A sermon preached by Assistant Curate Rev Richard Hutchins on 10 February 2019 – 4th Sunday before Lent
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
In late January I spent a very few days away on retreat – a working retreat suggested in part of my curate’s training. The function of the retreat was to review, prayerfully, the year gone by and see what that might mean for the year ahead. It was satisfying to find much to reflect upon and I’m still processing the meaning of those reflections. One topic, one question that my mind kept being drawn back to was the question of Evangelism.
I want to talk today for a very few minutes on the one…and the one…and the one. Hopefully as we explore our bible readings it will be come clear what I mean. I want to start from a place where we have something good to share and it is something that the people we encounter day to day will benefit from hearing.
Who here has tasted failure? Has anyone ever set out to do something but not managed to achieve the hoped for outcome? Can I say that in the midst of that Jesus is drawing you, is drawing me to him? Think about Simon Peter – fisherman. Simon Peter has been up all night along with his crew, his friends and family. They’ve been out on the lake trying to make ends meet by catching fish – food to feed the family and produce to sell or barter for the other essentials of life. The night has been an abject failure – they have nothing to show for their efforts but mud and rocks that they’ve got to clean out of their nets.
All he wants to do is get the nets sorted, and then get home for some rest before the next night out on the lake hoping for better luck. There’s little point doing anything else because everyone knows that fish are best caught at night – if there had been any point continuing to try in daytime the I am pretty certain that Simon Peter would have been out there giving it a go!
But then the local minor celebrity – this carpenter from Nazareth who has been wowing congregations in synagogues, and is drawing crowds when he speaks, asks to borrow the boat to be able to better communicate with the crowd that is following him – perhaps also to have a bit more breathing space. In the midst of failure you say “Okay then”. He speaks for a while and then asks you to do the most boneheaded thing possible – to go and have another go at catching fish – IN DAYTIME! But because of who it is, his reputation and what you have heard – because of his status as a Rabbi, a teacher, you say “OK then” once more…and the shock of your life when it seems that the fish have nowhere they’d rather be than in your net.
This is the circumstance of Simon Peter’s calling to follow Jesus – and become everything that he would eventually be. In the midst of failure, Jesus said to Simon Peter in essence “Are you available for a minute?”. Everyone tastes what feels like failure at some time in life – sometimes small, sometimes big, sometimes catastrophic. People that we know are experiencing it in varying degrees today – we are probably experiencing it in varying degrees…at least some of us anyway. And in the midst of our erratic humanity, Jesus is calling – not just you and me but everyone. Calling everyone to follow him – to follow the Way, the Truth, the Life.
Christians are called to share the Gospel – the good news. Does it feel to you like you have good news to share with people? Is there something in what our gathering here each week is about that is worth sharing with other people?
Paul in our reading from 1 Corinthians directly sets out to remind the young church there of the good news that is the Gospel – that amazing truth that God’s anointed, Christ, Jesus came and died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, was buried and on the third day rose again. There is the heart of the gospel but to me it seems that many aren’t all that interested in a statement of that amazingly great, fantastic news. Some people are, but in our post-modern, individualistic culture we are quite likely to get a response to this most amazing good news of “That’s lovely for you”…but then hear again the words of Paul at the end of our verses today; “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” Here is a very clear statement of what that amazing good news, that amazing truth, has done in Paul’s life – his experience of God’s amazing grace.
If we believe the gospel then we have amazing good news to share – and what is particularly amazing about this good news is that it changes our lives; it changes us; it does something to and in and for us. Think about the peace that Chris spoke of a couple of weeks ago – peace beyond understanding. Those hymn words that Chris shared with us:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
That peace is one way in which the reality of the good news of Christ bears fruit. What has the good news done in and to and for you? Is there not something worth sharing in that? If the good news isn’t good for you then what is it all about – what is the point – what is it for??
And so we come to our Old Testament reading.
Isaiah and a vision of the glory of God in the temple. This is one of my favourite passages of scripture – the awe and wonder of the holiness of God, revealed to Isaiah – the consciousness that he cannot stand in this presence, that he is a man of unclean lips and must be purified – or be ruined. And the grace of God to provide the means of purification through the holiness imputed to the altar and to the coals on it. And the response of surrender – Here I am – send me. Out of the encounter with God’s holiness, the compulsion to take his message to the people.
As an aside I think it is interesting to note Peter’s reaction to the presence of Jesus in that boat after the fish had been caught and compare it with Isaiah in the vision of the temple. Peter recognises his own sinfulness and can’t bear to be in Jesus presence “Go away from me Lord” he cries. Isaiah declares that he is ruined because he is unclean and has seen the Lord God Almighty. a very strong parallel, and this continues in God’s response. To Isaiah to call him to be sent, for Simon Peter, for Jesus to call him to follow and become a fisher of men – a disciple of the rabbi. It seems that encounters with this sort of holiness lead to action; to following.
Christians are called in scripture to encounter holiness – indeed we are called to be holy, because God is holy it says in 1 Peter 1. What is this holiness? Well, holiness for us denotes being set apart for God. Does this mean isolation from the world? Not at all – we are called to be in the world but not of the world – that is practical holiness. Set apart for God right where we are day in, day out. And what is it that does this setting apart? It is the impact, the reality of the Good News, the Gospel.
In the presence of holiness God calls to go and share his words, calls to follow – calls us into that discipleship journey to be with Jesus, become like Jesus and do what Jesus did. All are called – and it is up to us what our answer will be.
And here we come back to the one…and the one…and the one. You see we have good news to share – through our lives but also in conversation by telling people how the news of Jesus is good for is in the nitty gritty reality of living. And that good news places us in a condition of being called (perhaps obliged or even compelled) to share that same good news. The only question is will we answer as Isaiah did – here I am send me; as Peter did – I will follow right here and right now whatever the consequence, where you lead I will go.
This is not a call to march out of here to every street corner, or overseas, unless that is the sense that you have of God drawing you on. This is a call to share good news and what it means for you with one person, and then one person, and then one person. It is up to them what they do with it.
I started this week at morning prayer asking to be shown the one person to share with this week – I had a clear idea of a name later that day and so I look for opportunities in my normal conversations with them to share what good my faith is to me. If that is something you could do then please borrow the idea.
I know there will be people here who already do this far more effectively and readily than I ever will – thank you for answering that call. My challenge today, which comes with an invitation to respond is that God is asking each of us to share good news, the best news, with those we know – and that call is universal; will you answer “Here I am, send me”? Before the response I want to advertise our forthcoming Lent teaching series; I know it can be awkward and difficult to share our faith – no matter how good the news is – sometimes we just don’t know where to start. So we are using material from a course called “Talking Jesus” that thinks about how we can be better prepared and practised to share our faith with people we meet. Do join in with that – it would be good to have as many of the church together as possible…even if you are entirely comfortable with faith-sharing because you can share your experience with others who are less so.
So it is time for response – God is calling us to share the good news of our faith and what it has done for us in our lives. Will you respond to that call – to seek the one…and the one…and the one? A physical action can help cement our sense of doing, so if you feel able to do so then will you stand in a moment as I pray for us, as a response to say “I’m willing”. I won’t be watching because this is not some self-satisfaction thing – it is purely a matter between you and God.