Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ
grace and peace to you from the one who makes us worthy. Amen
Our lessons for today,
though they speak of different events
tell the same story.
The story broadly goes like this.
The main character has an experience of God,
and while they are wowed by this experience
it also serves to highlight to the main character
just how inadequate they are in the presence of God,
the main character expresses to God
how unworthy they are
both for the experience and the notice of God in general.
God doesn’t debate this
but goes ahead and makes the main character worthy,
then provides a way for the main character to respond in gratitude,
which they do.
people experience their unworthiness,
God makes them worthy,
God provides for grateful response.
In our first reading
Isaiah tells of seeing God in the temple
surrounded by seraphs- a class of angel-
whose praise of God shakes the thresholds,
Isaiah’s response is: "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 expects to die
because he is unworthy and has seen the glory of the Lord,
but then one of the seraphs takes a hot coal from the altar
and touches Isaiah’s lips with it saying:
"Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out."
With this ceremony
Isaiah has been made worthy.
Then he hears “the voice of the Lord saying,
"Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"
and now instead of cowering in fear
Isaiah steps up and says “Here am I, send me”
Isaiah feels his unworthiness,
God purifies him,
Isaiah responds in gratitude.
In our gospel, it’s Simon and the disciples.
They’re cleaning their nets after a long night of fishing
while a crowd has gathered around their new pal Jesus,
the crowd is so big
Jesus is about to get pushed into the water,
so instead he climbs into Simon’s boat
and has him put out a ways so he can teach the crowd in comfort.
When he’s finished he tells Simon to take the boat out farther
and put the nets in to catch some fish.
Simon, who I’m sure is exhausted at this point
tells Jesus: "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets."
And at Jesus’ direction they go out
and put the nets in the water
and catch so many fish that the nets start to break,
they call for back up and the other boat comes out
and together they catch so many fish that the boats start to sink!
when Simon sees all this he falls “down at Jesus' knees, saying, "’Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’"
Simon knows that he is unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus.
But instead of going away Jesus stays,
and indicates that he wants to spend more time with Simon
saying "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people."
Simon is worthy enough to follow Jesus
and Luke tells us that “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”
Simon and the disciples feel their unworthiness,
Jesus affirms their worth through an invitation,
Simon and the disciples leave everything to follow Jesus.
Finally we have Paul,
who eludes to his version of the story
in his letter to the Corinthians
though the full version in the book of Acts follows the same pattern.
Paul or Saul as he is called then
is one of the people that is persecuting the followers of Jesus
after the resurrection,
seeking them to send them to prison or even kill them,
the people of the way are afraid of him
but they are still spreading the message beyond Jerusalem,
so Saul goes and gets permission to go to Damascus
to hunt down people there and bring them back to Jerusalem.
As he’s traveling on the road to Damascus
a light flashes around him
and he hears a voice saying
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (Saul) asked, Who are you, Lord? The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’” Acts 9:3-4
When Saul gets up he is blind.
Meanwhile Jesus also appears in a vision to Ananias,
a disciple in Damascus
and tells him to go find Saul,
naturally Ananias is hesitant to go
because he’s heard about Saul
but God tells him that he’s chosen Saul
to bring the message to the gentiles.
So Ananias goes and lays his hands on Saul
and prays for him
and something like scales fall from Saul’s eyes and he can see again.
He is baptized
then begins preaching the good news that Jesus is the son of God.
on the road Damascus
Paul experiences his unworthiness
in the presence of Jesus,
God makes Paul worthy,
through the healing of Ananias and Paul’s baptism,
and in grateful response
Paul begins preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.
Paul is unworthy,
God makes him worthy,
he gratefully responds
fulfilling the mission God provides him,
preaching to the gentiles,
Now Paul is writing to some of those gentiles,
who have also experienced this progression of events
when Paul came to preach to them,
they were baptized and formed a community
but now they’ve gotten off track,
Paul is writing to admonish them for a number of things
going on in the community
including failure to practice the Lord’s Supper in a way that honors all.
And here Paul demonstrates
that our story line is actually a story cycle
because we humans have a hard time believing
that God has truly made us worthy,
we have an incredible life changing experience of God
and we respond gratefully to God’s call
but after a while
we begin to doubt
because we know ourselves
and all the things that we have done and left undone,
how we’ve failed to love our neighbor as ourselves,
life is complicated,
God seems far away,
and pretty soon it feels like we’re back where we started,
and once again
God comes to us,
reminding us that we are worthy,
there is a place for us in the kingdom of God.
Paul has spent his letter to the Corinthians
detailing all the ways they’ve gone wrong
but here towards the end
Paul brings it back around saying
“Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand.”
he’s telling them,
you are worthy,
and look he says I get it,
I get that feeling of doubt
look at me “I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
But Paul doesn’t stop there,
he continues on “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.”
and goes on to detail how God was able to work through him.
By the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace toward me has not been in vain.
Repeat it after me,
hold on to these words
We are not worthy because of our actions,
we are worthy because of the grace of God,
God makes us worthy
in the font at our baptism,
and God reminds us we are worthy
over and over again,
in the bread and wine at the table,
with the words of confession and absolution,
through the body of Christ gathered here.
By the grace of God you are worthy.
By the grace of God we are worthy.
And now God has something in mind for each of us,
whether it is to be a prophet like Isaiah,
fishers of people like disciples,
a reminder like Paul
or something else entirely,
and because God has made us worthy,
when we hear God’s call
we answer: “Here am I, send me”
Thanks be to God, Amen.
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.