Scripture - Isaiah 6:1-8, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Luke 5:1-11
Isaiah 6:1-8 (The Message)
6 1-8 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Master sitting on a throne—high, exalted!—and the train of his robes filled the Temple. Angel-seraphs hovered above him, each with six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two their feet, and with two they flew. And they called back and forth one to the other,
Holy, Holy, Holy is God-of-the-Angel-Armies.
His bright glory fills the whole earth.
The foundations trembled at the sound of the angel voices, and then the whole house filled with smoke. I said,
“Doom! It’s Doomsday!
I’m as good as dead!
Every word I’ve ever spoken is tainted--
And the people I live with talk the same way,
using words that corrupt and desecrate.
And here I’ve looked God in the face!
The King! God-of-the-Angel-Armies!”
Then one of the angel-seraphs flew to me. He held a live coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with the coal and said,
“Look. This coal has touched your lips.
Gone your guilt,
your sins wiped out.”
And then I heard the voice of the Master:
“Whom shall I send?
Who will go for us?”
I spoke up,
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (The Message)
15 1-2 Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final time—this Message that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved. (I’m assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and not a passing fancy, that you’re in this for good and holding fast.)
3-9 The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me. It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don’t deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God’s church right out of existence.
10-11 But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste. Haven’t I worked hard trying to do more than any of the others? Even then, my work didn’t amount to all that much. It was God giving me the work to do, God giving me the energy to do it. So whether you heard it from me or from those others, it’s all the same: We spoke God’s truth and you entrusted your lives.
Luke 5:1-11 (The Message)
5 1-3 Once when he was standing on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, the crowd was pushing in on him to better hear the Word of God. He noticed two boats tied up. The fishermen had just left them and were out scrubbing their nets. He climbed into the boat that was Simon’s and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Sitting there, using the boat for a pulpit, he taught the crowd.
4 When he finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.”
5-7 Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.
8-10 Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell to his knees before Jesus. “Master, leave. I’m a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself.” When they pulled in that catch of fish, awe overwhelmed Simon and everyone with him. It was the same with James and John, Zebedee’s sons, coworkers with Simon.
10-11 Jesus said to Simon, “There is nothing to fear. From now on you’ll be fishing for men and women.” They pulled their boats up on the beach, left them, nets and all, and followed him.
When God encounters us - how do we respond?
These are three very different stories and accounts of what happens when people meet God and the transformation that happens through experiences of the sacred. Isaiah sees this grand vision of an enormous deity, so big its robes fill the Temple, attended by angelic beings that leave Isaiah feeling small and insignificant, impure and unworthy. He declares his state before the Lord as one with unclean lips who lives among a people of unclean lips and one of the beings touches his mouth with a hot coal to purify it, his sins are declared wiped away. Isaiah ends up volunteering to be the mouth of God as a prophet and is basically told that he will be unsuccessful - that people will not understand the message he is bringing to them - try as they might to hear it, see it, and understand it.
The four fishermen respond to Jesus’ invitation to fish in a new way when they get the catch of their lifetimes based on Jesus’ unsolicited advice after a fruitless night of fishing. They drop their nets, leave their families, and leave it all behind to follow this carpenter-turned-prophet who had attracted a crowd of people around him as he preached the Word of God.
Paul - the author of 1 Corinthians - describes the resurrected Jesus appearing to Peter and his first followers (ironically leaving out the fact that women witnessed Jesus first) before presenting himself to a larger group of 500, and then finally, showing up to him as he was about his zealous work of persecuting those early followers of the Way. To give you a quick refresher, Paul - then Saul - was on his way to Damascus to round up any Jesus followers, both men and women, and bring them back bound to Jerusalem. He was struck blind, heard the voice of Jesus identifying himself as the one he was persecuting, and was sightless for three days before being healed by Ananias, a follower of Jesus in Damascus. Paul in this story describes himself as one not ready or worthy for the task because of all his years trying to stop the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Three stories - all very different encounters with the divine - all challenging in their own right as we think about the ways we respond to God’s invitation in our own lives.
But there is one thread that I see that weave these responses together - and that is the transformation from reluctance, the feelings of unworthiness or unpreparedness, to God’s action that affirms and sends each person out into the world.
I don’t know about you, but that is often my first response when presented with the divine call - the fear and anxiety, like I won’t be good enough or up to the task. I know I’ve shared before about my own feelings of inadequacy when I first had an inkling that congregational ministry was on my path - and I had this laundry list of excuses why professional ministry was not a good fit and I wrestled with God for many years before coming to a place of acceptance or surrender. And many of you may have heard the expression “God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips the called” - and you may have heard that applied to any kind of task or pathway that you feel God might be inviting you to follow.
What I find in all three of these stories is that each person recognizes the holy - Isaiah knows he is in the presence of God; Simon Peter - and his friends - recognize Jesus as Lord and Master after the abundant catch they haul in after getting nothing all night; Paul recognizes the resurrected Christ on the road. And each of them doesn’t doubt God’s authority or glory or power…but each of them wonders if they are really up to what God wants them to do. They have faith in God - just not faith in themselves.
We hear in Simon’s story an echo of our Isaiah text - he’s convinced that he is unclean in an unclean world - that he is in need of purification - and instead of drawing closer to Jesus after this miraculous catch, he withdraws further in fear and trembling - after all, stories of God’s judgment abound in the Old Testament connected with fishing with hooks and nets. It’s not for salvation, as we understand it from our Gospel passage.
But Jesus doesn’t forgive Simon. He doesn’t punish Simon after Simon proclaims his sinfulness. Jesus recruits him. Gives him a role and a purpose. The judgment isn’t punishment - the judgment is love and worthiness and a proclamation of “you are enough as you are” - it’s not just an absence of condemnation, but it’s the presence of communion, friendship, trust, companionship along the way. It’s saying to someone who’s done you wrong, Come, let’s work together. I trust you. Follow me. (SALT project).
Jesus reverses the image that we find in the Old Testament of fishing for people being one of God meting out punishment as judgment, and turns into one of worthiness as judgment. Again, from the SALT project - it’s as if Jesus says to Simon Peter: You’re afraid of getting caught in one of God’s nets? Well, I’ll tell you what, from now on you’ll be the one catching sinners! And not so they might be damned, mind you, any more than you’re being damned today. On the contrary, we’re out to catch sinners so they might be saved! Take heart, Simon, and don’t be afraid: the Great Jubilee has begun!
Isn’t that Good News? Continuing that theme we talked about a couple weeks ago of the Great Jubilee - the year of the Lord’s favor - isn’t the proclamation of the Lord’s favor Good News to people who feel wounded and broken and caught in their sin that the judgment is not punishment but love? Grace? Worthiness? That God sees the whole person and chooses to love and liberate, to redeem and resurrect?
The four men leave everything behind and follow him - including that abundant catch - two boatloads worth. What another wonderful sign of Jubilee - the Sabbath year above all Sabbath years, where the land rests, debts are cancelled, slaves are freed, land rights restored, and where the abundance of God’s provision is tangible. I can imagine that what Simon Peter and his friends brought in fed hungry people (after all, the crowds following Jesus were right there) instead of lining the pockets of the wealthy and powerful, as what happened most often to the goods and services the peasant class and work of day laborers provided. There is abundance in the midst of our perceptions of scarcity - this is what Jubilee is all about!
It’s also all about ourselves…we focus so often on our own shortcomings, our own unworthiness, lack of ability, our own inadequacies - but God believes in us - God deems us worthy - we know our shortcomings, they are ever before us, but God invites us to lean in to the abundance of our giftedness just as we are. While we focused on the Luke passage, we can draw similar conclusions through the lens of Isaiah and Paul - God recruits the unlikely, the questionable, the ones we wouldn’t expect, and they become witnesses of God’s love, grace, and mercy in being sent out into the world.
So what does that look like? It’s different for each of us - but as we continue to steep ourselves in God’s love and grace, as we follow more deeply in the way of Jesus and let Christ animate our beings, we learn to divest of the stories the world would have us believe and invest in the unfolding of God’s abundant love and favor, the idea that all things are held together and made right in Christ, and that the Holy Spirit is pouring out and drawing all of us forward into pathways of righteousness and peace.
God doesn’t want our appearances of having it all together. God doesn’t want our pretense of the shiny and perfect. God seeks the broken and vulnerable, our open wounds, our tender places - and the judgment declared is love and worthiness.
In a world that gives us a lot of messages about who we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to act and that values upward mobility and the amount of money in our bank accounts - isn’t it freeing to know that God doesn’t care about any of that? That the judgment isn’t how well we measure up to any given standard - but that we are loved and surrounded by grace and God’s abundance no matter where we are? That gives me so much comfort and hope - both as a person and as we think about our life together as an organization.
I invite us this week to consider that shift - to think about what God is inviting you into, to note the feelings of fear or anxiety or hesitancy - and then to offer those spaces to the God who loves and considers you worthy -- who doesn’t just equip you for the task ahead, but who already sees and values and affirms your giftedness just as you are…and just as you are becoming. Thanks be to God for the year of the Lord’s favor - and for the abundance that is already here. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.