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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sermon: Changed by God's Presence

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl
Luke 5:1-11

Once upon a time, there were two people who were visiting the Grand Canyon. They were on the horseshoe-shaped skywalk with glass floor, taking in the sights around, above, and below them. The first person, seeing the vast awesome creation, began to praise God. “What an awesome and incredible God we have, look at this beauty, the intricacy, the artistry, the immensity…it is all so wonderful to take in.” The other person, looked around, above, and below around, went to the edge of the skywalk, spat over the edge, and watched the spit fall, fall, fall to the bottom far below. And after a moment said, “That’s the first time I ever spat a mile.”

People respond differently to God some are driven to praise and wonder, others just spit, others run, still others confess. In our readings today we have three stories of people’s responses to God or Jesus, as he manifests God’s presence in the world, we hear the responses of Isaiah, Paul, and Simon Peter.

Isaiah is the first story we hear (Isaiah 6:1-13). One day Isaiah sees the Lord sitting on a throne, it must be an awesome sight. The hem of God’s robe fills the temple and these winged creatures called Seraphs are flying around praising God saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is filled with his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). Isaiah does not spit in God’s face, but instead he says, “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!” (Isaiah 6:5) In the face of God, Isaiah sees himself for who he truly is, that he is unclean, that he is not worthy to be given this honor of seeing God.

But then one of the seraphs flies to Isaiah, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touches his mouth with it and says: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out” (Isaiah 6:7). Then Isaiah hears the voice of the LORD saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” It is not a specific call to Isaiah, but a general call that is put out there for anyone to respond. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” However Isaiah responds to the call, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8) Isaiah is changed by this encounter and answers the LORD’s call to be a prophet who will go and speak to God’s people.

The apostle Paul use to spit in the face of the things of Jesus because they were not what he expected, that is, until he had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Paul use to be a persecutor of the church but after meeting Jesus he became a follower and a witness to Jesus. It was a humbling experience for him when he came face to face with God in Christ Jesus. Paul realized his unworthiness, in retelling his story in 1 Corinthians 15 he says, “I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10). He, who once was full of his own importance and spat in the face of Jesus, now confesses his sin and his unworthiness. He sees that it is by the grace of God that he is anything at all. Paul is changed by the encounter with Jesus and goes on to be a witness and he is then persecuted for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Simon had met Jesus before this fishing incident, in fact Jesus had been in Simon’s house. While Jesus was in Simon’s house “Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them” (Luke 4:38-39). Even though Simon does not spit in Jesus’ face in response to this event of healing, the experience also did not bring him to his knees. Then Simon experiences Jesus’ preaching, that too does not bring him to his knees. Once again he doesn’t spit in Jesus face, however when Jesus tells him to put down their nets one more time, he puts up some resistance, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5).

It is not until they caught so many fish that their nets begin to break and after they filled two boats full to overflowing with fish, that Simon falls down before Jesus saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” because he is amazed at the catch (Luke 5:8-9). Neither Jesus’ healing nor preaching could bring him to his knees but this experience did. Simon is changed by this encounter with Jesus. He leaves everything, his family, his job, his hometown and follows Jesus.

Isaiah, Paul, and Simon Peter respond differently to the Holy One. However, each are changed by God’s presence and each go willing to follow and serve.

These are only a three responses to the Holy One, there are others in the scriptures which have different outcomes, in which some are driven to praise and wonder, others just spit, others run, still others confess. Why the different responses to the Holy One? Because it is scary to meet God /Jesus face to face. The initial meeting is scary and so is the outcome because we will be changed. When we are changed, we give our lives in service to God and others. Isaiah was changed so that he answered God’s call to speak a tough word to God’s people. Paul was changed so that he proclaimed and followed Jesus instead of persecuting Jesus’ followers and became persecuted himself. Simon was changed so that he left everything to fish for people. Meeting Jesus is scary because we can be changed, but we don’t always let Jesus get that far, we bail out too soon.

Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier when he sped up at the precisely the point where other people slowed down because the plane began to rattle as it approached that “barrier.” Yeager held on through the rattling and finally broke the sound barrier.

We can hold on through the scary rattling of change in the face of the Holy because we have one that will hang with us through it all. God won’t bail out. Jesus hung in there on the cross so that he can hang with us through the scary, and the rattling experience of God’s presence.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, God’s presence in awesome, it is scary, it is powerful and it will change us. Being a follower of Jesus will at times require us to give something up or do something new or risky. But Jesus hangs with us through the awesome, the scary, the powerful and the change, so that we will not be alone but we will be changed when we leave everything and follow him.

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