Due to a loss of electrical and water service, the worship services for February 6 had to be cancelled. The following are the scripture readings and sermon that would have been featured that day.
FIFTH SUNDAY OF EPIPHANY
Isaiah 6:1-8 [9-13] | Psalm 138
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 | Luke 5:1-11
Luke’s Gospel lesson today is an interesting one. It is referred to as an “epiphany call” story – the Isaiah text is another one. What happens here is that a person has a sudden epiphany, realizes that they are in the presence of God – fitting since we are in the Season of Epiphany, and at the same time is called to a special task by God.
In Luke’s story, the people are crowding in, pressing in, on Jesus, to hear the Word of God, so to get some elbow room, and a better venue for preaching and teaching, he decides to go seaborne. He sees some fishermen nearby, out of their boats, mending their nets – a never ending task for fishermen. He just climbs into Simon Peter’s boat, and asks to be taken off a little bit from shore, so he can preach from there. Simon, and probably his brother and partner Andrew as well, not wishing to be inhospitable, do as he asks. They probably kept on mending their nets while Jesus taught. When Jesus has finished, he decides to repay Simon for his kindness. Simon Peter isn’t exactly thrilled with the idea. They have already fished all night, and caught nothing – reminds me of a couple of fishing trips which I’ve been on. It is also similar to the post-resurrection account which we find in John Chapter 21, and how Jesus lets the disciples know that it is he on the beach. But they put out to deeper water, and lower the nets. This time, they have a catch, not one or two, but so many that the nets are straining, and beginning to break, and the struggle to haul in the nets is causing the boat to flounder. He calls for help from his other partners, James and John. Both boats are then filled with fish.
Then comes the epiphany, Simon realizes that he is in the presence of something greater than himself. Jesus is a force to reckon with, and with this ability, his power must come from God. That is the first part of the epiphany, Simon knows that he is in the presence of the Divine. Then comes the second part, Simon Peter knows his place. He is not divine. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Notice it is said with an exclamation point. Simon is scared to death, and with good reason. To behold the divine historically implies the death of a sinful mortal.
Jesus’ response, and this is the call narrative part, is a classic response to those who are in the presence of God, and know it. “Do not be afraid;” There is a reason to be afraid, but I’m holding back. “From now on you will be catching people (fishers of men).” That I think is a great description of evangelism, fishing, catching people. “And, they left everything and followed him.” When God calls you personally, you follow. There is no if, and or but. You follow.
We are all called. That is why we are here. We are joined in faith. God has called us, we are baptized into Christ, confirmed in the faith, nourished at his altar. We too are disciples of Christ, called to carry a message. We are called for the same reasons as the disciples, we are God’s creatures, and he loves us, in spite of our sinfulness. We are forgiven, and told not to fear, and somehow, God works through us, through His Holy Spirit. That is Good News. That is Gospel.
The Bad News is that too often, we are afraid to do that, be worker for God, fishers of men, catchers of people. We are afraid to share the Gospel, to tell Christ’s story, to tell our story. This is especially true for the mainline Christian denominations, Lutherans in particular. And, I think the problem, once again is television. Here’s why.
When we watch a TV evangelist, what do we usually see and hear? Nine times out of ten, a person who looks like a maniac, ranting and raving on a stage (because he or she can’t manage to stay in the pulpit). A stage fits, that is often where actors are to be found. Telling people about all of the terrible, awful, sinful things that they have done, thought about doing, and will do in the future. Then, end with “But Jesus loves you anyway.” I’ve always felt that disturbing, not comforting, nor enlightening nor even evangelizing. I see people selling fire insurance. Come to faith, or roast in hell! There is something wrong here. I don’t hear a whole lot of Gospel here. True, this type of preaching appeals to certain types of people, and I often worry about that type. This type of fishing for men, or catching people, is like fishing with a stick of dynamite. The explosion stuns the nearest ones, and you pull them in before they recover. The rest of the fish by then, have hightailed it to another part of the lake. For some time, I’ve been reading the NT, about 60 years or so. Jesus and the apostles don’t work that way. I don’t believe that we should either. You don’t free sinners’ consciences that way, rather they become more enslaved to the mess their lives are in. And, they then come to fear what little hope that they may draw from that message. It is almost like a resurrection of the Spanish Inquisition whose motto was, “Become a God loving Christian, or we will burn you at the stake.” I’ve always worried about that kind of religious thinking. In contrast, we are told, “God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” John 3:17. There is too much condemning out there, and not a whole lot of saving. Although a favorite question is, “Are you saved?” “Yes, we believe and are baptized.”
What do we read in the NT? When confronted with the presence of God, the risen Christ, the Holying Spirit, we, like Simon Peter, already know that we are sinful. Most people do. What do we then share? Our God turns to us, sinful creatures that we are, and says, “Do not be afraid.” Welcomes us! What the early disciples did in their evangelizing was simple. They told the story of Christ. They told people what the Gospel of Christ meant to them, how they felt the love and presence of God in their lives, what God has done for us, and that they believe it. That is all. That is enough. That is fishing for men, casting out the net of the Gospel, and pulling people’s consciences and souls to God. Pulled to our merciful, graceful, loving God. That is what we are called to do, and to do it in all of our words and speech, truth and deeds. How Christ has changed our lives, how we see life. That is what we are to do, share what we have heard, and believe, so that others may be drawn to faith through our example. Sharing the Gospel, that is evangelizing. That is the Good News to which we have been called, to share it, as we have received it.