Sermon for Epiphany V
Isaiah 6:1-13 Psalms 138 I Corinthians 15:1-11 Luke 5:1-11
As a newly born-again Christian, John, the barber, didn’t want to waste any time in sharing his faith with everyone possible. When the very first customer came in for a shave Monday morning, John got him all lathered up and then, walking toward him with the razor in his hand, asked, “Are you prepared to meet Jesus?” The frightened man jumped out of the chair and ran out of the shop, never to be seen there again. That’s one form of evangelism.
Even though the time of Epiphany, the time of divine revelation to the world, is not far behind us, today’s lessons remind us of the power and authority of the Word. In Isaiah 6, the prophet reports his call and the harsh words he is to proclaim. The psalm is a song of thanksgiving from the temple, the location of Isaiah’s vision. The reading from First Corinthians is Paul’s summary of the gospel that he has preached and through which God works. In the Gospel passage, the people crowded to hear from Jesus “the word of God.” Jesus has taught from the boat, and at the “word” of Jesus, Simon lets down the nets again. This account of the call and response of the apostles parallels the vocation of Isaiah and his response.
Today is one of the extraordinary Sundays on which all the readings speak with a single voice. Isaiah has the vision of God, is struck by his own unworthiness, but still he is sent to preach. Paul sees the risen Lord, realizes he is unfit to be called an apostle because he has persecuted the church, but by God’s grace he worked harder than all the others. In Luke, Simon gets a glimpse of the power and knowledge of Christ, falls before him in the profound grip of his own sinfulness, but even so, is called by Christ to become a fisher of men.
Jesus encounters fishermen who had been unfruitful all night and were now cleaning their nets before putting them away. The men and women have come face to face with their limits and given up. Jesus enters and asks the men to push one of the boats away from the shore.
Jesus begins the relationship by asking a small favor of them, putting himself in their debt. We may be reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. He asks the woman for a drink of water. A seemingly insignificant encounter between two people opens up possibilities not envisaged at that time by Peter. It all begins with a risk on Jesus’ part as Simon could just as easily reject his request. Jesus takes the initiative just like God invites us into relationship.
Simon begins his response with uncertainty – maybe a bit of fatigue talking, almost whining. “We have been at it all night and have nothing to show for it but our aches and pains.” Then, Peter moves past his physical woes and seems to sense the possibilities in Jesus. Unaware that these possibilities will lead to fishing for people. He says “yes” to following Jesus immediate plan to be rewarded with too many fish to count – stretching the nets to the point of breaking.
Like Peter’s call to fish for people, the outcomes are unpredictable when people risk encountering each other across culture, groups, and traditions, moving beyond the stereotypes previously embraced. An opportunity to stretch and grow in reaching out to the unchurched so they may meet Jesus.
At the end of his engagement with the crowd, Jesus has asked Peter to put out in the deep water with the newly cleaned nets. He could have come up with lots of responses to Jesus’ request – the time isn’t right – ask somebody else – one person just can’t do it – I am too tired. He gets past that and complies. There is something about this man Jesus that compels Simon to stop washing his nets and go back to work. How strange that must have felt.
The invitation to put out into deeper water for a promised catch provides a sharp contrast to our human nature for the predictable and routine. It is an invitation to venture into new ground, new depths, but it also points to new challenges in mission and ministry for the church in very generation. We are challenged to respond to the urgings of God breaking into human lives. In the case of Simon, as for Christians faced with such a command, there is the realization that the most profound and significant experiences of God and life are not to be found in the safe ways and places. Simon obeys the instruction and is surprised by a catch as huge as God’s abundance – a catch needing assistance to rein it in.
It is clear to Simon that something extraordinary has happened. He knows that he is standing in the presence of the divine. This profound religious experience has put his life under the spotlight and set in motion a path toward transformation. Simon becomes aware of his unworthiness and his smallness in the presence of Jesus. He is awed and uncomfortable being with Jesus – suddenly aware of his own sinfulness. Jesus won’t hear it – he reveals to Simon the potential that resides in him through his participation in the work of God. Simon is going to catch people.
Simon’s life has moved from a fruitless catch to God’s abundance and grace. In that realization, he walks away from that life to embrace a new life, a new calling. Some of us who have been repurposed for God can relate to his experience. After thirty years in education, God repurposed me for God’s mission and ministry, instead of retiring me. We know of others who have changed course also – Francis of Assisi giving up his wealth, Patrick’s return to Ireland. Simon is not alone in his new path, but his voice and vision lead others toward Jesus. He used his ability and influence as a leader to good effect.
In a few minutes, we will commission our 2022 Vestry – the financial and spiritual leaders of our church. At our Vestry Retreat yesterday, we talked about what Grace means to us and wrote those words on snowflakes displayed on the bulletin board in the parish hall. Words like family, love, support, acceptance, charity, home, connection, outreach, worship, and chosen family. There are more snowflakes if you want to add to the board. We all have experiences that have revealed God’s love for us to us. In today’s passages, we see the call to discipleship – from Isaiah’s “Here am I, send me” - Paul sees the risen Lord and confesses his sin – Simon changes his fishing path. But for all of us, commitment and obedience are appropriate responses to Jesus’ call to discipleship, leadership, and for using our gifts for the glory of God. The cost of discipleship is clear with its claim on the lives of those who respond. It involves putting God in Christ at the center of our lives, even if it involves some changes – perhaps a change in vocation. This is not forced upon us, but like Simon, one has experienced the grace of God in a moment of revelation and can do nothing else.
In a few minutes, you will be asked to support and encourage our Vestry members – it is your part in answering Jesus’ call on your life, your heart, your faith community, your church. Speak loud and proud of our new leaders! Amen.