Several weeks ago, I had my very first experience doing what I have gathered is for many people a quintessential Minnesota summer activity: going “up north” to a cabin on a lake. I can’t believe it’s taken me practically two years of living here – plus those four years of college – to graduate to this level of “Minnesota resident,” but here we are. My husband Andy and I visited some family friends at their cabin near Bigfork, and we enjoyed a weekend of all the best lake activities: sunset boat rides, reading and lounging by the water, grilled brats and homemade peach cobbler. But one of the best parts of the weekend was that Andy taught me how to kayak. Again, I can’t believe I hadn’t done this before, but it was my first time in a kayak, and while I have the desire to do things like kayak, I do not always have the natural coordination to succeed at such activities. It was a bit comical, but I eventually got the hang of it.
The key for me was to trust that I wasn’t going to tip the kayak over. I’m a strong swimmer and I was wearing a life jacket, so I’m not sure why I had that fear, but it was a real “mind over matter” situation. As soon as I got out of my own head enough to trust that the kayak was going to stay upright and afloat in the deeper water, I could finally figure out how to actually paddle forward. I wouldn’t call myself a master kayaker, but I can at least get from point A to point B without too much trouble now.
It took a great deal of trust – in myself, in the kayak, in the safety of the waters underneath me – to move forward.
I have spent the week with the story from Luke’s gospel that we just heard read wonderfully by Sam – thank you, Sam. And I have come to wonder what kind of trust it would’ve taken for those disciples to take their boats out into the deeper waters to which Jesus called them. Not just the literal deep waters where Jesus invited them to fish – but the figurative “deep waters” of following this itinerant preacher into the wild unknown, of trusting that he had something remarkable to offer the world, and that he was worth following.
The deep waters of discipleship are deep waters of trust and faith. These are the deep waters to which this year’s Confirmands are called, too. As we celebrate these 10th graders and the journey they have engaged this past year, we will invite them to continue journeying through those deep waters of discipleship, knowing that this community of faith surrounds them.
As part of the Confirmation process, students each craft a statement of faith, which gives voice to their own growing convictions about what it means to be part of this congregation. I’ll share portions of their statements with you this morning, and you can find them all posted on a bulletin board outside the sanctuary this morning. You will find them to be insightful and honest, and a theme emerges from each of them – the power of community in the life of faith.
It is the community of faith – the members of this congregation and beyond – that buoys us when we find ourselves in the deep waters of discipleship. Just as Jesus’s first disciples were grafted into a growing community of Jesus-followers, so we are grafted into this community.
One confirmand wrote in their faith statement, “Despite my doubts, I know I am never wasting my time by coming to church. Even if prayer and worship were useless, the people I have met and the bonds I have made are going to last forever.” Another student added, “I’ll never know for sure if God is watching over me and you, but I do know that my faith is with the community.” It is clear that community is at the heart of this class’s sense of faith. The thread of community was with us throughout all the lessons we engaged all year – including the central mysteries of our faith tradition.
We talked about those mysteries all year, especially the mysteries related to Jesus. how can Jesus be both God and human? What really happened with the resurrection and ascension? And what’s the deal with all those miracles? And we talked about the parts of the Jesus story that inspire us and challenge us to live our lives faithfully. This very process of encountering Jesus each week helped us to wade into those deep waters of discipleship. And each of us found different entry points into the waters.
One Confirmand says, “I believe in my Lord Jesus Christ, in his birth and his life; in the way he has helped and healed others, and the way he has helped and healed me.” For that student, to explore the stories of Jesus and the mysteries of faith was to deepen a sense of reliance on the love of God made flesh in Jesus Christ. Another student added, “I think of Jesus as a being who is perfect, but who showed us what it was like to be human. Everyone has imperfections and struggles. I think that Jesus is a perfect example of this.”
And another Confirmand thought of things a little differently, “I think that my relationship with Jesus is complicated. It’s hard to believe in something no one in our time has ever seen, a human capable of magical miracles, but I do believe in the Church, the community created through God that teaches the stories of Jesus. Those stories show us how to spread love and create peace.” I imagine that each of us can resonate with all three of these diverse expressions of how our young people make sense of who Jesus is. There is a lot going on in those deep waters of discipleship.
This morning’s gospel story has animated my imagination as I thought back to this year of Confirmation. The story begins, as it often does, with a crowd. Jesus is at the Lake of Gennesaret and the gospel writer – Luke, with his special way with words – describes the experience this way: “the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God.” Do you get the sense that Jesus is getting overwhelmed? And so Jesus is teaching and he sees these two boats on the lakeshore – the fishermen were finished with their labor for the day, washing their nets, perhaps headed home to a meal with their families, to get some rest. Jesus is not interested in that – Jesus is interested in talking with these fishermen, and he interrupts whatever they’re about to do – “Simon, put your nets out into that deep water.” Simon is not having it. “We’ve tried that, man! We’ve been out here all night and haven’t caught anything! But fine, if you say so…” Of course, you heard the story just a moment ago, you know that as soon as that happens, they catch an amazing amount of fish – again, the gospel writer with his way with words, “they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to burst.” So they call for help and all of a sudden they’re sinking! And then something happens to Simon Peter. Something comes over him, some striking sense that a remarkable thing has just happened. He falls down at Jesus’s knees and says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus responds, “Do not be afraid; from not on you will be catching people.” The gospel writer ends the story, “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”
The journey that our Confirmands have been on these past weeks is not unlike the journey of those first disciples. This time last year, they were tending their nets, so to speak. They were headed into their first year of high school, perhaps comfortable with what this church community meant to them, unsure of what the Confirmation journey might bring. And then came an invitation: head out into those deeper waters. Some, at least internally, were like Simon Peter – eh, I’m not so sure about this journey. We’ll see if anything new comes of it. But there we all were, together in that boat, every Wednesday evening, wading into deeper and deeper waters, asking questions of our faith and of ourselves and of our communities, learning what it meant to call ourselves followers of Jesus, lovers of God, listeners to the Holy Spirit. Our confirmands are back on shore now, and I hope that they are, in their own way, becoming what Jesus calls “fishers of people.” One student summarized this experience: “Looking back, I can see God weaving through all of my life. I’ve seen my faith grow significantly over the past year and I want to continue to nurture it and to continue living in the life that God has set up so perfectly for me.”
I’d like to share another confirmand’s story of what it looked like for her to wade into those deep waters. This young person writes, “My relationship with God is something I’ve thought about and sometimes struggled with from a very young age. This probably started when at the ripe age of six, I asked my preschool teacher what happened to all the fish during the story of Noah’s ark. She looked as though this was the stupidest question ever asked and responded by saying that they must have swum underneath the ark. This poor woman was not paid enough for my extremely in-depth elaboration, telling her that the freshwater fish wouldn’t be able to survive in the salt water and that actually none of the fish would have been able to survive because flood water is so dirty and filled with bacteria. Let’s just say this teacher wasn’t my biggest fan. As I have grown up, I have learned that we don’t have all the answers, and that’s ok. Faith is much bigger than us and will continue long after we die. Sometimes trusting that God has a plan for you is the most important thing you can do.” My hope for each of this year’s confirmation students, for each of us, all of us, is that we, too, are ok not having all the answers.
Each of us is invited into the deep waters of following Jesus with the help of the community that surrounds us. In just a few moments, we will baptize five young ones, children who are just now beginning this journey. We will promise, as a community, to love and encourage and support them as they grow. And then as those families move back to their pews, we’ll welcome forward our 10th graders, amazing young people who have been nourished by that exact promise that we share at baptism. This community helps us to wade into deep waters.
Indeed – the community of faith is Christ’s body. When we are at our best, we show forth the love of God in Jesus Christ; we seek justice and pursue peace; we show compassion to our neighbors and engage the world with the curiosity and wonder of a child. We wade into deep waters, loving one another as Jesus loves us. And we are never alone.
Thanks be to God. Amen.