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Sermon for 10 February 2019

First Reading                                        Isaiah 6:1-13

1In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” 8And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9And he said, “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” 11Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, 12and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. 13And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.

Psalm                                                          Psalm 138

1I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I will sing your praise. 2I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your Name, because of your love and faithfulness; 3For you have glorified your name and your word above all things. 4When I called, you answered me; you increased my strength within me. 5All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, when they have heard the words of your mouth. 6They will sing of the ways of the Lord, that great is the glory of the Lord. 7Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; he perceives the haughty from afar. 8Though 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. 9The Lord will make good his purpose for me; O Lord, your love endures forever; do not abandon the works of your hands.

Second Reading                 1 Corinthians 14:12b-20

12bStrive to excel in building up the church. 13Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. 20Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.

Gospel                                                        Luke 5:1-11

1On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on {Jesus} to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.


CNN recently carried a dramatic story about a pastor in South Korea who was at one time a trained killer.  His name is Kim Shin Jo.  If you have been paying attention to world news the past couple years, you know that North Korea has been a country of interest.  And despite overtures of nuclear disarmament, this is a country that has caused the world many headaches over the past couple of decades.  As I mentioned, Kim Shin Jo was originally a trained North Korean assassin.

Back in January of 1968, Jo and his team slipped into South Korea from the North in a daring attempt to kill the president of South Korea.  The team of 31 commandos made it to within a few hundred yards of the president’s residence before they were intercepted.  A fierce battle followed, killing 30 South Koreans.  All of the North Korean soldiers were killed, except one who escaped and Kim Shin Jo, who was captured.

After months of interrogation, and through a surprising friendship with a South Korean army general, Kim Shin Jo turned over a new leaf.  Later he would confess, “I tried to kill the president.  I was the enemy.  But the South Korean people showed me sympathy and forgiveness.  I was touched and moved.”  And so, Shin Jo started a new life.  The South Korean government eventually released Kim and over the next three decades he worked for the military.  He also became a citizen, and then married and raised a family.  Finally, he became the pastor of a church.  Reflecting on the day of his arrest, Kim Shin Jo commented, “On that day, Kim Shin Jo died.  I was reborn.  I got my second chance.  And I’m thankful for that.”

Sometimes we forget that by the wondrous grace of God, people can be changed in a miraculous way.  Our three main lessons for today focus on three men who experienced God’s grace in extraordinary ways.  It’s interesting how similar their stories are despite their different stations in life.  First, we have prophet Isaiah.  “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne,” writes Isaiah, “and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’

“Woe to me!” Isaiah cried.  “I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.  “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’  “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!’”  It’s an amazing declaration we have in scripture, “Woe to me! . . . For I am a man of unclean lips.”  A similar statement was made by Simon Peter in our gospel reading for today. 

Early in His ministry Jesus was preaching on the shore of Lake Gennesaret.  As we read this morning, the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and He decided to get into an empty boat that was at hand.  Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push out a little into the water so that He could sit in the boat and speak to the crowds.  When he finished speaking, He turned to Simon and said, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”  Simon, weary from an unproductive night of fishing replies, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.  But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”  Again, we have an important statement we need to take notice of, “because you say so, I will.”  Anytime Jesus gives us an instruction, we need to obey; it’s for our own good.

And because they obeyed, this time the nets were so full of fish that they began to tear.  In fact, it wasn’t long until both boats were so full of fish that they were about to sink.  Then the Scriptures tell us that when Simon realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”  What a wonderful confession, “I am a sinful man.”  Here we have two verses we need to remember, “Woe to me! . . . For I am a man of unclean lips,” and Simon Peter’s words, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”  But there’s one more person I’d like for us to consider.

Paul relates part of his story to us in I Corinthians 15.  This is the story of how the resurrected Christ appeared to the disciples‑‑first to Peter and later to the rest of the twelve, and then to five hundred more followers‑‑most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote‑‑and finally Paul writes, “Last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”  For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve 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 to me was not without effect.”  It’s the third verse I’d like to focus on here, “For I am the least of the apostles . . . because I persecuted the church of God.”  Hopefully you’ve picked up on the similarities in these three stories. 

The progression of the faith experience of these three important biblical figures is almost identical:  First, they’re made aware of their sinfulness and their inadequacy.  Secondly, they experience God’s grace.  And finally, they were called and equipped to serve God in mighty ways.  These are great stories of ordinary people and give us a pattern of how we too can be equipped to serve God in mighty ways.  But before we look at the three stages, we must accept the fact that all of us have been called by God through our Baptism. 

In Baptism we know that we received forgiveness.  We also know that in the waters of regeneration, we were adopted into the church, the Body of Christ.  In Baptism the Holy Spirit began a work in us, that we might have the faith we need to believe and to begin a life of service to God.  In essence, in Baptism we were Called and Gathered into the church where God works through me as your pastor, your parents, Sunday School teachers, youth leaders and so forth to prepare you for ministry.  It’s through our Baptism that we see this first stage of development that we, too, might become great men and women through the work of the Holy Spirit to development our faith.

It’s through the remembrance of our Baptism, that we are made aware of our sinfulness and our dependence on God.  And whileIsaiah experienced God differently, we can still see a similarity.  Isaiah writes: “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple . . .”  This was a magnificent vision of God that Isaiah was privileged to behold.  But his vision also elicited Isaiah’s response to beholding God’s majesty.  “Woe is me!” cried Isaiah, “for I am a man of unclean lips!” 

One could argue that Isaiah, as a prophet of God prophesying to both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, saw himself as a good and righteous man.  But suddenly, in the presence of God, he saw himself as he really was:  he saw that much of his righteousness was merely a sham, a show; something to parade before the world, but too superficial to build a satisfying life on.  Simon Peter probably thought that he had it made as well.  Remember, the Hebrew people saw prosperity as a sign of God’s approval and blessing.

Consider the fact that he owned his own fishing boat.  He was a successful small businessman.  He had his work, his family, and his health.  What more could anyone ask?  Peter didn’t know the answer to that until that fateful day when he crossed paths with Jesus of Nazareth.  He allowed Jesus–whom he was just getting to know–to use his boat as a floating platform from which to teach.  When he had finished teaching, Jesus turned to Simon and told him to put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch.

As Luke noted, Simon was weary and he answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.  But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”  And this time the nets were so full of fish that they began to tear.  In fact, it wasn’t long until both boats were so full that they were about to sink.  Simon was astounded as were the other fishermen with him.  Suddenly they realized that Jesus was someone special.  Jesus was more than some wandering Rabbi.  And Peter responds in almost exactly the same way as Isaiah.  He cried out, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”  Suddenly Simon Peter realized just how empty and meaningless his life had really been.  He was made aware of his sinfulness and his dependence upon God.  Look again at St. Paul.

Paul, like Peter, was called by a different name before he met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).  Saul was a feared persecutor of the early Christian community.  But then he had a blinding experience with Jesus on the Damascus Road and a radical change took place in his life.  Suddenly he was aware of just how misguided, cruel and vindictive his life had been.  It’s hard to believe that Saul the persecutor, could become Paul, the author of as many as 14 books in the New Testament including I Corinthians 13‑‑the greatest living document about love ever penned.  Only Jesus could make that change in a person.  And how did St. Paul describe his experience?  “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle,” he later wrote, “for I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9).

This is stage one in the development of a faith that will change the world.  In remembering our Baptism, we become aware of the amazing grace of God as revealed in Jesus Christ and we’re reminded of our own need of God.  This is also the reason so many people fail to give their lives over to God; they never really come to a realization of their need for God.  Instead, they live bland, mediocre lives at best.  Because these people never feel a need for God’s grace and mercy, they never experience it.  Step one in becoming a person God can use in amazing ways is to realize our need for God.  Step two is the blessed experience of divine grace.

When Isaiah cried out, “Woe to me!  I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips,” the seraphim touched Isaiah’s lips with a coal and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sins are atoned for.”  When Peter acknowledges his guilt and falls on his knees before Jesus, immediately Jesus tells him, “Don’t be afraid.”  And St. Paul writes, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”  Then Paul adds, “But by the grace of God I am what I am . . .”  Each of these three men was made painfully aware of their sinfulness in the face of the holiness of God, but they were also made wonderfully aware of God’s grace.  They knew their sins were forgiven and they were restored as children of God. 

Those of us old enough to remember the 1960s might also remember the so‑called “Jesus people” of that time.  The Jesus people were former hippies who came out of that world of drugs and free sex to become dedicated believers in Christ.  One of these Jesus people in Los Angeles told her story over the radio sometime back.  She was a pretty girl who had gone to Hollywood, hoping to achieve a career in films.  She met a man who assured her that he was a producer who would soon get her a major part in one of his productions.  You can imagine what happened, it’s the typical Hollywood story:  she slept with him in exchange for the promised part.  But it got worse.  He introduced her to drugs.  And when she became completely dependent on him for her daily “high,” he began pimping her to several men each day.

In moments of relative sanity, she was horrified at what she had become.  She was bitter with shame and shocked with fright.  One day she stumbled into a Christian coffeehouse, where a group of Jesus people understood her plight.  They took her with them to a house in which they lived as a community of faith.  They stood by her as she dried out, singing hymns and praying as she screamed in the agonies of withdrawal.  But in the depths of her suffering she suddenly had a wonderful sense of peace and love.  Jesus, she felt, was by her side.  She believed in Him.  From that point on she recovered quickly, and she knew beyond any doubt, that her moment with Jesus was the moment of her conversion.  I don’t think anyone here has reached the depth of degradation this girl experienced, thank God.  

However, if we’re to have a faith that transcends the ordinary, some time in our life, we must come to realize our absolute dependence upon God, and we must experience God’s power to make us into a new creation.  Such a realization will deliver us from living lukewarm, half-committed lives that are only partially satisfying.  Seeing ourselves as we really are, as sinners redeemed by God’s grace, forgiven and called in the waters of Baptism to live as adopted members of God’s family and being equipped in His church for work in His kingdom.  These are the first two steps.  The third stage of development is we are called to live a life of purpose.

The Lord asks, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?”  This is the same call we hear in the Great Commission.  Isaiah cries out, “Here am I, send me.”  Jesus says to the frightened Simon Peter, “I will make you a fisher of men” and immediately he follows after the Master.  And St. Paul acknowledges that because he persecuted the Christians, he was the least of the Apostles, but, he adds, that by God’s grace, he worked harder than any of them.  Each time we remember our Baptism, we acknowledge God’s work in our lives and of our need to give ourselves over completely to Him, to His mercy and to His plan for our lives.

It is said that Charles Wesley wrote his first hymn just three days after his conversion to Jesus.  That hymn was “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”  That was how exuberant he felt after his encounter with God.  “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing my great Redeemer’s praise . . .”  As the years passed, Charles Wesley is said to have written 6,500 hymns and gospel songs.  It’s ironic.  Wesley asked for “a thousand tongues to sing,” and through the singing of his hymns throughout the Christian world, God gave him millions of tongues to sing God’s praise–and we’ve been singing them for more than 200 years. 

Not everyone is going to have the kind of experience that Charles Wesley had, or Luther, or Isaiah, or Simon Peter or St. Paul.   But each of us, in remembering our Baptism, can experience God as He transforms our life into something more.  It’s in remembering our Baptism that we see ourselves as we really are—a sinner saved by grace and one who is totally dependent on God.  Second, we need to pray that God will help us in our daily lives to experience His amazing grace and power.  And finally, we need a sense of direction, lives patterned after the life of Jesus.  Then, and only then, will we become the kind of people God has created us to become.  People God can use in a might way.


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