Whether you’re a life-long church member or hearing for the first time, God’s trying to get your attention and call you to follow, trusting you’ll be guided and directed.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Lectionary 5 C
Texts: Luke 5:1-11; Isaiah 6:1-8
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Fifty-six years ago today my parents carried me, twenty-two days old, to the baptismal font at St. Matthew’s in Worthington.
My truth is that from my earliest memories I have been part of a Lutheran congregation. I have worshipped very nearly every Sunday for these 56 years. I have heard the Gospel read and preached my whole life, I have sung the hymns of the Lutheran Church my whole life, I have prayed and walked with Christians my whole life. I can’t imagine what it would be like outside the Christian faith.
I have absolutely no idea what Simon Peter is going through. Meeting God’s Son for the first time as an adult and being called to follow could never happen to me. I expect many of you are the same. Some of us here came to faith later in life, but in the established church, most congregations are full of people with no other experience than being a member of a congregation.
Today Jesus grabbed Peter’s attention, and set a clear choice before him: follow me with everything you have, or don’t.
Have you ever known such an experience? Has God ever grabbed your attention, and showed a clear crossroads in front of you, a path to take one way or the other? The challenge of being an established congregation in an established church is that rarely do any of us have this moment of sensing something new from God and knowing we’re being asked to decide what to do.
Now, Isaiah is more like us than Peter.
Isaiah is a regular practitioner of the Jewish faith, like Peter, but he’s in the Temple, worshipping. It’s likely he has only ever known the worship of the One Who Is, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Yet on this day, Isaiah had a vision: the presence of God filling the Temple, so large that God’s hem filled up the immense interior.
And then God called Isaiah. God grabbed Isaiah’s attention with this awe-inspiring, terrifying vision, and set a clear choice before him: go where I send you, or don’t.
In Isaiah we see that even if you’ve never known anything but the faith you’ve practiced, even if you’ve always walked with people who shared your faith, God can still get your attention and set a crossroads in front of you, a path to take one way or the other. Established church or not, God’s not interested in us sitting on our status quo.
Maybe the question is, what is God doing to get your attention?
Isaiah’s vision feels like the events of Pentecost. Worship becomes this massively charged moment that can’t be avoided or unseen, whether it’s God’s hem filling the Temple or the wind and fire of the Spirit blowing through the believers. We don’t usually expect such things in our worship.
Peter’s crisis is also rare. An experienced fisherman knows what happens fishing at certain times and places, and he’s knocked over by a catch that is threatening to sink two boats, a catch that just shouldn’t be. Like Isaiah and the believers at Pentecost, Peter’s just seen something that clearly says “God is now present, in front of you.”
What do you do if you’ve never seen such things? This is why we might sit idly by. We haven’t seen sights like these. So maybe we’re not called like these were.
But you have seen and heard wonders from God. You have heard God’s Word, and have been moved to joy and tears by it. You’ve felt pulled into God’s love for the creation. You’ve seen the pain of God’s children and the suffering of the world and heard God say, “whom can I send?” You’ve experienced God’s forgiveness calm your heart, you have had a sense of God’s Spirit in you. In this very place, you’ve experienced God’s presence in worshipping with these people. Maybe what you’ve seen and heard isn’t as cinematic as these stories, but it’s no less powerful or real. Maybe what you’ve seen and heard hasn’t happened every week, but neither did these spectacles.
God is trying to get your attention, and in those moments you are no different from Isaiah or Peter.
And like them, every day Christ is saying, “Follow me, I have things I need you to do.”
Tiny choices of how you will treat the stranger you meet at the store or the driver of the other car. Larger choices of what you will do next in your life, or whether you will make changes to your lifestyle to join Christ’s blessing for the world.
God’s Word is filled with such calls, once you realize that, while your experience isn’t like exactly like Peter’s or Isaiah’s it is just as real, and that such crossroads as God places before you today have much the same clarity and much the same finality.
Because when you choose to follow, you choose to turn away from other things. Likewise, if you choose not to take Christ’s path this afternoon, or tomorrow, you choose to turn toward other things.
The question is: are you paying attention, and if so, do you see the crossroads? Then the only thing left is your answer.
A couple things can trip you up. The first is a sense that you’re not worthy.
Both Isaiah and Peter felt this. Facing the unmistakable presence of God, they both fall down and say, “I’m a sinful person! I shouldn’t be in God’s presence.”
But Isaiah’s guilt and sin are burned away. Peter is told not to be afraid, that he’s just who Jesus needs.
When we consider the immense, undying love we know from God, and then hear calls such as Paul’s call we heard last week, to love as Christ loves, we can feel our own imperfection and sin and weakness. To consider that you might be God’s chosen person to bear God’s grace and love to others can seem ludicrous.
So we make excuses, covering for our fear: I’m too old, there’s nothing I can do. I’m too busy, I can’t add anything to my life. It’s too complicated, there’s nothing I can do to make a difference. I don’t know what to do.
These are dodges, not reasons to stand still at the crossroads. But like Isaiah and Peter, God has something to say to your fear. Hear God’s words of grace to Peter as yours: “Do not be afraid.” Taste in Christ’s Meal the wonder that you are forgiven, your life cleansed by Christ’s body and blood. These are for you. These are your truth. So you can, like Isaiah and Peter and millions before you, stand up. And hear the call: “Follow me. I have need of you.”
The second thing is fretting about the details.
I can’t tell each of you right now what your crossroads are today, or what they’ll be tomorrow, or exactly what you should do. It’s easy to get stuck worrying about all the things you don’t know about following and never decide to follow. To get lost in the weeds of what might happen or what exactly God needs.
Isaiah isn’t told anything about how his ministry will work, what risks there are. Peter has no idea what it will be to fish for people, what crises he’ll face, or even what he’s supposed to do that day.
That’s always the way it is with God’s call: you hear it and you decide to follow. Or not. And if you follow, you trust God’s promise to always lead and guide you in the Spirit. The details will come later, and that’s where we help each other. We talk about our paths, about our call, and we help each other figure out the details of what it will look like today, and tomorrow. We listen to each other’s questions.
Don’t let the lack of details make you sit back into the pew and do nothing. The only question that matters is “Will you follow?” If the answer is yes, the rest will become clear.
This disconnect we sometimes feel between our lives and those of the biblical people called to follow can be dangerous and lead us to do nothing.
We can hear Peter’s call and Isaiah’s vision and decide we’re just fine as we are, assume we aren’t called. Because we didn’t experience what they did.
But the Triune God is seeking your attention, and has a path for you to follow. You are being called, you have crossroads before you every day, and choices to make.
So how will you answer God?
In the name of Jesus. Amen