and catching up with my school planning. We had purchased an old house on a big yard that needed a lot of repair and work. And, more church like the one from my past was the last thing I wanted.

Well, eventually, I was convinced to go. It turned out it was Easter Sunday. The music was amazing, a choir, a trumpeter: "Christ, the Lord has risen today!" The music and joy it expressed tapped into some deep within. Soon I was attending every Sunday. Soon, Rev. Bill

Perry had me building a wheelchair ramp. Soon I was on the Board of Managers. Soon, with a new minister, Ian Victor, I was part of additional faith programs—going deeper--"Go

Deeper!" Soon my life was being transformed. I joined the choir. I was part of a theology student's reflection team. I began to think about getting more involved. I joined a group on a mission trip, A Presbyterian World Service and Development trip to Guatemala—

I was going deeper. "Go deeper!" My doubts, my fears, my misgivings were being addressed by going deeper.

It was on this PWS&D trip to Guatemala that I saw and felt God's grace through the actions of my church and my personal actions and interactions with fellow faithful Christian actors. Our small team from West Van. Presbyterian painted and reroofed a school situated on a garbage dump (gleaning through the dump's garbage , sorting and selling marketable throwaways was the source of living for the families that lived there and sent their kids to the school). The school had been built and was financed by Presbyterian World Service and Development. Our team also visited with Mayan Christians, women mainly, who were faithfully, with Presbyterian help, sustaining their traditions of weaving and at the same time, learning to bring healthier babies into the world and sustain better relationships within their families. I visited a group that was committed to finding and digging up and bringing back bodies— human remains, the bones of the disappeared, those who had been victims of the ten-year civil war in Guatemala. I heard stories of their persecution, threats to their lives and their determination to help families in grief who were suffering from pain and fear. I was amazed, awe-struck by their commitment, their persistence through bomb threats and destruction of their files. These people, faithful Christians, were determined to bring the truth to light, to re-unite those who had suffered from the atrocities with their loved ones. The government, still dominated by the powerful dictators, wanted to silence them. Their commitment to truth, their commitment to compassion, the threats they experienced, their faith drove them to fearlessly go deeper and go forward. They did not retreat. They went deeper. Go deeper! Those going deeper experiences and others like them excited my curiosity in my faith.

I enrolled in the Vancouver School of Theology soon after retiring from my career in Education. It was more to explore and satisfy this curiosity, not thinking for a moment then, that I would pursue a degree. But for some mysterious, reason I was drawn in. I was compelled to go deeper.

Today, as a presbyterian minister, I know that our church is going through some very difficult times. We have many issues to deal with. We may get discouraged.

When we have doubts, when we may have misgivings—"Oh, we've been through that. We know that won't work..." We worked all night and caught nothing.

Here once again the Master's voice: "Go deeper!"

Hear once again. Hear how Jesus is pushing away from routine thinking, from the conventional, from ideas that have been formulated through patterned practice. Simon is the fisherman. Simon knows where the fish are —"We have fished all night in the shallow water where we usually find fish." He's thinking, but not voicing, "What does this landlubber from Nazareth know? "Jesus calls us to think the unconventional, the counterintuitive, the radical, even.

Hear once again, Simon's acknowledgement in the presence of the Divine. In one sentence Jesus is recognized as more than just some random guy in a random boat. "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man," reliving Isaiah's scripture: "l am a man of unclean lips."

Simon acknowledges Jesus as Lord. Simon goes deeper.

We can be assured that our Lord is with us when we go deeper. We need not fear.

We may have our minds made up about an issue that challenges our church. We know. Jesus calls on the power of God, the power of Holy Spirit, to guide, to lead us through the challenges we face. We might dismiss, resist his direction. "l have a lifetime of experience on which to rely. I know all about this. My mind is made up" Jesus says , ''Think again." "Go deeper."

Sometimes like Simon, we, you and I too may feel unworthy. Jesus affirms our worthiness. Jesus affirms our validity as his servants. "Don't be afraid." Jesus calls us to discipleship. Not with a long pep talk, but with a challenge: "Go deeper!"

Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people!   Go deeper!"     AMEN