by David Atkins on February 4, 2007
There are many forces in our world. When we opened our paper yesterday morning and read of the vicious thunderstorms and tornadoes that left at least 19 people dead in Florida, we might say that wind is the greatest force on earth. We know that wind can drive a piece of straw through a fence post.
When we remember earthquakes and their power, whether it was the Bakersfield Earthquake of the 50's, the Bay Area earthquake in the early 80's, the Northridge earthquake of the late 80's, or the oceanic earthquake in December of 2004 and the resulting Tsunami that caused over 290,000 deaths in Indonesia, we are prone to say earthquakes are the greatest force on earth. They are unpredictable, powerful, and often destructive.
These are natural forces with which we deal. However, it could be said that human emotions are even more powerful than natural forces. We know what hatred can do. We see it every day in the news. Perhaps the most overwhelming display of hatred in the last century was the annihilation of 6,000,000 Jews in Europe. The holocaust began with a simple boycott of Jewish shops and ended in gas chambers. Genocide, civil wars, tribal conflict continues throughout our world today. Hatred is indeed a great force.
Fear, which is probably the seed of hatred, can drive an individual or group to destructive behaviors. Then there are those who suggest that the driving force in their lives has been guilt. Human emotions are indeed powerful.
In fact, there is another human emotion which is more powerful than hatred, fear or guilt. And what is this greatest force in the world? Love, of course.
I was sitting in the office this week with a young man who has been extremely suicidal since last August when his wife suddenly left him. At thirty he had never experienced failure in his life. He was totally devastated. He was in such danger of killing himself that a friend insisted that he come live with him and his family, which he did for over two months. My young client had another severe blow to his life when he lost his job and possibly his career last month. However, he now has a desire to live and is making new goals and looking to the future. As we reflected on the change and what kept him alive during his great crisis, he said that it was love. You might think that it was the love of his friend and his parents, but it was not, as great as that was. It was his love for his family, specifically, for his little sister and his mother, that kept him alive. For some, it is fear of going to hell that prevents them from killing himself. For this man, it was love that not only kept him alive, but overcame his pain.
Which finally leads me to the scripture lesson for today. Jesus had been teaching the crowds, and they were so hungry to hear the word of God that they nearly pushed him into the lake. So, seeing a couple of fishing boats, he gets in one, which happens to be Simon's, later known as Peter, and moves out a little way from the shore. Notice in verse three that Jesus sat down and taught the people from the boat. What an interesting detail. Luke is like that. His gospel is full of little details that give us such insight into the person and character of Jesus. How gentle is Jesus. How casual. He just sat down in the boat. No pulpit pounding. No oratory. Just sitting quietly, speaking the word of God.
Now, when he is finished talking, he tells Simon, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." What a statement. There are many sermons in that one sentence. I will try to restrain myself from preaching all three of those sermons today. First there is the whole idea of going out fishing in mid day. Every fisherman knows it is easier to catch fish early in the morning. So Jesus invites the unusual, the miraculous. Secondly, there is the subtle invitation to us to go into the deep, to go more deeply into life, into the spiritual life, in order to find life. I sat with a man the other day who has been troubled for some time, who is experiencing the dark night of the soul. I asked him to quiet himself, to go more deeply into the darkness, then to allow whatever is in the deep to be seen. As he did this a beautiful white swam emerged which lovingly extended its wings and embraced him. Love was at the center, in the deep. (I guess I do want to preach a sermon on that idea.) And thirdly, the total confidence of his statement: let down your nets for a catch. He does not say: Let's see if we can catch something. No. Let down your nets because you will catch something; the invitation to the life of faith and confidence.
And, of course, they do catch fish. Not just a few, but so many that they have to call out another boat, and they fill both so full that they are about to sink. What an example to us of the truth of the Arabic phrase: Baruch Bashan, which means, "the blessings already are." They are there waiting for us to
put out our nets to receive them.
And then we come to the dessert in this passage, the sweet, sweet statement to Simon Peter, bold but frightened Simon Peter, boisterous but humble Simon Peter, who falls at Jesus' feet and says, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man." Jesus simply says, "Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men." And then, as an exclamation mark for the whole story, and to indicate that Jesus' declaration will come true, they leave their boats, their nets, even this amazing catch of fish. They leave everything, and follow Jesus.
So now we have three fishermen who are to become fishers of men. Jesus uses the remainder of his ministry demonstrating how to catch people and bring them into the kingdom of God. People are brought to the kingdom when they are caught in the net of love. They may be coerced into joining a church by messages of fear. They may become very religious people through feelings of guilt. They may perform many righteous acts out of a sense of obligation or duty. But, because we know that God is love, and the kingdom of God is the kingdom of love, people can only be brought into this kingdom with the net of love.
Love is the most basic human need. After all, it is the essence of who we are. We are made in the image of God. God is love. Love is at the center of our soul. We are basically love dwelling in a human body, longing to connect with the source of love from which we came. It is the soul longing for the oversoul. You would be surprised at the number of men who sit in my office, tears running down their cheeks saying, in one form or another, "I just want to be loved. I just want to be accepted for who I am."
Love is irresistible. I had an experience last weekend that made that truth so real for me. Years ago I joined a spiritual path that invites us to engage in certain spiritual disciplines, with meditation at the center of it. Meditation is not easy for me. My mind wanders. I start making lists in my head. I think
about what happened yesterday or what needs to be done today. It is hard for me to quiet my mind and focus on the love and presence of God.
To help me stay disciplined I attend meditation retreats from time to time,
where a holy man of God teaches and inspires us to be faithful to the spiritual path. In the last three years I have attended four of these retreats. The first three were led by a man who was very convincing, strong, and inspiring. I would go away each time thinking, "I really ought to do better. I really need to devote myself more thoroughly. I really ought to leave my boat and nets behind and follow the path of love." But for some reason, I couldn't manage it.
Then last weekend I attended another retreat with a different leader and a
different result. This quiet, humble, soft spoken man emanated love. It was not so much in his words, but in his gaze. They say that the eyes are the window to the soul, and when he looked at me, I saw the palace of love in his gaze. It was as though the whole of God's creation was present in his eyes.
So last weekend I was caught in the net of love. Gone is the feeling that I ought to meditate, that I ought to perform acts of service, that I ought to be patient and kind. For some reason, there is a desire to do these things. I want to be a person of love more than ever before.
I feel like I understand Zaccheaus more than ever before, how a look of love could turn him from a life of greed and isolation to a life of generosity and service. I feel like I understand why Mary Magdalene brought expensive oils to anoint Jesus' head and feet, despite the protests of the disciples that she was wasting money. I understand why the disciples left everything to follow their master. They were caught in the net of love.
Are we called to invite people into the kingdom of love? If we are, then it seems only logical that the way to bring people to the palace of love is to catch them in the net of love. And the way to catch them in the net of love is to be a person of love. And the way to become a person of love is to allow the love of God to dwell in our hearts. There is no question about it. It is love that makes the world go round. Love is already at the center of our being. It is a matter of allowing the love of God to awaken within what is
there waiting to be manifested in the world. It is the drop of love merging with the ocean of love. And when this happens, we are one with the power of that ocean.
One of my favorite songs of love was written by a friend, Merrill Collins. Sherry is going to sing that for us now.
FOR THE LOVE OF LOVING
For the love of loving, the sun comes up at dawn,
For the love of flowing, the babbling brook moves on.
For the love of smiling, a child lights up his face.
For the love of loving, my heart opens to your grace
Then the love of loving becomes my purest cause,
And deeds performed for the love of love will blossom like a rose.
For the love of flying, a seagull takes to wing,
For the love of filling the sky with sound, the blue birds sing.
For the love of growing, a robin leaves his nest.
For the love of loving, my heart lives to be expressed.
Then the love of loving becomes my purest cause,
And deeds performed for the love of love will blossom like a rose.
It is because there is a longing in our hearts not only to be loved but to be love itself, to merge with God's love and be one with it, that we are drawn to the Lord's table. It is here that the fullness of God's love is manifested in the bread and the cup. The bread, which is of the earth, from the earth, connects us with the body of Jesus that lived on the earth, walking and talking among us, loving and forgiving all humanity. Even as his body was broken so that we could receive love, we break the bread in remembrance of his sacrifice. It is only as the bread, the body, is broken that it can be shared with all. The cup of life, connects us with the flowing of the blood, that which sustains the body and caries within it the life energy. And so, as we drink from the cup we allow the love and power of Christ to flow through us.
Let us pray: O God of Grace, we open our hearts to receive your love. Amen.
This morning you are invited to come to the altar rail to receive communion. All who love God or wish to receive the love of God are welcome at this table of love. You will be invited by the ushers to come. You are invited to kneel and receive the bread and cup if you are able. If not, the communion servers at the center of the aisle will offer you the bread and cup. The prayer we just prayed has been printed and placed on the altar railing. You are invited to take a copy and pray it daily. You are also invited to stay at the altar railing in prayer and contemplation as long as you like.
Sherry and I will be singing some of our favorite songs of God's love as you are participating.