February 2, 2020

Luke 5:1-11 and Isaiah 6:1-8

I know we have some folks here who enjoy fishing. I imagine some of you anglers have come home and told amazing fish stories. Fish stories often talk about the big one that got away or the bait that made the fish jump onto your hook.

Field and Stream had a fish story that caught my eye.[i] It was about a guy in Texas who used a rattle snake as bait. He saw the snake skimming along the surface of the water, coming toward his boat. He hit the snake’s head with his oar and stunned it. He then put his hook through the rattler and cast his line. A 10-pound largemouth bass took the bait. There were a few anxious moments as the fisherman was dealing with a big huge fish and rattle snake in his boat. He got a photo of the bass with the snake in its mouth before quickly releasing both of them. That’s quite the fish story!

The Bible tells a different kind of fish story. This story is about fishermen coming up empty after fishing all night. In this fish story a carpenter commandeers the boat and uses it as a floating pulpit from which to preach a sermon. He then tells the fishermen where the fish can be found, and hundreds of fish are caught. Our story ends with fishermen leaving their boats as they are invited to fish for people.

As I read this story this time, the thing that jumped out at me was not the miracle of such a large catch of fish, but of Peter’s response to Jesus. Our scripture tells us that when Simon Peter saw this huge catch of fish, his reaction was to fall down on his knees at Jesus’ feet saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Peter realized he was in the presence of one much greater than himself, and it humbled him.

There’s a contemporary Christian song “I Can Only Imagine”[ii] in which the singer/songwriter imagines what it will be like to meet God face-to-face. He sings: 

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel?

Will I dance for you Jesus, or in awe of You be still?

Will I stand in your presence, or to my knees will I fall?

Will I sing hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all?

I can only imagine!

For Peter, meeting God’s Son face-to-face made him fall to his knees in awe. As Peter recognized that he was in the presence of The Holy, he became aware of the reality of his own sinfulness. His reaction to this miraculous catch of fish was to ask Jesus to go away, out of a sense of his own inadequacy.

But Jesus was gracious, telling him not to be afraid and inviting him into the adventure of a lifetime, fishing for people. Our scripture tells that Peter and his fishing partners, James and John, brought their boats to shore, left everything, and followed Jesus.

As we hear this story, it’s an example of the call to discipleship. It starts with an awareness of our own sinfulness and inadequacy, followed by an experience of God’s grace, then a call to service, and a faithful response to that call.

As we read our scripture for today, we have another story that follows a similar pattern. The prophet, Isaiah, has a vision of being with God in the temple. Angels surround the throne singing: “Holy, Holy, Holy.” And what is Isaiah’s reaction to his encounter with The Holy? He responds: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” He is aware of his own sinfulness in the presence of the most high God and he is afraid. But God responds graciously. An angel brings a live coal to Isaiah, touches his lips with it and says, “Your guilt has departed, and your sin is blotted out.” The very next thing is a call to service. The Lord askes, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Now cleansed of his sin, Isaiah faithfully responds, “Here I am; send me!”

How do we respond to our experiences of God? Have you had an experience where God felt especially close to you? Maybe it was in nature, as you saw God’s handiwork in a sunrise or in the stars at night, and you realized how powerful and creative God is. Maybe it was at the time of the birth of a child, when the presence of God felt especially close as you witnessed the miracle of life. Or maybe it was at the bedside of a dying loved one, where that veil between life and death became especially thin, and you got a glimpse into eternity. Maybe it was here in worship, as we sang Silent Night while candlelight spread throughout the sanctuary, or as you encounter the living God through the sacrament of Baptism or Holy Communion.

I remember one of the first times I felt God to be especially close. I was in my bedroom at home as a teenager, reading the Bible. I came across the passage in John 17 where Jesus is praying for his disciples on the night before he is to be crucified. I got to verse 20 where Jesus prayed “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word…” and it hit me. Jesus was praying for me! I was one who believed in Jesus through the words of his disciples. The night before he was crucified, Jesus was praying for me! Jesus was crucified for my sins. It was an overwhelming feeling of Jesus’ presence with me at that time. I had a powerful sense of unworthiness, mixed with gratitude for God’s love.

As we experience God’s holy presence there can be many feelings. It can make us feel overwhelmed or very small. We can feel woefully inadequate and painfully aware of our own sinfulness, as Peter and for Isaiah did. Or we may feel comforted or grateful. It can bring a sense of real peace. We can have the sense that everything is going to be okay because God has got this!

The good news for each of us is that God loves us. God created us. God knows us for who we are at our best and at our worst. And God loves us all the same.

Each one of us is a beloved child of God, created in God’s own image. Just as every snowflake is unique, so too, each of God’s children is one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted by God. God made you with a personality and set of talents that are unique to you. God loves you for who you are.

God sent his Son, Jesus, so that your sins may be forgiven. Each of us is a sinner. Each of us falls short of the glory of God. But each of us is forgiven by the power of the blood of God’s Son.

Hard as it is to accept, it’s good to realize that we are sinners. It reminds us that God is God and we are not. Yes, we are sinners, but we are forgiven sinners. So we don’t have to feel ashamed or embarrassed.

When we recognize our own inadequacy, it is humbling. But we need to be humble to be in relationship with God. We need to remember that God is the Creator and we are the creation.

Once that relationship is established, God invites us into service for him and his kingdom. God entrusts with being his hands and feet. We are the ones God looks to, to do his ministry here today. We are entrusted with the holy responsibility of sharing the message of God’s love with the next generations. As each of us have come to faith through the witness of Jesus’ first disciples, future generations will come to believe in God’s love through our words and deeds.

We are in the fishing business. We are called to fish for people today. Fishing for people begins with telling others about why faith matters in our lives.

Over the last year we’ve been sharing faith stories. Last week Kris Koran shared her story. In recent months, many of you have shared your stories. I’m grateful to all of you who have shared your stories. And I’m proud of you. I know it doesn’t come easy to us Lutherans, but many of you have taken the risk to share the story of your life and faith.   Thank you for doing that! It is holy work!

Over recent years we have also shared with one another our answers to questions like: “What does Jesus mean to me?” and “What does Immanuel mean to me?” We have intentionally focused on inviting people to worship – “Each One Invite One.” Some of you have been mentors to confirmation students where you have had discussions about faith. Some of you have participated in one-on-one discussions through our Year of Renewal program, sharing your life and faith experiences as part of this faith community. Together we have asked the question “What is God calling us to do?” and we have opened our eyes to see, and our lips to tell one another about ways we see God at work among us. Well done, good and faithful servants!

My message for you today is “Keep it up, and build on it!” Immanuel is here with a mission to be “A welcoming community rooted in Christ, growing in faith and serving with joy!” As we share our faith, we live into that mission. As we reach outside our walls to invite others in, we fish for people.

Keep your fishing pole handy. Talk with friends and neighbors, tell them about how God is active in your life. Invite them to come to worship with you. Notice how God is at work in your life and tell others. As you do, you faithfully live into Jesus’ call to fish for people.

May God bless you in your witness and in your life of faith. Amen!

[i] https://www.fieldandstream.com/photos/gallery/fishing/bass-fishing/2012/05/best-fs-fish-stories-and-photos/

[ii] Bart Millad, Mercy Me, I Can Only Imagine, 2001