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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Epiphany - 2/4/07

 In my Bible, the heading above today’s gospel lesson says, “Jesus Calls the First Disciples.”  The trouble is, that’s not really what he does in this story.  He does wind up with some disciples but the words Jesus usually uses when calling disciples are, “Follow me,” at which point they drop everything and follow.  In this case though, he never says that.  He does use those words later on in Luke, but with this first group of disciples, Peter, James and John, it’s different; he doesn’t really call them, he just tells them what they’re going to do: “From now on you will be catching people.”

Remember though, as we think about this story, we’re still in the season of Epiphany and the theme of Epiphany isn’t about the disciples; it’s about Jesus’ identity being revealed.  Up until now we’ve seen his identity revealed in his baptism, revealed in the miracle of the water turned to wine, and revealed as he gives his first sermon back home in Nazareth.  As his identity is revealed though, we do also pay attention to the response of others as they experience these revelations of Jesus. 

In the baptism of Jesus, there really is no response; in Luke anyway it is pretty much a private affair between the three persons of the Trinity along with John the Baptist.  In the water turned to wine, the response is mixed; some try to explain the miracle away by saying that the steward was holding out on the good wine; they want what happened to fit into categories they can understand.  But it also says that based on the same evidence, his disciples believed; they were willing to trust that something different was going on; so it’s a mixed response.  In Jesus’ first sermon back in Nazareth it’s also a mixed response, as at first the hometown crowd is amazed, but then outraged as Jesus keeps talking and they consider the implications of what he says.

In all of these stories, Jesus is revealed, there are epiphanies, but there is also response by the others involved and in today’s story the focus moves even more to response.  I’m pretty sure that’s what we’re supposed to be paying attention to because the first two lessons point us in that direction.  Sometimes the lessons on a given Sunday don’t connect very well, but today it really is a case of scripture interpreting scripture, the lessons kind of conversing with each other.

We start with Isaiah.  Isaiah was a priest, a man comfortable in the temple in the presence of holy things.  He was also a prophet…and a poet, a good poet.  Of course we recognize his poetry as prophecy but what we know of as the book of Isaiah is recognized even by non-church people as some of the greatest poetry of that time period.  Isaiah was a man of talent and stature who had reason to feel quite good about himself.  Yet when he experienced a vision of the Lord in the temple, any self confidence he had was shattered.  Fear and terror overwhelmed him and he was reduced to, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.”  That was his response to an epiphany, a revelation of God.  He was talented, but in the presence of God, he wasn’t worthy and he knew it.

Then we have Paul.  His story is pretty familiar, another person brimming with confidence, a Jew’s Jew as it were, persecuting Christians because he knew they were wrong.  He was defending his faith, defending his tradition, on the road to Damascus to round up more Christians for persecution and death until he was knocked to the ground by the presence of Jesus himself.  He was struck blind, left questioning everything that he was sure was true, left questioning his worthiness. 

Finally Peter, a fisherman by trade; I think we can assume that he knew his business, but he wasn’t having any luck.  It happens, sometimes the fish don’t cooperate so rather than fight it you take care of some basic maintenance and wash the nets.  Along comes Jesus.  First he wants to use one of Peter’s boats as a pulpit and that was OK.  Peter didn’t need it at the moment anyway.  But then Jesus started giving advice about fishing.  How do you like it when someone who knows less than you about something starts telling you how to do it?  I know I always respond well.

To Peter’s credit, despite some reluctance, he accepted Jesus’ advice and of course they wound up with so many fish that the nets were breaking and the boats were sinking, reducing Peter to a response of, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  Any worthiness he felt about himself was gone in the presence of Jesus, whatever and whoever he was.

These would be depressing stories if they ended where I left them.  We’re left with three people groveling and unworthy.  But we know there’s more.  Isaiah, the man of unclean lips, was perhaps the greatest of the prophets, announcing new possibilities to people when there didn’t seem to be any reason to hope for anything different.  But he imagined it, and they imagined it and it happened.

Paul, of course, became probably the greatest evangelist the church has ever known; some would call him the real founder of Christianity.  He got knocked down, but when he got up he changed the world in ways that few people ever have.

And Peter, as sinful and unworthy as he felt, did follow Jesus.  His following was far from perfect, the biblical accounts are pretty clear about that, but he followed becoming the disciple that many of us can best relate to probably because he is imperfect, because he is so human.

All three of these characters, Isaiah, Paul and Peter were overwhelmed by the awe and mystery of God.  I sometimes think that this is a dimension of God that we lose sight of; we develop kind of a cozy, warm fuzzy, buddy-buddy relationship with Jesus which can be OK, unless we forget that there’s more.  Some of us get so into study of the Bible or theology that we lose sight of the awesome nature of the character behind it all.  The God of the Bible is not an academic problem to be solved, as interesting as that might be.  The God of the Bible is a mystery to dwell in and consider, but dwelling in and considering that mystery we are reduced to unworthiness.  As Isaiah, Peter and Paul found, God is God and we are not.  In the presence of this awesome God our sin is revealed, and we are unworthy.

It would be depressing, if we didn’t know the rest of the story and the rest of the story is that God can and does work through us, despite our unworthiness.   Unworthiness is not an excuse.  Maybe you think, I can’t serve on the church council, I can’t be on the stewardship committee, I can’t teach Sunday School; I’m not good enough, I don’t know enough.  You might be surprised.  It might take a recommitment of time and energy, but you might be surprised what will happen when you let God in and let him work with you.

I didn’t go to seminary until I was 39 years old.  There were a number of reasons for that but one of the big ones was I wasn’t good enough to be a pastor and I knew it.  The idea of going to seminary had kicked around in the back of my mind off and on since I was in college, but I knew myself too well and I wasn’t good enough.  Until, at some point I realized, I’m not good enough, but God has given me some talents and abilities that could be used in ministry.  Maybe he can overcome the not good enough part. 

So here I am, some 15 years later, still not good enough, and I know it, believe me; but here I am, by the grace of God, able to serve.  None of us is good enough, that’s a given.  If we were there would be no need for Jesus.  We’ll always be unworthy, we’ll always be sinners and we do need to know that, we do need to come to terms with that.  But we also need to know that we are forgiven sinners and that tells us that our unworthiness is no longer an excuse. 

You may not be called to ordained ministry, or maybe you are.  But God is calling you to do something.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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