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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

You are Empowered

Who Are You? An eight-week sermon series for the new year on being and becoming our true selves, preached February 6, 2022 for the 930am Worship


In this new year, Rev. Caitlan and I are doing an eight-week sermon series titled “Who Are You? Being and becoming our true selves.” Caitlan and I combed the scriptures and found eight things to help us remember Who We Are.

So far, we have heard how we are Called, Gifted, Connected, and Known. God calls us into being, pulling us through life to help God’s visions become reality. God gifts us with unique talents and skills, not for our own glory, but for God’s glory in all creation. God connects us to one another in communities, until all creation is one great holy community. All of this sounds almost too good to be true, and we doubt if its possible, but God knows us better than we know ourselves.

Today, we remember another aspect of who we are... We are Empowered. Let’s listen for the word of the Lord from…


Scripture Luke 5:1-11

15 Once while Jesus[a] was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 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. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 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. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 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.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Sermon You are Empowered

When’s the last time you stayed up all night? In my teens, I stayed up all night for parties. One time in college, Jill and I and three friends drove to the coast of Georgia just to see the sunrise. In my 20s, Jill and I stayed up all night when we chaperoned a cruise with her High School seniors. In my 30s, I stayed up all night a few times cramming for seminary exams. In my 40s, I stayed up all night a few times with youth groups, watching movies, playing games, laughing and running through the church playing Sardines or Bloody Tiger. I don’t think I’ve stayed up all night in my 50s yet, but there’s still time. I am always exhausted at the end, but whether it was for relationships or study, the mornings felt worth it, because the night delivered what I expected.

Not all all-nighters deliver though, like this night for these fishermen. They had worked all night long and had caught nothing. Empty nets and empty boats meant empty pockets and empty stomachs. We know they were exhausted. They were also disheartened as they rowed back to shore early that morning.

Last night should have been just like other nights. They had pushed off in the same boats, gone out into the same lake at the same time, and had lowered the same nets, and worked with the same energy and effort. Yet, repeating that lowering and raising of the net over and over again last night, all night, had not even yielded enough for a breakfast. They rowed themselves back to shore exhausted, dejected, wondering what in the world they did wrong to catch absolutely nothing all night. “What’s the point? Why do we even try?”

That’s a feeling that strikes a little too close to home for me, that feeling like I’ve done everything I could think to do, everything I had learned to do, everything others taught me or advised me to do, and it still didn’t work. On the Enneagram, I am a ONE, a Reformer. I like to make things better. My personality led me first to become a mechanical engineer. In that world, I was able to see a problem and solve it, to design some device, or modify a design, and make it work, or work better. In the engineering world, when I put my effort and knowledge into something, in the end, I would walk away tired but refreshed because the problem was solved, the item was repaired, things were better than before, sometimes better than new. I love those moments when I try hard, solve the problem, and things get better. Even now, look at the pink house. There are a thousand problems, and as frustrating as it is to find the solutions we can afford, contractors with availability and skill, or find the time to do some of it myself, every little inch of improvement is rewarding.

But like the fishermen, I hate those moments when no matter how hard I try, how many times I try, how much I give, how much I sacrifice or spend, it just doesn’t work. Things don’t get better. After all-night trying, there are no fish in the net. Then what? We row ourselves back to shore, and wonder should we even bother going out again tomorrow. The pandemic is beginning to feel like this to some people. What’s the point? Some get vaccinated and wear masks, but there are enough holes in the system that people keep getting infected, and hospitalized, and dying. Omicron is finally plateauing, but America is headed toward 1,000,000 deaths and will probably be there by Summer. Some are feeling powerless to stop it, or slow it down, and are asking, Why do we keep trying?

As the fishermen rowed themselves to shore, I seriously doubt they paid much attention to the crowds, or the man speaking. The bitterness of the empty nets and empty boats was pushing their chins to their chests and driving them to hurry home and lick their wounds. When the boats hit shore this morning, they didn’t feel any sense of power to make change, make a different outcome. They didn’t have the energy to even wonder to each other, “Hey, what’s going on over there? Who’s that guy?” They heaved themselves out of the boat, heaved their nets out, and began cleaning the weeds and bait from the nets so the cords would not rot in the sun as the nets dried and as the men battled their pessimism and tried to decide if they would go out again tomorrow.

A little failure often wipes away a lot of hope. There had been days in the past when the night’s haul had been plentiful. But the old positives fade so fast in the face of the recent negative. Last night’s failure seems more real, more true, than any former night’s success.

The stranger approaches and plops himself down into one of THEIR boats. Can you imagine!? This person, who is clearly not a fisherman, is plopping himself down in the middle of their boat. It would be like someone climbing into the back of your work truck just as you were about to head home. I imagine the first words to him were something like, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?”

In tired moments like these, times after failure, fuses are short, and there is less room for curiosity, imagination, playfulness, or even conversation. Its tired moments like these, after hard work that’s produced so little, when people forget to take a breath, be nice, listen, trust, try again.

Not only did he plop himself in the middle of their boat, but then he started telling them what to do. “Put out a little way from shore.” They’ve been in that little boat all night. That little boat is the space of their most recent failure, and that failure is still terribly fresh on their minds. So, to put out in that little boat had to be the farthest thing from their mind at the time.

But something, something overrules anger, frustration, hopelessness. Something blunts their sharp tongue. Who knows why? They felt a little something, and some of them, not all of them, just a few do put out in the same small boat, into the same small lake. They find themselves listening to a teacher, speaking over them to the crowds, and at the same time, speaking right to them as well. A few minutes ago, they didn’t want to do this, try this, but now, his words are somehow making them forget and imagine.

He speaks of the old scriptures, but in new ways that feel more relevant. He speaks of those judged to be “unclean”, the paralyzed and lepers, the gentiles, the children, the strangers, the immigrants, but speaks of them as humans, with compassion, as loved and welcomed and included. The twinkle and fire is his eyes, and in his every word, are powerful, scary even, but inviting, like how a fire can burn you, and warm you, and begs you to come close. They almost begin to forget how they felt a moment ago, frustrated, exhausted, stuck here on the same ol bench in the same ol boat where they had worked so hard and hadn’t caught a thing.

I say almost forgot because they remember quickly where they are when he tells them to put out into DEEP water and let down their nets. “We’ve already tried that. We fished the whole night and caught nothing. We’ve put in and pulled up our nets so many times, we’re exhausted. Our buddies are back at shore, already cleaning nets and putting away tackle. Besides, what’s the point, we’ve been fishing here for years. We know how to fish, and we didn’t catch anything.”

The word that I hear the loudest in Jesus’ invitation is the word “deep.” He asks them to put out into DEEP water. I don’t think he was giving them fishing advice, as if they had been fishing too shallow. I do hear him suggesting to them, the tired fishermen who didn’t catch anything, that maybe, maybe, they just haven’t been going deep enough. You have the power. Just go deeper. Don’t spend your energy doing what you’ve always done. Row out a little farther. Put down the nets deeper.

When you hear his call to go out farther, put out into deep water, what do you hear? If you have tried and failed at something, and are exhausted, wondering “What’s the point”, and you’ve worked so hard, and done all you could think to do, and it's just not working, what does it mean to hear Jesus say, “Try once more, but this time, go our farther and go deeper.” What does it look like to go deeper in your career, in your friendships, in your parenting, in your family? What if this church is a little boat that we’ve taken out again and again, and lately we don’t seem to be catching anything? Could that be because we, the church, aren’t going out far enough, aren’t going DEEP enough? Have we been staying in the shallows? What does it look like for tired, older, pandemic-pummeled church folk to push out in this same ol’ boat together, listen as Jesus teaches us something new, and then to trust Jesus enough to go again, go farther, go deeper?

For some strange reason, they do as he suggested. They give a big deep exhale of a sigh, and shake their heads, and whisper some of their skepticism, then follow Jesus’ suggestion. Go again. This time, go farther, go deeper. And when they do, they are amazed when the nets reach the surface and are full to overflowing.

Some will not hang around on the beach. They leave. Some stay on the beach and watch the weirdos go out farther, deeper. It only takes a few to reluctantly push out with Jesus. Then, everyone hears the commotion. The ones still on the beach see their friends, out deeper, and see the amazement and joy on their faces, and see them struggling to pull in full nets. They hear them call out, “Hey, come on! Its amazing!,” and those who were too tired, head-shaking, doubtful will drop their negativity and jump in their boats and rowed out deep to help.

That is the power of being in the boat with Jesus. That’s the power of doing church with Jesus. That is the power of God my friends, and you are empowered with that.

To God be all the glory and honor now and forever more. Amen.



And now, blessing laughter and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the world turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forever more.

Let’s pray…

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