Sermons from St
Revd Denise McDougall
Sunday, February 10th, 2019
The liturgical calendar has now moved from the Christmas season to the period before Lent and we now focus on Gospel readings from St. Luke. It’s unusual for all the readings and the psalm to link so closely with each other but this morning they all relate in some way to someone’s experience of having been called by God, and given a task to accomplish: in this case Isaiah, Paul and Simon Peter.
Isaiah’s experience in the temple was a deeply mystical one, he calls himself a man of unclean lips and in a wretched state. Yet his own awareness of his sinfulness prepares him for cleansing. If the lectionary had taken us on to the following few verses we would have heard that the prophet goes into a troubled world to people who won’t listen... I rather think we can all identify with that. The prophet’s words could perhaps encourage us to give some consideration to our own patterns for worship, and how they compare with Isaiah’s experience? Are we awestruck by the mystery and majesty of God? Do we confess our sins but fail to realise how far we fall short? Do the words of the absolution really free us to listen, truly hear and then respond to God’s word? Our task has to be as Isaiah’s and to stay faithful in words and action.
St. Paul reminds the Corinthians of the very same thing, their belief must be reflected in their lives. He tells us what he first taught the Corinthians that Christ died for our sins and that he was raised to life again. Paul claims that he is the least of the apostles, because to his shame he had been an enemy of Christianity and had persecuted the Church of God. Yet despite this he was still commissioned by the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul is talking about the world-transforming knowledge of the resurrection that he has received but as with others before and after him Paul doesn’t believe that he is the best person for the job. However, along with his efforts and with God’s grace he is able to proclaim the gospel, not words written book but a message to be preached and taught. He proclaims the creedal statement that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, was buried and rose again on the third day.
The Gospel then leads us to Simon Peter, who also believes that he too is not fit company for the Lord because he is a sinner. All three main characters in today’s readings are clear about their unworthiness. I have to say I haven’t yet met anyone who ministers, ordained or lay who did feel worthy to take on God’s work.
I remember very clearly travelling home after three days of gruelling selection for ordination training; interviews, presentations, studying, being closely watched in social situations. The process had already taken about three years up to that point and at each stage I felt God couldn’t possibly want me on board. Anyway I settled myself on the train, coming home from Nottingham, tired but certain that I had made it absolutely clear I was nothing like good enough or able enough to continue with any ideas around training for ordained ministry. I remember thinking I’ve done my best for you God but this is where this bit of the calling ends. That was around 20 years ago and wasn’t I naïve? When God has a plan, well that’s it!
Being called by God seems like the most massive and almost impossible challenge but actually God really requires very little from us; just to listen for his voice and give our permission to allow him to speak and act through us.
In today’s gospel reading Simon Peter was going about his day to day business as an ordinary fisherman and having just had a fruitless night he and his companions settled to the dreary task of cleaning and mending their nets; inevitably they were despondent because their livelihood depended on a good haul. But then Jesus, whom they had seen around, commands them to launch out into the deep waters. The shores of the lake were always crowded as people were drawn to Jesus’ presence and they travelled miles to hear his message and be healed by him. His words brought hope for a better future; he restored damaged souls, offered forgiveness and comfort to sinners and he dispelled doubts and fears. Jesus had a unique way about him and people responded to him but Simon Peter, even though he felt it would be a waste of time, was willing to obey him. To their great surprise the nets bulged and split with the enormous catch. Simon Peter’s risk-taking, really against his better judgement had shown him that he was in the presence of someone who was far more than an ordinary man. He had been in the presence of Jesus and recognised Jesus Christ to be who He was then and is now.
Luke wasn’t actually too concerned with all the finer details of the catch but what he really wants us to know and understand is that Jesus is divine and his power and authority come from God. Simon Peter, as with Paul and Isaiah when they recognised the divine presence, immediately became aware of their own sinfulness. Yet Jesus ignores this and invites Simon Peter and his friends to abandon their boats and nets and join him on his mission to seek out and save the lost and their response was a complete act of willing trust and co-operation. Simon Peter, despite being aware of his unworthiness went on to become the rock on which the Church was founded.
Those main characters in today’s readings, Peter Paul and Isaiah were all called and changed by God’s saving grace.
By virtue of our baptism, we have all been called and yes, we have all responded, otherwise why would we be sat here this morning?
In the 16th century Martin Luther, expanded the understanding of vocation from a special calling to a religious life as a priest or a monk to the life and work of all Christians in response to God’s call. Luther insisted that every occupation has its own honour before God, as well as its own requirements and duties. God calls us in so many different ways to various vocations but every single one of us has been called to be part of Christ’s saving mission and be one of his disciples despite however inadequate or unworthy we think ourselves to be. We are all invited to trust, have faith and ‘launch out into the deep.’ And we shouldn’t ever use our brokenness or sinfulness as an excuse not to respond to God’s call. Our contribution to proclaiming the Good news doesn’t need great wisdom or exceptional skill, but an openness to truth, a willingness to learn and grow, a sense of responsibility and a generous spirit. It’s no easy task and God is never going to call us to sit back or worship and savour his holiness in the safety of our own comfort zones. He breaks through our familiar defences, calls to take risks and launch out into the deep. And to help us do this Bishop Paul is asking us to commit to The Diocesan Rule of Life: asking us to pray, read and learn and go out to tell, serve and give. We can all manage those things but are we willing to? If and when we do, then we can be assured of God’s mercy and grace as we respond in our own unique ways to our own personal calling and discover our true identity to which we were called. And whatever or whenever that may be let us quickly respond using Isaiah’s words, ‘Here I am send me’.