My first visit to what has become my adopted home came in the summer of 1989. I was a Youth Delegate from the Diocese of Cariboo to General Synod 1989 in St. John's, NL. The Theme of the Synod was “Launching Out”. While there was a lot to learn and to learn at the Synod, it was the weekend I spent in Norman’s Cove that made the impact. We passed by “Jelly bean Row” with its many brightly coloured hoses and had a nice meal at the “Flake House” in Quidi Vidi Village. But it was getting out into the smaller communities like Norman’s Cove, Chance Cove and area that I began to get a real feeling for what life was like in most of the rest of Newfoundland. And please remember that this was Newfoundland before the Cod Moratorium. There were still lots of trawlers tied up to the wharves along the Newfoundland coastline.
It should also be clear that God has a sense of humour because some years later, I married a girl from rural Newfoundland. It is where one of our sons was born and it is where I was eventually ordained deacon and priest; in a small fishing community on the eastern shores of White Bay. I share this with you to say to you that I understand fisherfolk. I have laughed and sometimes fought with them, ate and drank with them, and shared with them in their joys and sorrows. I baptized their little ones, married their young ones and buried their dead. I share this with you because I can understand what those men were thinking when Jesus showed up and wanted to make use of the boat towing along the dirty big anchor of a crowd along behind him (Luke 5:1-11). They had been working all night and nothing to show for it. Fishermen of every culture call it a “water haul”. What comes in the boat is nothing but water. Plus, the nets needed work to be mended be ready to go again the next day. It was a simple enough thing that Peter put out a little way from the shore while continuing his work with his brother while James and John continued on shore. Everyone was listening to the word of God.
One of the things that I think I need to point out, is that if you are going to listen, you will learn and know things from what you hear. And if you know things then you are prepared to act on what you know. You act on what you know so that you can be obedient to what you have been taught. Obedience is never a coincidence and it cannot be an accident. From obedience flows blessing. If you do not listen, you are not just disobedient. If you do not listen, one becomes irrelevant to the work and purpose of God. As was often said to me when I trained for ministry, “You have two ears and one mouth. Therefore, you should listen twice as much as we talk.”
Obedience means that we do what we need to do, even when it seems like the thing you are going to do is crazy. Being obedient when it seems crazy allows of the glory of God’s presence to shine through the follower and the rest of the community of the Faithful. Obedience allows the Church to go from being a group of people in loose association to being welded together in a tightly knit community. That’s what happens when the Master wants to go fishing, even knowing the conditions and the situation are right by our standards. Are we the kind of people who will follow Jesus’ lead, put out into deeper water and let down the nets for a catch? It is okay if there are grumblings and complaining, if there are questions about how God is going to make it happen, it is okay. God is not defeated by these things. It's okay, so long as we are committed to doing it. We don’t have to have the right person for a leader. We don’t have to have the right program or bible study to draw people in. What we need is the willingness to venture out into this chaotic world and throw a line to someone who wants to get into the boat – maybe even desperately wants into that boat. God will provide what we need. Then there will be an opportunity to tell them why you were there and able to affect their rescue from the water.
Often, what keeps us from going out deeper is fear. Fear of being rejected by those who need to be thrown a lifeline keeps us from getting into deeper waters. Fear of failing… of having tried before and nothing good came of it and so do not want to try again. We have fears of wanting to be liked but thinking people don’t respect or like you because you act and sound different. We carry fears of not wanting to offend people with our faith and yet know that we need to be able to share what we have.
What is the antidote? Courage! And remember courage is not the absence of fear (“fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” – Psalm 111.10) but rather the ability to act in the face of it. We need to put fear in its right place, then we are enabled to act.
In doing this, we can invite those around us to come back to God and through that, to become a part of the missional and eschatological community; to receive the Holy Spirit so that there is courage to launch out into deeper waters so that the nets can be let down and people be drawn into the Church. And we are encouraged to be ready to go with Christ – because we will be catching other people and Christ is our pilot in this process. With God, everything is possible for the Church. God is visiting and redeeming his people.
One last thought in all of this? Whatever Peter, Andrew, James and John heard, it was life-altering because it caused them to leave all that they had known for an uncertain path behind a Teacher they had come to trust. It didn’t happen all at once but certainly the overflowing boats because they listened and followed must have moved them in the direction of following.