Isaiah 6.1-8(9-13) / 1 Corinthians 15.1-11 / Luke 5.1-11
On Wednesday I was driving into Cambridge early in the morning when, as I waited in the inevitable rush hour traffic jam on Madingley Road, I suddenly noticed that my fuel gauge was well into the red zone.
Immediately I was anxiously watching the miles to the nearest petrol station, and at the first opportunity I drove in with great relief to sort things out.
Similarly, when we suddenly catch sight of God it can bring into focus things in our lives which suddenly seem to need urgent attention, when before that moment we were going along quite happily.
God’s call in the Bible
This was the experience of the three men in our readings today.
First, we heard about Isaiah’s calling to be a prophet.
It’s as if he’s attending an ordinary service, the Jewish equivalent of what we’re doing here today, when everything in front of him vanishes and he’s presented with a vision of the heavenly court.
And his reaction to seeing God’s glory and power is not, “Wow, amazing!” but “Woe is me! I am lost…”
Then in our second reading Paul refers to his calling to be an apostle.
This happened, you may remember, on the road to Damascus, when Paul was setting off to find and arrest followers of Jesus and bring them to Jerusalem for questioning and possible execution.
Instead, he experienced a bright light, was knocked off his donkey, heard Jesus telling him he had got things wrong and ended up blind for three days.
And what Paul says about his calling is that he is “the least of the apostles, unfit to be an apostle…”.
Then, finally, we get our Gospel reading.
Here, Jesus provides Simon Peter, later of course the Apostle Peter, with a huge catch of fish after a disappointing night of empty nets.
Upon seeing the miracle that Jesus does for him in providing these fish, and realising at least something of who he is, Peter falls at Jesus’s feet and declares that he’s “a sinful man”.
There’s a strong theme running through all three of these stories.
It’s when Isaiah sees God in glory that he becomes aware of his own flaws and lack of righteousness.
It’s when Paul has a head-on confrontation with Jesus that he understands that he’s got everything wrong.
And it’s when Peter sees signs of God’s power in the catch of fish that he feels unworthy to be in Jesus’s company.
In all of these stories a close encounter with God leads to people realising their own weaknesses and failures.
But these are not stories about God overwhelming people in a kind of heavenly bully way.
And they’re not just stories about how inadequate we are in the face of God’s power and glory.
For although encounters with God can make us aware of our flaws and weaknesses, and the contrast between us and our holy and powerful God is striking, this is not where the story ends.
There’s a second theme running through these stories – one of equipping and sending out.
We need to see our need for restoration and forgiveness but God doesn’t take advantage of our vulnerability to overwhelm us and beat us down.
Instead he makes us clean, strengthens us, equips us and sends us out to do his work – even if we think we can’t do it.
Isaiah’s sin is blotted out by an angel with a burning coal, his guilt is removed, and he’s made ready to respond to God’s call to be a prophet to Israel.
Peter is told to not be afraid and given a new job of bringing people into God’s kingdom.
And Paul, of course, makes a complete about-turn from persecutor of the Church to one of its greatest apostles and evangelists.
God leads all three of these men from feeling they are unworthy to doing great things for him.
Isaiah is given the sign of the burning coal to reassure him that he’s clean and acceptable and that God is calling him to carry out the tasks of a prophet.
Paul is given an opportunity to undo his persecution of Jesus and his Church by becoming one of the Church’s champions and leading many more to the faith he tried to destroy.
Peter is comforted with gentle words and told that God has a job in mind that he’s confident he can do.
God’s call to us today
And I believe that God does the same thing today.
We might not have a dramatic encounter with God in quite the same way as we’ve heard about this morning, in fact few people do, but he does still speak to us if we’re willing to listen.
And we might come to realise that we’re not quite the amazing people we thought we were, or we might never have really felt that we were anything special, but regardless of that God is ready and waiting to cleanse, heal and restore us and enable us to be part of his work in the world.
This work may be surprising to us – I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d end up standing up and preaching to groups of people – but it will be work that we can do through the grace and power of God.
And although we may see great results, on the other hand sometimes we may not.
After all, Isaiah was misunderstood and both Peter and Paul were killed.
But the results of our work are in God’s hands, not ours.
Our job is simply to be faithful in doing the work God gives us, to say “Here I am, send me”, to go where we are sent and to say yes to God.
Our work is to do what we can, where we can, to bring news of God’s love to the world, to proclaim the Gospel in word and deed, and to wait until we hear God say to us at the end of our lives, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.