Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Isaiah 6: 1 – 8
A Vision of God in the Temple
6In 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. 2Seraphs 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. 3And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’
4The pivots* on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5And 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!’
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The 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.’ 8Then 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!’
1 Corinthians 15: 1 – 11
The Resurrection of Christ
15Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters,* of the good news* that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.
3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters* at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.* 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
The Resurrection of the Dead
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.
Luke 5: 1 – 11
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
5Once while Jesus* was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He 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. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ 5Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ 9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
When I say “fishing” what comes to mind? For some people fishing is what other people do. For others is all about pleasure. I can understand that.
I did a fair bit of fly fishing in my youth. Now fly fishing is as much stalking and outwitting as it is anything else. Trout are pretty skittish. You’ve got to watch where your shadow falls, where and how you move, even what odours you give off. Even when you know where a trout is, it can be scared off pretty quickly. You also have to know when it’s feeding, what time of day to choose, and monitor the condition of the water or you’re wasting your time.
Long ago, as a cocky young fellow, I listened to my grandfather regaling us with a story of how he used to catch trout in England by tickling them with a straw. Well, I simply knew that that was a load of you-know-what, and I guffawed loudly and said the equivalent of “Yeah, right!”
You’ve got to understand something about my grandfather. He had a legal mind like a razor. He was over 6’ 5”. He had a loud public school voice, he didn’t suffer fools gladly and he had a bad temper.
My derisive comment was hardly out of my mouth and I suddenly realised I had spoken to him like I had never heard anyone speak to him before. But he simply looked at me. His expression was absolutely neutral. Nothing at all was said, until a few months later I discovered that it was entirely possible to tickle trout. In fact it was a common practice in rural England. I don’t think I summoned the courage to phone and apologise, but what I learnt then was that there is more than one way to enjoy catching a fish.
For the people on Bear Grylls’s island survivor programme fishing was associated with survival. Fish kept them alive, and they tried every means possible to catch fish.
If you watched that particular programme you would have noted that there was one man, only one, who was skilled at fishing with a rod. He was loud and slightly full of himself but everyone tolerated him because he caught one or two fish at each attempt.
There was another fellow in the group – a bit of a privileged toff, who for that reason alone was not greatly appreciated by his fellows – who decided that the answer lay in mending some old fishing nets and trying to pull in a number of fish. He failed repeatedly and as a result got offside with the group for wasting time on an unproductive exercise. But he persisted. He tried various approaches and eventually he began to catch fish, lots of them. Zero to hero in a flash.
I think what we saw here was a case of both men developing and persisting in the skills they had and in the end producing the goods.
Before I get onto the Gospel reading, which was all about fishing, I’d like us to look at Isaiah 8. This is a wonderful passage. Isaiah has a vision of God in the temple. There are seraphs flying about, the pivots on the threshold shake and smoke fills the temple. Overwhelmed by God’s holiness, he realises how sinful he is. With that, a seraph is sent to lift a coal off the altar with a pair of tongs and the coal is placed on his lips. The seraph tells him he is cleansed of his sin, and then God speaks and says ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Isaiah enthusiastically responds with, ‘Here am I; send me!’
Really spectacular! There is something enthralling about this encounter. It’s an action movie where Isaiah gets ambushed by God in the temple, equipped as God’s spokesperson and commissioned – sent out to do something. Exciting!
But is it?
Paul tells the church in Rome that everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. (Romans 15: 4)
I don’t know about you but while there is one side of me that gets motivated by this account, there is another side of me that says, “This is exciting but my experience of God is nothing like that. My experience of God is pretty pedestrian.”
I wonder if the disciples sometimes didn’t feel like that too. They had Jesus doing all manner of spectacular things – in our Gospel reading he engineers a miraculous catch of fish – and then he commissions his disciples.
When Peter sees the miracle Jesus has performed he, like Isaiah, becomes aware of his sinfulness and falls down at Jesus’ feet in realisation that he is dealing with more than an ordinary human being. Jesus says to Peter ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’
Last week I mentioned that the culmination of all the good spiritual practices in Simeon’s life was that he spoke out about who Jesus was. We witnessed a process
- Of thoroughly identifying with God’s cause
- Of spending time in prayer
- Of longing for the Messiah
- Of being open to the Holy Spirit, and
- Of embracing Jesus
It all culminated in testimony! In his speaking out about who Jesus is.
Put simply, to testify is to tell, to speak. It’s for this reason that Isaiah’s lips are touched.
Peter, in ‘fishing for people’ will be doing a similar thing: he will be sharing with people the good news that Jesus has come to forgive them, welcome them into the family of God and provide them with what they need to ‘catch’ other people.
There’s a pattern here. God does something spectacular and then sends a human being out on a mission.
We may ask, “How does that help the person? It is God who demonstrated the exceptional ability, not the person.”
And I think if we were tuned in we’d hear God respond, “Exactly! You’re onto it!”
“What do you mean, ‘I’m onto it,’ Lord? “
And I imagine God would say, “It’s me who does the work. That’s what I am trying to show you. I have the ability to do it. I’m not expecting you to do it. I’m expecting you to go and witness to what I’ve done. Your job is to go and tell people what I have done. You couldn’t convince anyone to follow me if you tried! What makes you think the miracle of salvation can be wielded by you? Only I can turn people around. But I need you to tell people that.”
“All very well, God. But you don’t get me that quick. I’ve not experienced you doing anything spectacular.”
And the voice of God comes back. “Well, if you don’t experience your own salvation as spectacular, that’s why you have the Scriptures. You tell people about the things you have read me do in them, and you’ll find me working right alongside you.”
“Yes but …”
“No buts. You want to know where to start? Start by telling people
- that I love them,
- that in Jesus I have made provision for their sin,
- that when they come to me, acknowledge me,
- I will draw them to myself and into the community of love. “
“But most of them believe that you are dead. That you were killed on the cross.”
“That’s where you tell them that I was seen alive on many occasions, once by more than 500 people at one time. You can trust my witnesses.”
I think that’s the value of the passage we read from 1 Corinthians 15. The lectionary does us the favour of presenting us with two bible passages on witnessing and one on resurrection.
Crucially, our witness is to what God has done, more than what we may have experienced.
Paul says, we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, (1 Corinthians 1: 23). The story of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection are central to what we witness. They are both things we have ‘seen’ in the scriptures and they don’t make sense to a non-believer. We haven’t a hope in Hades of convincing anyone of their relevance. Hopefully we can see why it is God who does the actual work of convincing people of his goodness and love and its relevance to their lives.
So next time you cast your baited hook into the deep blue sea of unbelief and possibly even hostility out there, remember it is God who does the actual work. He just can’t do it unless we open our mouths and speak of his good news, speak of his love, telling people that
- He loves them,
- that in Jesus he has made provision for their sin,
- that when they come to him, acknowledge him,
- he will draw them to himself and into the community of love.
As Anglicans we can be a little cautious about sharing our faith. We think that by being loving we are witnessing for Christ. No, we’re not. A Christ-like life should back up our witness but that in itself is not witnessing. To witness, to be “a fisher of people” we need to speak of
- God’s love for people
- Pardon from sin for them
- That when they come to him, acknowledge him,
- He will draw them to himself and into a community of love.
May God strengthen us and give us the courage to face the kind of opposition that inevitably comes with speaking to individuals about the love of Christ. And may we revel in the joy that comes from seeing God change lives because we have been obedient to the commission of Christ.