All Hands on Deck : Week 1 - Let Go.
“All Hands On Deck: Let Go”
November 6, 2022 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church - Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ 5Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ 9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Despite appearances, I have never really thought of myself as a heavy packer. That is until I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail about 16 years ago and my backpack weighed what I thought was a reasonable 44 pounds….. and then my hiking partner, a guy named Garrett, came walking along with a pack that weighed 22 pounds. The lightness of his pack was *annoying* to me. He carried nothing with him that he didn’t absolutely need. Meanwhile I had a few “luxury” items, things like a fluffy 15 degree sleeping bag, just in case, a book for evening reading, big heavy rugged boots and at least three changes of clothes. At the outset all of these things sounded perfectly reasonable and none of them weighed that much individually. But as the miles passed the accumulated weight of all of the extra things slowed me down. My shoulders and back hurt. And climbing mountains was just brutal. By 200 miles into our hike, Garrett had convinced me to shed the things that were not absolutely essential to walking, eating, and sleeping, the only three things that really mattered on our long hike. And you know what? When I did that, my hiking experience improved exponentially. When I let go of the extra stuff that burdened me, I was actually able to enjoy the climbs and soak in the views at the top without pain or worry. At first I missed my things, but after more miles passed I was too busy enjoying the main thing I had set out to do than I was to miss the things I’d let go.
Sometimes we’re too busy accumulating and caring for all the things we think are necessary for the journey ahead that we forget what the whole point of the journey was in the first place. Has that ever happened to you?
It happened to Simon Peter and James and John. They had been living life as if they were simply going through the motions: washing nets, casting nets, coming up empty. Then one day this guy named Jesus climbed aboard their fishing boat and began teaching. He began to open up a world to them they hadn’t before noticed. A world where scarcity and hollowness was replaced with abundance and deep purpose. And all of a sudden, with this outlook, the nets they had been bringing in empty all day were filling up. Simon, James and John were amazed. But this was just the beginning. This Jesus guy said that life could be like that, too. Full of potential and lived with purpose. But they had a decision to make. They could continue to live their lives as they had been, or they could make a change. The scripture captures this decision as if it happened in a split second, although I’m sure it took longer. “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.” They left the non-essentials go in order to keep up with this Jesus guy.
These days I long for the simplicity of a backpacker’s life where the hardest thing I had to “let go” of was my extra fleece and a novel. I wonder what it must have been like for Simon, James and John to walk away from everything they owned in order to follow a vision Jesus had given them. It was a pretty good vision, though. It was the vision of a world where people could get caught up in a love that would save them from their scarcity. It was a vision of a world where people weren’t bound by their burdens but freed to love God and love each other. Jesus preached about this world where life was less about stuff and more about purpose. A world where trust in God brought all you needed. It brought enough.
Two thoughts come to my mind as I make sense of this story. 1. If Jesus called me to this kind of world today, would I go? And if I did choose Jesus’ world, what would I have to let go of and leave behind?
The first question is *by far* easier than the second. Of course (!) I want to follow Jesus into a world where my burdens are lifted and my only job is to love God and love my neighbors. Of course I want that kind of world, not just for myself but for everyone. My difficulty, though, is that every single day when my heart wants to choose that kind world, there are real, heavy weights pulling me back into the present, old world. The biggest two? My time (hold up calendar) and my money (hold up wallet). When I should be taking cues from Jesus about the decisions I make, instead I find the real influence is right here. A better world? How much does it cost and will I have enough time?
Why is it in that story of Simon, James and John does it seem a whole lot easier for them to walk away from their beat-up old fishing boat in the 1st century than it does for me to set aside the influence of these things in the 21st century? I want someone to tell me I’m not comparing apples to apples. Jesus didn’t really mean for me to let go of these things, did he?
Yes and no. Money and wealth and possessions and time are not 21st century concepts. They are resources that have been captivating and ensnaring the attention of human beings since the day first day of human beings. It’s part of our nature. They are resources that feel precious to us. They can feel like the only thing over which we have control. Our time and our money become our dearest possessions. We let them dictate our quality of life, our sanity, our security and our future. They are so important to us it’s almost like they own us, instead of the other way around.
God sees this. In fact, God is so aware of this the Bible, as a whole, contains a staggering 2,350 verses about money and possessions. And 15% of everything Jesus ever said related to issues of money. Our attachment to our resources is not a secret.
And the gist of most of those 2,350 bible verses is not that it’s a sin to have these things. God’s point is that it’s a sin to let them stop us from making decisions that build a better world. When our money and our time become so precious to us that we are unwilling to let them go for a higher purpose, we’ve got a serious problem. It’s like Jesus himself said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matt 6:24)
And I think I know why. That world that Jesus was beginning to open up to Simon, James and John… it was a world where people were no longer trapped in a scarcity mindset. It was world where hope burned eternal. A world where all people could know the abundant love of God. But Jesus knew that none of us can fully step into that world when we’re burdened by the concern of hoarding our own resources. When we’re prompted to share with others or give our time for a good cause, questions like will there be enough to go around? or, I’m not sure I have the time for that… distract us from the purpose of why we decided to follow Jesus in the first place. Won’t God provide? Isn’t God enough? Doesn’t God promise that we will be taken care? “Look at the birds of the air;” Jesus said. “They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?” (Matt 6:26-27)
I chose the containers for these things, my calendar and my wallet, but the contents are not mine. They are gifts from God and I forget that. I think they belong to me and that my security and my future and my joy depend on them. But they don’t. This time and this money are gifts that I have been entrusted to take care of. And God doesn’t expect us to put them all on the line all at once. We can’t all be like Simon, James and John. But if we have the impression that hanging on to them tightly will somehow ensure a better life for us, we will find we’re so pre-occupied with watching our money and our time grow, that we’ve stopped truly living in the first place. If chasing Jesus and his dream for a better, more just and equitable world is our goal, hoarding these things in our backpacks will most certainly slow us down.
I’m sorry, folks. This is not the easiest of conversations. But we have to start somewhere. This week I want you to think about your budget and your calendar as though they were love letters to God. That doesn’t mean every cent and every hour needs to be given back to God, no. I do not want you to become an ascetic hermit taking a vow of poverty overnight. But I do think we all have room to grow when it comes to using our resources more wisely. Do the choices we make with our time and money help contribute in some way to a new and better world? Are we investing not just in the wellbeing of ourselves and our families, but also in the wellbeing of the community? Are we giving enough away that we feel a bit of a pinch the first time we let go?
These are hard questions. The answers, though, begin to challenge the power our resources have over us. What happens when we let go, even just a little bit? Jesus says freedom, abundance, and a more satisfying journey.
Let us pray.