Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you always.
Every once in a while, I visit a congregation on a Sunday morning and for some reason don’t have access to a printer, and I bring my ancient iPad up to the pulpit with me. People ooh and ahh at the millennial pastor like I have no need for paper because I live in the future, but I just accidentally click stuff or scroll too far and get lost and look messy. Tonight, you’ll see that, somewhat similarly, I am preaching from my laptop like a millennial whose office printer’s waste toner box is full and whose printer supply company has not sent a replacement in time. Extremely hip. Thanks for going with the flow here at The Belfry, as always.
Last year, one of the Bible Study topics that we spent a quarter with was the idea that the Bible is full of a lot of stuff that contradicts itself and kind of doesn’t make sense. We called it “What’s Up with That?” Listening to the scripture assigned for this week, you may be finding yourself a little perplexed. This Isaiah reading is full of coded imagery, which meant something very specific to its original hearers, but has us wondering, perhaps, “what’s up with that?” These creatures called seraphs sound terrifying and dangerous, and the conversation the Isaiah is having with God sounds similarly unpleasant.
But did you recognize the song that the fiery beings are singing? “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is filled with his glory.” We sing a version of this song every time we prepare for communion. Here at The Belfry, our song usually begins in Spanish, with “Santo, santo, santo” which, of course, as the second verse goes, means “holy, holy, holy.” There are many versions of this song, but, traditionally, we sing “Holy, holy, holy, Lord / God of power and might / heaven and earth are full of your glory / hosanna in the highest / blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” These fairly familiar words come to us from this very weird story.
But that’s not the only part of this Isaiah story that I think you’ll find relevant. We read from the prophet Isaiah very often, all year long. For one thing, it is a very long book—but, as such, it is full of wisdom for us. This is the story of how the prophet Isaiah was called by God to do God’s work in the world. God asks, “‘Whom shall I send? Who shall go for us?’” and Isaiah said, “‘Here am I; send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8) Given the situation with the fiery angels and stuff, I’m not sure I’d be raising my hand at this moment. But Isaiah does! “Here I am! I’m on it! Right here! Pick me!” Wild.
And this carries us over into the Gospel story, as well. Jesus is on a lakeshore, and the crowd has gotten so large that he gets into a boat to avoid being pushed into the lake, I presume. He teaches them about God, which we don’t get any insight into in this story, and then he starts talking to Simon Peter about fish.
As we heard, there’ve been no fish, but then Jesus insists and, miraculously, there are too many fish! The fishermen have to signal to their partners in the other boat to come help, and there are too many fish even for them! Everyone is amazed. Simon Peter is beside himself. Jesus says, “do not be afraid”—which is key, since they are all marveling at this thing that happened, and may be afraid of the power of Jesus. The men in the boats bring their catch to shore, leave everything behind, and follow Jesus. Wild.
This story, or a story like it, is in all four Gospel books. In the different versions, they are at different lakes or the disciples being called are different people, but there is a story that carries through all four books about fishermen being part of Jesus’ gaggle.
We do not live in a fishing village—though I imagine some of you considered the possibility of rowing or swimming to The Belfry tonight in all this rain. Being told by Jesus that we will be “catching people” as an alternative to catching fish is not necessarily what we had in mind. But for these people, in this time in this place, it made sense. Just like when Jesus told people that he was The Good Shepherd, that made sense to them in their society full of shepherds and other farmers. Sometimes we think “what’s up with that?” when Jesus speaks, because it’s pretty far from our own understanding.
What this means, though, is that if Jesus were teaching us, here, in this place, he’d speak to us in ways that we understand. Each of us is called in our own ways to be our own people within the family of God. We are called, each in our own way, to tell our story as it is part of God’s story. We are invited, slightly differently, to do what we do for the sake of the Gospel. Though we may bristle at the idea, we are all evangelists. My role as an evangelist perhaps makes more sense to you because it’s part of my job, here at The Belfry. Your role as an evangelist is perhaps not your profession, at this moment in time, but it is certainly relevant to the way you move about the world. As you interact with your fellow students, your coworkers, your professors, people who work at the DC, the person who just cut you off on their bike, you have the opportunity to be in authentic relationships that reflect your faith. This probably doesn’t mean shouting about Jesus at the MU, though some folks go that route. It probably means being kind, working for justice, sharing what you have, listening and learning from those who are different from you.
We sang a song last week—They’ll Know We are Christians By Our Love—but sometimes it probably doesn’t feel like that. A lot of people you know probably recognize Christians by their exclusion, and their bigotry, and their holier-than-thou way of moving about the world. Who would want to be “caught” in that net?
When we think about evangelism as “catching people” we get nervous. This is reasonable, because, in this sense, catching people—coercing them into conversion—is a form of violence, and is not, in fact, evangelism. If we interpret this story this way, that these newly-minted disciples will be great evangelists because they will “catch” a large amount of people, we are in danger as well. There is not a contest to see who can be the best disciple by converting the most people. There was not then, and there is not now. Christian leaders who focus on numbers of people in the pews and numbers of people “converted” by missionaries are missing a large part of the point. Especially because when we focus on numbers, we tend to see them as our own achievements, not as the work of God.
You may also hear these stories and think, “uhhll, I’m not cut out for that kind of thing. I’m just...me.” You’re in very good company, because approximately every prophet and every disciple has had this thought, and said it out loud to God, and been told otherwise. Last week, in Jeremiah, we heard “I cannot do this! For I am only a boy!” How many times have you said, “I can’t do this, I’m only [fill in the blank]!” We often think we are too young, too old, too scared, too inexperienced, too...something.
You’ll notice that in our Gospel story, Jesus doesn’t ask these fishermen if they are interested in catching people. He gives them basically no chance to say “thanks but no thanks.” Here at The Belfry, we respect autonomy and consent, and we will not force you into any sort of evangelism. However, we will gently encourage you to have a little more faith in yourself. You are capable. You, just as you are, can invite people into the family of God—and into this community, here—without much in the way of training or preparation.
Remember what Isaiah said? “Here I am! Send me!” That’s it. That’s all it takes. Being here, showing up, wanting to be part of the work of the gospel in the world, that’s all it takes. You’ve got what it takes. Thanks be to God!