Fourth Sunday before Lent

6th February 2022

Isaiah 6:1-8

In 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. Seraphs 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. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And 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!”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The 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.” Then 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!” 

Psalm 138

1 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; *
before the gods I will sing your praise.

2 I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name, *
because of your love and faithfulness;

3 For you have glorified your Name *
and your word above all things.

4 When I called, you answered me; *
you increased my strength within me.

5 All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, *
when they have heard the words of your mouth.

6 They will sing of the ways of the Lord, *
that great is the glory of the Lord.

7 Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.

8 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.

9 The Lord will make good his purpose for me; *
O Lord, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you–unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 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 toward 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. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

Luke 5:1-11 

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He 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. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and 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.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Reflection 

The over arching theme of today’s readings is of being called by God. For Isaiah it seems to be a unique calling, as if Isaiah’s role is going to be unusual, out of the ordinary. When we get to the days of Paul, the number of people being called by God is growing exponentially. Paul doesn’t say so, but one senses that Paul anticipates that his readers will be the next generation of those commissioned by God to continue the spread of the good news. 

Isaiah, Paul and Simon are all clearly aware of their shortcomings, their failures, their sins. In calling them, God both recognises this,  absolves them and at the same time enables their transformation into spreaders of the good news, of salvation.  

In the ‘pericope’ or clip that Luke gives us, Jesus is preaching the good news to the crowds. But then it is as if he demonstrates this by way of a physical parable. He has chosen to borrow Simon’s boat. Simon’s overnight fishing expedition had failed. Normally Simon would have expected to make a worthwhile  catch of fish, but on this occasion the haul had been nil. Things had not been how they should have been. 

Jesus invites Simon try once more, and this time the haul of fish is beyond Simon’s expectation. Jesus has not just restored things the way they should be, he has transformed them spectacularly. The good news that God’s salvation can and does restore and transform life in all its fullness is made visible.

Isaiah was called to warn the people of Judea of the threat posed by the Babylonians to their future as a nation. This threat stemmed from the breakdown in their relationship with God, their arrogance  and their failure to listen to, and act upon, the wisdom of God. They needed to repent and change direction, to transform discern the ways in which they lived and how they should related to God. This transformation was, as recorded in the Book of Isaiah, a work in progress. 

Jesus called Simon to completely change career. He was to forgo his fishing job and instead to draw people into a new way of understanding God, of realising that the promised Messiah was Jesus, and that with him they would find healing and fulfilment of life. This was a calling that was to shared with a growing number of his contemporaries.

Paul’s calling also involved a change in direction, from persecuting anyone who threatened the age-old, traditional and exclusive understanding of the God of Israel, to that of  preaching a message that invited everyone, whatever their status or background, to participate in the salvation that God offered through the living presence of Jesus Christ. Again this was a calling that was shared by others, both then and through each subsequent generation, right down to us today.

I wonder what your calling might be? For me, it is endeavouring to honour God’s desire that we should care for creation, by  sharing the ways of living fairly and sustainably, and endeavouring to win the hearts and minds of others to be  equally enthused and engaged with God’s hopes for creation. Loving sustainably according to God’s wishes, God’s wisdom, will I believe restore and transform the world, over coming all the crises with which we are beset. 

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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