Fifth Sunday After Epiphany - Isaiah, Luke 5: 1-11

Our lessons this morning include two stories of people who saw God,
and their lives were never the same.
Their experience of God caused them to follow God into new vocations,
reflecting the inner reality that their very lives were beginning anew.

First is the story told by Isaiah about how he became a prophet.
One day he went to the temple to pray and worship and on that day, he says,
“I saw the Lord.”
In Isaiah’s vision, God sits on his throne –
and, indeed, the sanctuary of the temple was considered God’s throne room.
But the temple – the center of worship in Judah,
built by Solomon as a glorious place of worship for God’s people –
holds only the hem of God’s robe.
Heavenly beings surround the throne singing,
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices, the foundations of the temple shake.
And Isaiah is afraid.
He knows he is sinful and unclean before God, and he cries out.
But God offers forgiveness, cleansing his lips with a live coal.
Then God asks,
“Who will go to speak for me?”
And Isaiah – whose life has just been made new
by the gift of grace and a glimpse of God’s glory,
responds, “Here I am, God. Send me.”
He will spend the rest of his life as a prophet –
proclaiming God’s judgment upon his unfaithful people.
inviting them to return to the God who loves them still.

Another time, another place, another story.

A man named Simon is cleaning his nets after an unsuccessful night of fishing.
He and his companions have put in a long night of work,
and they’re probably looking forward to breakfast and rest.
But when Jesus asks them to take him out in their boat, they agree.

Simon has met Jesus before,
when Jesus visited his home and healed his mother-in-law.
He’s probably heard stories, too,
about Jesus healing people and casting out demons all through Galilee.

So when Jesus comes to him,
followed by a great crowd wanting to see and hear him,
Simon puts his weariness aside and gets back in his boat.
It is a decision which will change the course of his life.

Jesus speaks to the crowds from the boat.
When Jesus is finished, he tells Simon to take the boat back out and cast his nets.
Simon argues at first, explaining that he’s been out all night already.
But he finally agrees, saying “on your word, Jesus, I will go out again.”
They let down the nets, and soon the nets are full.

In fact, there are more fish than they’ve ever caught before.
There are so many fish, the boat can’t hold them all.
Even when another fishing boat comes to help,
both are so weighed down with fish
    that they look like they are going to sink.

Simon is amazed.
Suddenly, he knows he is witnessing the power of God.
Just as suddenly, he becomes aware of how limited and sinful he is,
and he feels unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus.
“Go away” he says.

But Jesus has something else in mind.
“Do not be afraid,” he says.
“From now on, you will be catching people.”

And then the real miracle happens.
When the boat reaches land –
the boat full of more fish than they have ever caught before –
Simon and his partners, James and John, leave it all and follow Jesus.

Jesus never gives the familiar invitation to “follow me.”
He just announces that Simon has a new vocation – 
and Simon walks away from his old life to begin a new one.
Soon he will have a new name to reflect his new life - 
Jesus will call him Peter, “the rock.”

Isaiah saw God in the temple, and from that day on he had a new job as prophet.
Simon saw God present in Jesus, and from that day on he had a new job
as disciple – following Jesus and learning from him –
and as evangelist – telling others about Jesus.
Both of them are called, not just to believe, but to put their belief into action.
They change their lives to do the new work God has given them.

We, too, are called to step beyond believing in God revealed in Jesus Christ.
We, too, are called to becomes disciples who follow Jesus,
and evangelists who tell others what we know about Jesus,
and prophets who cry out for justice.

For some of us,
that call means leaving everything to follow a new path.
For others, following Jesus means staying the course, day by day,
remaining faithful to responsibilities,
and serving God in whatever places we work and live.

The first time I went to seminary,
I didn’t drop anything or leave anything I wasn’t very ready to leave.
I was only too glad to leave my work as a youth director –
something I was never good at –
to go back to the comfortable and interesting world of graduate school.
But then two things happened.
I started volunteering as an advocate for victims of domestic violence.
I became disillusioned by what I saw as the church’s indifference
to the violence and injustice around and within.
And, I got divorced.
My circumstances were changed, my understanding of myself was changed,
and my understanding of the church was changed.
I left seminary and came home to Albuquerque.
I got a job at a domestic violence shelter,
full of romantic notions of the solidarity
    of working in the women’s movement.

Six months later, my dad was diagnosed with cancer.
He was rushed into surgery, and I found myself sitting in a hospital,
praying and worrying.
My pastor came and prayed with us.
And I knew – maybe not at that moment, but as I looked back on it I knew –
that that was what I was called to do.
I dropped everything, and two months later I was moving to Milwaukee to start Clinical Pastoral Education at a hospital.

I didn’t have a vision (at least not then), and I didn’t have a miracle.
But I felt God’s presence in those days in the hospital,
and I knew I had to follow.

When we see God –
when we experience the power of God’s presence –
we are invited to follow.
Our lives are changed by following – whether or not our vocation changes.
Wherever our gifts and experience and responsibilities take us day by day,
we, too, are invited to follow Christ and be his witnesses.

God’s question remains,
“Who will speak for me?
Who will speak my word of love and peace and justice to the fearful world?”
And God waits, full of grace, for each of us to respond,
“Here I am. Send me.”


Lutheran Church of the Servant, Santa FeFebruary 4, 2007

When I preached this sermon, I inserted a part saying that I think pastors have it easy in terms of witnessing. We are, after all, expected to talk about God. The greater challenge, perhaps, is – as a layperson - to witness to God in the workplace, in the gym, at home.

I also hesitated to post this sermon because I felt that the example I used from my life does not tell the whole story. But of course that is true – any simple story such as I gave here just scratches the surface of what goes on in life. The basic facts remain. And perhaps we did receive our miracle – after 11 years, my dad is cancer free. Thank you, God.


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