Our OT reading last week was the call of Jeremiah. If you remember, J was told that before he was born that God had set him apart to become a prophet. J protested that he was too young and that he couldn’t speak well enough. But God touched his mouth and told J that he had put into his mouth the words that he would need to fulfil his prophetic role. More importantly, He told J not to be afraid because he would be with him always.
Similarly with Moses, he too made excuses because he felt inadequate for the task that God was asking him to do. Like Jeremiah, Moses felt he wasn’t a good enough speaker and that he really couldn’t do the task by himself, But God wasn’t asking Moses to work alone, his brother Aaron was to work with him and God reassured Moses as well with the words, ’ I will be with you always.’
This morning we’ve heard readings from Isaiah, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and a passage from Luke’s Gospel and I’m sure you will have noticed that throughout these readings, there is again, a feeling of the main characters feeling unworthy.
Let’s consider the Isaiah reading first of all .
Isaiah is generally considered to be the greatest prophet.
He was probably brought up in an aristocratic home and was married to a prophetess. In the beginning of his ministry he was well liked but, like most prophets, he soon became unpopular because his messages were so difficult to hear.
One day when Isaiah was a young man he was worshiping in the temple of Jerusalem and suddenly, in a vision, found himself faced with a call from God.
In his vision Isaiah saw angels and seraphs and heard the repetition of the word Holy. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,” by repeating this the angels were stressing God’s holiness. As ‘holiness’ means morally perfect, pure and set apart from all sin, seeing the Lord and hearing the praise of the angels, Isaiah realised that there was no way that he could measure up to God’s standard of holiness and there, standing before God, he felt unclean. He felt hopelessly inadequate and burdened by the feeling that he was not fit for the task that God was calling him to undertake.
To him, his faults were all too apparent, he felt that he was weak, that he found it hard to resist temptation and was quick to go astray. The vision brought home to Isaiah the huge contrast between God’s purity and his own sin, God’s strength and his weakness.
When Isaiah’s lips were touched by the live, burning coal however, he was told that his sins were forgiven. In response to this promise of his grace, Isaiah submitted himself entirely to God’s service. No matter how difficult the tasks ahead might be, he said, ”Here I am. Send me.”
God often calls us to tasks that seem too difficult, but he doesn’t ask us to do them alone, God offers us his resources, just as he did to Jeremiah, Moses and Isaiah. We shouldn’t hide behind our inadequacies but look beyond ourselves to the great resources available to us. Then, by God’s grace, we can allow him to make use of our unique contributions.
In order to fulfil the task that God was calling him to undertake, Isaiah had to be cleansed.The more Isaiah saw of God the more he became aware of his own inadequacy to do anything of lasting value without God. But he was willing to be God’s spokesman. When God calls us to speak out about him and confess our faith, are we just as willing as Isaiah and prepared to say, ”Here am I send me.”?
This overwhelming experience of God’s holiness described in the reading shaped Isaiah’s whole life as a prophet.. He constantly spoke of the God he served as ‘the Holy One of Israel.’ The knowledge that he had seen God with his own eyes, experienced his forgiveness and been sent out in God’s service would sustain him all his life. And he would need this: for God sent him to a nation deaf and blind to his entreaties, a nation that eventually would be destroyed and taken captive.
If we want to respond to God and speak to others about him, then we too must admit our unworthiness, confess our sins and s_ubmit to God’s control.
Moving on now to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
As we know, Paul became an Apostle after his vision of Christ on the road leading to Damascus but the other Apostles, close friends of Jesus, obviously saw him in the flesh and spent three years in his company being taught by him all the while. Paul, however, was in the next generation of believers – yet Christ appeared to him.
Before his encounter with Christ, as a zealous Pharisee, Paul had been an enemy of the Christian Church – even to the point of capturing and persecuting believers. After his conversion. however, like Isaiah, he too felt unworthy. He felt that he was undeserving of the title an Apostle of Christ. Although he was undoubtedly the most influential of all the Apostles, Paul was also deeply humble. He knew that he had worked hard and had accomplished a great deal, but only because God had poured kindness and grace upon him. True humility doesn’t mean convincing yourself that you’re worthless but recognising that God can work through you. Being humble is having God’s perspective on who you are and acknowledging his grace in developing your abilities. Grace is the free and unmerited favour of God, his undeserved mercy. We all possess the gift of grace, we can all receive forgiveness of our sins and can be free from the fear of the consequences of all that we do wrong because of his grace; and we also have the promise of eternal life.
Paul spoke of working harder than any of the other Apostles, this wasn’t boasting or arrogant because he knew that his power came from God. Because of his prominent position as a Pharisee, Paul’s conversion made him the object of even greater persecution than the other Apostles and so hehad to work harder to preach the same message.
This chapter begins with Paul’s words; “Brothers and sisters, let me remind you of the good news I declared to you.”
One of the first things I do in the morning after I have put the kettle on for a cup of tea, is to turn on the radio to hear the news. At the moment it seems to consist almost entirely of the continual arguments about Brexit! However, I have to admit that the radio may then stay on for the rest of the morning as I’m in and out of the kitchen. Every hour and sometimes every half hour, depending which programme I have on, there is a news update or summary. But it soon all becomes terribly dull as the same stories are repeated ad infinitum. I was probably interested the first time I heard it, even perhaps the second, but beyond that those news stories swiftly become old hat, going in one ear and out the other. It’s hard, if not impossible to keep news fresh for very long, the burning issue of the moment swiftly becomes of no relevance to anyone other than the historian.
How is the Good news that Paul had to tell any different? In a way of course it isn’t; it’s impact is inevitably diminished over time. When we first heard it and responded to it, it felt like the most exciting thing in the world. But how many of us keep that buzz as the years pass? We hear the message time and time again, until it becomes so familiar it almost washes over us.
Yet the good news of Christ is different, for it is not just what happened once but about what’s happening now, not only what Christ has done but what he is doing now and will continue to do. It relates to each of us personally, our lives yesterday, today and tomorrow, what we are and what, by God’s grace, we can become, why we are here and what our ultimate destiny holds.Therefore, familiarity shouldn’t close our minds to the message. It may be an old, old story but it’s as fresh today as it ever has been.
Of course there will always be some people who do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead, there will be those who are not sure and don’t know quite what to believe, and those who deny that it was possible at all. However, Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, reassures his listeners that there were many, many people who did see Jesus alive after his crucifixion and resurrection including the twelve disciples, James, Jesus‘ brother, and Paul himself. The resurrection is a historical fact and so we shouldn’t be discouraged by doubters, some of whom may even be friends of ours or family members because we live in the knowledge and hope that one day they, and all of us, will see the living proof that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead.
Do we ever feel unworthy as Isaiah and Paul did? Perhaps we think, well, I have never murdered anyone or robbed a bank or tried to defraud someone out of money that is their due. I’m not as bad as that type of person. Do we think that all those people in prison are more unworthy than we are? What about that neighbour down the road who is always gossiping about others and spreading unkind rumours, surely we’re not as bad as them either are we? So how do we think God looks on the sins of his children? Does he keep a book and jot everything down. Mr. X murdered his wife so that’s 10 points against him. Mr Y robbed a bank but no one got hurt so that’s only 9 points against that man. Is the little white lie only worth 1 point against us and the deliberate lie, 3 points? Of course not. We’re all equal in God’s sight, he doesn’t love anyone of us any more than he loves those that we consider to be more sinful than ourselves. The gift of grace is for everyone. Our sins are not graded; all God wants is for us to recognise that we are sinners and to truly ask for forgiveness and make reparation where we can. He wants us to get to know and understand him more fully and to try to love him more truly and acknowledge that he is God and as a forgiving God, our sins can be forgiven It’s never too late. Think of the robbers crucified with Jesus. When, just before his death, the one acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ and as a result he was promised that he would be with Jesus in paradise that very day.
We move now to consider the reading we heard from Luke’s Gospel.
Simon Peter was awestruck at the miracle of the enormous catch of fish after the Disciples had spent all night fishing and had caught nothing. Simon’s first response was to feel his insignificance and unworthiness in comparison to Jesus’s greatness. Peter knew that Jesus had healed the sick and driven out demons, but he was amazed that Jesus cared about his ordinary day to day routine and understood his needs. God is interested not only in saving us but also in helping us in our daily activities.
There are two requirements for coming to God. Like Isaiah and Paul we must recognise our own unworthiness. Then like the fisherman we must realise that we can’t save ourselves. We need God’s grace. We know that we need help and if we know that Jesus is the only one who can help us, then we will have to be ready to leave everything to him, to put him first, to follow him wherever he leads and be ready to say, ‘Here I am, send me.’
And now a prayer.
Gracious God, we have no claim on your goodness, no reason to ever expect mercy. Despite our best intentions, time and time again we fail you, preferring our way to yours. We say one thing yet we do another; we claim to love you yet openly flout your will. Forgive us, for try as we might, we cannot seem to help ourselves. Come to us we pray and blot out our faults. Renew us through your Holy Spirit. redeem us through the grace of Christ and remake us through your great love so that we may live and work for you to the glory of your name. Amen
Hymn No 92
“Amazing Grace” is a hymn published in 1779, with words written by the English poet and Anglican clergyman John Newton. Newton wrote the words from personal experience.
It’s a hymn that is extremely popular with some people, so much so that in the late seventies or early eighties I believe it made it to number 1 in the Top Ten Chart.
For others it certainly wouldn’t appear among their list of Top Ten favourite hymns!
However, I’ve chosen it today because of its obvious reference to God’s Grace and our thoughts this morning of our feelings of unworthiness before God as did John Newton in this hymn.