Text: Luke 5:1-11
Date: Epiphany V + 2/7/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
So far in our introduction to Jesus according to the outline of the liturgical year from Christmas through the initial days of His earthly ministry, two main issues have been at the center, namely, Jesus’ identity and His mission; who He is and what He came to do. Though it sounds simple enough this is precisely where things go wrong, where the Gospel gets muddled or even changed, when we confuse either who Jesus is or what He came to do. Is He, after all, the majestic Son of God? He sure doesn’t look like it to His neighbors and friends. Or is He only a man? But then how does He say all these magnificent things and do all these miraculous deeds? Did He come to give us a new or revised list of dos and don’ts, to teach us what we need to do to get into heaven? Or is there another purpose that evades even our deepest religious thoughts?
So far in the Epiphany season and Luke’s Gospel we have heard of “the gracious words” coming from Jesus’ mouth and the astonishment at His teaching, “for his word possessed authority” (Lk. 4:22, 32). His ability to cast out demons, heal the sick, and, today, to cause a great catch of fish, and all that just by speaking a word we have called The Mighty Word. Today we are to conclude that the reason He can speak The Mighty Word is because He is The Mighty Lord.
Two men visit us today and tell the beginnings of their story: the prophet Isaiah and the apostle Peter. They tell us of their life-changing Call to serve God in a special way. Each of them saw God with their own eyes. Both had the same reaction of fearful repentance. Each of them experienced the grace and mercy of God and they both were then recruited to serve God as preachers of His Word. Their stories are preserved for us not because they were so unusual or special in their callings (though they were), but for us to consider our own standing before God.
First, every time I read the Call of Isaiah, I think of our own worship experience and wonder to what extent we are aware of beholding God and being in His presence? And then, what should our reaction or response be? This is why I had us sing the first hymn today:
God Himself is present; Let us now adore Him
And with awe appear before Him.
God is in His temple; All within keep silence;
Humbly kneel in deepest rev’rence…. (LSB 907:1)
I take literally St. Paul’s words in Philippians 2:10, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,” and at least bow my head at the sound of His blessed name. I know it is the more difficult for our little congregation to be aware of God’s holy presence though we try our best to transform a high school music rehearsal room into a temporary sanctuary for God’s dwelling. Because of that we cannot kneel before the Lord. It is, however, a matter not of floors and walls, bricks and sacred furniture, but a matter of God’s Word and promise being read and proclaimed, heard and believed that makes any place holy, set apart for God’s Word and purpose.
Isaiah was in the Jerusalem temple; the building set apart solely for the sacred use of worship of and communion with the God of the universe who promised to locate Himself there for the benefit of His people. “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.” There is none higher above all creation than God the Creator. Then He heard the eternal song of heaven being sung by the angelic spirits: “Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh Sabbaoth, the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” To be holy is to be set apart, to be utterly unique and other than the rest of the created universe. That God is thrice holy must also reflect the triune nature of the one, true God. Apart from Him there is no other god.
Now, the rule is no one can see God directly and live (Ex. 33:20). His holiness and wrath against sin means immediate judgment and
destruction of all that is sinful. Yet Isaiah “saw the Lord.” How can this be? It can only be said that Isaiah did not see God directly, but somehow veiling His majesty. Nevertheless, Isaiah feared for his life and confessed his sin.
You know the difference between “sacrifice” and “sacrament.” A sacrifice is something we give to God, something to appease His wrath and gain His blessing and favor. A sacrament is something that God does and gives to us. At Isaiah’s confession God immediately gave Isaiah a sacrament: a burning coal touching his lips with the word of absolution, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away; and your sin atoned for.” Then His divine Call, the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And Isaiah’s response, “Here am I! Send me.”
Notice the parallel with the apostle Peter in today’s Gospel. Up to this point Simon as he was called had listened to Jesus’ preaching. He was a “hearer,” actually a technical word describing a catechumen, one who is being called and formed to be a Christian. Isaiah was in the temple where God located Himself for His people’s benefit. Now, however, we have learned that God is relocating Himself from the stones of the temple to the flesh of Jesus. Stepping into Simon’s boat Jesus asked him to take Him out so that more people could hear Him. After this Jesus directed Simon to “put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon began to object but gave the preacher the benefit of the doubt and said, “at your word I will let down the nets.” After the great and surprising catch of fish, suddenly Simon Peter, like Isaiah before him, realized just who was standing there in the boat with him, and he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Woe is me! Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” At such a repentant confession of sin, the Lord responded sacramentally, speaking the word of absolution, “Do not be afraid,” and issuing the divine Call, “from now on you will be catching men.” Before this the fishermen heard Jesus’ preaching but remained in their trade as fishermen. That Simon, and James and John with him, realized this was a life-changing Call to a whole new vocation is noted by the fact that, for the first (and last) time, “they left everything and followed” Jesus…full time, forevermore.
The question for us today is, what is your reaction if and when you realize you are standing in the very presence of the almighty God? This is the God who has said, “You shall have no other gods.” But you realize you have not trusted or relied upon God’s mercy at all times and in everything you do. He has said, “Take my name, but don’t take it in vain or misuse it.” And you realize the many times you have not praised God’s name or called upon Him when in need or even uttered His name to no or even evil purpose. He has said, “Remember the Sabbath day.” But you recall the many times you have turned a deaf ear to God’s Word even when listening to it being preached! God has said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And you admit to dishonoring those in authority over you, harboring anger toward your neighbor, repeating lewd jokes, doing dishonest dealings, participating in gossip, and other sins against your neighbor or failure to help him. Indeed, because that fallen, sinful nature still hangs on, still clings so closely as long as we live in this world, we must say with Isaiah and Simon Peter, “Woe is me! I am a sinner.”
If you don’t realize this or say those words, your sin remains, separating and blocking you from a loving God. As soon as you breathe those words of confession, however, God deals with you sacramentally. He does so and can do so only because His only-begotten Son has first dealt with God sacrificially on our behalf. Because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, “for us men and for our salvation,” God now turns to the repentant sinner and says, “I love you. I forgive you all your sins.” Recall the water of Holy Baptism flooding God’s grace, washing away your sin, clothing you with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Receive the very sacrificial body and blood of Jesus touching your lips and taking away your guilt, recalling and assuring you that your sins are atoned for by the all-availing sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood on the cross.
In Christ, your relationship with God and His commands is new and alive. Listen to how Martin Luther describes your new, fulfilling of the first three Commandments. No other gods? “Fear and love God in true faith, at all times, firmly trusting him in all that he does, accepting in simple, quiet confidence everything whether good or bad. What all of Scripture records about faith and hope and the love of God [I Cor. 13:13] belongs here and is briefly comprehended in this commandment.” Take My Name? “Praise, honor, glorify, and call upon God’s name, and rather sink into utter nothingness so that God alone be exalted, who is in all things and works in everything [Rom. 8:28; 11:36; Eph. 4:6]. Here belongs all that Scripture teaches about giving glory, honor, and thanksgiving to God and rejoicing in him.” Remember the Sabbath Day? “Yield to God so that all we do is done by him alone through us. This commandment requires a person to be poor in spirit [Matt. 5:3], to sacrifice his nothingness to God…. Here belongs everything required of us: serving God, listening to what is preached about God, doing good deeds, subjecting the body to the spirit [I Cor. 9:27]. And so that all we accomplish is God’s and nothing our own.
Some from among us are called yet today to serve as preachers and pastors in His Church. All are called to the freedom of a new life through the forgiveness of all our sin and ultimately to gather with all the saints around the throne of heaven to join our voices in that eternal, heavenly song, “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.”
Lord, we lift up our hearts to you. Give the eyes of our hearts to see your gracious presence and receive our humble thanks and praise.
Luther, Martin: Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan (Hrsg.) ; Oswald, Hilton C. (Hrsg.) ; Lehmann, Helmut T. (Hrsg.): Luther’s Works, Vol. 43 : Devotional Writings II. Philadelphia : Fortress Press, 1999, c1968 (Luther’s Works 43), S. 43:22