By Griff Martin
Every person I talk to today is using the same word, exhausted. It’s probably the only identity more common in progressive Baptist churches than ‘vaxxed and boosted.’ We are a tired people: tired of pandemics, tired of death and illness, tired of white supremacy, tired of the political systems of the day that get us nowhere, tired of church attendance declining, tired of lower budgets and budget cuts, tired of reading articles on pastoral burnout, tired of too many funerals, tired of talking about the people who used to be in the pews, tired of grief, anger and anxiety as our new unholy trinity.
We are just so tired.
So a few weeks ago while preparing a sermon on Jesus calling the disciples was a text I groan at seeing each lectionary cycle because how many different ways can I tell this story? This time reading I saw something new that saved me and might save us all. I saw the exhaustion of the fishermen. They are exhausted after a full night’s work, they are tired and dirty and ready to put their feet up. They are tired of the daily grind. They are tired of all the pressure of putting food on the plate being solely their work. They are tired of being in a political world of power by empire. They are tired of routine.
And on top of that they are a bit depressed, and anxious. It was a bad fishing day, a lot of work for little pay off and reward to feed their families. They have been fishing all night, and they have nothing to show but nets that need to be washed, which is to say more work. They are spent.
They are us.
Which is right when Jesus steps in and says, “I want a ride on your boat.”
We have no explanation for why Simon says yes. Some theologians say it’s because Jesus was so irresistible that you could not say no to Jesus. I don’t buy that because I say no to Jesus all the time. My explanation is way more simple: I think Simon follows through with Jesus’ request for the same reason that some mornings the kids get Sprite, Goldfish, and Oreos for breakfast. I don’t have the energy to argue and to say no; I give and surrender because it’s the best I can do.
Simon was tired, too tired to argue and present a case on why this was a bad idea.
We have all heard a lot of talk about the new normal, the better normal or whatever we are calling it today. We have read a lot of articles on what this might mean for the church, steps we can take for people returning, advice on the post-pandemic church, wisdom on how to emerge from this being the church we have always wanted to be. And to be honest, I am tired of all that, too.
Maybe it’s time we just join Simon and with whatever energy we can muster, just say “Jesus get in the boat, I don’t have energy to row, you need to do the work.” I think in good Christian terms this is called surrender, and I think it’s an important part of our work.
And here is the gospel I found: because they were too tired to argue with him, Jesus was able to show them a new way and lead them to a place of abundance. And that is the gospel I need today—that we are all so tired and can’t argue for the way things have always been done or typically for pastors arguing why we won’t do things the way they have always been done, that maybe we will finally listen to whatever it is Jesus wants us to do to take us to a place of abundance.
We are exhausted and at the end of our rope, and our hope is that God often does God’s best work right there because we can’t argue. We can just let it be, which according to Mother Mary is always our best starting point.
So maybe as we continue the million conversations about “what do we do now?” we do the hardest thing and pray the truth, “I don’t know and I am just so tired, why don’t you get in the boat and row for a while?”
Jesus will likely take us exactly where we are supposed to be anyway because God knows we have failed to get there on our own.
And my hunch is that place is beyond white supremacy, beyond a global health pandemic, beyond concerns over attendance and budget, beyond our broken politics…you know the exact place Jesus has wanted us to be for so long but we keep getting in the way (and by we, I am looking at us white male pastors).
Let me get out of the way, let me just be a tired passenger on the boat, and let it be.
Griff is the Senior Pastor at congregational partner First Austin: a baptist community of faith.