February 6, 2022

“Reluctantly Faithful”

(From Isaiah 6:1-8 & Luke 5:1-11)

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.  Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.  And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.  And I said: “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!”  Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.  The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.  He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.  When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”  When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.  But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who are partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”  When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

          It is rare when scripture lessons align so perfectly that the similarity of their messages calls out the morning message to the preacher.  Today’s lessons from Isaiah Chapter 6 and Luke 5 did just that for me this week. It may interest you to learn that preachers who follow the lectionary do so for the purpose of presenting the many characters and stories found in the books of the Bible to their congregation.  The lectionary is designed to guide us through the Bible with a selection of Old and New Testament readings to be presented over the course a three-year span of time.  Following this practice keeps preachers from obsessively preaching on their favorite characters, stories, and passages of scripture, while excluding other significant characters and stories, and the important lessons they also have to share.

        One of the marvelous aspects of the Bible is its wide-reaching content.  There are stories and lessons about nearly every life situation imaginable.  As the text of Ecclesiastes 1 verse 9 shares, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”  The same life circumstances tend to be repeated over time, with only the persons involved in them having changed. That is why the Bible remains relevant throughout the generations that come and go.  Its truths are universal in a value that crosses barriers of age, race and culture.  As we have previously discussed, the characters found in the Bible are real people, with very real and human-based attitudes, faults, and even prejudices.  Yet, the scriptures reveal to us how God’s plan has been accomplished as much in spite of as because of less than perfect human thoughts, feelings, and activities.  All this information makes today’s sermon title an honest assessment of the characters in our scripture lessons for today.  So, let us see how God’s plan is accomplished in spite of their reluctance, as well as because of their faithfulness.

         Isaiah 6 shares with us this prophet’s calling through a vision he received.  Isaiah frames his calling by telling his readers that it occurred in the year King Uzziah died, around 742 BC.  In Isaiah’s vision, he sees the Lord, God, seated majestically on a throne.  Angels surrounded God’s throne and sang praises of God’s holiness and glory.  Isaiah recalls that the whole threshold shook with the sound of their song, and the house filled with smoke.  This activity terrified Isaiah, and he feared that he was doomed.  “Woe is me,” he exclaimed, “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!”  Isaiah knew that he was an “unclean” and unworthy mortal; yet, he had witnessed the Lord God Almighty seated upon the heavenly throne. He was doomed!  Then, in his vision, a seraph touched his lips with a hot coal, assuring Isaiah that this act had removed his sin and guilt.  Whew, that was close!  It was then that Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord calling “who shall I send, and who will go for us?”  No longer in dread of his human sin and guilt, Isaiah answered, “Here I am, send me!”   What was once Isaiah’s reluctance, had now become his willing act of gratitude through his faithful acceptance of God’s call. 

     The feeling of unworthiness is more common among those who are called into ministry than you may imagine.  A calling from God, after all is a major life event.  The call of Isaiah is actually a scripture reading that is very dear to my heart.  I read it at a church service while I was contemplating my call to pastoral ministry.  Feelings of my own unworthiness for this call had plagued my thoughts.  This lesson from Isaiah 6 that informed me I was not alone in feeling this concern—after all, the great prophet Isaiah suffered the same inner unrest at his call!  My pastor and church family affirmed both my calling and my gifts for ministry, and the rest is history.  I have since met many others in various forms of ministry who struggled with issues of unworthiness, for various personal reasons.  Therefore, they were also reluctant to be faithful in responding to their initial call.  This scripture, as well as the support and affirmation of their gifts for ministry of close Christian friends, helped them to feel they could be faithful and answer their call affirmatively.

     The story of Jesus preaching at the lake of Gennesaret, and his call of Simon Peter, Andrew his brother, and the Zebedee brothers, James and John, we read this morning is one of my favorites.  When we sing verse one of the Hymn “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus,” and sing “Scenes by the wayside, tales of the sea, stories of Jesus, tell them to me,” this is the scene I picture in my mind.  As Jesus was teaching by the lake, so many people gathered there that Jesus asked Simon Peter to take him in his boat out on the lake where he could be better seen and heard.  Simon faithfully responded to this request, and Jesus taught the crowd from the boat.

     When Jesus had finished preaching, he asked Simon to take the boat out a little further on the lake, and then let down his nets for a catch of fish.  Simon and his team of fishermen had been out all night and had caught no fish.  He was exhausted, and the last thing he wanted to do was more fishing!  He respectfully protested to Jesus, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”  Reluctantly faithful, Simon and the other fishermen let down their nets.  They caught so many fish in them that their nets were braking, and the boats even began to sink as they brought up their catch.  Peter knew that it was Jesus who had given them such a great catch of fish.  He immediately dropped to his knees and begged Jesus to depart from him, for he was a “sinful man”.  Simon Peter could sense his unworthiness just to stand in the presence of the glory of Jesus.  Yet, Jesus was a man of compassion.  Jesus answered Simon’s concerns by saying to him, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”  The scriptures reveal to us that when they reached the shore Simon and his team left everything behind and now faithfully followed Jesus.  Convinced of Jesus’ power, and forgiven by his love, these men were no longer reluctant, but faithful to respond to Jesus’ call.

     The presence of the awesome glory and majesty of our Lord is a very intimidating place in which to stand; to that I can personally attest.  Yet, early in my call discernment a wise person shared with me that if unworthy sinners were not called into various forms of ministry and mission, there would be no one left to call.  Roman 3:10 reminds us that “There is no one who is righteous, not even one.” Jesus came to save sinners by his grace, through faith, just like he saved you and me.  He knows everything about us, and he loves us anyway.  We have nothing to fear in answering whatever call we receive, for whom he calls he also equips for that calling.  So, if you hear God calling you, you need not be reluctant, but simply faithful in following your call.  Let God’s people say—Amen!