Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Isaiah 6:5
Isaiah said, "There is no hope for me! I am doomed because every word that passes my lips is sinful, and I live among a people whose every word is sinful.

1 Corinthians 15:9
I am the least of all the apostles Ė I do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted Godís church.

Luke 5:8
Simon Peter fell on his knees before Jesus and said, "Go away from me, Lord! I am a sinful man!"


Go away from me!

"I saw the Lord," a young man exclaims. He goes on to describe what he saw. He witnesses first hand God sitting on his throne in heaven; he observes the majesty and glory of the Lord and hears those gathered around the throne of God call out to one another, "Holy, holy, holy! The Lord Almighty is holy! His glory fills the world." The voices of those praising God were so loud that the foundations of the temple shook as if there was an earthquake and the smoke of God's divine presence filled the temple. There are those moments when the veil of heaven is stripped away and we cry out with Peter when he saw Jesus in all his glory talking to Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, saying, "Lord, it is good that we are here!" "What a fantastic moment! This is so exciting!"

But todayís Bible readings bring us a different message. Yes, we see the almighty God on a throne in all his glory and Jesus doing what only God can do, but this doesnít lead those in God's presence to be filled with joy, but rather, they are filled with terror. When Isaiah saw the glory of God, he said, "There is no hope for me! I am doomed."

In the Gospel reading, Peter was sceptical about letting down the nets again after an extremely unsuccessful day of fishing. He was the experienced fisherman and it was clear the fishing was no good and here was a man, whom he believed knew little about fishing, telling him to try once again. Out of respect he did and he witnessed an enormous haul of fish from the exact spot where he had been fishing all day and caught nothing. This was a fishing story that none of his mates would believe.

When Peter looked into the eyes of Jesus that day out in the fishing boat, it was as if he was looking into a mirror; a mirror that reflected exactly what he was like. Every secret thought, all the good little things he had done for all the wrong motives, the way he lived his life and every selfish and unkind moment were there for him to see. In Jesusí eyes he saw reflected there his lack of trust, his failure to see who Jesus really was and his scepticism. Who can endure looking into such a mirror for just a moment? And so he fell to his knees saying, "Go away from me, Lord!"

The readings today are in agreement. To come into the presence of the God who is so loving and wonderful in every way, makes us suddenly aware of all the ways we have betrayed that love in the way we live our lives. We become aware of how much we have kept God at an armís distance; the way we have unreasonably judged people and dealt with them unfairly. This kind of meeting with God is not filled with overwhelming joy; rather fear, panic, dread and terror are felt in the presence of the holiness of God. No wonder Isaiah says, "There is no hope for me! I am doomed".

Even Paul in the reading from 1 Corinthians recognises his unworthiness to be an apostle. He has just finished talking about the message of the gospel, especially the death and resurrection of Jesus and his post Easter appearances to the disciples. But he sees himself unworthy of being an apostle. He feels his sin should exclude him from being ranked among the other apostles and so he says, "I do not deserve to be called an apostle".

Isaiah, Paul and Peter became acutely aware of their sin when they were in the presence of the glory, the power, the majesty, the perfection and purity of a God who is so totally opposite to what they were. They knew that God looked further than the outward appearance; he looked into the heart (1 Sam 16:7). There is nothing we can hide from God. He knows our deepest thoughts and desires; he sees our most hidden sin.

The theologian Karl Barth once said, "Only Christians sin". For non-Christians sins are peccadilloes, slipups, trifling mistakes, small potatoes, nothing too serious. Christians see sin as a huge gap between our loving, forgiving, seeking Saviour and us.
Sin is a radical break with God.
Sin is a gorge so deep that we can't get across it.
Sin is total separation from God, and there is nothing we can do about it.
Sin is part of us, inside of us, and shows itself in the selfishness and hurtful things that we do and say. Most of time, we arenít even aware of the affect our sin is having on others.
Even the most trusting moment, our sincerest worship, our most earnest prayers, our obedience, our sincerity are all affected by sin. In the light of the glory and love of God what we consider our best and purest actions are still filthy rags. We read in the Bible, "We are all infected and impure with sin. When we proudly display our righteous deeds, we find they are but filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). In God's presence our reaction is the same as that of Isaiah and Peter Ė "I am doomed".
"Go away from me, Lord".

But letís be honest, how many of us think of this when we walk into this church on Sunday morning. Who thinks about the filthy rags of sin they are wearing;
there is not one good intention,
not one act of the will,
not one good deed that is not corrupted by sin?

There are some who say that confessing sin has no place in a Sunday morning worship service. I, for one, am glad that we do but I wonder if we become just a little bit too blasé about the confession of sin in our worship and in the Lordís Prayer when we say, "Forgive us our sins". We say the words without any real appreciation of how unworthy we are to stand in the presence of God; how opposed God is to everything that is evil in our lives. When we say, "We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have failed to do. ... We deserve your eternal punishment", are these just words spoken with no real appreciation of just how serious the situation is? Even our confession of sin is flawed. We are unworthy of being called children of God.

I doubt if we can ever do this fully, however, if we can grasp just a little of how devastating our sin is to God then we can know something of the wonderful release and freedom and joy that the cross of Jesus gives us. In each of the Bible readings today we see this happen.
No sooner had Isaiah said, "I am doomed because every word that passes my lips is sinful", than an angel took a burning coal from the altar and touched his lips and God said, "This has touched your lips, and now your guilt is gone, and your sins are forgiven".
Peterís plea for Jesus to go away from him because he was a sinful man was met with the assurance that he was worthy of being a disciple and that from now on he would be catching people.
Paul is totally aware of his unworthiness to be called an apostle but he states boldly, "By God's grace I am what I am". He has been forgiven, he has been called and he is determined that God's grace will not be wasted. He will preach Jesus Christ and he has done for him and what God's grace can do for everyone.

Sin will always be a part of our lives while on this planet and yet we are accepted by God because of what Jesus has done for us on Good Friday. God comes to those who are totally helpless to do anything about their situation and welcomes us home. God does the impossible; he accepts the ungodly. He says to us as he said to Isaiah, "Your guilt is gone, and your sins are forgiven." The blood of Jesus has set you free. Jesus has closed the gap in our relationship with God and has declared, "Your sin is taken away".

Even when our feelings tell us that God could not possibly forgive us, or when our faith gives way to doubt, that doesnít change our status with God one bit. God loves us, Jesus died for us, God has accepted us and thatís all that counts. Thatís the beauty of the gospel in all its simplicity. Itís grace; itís free; itís a gift.

But that's not the end of it.
After Peter had made his confession of sin, Jesus gave Peter and his friends a commission. "From now on you will be catching people."
After Isaiah had been cleansed of his guilt, he hears the voice of the Lord ask, "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" And Isaiah replies, "Here am I. Send me!"
The apostle Paul travelled the world taking seriously Jesus command to go into the world and make disciples.

When we come here to worship we hear God speaking to us his assurance that his love never fails, that his forgiveness endures forever, and we receive from him the body and blood of Jesus that conveys to us the forgiveness and love that we see on the cross. At that point we are then sent out to "go for God"; sent out to be his disciples in our fallen world. We are sent to make a difference Ė not add to the troubles that already exist in our world and in the lives of the people around us and in our church, but to be a light of encouragement, support, and comfort in the lives of others.

Itís so easy to walk out of here as if we hadnít encountered God in all his holiness and grace in this place. Itís easy to leave here on Sundays and nothing has changed in us. Donít look at others and see what has or hasnít happened in their lives. Only look at yourself. God comes to you; he touches you with his love; he changes you and now looks for your response that should go something like this, "Here I am! Send me to make a difference in the church, my family, the world."

Let's not excuse ourselves with the plea, "Master, we have worked all night long and caught nothing. We tried but the task seems all too hard."
May the Holy Spirit create in us a new heart, a new mind and a new will to be his people doing his work being less judgemental and more understanding, less focussed on ourselves and more loving toward others. God grant us this in the name of Jesus.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
7th February 2010

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