Isaiah 6:1-8 [9-13 omitted here]
1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5And I said: “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!” 6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
Gospel: Luke 5:1-11
1Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I was a little girl in Sunday School, we had to memorize an entire hymn for some special occasion. This actually happened more than once, and I honestly cannot remember the occasions we were honoring.
The hymn I’m remembering now was titled, “Hark! The Voice of Jesus Crying.” This was not meant to describe weeping, so when it was entered into the green Lutheran Book of Worship, that was changed to, “Hark! The Voice of Jesus Calling.” It’s not in today’s Evangelical Lutheran Worship, and I’m not planning to have us try to sing it today, regardless of the nostalgia I feel about it.
Yet, the fact that this hymn continues to live in my memory colors how I see the Bible stories in which Jesus calls people to follow him, and I want you to know that at the start.
The hymn most closely follows the Isaiah text read this morning, as both the first and last verses end with a quote from that text, “Here am I, send me,” and then “send me” is repeated.
How likely are we to answer God the way Isaiah did, and the way Simon, Andrew, James, and John did? How likely are we to walk away from all prior expectations to follow Jesus?
The good news is that following the call of God does not always look the same. Would this world be a good place if everyone were preaching and no one was moving snow from the roads and walkways? How about if no one was growing food—or preparing it for consumption? What if no one worked to provide fuel to heat our homes when the temperatures descend to dangerous levels? Healthcare, civil services, the economy… even cyber protections are now necessary services!
That hymn I told you I had to memorize was written by Daniel March, who died 110 years ago in 1909. He didn’t mention any of the occupational areas I just did. I’m not sure he had even those that existed then in mind, though I expect some occurred to him. In the lyrics of the hymn he declares, “Loud and long the master calls you; rich reward he offers thee.” Then he queries, “Who will answer, gladly saying, “Here am I. Send me, send me?”
Then he offers some options. He says if you can’t speak like an angel or preach like Paul, you still tell the love of Jesus. If you can’t work to help people to change destructive behaviors, maybe you guide children to learn better ways to live. If you can’t be out in front of all the people pointing the way to better life, you can support those who do, he says by prayers and bounties, and he mentions Aaron holding up the hands of his brother Moses. Finally, he ends by urging each of us not to believe that the little things we can do are unimportant. Even small tasks can be done gladly.
So! We read today’s scriptures and we hear Isaiah’s fear when he sees God. He describes an unbelievable sight, and the voices of the angels calling out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And Isaiah says, “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips, yet I have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
I’m quite sure Isaiah expected to die, a sinner in the presence of God.
Instead, his lips, which he’d named as the sign of his sin, are purified by a hot coal. That’s horrifying, until you remember that it’s a vision, presented as a sign that Isaiah’s sin is blotted out, rather than the torture I imagine. That’s when the voice of God asks, “Whom shall I send, who will go for us?” and Isaiah answers, “Here am I; send me!”
Simon Peter finds himself in much the same position in the boat with Jesus. Even though he and his partners had worked all night and caught nothing, when he puts the nets down again in the daytime, not the time for fishing, they come back up so full that they begin to break, and two boats are required to hold the fish caught in that one set of nets. Much like Isaiah’s “Woe is me!” reaction to the vision of God, Simon Peter falls down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
Jesus' response isn’t quite like the live coal to purify Isaiah’s lips. Jesus merely says, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they returned to shore, they left everything and followed him.
When it comes to church, when it comes to doing things that are holy, many people respond just like Simon Peter and Isaiah. They automatically see their own faults, and believe that those faults make them ineligible to participate in any holy calling. (Of course the opposite can also occur, when people are blind to their faults, or flaunt them.)
The point is that God isn’t about making us ineligible because of our faults. God wants us to be free to do whatever makes this creation, God’s creation, a good place for us to live, for all creatures to thrive!
So, while you do those things that make this world a good place, providing fuel for body or building, fostering good health, shoveling snow or chasing viruses—whatever, all these things can be done to God’s glory, and while some of it supports the specific mission of proclaiming God’s good news through the church, all of it can be part of God’s holiness…
Of course sometimes things we do are less than holy. We may find God leading us to turn from those things, purifying our misdeeds with whatever it takes for us to move forward.
Here’s the point: What you’ve got right now can be used to God’s glory. You can invite people to share the good news here and everywhere. You can join in with Sunday worship, Sunday School, or even with worship assistance. You can do what is right even when it isn’t easy. You can use what you’ve got to God’s glory by treating your fellow workers, your clients and neighbors with respect. You don’t have to walk away from the fishing boat to follow Jesus (though I hope you won’t use the fishing boat to avoid gathering for worship!).
What you’ve got can be used to God’s glory in many ways. God loves you, and gives you all you need. In Jesus’ name. Amen