28 January 2019

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, 10 February 2019

TheFifth Sunday after the Epiphany, 10 February 2019

Isaiah 6:1-8 [9-13]
Psalm 138
I Corinthians 15:1-11
Saint Luke 5:1-11



Background: Gennesaret

 

Readers of the Christian Scriptures will always associate the name Gennesaret with the Lake in the northern part of the Levant. There was also a ity by that name, that dated from the Bronze and Iron Age. It is mentioned not only in the Bible, but also in the Aqhat Epic of Ugarit. It is this city for which the lake is named. Later, another city, Tiberias, named for the Roman Emperor, altered the name of the lake. The site of Gennesaret is at Tell el-‘Oreimeh, or Tel Kinrot, and is located midway between Capernaum and Magdala. From its heights it was possible to guard and monitor the trade route that passed through the Plain of Ginosar (another later name of the city) at the northern end. In the Bible, the town was given to the tribe of Naphtali. In the Gospel of Matthew it is a place where Jesus passed through and performed healings. Finally it is also mentioned in Josephus as a place with rich soil.


First Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8, [9-13]

 

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; 
the whole earth is full of his glory."

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: "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!"

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!" 

[And he said, "Go and say to this people:

`Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.'
Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed."

Then I said, "How long, O Lord?" 

And he said:
"Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is utterly desolate;
until the Lord sends everyone far away,
and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.
Even if a tenth part remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak
whose stump remains standing 
when it is felled."
The holy seed is its stump.]


 

This pericope represents the essence of First Isaiah, it is crucial. To understand that it might be good for you to go back to Chapter Oneand read all the chapters that precede this pericope. In a way, as one commentator put it, this pericope functions as a hinge. In the first five chapters we hear the messages of both condemnation and of purification. Chapter Six has several elements, some of which look back, and others that look forward. If you are tempted to omit the optional verses (9-13) I would urge you not to do that. Like a Palm Sunday without a reading of the Passion Narrative, you will miss the difficult but just as jolting material in the closing verses. It’s nice to rejoice in Isaiah’s vision, but its important to wrestle with his commission as well.

 

Luther understood the majesty of the initial verses and used them in his hymn, “Isaiah Mighty Seer in Days of Old”,as the Sanctus in his Deutsche Messe. The God whose glory Isaiah is allowed to see, is also the God that condemns and then redeems sinful Israel. Isaiah gets the point, and like other prophets at their call/commissioning, see his own sin and wonders if he is worthy of the task. The angel with a coal from the altar solves that crisis and anoints his moth with both fire and message

 

The last section is so important here, for in it we see the difficulty of the message that the prophet is commissioned to bring. There is difficulty in verse nine where the prophet is called to disable the ability of the nation to hear what is needful. It is a forceful push to the people to realize what they simply don’t want to realize. There is failure, “like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled.” And there is hope and a future, “The holy seed is its stump.”


Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. What makes you think that you are unworthy of God’s call?
  2. What are the difficulties of being God’s prophet?
  3. What is the message that God wants you to proclaim?

Psalm 138 Confitebor tibi

 

1      I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; *
before the gods I will sing your praise.
     I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name, *
because of your love and faithfulness;
     For you have glorified your Name *
and your word above all things.
     When I called, you answered me; *
you increased my strength within me.
     All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, *
when they have heard the words of your mouth.
     They will sing of the ways of the Lord, *
that great is the glory of the Lord.
     Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.
     Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.
     The Lord will make good his purpose for me; *
O Lord, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.


 

God has been kind and redeemed the psalmist from the wrath of his enemies. Thus he gives thanks to YHWH, disregarding or perhaps even boasting in the face of the other gods who might desire his praise and thanksgiving. The vision here is of a God who is above all things and who rules over all the kings of the earth. They give their praise to God, but why? How might they be aware of the victory of this one individual? Perhaps the psalm indicates that this is not an isolated event, difficult to recognize, but rather a common event, seen by any and everyone. What God has done the psalmist rejoices in, and in the end he asks that it be sustained forever.


Breaking open Psalm 138:
  1. Who are your enemies – what are they trying to do to you?
  2. How do you survive those who are against you?
  3. How does God help you in these situations?

Second Reading: I Corinthians 15:1-11

 

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, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you--unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit 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 toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them--though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.



Whenever I see this text I am reminded of how Reginald Fuller, in his book on the Resurrection Narratives[1], made this pericope from I Corinthians stand out for me. In his book he introduces us to the Easter narratives that precede the Gospel narratives, and as we read through the pericope it reads rather like a creed. It is for Paul the heart of the good news, “I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you.” And then he marks of the significant points of this good news: Christ died, was buried, that he was raised, and appeared. Then follows, in typical Pauline fashion, a list: Peter and the Twelve, five hundred brothers and sisters, James, all the apostles, and to Paul. There is an ubiquity to which we all are called to recognize – the appearance of the risen Lord. In this Paul lays a foundation for life modeled on the Risen One. He sets himself up as a primary example. 

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. How has Christ appeared to you?
  2. How has he appeared to others?
  3. How would you tell the Easter story?

The Gospel: St. Luke 5:1-11

 

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.



By this point, we should be clear why the Isaiah text was chosen. The awe at the appearance of God is good, but it is not the point. It is the commission of Isaiah that we are called to witness, and in the Gospel the call of Peter. Such events do not always happen in temples filled with smoke and chanting seraphim. Sometimes it happens in the midst of daily life on a lake in northern Galilee. It begins rather than ends with a sign. For Isaiah it was a burning coal that followed his objections. For Peter it begins with a sign – a boat filled with fish. Peter’s reaction, like most prophets, is one of backing off, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” He and the others are “amazed”, (Luke’s code word for belief), but it is at the sign of so many fish. Jesus has to explain as he often does. The fish are the people. It is I who am always amazed at the response, “they left everything, and followed him.”

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. What does the symbol of abundance in this story indicate?
  2. How is Peter the opposite of abundance?
  3. What would it mean for you to “leave everything”?

 








Principal Idea:            On Becoming a Prophet

Option A:                    Being overwhelmed by the Vision (Isaiah)

Option B:                     Moving on to a difficult message (Isaiah)

Option A1:                  Giving thanks in the moment (Psalm)

Option B1:                   Knowing that God operates into the future (Psalm)

Option A2:                  Christ is Risen (I Corinthains)

Option B2:                   Christ appears and sends (I Corinthians)

Option A3:                  Miraculous solutions (Luke)

Option B3:                   God calls us in spite of our unworthiness (Luke)



After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 



Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller



[1]     Fuller, R. (2007), The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, Fortress Press, Minneapolis,