Fifth Sunday after Epiphany February 10, 2019
Karin Liebster, Associate Pastor
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
This church building gives witness to the Scandinavian heritage of the people who built it. We call this the nave, ship, not the sanctuary, holy place. The sanctuary is the space inside the altar rails. But look to the rafters. We are sitting securely protected under the hull of a boat turned upside down, or downside up. The church is a ship, a boat, and here is abundance of God’s word, the proclamation of liberation from what limits us, here is abundance of God’s grace freely and gladly poured out. Here is abundance of spiritual nourishment, and often also physical nourishment like last night’s youth group fundraising dinner. All what we do as a congregation outside of these walls, all that bears our name, is a function of the abundance of God’s freeing word freely and abundantly spilling out. Our annual report, hot off the press is there for you to read and know of the abundance in this place; it is an invitation for you to find your place to connect and share in it.
The church is a ship. This image is ancient. It’s a metaphor for togetherness, for protection as well as danger, for hope and aspiration, for destination as well as the possibility of getting lost, and – for abundance.
Jesus is preaching from a boat. He asked a fisherman to put his boat out a little because the people are pressing in on him. People are hungry for his Word, his life giving word.
But then Jesus sort of moves to the sidelines. The fisherman, Simon Peter, takes center stage. And his fishing business with nets and boats and fish becomes a parable, a parable for God’s word, the abundant, overwhelming, all-encompassing availability of God’s healing, loving, consoling, us-forever-changing, prophetic, life giving word.
Before they know it, Simon Peter and his buddies struggle with a catch of fish so big, in the middle of the day, that it threatens to break their nets and sink their boats.
Peter gets scared. Maybe he feels like a babbling idiot when he falls down at Jesus’ knees and confesses his unworthiness and sinfulness and everything. He does not normally talk that way.But Peter’s response is spot on. He realizes, he is in the very presence of the living God, and in the presence of the living God no one survives, so you better unpack and come clean right here and now. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
Peter is in good company. Isaiah is in the temple in Jerusalem. He sees God sitting on a throne, just the hem of God’s robe fills all of the temple. Fiery beings, maybe shaped like serpents, attend to God, they have six wings and a face and feet, and they sing, “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the fullness of all the earth is God’s glory!” The foundations shake and the house is filled with smoke.
What else would we expect Isaiah to utter than this, “Woe is me! I am lost, undone, I am a man of impure lips, and I dwell among a people of impure lips.” Everybody knows that the presence of the living God kills you.
Same thing with Paul. He loses his eyesight for a while when Jesus confronts him. To the folks in Corinthians Paul sums up his state of being as someone born prematurely, not living, dead up to the point he was in the frightening presence of Jesus, the risen Lord, who gave him an entirely new life. Paul says, he was as good as dead, but now finally lives.
In the presence of the living God we dissolve and with us our, shall I say, old Adam. God offers release: cleansing, forgiveness, do not be afraid.
Next thing you know the voice comes or Jesus says: You are hired, I am sending you. You will from now on share this life abundantly; with the spilling out of the Word of grace and justice and mercy you will attract countless people, people who have ears to hear and eyes to see. And hear and see they will.
You may think back to Isaiah, who gets this terrible mission to speak God’s word to the people of Judah so that their eyes will remain shut and their ears stopped up. It torments him and he asks, how long do I have to do that? Well, it is a way to prepare Isaiah that he will be unpopular because God’s word addresses issues people don’t want to hear: rampant social and economic injustices; the ruling class corrupt and drunken, throwing out all sound ethical behavior and modeling.
Sisters and brothers, when we are sent, what we are called to do is likely not really in our control. Yet, God’s word and call is trustworthy, even a hard one, because God’s mercy and grace sets people free and they admit their failings, injustices, sinful, greedy and selfish nature. That is a hard work.
The boat is still overflowing, sisters and brothers. Even now, even today God’s liberating, healing, directing word is still abundantly available, proclaimed, offered. We, you proclaim it all the time, in so many ways, here inside the church and out. Through our work, our listening, our guiding, our sharing, people are still met by the overwhelming presence of God, our creator and redeemer. It happens that people find themselves in inner turmoil, change what they’ve done up to now and follow what is the urgent, right thing to do. There are among us people of all ages who I have seen perceive and respond to God’s life changing and life healing presence.
The miracle-parable of the over-abundant catch of fish runs somewhat counter to how we presently assess our culture and our time. We are rather skeptic or depressed or fearful regarding the future: future of society, future of the church, future of creation, future of the nation, the world. It takes energy not to be dragged down, not to get angry, not to get divisive, not to get uncompromising.
But what if divisiveness, anger, painting things in dark colors is part of a strategy, to get us fearful, to make us forgetful, to make us distrust the foundations of our faith and our society?
As baptized and called daughters and sons of the living God of Israel and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our perspective has been changed for us. We are freed and forgiven. We have eyes to see and ears to hear. Not all is bad, not all is good. We can differentiate. We can listen and we can speak up for when laws are broken and people diminished.
We can grow with the challenges of our time because we are church, a ship into which the love and grace of Christ have been poured out. In the communion of saints we are protected, secure, supported and guided.
Yes, we will have to find out every so often anew what our call is. We have set out to do so as a congregation, nearing 75 years in 2020 and wanting be known as a healing place. May God’s word and Spirit abundantly spill over to guide us, to steer us and cheer us on. Amen.