A sermon by the Rev. Linda Harrison
Epiphany 5; February 10, 2019
Isaiah 6:1-13; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
“Last of all, as to one untimely born, Christ appeared to me … but by the grace of God, I am what I am. God’s grace toward me has not been in vain. I have worked harder than any of them – although not I, but the grace of God within me.”
The one who seethed hatred and violence against those who proclaimed Jesus, the one who held the coats of the people stoning fellow Jews who preached Christ crucified and risen, yes, that one, now himself preached Christ crucified and resurrected.
Paul describes himself as “one untimely born” – ἔκτρωμα (ektroma) – as one ripped from the womb, stillborn, premature, a birth that takes place contrary to the normal course of nature. Paul describes himself as one who is unfit, one abruptly called and unprepared for the task to which Jesus called him on that road to Damascus. Paul is not yet fully formed, fully equipped, fully developed. And yet, by the grace God, Paul is able to proclaim the message of Christ. Paul testifies that it is God’s action, in grace, that enables Paul to preach the message of Christ.
It doesn’t matter where in Paul’s spiritual development or formation he may be. The grace of God is sufficient to the task.
Who among us does not feel capable to the task to which God calls? Who among us feels sorely unprepared at times? Jeremiah said he was only child. Moses said he was slow of speech. Isaiah said he was a person of unclean lips. And yet, God’s grace was sufficient for each of them to do what God called them to do.
Stepping up while feeling not quite prepared … it’s not unlike parenthood. Ask any person who is a parent – no matter the age of our child, or how many children we have. Ask any person who is a parent and I am certain none of us will tell you we knew what we were doing right from the start or felt sure we were up to the task. Indeed, as the parent of an adult child, I still do not feel adequately prepared to be a parent. And yet, the vast majority of parents muddle through on intuition and with community and familial help, all grounded in a huge dose of God’s grace.
Simon Peter said they’d already worked all night long. He was tired. I’m sure he just wanted to finish cleaning the nets and go home, eat a little something, and get some sleep. They had caught nothing … and yet, Jesus commandeered Simon’s little boat and then simply requested that Simon Peter let down the nets again, so he did. Why? Was it trust? Was it resignation, an attitude of ‘sure, whatever, I’ll do it just so I can get you out of my boat sooner so I can go home’?
Whatever the reason, Simon became a witness to God’s awe-inspiring abundance – abundance rooted in God’s astounding grace. Simon was unprepared for such a revelation, falling at the feet of Jesus, Simon Peter begged Jesus to depart from the sinful person he was. Yet, the grace of God is more than sufficient. There is no announcement of forgiveness of sin; it is presumed – grace is present and grace is sufficient. Jesus pulls Simon gently to his feet and says, “Do not be afraid” – which is a favorite line for this gospel writer – “from now on, you will catch people in my name for the sake of God’s love.”
Through grace, those anglers left everything behind to follow Jesus. Were they prepared for the task ahead and the call of Christ upon their lives? The gospel witness answers that with a resounding and absolute, no. They continually misunderstood Jesus and the mission and ministry to which Jesus, and they, were called. However, the grace of God was with them, always.
God always seems to choose the unlikeliest of characters to work through: the youngest son and shepherd to rule the Chosen People, a man with a speech impediment to lead the Hebrew children from bondage, a young peasant woman to bear the Only Begotten, one who was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of Christ to bring that very message to the gentiles. A carpenter’s son. Fishermen. You. Me.
This is our God. This is our God in Christ, who continues to come to us day after day, whispering, “Don’t fear; you’ve got this, I promise because My grace is sufficient. And my grace is here in community. You are not alone.”
This is our God, who calls us to do the hard work of loving the unlovable ones, caring for the forgotten ones, listening to the silenced ones, offering healing to the broken ones and reconciliation to the ones who spread malice and hate. This is our God, who invites us to catch other human beings in the net of Jesus’ love, by the grace of God.
It’s daunting work. It’s exhausting work. It is sometimes maddening and frustrating work.
And you are indeed prepared for the challenge, because the one who triumphed over fear and hate is the one who has called you. The one who overcame death and the grave whispers to you, Do not fear, I am with you, today and always. Therefore, with Paul, we say, The grace of God within us equips us for the work to which God has called us. With Isaiah, we say, Here I am, God; send us.
Blessed be God forever.