“Setting Sail” reflection for February 6, 2022 by Christina Brennan Lee for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C.
Based on the readings for Sunday, February 6, 2022; Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13); Psalm 138, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Luke 5:1-11
Isaiah 6:6-8 says — One of the seraphs … holding a live coal … touched my mouth with it and said, “…your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send…” And I said, “Here I am, send me!”
Psalm 138: 5, 6a, 9a says — All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, when they have heard the words of your mouth. They will sing of the ways of the Lord…The Lord will make good his purpose for me… O Lord, your love endures for ever…
Saint Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:1a, 10a says — I would remind you…of the good news that I proclaimed to you … by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.
Jesus, in Luke 5:4b, 6b, 8, 10b, 11b, says to Simon — “Put out in the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” …they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break… When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”… Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” …they left everything and followed him.
In religious circles – as well as secular – we often hear and/or use the word “call”. For example, “I/She/He/They are called to ordained ministry, working with homeless shelters, political activism, or medical training, etc. In the lessons and the Gospel, and to some extent in the Psalm appointed for this week, we are hearing the language that expresses a calling.
The dictionary defines “calling” in this context as,
1: a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence; and
2: the vocation or profession in which one customarily engages.
We also use the word “commission” when one has been more formally launched into her or his chosen path. And that is defined as,
1: an instruction, command, or duty given to a person or group of people; and
2: a group of people officially charged with a particular function.
One can decline a call and quit a job, but that divine spark, that still small voice within that nags and niggles will continue to make itself known whether or not you accept the call. When a sense of a divine call is allowed to bubble up, one may then be commissioned to engage with it throughout the entirety of one’s life, in many and various and surprising ways.
Isaiah engages us immediately with his vision that places him in the presence of the Divine. In the Lord’s presence, Isaiah declares that he is unworthy as a man of unclean lips. The description that Isaiah then gives when the seraph touches his mouth with a burning coal makes me want to put ice on my lips! Seraph is the highest order of angels and that informs us that this encounter is clearly significant.
The angel tells him that now his guilt has been sent away and his sin is blotted out. God speaks asking “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah answers, “Here I am, send me.” He then clearly accepts the commission of the Lord who tells him all that he must do. When Isaiah asks, How long, O Lord? the answer is stark. It is a very long time indeed.
For the Psalmist, the call is accepted within his heart and all the kings of the earth will be commissioned when they hear God’s words, and “sing of the ways of the Lord.” Presumably, this will be enough for the kings to reign accordingly.
Paul’s calling was abrupt and startling as we read it in Acts 9 and it is Ananias who is then called to commission him on behalf of Jesus. In this letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminds us of his own feelings of unworthiness when he tells us that Jesus also appeared to him as he had to many others. Paul, feeling especially unfit as a persecutor in his former life, now speaks of his sense and earnestness of mission in his words, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain… I worked harder… though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
And then we come to our favorite fishermen. Jesus calls them to go to the deeper water with their nets. You can almost hear the sigh of Simon, who, weary after a full night of fishing with no yield, says, “…if you say so, I will…” Simon has perhaps felt the call and although he is still uncertain, he follows an instinct and does as Jesus says. In a parallel to Isaiah and Paul, Simon stunned by the overly abundant haul of fish, and realizing the reason, spontaneously tells Jesus to go away from him because he is a sinful man.
The initial commissioning for Simon (who becomes Peter), and for all those with him, comes with the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” And they all accepted by leaving everything to follow him and embark on an unexpected new life. Later, they are given the Great Commission by Jesus after the Resurrection [Matthew 28:19-20] which fills the rest of their lives.
Isaiah, the Psalmist, Paul, Peter and those who became disciples/Apostles, were in it to win it for God, for Jesus, for the abundant catch of people, for whatever came to them and at them for the length of their lives. They acknowledged, accepted, and obeyed the call.
We, too, are what we are by God’s creation. Now all we have to do is acknowledge that we are each called by God to discern and accept the commission through the words of the Gospel, then work it every day so that God’s grace within us is never in vain. The Good News in Christ is that we are in this together, setting sail in smooth seas and rough with the breath of God in our sails.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Every week, Christina Brennan Lee writes the Prayers of the People we use in our worship services on Sundays. She also leads weekday prayer services and serves on the Vestry. Click here to see her People’s Prayers website.