Sermon for Epiphany V, Year C

February 6, 2022

Isaiah 6:1-8                         Psalm 138                                            1 Corinthians 15:1-11                      Luke 5:1-11

“But by the grace of God I am what I am,” Paul writes, “and his grace toward me has not been in vain.”  Paul reminds the church in Corinth that he came proclaiming the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection which they have come to believe.  In part, he is writing because the church has begun to struggle over issues of authority.  Paul writes to remind them, “Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.”

The point he makes is one we all need to hear – stay focused on the good news, not the person who delivers it.  Those of us in positions of leadership are all flawed.  We might be inspired by grace, but at best, “the words of our mouth and the meditations of our hearts” are acceptable – not perfect. 

The letters attributed to St. Paul make up about half of the “books” of the New Testament, and many of them were written before the Gospels.  Without a doubt, it was Paul who was responsible for spreading the Good News of Christ beyond Israel.  The apostles, too, proclaimed the Good News, but it was Paul who focused his ministry on sharing it with the Gentiles in Asia Minor, Greece, and even Rome. 

A study of Paul reveals differences, or changes, in his theology over time.  This may be a result of his faith maturing, others writing letters in his name – or both.  Regardless, the messenger of God’s Word may be acceptable, but is not perfect.  In the scriptures we may find it to be “The Word of God [which] contains all things necessary to salvation,” as I declared at my ordination, but finding and understanding the truth found in the stories and letters may take some work.

Paul focuses on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, which are without a doubt important for our understanding of God’s call – but so are the stories of God’s call which we find throughout the Old and New Testaments.  In Isaiah, we hear the story of the prophet’s call.  In a vision, after an angel takes a live coal from the altar of the Lord and touches Isaiah’s mouth with it, the angel declares, “your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”  Isaiah then hears the Lord ask, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  Isaiah says, “Here am I; send me!”

In the Gospel, we have Luke’s account of Peter’s call to follow Jesus.  Simon Peter takes Jesus in his boat a little way from the shore so Jesus can speak to the crowd. When Jesus finishes, he says to Peter, “Push out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  Peter has fished all night and did not catch anything, but he humors Jesus and does as he is asked.  The catch is so large it requires two boats to haul it in.  This convinces Peter that Jesus is a holy man and Peter is frightened. He tells Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  Jesus tells him not to be afraid, and that “from now on you will be catching people.”  This passage ends with “When they had brought their boats to shore, they [Peter, James and John] left everything and followed him.” 

The focus of Paul’s letter may not have been his call, but he does reference it when he says, “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.”  I want you to remember what Paul writes here, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” 

In all three of these stories of people being called by God, they do not believe they are worthy because of their past.  Isaiah, upon finding himself in the presence of God says, “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!”  An angel touches his lips with a live coal and declares his sins are forgiven.  Isaiah then offers himself for God’s service. Paul persecuted Christians, but by the grace of God he is forgiven and answers God’s call to be a missionary.  Peter falls before Jesus and says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  Jesus tells him not to be afraid and calls him to be his disciple. 

          Our past sins, our feeling of guilty, should never hold us back from following Jesus.  Jesus came to teach us a new way of living.  When we walk the way of the cross, we walk the way of love – true love in which we find peace in our hearts and peace in the midst of conflict.  The way of love proclaims the good news that what matters most is not what we have done, but the path we now choose to follow.

          Isaiah, upon having his sins forgiven, says, “Here am I; send me.”  What is God calling you . . . us, to do?  How can we spread the good news of Christ’s love and acceptance to others?  Fear is a part of these stories, but it is rooted in the belief we are unworthy.   We are not unworthy; our past need not hold us back.  By the grace of God, we are who we are – and God is calling us to follow Christ and take action.  God calls us to act with love and make a difference.  We are not called, thankfully, to act alone.  Jesus has the apostles with him, and when he sends them out, he sends them out in pairs.  When Jesus is no longer physically present with them, they become the church with a focus on supporting one another and people in need.

          We are the church and we are called to support one another and reach out into our community where we can make a difference.  Doing what?  I don’t know, but I do know that members of St. Paul’s are taking care of one another, serving on boards, volunteering for non-profits and making a difference.  What more might we do?  I don’t know.  But if we listen, if we keep our eyes open, we will know where there is a need – and together we can make a difference.

Let us pray.

          Here we are, Lord send us into this world to make a difference.  Let us use our talents and gifts, as we are able, to help others who need to experience your love.  Touch our lips that your Word and love may be what we share.   Fill our hearts that we might have the passion of Paul and go forth declaring the Good News that Christ has come to teach us the way of love that leads to truth and life and peace.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.