By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
What sort of invitations can we expect to hear from God? Let’s consider this question. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
One day Isaiah turns up in the temple at Jerusalem, and there, much to his surprise, he sees the Lord in glory, a figure so tremendous that the hem of his robe alone fills the vast spaces of the temple.
Surrounding the Lord are attending angels known as seraphim. Like fans at a football game, they are cheering, shouting so loud that the great building itself starts to shake. And do you know what it is they shout?
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.
The whole earth is full of his glory!”
If these words sound familiar to you, it’s probably because they are the basis for words we use to praise God, what we call the Sanctus. Later in this service, we will join with the heavenly chorus in offering this song of praise, this mighty cheer to God.
Isaiah, however, is shocked and dismayed to see the Lord God there before him. He laments his sinfulness and that of his people. Then something happens that Isaiah is not expecting.
One of the seraphs, God’s angel attendants, picks up a hot burning coal from the altar. (Altars then looked like barbeques today because sacrifices were burnt on them}
The angel picks up the hot burning coal using a pair of tongs. (Apparently even angels must be careful with fire.)
Then the angel presses the coal against Isaiah’s lips, burning away his sins. (Only angels may do this. Do not imitate such behavior at home.)
The angel pronounces a sentence of absolution; Isaiah’s sin has been blotted out.
But what has happened is only the beginning. Now the Lord’s voice sounds forth: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” The Lord has a mission to assign.
What it involves he does not say. But Isaiah, newly free from his sins, volunteers; “Here I am. Send me!”
This is the story of Isaiah’s call. It happens one day in the temple. Moreover, we are told that it happens in a particular year, “the year that King Uzziah died.”
The death of the king, any king, brings with it instability and uncertainty. Will there be a smooth succession? What changes will occur? Will the next king rule justly and effectively, or will the people experience oppression and chaos and suffering?
It is during this uncertain season that Isaiah sees the Lord high and lifted up and accepts an invitation, not without pain, to speak on behalf of the Lord. Some would call Isaiah foolish for doing this. Better to play it safe.
But Isaiah accepts the difficult, life-changing commission. He becomes a prominent prophet in ancient Israel, the founder of a succession of prophets responsible for the biblical book named for him. Isaiah foolishly agrees to bring the Lord’s message to the people during a challenging time, starting with the year that King Uzziah died.
The foolish acceptance of an invitation appears in another story we heard this morning, that one about Jesus and Simon Peter and a large catch of fish.
Simon the fisherman is in his element. Boats are part of his business. He has the sunburn and the muscles to prove it. He’s let a new rabble-rousing rabbi use his boat as a floating pulpit to speak to the crowd on shore. This young rabbi, Jesus by name, is done talking, and asks Simon to put out into deep water. No doubt he wants to leave the crowd behind, and so Simon obliges.
Then the rabbi tells Simon, “Let down your nets for a catch.” How foolish! What’s this landlubber talking about? All through the night Simon worked, and has nothing to show for it. The area’s empty of fish. The nets have been painstakingly washed and put away. Besides, now is the wrong time of day to start fishing. You can’t expect a miracle.
But this rabbi sounds right, and so Simon tosses out the nets. This familiar task now feels novel. He’s doing what he’s done so many times, but now it is an act of obedience.
Moments later, his boat tips to one side, and looking down into the water, Simon sees his net alive with fish, more than he’s ever taken, the sort of catch that dreams are made of.
It’s all so wrong, his fisherman experiences tells him! Fish by the hundreds don’t crowd into a net, at that place, at that hour of the day. Yet it’s all so right: two boats are needed to haul this catch to shore. It’s enough to make tough old fishermen wide-eyed with wonder.
Simon’s boat and these familiar waters are now a holy spot, all because of the rabbi’s command. Awestruck, the burly fisherman falls at the feet of the rabbi, begs him to leave. Simon fears he will be blinded by eternal brightness.
Then Jesus ups the ante. Fish are fine, but Simon has a new task. Jesus will leave, but Simon’s to follow. He’s to catch people instead, and by catching them to set them free.
These stories of Simon and Isaiah reveal a pattern, a pattern that occurs in our lives as well.
It may happen at a time of crisis, the transitional year when the king is dead. It may happen some place where we know how life works. In either case a word of grace and power is spoken—directly to us. Will we hear this invitation?
Simon pays attention after a night of failed fishing and empty nets. Isaiah pays attention when old certainties no longer prevail.
God addresses us as well. He speaks a word of grace and power—now in a year of crisis, here in a familiar place.
God lets Isaiah overhear the divine pondering: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
Jesus offers Simon Peter the startling suggestion: “Put out in deep, and let down your nets for a catch.”
Do you hear the Lord’s invitation addressed to us, here in this familiar place, now at this challenging time?
Like Isaiah, like Peter, may we pay attention and dare to act.
I have spoken to you in the name of the God who is not yet done extending foolish invitations: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2009 Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.
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