As we reflect back on a year of ministry here at Hickory Neck, we see two realities. On the one hand, we are tired. After almost two years of a pandemic, I like to say we have been pivoting so much there is a significant divot in this sacred ground. We have been in and out of in-person worship, in and out of tightened and lessened restrictions, we have had moments of renewal where it felt like things were getting close to normal, and then moments where the rug was snatched out from under us, and we felt like we were back to square one. We miss our friends, we want to get back to the work of ministry that has fed us in the past or that drew us to Hickory Neck as a newcomer, we want to experience deepened relationships that come from coffee hours and parties and crowded worship spaces. We are weary emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
I think that is why I love our gospel lesson so much today. Jesus and the disciples have been out on the boat all day and night, and the disciples have been working through the night to catch fish to feed their merry band of followers. When they catch nothing, Jesus says to Simon Peter, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Now what Simon actually says is, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” But what I like to imagine is Peter’s tone – or even what Peter was really saying in those eleven words. In my mind, what Peter is really saying is, “Look, sir. I get that you are trying to help, and I get that you are wise enough for us to be following you. But I am the fisherman, and I think I know a little bit more than you on this one. And quite frankly, I’ve been at this all night. I am exhausted and weary, and not really interested in your next big idea.” Of course, what he says instead (with I suspect not only skepticism but also a bit of insincere, sarcastic, feigned respect) is, “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
We have all slipped into Peter’s attitude at times in the last year. Sure, we’ll keep meeting on Zoom. Sure, we will put the masks back on. Sure, we’ll wait to schedule the funeral, or the baptism, or the wedding. Sure, we’ll keep watching online worship. That sense of frustration is totally normal and we’re lucky if it doesn’t happen more often than not. But what that frustration can do is blind us to abundance. If Peter had held his ground and not put down the nets, he would have missed the brilliant thing that happens next in the story. After trying all night long, using all their gifts and talents and finding nothing, they had no logical reason to say yes to Jesus – to follow Jesus’ invitation to try again. But when Simon Peter and the other disciples do, they catch so many fish their nets almost break. Saying yes to Jesus leads to shocking, life-giving abundance.
That is the second reality of this past year for Hickory Neck. As wearying as this last year has been, there have been so many incredible moments of overflowing abundance. Whether when we tasted communion for the first time after a long hiatus, whether we were able to sing together after months of silence or lonely singing with a computer screen, whether we were able to safely embrace for the first time in a long time, or whether we were able to see someone’s face on Zoom – hearing the sound of their beautiful laughter – those moments have been abundant. That deep divot from pivoting on this sacred ground has meant that we have reached isolated aging church members online, by phone call, or by card. That deep divot has meant that people we had never met before the pandemic have found us online and come to know us in person, bringing us the gift of joy and renewed community. That deep divot means that we have reconnected with Jesus, being confirmed, received, and reaffirmed by our Bishop. That deep divot means that even with restrictions we have celebrated lives lived, consecrated new marriages, and baptized babies and toddlers. That deep divot means that families in our neighborhoods have come to learn that Hickory Neck loves them and understands how hard being a parent and a student is right now. That deep divot means those who are hungry and homeless have come to know comfort. That deep divot has been filled to the brim with the abundance that we can only know by answering the call of Jesus over and over again – even when we are weary and want to tell Jesus to back off.
That is our invitation for 2022. When Simon Peter and the disciples get back to land, they don’t take all those fish and eat a big feast. They do not sell the fish and take the saved treasure for whatever might come. No, they leave the overflowing abundance behind, and they follow Jesus. The abundance was not simply a reward for good, faithful service. The abundance was a reminder of what life with Jesus is all about. That is our invitation today too. When we look at that deep divot of 2021, seeing the ways that deep well overflows with the goodness of this past year, we are invited not to linger by the well of comforting abundance, hoarding it for ourselves. We are invited to see the abundance and walk confidently into another year, knowing that continuing to follow Jesus will lead to more divots and much, much more abundance. I could not be more excited to see how Jesus will use Hickory Neck for goodness this year. We are emboldened today by all that God has done thus far in these hard times. And now, we are asked to trust that the Holy Spirit has many more good things in store as we seek to care for one another and as we seek to care for those outside our walls. Our invitation is to trust God with boldness and follow Jesus into this next year with Hickory Neck. Amen.