I wonder if you’ve had the experience of coming to the end of your tether with something. Standing back for a time the mental and emotional fog clears and you see a clear way forward.
God protect you all the same from any diocesan stand back concerning your pastoral vacancy! Even if it keeps priests like me in a job! I’ve been covering vacancies at the Ascension in Haywards Heath, Balcombe and St Bartholomew, Brighton. The first two are filled, thank God. My old parish of Horsted Keynes is also getting a priest two years after I left. Yes, we need a parish priest here as soon as possible - but even with a priest you won’t lose a materialistic culture indifferent to the things of the Spirit such that folk trickle into Church nowadays.
We need strategies but we also need serendipity, alias the surprises of the Holy Spirit. This is true for us as individuals and as a Christian community. Its precisely when we stop ourselves pursuing what’s proving useless that we become open to receiving what the Spirit has to bring. All we do is nothing worth unless God blesses the deed.
Such thinking flows from and now back into our scripture readings for the fifth Sunday after Epiphany where we read of how Isaiah, Paul and Peter are brought to their knees and get up changed to help change the world around them. As we get on our knees this morning let’s invite such transformation for ourselves, for the impenetrable situations we live in, for Holy Trinity, Lower Beeding, for Sussex and the world. So here goes - a little engagement with the word of God.
Isaiah in our first reading is brought to his knees in the year of King Uzziah’s death by a vision of the Lord surrounded by angels crying holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. His glory fills the whole earth. It's the verse placed at the heart of every eucharist, a verse aweing us to think how different God is from us. It awed Isaiah. I am lost he says. Put in his place he is made open to serve God in a new way. Here I am he says to God. Send me. It's almost a contradiction, isn’t it? When God shows us we’re nothing in the same breath he shows us he needs us!
Then in the second reading the apostle Paul, recalling the factual basis of Christian faith, confesses putting himself last of all the resurrection witnesses. God had to throw him off a horse on the Damascus Road to demolish his pride. The Lord reinvents proud Saul as humble Paul confident no longer in himself but in God who raises the dead. I am the least of the apostles; in fact since I persecuted the Church of God, I hardly deserve the name apostle; but by God’s grace that is what I am, and the grace that he gave me has not been fruitless. I wonder whether you’ve ever had a dressing down from God in your life? A time when your faithfulness was shown to have cracks in it? When you lost it loving or believing God or neighbour? Such times, brought down by circumstances, discovering your inadequacy from God with fresh discovery of his own love and adequacy for your life. As Paul writes later in Corinthians: ‘our sufficiency is of God’ (2 Corinthians 3:5). What a delusion self-sufficiency is? Think of your funeral - where will you be at that?
Today’s Gospel shows Our Lord tackling Simon Peter’s self sufficiency. ‘Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch’. ‘Master,’ Simon replied ‘we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets’. And when they had done this they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear… when Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man’. Interestingly St Luke changes Simon’s name to Simon Peter here, as Saul got changed to Paul, recalling Christ’s renaming him as ‘the rock man’ elsewhere in the Gospels. Only as Peter professes his nothingness before God is he made aware of God’s acceptance of that yoked to God’s love for him and his need for him. Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch’.
We are gathered, brothers and sisters, to encounter the same God who made Isaiah, Paul and Peter aware of their nothingness. With Isaiah we cry I am one of unclean lips. With Paul we profess it’s by God’s grace I am a Christian. With Peter we say, as we already said in this Eucharist, Lord, I am a sinner. All three were privileged with a vision of God that both put them in their place and affirmed them. This can be for us if we can see beyond this Sunday hour the awesome yet accessible God revealed in Jesus Christ.
So awesome he brings us to our knees! So accessible he takes us and uses us as his instruments of service in this place.
The Lord show us afresh both our lamentable insufficiency and his glorious sufficiency!
Lord, I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed!