Out in the Deep

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sermon Preached By: Dr. Wesley Avram
Scripture: Luke 5:1–11

Now I know that each one of you is an expert at something. You’ve got skills that others don’t have, and you can smell out an amateur when you see one. Maybe you can bake a soufflé. Maybe it’s brain surgery or building a shopping mall. Maybe it’s getting the sale, or getting an eight–year–old to go to bed on time. Maybe it’s high finance, or getting the church budget right.

You name the thing.

For Peter, James, and John, it was fishing for fish. They had learned through long years where the fish could be found, if they could be found, and when. Stay close to shore. The fish school around the springs and streams where the water is fresh and there are few fish out in the deep. Fish at twilight and through the night, not during the day. That’s when the fish feed. Don’t trust your livelihood to chance or inexperience. Come to shore in the morning, prepare your catch for market, wash and mend your nets, and get some sleep for the next night. And yet even with this kind of knowledge, you don’t always fill your nets.

On the night we read about today, they had had a bit of a fish recession. All night. No catch. We find them washing their nets in the morning... worried about it all and wondering how to turn it around tomorrow.

This was hardly the time for someone to come along and demand attention. But something unusual was going on. Crowds were gathering and folks were talking about Jesus of Nazareth. Simon might have looked over and seen a figure down the beach being pressed by a crowd. “They’re going to push him right into the water,” he might have thought. “Oh, well. I’m tired and want to go home.”

And up Jesus walks, straight to Simon’s boat. And without as much as a “How do you do?,” he gets on board, then shouts to Simon to join him. He asks Simon to take the boat a few feet offshore and hold it against the current so he can speak to the crowds. The water will carry his voice well and no one will press on him. He’ll also be high enough so he can sit and be seen, for a teacher in the Middle East sits to teach. This should work fine.

For whatever reason, Simon drops his nets and offers his skill to help this ministry he knows so little about. He the fisherman who casts nets to catch fish. Jesus the carpenter, who cast words to catch people.

Jesus finishes with the crowd, but he’s not done with Simon and his friends: “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

Okay. Now remember that you’re the expert. You know where the markets are going, or not – or at least you think you do. You know when it’s best to cast your nets and when it’s best to wait it out.You know. He doesn’t.

“Well, chief, we worked all night long and didn’t catch anything.”

Silence. You know in this kind of encounter that the one who speaks first usually gives in.

“Okay, if you say so, I’ll let down the nets.” (5: 5)

Let me remind you what happens next:

It was no sooner said than done – a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity.

They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. Filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.

Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell to his knees before Jesus. “Lord, leave me. I am not worthy of this. You frighten me. Leave me to myself.”

It was the same with James and John.

Jesus said, “There is nothing to fear. From now on you’ll be on my crew.” (5: 6–12, paraphrase adapted from The Message)

This Jesus revealed all of Simon’s fears, and did something Simon thought impossible. He realigned everything, worked against the odds and against conventional wisdom. He humbled the experts, and created a new reality.

• • •

It’s stewardship Sunday.

You knew it was coming. And you’re still here. You’re a brave group. No one is dropping their nets and heading toward the door. And you know that whatever I do in this sermon will eventually come around to how we’re going to support the church in 2010. Stewardship is about more than how we fund the church. But it’s not about less.

Now this is also my first stewardship sermon among you, and you might be wondering how the new pastor is going to deal with money. So I want to take this chance to make a few commitments to you.

First, unless the Session overrules me at some point, I will not farm out the task of preaching to you about stewardship. Some pastors do, preferring not to speak of money. They hire a guest preacher: a heavy hitter, a motivational guru, a good closer to make the pitch. They feel that to talk of money risks compromising their pastoral relationships. I understand that concern. But I don’t share it.

I believe you should hear from me, because stewardship is a spiritual concern and not just a business concern. Jesus talks more about money in the New Testament than he does about prayer, after all. Did you know that?

As long as I’m your pastor, I will preach this sermon.

But to recognize the risk, I will also tell you this: Pastors also actively debate whether or not they will look at what their members pledge. On the one hand, if we know, we can challenge you when necessary and thank you when appropriate. On the other hand, you don’t purchase some package of services from Pinnacle: the “platinum plan” with the largest suite of benefits, or the “gold plan” with fewer, or the “standard plan,” or the six month “demo plan.” That’s not how it works here. We turn no one away. We’re a loving and hopeful community of mutual support, grateful to God for the opportunity to build something wonderful here, and to sustain it into the future.

You give, not to get more, but to make more possible.

You give, not to get honor, but to give honor.

You give, not to receive thanks, but to give thanks.

I will do what the Session asks of me in support of our ministries, but for the first three years of my ministry among you I will not examine pledge lists. I will not know what individual members or families pledge. In three years I will revisit that commitment with the Session and ask their guidance going forward. You are all valued, and against some fears to the contrary, it is simply not the case, nor has it ever been the case, that you are valued according to your pledge.

That said, we all recognize that 20% among you support about 80% of our budget. We could not do this without that 20%, and we are all grateful. And we are fortunate that you who give more do that because it’s right and good to give, and from a desire to help those who for many reasons cannot give what they’d like to give. And so to those of you who have been hit hard by this economy, or are pressed by unexpected medical expenses, or have spouses who resist, or have other constraints: we know you’ll give what you can, and more. And when your time comes, you’ll take your role in supporting others.

When we’re called out into the deep, we turn our boats out and put down our nets – in trust.

And so a third commitment I’ll make to you. To the best of my ability, I will tell you the whole truth––both practical and spiritual. They go together.

So let me try to do that right now.

We cannot simply maintain in 2010.

We are called to move forward.

Pinnacle Presbyterian has made a faithful wager on a growing ministry. You have built for growth. You have committed yourself to a pastoral transition. You have reaffirmed, over and over again, that God is not done on the corner of Pima and Happy Valley Roads, and that God’s vision for the ministry here extends into mission far beyond this corner.

To just maintain, to simply wait for another day, is to go home with no fish. To respond is to hear the call of Jesus to go out, against all odds, into the deep, at the craziest of hours, with enough confidence to cast those nets.

The economy tells us to hold back. I understand. None of us is immune. Yet your leadership has heard the call to go out anyway, and I’m telling you about it.

Last year you took the important step of putting the mortgage on this building into our annual budget, so not just a few who make a separate pledge can meet this investment in the future, but everyone can. This added well over $200,000 to our budget.

This year, after prayerful discussion, the Session has decided three more things.

First, they have decided that we should not wait to fill the associate pastor position left empty when Mac Schafer became your Interim Pastor. We will move forward to fill that position with another experienced, faithful, and skilled associate pastor – as yet another down payment on our future – for educational ministries, pastoral care, worship leadership, mission, and more.

Second, they have decided that it’s time to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and, God willing, reignite a season of growth in our congregation. Our membership has leveled off over the past three or four years. Yet we’ve room for more – more in worship, more in education, more in friendship, more in mission, more to support our ministries. Jesus told Simon, James, and John to become fishers of people. This means an investment in outreach – in communications, organization, staffing, and programming that will help us to lift the bushel off the light even better than we have and invite others to join us.

And, third. Hearing Jesus, your Session has made a principled commitment that of whatever increase in the budget we can support, 15% will be added to mission. And in this addition, we will pay special attention to ministries that both recognize and provide real support during these times of economic hardship: emergency assistance, social support, and more.

It is time. And with your help, we will. We’re casting those nets, trusting that you will help with the catch.

Think about Jesus and Simon. Are you being called like Simon was called, to set out? Can you give more than you have – perhaps a one time gift above your pledge to bridge the gap, perhaps a two or three year commitment to increase your pledge to help those under stress right now, perhaps a permanent increase, recognizing that the needs we see around us today will not go away any time soon and that the church has an important role to play in these times? I invite you to consider this.

And so the practical, in case this hasn’t been practical enough.

To meet our mission for 2010, we will need about $1500 for every member and affiliate of our congregation – confirmation age and above. That’s not per family. That’s per member.

You’ll pay for the electricity that burns these lights.
You’ll pay my salary and those of other staff.
You’ll educate our children and enable care for those who are ill.
You’ll maintain our campus.
You’ll pay on our mortgage.
You’ll support ministries in Scottsdale, Phoenix, on the Reservations, in Haiti, in Lebanon, and elsewhere.
You’ll support other churches who don’t have what we have.
And you’ll do it all from your regular giving. We have no endowment funds that give a cushion. It is we who must put down the nets.

Given our size and resources, this goal is not unreachable. If just 200 of you increase your pledge by $1000 this year, it seems safe to say that our nets will be full. Or if 400 increase by $500 over last year . . . Are you in that number? Or can you be for someone else?

• • •

I remember back in the 1960s, when the little church I spent my childhood in decided it was time for new pews to replace the rickety old ones handed down from another church. I remember the thermometer in the narthex, counting the numbers of families and individuals who agreed to purchase a pew. I think they were about $150 a piece. Doesn’t sound like much, now does it? But in those times, in that neighborhood, it was not a little sum. It was real money for families like mine. I remember one night walking into the kitchen of our little house in Royal Oak and seeing my parents at the table with their checkbook open and a pad of paper, scribbling and adding and talking about whether they could buy a pew for this church they loved. They decided they would, even though I’m not really sure they could. I remember pleasure on their faces, a sense that they had themselves received a gift in their power to give. I wondered why they were so happy to be able to give their money away. Then I learned.

I have no fear in asking you to give, and to give more if you can, because I want for you that same joy, and that same freedom.

It might feel like a morning without fish for some of us. No doubt. The church must be here to help as it can. And Jesus still teaches, and the crowds still come, and he still needs our skills to help.

It might seem foolish to go back out into the water, against all odds, just because he’s told us to. And yet he still calls us to go. And he calls us not as an expert in fishing, but as our Lord. He calls us out, to put down the nets again. The fish are his. He knows where they are. He’ll provide what we need to follow him, if we will.

So sit at that kitchen table this week. Read the material we’ve mailed to you. Pray. And pray again – for support, for help, for your own sense of mission, and for the joy of giving. You can make this decision. It doesn’t need to wait.

Come next week and if you are ready, place your estimate of giving in the basket at the end of our service. And if you are not ready to make that pledge next week, don’t stay away. Come and place your promise to pray in the same basket, and your desire to serve. And make that pledge when you can.

Come on board the boat, and we’ll all set out together, once again, into the deep waters Jesus has called us toward – for his sake.

Amen.