Archive for February 12th, 2010

February 7, 2010

When my children were teenagers, one of their favourite words was “awesome”, and they used it far too often, I thought! Their meal was “awesome”, someone’s prom dress was “awesome”; the new guy in class was “awesome.” I don’t know if they ever really thought about what this word means, and, if I had tried to explain it to them, I don’t think that they would have understood. But if you look at the reading from Isaiah for today, you will see the meaning of the word quite plainly. Let’s listen to Isaiah’s words describing God and the scene which the prophet saw in his vision.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces; with two they covered their feet; and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory. At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
Now, if anything were going to provoke awe, it would be a scene like this. Picture the Lord seated on a throne – this points to the majesty of God. The seraphs, the angels with six wings, were so humbled in the presence of God that they covered their faces. They could not even look upon the face of God. The Hebrew word which Isaiah used when referring to God emphasized the idea of God’s power and authority. And when the angels spoke, they said Holy, Holy, Holy, which, in the Old Testament, gives the idea of something that is set apart, something that is divinely unique. If we put all these bits and pieces together, we get a picture of a God who is almighty, transcendent, and totally majestic. Now this, THIS, is something which is truly awesome.
And it is something which is a little different from the picture many people have of God today. Well, yes, we admit, that God is different from us. But he is like us, isn’t he? After all, were we not created in his image? But this reading tells that, somehow, he is radically different. He is awesome, in a way that we can never be. The three-times-repeated HOLY reinforces this difference, this awesomeness. There is the holy Father, whose father-like love for us exceeds what we can imagine or what we deserve. There is the holy Son, whose sacrificial love for us is something we humans cannot understand, and nor should we try to. And there is the holy Spirit, whose indwelling love for us surpasses anything that we can find on this earth, no matter how hard we try.
Then the seraphs tell the prophet that God’s glory fills the whole earth. The whole earth! It is no wonder that Isaiah was shaking in his boots. It is no wonder that he cried out, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord almighty!” To be in the presence of God, to see God – this was something which was unimaginable to the people of Isaiah’s time. But the seraphs responded by cleaning his lips with a live coal from the sacrificial altar. Through this, said the seraph, Isaiah’s guilt was taken away and his sin atoned for.
What was Isaiah’s reaction to this? Well, when the Lord looked for a messenger, he volunteered. And he became God’s messenger, bringing God’s message to the people. Now, I can only imagine how he must have felt, how eager he was to share what had happened to him with others. And I thought about the things that we are willing to share with others.
How many times have you read a good book, and you couldn’t wait to tell someone else about it? Or how many times have you been in a conversation with someone about a particular sporting event, and couldn’t wait to brag about how well your team is doing? I remember when Brad Gushue and his curling team from Newfoundland and Labrador won the gold medal at the Olympics a few years ago. That was all anyone could talk about for weeks. People were looking for some way to claim some kind of relationship – no matter how distant – with any of the team members. Often, I have heard people talking about the concept of six degrees of separation, and using it to show that they are connected with SOMEONE. Like, my cousin’s wife’s hairdresser went to the same school as the person who does Celine Dion’s hair. No matter how tenuous the relationship may be, people say things like this. And if people see a good movie, they are excited about it, and want to tell other people about it. For instance, the movie Avatar has started numerous conversations, and the word AWESOME was certainly used many times in discussing it. Now, how often have you been excited about knowing God? How many times have you claimed a relationship with God? How many times have you looked for some way to share this relationship with others?
Look again at the two questions which God asked Isaiah. God said, “Whom shall I send? Who shall go for us?” He was asking Isaiah – and us – Who will speak my word and teach my people? Who will bring my good news to the nations? Who will bring comfort to the sorrowing and afflicted? Who will proclaim my righteousness and tell my people that I have saved them? These are good questions, and now we will dig even deeper, Who will speak God’s word and teach God’s people, if it is not us? Who will point the way to God, on God’s behalf, if it is not us? Who will heal the wounded, and help the broken-hearted, and visit the prisoners, if it is not us? Who will be the fishers of people, if it is not us?
Let’s move to today’s Gospel reading, to hear the call to the first apostles. At the beginning of the reading, Jesus is speaking to the crowds, and they are pressing in around him. I was trying to picture it, Jesus standing by the edge of the water, and the crowds of people coming ever closer. I wonder if maybe he was feeling a bit overwhelmed, and that is why he got into Simon’s boat. Remember, this was in the days before wireless microphones, so he must have had a pretty powerful voice, in order to be heard by those on shore. After he finished preaching, he turned to Simon, and told him to go into deeper water, and put down his nets for a catch. He didn’t suggest this, or ask him if he thought he should do it, but made it a direction, almost a command. You have to wonder how Simon must have felt. After all, HE was the fisherman – this Jesus person was a carpenter. What would he know about fishing? So Simon didn’t exactly argue, but he did say, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Now, of course, Jesus knew that there had been no fish caught the night before. If there had been, the fishermen would have been busy unloading their catch, and preparing it for market. And we know what happened. They caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. Simon Peter fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man!” Isn’t this very similar to what Isaiah said? “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord almighty!” Both Simon and Isaiah recognized their unworthiness, but this did not stop them from serving God, from dong God’s will.
But how often are we as willing to share the Good News of the Gospel with people? How hard do we try to share with others our relationship with God, no matter how distant? Now, I’m not saying that we need to run from this church and go door-to-door, in an attempt to share this, even though that is what Isaiah did. I think that most of us would be pretty uncomfortable doing this. But there are other ways in which we can be God’s messengers, in which we can share God with others.
Let’s take a look at some of the perhaps surprising ways in which we can respond as did Isaiah and Peter. I want you to think about the times you go to a restaurant, and have a great time. The service is quick and efficient, and the food is prepared the way you like it. Of course, you will recommend it to other people, and try to get back there whenever you can. But what if the service is slow, the waiter gets your order wrong, and when you finally get the food, it is, at best, lack-lustre? You will, no doubt, tell other people about your bad experience, in the hopes that they will not go to the same place and be similarly disappointed. And it is unlikely that you will return to that place looking for a meal. When visitors come to our church, we have only one opportunity to make them feel welcome; we have only one opportunity to make them want to come back. This is how we evangelize; this is how we share the Good News – over a coffee in the Kirk Hall. It might not seem as earth-shaking as what Isaiah and the apostles did, but it is what we do, and I have been told that we are pretty good at it. I saw it in action last week, at Isabel’s party, when people shared memories and fellowship to honour a pillar of this church.
All that being said, I think that the reading from Luke’s Gospel is about more than that – about more than getting people to come to church. The idea of getting people to come to church, the idea of going out and bringing them to the pews, is uncomfortable for many. Proselytizing is not something many people are comfortable doing. When we think of it, many of us think about the old-time revival meetings, where people are invited to come to the altar to make a commitment to Jesus. Most of us main-line Christians shy away from such emotion, feeling rather uncomfortable with such public displays of faith. And with good reason. People who are caught up in the emotion of the moment are like the seeds that are planted in shallow soil. They grow rapidly for a while, but because they have no roots, they wither and die. The roots are the things we need, and we get these over time, when we reach deeper into our faith. You will have noticed that Jesus told Simon to put out into DEEPER water, and I think that this is what he is telling us to do. He wants us to go deeper into ourselves, not to be content with the superficial. He wants us to have a deeper relationship with God, a relationship that is not confined to an hour or so on a Sunday morning.
Like Isaiah, we may well react with fear at first. We may, like Simon, think that we know more about how our lives operate than Jesus does. But God knows better. Maybe we don’t want to look deep inside, being fearful of what we might find there. But Jesus tells us not to be afraid, that he will be with us while we look for what he knows is there. Maybe we have been searching already, with no luck, and this is what we tell Jesus. Does this sound familiar? “We tried that once, and it didn’t work. So we won’t try it again.” Jesus would reject this completely, as he did with Simon. And when Simon went into deeper water, when he listened to what Jesus said, then his nets were filled to the point of breaking. And that can happen to us. Jesus will fill our souls so full that we won’t know what to do with it all.
Most of us spend our lives in the shallow waters, where it is safe. And, if we are lucky, we will get enough to keep us going. But we will never get everything which God has for us if we are not willing to take risks, if we are not willing to venture into the deep waters. It is when we venture into the deep waters that we will find the abundance in the same way that Simon found it in the Lake of Gennesaret. But the abundance we will find is so much more than that which Simon found. It is the abundance of God’s love which will fill our hearts and our lives. This is the spiritual reality which transforms us, and which we will share. On this PWS&D Sunday, we are meant to think about sharing material things with others, and this sharing will lead to a generous spirit. The vision of global peace and deep joy continues to inspire those who work with PWS&D, and to inspire those of us who give, whether materially or in other ways.
Just think back to what I said earlier about wanting to share good things with people. Telling people about a book you enjoyed, or a movie which impressed you, letting people know that you have a connection with a famous person – these are things you do now. And you become passionate about these things. By exploring your relationship with God, by looking deeper into it, you will become passionate about it, too. As Christians, we already have a relationship with God. As Christians, we look forward to a new life, but we don’t need to wait until the resurrection to enjoy it. We can enjoy it right here, right now. As Christians, we will be so empowered by God’s love for us, that others will be able to see it in what we do and in what we say.
Next Sunday, we will see two of our young people confirmed in this church. This means that they have accepted their role as Christians. With Isaiah, they will say, “Here I am! Send me!” With Simon, they will do as Jesus tells them, because they have recognized him as the master, as the Son of God. My prayer for them, and for all who have acknowledged the place of God in their lives, is that others will see how God has touched us. And, more than that, that they will continue to be touched by God throughout their entire lives.

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