Epiphany C – 5, ‘19
Isaiah 6:1-13; Luke 5:1-11
Trinity Lutheran Congregation
Every Sunday we sing the song of the seraphim. Did you hear it? In the first reading we heard their song, “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” In just a few minutes we’ll be singing a slightly different translation of it, “Holy, Holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.”
Those angels, those seraphim knew something about God’s desires for the world and about people and about life and the world. And it seems they did not hesitate to Sing about it or to get someone to change things.
These words from Isaiah are his telling of his call story, when he heard God’s call in person. Isaiah had actually seen the Lord, which is pretty amazing. God had told Moses that no one would see God and live. No wonder Isaiah wanted out. His vision was unusual and dangerous. These seraphim are not those chubby, winged, cupid-like creatures that you often see floating harmlessly in the corners of baroque paintings. These seraphim are fiery creatures filling the house with smoke as they sang. And they would have nothing of Isaiah’s attempt to get out of the job God called him to do. One of the seraphs flew down to Isaiah and touched his lips with a live coal to remove his guilt and blot out his sin. When God calls him again, Isaiah answers, “Here am I, send me.”
We can be glad all call stories are not so violent.
Once Isaiah heard what he was to be telling the people, he probably wanted to reconsider. His words would be harsh words of judgment for his people. God was not impressed with the status quo that had settled in amongst them. Their meaningless worship and rampant injustice was not what God was interested in. And so far they hadn’t been able to hear that.
The Gospel reading today does not have angels of any kind, but it does have another call story. This time it is Luke’s version of Jesus calling the disciples to follow him. The scene is not nearly as frightening as Isaiah’s. No fire. No smoke. This takes place on a shore and in a boat. Not even a storm in this story. Only some tired fishless fishermen and a request from Jesus to try going deeper and throwing the nets over the other side one more time.
There were so many fish that their nets were starting to break and when the other boat came to help them, both boats were so full that they began to sink. Upon seeing that, Peter pushed Jesus away and refused to answer Jesus’ invitation. But Jesus did not give in. He tells Simon not to be afraid. And when they got their boats back to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.
Not nearly as scary as Isaiah’s story. Little did Simon Peter, James and John know what was to come.
Not everyone has a relatable call story, a moment when they were very clear on what God wants them to do. But we all have one. The call to serve God and God’s people happens at our baptism. That means we all have call stories whether we want to or not.
But we get stuck the same way Peter did. Jesus told him to go deeper and put the nets in the deep water. And his response began with an age-old point of view. They had just finished fishing all night and came back with nothing. Why should they expect anything different? They could have left it at that. Instead they do what Jesus tells them to do. They let their nets down again, going deeper. When they do, they haul in more than they could have ever imagined.
So many nets even their nets can’t handle it. They are made of an age-old material and they begin to break.
This whole fishing expedition relied on old ways, old materials, old expectations, old methods. Old thinking.
Perhaps the Church today is, in some ways, in an old boat with old thinking when it comes to catching people.
Tod Bolsinger’s book, Canoeing the Mountains, writes about this, Lewis and Clark planned their whole expedition believing they could canoe their way all the way to the Pacific Ocean. That was fine until they came to the mountains. Their maps were wrong. Their plans were irrelevant. And they had to rethink everything.
Today we need new maps. New plans. New directions. Or, to use a metaphor from today’s Gospel, we need a new way to catch people. What may have worked in the past is clearly not working any more. And that is true across all denominations and all faiths.
Luke saw his world as full of chaos.
We can identify with Luke as he writes these words. Things seem quite chaotic these days. The shape of politics today, relationships between people who are different from one another, people who follow different faiths from one another, international relations all seem to be coming apart rather than together. Calls for unity seem hollow. I know it is all relative, but often the threat of complete chaos comes closer every day.
Yesterday was a gathering of young adults at Augsburg. We heard about the stresses in their lives. In some ways the same, at the same time very different from those of young adults in the past. In any case, they are very real.
Our young adults and others tell us things need to be different, we need to find new ways of being faithful, of casting the net. What may have been faithful years or decades ago might not be in the same way any more.
The invitation we have today remains the same. But it is o, so different. Just as Simon, James and John were asked to drop the net on the other side of the boat, so are we. Knowing that Jesus is right beside us. But with different expectations and different materials.
Organized religion still needs to drop the net, but in a way that recognizes and honors the changes that are happening in the world. We need to drop the net on the other side of the boat. The side where all people are seen as being God’s children, no matter what. The side where God is seen as big enough for all. The side where all are welcome as they are. The side that doesn’t need to keep a head count, but rather honors coming together and tearing down walls. The side that lives out the abundance of God already in our midst, if we would just stop and look.
The side that lives out faith in some ways that are new and outside the box. The side, where, oddly enough, it is not about how many are in the net but how many are serving God and God’s people outside of the net.
The side that is right in front of our noses here in Cedar-Riverside. At Homework Help where students and tutors from around the world come together and find the abundance of God in learning and relationships, where fish of all kinds end up in the same net and the word goes out that we are a safe place. At the Wednesday Night Suppers where people come every week and eat and become community. Where the community comes together at Brian Coyle on a very snowy night , like last Thursday, and celebrates the gifts of diversity of all God’s people in food and music and dance and conversation. In Coffee and Tea after Friday prayers where we extend a welcome to those who do not always hear that they are welcome here. In our relationship with Dar Al-Hijrah that lives out the bigness of God.
The world may be changing but God‘s kingdom has not. And the invitation to invite people to see remains just as urgent as ever.
It’s not necessarily always about more, sometimes it’s about deeper and new and stepping out of our comfort zone. Sometimes it’s as scary, as awesome as seraphim, fiery angels loosening our lips with a hop coal.
Just as in Luke and Acts every miracle, every moment of belief was ultimately God’s doing. So, it is for us. We have God’s promise of being with us, being in us as we cast out the nets on the other side of the boat.
And all the while singing right along with the seraphim, “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.”
May we share that glory in the world all around us.