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Put Out Into the Deep Water

By Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski

 

In chapel recently, I had the opportunity to preach on Luke 5:1-11. This is the story of Jesus commanding Peter to let down his nets after a fruitless night of fishing on the Sea of Gennesaret. After hauling in a miraculous catch of fish, Peter recognizes who Jesus truly is and leaves his boat to become a “fisher of men” as a disciple of Jesus.

As often happens to me when preparing sermons, I realized I really did not understand the fuller meaning of a Gospel story I thought I knew well. I understood the contours of the narrative and why Peter might choose to follow Jesus after a dramatic catch of fish. But I had the nagging sense I did not grasp the deeper meaning of this story. Peter was converted. But how was I to be converted by encountering Jesus in this text?

In such a situation, I did what anyone does: I went to the library and starting reading commentaries on this passage. By doing that, I did come to a deeper understanding of the text and was able to draw out a message for those who would gather at Christ Chapel to worship. It was a sermon about faith and vocation, about taking a risk in following Jesus. To put our nets out into the deep water is to embrace the call to follow Jesus.

I am still thinking about that sermon. What remains with me is not what I preached but how, in a very ordinary way, I was brought up against my own limitations. On one level, I knew what this story was about, and on another level, I realized I knew nothing about it at all. I was being called to put out into the deep water of scripture. We can skim along the surface of the text and be frustrated when the nets we put down yield nothing. But if we have a spirit of humility that scripture is indeed the Word of God, we may find ourselves in deeper waters. And the catch we pull up may be abundant.

Of course, such basic exegetical work is what we teach students in our Master of Divinity program at Seminary of the Southwest. Yet we are not just teaching an academic skill set but also a disposition. It is an Anglican approach to the Bible that combines reverence for the Word, curiosity about it, and a willingness to be transformed by the experience of diving deeply both into the world of the text and into the body of faithful interpretation of it. There is a humility in admitting that we ourselves cannot grasp the meaning of scripture by our own reading of it alone. Our own general intellectual resources and cultural assumptions are not sufficient for much more than skimming the surface of the text. To truly put out into deeper waters means a more intensive practice and a humble searching and attending to the words of others. It also involves praying that God will illumine our reading and inform our thinking. And finally, it involves trust that God’s Spirit will be present with both the preacher and the congregation when the Word is preached.

It struck me as important that I spoke to this process a bit in my sermon and in conversation with community members in the days following this chapel service. Part of what we as faculty at Seminary of the Southwest believe is that formation can only truly happen if we as faculty are modeling and talking about our own ongoing formation as members of this community.

Preaching makes us vulnerable to our community. Our speech is exposed. Our inner thoughts are laid bare. But at its best moments, preaching shows forth how we have been led by God to put out into deep waters and to share the bountiful catch with which we have returned.

Can you remember a sermon you have heard in which it seemed the preacher was deeply shaped by what was preached?


The Rev. Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski is the Duncalf-Villavaso Professor of Church History. He joined the seminary faculty in 2014 following his tenure, since 2005, on the faculty at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California. Dan’s areas of interest include Anglican and Episcopal history, Jewish-Christian relations ancient and modern, Anglican ecclesiology, and contemporary interfaith dialogue. He is the author of Christian Memories of the Maccabean Martyrs and is currently working on The More Torah, the More Life: A Christian Commentary of Mishnah Avot. He has published in journals such as the Anglican Theological Review and Anglican and Episcopal History. He teaches History of Christianity I and II, The Episcopal Church: Past and Present, English Reformations, and other electives in his areas of expertise. Professor Joslyn-Siemiatkoski was ordained in June, 2017 in the Diocese of California. Dan and his wife, Jennifer, have two children.


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