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Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Readings: Isaiah 6:1–8, 1 Corinthians 15:1–11 & Luke 5:1–11

How appropriate is it that our readings this morning talk of receiving and answering a call from God? Because in one form or another, all of us here this morning, have in fact recently received and answered a call from God, to a new form of ministry of our own.

Lynda received a call from God to ordained ministry, which she answered, and today she begins a new ministry as the Assistant Curate at St Aidan’s, in cooperation with St Andrew’s Aberfeldie.

I began a new ministry here on Wednesday as the Priest-in-Charge of St Aidan’s, again in cooperation with St Andrew’s, in answer to my own calling from God. And each of you, as parishioners of St Aidan’s, has in your own way, also answered a call from God, by voting to support the Cooperating Parish Arrangement with St Andrew’s, which marks the beginning of a new phase of ministry in the life of this parish.

In each of this morning’s readings, those who receive a call from God, doubt their worthiness, not just to receive such a call from God, but also to perform the ministry that comes with that call. 

When Isaiah receives his call, his initial response is to say that he is not worthy because he is a sinful man. But then one of God’s seraphs touches Isaiah’s lips with a hot coal and tells him that his sins have been forgiven. Isaiah then immediately accepts God’s call to become a prophet to the people of Israel. And in doing so he becomes one of the greatest prophets in the history of Israel.

Paul tells us in his First Letter to the Corinthians that he was the last person to whom the risen Jesus revealed himself, and Paul also tells us that he considers himself unfit to be a messenger of Jesus, because he had obviously been a persecutor of the early church. But we know that Paul, outside of Jesus himself, became arguably the most influential figure in the history of the Christian faith.

And in Peter’s case, when he witnesses the miracle that Jesus performs after sending Peter, together with James and John, out fishing, he realises that Jesus has come from God, and he doesn’t consider himself worthy to be in the presence of Jesus, because he himself is a sinner. Peter however, like Paul, goes on to become one of the greatest figures in Christianity.

Now I can’t speak on behalf of Lynda, or any of you for that matter, but I know from my own perspective, that I often feel unworthy of the ministry that God has called me to. I feel that, like Isaiah, Paul and Peter, I too am a sinner. But like each of them, I also haven’t been called because of anything that I’ve done to warrant it, rather I’ve been called, just like Isaiah, Paul and Peter, by the grace of God.

I didn’t wake up one day and say to myself, I am going to become a priest because I’ve got all of the necessary qualities and skills to be one, and because it’s what I want to be. Rather, it was a case of God using other people and events in my life to cause me to question whether or not I was, in fact, being called to ordained ministry. I remember talking about it a number of times with my Spiritual Director, and with several other people whose opinion I trusted, and I still wasn’t convinced.

But finally, when I actually became aware of God’s active presence in my life, I realised that He was in fact calling me to that ministry, and I also realised that everything that had happened in my life to that point, had happened so as to prepare me for the ministry that God was calling me to. I hadn’t intentionally acquired the skills and life experience that would equip me for ordained ministry, rather God did that, through the life I lived up until that moment in time.

This would certainly seem to be the case with Paul as well. Paul is believed to have been born in Tarsus, sometime between 5 BCE (before the common era) and 10 CE (the common era), and it is thought he was educated in the city of Tarsus, before relocating as a youth with his family to Jerusalem. More than likely he studied the Jewish Scriptures in Greek, and his education would have included the subjects of philosophy and rhetoric. He was a member of the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders who protected and promoted the Torah (the Law of Moses) among the people of Israel. And he was a self-proclaimed persecutor of the followers of Jesus. With a resume like that, who better to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to the non-Jews or Gentiles?

In the case of Peter, he was a fisherman, and no doubt was a hard worker. His occupation required patience, persistence and dedication; spending many long hours in the dead of night out on the Sea of Galilee trying to catch enough fish, not only to feed himself and his family, but also to catch enough to sell, so that he had money to buy the other necessities of life. It was probably not uncommon for him to return unsuccessful from his night’s fishing, which is exactly what we heard in our passage this morning. And I’m sure that the qualities and experiences he acquired in his time as a fisherman, prepared him for his ministry of “catching people”.

I wonder if this is true for each of you? I wonder if your own life experiences have shaped you for the ministry that God now calls each of you to? 

Today’s gospel passage is Luke’s version of the calling of the first disciples, and it’s quite different to that of the other Synoptic Gospels. For a start, Luke refers to the Sea of Galilee as Lake Gennesaret, and there is no mention of Peter’s brother Andrew being present, unlike both Mark and Matthew’s versions. Luke’s account also mentions that a large crowd was following Jesus waiting to hear the word of God, whereas in Mark and Matthew Jesus is travelling on his own. Luke also tells us that Jesus gets into Peter’s boat, and that he begins to teach the crowd from there. In Luke’s version, Peter, together with James and John, the sons of Zebedee, had returned from fishing all night, and they were all washing their nets. Jesus instructs them to go out again onto the Sea of Galilee, and to drop their nets. They catch so many fish that their two boats are in danger of sinking under the weight of their catch.

Luke mentions boats several times in his account, which is not surprising, because apparently at the time Luke wrote his gospel, a boat had become a symbol for the early church. By focussing on boats in the story, Luke is giving us signals that Jesus is about to lay the foundation for the community that will continue his mission after he is gone, and will extend it to the ends of the earth. There is also a suggestion that the press of the crowd which is mentioned in today’s passage, is actually the reason why Jesus looks for assistants to help him. One scholar refers to it as “humanity thirsting for life”, and that the disciples are to become “Jesus’ apprentices in the project of drawing people to the hospitality of God.

Whilst there are obvious differences between Luke’s telling of this story, from that of Mark and Matthew’s, one thing they all agree on, is that the response of Peter, James and John is immediate. The leave everything behind – family and possessions – to follow Jesus. This life of detachment from wealth and world possessions in following Jesus, is a central theme in the Gospel of Luke.

Peter is singled out in this passage, which is the first stage of his journey on the path to leadership among the apostles and the early church. And as we continue on our own journey of faith in the church, we should take heart at Peter’s example. Because his own admission of personal frailty and fragility, sets a pattern for Christian leadership: only those who have experienced and understand the depth of their personal frailty in the context of God’s graciousness, are suitable for leadership in the community of the church; a community that celebrates the hospitality of God.

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