The following is an excerpt from Bishop Michael Pryse’s sermon at the closing service of the Eastern Synod Assembly which was convened June 21-24, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario under the theme “Liberated By God’s Grace … to be neighbour.”
In the fifth chapter of Luke’s Gospel we read another story of Jesus and the disciples on the water. In this instance, Jesus, after speaking to the crowds from Simon's boat, directs Peter to "put out into the deep" for a catch.
The disciples had apparently been fishing all night with little to show for their efforts. Reluctantly, Peter and his companions trust Jesus’ words, push out to the deep water, cast the nets and "when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish" (Lk 5:6).
In very plain terms, Jesus is reminding the disciples who actually determines the extent of the catch in this enterprise. It’s one of those many stories in the Bible where God’s people are cautioned against becoming over-dependent upon themselves and their own resourcefulness.
I sometimes wonder whether this is what mainline North American Christians have been experiencing for the past thirty years. I sometimes wonder whether we had become overly comfortable during those glory days of the 1950’s and sixties and were in need of a corrective!
Oh the fishing was good back then! Talk about church growth! In the early 1960’s North American Lutherans were establishing new congregations at the rate of 1 per week. Between 1950 and 1980, 81 congregations were established on the territory of the Eastern Synod.
Virtually everyone was coming to church. The Sunday Schools were full to overflowing. The Lord’s Day act kept the stores closed and there were no Sunday sports leagues! “By God, the fishing was good!”
Were we necessarily better fishers? Or did we just have the good fortune to be fishing in a stocked pond, at the right time of day when the fish just happened to be biting? Was the church really any more faithful, or were we simply the fortunate recipients of a cultural delivery system that had created a gravitational pull toward the churches?
I don’t know. But I do know that we can never put our trust in anything other than God; not in our own resourcefulness or creativity; not in laws that give our faith a favoured position in society; not in anything that even remotely challenges God’s role as the one who will bring this wondrous kingdom to fuller expression in God’s own time, and for God’s own purpose.
Sometimes that means we will fish all night and catch nothing. It means encountering fierce storms that may seem capable of sinking us. We don’t determine the weather and neither do we determine the extent of the catch. That’s not our job. Our job is to be faithful; particularly during those waiting times; during those long nights when the winds are blowing hard or when the muscles of our arms do not tighten under the weight of the fish.
At this week’s Synod Assembly we have considered what it means to be neighbour. We have heard Jesus call to go across to the other side; to put out into the depth of God our creator – to put out into the depth of our neighbours, to cross to the other side, despite whatever storms we might encounter on the way.
By the liberating power of God’s grace, we have been empowered to go deeper and further into our primary mission of aiding and abetting God’s mission to love, save and reconcile the world. And if this has indeed been the case, the “net effect” of our time together will have been full and abundant to overflowing. Go home in renewed hope and confidence. You are liberated by God’s grace … to be neighbour! Now do it!!!!