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Going Deep with Jesus

The Lord will make good his purpose for me; *
O Lord, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands. (Psalm 138:9)

The Rev. Gregory J. Boyle knew what he wanted. He wanted to follow Jesus. He believed that meant that he was to train to be a Jesuit priest and to walk alongside the suffering, the poor, the rejected. After ordination, he spent a year working with Christian base communities in Cochamamba, Bolivia where he learned to speak Spanish.

Then he returned to his home of Los Angeles and was assigned to be the appointed pastor of Dolores Mission Church in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of east LA. At the time, Dolores Mission was a poor  Catholic parish, located between two large public housing projects with the highest concentration of gang activity in the city. There he witnessed the devastating impact of gang violence on his community in what he has called “the decade of death” that began in the late 1980’s.

Law enforcement and the criminal justice system tried to stop the killing through policies of intimidation and mass incarceration. But Greg Boyle tried a different way: treating gang members as human beings.

He met with them in prison, in the housing projects, and on street corners. But as he continued to bury more and more young people killed in gang violence, he understood that simply trying to arbitrate violence was not working.

So Greg Boyle along with members of the church and the community began offering positive opportunities for these young people, including starting an alternative school, a day care program, and helping them seek legitimate employment. Greg understood that gang membership was not about finding “family.” He said, “Nobody has ever met a hopeful kid who joined a gang. Gang membership is about a lethal absence of hope.”

In the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, a community organizing project begun at Dolores Mission launched their first social enterprise business. Setting up in an abandoned bakery, Homeboy Bakery was born. The success of Homeboy Bakery laid the groundwork for additional social enterprise businesses. Today, Homeboy Industries employs and trains former gang members in a range of social enterprises, and provides critical services to 15,000 men and women who walk through their doors every year seeking a better life. Because Father Greg Boyle was willing to go out into the deep waters, he has transformed the lives of thousands of people.

Simon Peter and his fellow fisherman were hanging up their cleaned nets when Jesus came along. Jesus sees two boats and steps into the one owned by Simon so he could preach to the large crowd who had gathered along the Sea of Galilee (Lake Gennesaret in our reading today). Peter knew Jesus because he had welcomed him into his home. He had witnessed Jesus’ healing of his mother-in-law who was sick with a fever. (Luke 4:38-39) So he had to have been aware that Jesus was someone who was capable of great things.

Simon Peter responds by taking Jesus out in his boat. But when Jesus had completed his message to the crowd, he tells Simon to go out into the deep water and there he will find the fish that have eluded him all evening. Simon knows Jesus is special. But he also knows he is a carpenter—not a fisherman. So he responds probably with disbelief, distrust, and a little bit of defensiveness when he says, “Master, we have worked all night long, but have caught nothing.”

Richard Swanson translates the word Ἐπιστάτα as “Boss” rather than “Master” because if you read the scene carefully you understand that Peter earns his living by fishing. Jesus is the son of a builder. Which means that if the task at hand is fishing, Jesus is the best carpenter in the room. Peter believes that Jesus has just told him to do something that will be pointless. Peter knows it because he knows fishing.

But resigned, Peter puts down his nets where Jesus tells him and we are told that they are immediately filled to overflowing. So many fish rush into his net that he has to call to shore and enlist the other fishermen to help bring in the great haul.

In our reading from Luke, Jesus essentially calls Simon to a project without obvious results. ”Put out into deep water,” he says,” and let down your nets for a catch.” There is no guarantee what this catch will be. A good one or a total waste of time? Just adequate or abundant? A catch that will feed one family, or one that feeds a whole village. And it goes against what Simon has known as a fisherman. A catch seems fairly impossible, given that the fishermen have already been fishing all night and have caught nothing. To cast nets again—this time in deep water– only seems like more work and more time rather than promise.

But there’s another catch, Jesus is at work.

There is no indication that Jesus responds to Peter’s hesitancy or to his response in awe of Jesus’ results. Jesus just says, “Do not be afraid. I have even bigger plans for you.”

Much of life exists between the work and the result. Children go to school and try to sit still for hours with the hope that their efforts will allow them to be successful in the future. Young adults put in long hours working toward a retirement that is beyond their vision. Parents get up all night long caring for an infant that they hope will someday sleep through the night and grow up to be a strong, kind, and resilient person. People join in marriage on the promise that life together will be richer and offer joyous companionship. People invest their physical and financial lives into building businesses that they hope will provide security for their families. But no one knows. We rarely, if ever, are promised a clear result to our work.

But that is not Jesus’ focus. When he asks Simon to put out into the deep water, he merely asks Simon to do what he can do. Nothing more, nothing less. Simon knows how to cast a net. He knows the sea. He has the gift and the experience needed to do this job. So when Jesus tells Simon to cast his net into the deep water, the result—the catch is left to Jesus.

Last October, there was decision made to cast out into deeper water with Gideon’s Garden. For ten years we have been planting, weeding, harvesting, and blessing the lives of many people in our community. But we believe Jesus is calling us to an even bigger catch. We have longed to support those who are hungry and we have also longed to love and care for our young people.

In March we will welcome Jen Bloesch, a young graduate of Boston University Divinity School. Jen comes with a wealth of energy, interest, and experience working with people around gardening and farming and feeding. God will ask her to do what she can do. Nothing more, nothing less. She has the gift and the good experience needed to do this job. But when she goes out to the garden, when she goes out into the community, when she meets with the people who serve young people in the Berkshires, she will be asked to welcome—the catch is left to Jesus.

This is an exciting time for Grace Church. It is a time of listening carefully to the Holy Spirit, to our church, and to the people who have come into our lives through Gideon’s Garden. For ten years through the limitless love and energy of Pennie Curry, Sue Hayden, Danny and Martha Tawczynski, Dutch Pinkston, and others we have grown the number of people we serve and we have told our story to many more.

There was a time in the church when all we had to do was paint our door red and offer good sermons, inspiring music, welcoming people, and tasty food at fellowship hour. All of this is still very important. The worship in this place is beautiful and the people are energetically generous towards those who we meet here on Sunday and those we encounter throughout the week.

But we know that there is deep water waiting for us. There are many people who long for the love that can only come from God through God’s people. As Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and theologian said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each person which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”

We have the opportunity to go to the deep water where so many people are hoping that someone will see them, care about them, and show them what love can do.

I love the abundance at the heart of this story. The huge catch of fish is extravagant, excessive, bountiful generosity. Food enough for all, food security for all, nurture for all. In this Eucharistic image of plenty, Jesus shows Simon what God’s kingdom will look like when it is fully established. God’s kingdom will suffer no empty nets, no empty tables, no one left out or turned away. God’s kingdom means good news for all.

“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” Jesus calls us to look beyond, to hope beyond. Jesus calls us to go deeper, to toss the nets of our faith wider and farther. And because Jesus is in the boat, our nets will be filled to the breaking point by people we have yet to meet, people we have yet to love.

We do not know how many people we will draw into our community of love. We don’t know if we will touch the lives of 15,000 people. But when we are willing to follow Jesus, when we dare to go deep, to do what we know and love with Jesus at our side, God will enliven our efforts in ways we could not have imagined on our own. God is asking us to do what we can do. Nothing more, nothing less. This is God’s work. We are not the fishers, we are the bait. Praise be to God for what God will do through us.

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