Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Readings – Isaiah 6: 1-13; Psalm 138; I Corinthians 15: 1-11; Luke 5: 1-11
The theme to be found in all four of our readings this morning is God inviting, God, looking for partners, to join in the continuing care of creation. I think seeking partners is a “God thing” – going back to Genesis and the dawn of our time on this planet. It goes back to “Be fruitful” and “Be good stewards”, good caretakers, of “this fragile earth, our island home”.
The sixth century B.C.E. was a traumatic time for the people of ancient Israel. The Assyrian Empire violently took control of the northern part of the Davidic Kingdom, the area north of Jerusalem. Isaiah was a northerner who found himself in the temple of Jerusalem at worship with the incense, the engravings of the six-winged seraphs, and the stone throne of God. He was overwhelmed. He became aware of his own smallness and his own unworthiness. A messenger of God, a seraph, cleansed his lips with a coal, enabling him to hear the voice of God seeking a partner in ministry. Responding to the invitation, Isaiah responded, “Me! Me! Me!”, “Here I am, send me”. “God, I will be your partner.” The call of Isaiah was theatrical, was dynamic, and is frequently seen as the ideal of being called into partnership with God.
When Commissions of Ministry were established in the 1970s to assist bishops in the selection of clergy, they looked to this call of Isaiah as the norm. However, it is just one of many avenues that God invites boys and girls, men and women, into partnership.
For the author of Psalm 138 partnership with God was experienced very differently. He begins with giving thanks “with my whole heart”. He thanked God for his safekeeping while walking through difficult times. The Psalmist experienced God’s enduring love, and God’s caring “for the lowly”. God guided him, and God made “good his purpose for me”. God was the senior partner for sure, walking alongside the author.
Of course, we know the dramatic invitation extended to Saul who was transformed into St. Paul. Going to Damascus to arrest those upstart followers of Jesus, the crucified one, to haul them back to Jerusalem for trial, he was struck by lightning, struck blind. He heard the voice of God asking him why he was persecuting the followers of Jesus. He is then nursed back to health, his vision restored, by the very ones he was seeking to arrest. God’s grace turned his life upside-down. St. Paul later wrote, “God’s grace toward me has not been in vain” as he became the apostle of God’s grace throughout the eastern Mediterranean world.
Finally, we come to our Gospel reading. Jesus asked Peter to push a fishing boat a bit from the shore so that he might better address the gathering crowd. It was a simple request. Jesus then followed with another simple request, “let’s go fishing”. They had been unsuccessful the night before. Fishing was generally done at night when it was cooler and the fish were closer to the surface. Again, Peter agreed to this simple, request. As the story goes, their nets were filled to the breaking point. Now it was Peter who asked for partners, for some additional fishermen, James and John, to come and assist. As the overwhelming catch threatened to sink their boats, Peter recognized the miracle unfolding before him, and also recognized his own imperfections. Jesus responded, “Do not be afraid”. And in the King James Version, “I will make you fishers of men”. For Peter, this was just the beginning of his partnership with Jesus. They came ashore; they left their boats; they followed Jesus.
All of our readings share with us the invitations of God to partner, to share, in ministry. In our own day, God’s invitations are sometimes dramatic, yet are much more likely to be a quiet nudging, and frequently there is a progression of challenging requests. I would add that many times the invitations of God are event by event, leading into a life of quiet step-by-step faithfulness, rather than the dramatic events like the call of Isaiah and St. Paul. Most of us experience the invitations to walk with God, to partner with God, through our everyday routines. Here at All Saints, we have noted how God invites us to partner through worship, through serving, through learning, through giving, and through conversation. Another example is through being commissioned for Vestry leadership to lead, with Jesus, this congregation in this part of God’s creation. As we are attentive, God will guide, God, will support, God, will enrich us. To use the more traditional language, God will bless us, God will grace us, as we walk together.
In walking with God, in partnering with God, in the words of our proper collect – we are set free, and we enjoy the abundant life as we live more fully as God created us to live. As walking companions, as partners with God, going back to Genesis, we are more fruitful, and we are better stewards, better caregivers, of “this fragile earth, our island home”.