Pastor Todd Buegler
Lord of Life Lutheran Church
August 10, 11 & 12, 2013
A friend of mine named Hans is a religion professor at Augsburg College. A couple of years ago, he wrote a book called “Crazy Talk,” which attempts to, in an understandable and funny way, define some of the words and phrases that have been a part of our Christian tradition, and that we probably, as people of faith, should understand. Phrases like “Saved by grace” or “Simultaneously Saint and Sinner” have important meaning for us. And words like justification, sanctification and atonement are important parts of our doctrine. Or how this for bonus points…Anyone know the word “consubstantiation?” (If so, you get a free donut after worship today.)
But today, right here, right now, I’d like to add to the list. There is another word that I think is important for us as people of faith to know and understand. That word is: Nevertheless. Yes, I said nevertheless. Nevertheless is, I believe, an important faith word; a transition word, it is a word that marks a shift in one’s perspective or direction. It is a word that marks making a change in one’s life. It is the word that lies at the center of our Gospel for today.
Our fishing tale is about daring to launch out into the deep and taking risks. Our story comes early in Jesus’ ministry, soon after he called the disciples to follow him. The disciples had signed up, but at that point they really didn’t understand what they were getting themselves in to. But they were about to find out: One morning Jesus sat in a boat and taught the crowds of people down by the Sea of Galilee. When Jesus was done teaching, he turned to Simon Peter and said, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
Now, you know your internal monologue? What you are thinking in your mind while you are busy being polite to someone? Well, Simon Peter’s internal monologue probably went something like this: “Jesus, are you kidding me? The chances of catching fish right now are less than zero. You’re supposed to fish at night! In the morning, you can’t catch fish. Teacher, with all due respect, you may know a lot about God and scripture and sin and salvation, but you don’t know jack about fishing. I am a professional fisherman. Don’t tell me how to fish!” That’s what he was thinking. But what he said was “Master, we fished hard all night and caught nothing.”
So Simon Peter was understandably hesitant and skeptical. I get that. I understand that hesitancy. Deep down, I think we all tend to approach our life and faith in a way more similar to Simon Peter than we’d like to admit. At least, I do.
But then here’s the cool part: Simon Peter pauses, looks back at Jesus and he says, “Nevertheless Jesus, if you say so, I will let down the nets and go fishing.” Nevertheless. Nevertheless is the turning point in our story. It is the barrier between “safe” and “risky.” It is the difference between passive, and active. It is the doorway where we enter into God’s mission to a hurting world.
When I was a student in seminary, one of our requirements was to take a semester of “Clinical Pastoral Education,” or CPE. CPE was an intensive experience where we were placed in a full-time in a hospital, nursing home or other institutional setting to work as a chaplain, so that we’d gain experience with people who were in some form of crisis. I was assigned to Mercy and Unity hospitals in Coon Rapids, and the first time my CPE group of 6 students met with our supervisor, we were asked to introduce ourselves, and to tell the group what our biggest point of anxiety was about the upcoming experience.
I was sitting next to the supervisor, so he had me go first. I said “I’m Todd, and I’m probably most anxious about walking into a hospital room where the family is dealing with issues of life and death, or some other major trauma, and having to be the one to bring a word of hope and grace to that moment.” My fellow group members nodded sympathetically. The supervisor picked up his clipboard, and said “Thanks, Todd. I’m assigning you to the cardiac floor and the ICU.” It’s a good thing he was sending me to the cardiac unit, because I just about had a heart attack right there.
He turned to the guy sitting next to me. “And you?” “I’m Richard…and I’m most anxious about how to work the copier.”
It was a “nevertheless” moment for me. As in, “nevertheless, I want to graduate.” But in the end, I loved my CPE experience. Loved it. I learned tons. The risk I was forced to take helped me to grow in both my vocation and my faith. This is usually how it works for me. My biggest risks in life can bring the greatest growth. And often, I need to be prompted to take those risks.
In Hebrews 11:6 we read, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Faith is hanging tough when the evidence would have us bailout. Faith is launching forth when everyone but Jesus says, “Stay put.” Faith is saying “nevertheless, yes” when conventional wisdom says “no.”
What an amazing faith word is “Nevertheless“!
Back we go to the Sea of Galilee. So great was the catch of fish that Simon Peter had to call to his partners, James and John, to bring their boats. All the boats were so overloaded with fish that they could barely make it to land. Nobody had to tell Simon Peter, a professional fisherman, that he had just witnessed a miracle. He fell on his knees and cried out to Jesus, “Lord, I don’t deserve to be around you; I am a sinner whose faith is too small.” “Get up,” said Jesus. “I have big plans for you. From now on, you’ll be fishing for people instead of fish. Now we’re really launching into the deep water. Follow me!”
The scriptural message should be abundantly clear. There are moments when Jesus calls us to take risks and to launch out with him into the deep when everything in our nature tells us to step back and to play it safe. There are times, in fact, when we feel stuck on the shore. We feel unable, or unwilling to even consider taking steps of faith. Our situation, or our anxiety, can paralyze us into inaction.
We all struggle with this. I don’t know what your struggles are…but I know you have them. Perhaps you are in a marriage that is in trouble. For a long time one or both of you have not been able to say with sincerity, “I love you.” But here’s a thought: Could God be calling you to say, “Nevertheless, we will not give up without a struggle! We will pray, we will get counseling, and we will fight for this marriage. Could there still be time for a miracle in this relationship? Let’s ask for one!”
Or maybe you’re in a safe, secure job, and you make a good salary. But it’s not a job that brings you any sense of joy. Deep inside you dread going to work. For years you’ve just been hanging in there. Maybe it’s time to say “I know it’s safe to stay. Nevertheless, I want to be in a vocation that aligns with my passion. I want my job to make a contribution to the world. I will seek something new.”
Or, maybe you have a child whose decisions are causing you pain. You worry for them…you are up at night…you wonder where they are…how they are. You pray to God saying, “Lord, we don’t deserve this. We have tried, but we are so hurt, and we are so tempted to turn them away. “Nevertheless, if you want us to persevere with them, we will try. If you will help us demonstrate tough love, we can. We will trust you, and we will keep up our vigil of love and prayer.”
I know: It can be frightening to launch into the deep end, to take a leap of faith. Saying “Nevertheless” can be scary.
One of the few creatures on earth that can out-jump Lebron James is the Impala; the African deer with a supercharged spring. It has a vertical leap of over 10 feet and can broad jump over 30 feet. You would think that the zoos would find it impossible to keep such an animal enclosed. No, it’s actually easy. Wildlife biologists have discovered that the Impala will not jump unless it can see where it is going to land. Therefore, a solid wall just 6 feet tall will keep them enclosed.
Lots of us have an Impala problem. We won’t take a leap in faith unless we have all the answers in advance about where the leap will take us. We won’t launch unless we know the destination. But occasionally, God does call us to leap. Look at the stories from the scriptures: Abraham, Moses, David, Ruth, Deborah, Mary, the disciples, Paul…God called them all to leap, and to trust.
Why must we be willing to launch out into the deep? Because Jesus was willing to launch out into the deep for us. On the night in which he was betrayed and arrested, Jesus knelt in a garden outside Jerusalem. “Please Lord,” he prayed. “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me…If there is some way to fulfill my mission without facing that cross…nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”
Fear of the unknown is normal. But we must remember that Simon Peter and the disciples were not alone. Jesus was in the boat with them. And remember: At the end of the day, the boats were overflowing with fish…so many that the nets could not hold them.
Likewise, when you are called to launch into the deep end and take a risk, you are not alone; when you are unsure; when you have doubts, Jesus goes with you. Jesus asks you to launch into the deep with him, and to carry His Word of hope to a world that desperately needs to hear it. And at the end of the day, there will be blessings…and the nets will be full…because God is faithful. And because God’s people, had the courage to say “nevertheless.”