February 14, 2021
The Rev. Megan Collins
Most of you know we had a lapse in judgement early in the pandemic. Back in May we adopted a Labrador retriever puppy named Stella. Stella has been an energetic handful these past few months (and admittedly has brought a lot of joy and laughter into our home too). One of the biggest surprises of Stella though was how she felt about the swimming pool. We had been told that labs instinctively loved swimming and that she would love the pool. That was certainly the case for our older lab. A few weeks in with our new puppy, we took her outside and showed her the swimming pool.
She was terrified. She didn’t want to be anywhere near the pool. We tried getting in first and calling her to come to us. No way. We tried coaxing her onto the first step with treats. Absolutely not. Finally one day we tried carrying her with us out into the pool and gently lowering one small paw into the water. She was so afraid she wrapped her paws around Dave’s neck and gave him a hug.
After several failed attempts, we stepped back from our pool project. Then one afternoon when we were swimming we noticed her edge closer to the shallow end steps. She sat right at the edge and dangled her paws toward the water. We got excited and started splashing toward her and she took off into the yard. But over the next few weeks she kept getting closer. She would touch the surface with her paw. One day she put both front paws on the top step in the water but kept her back legs firmly on the deck. Over time she started paddling into the water a few feet. Then finally, one day it happened. We threw her tennis ball into the pool and she launched herself from the deck into the air and right into the deep end to grab it. We haven’t been able to keep her out of the pool since then.
Some puppies dive right into the deep end on their first try but for Stella, it was one step at a time.
Some of you are “jump right into the deep end” kind of people. If you have a fear of heights, you take an elevator to the top floor to beat it. If you meet someone, you dive right into the relationship. If you want to deal with an addiction, you go cold turkey. There are dive right into the deep end kind of people when it comes to faith too. These are the kind of people we think of when read about in the gospel of Matthew that Jesus says “follow me” and it says they immediately dropped everything and followed him. We hear sermons about this kind of faith in Jesus. To follow Jesus, we are told, means to drop everything and turn it all over. It’s all or nothing. It’s all at once. And for some people, that works.
But some of you are in the Stella camp of doing things, taking it one step at a time. If you are afraid of heights, you start by going to the second floor, then the third. If you meet someone, you ease in, getting to know them slowly. If you are dealing with an addiction, you join a 12 step group and work the process one day at a time. So when it comes to follow Jesus, is there an option to wade into the shallow end, to take it one step at a time?
Yes. Let’s take a look at the gospel of Luke chapter 5 verses 1 - 11. What’s interesting is this is a similar story from the one in Matthew where people are called to follow Jesus, the one where they immediately leave it all to follow. But in this one, it unfolds a little differently.
"Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He 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. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and 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.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him."
The end result of this story is the same. They left everything and followed Jesus. But the way they got there was one step at a time. Let's think more about this story. What’s the first thing Simon does when he sees Jesus? Does he drop to his knees in faith and ask to follow him? No. Simon simply lets Jesus get a little closer by letting him into his boat. In fact, he doesn’t even invite Jesus into the boat. He just doesn’t push him out. He let Jesus into the boat with him. He let him get a little closer. It was like when Stella came up next to the pool and dangled her paws over the side. She wasn’t swimming but she let herself be close to the water.
The first step to following Jesus isn’t unquestioning belief and devotion. It’s letting Jesus get a little closer, letting him be next to you. Don’t dismiss how hard this can be. Letting Jesus get a little closer to you can be a huge step. It can feel terrifying. Jesus on the shore, way over there, is easy to ignore. Jesus in the boat next to you, even if you aren’t sure what you think about him, that’s a big step in and of itself. The first step to follow Jesus isn’t being all in. It’s when you let Jesus get closer.
Let Jesus be a little closer to you. This is less about you doing something and more about standing still. Jesus is always pursuing you, he is always wanting to be closer to you. Your entire job in the first step is to not push him overboard, to stop running away and be willing to let him be there. Maybe today that’s the step you can take. Maybe you have been running from Jesus because you aren’t sure what you think yet and you have been told it’s all or nothing, that you have to make a decision to be in or to be out. But what if there is a third option, to stand still?
Let’s look back at the story. Now Jesus is in the boat, but he doesn’t talk directly to Simon. The next thing Jesus does is to teach anyone who happens to be listening. You can almost see Jesus watching Simon out of the corner of his eye to see how he responds. He isn’t asking Simon to decide anything. He isn’t even looking right at Simon. He is teaching . . . . and Simon is listening to him.
Once Jesus is a little closer, you can listen to see what he is about. You aren’t committing to anything in this step either. You aren’t saying I am in, I believe it all, here I am Lord. You are listening to what Jesus taught to learn what Jesus is about. You can do this second step by reading a book or coming to church or watching church online. Or you can start by reading one of the gospels - start with Mark, it’s the shortest. Listen to what Jesus teaches, watch how he lives, how he treats people, before forcing yourself to decide if he is a teacher you want to follow.
Simon let Jesus get closer, and he listened to him teach. Then does Jesus ask Simon if he believes? No. It says when he finished teaching he told Simon to lower his nets into the water to fish. Simon is hesitant. They haven’t had any luck fishing that day. Why would this carpenter know better than he how to catch fish? Simon decides to do it anyway. What would it hurt? There isn’t a lot on the line for Simon here except some extra time recleaning the nets and maybe looking a little foolish for trusting Jesus to try this if the nets come back up empty.
Simon lowers the nets and when he brings the nets back up they are full of fish. Simon took the next step to trust Jesus with something small, something based in action not belief. He didn’t give his whole life to Jesus yet. But something in the way Jesus taught got Simon’s attention. It made him interested enough to take a risk and gave him one small piece of his life and see what would happen.
The next step in following Jesus for you might be to trust Jesus with one small thing, to turn over one small piece of your life and see what happens. This one is tough because turning it over doesn’t always mean a miracle. Following Jesus doesn’t mean life is guaranteed to be easier, or the challenges you are facing just disappear. But it could mean turning over your fear and seeing what Jesus can do in you. It could mean you give over a relationship you are struggling with, or your financial situation or a specific habit or behavior. You aren’t jumping in to the deep end and giving your whole life to Jesus but you are wading into the pool to see if the things you heard Jesus say could do something in your life too.
Then we get to the last part of our story. This is the part where Simon professes his belief, leaves everything behind, and follows Jesus.There is no getting around it. The last step is a big one: To turn it all over to Jesus and to give your whole life over to him. Maybe this is the step for you today. Maybe you have let Jesus a little closer and listened to his teaching and followed him in small ways and now, you are ready. You are ready for the deep end.
If that’s you and you want to talk more about that with Dave or I we would love to pray with you and talk more with you. Taking that last step can feel scary. But if you are anything like Stella, once you do, you’ll want to stay in the pool.
But the question for today isn’t how can we get you to the deep end the fastest. The question for you today is this.
Can you take the next step, your next step?
Can you let Jesus get a little closer? Or can you listen to his teaching? Or let him into one small area of your life? Or, if it’s time, give it all over, leap into the air, and dive in ready to swim?
Whatever your next step is to follow Jesus . . . what if you took it?