Abundance, and permission to leave everything behind.
(A reflection on Luke 5: 1-11 for January 24, 2021)
As I read these this short but dense scripture of the calling of the disciples, I am struck immediately by two very basic themes to draw on: the first being the idea that GRACE COMES FIRST. And the second is the idea that WE NEED TO LEAVE OUR NETS.
GRACE COMES FIRST
This story lays out in a very clear way how grace works in our lives (at least how we Protestants believe it to be). Jesus reveals his abundance through a huge catch of fish, even with Simon’s doubts that it was possible. In the face of that catch. Simon feels he is unworthy and repents, and as Jesus responds, the new disciples leave everything and follow him. This is the pattern for which we understand grace: God’s abundance comes first, and discipleship is the joyful act of service that flows from God’s love. So, in your sermon writing, you could make this one a “grace alone, discipleship as response” classic. And in bringing in current events, you may pose questions to your congregations like: where are you doubting like Simon? Where have you seen God’s abundance overflowing, despite your doubts (especially in these pandemic times)? And the harder question: is your discipleship being inspired by the joy of God’s abundant grace? Or are we still stuck in the patterns of discipleship-as-obligation, continuing somehow to believe that we are earning our way into heaven? Does it feel like a challenge to let Jesus do the fishing for us, instead of trying all night with no catch? The message that all our service/dedication/discipleship flows from the abundance we first receive is a good reminder during the Epiphany weeks when we are focused on keeping new resolutions.
LEAVING OUR NETS
As equally interesting a theme for me come from the last verse: “they left everything and followed him.” In other gospels, it is framed as “casting off their nets.” This seems like a prophetic challenge at this moment in history, to raise the existential question about what the church might need to leave behind to be more dedicated followers of Jesus. I have the privilege of walking alongside a church right now and listening as they have discussions about changing their name. As part of the talks, someone even raised the question that the word “church” itself might be a barrier, and perhaps as they make changes, they do away with “church” for a more inclusive word like “community.” That is courageous leaving everything behind, if you ask me. As we continue to more through this global pandemic, we are forced to leave behind our old ways of doing church – patterns, traditions, music, and customs that are dearly beloved, but may also be worn thin. I wonder what each of your churches might say if you challenge them with a sermon asking “What are you willing to leave behind, if it means greater discipleship?” In this great awakening as we all reimage our communities of discipleship – it might mean leaving behind a name… or a building… or an ideology inconsistent with Jesus’ teachings. (Here in Midwestern America, we definitely need to leave behind our kinship to Nationalism and Exceptionalism; our global partners can help us with that.) And in fact, it may not be all bad — to leave everything behind and follow. It may even feel freeing, to be unencumbered anew. As Jesus calls us to “leave your nets and follow me,” we are granted permission to imagine all things new for the good of our communities and our discipleship.
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Rev. Cathy M. Kolwey is a write, artist, and pastor who works in the SW suburbs of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. She has been working at the intersection of spirituality and the arts since 2001, and blogs at http://www.cmkolwey.com