Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8 | 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 | Luke 5:1-11
Keep your family safe, oh, Lord, with unfailing care, that relying solely on the hope of heavenly grace they may be defended always through your protection. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that today more than ever we are aware of people in places of authority that lie to us. It’s everywhere, and it so shakes us, because we often give people in positions of authority a kind of openness. They’re the ones who should be telling the truth, so what they say, we would say we are supposed to believe because of their position. It’s very unsettling and very frightening when we can’t turn to those people and find the truth. So where do we find it? Where’s our source of truth? Well, certainly in many cases what we’re looking for is just the right facts. That’s easy. We can find those out, find out that what was said is not factual, and therefore it’s a lie, but there’s something more insidious about lies, how they can rob us of things, even destroy us.
I keep going back to what Jesus said he was coming into the world to do: open the eyes of the blind, release those in prison, unburden those that are stressed. Interesting. What’s imprisoned that he wants to free? Well, we have in our tradition the belief that God has created us in his likeness. We are like our God, and therefore our nature is made to be like God. Therefore our nature is to be the kind of loving, caring, forgiving source of life that God is, but if we’d been lied to — we’ve been told that we are basically sinners and that we have this terrible burden of our faults, and our task is to focus on our faults and change them. And if we just focus on self enough to say, “Well, I can clean my act up enough to get approval from the one who demands all of this of me, and then maybe I can make it to a better place afterwards.” It’s a lie. That’s not what God is about. It’s not what our nature is made for, self-improvement. No, it’s made for self-discovery, and what God is longing to do for you and for me is to free us from the bondage of a misconception of who we are and what we’re here for, because that kind of misconception, that lie that we’ve been told by our culture, our family, our religion robs us of who we really are, the true self that we are. The loving, forgiving, nurturing figure that we are is imprisoned, the true self, and when it’s imprisoned, it stays there, because we’re blind. We don’t even realize what’s happening, and the life that we are told is supposed to be the life God wants us to live here, of trying to always improve ourselves, forcing ourselves to do things we don’t want to is so stressful. It’s stressful, because it doesn’t bring what it promises. It just seems there’s more work and more things to do and more things to improve, and there’s never enough time, and we never get to where we think we should be. If that’s an image you have of your life, you have been lied to.
Listen to Isaiah who’s being called to be a prophet. The core thing of a prophet is what? What does a prophet do? He tells the truth, and so when he’s being asked to think about God needs prophets, he said, “Well, I can’t be a prophet, because I’m a man of unclean lips, and I live with a bunch of people with unclean lips. We’re all lying to each other. We don’t know what’s real.” And God says, “Well, I’m not surprised. Let me just take this ember off this altar and touch your lips,” an image of purification, “And I’ll purify you of your lies.” And when that was being done for Isaiah, when that was a gift, not that he had to understand everything, no, he was given some kind of power to see the truth, to speak the truth, and he said, “Yes, yes, send me. I would love to be the truth.” That’s in all of our natures. We’re all prophets in some way, called to be.
So we listen to Paul, and Paul is saying, “You know, I was caught in a lie. I believed with all my heart that Christians were wrong. They were going against God, because we saw them. They were caring for each other and disregarding our law. Well, they were wrong. They were somehow wrong, and so I had to destroy them. So I went about trying to destroy the people who were telling the truth, caring for each other, loving each other, nurturing each other. The most striking thing about Christians was the way they treated each other. Imagine leaving a system that said, “Anybody who was sick or anybody who’s in trouble, they’re being punished by God. You have no obligation. In fact, you shouldn’t try to help them. Take care of yourself.” What an interesting lie. It’s not unlike the way we are. We tend to think that we are the most important thing we’re here to take care of, and we do have responsibility to care for ourselves, but that’s just the beginning. You care for yourself. You find your true self. You find yourself in a way of life that isn’t stressful. You open your eyes, and you see what’s real. Then you have to become someone, and it’s the antithesis of someone who walks away from everyone who is hurting, broken, poor. So Paul realizes something happened to him, and he claims, “I didn’t figure this out, but somehow the grace of God entered into me. God came to me, opened my eyes to see what was going on, freed me from the prison of this lie I was in so I could find my true self, and all of a sudden, my life was not as stressful as it was. It was filled with hope, because somehow I knew I was given a gift. It wasn’t me. It isn’t from me. It’s called grace, and it came to me, not earned. In fact, I really didn’t deserve it, because I was doing the opposite of what God wanted.” What maybe Paul didn’t realize is, no, exactly the people who are in the lie is who God wants to reach. So he freed him from his lie, and he was so filled with energy that he claims, “I work harder than anybody.” I love that. “I’m the best one.” But then he goes on to say, “Not because I am the source of what I’m doing. No, because God is the source of what I’m doing, and I’ve been graced. It’s been given to me. I see the truth.”
So now we’re still in the period of time when we’re looking at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. So now we see Jesus doing something really interesting. Imagine with me that he knows that he is the one who’s come into the world to open people’s eyes, free them from a prison and release them from stress. That’s his intention. We slowly learn that he’s doing this by slowly revealing what is real, what is true. The great lie that’s still in the world — it’s in all of us — is a description of the world that doesn’t match reality. If you’ve been told by your culture, your society, whatever, that you are alone in this world, your job is to do everything you can to improve yourself, then to use those improvements to win favor, to get a job, to get money so you can take care of you and do the things you want, but you work in order to have some fun later — work is drudgery — if you think that’s what life is about, then you’re living in a lie. Jesus came to open our eyes to a world that was frightening to a lot of people. It’s a world that is filled with the unknown. It’s filled with divinity. It’s filled with angels. It’s filled with dead people. It’s speaking to us. It’s filled with this energy, this force, this power that’s swirling around us. When Jesus did some of his miracles and people saw his power, let’s say, over evil, when he told this young man that he wanted to free him from the devil, and the devil said, “I can’t leave this man. Send me somewhere,” he sent them into these pigs. And both the man and the pigs, when they were possessed, were completely self-destructive. Self-destructive, an illusion that destroys the true self. What were they afraid of? Afraid of a world that was so foreign to them and so powerful that they’d rather go to what they knew than to face something that they didn’t. They didn’t want to live in a world of grace and energy and spiritual forces. I feel uncomfortable there, but that’s our place, to be in a world that’s filled with mystery, with grace, with divinity, with all these powers helping one another in ways that are beyond our imagining. It’s a perfect ecosystem where these spiritual beings are there to give us everything we need to be to grow into spiritual beings. That’s the truth.
So what is Jesus doing? He wants to introduce this. So he’s walking along one day, and he thought, “Here’s a way I can do this.” He wants to give a speech, and it’s always better, if you give a talk and there’s a bunch of crowds, to keep them from crowding in on you, you go out a little bit from the water. Actually the water becomes a kind of amplifier for your voice, and so you sit in a boat, and you speak to the people in the crowd. It’s a perfect auditorium, and there he is, in this boat teaching, “The very thing I want you to understand is the truth, reality.” It’s so fascinating to me that — why didn’t we get the speech? Why didn’t we get it word-for-word of everything that Jesus gave in that talk? No, he doesn’t want us to believe that you go to scriptures to hear the voice of God solely, but he wants you to believe that the scriptures say the voice of God is coming to you 24/7. He lives inside of you. If he can’t reach you, he’s using his angels to reach you. He’s using the dead to reach you. He’s using circumstances in your life to reach you always with one thing, the truth of what is. And so he sits there, and he does it. He does his talk, and then he notices that those who had the boat were out there, and they were complaining. “We try. We’re stressed. We can’t get what we want.” And so he says, “Look, I will give you something that will enable you to do something way beyond what you could normally do. I’ll show you not only where the fish are, but I will give you the largest, most incredible group of fish you’ve ever seen.” And so what do they do? “Get away from me. I’m a sinful man.” What’s he saying when he said, “I’ll make you fishers of men”? They were catching fish, which is nourishment for human beings, and he’s saying, “I want you to catch men and teach them they’re nourishment for other human beings. They’re food, and I’ll eventually tell you that you also are going to bring drink to them, a cup of salvation. You’re going to feed them. You’re going to forgive them. You’re going to feed them. You’re going to forgive them. That’s the truth. That’s your destiny. That’s what we’re called for.”
Father, the truth you’ve called us to enter into, to accept and to believe with all our heart gives us enormous freedom from the stress of struggling to become someone that would please you when, in fact, all you ask is that we open our hearts to your presence and let you flow through us. Bless us with an understanding of grace, your presence within us, and let us be food and forgiveness to everyone everywhere, knowing that that’s our destiny, that’s our life, and that’s our joy. We ask this through Christ, our Lord, amen.