This is our third time marking the Season of Creation together. It’s a short liturgical season that leads us to consider spiritual metaphors based in the natural world. It challenges us to tune our hearts to see the Sacred in all of creation.
It does not mean I’m trying to turn you into creationists—people who tend to interpret the Genesis story as 6 literal days (or ages) of creativity by God and who argue for a young earth of only several thousand years. As comedian Lewis Black says when arguing with a creationist, “Fossils, fossils, fossils, I win!”
And I’m also not trying to turn you into caftan-wearing paganists. The Season of Creation is just about seeing God’s presence and blessing beyond Jesus and the bible. If God really is at the heart of all reality then we shouldn’t have too difficult a time seeing God in the reality that surrounds us—if we’d look!
This season is not saying that trees equal God. It’s saying that God’s Sacred Presence is not just beyond us, but is also infused within everything and everyone – and that deserves our attention. The Season of Creation doesn’t seek to worship creation, it seeks to draw on and explore the metaphors that creation offers for insights into God.
My message titles for the next four weeks are: Into the Deep (Oceans), Into the Wild (Fauna/Animals), Into the Wind (Storms), and Into the Sacred (Cosmos). We’re going INTO each realm to see what it can reveal to us about the Holy Mystery we call God.
Our first realm is the ocean. What words come to mind when you think of the ocean? It’s probably words like:
Vast, powerful, mysterious, dangerous, deep, cold, wet, waves, currents, known yet unknowable, voyage, lifeblood.
Humankind has explored just about every place on earth, and is venturing into space, but the things that cover 71% of our planet—our oceans—remain unexplored (only 5%). And when they do foray into this uncharted territory they seem to always discover new things.
The Smithsonian website says: “The deep sea remains largely unexplored. Dive down 650 feet (200 meters, or 2 football fields), and you notice that light starts fading rapidly. Dive deeper: the temperature drops and pressure rises. At 13,000 feet (4 kilometers!), the temperature hovers around freezing, and there’s no sunlight at all. Yet there is life—an astounding variety of creatures that will boggle your mind.” The deepest part of the ocean is about 11 kilometers down. I wonder what lives there?
I read that estimates of the number of undiscovered species in the ocean range from a few hundred thousand to more than 10 million. Let that sink in for a minute. There are millions of species that we haven’t laid eyes on yet. It staggers the imagination to dream about what might be down there.
But it goes far beyond just new species! Oceans are literally the lifeblood of our planet:
The ocean releases more oxygen into the atmosphere than all the world’s forests combined thanks to marine vegetation.
It plays a fundamental role in controlling the global climate.
It exchanges heat and gases with the atmosphere through currents and winds at the surface of the sea.
It feeds billions of people throughout the world.
Shipping accounts for the transport of 90% of the world’s international traded goods.
It holds considerable amounts of precious mineral and energy resources such as oil, gas, salt, precious metals.
I trust that you’ve heard environmentalists warn us about the dangers of mistreating our oceans. Poisoning and polluting the ocean is akin to suicide! Short term economic gain is outweighing long term human sustainability.
(Ok Larry, we get it. But we didn’t come here for an environmental lecture, we came for spiritual stuff!)
Fair enough. Let’s talk spiritual stuff.
Let’s talk about stewardship of God’s creation.
Let’s talk about gratitude for abundance.
Let’s talk about the negative effects of the love of money.
Let’s talk about shrugging our shoulders instead of diving wholeheartedly into something so utterly beyond us that we cannot comprehend its vastness.
Let’s talk about how the ocean is such a wonderful metaphor for God.
Remember that list of ocean words? Now ask yourself: Which of those words also carry spiritual connotations? Well, with the exception of cold, ALL OF THEM!!!!! Vast, powerful, mysterious, dangerous, deep, waves, currents, known yet unknowable, voyage, lifeblood – these aren’t just ocean metaphors, they also describe the Holy Mystery we call God and our journey of faith.
God covers not 71% but 100% of the Earth’s surface, and depth, and beyond. And yet, like oceans, the Sacred is largely unexplored! There are depths of Sacred Presence that too few humans have had the courage and conviction to dive into. We are in a profound relationship with The Deep – whether we’re aware of it or not.
Last week we talked about moving from the Shallows to the Deep. That movement is our faith journey – our deepening relationship with God – our immersion in the ocean of Presence that surrounds and enfolds us. The bible is filled with stories of people on this same journey. People just like you and me – and Simon Peter.
Luke 5:1-11 is one of the places we hear about Peter’s call story (he actually doesn’t get the name Peter for a couple more chapters but I’m going to use it now anyway for clarity). A crowd presses in on Jesus hungering and thirsting for more of the Sacred Reality he’s revealing. So Jesus asks Peter (who he’s just met) if he can use his boat to go out a bit and create an impromptu natural amphitheatre. After Jesus finishes his teaching he invites Peter to take the boat out into the lake and go fishing.
Peter protests. Why should he listen to this guy? Jesus isn’t a fisherman. Peter had been out all night and caught nothing. Why should he go back out and fail again? But something in the exchange persuades him and out they go. And lo and behold a miraculous amount of fish are caught and Peter becomes a disciple.
Taken on the surface this story feels kind of like magic. Jesus waves his magic wand and they throw the nets over the side of the boat and receive a massive catch of fish. Is that the right take-away for us here? Does Jesus say, “I’ll do something flashy and wondrous for you and that’ll make you want to follow my way”? Is that why you’re here? I hope not!
I believe there’s a deeper meaning here. I want to focus in on three verses and see where they take us.
Luke 5:4 When Jesus had finished speaking, he said to (Peter), “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
Go beyond the literal. What deeper, metaphoric meaning might “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch” have?
What might ‘deep water’ mean? What might Jesus be inviting them to ‘catch’? Is this really just a fish story?
Jesus is inviting Peter to respond to the teaching he’d just heard. The writing is so good. I can picture Peter sitting in the boat hanging on every word Jesus is sharing with the crowd on shore. He’s got a front row seat. And when Jesus looks him right in the eye and suggests he take the boat back out I can see Peter’s face light up with understanding.
Jesus says, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch. There’s great stuff in the deep water. You didn’t catch it before because you didn’t know what you were fishing for. Now you do, Peter. Come to the deep water. Dive in. There is treasure in the deep. Something wonderful, and powerful, and mysterious is moving down there in the deep that you can catch – and it’ll change your life. There is new life in the deep water that you’ve never imagined existed. Prepare to be wowed! Dive into the deep, Peter, and live.”
Then Peter has a little debate with himself. He’s not really sure that he wants to do the work. He’s not sure he wants to get wet. He’s intrigued by what Jesus is inviting him to, but he’s a little nervous about what might happen. “What if it’s really real? What if it changes me? What if it leads me away from my carefully laid out plans? What if it costs me something? What if…”
But something about that look in Jesus’ eyes – that expression that communicates “Peter, it’s so totally worth it! Dive in!” And Peter does “put out into the deep water and let down his nets for a catch” – a catch of something incredibly wonderful.
It’s the next part that surprises us, I think. It’s Peter’s reaction after he’s felt the transformative power of the deep and has been overwhelmed by this sacred mystical experience. You’d think it would be joyous – whooping it up, celebrating, doing a happy dance.
And I think it probably was for a moment, and then something even deeper hits him.
Luke 5:8 But when Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
When you come face to face with utter holiness and are immersed in the deep sacred presence of God, like Peter was, it sends you to your knees. Poets call it “terrible beauty”. God’s holiness utterly overwhelms us as God’s piercing, perfect light shines on us and reveals to us all those things we’ve tried to hide away in the dark corners of our lives. Knowing God more fully means knowing yourself more fully, and honestly, and there’s no more kidding ourselves. The ocean is both glorious and terrifying. Why do you think so many messengers from God keep saying “Do not be afraid!”?
Encounters with the Sacred, diving into the deep, brings joy, and wonderment, and peace, but it also brings humility, and self-awareness, and a profound realization of just how short we’ve fallen of God’s dream for us. We don’t seek forgiveness because God’s mad at us, we seek it because we’ve finally seen what we’d tried to avoid seeing in ourselves and it embarrasses us. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
But Jesus doesn’t go away. I can see him smile an understanding smile, putting his hand on Peter’s head, and saying, “It’s ok Peter. I get it. Welcome to the ocean!”
Verses 9 and 10 tell of how the others with them – James and John – also “saw” and were “amazed” – in other words, they too experienced the Sacred that day. Which leads us to verse 11.
Luke 5:11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
This should not surprise us one little bit. Diving into the deep changes you. Encountering the holy changes you. Being immersed in the Sacred changes you. Of course they left everything and followed him. They had, in spiritual terms, died to their old lives and had been reborn. Why on earth would they go back? Their paradigm had shifted. What was, was no more. They had spiritually evolved. And once you’ve evolved there’s no going back.
Peter heard the message of Jesus, responded to the invitation to move from the Shallows to the Deeps, dove into the Ocean of God’s Sacred Presence, and in the deep, mysterious waters discovered the most incredible, awesome, unique and beautiful new life form – himself!
It’s not just a fish story.
It’s the story of the journey of faith.
It’s your story.
The ocean of God’s Sacred Presence awaits.
Dive into the deep!