Rev Dr John McCulloch
St. Andrews Jerusalem and Tiberias
Sunday 10th February 2019, 5th Sunday of Epiphany (year C)
Isaiah 6:1-8 & St Luke 5:1-11.
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you o Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Holding onto hope in an uncertain world
Over the last few days I have been re-reading a novel that I had to read for school at the age of 14. The novel was written by the Jewish Czech author Franz Kafka, who was writing at a time of great uncertainty, in the early years of the 20th century. Throughout his fiction, the themes of uncertainty, loss, fear, loneliness and guilt feature heavily.
The novel in question is entitled The Trial, and tells the story of protagonist Joseph K., who is arrested one morning in his home for reasons he is never told.
Much of the novel consists of him trying to prove his innocence, in a cruel and uncertain world. At one point in the novel Joseph K exclaims:
‘I cannot find my way in this darkness’.
Uncertainty and fear are of course feelings that we all face at different times in our lives. At times, we can feel like Joseph K, as we struggle to navigate through a world of darkness and confusion.
Our OT reading from Isaiah 6 is set at a time of great uncertainty. King Uzziah had reigned for 40 years, and his death brings about a situation of real uncertainty. But look at the prophet’s reaction in verse 1: ‘In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord…’
Isaiah was able to say this, because he viewed the world through the eyes of faith, through the eyes of hope. This enabled him to belie that God was present; even during difficult times.
Seeing is a matter of the heart, not just a matter of the eyes. How I see the world around me is primarily dependent on the condition of my heart. If I harbour bitterness and anger in my heart, this will affect the way in which I see those around me. If my heart, by the grace of God, is full of love and compassion, then I will see the world differently.
Isaiah sees the Lord, high and lifted up, his train filling the temple; and in verse 3 we read how the seraphims exclaim ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory’.
As we look out onto our world of uncertainty, of fear and violence; can we, through the eyes of faith, see him enthroned? Can we, by God’s grace, see our world through the eyes of hope?
The prophet catches a glimpse of the holiness of God, which causes him to recognise his own need. In verse 5 he exclaims: ‘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 glory of the Lord’.
Someone once said that ‘no one is so lost as he who thinks that he is not lost’.
This lies at the heart of the human condition.
And we too can become blinded to our own need.
We can live as those who are lost, and like Joseph K in the novel The Trial, feel that we are engulfed in a darkness that we cannot shake off, living in the fear of an uncertain world which is full of menace and threat.
But when, by the grace of God we are made aware of our need, God always comes, and meets us where we are, and lifts the burden of guilt from our shoulders. Joseph K in The Trial lives under the burden of guilt, but he never knows why he is guilty. His life is crushed by carrying the burden of guilt.
But how wonderful it is that we serve a Holy God, who is slow to anger and full of compassion, and comes to us again and again, with the promise of grace and renewal.
In verses 6 & 7 of Isaiah 6 we read, the burning coals ‘has touched your lips, you’re your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for’.
How wonderful it is, when the guilt is lifted from our shoulders, and we are free to live as God intended us to live!
In verse 8 we read of how the prophet hears the voice of the Lord saying ‘whom shall I send, and who shall go for us? Then I said, ‘here I am, send me’.
It is when our eyes have been opened to who we really are, and when we seek for forgiveness, that the burden of guilt and fear is lifted from our shoulders; and we can hear the voice of God, calling us to be his hands and feet to this hurting world.
God is calling us again this morning.
He is calling us to himself.
He is calling us out of fear and darkness.
He is calling us out of the crushing guilt in which we so often live, and he asks of us the same question:
‘Who shall I send’
O that we would be able to respond as Isaiah did: ‘Here I am, send me’, for Christ has no body here on earth but yours.
Santa Teresa of Avila expressed this beautifully when she said:
Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
Jesus is here, and he is calling us to cast our nets into the deep. At times we can be like the disciples in the gospel story, and we strive in our own strength through the night, and catch nothing. Jesus tells them to cast their nets into the deep, and they do so in faith, and their nets are filled with fish.
Will you cast you net into the deep things of God?
Will you trust in God’s word?
Will you allow God to transform your heart, so that as you look out onto this world, you can join with the prophet Isaiah and say, ‘in the year when King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord’.
May God give us the eyes to see and the ears to hear, what he is doing in our world; and may we respond to his gracious call with the words:
Here I am Lord, send me.
May it be in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning was now, and evermore shall be. Amen.