The Big Question

What is the big question in your life? What is the one question that goes through your mind when nothing distracts you?

A young couple I know just became first-time parents, and their big question is, “Can we do this?” Their little boy is ten days old, and they wonder, “What’s the world going to be like when he graduates from college?” Their big question: “Can we do this?”

At your work, they have closed entire departments because there aren’t enough orders in the book, and your big question is, “Will things turn around or am I next?”

Your friend’s life has been a complete roller coaster and he barely has time to process anything, and for weeks his question has been, “Is it gonna be OK?”

Between parents and teenagers, the big questions famously clash. Dad asks his daughter the mother of all big questions, “What are you going to do with your life?”, while the daughter can’t stop thinking about the cute guy in the cafeteria, and the only big question on her mind is, “How can I get him to notice me?”

Beginning sometime in early childhood, we begin carrying big questions in our minds. Some of them we all have to answer somehow at some point, they are simply part of being human; others are unique chapters of our life stories.

I remember the moment when, as a child, I stumbled upon the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” and how frightened I was when I tried to imagine what nothing would be like.

Most days, though, the big question is much closer to home.

Every time Peter and his partners pulled away from the shore in their boats, the big questions was, “Will we catch enough?”

Enough to feed our families? Enough to take some to market? Enough to pay for boat repairs and other capital expenses? Enough to cover Rome’s steep fishery tax that was due whether or not they caught anything?

The big question every day was, “Will there be enough?” and that’s one we all know, isn’t it? Will there be enough to pay the bills? Enough to stay in school? Enough to keep the business open?

It’s not hard at all to see ourselves all in that boat together, pulling away from the shore at the beginning of a work day, or a work week or a month or a fiscal year, wondering, “Will there be enough?” It’s easy for us to see ourselves all in that boat together, returning to the beach after a long day of work with little or nothing to show for it. We stand in the shallow water, washing our nets, wondering how we’ll make ends meet, hoping that tomorrow will be better.

And then Jesus gets into the boat and he asks Peter to put out a little way from the shore. He sits in the boat, he teaches the crowd, and Luke doesn’t tell us a single word of that teaching. We can only assume that he proclaims the good news of the kingdom of God as he did in Capernaum, and back home in Nazareth where they didn’t want to hear him. We can assume that he brings good news to the poor and proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor to the crowd gathered on the beach.

Then Jesus turns to Peter, and Luke makes sure we know exactly what he tells him: “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” And Peter and those with him, after a long night of working tirelessly and catching nothing, trust Jesus and let down the nets and they pull in the biggest catch anybody has every seen, more fish than the nets and the boats can possibly hold.

Imagine the faces of the fishermen, jaws dropped; imagine the faces of the crowd, eyes wide with wonder; imagine the brief, breathless silence and the sudden eruption of shouting, hollering, and clapping on the beach. Imagine the joy when those boats come ashore.

Now you know why Luke didn’t write down a single word of Jesus’ teaching from the boat: because this is the message, this is the good news, this net-breaking, boat-sinking catch is the good news of abundant life for all in the kingdom of God.

Peter knows it. He falls down on the pile of fish, knowing that he is in the presence of God, fearful that the fire of holiness might consume him. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” he stammers. And the Lord replies, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

Everything has changed.

“Will there be enough?” no longer is the big question, because there obviously is so much more than enough. What, then, is the big question?

You may be tempted to say to yourself, “Wow, that’s a lot of fish. Should I can it or freeze it? I’ll need to get a bigger boat, or better yet, two; and I need to get some stronger nets as well. More importantly, I need to ask Jesus to mark all the good fishing spots on my map. Perhaps I can interest him in a business partnership? Should I call it Me & Jesus – Deep Water Fishing or Jesus & Me – Daily Catch Fresh from the Sea?”

If that is not the big question, what is?

In the same waters that we have fished all night long without catching anything, waters we thought we knew like the back of our hands, there, right under the surface of our day-to-day work, is an abundance we can barely imagine, and Jesus has the power to bring it out. Jesus has the power to bring it up.

Once you’ve seen that, the only question remaining is, “Where are the people to share this abundance?”

The crowds that came to the lakeshore to see Jesus and to hear him proclaim the good news, got a taste of the kingdom at the all-you-can-eat grilled-fish picnic on the beach; so many people, and not one of them asked if there would be enough.

For Peter and his friends life wasn’t about fish, boats, bills and other daily worries anymore. They left everything and followed Jesus.

Now their big question was, “How do we live in response to the abundance we have found in the presence of Jesus? How do we live so others can taste and see that God is good and the kingdom so very near?”

It is easy for us to see ourselves all in that boat together, worrying about tomorrow after working all night without catching anything. What isn’t so easy for any of us is to realize that Jesus is in the boat with us; he is done talking and he is waiting for us to put out into the deep water and lower our nets, so the people hungry for good news get to taste and see it.

I don’t believe this story is about a miracle that happened on a lake in Galilee in the first half of the first century; it is about a miracle that began then.

Jesus has the power to open our eyes for the abundance of life that God desires for us.

Jesus has the power to change our big questions from anxious worries about ourselves to passionate compassion for others.

Jesus has the power to bring the kingdom of God into the dreariest, most hopeless moment.

But we must be attentive to his presence and guidance. We must be ready to stop telling fish tales from thirty years ago and get our hands wet again. We must be ready to trust him and lower our nets into the deep.

That is what we did in the summer and fall of 2008 when we got into our little boat for what we called The Journey. The big question was, “Who and what is God calling us to be in 2019?”

We listened prayerfully to God and to each other. We responded faithfully. We put out into the deep water and let down our nets, and we pulled up a vision of the future. It is the vision of a vibrant community of believers with a strong mission focus. A community equally at home in our local neighborhood and with our global neighbors around the world. It is a net-breaking, boat-sinking vision so beautiful, we made it into a movie.

Now the big question is, “How do we live in response to the abundance we have found in the presence of Jesus? How do we live so others can taste and see that God is good and the kingdom so very near? How do we live into the vision God has set before us?”

We didn’t quite leave everything to follow Jesus, but we did leave some old ministry models that no longer worked and we went to work with some new ones, particularly in the areas of communication and education.

We kept our attention on the needs of the most vulnerable among our brothers and sisters, and with wisdom and boldness we finished one of our strongest years in outreach giving during the toughest economic period most of us have ever experienced.

If you haven’t read the year-end report from our finance committee, I encourage you to do so. Most of you have already received it in the mail with your year-end giving statement. Go to our website and you will read about moments of kingdom abundance during a period when everybody else was talking about cut backs.

The big question for us as a congregation at the beginning of this year is not, “Will there be enough?”

The big question is, “How will we continue to live into the story God has put before us? How will we continue The Journey as followers of Jesus Christ here in Nashville and around the world?”

You know that our friends on the finance committee know how to worry, but they also know how to build a budget around mission, not fear. You know that our friends on the Official Board know how to worry, but they also know when it’s time to get our hands wet.

It is time to get out of the shallow water and put out into the deep water with boldness and lower our nets trusting the word and promise of Jesus.

It is time to be an Ephesians 3:20 church. Go ahead, write it down, Ephesians 3:20. No need to put it on a big poster and take it to the Super Bowl party or the next ball game. This isn’t for others to see; this is for us to see and remember when the worries creep in. Let’s write it on the covers of our check books. Let’s write it on the agenda of every board meeting. Let’s write it on every committee report and financial statement: Ephesians 3:20

Here is what it says,

“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

I have nothing to add to that.