We have an interesting set of readings for today. Usually there is a thread running between them that creates a common theme. On one level that theme is being called to serve God. In our Old Testament it is the calling of Isaiah: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
In our 2nd reading it is the calling of St Paul: By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you,
And finally it is the calling of Jesus’ first disciple in Peter – Then Jesus said to Simon (also know as Peter), “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.
But what is extraordinary in these callings by God is the preparation. Before I was a Pastor I was a manager of a large multi-national Company and there was no expense spared in preparing me and other managers in pumping us up with self-confidence with no room at all for seconding guessing ourselves or showing any kind of weakness. When you were negotiating with customers you had to show them why they could trust you and have confidence in your abilities. But what we see here, in these 3 callings is a breaking down of that human spirit in order to allow God’s power of the Holy Spirit to be the driving force.
Let’s look at each of these 3 and what leads up to their calling by God. Isaiah, considered to be a major prophet of God;
He was privileged enough to see the Lord Almighty in all his glory and the angels attending him. So majestic was his experience that the pivots of the temple shook. But in preparation for his calling God breaks down his human spirit: 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!
St Paul, a leading Pharisee of his time. In Acts 22 Paul talks about his credentials when he was the Pharisee Saul: “I am a Jew. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished. But Paul now testifies that he considers that all rubbish in receiving his calling from God to follow Jesus: He says: Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
And finally Peter and his calling: A successful fisherman he has a bad night on the sea. Jesus calls him to cast his net again even though his previous attempts were futile. At the large catch of fish at Jesus’ request he realizes that his human efforts were nothing compared to the calling of Jesus and he realizes his own unworthisness: When Simon Peter saw the large catch of fish, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!
Isn’t it amazing that our human nature, when receiving a call from God, submits to the power and authority of Jesus rather than becoming boastful. They all admit their sinfulness rather than denying it or justifying it. We get a further glimpse in Paul when he is given the extraordinary privilege of having a glimpse of Paradise when called into Heaven while still alive. God breaks Paul’s human spirit to allow his Holy Spirit to be the driving force in his life: Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
So often we might look at ourselves when called to a position of service and decide – NO. I don’t have the gifts or abilities to fulfill that role. But we need to understand that a call from God is different to a call to serve in a human establishment.
Calls into human establishments are usually skills based or based on experience that you’ve had in other roles.
But God searches the heart when it comes to serve him. And that’s exactly what Paul discovers and points out in 1 Corinthians chapter 1. He says: Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
This sense of weakness and unworthiness affects us all and can create a sense of giving up: It is perhaps a feeling we can all identify with as this pandemic continues. Many are or have been close to giving up on ourselves We’re starting to believe that getting back to the way things were just over 2 years ago is not really possible. We’re starting to believe our efforts are futile.
This is the situation in our 3 bible readings – and there are many many more, and this is all too often the situation in our lives. This sense of uselessness can affect our faith but Jesus renews our faith and strength. This is quite evident in Peter.
He and his companions have been out all night fishing and have caught nothing. They will have nothing to eat that day and nothing to sell that day. They also may be doubting their skills and capability as fishermen. But Jesus comes into the situation, and everything changes‘ Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.
It is easy to give up when we are focused on our human efforts and this will plague Peter and the other disciples in the 3 years they spend with Jesus. How can we feed 5,000 with just 5 loaves and 2 fish. Lord don’t you care if we drown in this storm. And Peter, when he focuses away from Jesus and to his own abilities while walking on the water – help me Lord, I’m drowning. Just as Peter and the other fishermen were directed to cast their nets into the deep water – so too, as we face the challenges we face in life we too have to dig deep into our faith.
It’s particularly interesting in our Gospel reading that Peter having been downcast on the verge of defeat listens to Jesus and finds success. But notice what happens next. There are so many fish that his boat is about to sink. But unlike when walking on the water or rowing into a storm he doesn’t panic. He signals for help: They caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them.
When facing adversity and challenges we can often feel we are alone in this. So when we have this sense that we are in over our head with everything – we call for help. When our faith is failing we call for help from our brothers and sisters in the faith. No one is going to think lesser of you when you’re not coping. But we tell ourselves that. That’s why Jesus called to himself 12 disciples. That’s why when Jesus sent his 72 followers out he sent them out in pairs – not by themselves. He regularly took along with him Peter, James and John when going into a difficult situation.
When we rely only on our own strength we’re going to end up like our characters in our readings today: Woe to me, like Isaiah who thought he was going to die because of his sinfulness, Or Paul who thought he was the least of the Apostles and not worthy of being called an Apostle. Or Peter who did not feel worthy in the presence of Jesus – away from Lord.
We are to rely on God’s grace and acceptance despite our sense of unworthiness by human standards. And when we feel helpless, useless, out of our depth, let us remember who we are – and whose we are. In your Baptism you became a child of God – have you thought about that recently? When you come to Holy Communion you receive in your hand the fullness of God Almighty – the same God Almighty that shook the pivots of the temple and from which Isaiah thought he was going to die. You won’t die – in fact you will find life.
Don’t ever think less of yourself because you will be thinking less about God in whose image you were created.
And even Paul, the least of the Apostles and the worst of sinners discovered through Jesus – that by the grace of God I am what I am, And what I am – what you are – is a child of God, loved by God and one for whom Jesus Christ died.