2/10/2019 Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (Guest homilist Mr. Jon Bartelson) The text for today’s sermon is taken from the words of the prophet Isaiah, the apostle Paul and St. Luke. Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Here am I; send me!” – spoke the soon to be prophet Isaiah, prophesying his own commissioning. A strange vision – a dream, perhaps – of the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty. The temple could barely contain the hem of his robe. He was surrounded by seraphim singing hymns of praise. The Lord seeks a messenger. He implores: “Whom shall I send?” And Isaiah shouts, without hesitation: “Here am I; send me!”
Our stories today, as told by Isaiah, Paul and Jesus reminded me of another passage in the Bible. Although not part of our readings today, Paul makes reference to his own commissioning, which we find in chapter 9 of the Acts of the Apostles. Paul (officially Saul at the time) had been “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Saul sought out, far and wide, those who had heard the Good News to return them, bound, to Jerusalem – criminals in the eyes of the law. Fortunately for him, the Lord had a different plan for Saul on the road to Damascus that day. Now Paul, once he became an apostle, instead of “threats and murder”, proclaimed the Good News far and wide, including to the church at Corinth in today’s second lesson. Last of all, Christ had appeared to him, many years after the other apostles. The least of the apostles, because he persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, he also proclaimed “Here am I; send me!”
The Gospel story today is the beginning of Jesus’ life as a minister in every sense of the word. It also serves as the beginning of the disciples’ journey with him, and ours. He has proclaimed that the Scripture, Isaiah’s prophecy, is fulfilled. He teaches in the synagogues, he heals the sick, casts out demons and preaches the good news of the kingdom of God. He had reached the point of his ministry where he needed to move outside of the synagogues to proclaim his message, and the crowds began to gather around him.
Jesus turned to Simon Peter and said, “put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” After an exhausting night of fishing with nothing to show for it, Peter was extremely gracious in his response: “we have worked all night but have caught nothing.” Now, he may have known that Jesus was a carpenter. He may have thought that a carpenter probably knows nothing about fishing. But Peter did not let his prejudice impact his decision to let down the nets on Jesus’ request. And he was able to experience a miracle that day by relying on the word of God beyond his preconceptions and occupation.
Peter would have said that he was a fisherman if we asked who he was. We might say, “I am a professional, a technician, an engineer, a farmer, a baker, a candle stick maker” based on our professions. But how would we tell Jesus who we are? It is up to us whether our encounters with Jesus are one-time events (perhaps, once per week on a beautiful Sunday morning) or whether our encounters are eternal ones. Jesus’ response to Peter, who asked him to leave, is instead an invitation: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” This is the call to discipleship. Jesus is calling us to serve, just as he did to Simon Peter and Paul and all the apostles. I say: “Here am I; send me! I will leave my nets behind and follow you.”
The challenge that Jesus experiences in the gospel today was how to move into the mainstream. His message was not only for the Jews, but for everyone. He would not have seen the crowd had he not moved from the synagogue to the lakeshore. The gospel should not be and arguably cannot be restricted to the temple, the synagogues, or even this church. It must be taken to wherever the people are. In today’s gospel, the people had gathered at Gennesaret, so that is where Jesus went.
This, too, is our challenge. The challenge of going to other places to see the people gather, leaving prejudice and profession behind. The crowd that we find may not look like us, talk like us or think like us. Yet we are all united as brothers and sisters in Christ. We must answer the call to a higher purpose found in all of our readings today.
When asked to serve, Isaiah said: “Here am I; send me!”
When asked to serve, Paul said: “By the grace of God, here am I. Send me.”
When asked to serve, Simon Peter said: “I will leave my nets & follow you.”
And ultimately, when asked to serve, Jesus said: “not my will, but yours. Send me.”
We too must be willing to serve, to go to the lakeshore, the village, into our communities, to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and invite others to the higher purpose that we all share, here, in this sacred place that we love. The good news cannot be restricted to the walls of this sanctuary or that chapel or this building or any geographic area. Our mission in faith is to proclaim that good news through word and deed to those around us. We, too must respond to the Lord’s call: “Here am I; send me!”
May we answer this call to a higher purpose, especially in the face of our own challenges as we seek to refine our mission in the church of God. Let us rise to this challenge to go forth boldly into the world to seek out our crowd. And may the Peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.