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Is 6.1-6; 1 Cor 15.1-11; Lk 5.1-11
Scene 1: The time is 700 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. You are in the home of Isaiah, in Jerusalem, in the land of Judah. You are one of his few trusted companions, for most of the people are not interested in hearing Isaiah’s ideas about how the society is going terribly wrong. It is a time of great fear for everyone, because the powerful country of Assyria is sizing up the nations of the west, strategizing the inevitable takeover of smaller nations. King Ahaz has decided to appeal to Assyria’s king and form an alliance so that Judah will not be overtaken by force. Most people have fallen away from worshiping God, so they support Ahaz’s attempt to secure peace through alliances.
But now a private conversation, when Isaiah tells you about a spectacular vision he has had. He has been fretting about the political situation, but this isn’t about that. It depicts a great throne room, huge and majestic. Strange figures are all around, but they don’t make Isaiah afraid for some reason. Instead he hears them crying out in worship to God, who seems both present and transcendent at the same time. Their voices are so penetrating that the whole place shakes, and smoke fills the space.
Isaiah is overcome by awe and humility, and he cries, “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!”
Isaiah’s eyes get big as he looks at you in amazement. Then he tells how one of the creatures came at him with a live coal, and touched it to his lips. Instead of feeling burned, he felt cleansed. He felt accepted, loved, embraced. He heard a divine voice asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah could not help but cry out, “Here am I; send me!”
What a strange experience. We consider this Isaiah’s call to be a prophet. But it is unlike almost anything else except some of the visions in Daniel and Revelation. It seems so far removed from us that it almost seems like something out of a movie, special effects and all. Yet it is the critical moment in Isaiah’s life, a prophet whose writings we quote every Christmas at least: “To us a child is born, a son is given,” and so on.
Scene 2: It is about 730 years later, by the Sea of Galilee, where your name is Simon, a fisherman by trade. You are checking your nets after an unsuccessful night, not in the best mood when see that your new friend Jesus is walking up to the beach.
A few days ago he actually healed your mother-in-law in your own house. You are intrigued by his power and his teaching. It’s no wonder he has gained quite a following. He also cast a demon out of a man in Capernaum a few days ago. Word traveled fast. Everybody is wondering how he has authority to do that. He is telling everyone about the “good news of the kingdom of God.” This is interesting language. Everybody wants to know more.
At the water’s edge today, nobody will give Jesus enough space to have a platform, so he improvises by using a boat. Why not? It was no use for catching fish, at least not today.
When Jesus finishes what he has to say, you are surprised at his suggestion that you try the deep water one more time. What’s the point? Thinking you’ve got nothing to lose, you give it a go and row out to the deep water. Who would believe it? The nets were barely lowered, and the fish practically jumped into the boat!
Suddenly the power and presence of Jesus is so electric that you are driven to your knees. You feel humbled and awed by this man at the same time. “I can’t handle this!” you exclaim. “There is no way that I deserve to be in your presence!” You look over at your partners James and John, and they are on their knees too.
But Jesus won’t have it. He smiles and says, “There is no reason to be afraid, Simon. I have a job for you, all three of you. You’re getting a promotion from fishing for fish, to fishing for people!” By now you have seen enough. Your boats and nets seemed ridiculous in comparison to becoming students of this amazing rabbi. You leave it all and go with him.
Scene 3: It is about twenty years later. You are a slave of a wealthy merchant in the bustling and prosperous port city of Corinth. But you are also a member of a congregation of Jesus-followers known as The Way. You are among your fellow believers, listening to the reading of a letter from the Apostle Paul, a friend who established the congregation a few years ago.
You all remember Paul fondly. You were amazed that he treated you as an equal, even though he was a man of some stature among the Pharisees of Jerusalem some years back. A learned man, a great leader with fierce convictions. Yet he acted like a brother. Even more astonishing was the arrival of your master one evening at one of the fellowship meals. He, too, had become a follower of Jesus Christ. Now you are equals in the faith, and your master treats you with compassion and justice.
So hearing from Paul is a joy. He reminds you all that he was once an enemy of Jesus, literally arresting, jailing, and executing Christians for their opposition to both the Temple and the Roman state. Now he is a humble servant and friend, advising you how to make this new thing called the church work more smoothly, since conflicts and struggles have naturally cropped up. Everyone feels more at peace, more willing to forgive one another when you hear once again Paul’s interpretation of the good news of Jesus.
Scene 4: Here we are, almost two thousand years later. We read these stories and claim a connection with them. We want to understand what it means to follow Jesus right now, in northwest Iowa, in the dead of winter in what seems to be a time of political chaos and a farm economy that keeps taking hits from, well, politics as well as other factors. In addition, you have your own worries to contend with. A rebellious child. A dwindling bank account. A difficult marriage. A dead-end job.
It’s not all bleak. You are looking forward to a graduation, a wedding, a job change, a trip. Or maybe just a birthday or a favorite meal—hey we have to find a bright side somewhere, right?
Life is complicated. Faith is complicated. Where is the God who visited Isaiah in a vision, who stood next to Peter and invited him to join his work, who turned Paul’s life around by knocking him off his horse and blinding him with glory? How does God speak to people like you and me?
Just like the stories of Isaiah and Peter and Paul, every person’s experience of God is different. We might think Peter was lucky to see Jesus up close, but that came with its own set of challenges and suffering. The fact is that Jesus isn’t here in the flesh, but his Spirit is here, just as surely as Peter could see the smile on Jesus’ face. We don’t always recognize it, but it is true.
The Spirit gets our attention in many ways: through a nagging sense that there is something you need to do. Or a certain phrase in the Bible suddenly grabbing you. Or the plight of someone on TV or down the street pulling you into helping. The sight of your child’s joyful face, or tearful.
The point is not how God speaks, but that God does speak. Our job is to show up and pay attention. The mistake we often make is insulating ourselves against God’s message, because we think God will demand too much from us. That’s understandable. Jesus asks us to give up everything, after all.
But we forget what he promises: life. Whatever life we are clinging to, whether we are serving our pocketbooks or our careers or whatever calls the shots for you, that life pales in comparison to the life God offers. It is a life of clarity and spaciousness, a life of freedom.
Here’s why. God’s love is what directs that life. We don’t have to fuss and figure out what to do. God says to do what love requires. Period. That doesn’t mean we all have to become missionaries or preachers. We can see how God has equipped us as farmers or teachers or moms or caregivers, and let the force of God’s love drive us to serve the needs in front of us.
That life is free, because it is a life that holds no grudges. Jesus said the good news is about forgiveness. So you live with short accounts, doing the hard work of forgiveness and compromise. I know, there are things that might be unforgiveable in your life, but you offer those to Jesus for healing too. This life is not without suffering, but you have Jesus to suffer with you and show you the way through it. He died for you. Now he lives in you, as the Holy Spirit.
This is the kingdom of God Jesus was telling everybody about. He lived it in front of them, not only healing people but also telling them over and over that they matter to God. Everyone matters, because God made us all to live together in love, under the wise and loving gaze of God our Creator.
It’s no wonder then, that when this God of love visited Isaiah, he responded, “Here am I. Send me!” That Peter said, “I’m in, Jesus!” That Paul said, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” They were overcome not just by a call to action, but by the God of love.
That’s worth giving your life for. Thanks be to God.