The Adventurous Lectionary – The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany – February 10, 2019
Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 138, I Corinthians 15:1-11, Luke 5:1-11
Get ready for a wild ride! Strap on your seat belts and put on your helmet! We’re entering the amazing realm of the Twilight Zone, Narnia, and Hogwarts, an enchanted world, wild and wonderful, where mysticism and miracle, signs and wonders, where God shows up and turns our world upside down. Where God asks, and then empowers us to be more than can imagine!
Isaiah’s mystical experience in the Temple awakens us to the possibility that there may be “thin places” everywhere, as the Celtic Christians say. Places where the veil between heaven and earth is pierced and we see life as it is – Infinite. Where God’s grandeur abounds and angels guide our paths. In a time of political upheaval, Isaiah comes to the Temple, perhaps looking for a moment’s rest or a wider vision on the affairs of the nation. The great king Uzziah has just died, and uncertainty is in the air. Uzziah’s leadership brought safety and stability to the land. His steady hand gave the people confidence in the future. But, what now? Will the next ruler be wise and strong, or unsteady and prevaricating?
Out of nowhere, God shows up – a theophany that rocks Isaiah’s world. Angels chant “holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is filled with God’s glory.” The doors of his perception open and Isaiah experiences the majesty and wildness of the world – the mysterious, fascinating, and tremendous, as Rudolf Otto proclaims. He is speechless, overwhelmed by his intergalactic vision and his own finitude. His imperfection and mortality compel him to bow down in unworthiness. You are God, and I am a mortal. My best actions are finite and imperfect. My nation is fallible and prone to injustice. Woe is me! Woe is Jerusalem! Woe is the USA!
Yet, recognizing one’s finitude and imperfection opens the door for God’s initiative. Just as he is without one plea, as the hymn asserts, undefended and transparent, Isaiah receives God’s transforming and healing touch and a blessing beyond belief. He is anointed by fire, and then given a task. “Whom shall send?” The God of the universe needs someone to speak the divine word to a thoughtless people. God needs our gifts and creativity to transform our social order and bring our nation back to holiness and justice.
Isaiah’s encounter with God is a model both for worship and the spiritual life. Grandeur and praise lead to confession and forgiveness, to divine affirmation, and then the call to commitment. In our finitude, we share in Infinity, in our sin, we share in blessedness. When we hear these words, “Whom shall I send?” what will our response be? Surely God calls us each moment of the day with nudges, intuitions, insights, and encounters. Will we discover the Infinite in the finite and then respond to be God’s humble and agnostic – not claiming to fully know or be the only repositories of divine revelation – representatives in the word?
Psalm 138 joins a sense of God’s grandeur, protection, and our faithful response. Confronted by a world of praise, we experience a sense of security that enables us to be faithful to God’s calling in our time and place. God’s fidelity inspires our own fidelity, and God’s power empowers us to be God’s companions and champions in our world.In I Corinthians 15, Paul proclaims the amazing resurrection story. There is nothing ho-hum here, and surely this was initially beyond belief to Paul’s listeners. Yet, Paul sees Christ’s resurrection rooted in history. It is an objective observable event, even if it pushes us to embrace the mystic dimensions of life. Paul also expresses his improbable calling – unworthy yet gifted by grace and called to be more than he ever imagined. Like Isaiah, Paul’s mystical encounter with the Living Resurrected Christ turned his world upside down and gave him the vocation of ministry with the Gentiles. This passage gives us confidence in God’s power in the world and invites us to consider our own calling. No one is bereft of God’s grace or power. We can begin anew despite an ambiguous past. God uses concrete and imperfect persons like us to God’s will – to embody God’s vision and be God’s representatives in the word. Resurrection inspires life-giving agency and a willingness to take our role as actors in God’s vision of wholeness.
The encounter of Jesus and Peter, described in Luke 5, also joins epiphany and theophany, our awakening to God’s appearance in our lives. God is present everywhere, but some places and persons are “thin,” as the Celts say, transparent to the holy, mediating divinity in our daily lives. The whole earth is full of God’s glory, as the angels sing, and yet most of the time, we are oblivious. God can come to us, as Christ did to Peter, in our failures as well as our successes. Not expecting anything, and disappointed over an unsuccessful night’s fishing, Peter is welcomed into a world of wonders. Jesus calls him to go further and despite his doubts, Peter follows Jesus’ advice and receives “more than he can ask or imagine.”
Peter’s experience mirrors the experience of many pastors and congregations. We have worked hard and sought to be faithful and yet our congregation shrinks in size, budgets are tight, and the demographics are against us. We have tried all the latest church growth programs and the downward trend continues. And, yet, God offers one more thing – launch out into the deep, go toward the horizon, awaken to new possibilities. Don’t give up, be faithful and join your imagination with faithful action, that goes beyond church survival to healing the world.
Like Isaiah, Peter is overwhelmed and protests his inadequacy. He knows his imperfections and he fears that he’s getting in over his head (which he is), and yet when Jesus says, “Follow me,” Peter and his friends join Jesus’ holy adventure.
Isaiah and Peter alike trust God to use their finitude and imperfection – the concreteness of their lives – to become blessings to the world. In the concreteness of success and failure, God calls us to see more deeply into reality, to expect more of ourselves and God’s blessings, and then respond, taking our place in God’s holy adventure of world transformation.
Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, and author of 50 books, including “The Mystic in You: Finding a God-filled World,” “Become Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims,” and “Process Theology and Celtic Wisdom.”