Readings for Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany 4 February 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany Textweek

Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13); Psalm 138; I Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

The Sunday readings, just like the supermarket shelves, are having to move along at quite a frantic pace. Somehow they’re leading us or calling us into the movement, which is a movement from Christmas, towards Lent and then into Easter and we really don’t have very long to do that, so we just have this sense that the readings are seeking to give us a bit of a push, to create some momentum for us. It’s not a church movement – it’s quite easy to think, ‘Oh this is the church’, you know? ‘Next Sunday we’ll be going to there and then they’re going to do this, then they have that, that they’ll do this and then it’s going to be Easter.’ It’s not a church movement at all, this is our movement, that’s what the readings are about; they’re seeking to give us the opportunity, they’re talking about us: about you and about me and about the ‘we’. So the readings give us an opportunity to see and to reflect; they’re not going to give us any answers, it’s not a map book that’s going to take us on a journey, there’s no blueprint, there are very few directions, but there are opportunities in there to find ourselves, to find ourselves in relation to the divine and also to have a look at ourselves in relation to our becoming: who are we, who am I, where do I stand, what am I called to be, to become?

Now rather than seeking to join the dots of today’s readings, let’s just explore a few of the dots and maybe then join them when we have had the opportunity to see ourselves as one of the dots in the readings. Have a look and see how you compare with Isaiah; what are the similarities, do you like him, do you like what he says, is it something that you can say, does it echo within? Can you say, ‘I saw the Lord’? Or are we still caught up in some Sunday School teaching that says, ‘Oh no, in order for that to happen I’d have to see a burning bush or someone dressed in white and shining with glory’. Can you say, ‘I saw the Lord’?

What about verse 5, can we relate to Isaiah when he says, ‘I am lost and of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips’? I find it stunningly easy to do that bit, especially the last bit – I’m okay, but I’m among a people of unclean lips! See what I mean – we start to get in touch with the Isaiah that we are. Have your lips been touched with a live coal from the divine fire? Have you heard the voice of the Lord and can you within yourself, find the place where you can say, ‘Here am I; send me!’ And the ‘send me’ of Isaiah is exactly the same response that we hear in the Gospel - they left everything and followed him.

This is an invitation to us to reflect on our movement and to reflect on our direction. As soon as you start to do that you need to have a look at the figure of the seraphs, the description of the seraphs in Isaiah. They had six wings - with two they cover their face, hiding their appearance; with two they cover their feet, hiding both their direction and their movement; with two they fly, they rise into the heavens and they find a perspective that sees all. The seraphs covering their faces perhaps echoes the experience of Isaiah when he says, ‘Woe is me! I am lost’ – I cannot see and I am not seen.

Almost in complete contrast to that we have Paul saying and speaking really confidently of that which is of first importance: ‘Christ appeared to Cephas and to the twelve; he appeared to more than five hundred, he appeared to the apostles and he appeared to me.’ The appearance of the divine, the revelation of the divine, seemed to be the created place of movement. The movement is from ‘woe is me, I am lost’, a movement from unseen, to ‘here am I, send me’ - a movement towards being seen. Luke narrates this movement in a fishing story. If we read through it what we find is that nothing is asked and yet everything is given. Jesus says to Simon in verse 4, ‘just do what you normally do, go about your everyday occupation. Hop into the boat, put out to sea, throw the nets overboard’: there’s nothing being asked that is out of the ordinary. We, as the reader, know that if that word is heeded, if Simon Peter can listen to what is being revealed in Christ, this is going to end up with abundance. By the time we get down to verse 8, we find that Simon Peter then sees the abundance - the boat is filled with fish, life-threateningly so, it could sink. What’s interesting though is that he also realizes that this is an undeserved abundance. And it’s that realization that spins him into the space of ‘Woe is me I am lost’. Simon Peter finds himself in a place of fear, in that space in which fear is created, and immediately, there’s that response from the divine: ‘Do not be afraid’.

Having encountered the space where we realise an abundance - not a self-generated abundance, an undeserved, by-grace abundance - we need to hear accompanying that insight, that realisation: ‘Do not be afraid’. Do not be afraid, because now what you have seen, what has brought you into being seen, will create a change of focus: a change of focus for you, for your life and for your relationship with the whole of creation. Your relationship will move from the waters of chaos, from the fish, to humanity; you will move through the days of creation; you will find yourselves in relation to all. And then we hear of that movement: they left everything they had they followed the Christ.

We probably at some time in our lives - my guess is during each and every day of our lives - we find the place of fear, the ‘Woe is me’ of Isaiah; we know the ‘I am a sinful’ voice of Simon Peter; we know those places very well because we live in a culture that emphasises those places, a culture that directs us to be afraid, a culture that all too often is ready to identify our sinfulness, and so what happens? We become a people who fear change and who fear movement. At least that’s a part of us.

It was really interesting at the busy bee yesterday morning, I delighted in cutting things down and as I looked around what I saw was pruning, cutting, mulching, clearing, cleaning, pulling up and throwing away, and if we weren’t in WA in summer, my guess is there would also have been burning as well. These are divine activities of destruction; we heard about them in last Sunday’s reading and if you look at the last few verses of Isaiah, you can hear again of that destructive divine force – this is the divine busy bee. You don’t just leave things as they are and carry on: if we leave the gardens and grounds as they are, without change, they’ll just stagnate. They’ll certainly look like one, they’ll look like a blob of green. Without that pruning, cutting, clearing, cleaning, pulling up, throwing away, without that destroying, then we can’t bring forth the true beauty of what’s there.

Just as we do that outwardly, so maybe that’s what we need to do inwardly. It’s the movement of Simon Peter, it’s the movement of James and John – yes, I need to get rid of these things in order to move. Sometimes, what we do is we create false realities of movement. The Ikea sales are a good example of that – for very little, for something that’s affordable to all of us, you can change the look of your house, your room, your whatever and you can do it all in little flat boxes as well, it’s so convenient to create change, to change your world. Or we create life milestones to pretend there’s change, and there was a delightful life milestone last night as we celebrated Gwenda’s sixtieth birthday. There was delightful conversation had during that time – I sat with someone and we talked about how long we thought we had left to live. And I thought about that afterwards – we’re marking a sixtieth birthday, it looks like a shift. It’s as if we’ve put something there and said there’s something before that, now there’s this shift and there’s something after. We created that – there is not necessarily movement. Quite often what we do is we mark our birthdays and anniversaries and we become aware of moving closer to death. We think, ‘Sixty – I wonder how much time there is left?’ The ridiculous thing is, in every moment of your life your nearness to death never changes. You do not move nearer to death in the time between fifty and sixty at all: at fifty, death could be in the next moment, just as it could at sixty. Become aware of the movements that are real, not the movements we create.

There is never a question about our nearness to death. Nothing we do will change our nearness to death. The question of movement that we’re asked in the scriptures is to be aware of our nearness to life and whether we are moving closer to it. Today, this minute and in each and every moment, do I move nearer to life?

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris


Amen