February 6, 2022
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
5th Sunday after Epiphany
In today’s readings we hear about two where individuals are called by God for a mission. The first the prophet Isaiah, The other of the Apostles Peter, James, and John.
The similarities abound in both of these encounters.
Both sets of characters encounter the divine, both become very aware of their own sinfulness, both receive forgiveness, and both are made ready for the task ahead,
And ultimately both follow God down a road with very unexpected ends…
Two very remarkable stories where the characters encounter the divine and are forever changed; their destinies and the trajectories forever altered.
But I find the differences in each of these stories more striking.
The first, an ecstatic experience of the Divine where Isaiah is taken to an otherworldly realm to and is placed before the God’s throne with these bizarre, winged creatures all around.
The other a mundane moment on a beach – where the miraculous invades and interrupts…
After a long night of fishing with nothing to show for their labor, Jesus comes provides a haul larger than any of these men had ever encountered in their lives. And it changes everything for these young men.
And listen to the responses of the characters in these two divine encounters. I love it!
Upon encounter God is his vision Isaiah exclaims “Woe is me!” I am lost!
“Woe is me!” I am lost! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
It is in this recognition and this confession that Isaiah finds forgiveness and is made ready for the prophetic task and life ahead of him.
A remarkable response in a remarkable moment —
However — I don’t know about you, but personally I find myself resonating more with Simon Peter’s response to Jesus that morning on the seaside.
After a long night of fishing with nothing to show for it, Jesus tells this fatigued, sleep deprived fishermen to cast their nets out one more time.
And listen to Simon’s response, and as your listening, just imagine what was Simon’s tone?
“Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet, if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
It’s that “Yet, if you say so,” that stands out to me. How to you imagine Peter said those words?
With annoyance? With frustration? With resignation mixed with pure exhaustion, and maybe a small smirk?
And why did they go ahead and cast their nets? Because they actually trusted Jesus? Just to humor Jesus out of some kind of respect?
Let’s just throw this in and be done so we can go get some shut eye…
I can only imagine the subtext communicated in the eye contact between Peter, James and John as they prepared their boat and nets for this final cast.”
Were they trusting? Were they incredulous? Were they annoyed?
Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter because they did what Jesus instructed them to do, and soon they found their nets overflowing with fish, so much so that they had to call their friends in other boats to pull in their haul.
You see there is a whole universe in that simple phrase “Yet, if you say so…” that comes from Peter’s lips.
It doesn’t really matter how Peter or James and John were feeling in the moment. It doesn’t really matter the attitude with which they cast their nets – because they did it…
Because Peter said to Jesus “Yet, if you say so”
Jesus, it seems wasn’t concerned about how Peter responded to him in this moment, simply that he did respond.
I wonder if that’s true for the life of faith more broadly… It’s not always so important how we respond to Christ when He calls us into something new or different – what’s important is that we respond in obedience.
And maybe it’s that first act of obedience no matter how begrudging or incredulous that leads to deeper faith and a greater mission and vision of the Kingdom of Heaven.
How often have you felt this way when called by Christ to something new? “If you say so, Jesus…”
I guess the first question we must ask ourselves is do you consider yourself called by Christ? Do you feel as though you have been called in this life of faith?
Often, I think we describe call narratives in terms of full-time ministry. As you all know, I myself am currently pursuing ordination to the priesthood, and the number of times I have had to articulate my call narrative to individuals and committees and bishops and teachers – it’s enough to drive a person crazy
Yet, the call to follow Jesus isn’t simply a special call to those desiring to pursue ministry professionally. The call of Jesus to ministry and to a greater and more abundant is for all people who have ears to hear.
All of us who consider ourselves to be Christians have been called in one way or another to a life and work that sets us apart and allows us to perceive of God’s new world breaking into the present, and more importantly,
This call equips us to participate in the work of this new world.
But I ask you today – Do you consider yourself called by Christ to this new world and this new work? Do you consider yourself called?
And if so, what exactly is it to which you are called? What might Christ be calling you to today, or in this season as we creep close to Lent? What new thing might Christ be calling you to this day?
What I love in the story of our Gospel reading today in the call of Peter, James, and John, is just how upside down and topsy turvy things are.
Jesus calls these fishermen to cast out their nets one last time as day breaks. They do it – their attitudes notwithstanding
And they take in what I assume is the largest haul of their lives,
But what happens next?
These men haul in the biggest catch of their careers, so much so that they need to call in friends to help bring it in and share the wealth.
And then immediately after bringing in their catch and getting to shore they walk away from it all
To follow Jesus.
These men just struck it rich, tasted the greatest prosperity they may ever have in their lives, and they walk away from it all.
And yet, according to the story, in leaving behind this great blessing an prosperity these men walk into a life of greater mystery and abundance than they could have ever imagined if they had remained with their fish and their boat…
And as these men leave everything to follow Jesus they come to see and understand God, creation, and their life in it in whole new ways.
And isn’t that true for us as well? As we are called over and over again deeper and deeper into the life of Christ there are things, we have to leave behind, but also greater discoveries to find as well.
Old ways of understanding God… Old modes of religion… Old ways of thinking about comfort and prosperity…
“There was this way I used to think God was, but that doesn’t work for me any longer, and it doesn’t seem that was a true picture of God anyway.”
“I used to think I needed to approach God’s scripture this way, but now I am seeing that approach just left me burdened and feeling unnecessary guilt and shame, and I don’t think that was actually from God.”
“I used to have this picture of the good life in Jesus, but now I’m just seeing that was a version of the American Dream dressed up in the clothes of Christianity.”
“I used to think that true life was found in the ascent, but now I am seeing that in Jesus true and abundant life is found in the descent…in letting go… in being content with less… and having more space for the one’s around me.”
These are the kinds of stories I have heard from friends (and even experienced in my own soul) at different times in this life. I wonder if any might resonate with you today…
But what might Christ be calling you to today? And implicit in the question is another – what might Christ be calling you to leave behind as you follow him into new territory, into a new world?
And if there is any comfort to be had from our readings today, we can find it in Paul’s words to the Corinthians.
For in Chapter 15 Paul says something interesting he encourages his audience and reminds them of the life to which they are called.
Paul reminds them of an early Christian confession that he passed on to the church at Corinth that summarizes the essentials of the faith.
Not unlike the apostle’s creed or Nicene creed that we recite daily and weekly…
But what is key here are the words that Paul says as he introduces this creed –
Paul writes “For I handed on to you as of first importance what in turn had received…”
For I handed to what I received.
I think sometimes we can talk about Paul as the de facto inventor of Christianity – developing and organizing the earliest theology and ways of thinking about the Christian life,
But, in reality, the Christian tradition was already well established in many ways before Paul came on the scene.
Paul was just one among many in this unbroken chain bearing witness to the life of Jesus and passing along what they had been handed.
And this is just as true for us today in 2022 as it was for Paul. We are members of this unbroken chain passing along what we have been handed.
Sometimes in this life of faith it can feel like we are like Isaiah, called out on this solitary prophetic mission,
Striking out on our own in answer to the call.
But the reality is we are never alone. We are members of a called community each of us passing along what we have been given.
Relying on one another, reminding ourselves as we go of the life to which we have been called.
I don’t know about you, but this is a great encouragement to me – To know that I am one among multitudes called by Jesus into this new life – to pass along the Truth and the good news that we have been handed.
“That Christ dies for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” –
“That he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day”.
That “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.”
We are pilgrims on this road of faith called along by Jesus passing on what we have been handed.
What that we have been handed is worth passing along? And to whom might we pass these things?