Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany – February 10, 2019 – Luke 5:1-11 – Trinity, Winchester
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When Peter sees the true power of Jesus, he pushes him away. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
The crowd also pushes Jesus away, though somewhat unconsciously. They are so eager to hear the Word of God that they keep getting closer and closer, forcing Jesus into a boat and out onto the lake.
We push Jesus away, too. Have you ever needed some distance from God? Maybe a Sunday morning to yourself? Have you ever stopped praying during a particularly traumatic time in your life because God seemed far away?
People have a tendency to think that they’re not worthy. Being from Kansas, I used to think it was just a Midwestern humility thing. Now I realize that humans all over the world have a tendency to question their self worth.
Sometimes this tendency manifests itself in fairly mundane circumstances. Our ordinary lives bear witness.
“Would you like some wine?” “Yes, but just whatever comes out of the box. Don’t waste the good stuff on me.”
“How about a piece of cake?” “Oh, just a sliver. I don’t want to take it away from you.”
“Excuse me, I’m sorry, I know you’re busy, I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but I really need to talk.”
Human notions of unworthiness also show up in extraordinary circumstances.
Consider Simon Peter’s realization today. After he sees the wonders that Jesus can work, he cries out for distance. “Go away from me!”
In today’s Old Testament lesson Isaiah does it, too. Upon seeing the Lord Isaiah exclaims, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” I am a sinner, he seems to say, unworthy of a glimpse of the almighty.
I have often heard folks describe their personal conversion stories in similar ways. After he first experienced the immense power and awesomeness of God, a friend of mine described his response as a sudden realization of his own unholiness, dependance, and insignificance.
It was likely these same feelings of personal inadequacy that prompted John Newton to pen those famous lyrics, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”
I think what is so hard for us to understand, what baffles us most, what is so amazing to us, is that our sin does not disqualify us from knowing God. That doesn’t make much sense. There is something about the way we are wired that makes us wonder how we can be acceptable to God, or anyone else, in our sad, lowly, sinful state.
We live in a world where fair is fair. You have to give to get. We live in a world where our human potential matters above all. We live in a world where our skills and abilities determine whether or not we will succeed—and our success determines our worth. If we want to be valued, we have to do good works and produce good results.
However, God doesn’t see it that way. At least, not according to Luke. A quick look through the first few chapters of Luke’s Gospel account tells us that our relationship with God has little to do with what we are capable of and everything to do with what God can do through us.
Elizabeth was barren. Not much she could do about it. When an angel reported news of her impending pregnancy, Elizabeth’s husband said, “How can this be? I’m an old man, and my wife’s not exactly young.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God.” In other words, “Believe me. It’s gonna to happen.” And so it did. Nothing is impossible with God.
Mary was young. Though she was engaged, she had never known a man. When the angel Gabriel came to tell her that she would bear God’s son, she asked, “How? I’m a virgin!” Gabriel had the pleasure of telling her that God would take care of the rest. “Let it be with me according to your word.”
Simon Peter was tired. He had been working for hours on end with no success. When Jesus told him to throw his nets back into the deep, Peter said, “Wait a minute, we’ve been working all night and haven’t had any luck.” At Jesus’ command he tried again, and the boats were filled with fish.
God tells us over and over again that even those who deem themselves unworthy can catch a glimpse of God. Not by their own merit, but by God’s.
You can try to push God away, but it’s not going to work. You can try to prove your worthlessness, but God knows better. You can protest, but God will ignore it. You can argue, but God’s not going to take the bait.
God chose you, and there’s not a thing you can do about it. Trust me.
Better yet, trust God. Trust God who shows his people over and over again that they are worthy. And not only worthy, but essential to his plan.
He chose Isaiah to prophesy. He chose John to prepare his way. He chose Mary to bring his son into the world. He chose Peter to fish for people.
Even people like you.