Thursday, April 12, 2007

All Washed Up (Epiphany 5C (Feb. 4, 2007)

Have you ever felt all washed up? Peter and James and John did. They had been fishing all night on the Sea of Galilee and had caught nothing. In the morning they came ashore and were washing their nets when a stranger came by and said, “Have you tried fishing over there? That spot near the southeastern shore looks a good fishing hole to me.” Right, Peter thought. Everyone’s an expert. Peter knew the Sea of Galilee the way you know your backyard, and he had been all over it the night before and nothing was biting. But… but what? But something about the way the man suggested that he try again caught Peter’s attention. “Mister,” Peter said, “I’m not sure you’ve ever baited a hook, much less spent all night trying to catch fish, but what the heck? It won’t hurt to try again.” And off they went – Peter and James and John – and by golly if the stranger wasn’t right. And the fish they caught! They were almost too much for the threadbare nets that they had mended and mended and then mended again on top of the old mends.

Gideon felt all washed up, too. Israel was a tiny country surrounded by larger nations with better weapons and better-trained armies. Israel had fought and lost and then fought and lost again. They just barely managed to maintain a foothold on the rocky central hill country between the coastal plain and the Jordan River that ran from the Galilee in the north to the Dead Sea in the South. Like Peter and James and John, Gideon had his head down and was minding his own business. While Gideon was threshing the wheat to release the grains that could be ground into flour, an angel appeared to him. Things like that happened back then. People knew what angels looked and sounded like, so Gideon knew that this was an angel. And the angel announced in the standard angelic manner, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” But Gideon had a good measure of what his distant descendants would one day call chutzpah, so he threw it right back in the angel’s face. "OK, mister, but if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, 'Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?' But now the LORD has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian." Gideon was not only washed up, he was fed up.

Have you ever felt washed up? Have you ever felt as though you might as well give up on your hopes and dreams? Did you ever decide just to stick to the tried and true – going to the office every day, vacationing at the beach every summer, having a cocktail or two every evening, ordering Chinese on Sunday nights? Leave adventure and big dreams to someone else. Been there, done that, got the bruises and scars to show for it.

There is much to be said for the routine and the mundane. In many ways the disciples and even Gideon had a lot going for them. The disciples had their boat and their customers. They didn’t make a lot of money and there were certainly nights when they didn’t catch a thing, but most of the time they did OK. Gideon’s life was a little more precarious; then as now Israel was surrounded by enemies who would just as soon see them run into the sea. But Gideon had his farm; the harvest was enough to live on. He could make do.

And then along came God. “Cast your nets out into the deep.” “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” God has a mission for you. Yeah, right… I’m on a mission for God…

But that’s the way God works. God comes along when we feel all washed up… when we’ve been up all night and have nothing to show for it except bags under our eyes… when we’ve been beaten up again by the bullies down the block or in the corner office… when we’ve just had the umpteenth knock down/drag out fight with the person who was once the love of our life and we’ve begun to think that divorce sounds pretty good… when we’ve just had our twelfth unsuccessful job interview and all we want to do is go home, eat a box of Godiva chocolates and pull the covers over our head… when we’ve prayed and prayed and prayed again and our prayers seem to go no higher than the ceiling. Along comes God and says, “Let down your net… try again… I am with you, you mighty warrior.”

All of us have times when we feel fed up and washed up… when the last thing we want to do is try again. Even churches have times like that. I have a feeling that this church or at least quite a few members of this church may have gone through such an experience. Have you wondered, “What’s the point? It’s just too hard.” Well, I can tell you what the point is. The point is this: All around you is a sea of human beings who are hungry for a relationship with God, thirsty for a connection with the divine. God wants us to go back out on the sea and let down our nets again. God wants us to go beneath the surface. “The Lord is with you, O might warrior.”

Sometimes I feel all washed up, but I know that I have not yet gone down far enough, that God is inviting me to go down deeper, to experience adventures of which I have not yet dreamed. When I get up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror, “mighty warrior” is not the first thing that comes to mind. More often it is “middle-aged priest who needs to lose a few pounds and go to the gym more frequently” but that is because I cannot see myself with God’s eyes. When we learn to see life from God’s point of view then it is an adventure, a great fishing trip, a battle in which we are already the victors.

God has a knack of showing up just at the time when we feel all washed up. It was after an all-night fishing trip that had barely yielded a minnow when God came to Peter, James, and John. It was when Israel was outnumbered and outgunned that God came to Gideon. And it was only after Jesus had cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” that God reached down into a tomb on a Judean hillside and raised Jesus to life eternal and triumphant. I can’t tell you when God will show up in your life, but as Bishop Miller likes to say, God is never late. Push out into the deep. Lower your nets. God is with you… God is with you.