The fourth Sunday before Lent
Readings: Isaiah 6. 1-8; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15. 1-11; Luke 5. 1-11 (view all)
I can still remember the first time I saw someone on the street preaching. My Dad and I were on a day trip to London, when I was quite young, and I heard this man with a bible shouting out to whoever would listen.
We were a Church family, so I expected my Dad’s response to be happy, but I remember being surprised when his response was embarrassment instead. He mumbled something and quickly ushered the two of us off out of the way.
Today’s gospel reading is one of those often used to talk about evangelism — sharing our faith with others. In particular, the verse where Jesus tells the fisherman, Simon, ‘from now on you will be catching people’, is the origin of the phrase, ‘fishers of men’ in other bible translations, often used to describe the role of the Christian as an evangelist in the world.
So, how are we called to share our faith with others? And how should we go about sharing our faith in today’s complex and sophisticated world?
There are many parallels today between our gospel reading, where Simon, who will later be called Peter, encounters Jesus, and our Old Testament reading, where Isaiah encounters God in a powerful way.
When Simon Peter encounters Jesus, and Isaiah encounters the glory of God filling the temple, their response is the same. Both have a realisation of their own brokenness and their own inadequacy in comparison to God’s greatness: ‘Woe is me! I am lost,’ says Isaiah, and Simon Peter falls at Jesus’ feet, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’
Sin is often considered a dirty word in today’s culture, an outdated, archaic term from the times when the Church was bent on making people feel bad about themselves, and dictating how people should live their lives.
However, when we go deeper, we realise that sin isn’t just about avoiding doing the wrong things — sin is about the fundamentally broken state of our world, and our need for something more, someone more.
Conversion, coming to faith, begins with realising our own desperate need for God, for Jesus.
But what is God’s response to us? What is his response to Isaiah, and what is Jesus’ response to Simon Peter?
In both cases, it is to give them a new sense of purpose, a new calling and a new ministry, to share God’s love with the world. Even though they are unable to see anything of value in themselves, God sees something of value in them. And this morning, no matter how down you might feel about yourself, God sees something of value in you!
Isaiah, the prophet with unclean lips, is told to go and speak on God’s behalf, and Simon Peter, the fisherman who couldn’t catch a fish all night, is told that from now on he will be catching people.
Their call to share with others flows naturally out of who they are, but this time empowered by God’s presence and blessing.
And so our call to share our faith with others should be the same. God doesn’t call each of us to find a street corner, stand on our soap box and shout at whoever comes past. But he does call us to share our lives naturally with those around us — to be willing to speak openly about our faith and its impact on our lives.
To talk about how faith changes our own understanding of the world and informs our ethics and values. To share words of love and hope with those around us when we can see they are suffering.
An authentic life of faith, lived with honesty, openness and integrity, is the most effective way, perhaps the only effective way, to share our Christian faith in today’s suspicious and skeptical world.
Just as in our NT epistle, Paul describes his own purpose to pass on the faith which he himself has received to the Corinthians — so we, too, are called to pass on to others the faith with which we, ourselves, have been gifted.
So, will we recognise our own need for God’s help in our lives, inviting him to make us new? Will we share the faith we have received with others, openly and honestly, trusting that God is at work in their lives as well as ours?
How can we be a Church family who make our faith attractive and engaging for others to hear and receive?
When we are able to recognise our own need for God’s grace, and openly and honestly share that need with others, then we are truly able to discover what it means to live as God’s people.
I want to finish with a prayer written by John V. Taylor for his enthronement as Bishop of Winchester in 1975, but which is still very apt as we reflect on our role in the world as Christians today:
Lord Jesus Christ,
alive and at large in the world,
help me to follow and find you there today,
in the places where I work,
and make plans.
Take me as a disciple of your Kingdom,
to see through your eyes,
and hear the questions you are asking,
to welcome all with your trust and truth,
and to change the things that contradict God’s love
by the power of your cross
and the freedom of your spirit.