So There’s This Boat…

Last weekend I had the honor of preaching at the Affirmation of Baptism service where a slew of wonderful 10th graders got confirmed. This sermon is for them, but folks listening liked it too. So I thought I’d share. The text for the day was Luke 5:1-11:

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.

So there’s this boat. It’s called confirmation. Different versions of the boat got built a long time ago. A lot of our parents and grandparents got on their respective boats, and they asked us to come aboard, too. So you just wandered up to third floor on a Wednesday in junior high and got on a boat having absolutely no idea where we were going. We lowered the nets and sat there looking around at each other. 

Remember being in the 7th grade. Think about it for a second. Sit in the awkwardness. You were so short! 

I walked onto the 3rd floor in the spring of your 7th grade year to teach confirmation. Oh there was a lot going on in Stuga! There was a slew of girls who didn’t really know each other. They were quiet, but I knew they had something to say. And I was right. 

There was a crew for whom it was a physical impossibility to string two minutes together sitting in a chair and Jordan had to remind you weekly that she had your parent’s phone numbers in her phone and would use them. There was one guy who came from Minnetonka by himself and owned it like it’s his job. There were others who were already experimenting with who they were becoming, brave and bold and endlessly curious. 

I loved you right away. You were smart, sassy, fun, talented, inquisitive, silly, brave. I took your energy, your eye rolls, your awkwardness and absorbed it all in my bones. I kicked it back to you as love. 

You matter.

You are enough.

You belong.

You are loved. 

I wasn’t the only one taken by you. Your adult leaders showed up week in and week out just to hear what you are thinking. Your parents love you more than you will ever give them credit for. I know you gotta play it cool but at some point really look around at who showed up today, who is going to place a hand of blessing on you as an expression of pure love.

Some of you showed up because you were forced to, but but we were all stuck in this boat together so we might as well do something. Over time, you grew. We noticed. Not only did we start to like you, you started teaching us. 

You were willingly sleep outside in a cardboard box to make your heart softer to folks who are vulnerable in ways we don’t understand.

You taught us about Bach and paradox. 

You walked out of your school to protest gun violence.

You chopped onions and cooked hotdogs for folks in a totally different city just because no one should be hungry.

You took pictures, really good pictures, when we needed it. 

You show the courage and audacity to challenge long standing gender binary norms.

You stand on stage and sit at the piano and tie your running shoes and completely silence us with your talent. 

You looked each other in the eye and asked forgiveness.

You flip Lefse like a boss. 

You are brave enough to sit in a canoe without your phone long enough to realize your inherent worth, that the glory of nature lives in you. 

You do things that show a maturity and vulnerability that adults only dream about, and you do it with grace and style. 

You are astounding. You make us better. And now that you are taller, now that you are so not in 7th grade anymore, you get to claim your power in this community. Whether you want it or not, you are leaders. The younger youth look up to you. So do the adults. We watch you build robots and learn to live with mental illness and swim really darn fast and we are in awe of who you are and who you are becoming. We admire your courage and your ability to speak truth, live truth and accept nothing short of truth. This crew wouldn’t be the same without you here. 

So there’s this boat. 

And sometimes the net is full. We laugh over square dancing (let’s be honest you loved it) or feel invigorated skiing together at Giant’s Ridge or catch Pokeman in Chicago or sing karaoke in West Virginia or make our heads hurt just a bit during Breakfast Club discussion, or question our assumptions during our Muslim speaker or go over the rapids in a canoe with Soren….

And sometimes the net is empty. And it’s boring. And hard. We start to pick at each other, point fingers, place blame. We say things that hurt or chicken out or feel alone in a crowd. No one promised life would be simple. No one promised that community would be easy. It’s hard and messing and yes, sometimes boring. 

And I think that’s part of how God loves. God tells us to build a boat and get in. It sounds so crazy that some are too cool to do it. But others give it a shot. It’s our choice to get building. To get in. To show up. To risk being about something. To listen and talk. To be with each other and let the others in the boat change us. 

There could have been nothing but there is something, and that something is very good. God created this marvelous and mysterious world. God created you. There could have been nothing but there are the stars and sunsets and lemurs and weeping willow trees and you. And us. There could have been nothing, but you showed up and this happened, we happened, and we are better for it.

Kyle showed up. Robbie and Ryan showed up with friends. Then Katie showed up. Then Miles showed up again! And we got better. And better. And better. Ed and Jordan and Maggie and Anna and Kris, Eva and Noah and Shannon and Will keep showing up. You showed up at church but also in more unexpected places like West Virginia and the capitol building and Ed’s improv show. 

That is why we get a little teary on days like this, because we are so lucky that you exist and we have gotten a front row seat in this chapter of your life initially because of the boat, but now the boat cannot contain our minds and beings and bodies and love remains. It’s remarkable really. We see you. We love you. We will encourage your gifts to be nurtured and take root as you keep unfolding. We will walk with you as you grow for the good of you, your neighbor and the world. Today is a moment for you to receive irrational love from this community. Take that and eat it.

There could have been nothing, but there’s this boat. And we’re on it.

We get caught looking down at the empty nets. We forget to look up. At each other. Or up higher at the clouds. We forget to look up from our empty nets and see Jesus, eager to sit with us and hear what we are thinking about. Even when you feel skeptical, even when it feels a little crazy and pointless, even when others raise their eyebrows at you, I hope you continue to choose to build boats with people when you get the invitation. Get in the boat with quirky cool people. And sure, get to work, but don’t get caught staring at your empty net. Look up at the people in the boat, and look all the way up, at the messy beautiful world and the glorious horizon and the irrational, unconditional love that is always and forever awaiting you on the shore. 

And then get out of the dang boat. There will come a time when the boat gets so comfortable you think you are fishing for fish. When you hear the call to get out of the boat, even if it makes no sense at all, go. Go and see for yourself. Don’t always be the cool guy who stays dry and contained on the boat. Don’t play it small. Don’t play it safe. Be Peter now and again. Jump in, flail, splash around, sputter, run, make a fool out of yourself in order to grab life and receive love. Let wonder make you vulnerable. Don’t wait for it to make sense. When the universe invites you to, walk on water. Grab a friend from the boat on your way. 

Jesus never promises us an easy life, but there is a life of abundance and love waiting for you. There will be days that your nets are empty and life makes no sense. There will be days when your nets are full and bursting with beauty and meaning. There will be days when you are asked to take a 180 and walk into the complete unknown. On all of those days, God will be there for you and so will we.