Message for worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 27th of Third Month, 2022
Speaker: Rev. Dr. Loletta M. Barrett
Scripture: Luke 5:1-11, NRSV
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.
I bring greetings of love and peace from the Friends in Whittier, CA. It is a great joy to join you in meeting for worship. I give thanks for this blessing we have received from the pandemic- learning that we can connect long distance and experience the ever-present Spirit flowing between us- no matter the distance in time and space. My deepening appreciation of the science of the physics of existence as energy is undergirded by the realization of the miracle experienced in the interconnection of all of the Creator’s work.
I have come to realize through the isolation how great a gift we have in travel. It is a privilege restricted by virus, time, money and status and often under appreciated. Whether we travel in person or zoom, or welcome a visiting Friend, joining with Friends from across the country and the world in meeting for worship and fellowship creates an opportunity to change perspective. My message is a reflection on what and how we know things and how our willingness to be open to change perspective informs our journey of faith with the Divine, our relationships with others, our understanding of our own gifts and challenges, and can transform our life and actions.
The way the story from the Gospel according to Luke is told almost seems nonchalant, “things like this happened all the time.” Images flow: Jesus stands by the lake surrounded by people. Boats sit on the shore and fishers clean empty nets. Jesus climbs in and sits in a boat and Simon takes the tiller. Even the deep water, overflowing nets, sinking boats, and Simon kneeling in fish seem low key. Then to finish, Simon, James and John left their boats full of fish and walked off with Jesus. Of course. This happens every day!
But I noticed a contrast in the story. The people in the crowd made an effort to come and hear Jesus teach. They knew they wanted what Jesus offered. All the people fishing knew was there were no fish to fill their empty nets. Yet, when Jesus showed them where the fish were, fish were no longer a priority. Their perspective changed. What Simon, James and John now knew transformed them. No one from the crowd followed Jesus. Apparently they did not know. When do we know?
Do you connect with this story? Perhaps there is another that speaks to you? A story or event so powerful your perspective was changed and you were transformed? What was it about that story or experience? How can it energize your spirit today? Or, perhaps it has never happened to you. What would it take?
My friend Kathe rehabilitates horses. It is not just bodies that need healing, but traumatized minds, hearts and spirits. Fergie stood as far away from everyone and everything, and pushed her tail and whole body as far back in the corral as possible. She tossed her head and avoided eye contact- madly rolling her eyes. Her body was stiff as a statue but it was clear she would bolt and run if she could. Her prior experience told her not to trust anyone or anything. She was not just frightened but terrorized, and more, she radiated deep despair and hopelessness. Some of us might be able to relate to Fergie. We may feel traumatized by our past, feel overwhelmed by the ongoing stories of violence in our world, or feel ambivalent about connection because of the virus. Withdrawing might make sense!
Over the course of many weeks my friend worked to demonstrate and transmit a feeling of absolute love, comfort and trust. With her hands, body, voice and a few words, she laid a strong foundation; structure, boundaries and assurance of safety. There were many moments of fear and doubt by Fergie- one step forward toward freedom from fear- and three steps back- but my friend faithfully walked with her. Finally a rounded body, change in stance, lowering of head, and softening of eyes came. Fergie learned she is a precious and beloved child of God. As she moved to the center of the corral, breathed and opened her heart we could approach and touch her. She even looked into our eyes. She began to see hope for her desperate yearning for love and community. Fergie’s perspective changed and she was transformed.
Changing perspective seems key to the story about Jesus, the crowd and the fishers. The crowd seems to represent people who come out of curiosity or seek social connection. They want to be with the right people, in the right place and to “know” the right things. Good Christians, good people, but only so far. As far as we know the fishers were not traumatized, not interesting in hearing Jesus teach, nor seeking anything- except fish. Yet when he called them out of their average lives- they knew -it was time to open to a new perspective and opportunity.
Gathering as a meeting of Friends we can realize our identities as beloved children of God, learn about the Loving Presence, and practice faithful embodiment of the Light. When we know, we can be called out of our lives, open to a new perspective and opportunity. When we know, it means immersing ourselves, breathing in to the deepest cell of our bodies, the core of our hearts, conforming our minds becoming so filled with Christ that we become Light.
The changed perspective of the fishers meant they knew and followed with no thought for the consequence. It is not just head or intellectual knowledge. Certainly not doctrine or a set of beliefs. “In the beginning there was no doctrine of Jesus, only a radical ethic of Jesus… In the Sermon on the Mount, there is not a single word about what to believe, only words about what to do and how to be...” 1 “When we know” is a complete knowing: mind, spirit and heart that translates into transformation and faithful embodiment of the Light- to be. What is our availability to God and Jesus’s call? How are we to be transformed?
I read an article on Intellectual Humility. The author pointed out people who make the most positive difference in the world are able to discern when they need to change and do so even when the cost is high. They are open when others aren’t and choose the right thing over the easy thing. They are continually learning as the world changes. They exercise Intellectual Humility: respect for other viewpoints, lack of intellectual overconfidence, the ability to separate ego from intellect, and being able to change perspective and know when to do so. 2 It seems that the fishers knew this and left fish, boats and everything else that had ever been important to them.
We can open ourselves to transformation by the spirit every day- be filled with love down to each and every cell, rooted in it, immersed in it like swimming underwater- floating with no pressure, releasing tension, anxiety, fear and responsibility for everything we have no control over. Like Fergie we can overcome the fear, constraint, immobilization, protective and defensive actions and return to life with joy in each moment and movement. We can allow Friends’ loving hands, gentle touch, and kind words to lead us. We can let go and accept God’s assurance of Presence leading, helping, supporting, loving, luring, safe. So many of the problems of our lives and our world are rooted in fear, anger, mindless and spiritless action that leads to violence, disaster and war. We do not have to live from a defensive place of reaction. We can notice it, stop, and choose to respond from a deeper place of love and compassion.
When we know, we can create a foundation of hope to motivate and energize walking forward in trust and faith, becoming more of what Jesus was: totally transparent to and immersed in God. The Way he taught is being present to the holy presence in each moment of life, opening our heart to the Heart of God. When we lean back into discerning with the Heart of God and the Spirit of Truth we can then lean forward with compassion, humility and courage.
The mutual indwelling of God’s Spirit in us and us in God’s Spirit is the Good News to me. It lures me to the path of compassionate living “… a foundational conviction about how life should be; inspired and guided by spiritual awakening.” 3 It requires examination of my personal values and choices. It asks how my way of being supports my doing, and how I will connect to the inner resources to gain confidence and inspiration to take compassionate action. It calls me to change perspective and be transformed in each circumstance.
Like us, George Fox lived in tumultuous times. He told how his perspective changed, and what he knew as possibilities opened when he saw the infinite love of God. “… the Lord shewed me that the natures of those things which were hurtful without, were within in the hearts and minds… it was needful I should have a sense of all conditions, how else should I speak to all conditions; and in this I saw the infinite love of God. I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. And in that also I saw the infinite love of God; and I had great openings.” 4
Elie Wiesel, author, activist and Nobel Peace Prize called us to change perspective, to know, and be transformed in our lives and actions. 5
“Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.
The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness; it’s indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy; it’s indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death; it’s indifference.”
When Simon James and John knew, they walked off with Jesus and left their boats sitting full of fish.
When we know- how does it show?
1 Robin Meyers (Westar Scholar), Saving God from Religion.
4 George Fox Journal, 1647.
5 Elie Wiesel Interview (Nobel Peace Prize), U.S. News & World Report, Oct. 27, 1986.