It was the first quarter of my freshmen year at Auburn. I had been forced to take Government and Economics. You know, it was one of those required classes that everyone loves to hate. As an aspiring Language Arts teacher, this class was the furthest thing from my wheelhouse, and it showed through the grades I was receiving on the tests. See, I could handle the government piece, after all that part intrigued me, but economics?! Take me back to the liberal arts side of campus!
My main nemesis in this class was supply and demand. It seemed all my professor wanted to teach and talk about was supply and demand. Mind you, I understood the concept, but when it came to charting it I was clueless. And it was on every test. As a result and with great thanksgiving for the government portion of the class, my grade was a pretty solid C. As a perfectionist and one who prided herself on good grades, this was particularly stressful for me. I just couldn’t get it and had resigned myself to my first C ever.
Then, it happened, the day before the final my professor announced to the class that if what we made on our final was better than the average of all of our other test scores, that would be our grade for the course. Oh man, I was so excited and determined that I would not let supply and demand get the best of me.
That evening, I holed up in my room and I studied, and studied, and studied. This was my first semester of college and I was too timid and probably too prideful to ask for help. I didn’t know a lot of people and it may just have been too hard to acknowledge that something had not come to me on my own. So, here I sat with this potential to make it all okay and unable to do it by myself.
I had one of those moments of pure frustration. I stopped studying. I bowed my head and asked God to give me eyes to see and a mind to understand this material. “Please just help me to know how to chart this stuff.” I opened my eyes, looked at the graphs, and boom – I understood how it worked. I literally saw it with fresh eyes. It was a straight “Aha” moment from God.
I went in the next day, took the test and aced it. I walked away from that class with an A. Can you believe that? It was one of the first times in my academic career that I felt a bit like a poser – I knew that grade did not reflect the struggle. It’s like when the score of the football game in no way shows the reality of how that thing played out.
Beyond that, it was one of the first experiences in my life where I can recall truly calling out to God for help and earnestly believing I couldn’t do it on my own. God heard my cry, and through the work of a gracious professor, things were made right.
Side note: If you wondering when I made my first C, it was that same semester in Geology. There was no hope there. Rocks and minerals, no thank you. Again, take me back to the liberal arts side of campus!
I love to share this story because it is a testimony from my life about the importance of never giving up and tenacity. It is a great example of grace and how it is always reaching into our lives and often in the most unlikely of places. It is an account of how God works in the small, ordinary moments of life to give us a fresh understanding of our faith.
Our Gospel for today lets us in on a similar story with some of the disciples. Simon Peter, James and John had been fishing for the better part of the day with no luck. They had come in, washed their nets and pretty much resigned themselves to it being one of those days.
Then Jesus shows up. He asks Simon to take his boat back out into the water where he teaches for a bit. Then, he tells Simon to drop his net on one side of the boat to catch some fish.
Now, sometimes we have to read between the lines of Scripture for the natural human response in this story. It is completely possible that Simon was unbothered by this request, acknowledged calmly to Jesus that he hadn’t caught any fish using that technique all day, and obeyed. But I think it was probably a little more complicated than that.
I do not fish on a regular basis, and I have never fished with a net like Simon. But I have spent the day out in the hot sun working and brought everything back to the house, cleaned it up and been ready to call it a day before. I know that I would have been a bit frustrated and cranky about Jesus asking me to go back out, listen to some teaching and then bring out the nets that I had already washed and put away to try the same thing I’ve been doing all day over again.
Put yourselves there in that moment. What would have been your response?
I believe Simon looks at Jesus and wants to say something like, “You’ve gotta be joking, right?” Instead, he says “You know we’ve been doing that all day, but if you say so!” He casts the net and there are so many fish that the nets are compromised and they have to call in help from other boats to get them all in. Then, the boats began to sink because there were so many fish in them.
Simon’s response is curious. He is filled with shame and disappointment at a time that seems like it should be filled with joy and awe. He declares himself sinful - probably because he knows all the attitude he was giving prior to this miraculous outpouring of fish. But maybe, because he feels his lack of faith and seeking help in this situation in a very real way. Jesus’ response is full of grace and a call to walk deeper with Him.
For Jesus, and Simon, James and John, this moment was about more than catching fish. Jesus met these men in their everyday lives, showed them He was trustworthy, and then called them deeper. He literally tells them to cast the net in the deep waters. The Scripture tells us this moment was so transformative for them that they left everything, followed Jesus, and turned their attention to a new calling to fish for people.
Perhaps we all can speak to a moment or several that are the tipping point for us in our faith journey. A small, somewhat ordinary way that God showed up in our lives when we least expected it and took us on a path of transformation.
You see that Economics class was for me a way of God showing me how to trust, to be empowered, to be willing to try new and scary things. It was a lesson for me in what to do when things were hard, and it showed me that I had way more tenacity than I thought. Although it seems kind of silly and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, that experience and my Freshmen year set off a chain reaction of other moments of transformation for me.
It led to a decision to leave home and work at a summer camp four hours away where I knew absolutely no one - a big deal for a small town girl who is secretly very much an introvert. That summer was life-changing and led me to my campus ministry which ultimately led me to my husband and the place I found my calling into ministry.
My campus ministry called me deeper into seminary at Duke University – a place that seemed beyond anything that I could ever be worthy of – which in turn called me deeper into serving churches, to my family and children, to adoption and foster care, to most recently moving across the state with three children knowing a handful of people, to finding and settling into a new home.
In all those major life moments and a lot of little things in between, God has continued to call me deeper. I believe it only takes one seemingly insignificant moment, like the amount of fish you catch or the grade you make in the class, where God shows up to transform us for a lifetime and call us deeper into a life of faith with God.
It only takes a willingness to cry out for help or maybe receive it begrudgingly at first to set it all in motion.
My hunch is that many of you have a story of something that called you deeper into your faith journey. I encourage you to think about it and possibly share it with someone this week. It may be small and ordinary, but you know it was quite significant and changed your life forever. The Scriptures are filled with accounts of everyday life being interrupted by the presence of God – going for a walk, fishing, drawing water from the well, and even collecting taxes.
The invitation and call to something deeper with God is always there for each of us. It’s just a question of whether we are willing to cast the net into the deep waters and see what will happen.