4 February 2001

Here I am

Readings: Isaiah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

1. Introduction

I'm not going to preach for very long this morning, since I chose to have all three Scripture readings today. They all seemed to fit together, though, and it didn't feel right to leave any of them out.

They are all about people having one of those very special meetings with God that only happen once in a lifetime, if that. First Isaiah in the Temple, in that famous passage which we so often parody and make fun of simply because we simply can't fathom it out. Then St Paul, thinking back to the time he met with Jesus on the road to Damascus, and remembering, as he does so, all the other people who were privileged to meet with the risen Lord in the flesh, as it were. And finally, Luke's account of Peter's call, and his realisation that in Jesus, here was someone worth following.

2. Isaiah

So, then, here is Isaiah in the Temple. I should think we could practically quote this passage off by heart, couldn't we: "In the year that King Uzziah died....." and so on. We remember how Isaiah - and this Isaiah, unlike the later ones that share his book, was a priest in the Temple at Jerusalem - was taking his turn to serve God in the holy place during a time of great turmoil for Israel, and how suddenly the Temple was filled with God's presence. And how Isaiah saw himself in relation to God's holiness: "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!" He knew that you couldn't see God and survive, not when you were sinful. And he knew that he was sinful, even though he spent his days in the holy atmosphere of the Temple, and even though he would have purified himself before he went in there.

And you see, also, the answer. There isn't any denial, no sense of, "No, you aren't sinful", but the Seraph comes with the burning coal to cleanse Isaiah. And after that he feels able to volunteer for service: Here am I; send me!

3. St Paul

And so to St Paul, in our second reading. It's that great chapter where he stresses the importance of the Resurrection - and as testimony to that, he says that Christ appeared to him, "as one untimely born". He knows full well that he didn't deserve a special appearance; after all, he'd been the one persecuting the very first Christians, as he himself says: "For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them - though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me." Paul knew that he had been forgiven, and his response was to work for God.

4. Peter

And so to Peter. Or Simon, as he is still known at this stage. The version in Luke's gospel is slightly different to that in the other gospels, where they say that Jesus just met Simon and Andrew fishing from the shore and said "Follow me". In Luke's story, they are clearing up after a hard and unprofitable night's fishing, when Jesus asks to borrow the boat as a makeshift pulpit. And when he has said all that he has to say, he suggests that Simon put out into deep water and cast his nets. Simon reckons it'll be fruitless - not the right sort of weather for fishing, they've been at it all night - but nevertheless has a go, and is very surprised when the net hits one of those mega-shoals that apparently happen in the Sea of Galilee. And again, Simon's response is to fall down in worship of Jesus, and in disgust at his own sinfulness. And after that he stops being a fisherman, and follows Jesus, as do his brother and his partners.

Although, in fact, according to Luke this isn't the first time Jesus and Simon have met. Jesus has already healed Simon's mother-in-law of a fever. But it is the first time Jesus has called Simon to follow him. And Simon's response is to drop everything and do just that.

5. A Common Theme

So do you notice the other common theme that runs through these stories? It's not just that different people met with God in a very special way, although they did. It's also about their response. "Here am I, send me!" All of them, in their different ways, said that. Isaiah is said to have used those very words. Paul may not have said anything, but he had those three days of blindness before Ananias came to him and laid hands on him. Then, when he could see again, he was baptised and promptly began to proclaim Jesus, which he didn't stop doing until his death. As for Simon, he and his brother and his colleagues all abandon everything to travel with Jesus. I feel faintly sorry for Simon's wife and mother-in-law, and for James and John's family, but I suppose someone saw to it that they ate.

And we know, too, that Simon Peter was one of Jesus' closest friends during his lifetime, not always understanding what Jesus was all about, but trying very hard. And he, too, abandoned Jesus, and even denied ever having known him - but we know that he was forgiven and restored and loved. And he promised, do you remember, in that scene by the beach after another miraculous net-filling, to look after Jesus' flock for him. Which he did, as best he could, until he too died. Including that idiotic episode that always makes me laugh when he gets thrown into prison and the church is all busy praying for him, whereupon an angel comes and lets him out of prison, and Peter hurries quickly to the house where the church is praying - and they don't believe it's him, but assume the servant girl is seeing things! It's really one of the funniest passages in the Bible, because it's just the sort of thing we would do in the same circumstances. There are no plaster saints in the Bible - it tells us about real people, with real faults and failings, just like you and me.

Anyway, enough of that for a digression. I really am not going to say much more this morning, because I think the Scripture passages speak for themselves.

The thing is, we don't all have extra-special meetings with God like Isaiah did, like St Paul did, even like Simon Peter did. And if we do, they only happen once in our lifetimes, and are a sort of Transfiguration experience - real life has to go on. You have to go on living for Jesus every single day, you can't bask in the light of what God did ten or fifteen years ago. It is what God is doing for you here, now, today, that counts. But whether or not we meet with God in a very special way, God is still asking "Who shall I send?" And the answer must still always be, "Here am I; send me!"

It isn't terribly safe to say that, of course. Poor Isaiah was asked to prophesy all sorts of doom and gloom for Israel, which, sadly, came to pass when the tribes were taken into exile and dispersed. And have you ever read Paul's descriptions of his sufferings "for the sake of the Gospel?" It's rather shattering, all about shipwrecks and stonings and floggings and imprisonment. And tradition has it that both he and Simon Peter died martyr's deaths.

But it must have been worth while, all the same. We only read of the outward unpleasantness - yet if it was that bad, you would have thought they would have walked away after awhile. The joy and happiness must have more than matched the frightfulness, as, I believe, it does today for those who are called to be martyrs. It does, alas, still happen. But yet if it happens people seem to be given the strength to go on being Jesus' people, not to deny their Lord, to go on wanting to be Jesus person.

"Here am I, Lord, send me!" Do we dare say that to Jesus this morning. Heaven knows, it's not an easy prayer to pray - but I think we must try to pray it. Let's do so using Hymn No 705: "Take my life and let it be".

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