In a year of absence, presence!
In a year of grief, the king had died, the world had changed, a new sense of sovereignty.
In an experience of feeling unworthy, the assurance of forgiveness and saying yes to God for a new future.
This is a potted version of the reading from the beginning of Isaiah chapter 6 telling the story of Isaiah’s call to mission.
The passage begins with the line “in the year that King Uzziah died … I saw the Lord sitting on a throne”. While the story of Isaiah’s vision may be beyond our horizon of knowing it seems clear that the death of an earthly leader is compared [juxtaposed] with another pattern of leadership and divine purpose. God is pictured as the heavenly king, and the vision is one of awe and splendor.
However, this vision soon moves to a personal encounter with this holy God…something touches Isaiah’s lips; a lump of burning coal symbolic of fire, an image of being refined or made pure. This encounter story is one of personal transformation and the accompanying message to Isaiah assures him he is worthy, and his sins are removed.
If we take this story as a representation of our experiences, we might also know how important it is to hear words of assurance and encouragement from God and others that remind us we are worthy and capable of doing the tasks we have been given.
After being a reluctant prophet Isaiah now says “Yes” to God.
What do we need to hear that helps us know we are up to the task God calls us to?
[I know that I needed a prompt from God to say yes to becoming a minister. I too had a dialogue with God and needed to be persuaded to put myself forward and say yes.]
Often, we need the voice of others to help us to respond to something that will challenge us and stretch us and when we each receive a call we can say in our own way “Here I am Lord, send me”.
In the story in Luke’s gospel chapter 5, the disciples are at their boats by a lake. We know that a majority of the first disciples that Jesus called were fisherfolk. Jesus already had a relationship with Simon (also called Simon Peter) and he asked to go out on the boat with him near to the shore to teach the crowds who had gathered. No microphones at this time, so in our imaginations, we might think that Jesus had a voice that carried as he was seated (in the Rabbinic style) in the boat, teaching those who had come to be taught.
The twist in the story comes as Jesus asks Simon to “put down his net into deeper water”. Understandably, Simon seems a bit put out by this request, “Master we’ve worked all night long!”, and to use an Australian popular expression, the fish aren’t biting, and the nets are coming up empty. The story goes on to describe the abundant catch that happens from following Jesus’ advice. So many fish were caught, they needed help from other boats to haul them all in.
The poignant words placed in the mouth of Simon Peter then become the clue to this encounter of faith as Simon Peter says something similar to the words of the prophet Isaiah, “I am a sinful man” not worthy. Jesus’ reply is echoed many times throughout the Scriptures: ‘do not be afraid’ and from ‘now on you will be catching people’.
While today’s gospel reading might be a familiar story known to you perhaps from childhood, the pattern parallels other scripture stories of personal calls to mission and service:
- Initial hesitancy (sometimes a sense of being on Holy ground)
- Self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness
- The reassurance of God in a word of restoration
- Renewed faith and energy to serve in mission
- A sending forth.
It is fitting that often readings about being called come to us early in the New Year when we are hoping something will change. We too might draw strength from stories of the early disciples who heard a call and responded yes! Not always a dramatic call, sometimes like a warming of the heart, a spark within, a tentative yes that gets bolder as we take steps of faith. But always a trust in God who is faithful and can do more than we imagine.
Each of us is given a gift to serve and care for others. Perhaps you might feel encouraged to listen, pray and be open to what the Spirit is calling you to be and do this year. So that we might join our voices with all who have said, “Here I am Lord”, I will be a servant to you and others.
Rev Lynette Dungan