Sermon for Fifth Sunday after Epiphany 2-6-22
Story time in the Hoffman household can become a little bit of a tussle. You see there are four kids and only two next to Mom on the couch. Someone claims they can’t see. Move back, your head is in the way. You got to sit next to her last time, You always do. As kids jockey for position and view and their coveted spot before too long the whole thing explodes and we have to start all over.
Jesus attracted crowds. There wasn’t enough room for everyone. It was hard to see, remember Zacchaeus had to climb a tree to get a view. It was probably even harder to hear, out in the open, no microphones. People would naturally try to jostle closer, get a better spot, so they could see and hear him.
On this occasion Jesus was standing right on the shore of the lake and it just so happened that Peter’s fishing boat was right their dragged up on the shore. This was the perfect solution… Put out a little ways, then people could spread out along the shore and they could all see him, no one would have an obscured view, this bowl of people along the shore would even form a sort of acoustic dish to hear him better.
And Luke doesn’t report a single word from Jesus’ teaching that day. We don’t know what he said. Apparently that’s not the point of the story. It’s what he did that mattered. Once Jesus had wrapped up his teaching and since they were in the boat anyway he told Peter to put out further into the water and let down the nets.
Peter gave a skeptical reply. He was a professional… They fished at night and by the way they had just fished all last night with no luck at all. Daytime would have been for selling the fish or washing the nets as they had been doing. But trying to gather schools of fish with dragnets while the sun was shining brightly was foolish. The fish are much too deep during the day.
Still Peter complied and found the nets breaking they were so full. As they were straining trying to haul in the catch they gave a nod to the other boat to come along side and help them.
If all Peter cared about was fish he should be jumping up and down. What a catch. I mean that’s the kind of catch that could make your whole month.
Peter should have been ecstatic but instead he fell down at Jesus feet. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.”
You see in that moment Peter didn’t care about fish or his business or profit margins. Peter was a fisherman and he knew that was an unnatural catch. Those fish weren’t supposed to be there, they couldn’t be there… It’s like when you just know something is way off and the hairs on the back of your neck go up and Peter realizes he is in the presence of true power. But not just power, holiness.
And when you stand in the presence of holiness your own unholiness by comparison becomes apparent.
You ever keep a white t-shirt a little too long? It’s turned yellow? Maybe you still think it looks fine until you see it next to a brand new white shirt and then, oh… yeah I think it’s time to pitch this.
If you truly enter into God’s awesome presence I guarantee you will not be cocky and full of smart alecky questions… no you will be on your face. Peter wasn’t a bad guy by human standards but in that moment he ran smack dab into true divinity and he was afraid.
And then comes the word:
Do not be afraid.
Isaiah in his vision of the throne room of God had the same reaction as Peter… The seraphim flying around the throne with six wings each chanting Holy Holy Holy… the foundations shaking, thresholds quaking, God’s voice shaking the whole room smoke everywhere
Isaiah in the presence of Holiness says
Woe is me. For I am lost.
I am undone… I am nothing… I cannot stand, I cannot sit, I cannot exist in the presence of this Holiness.
Isaiah saw perfection and all he could say was I am unclean. A man of unclean lips, dwelling in the midst of a people with unclean lips
Aren’t we all. How many unclean things have passed over our lips even in the past days let alone a lifetime.
Woe is me.
But God’s servant a seraph flies in with a coal from the altar and touches it to Isaiah’s lips
“Behold this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
You see, when we draw near to God are worried that our sin, our uncleaness will somehow stain God and so we want to pull away, anytime we really get a glimpse of his holiness our instinct is to pull back. Remember Adam Eve the first thing did after they sinned was hide.
But it is in fact the exact opposite, Our sin does not stain God, His righteousness takes our sin away.
I give credit to Peter for getting the point of the fish immediately. The fish don’t matter. They will either be eaten or sold or rotted in a few days. Benjamin Franklin said that both fish and houseguests begin to stink after three days. No it’s not about the fish.
It’s about the realization that you are sitting in a boat with God.
Just as much as Isaiah was in the throne room. In that moment God’s throne was a small fishing boat in on Lake Galilee and Peter realized where he was and he said ‘Woe is me.’
As we gather as his people in our little corner Charlevoix County, we can be assured that we are encountering a Holy God. When we gather for the purposes of worshipping God, we can be assured that angels worship alongside us. We can be assured that God himself is present. And as such we are in the presence of Holiness.
Woe is me.
But do not be afraid. Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. Touch this burning coal to your lips… take and eat, this is my body, this is my blood poured out for you.
I don’t need fancy lighting or smoke machines to try to fake it. I just need to trust the promises of God to know it’s true.
In the boat with God is a scary place to be… God is all knowing, all powerful, and there is no where to hide in a little boat. But then again is there any place you’d rather be? Is there any place better than to be close with God? It’s also the safest place in all creation because we are then in his hands.
“Depart from me,” our heart says. “Be not afraid,” Jesus replies now you are fishers of men… as we become comfortable with having God in the boat with us, we let others know as well… know that there is more to life than catching more and more fish, that there is something more important.