Sermon 5 Epiphany, Yr C

5 Epiphany Yr C, 4/02/2007

Isa 6:1-8; 1 Cor 15:1-11; Lk 5:1-11

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Humility in the Presence of The Holy”

 

A pastor was asked why he never delivered a sermon about sin. He replied, “I hate to talk to such nice people about such a dreadful subject.” The answer is right in step with our cultural trends. The word sinner seems such a down-putting word. Martin E. Marty passes along some comments of Brian Able Ragen…about the way the lyrics of hymns can be changed to reflect current sensibilities of middle-class (North) Americans. Ragen cited one hymnal where the second line of “Amazing Grace” had been changed from “That saved a wretch like me” to “That saved and strengthened me.” Ragen commented, “Our culture does not believe in wickedness—that is, in culpability. The conviction of sin is hardly possible to us. We believe not in sin and forgiveness but in illness and recovery. It is the endless message of our culture that everyone is basically good and most of our problems will be solved when we realize this—in other words, when we build up our self-esteem.” He observed that in our churches we avoid the idea of real sinfulness, yet sentimentally cling to the idea of redemption, which if there is no wickedness, or captivity, or lostness is emptied of meaning.1

In stark contrast to this trend in society today, all three of our Bible passages underscore human sinfulness and the place of humility in the Presence of God the LORD, The Holy One.

Isaiah, when he sees God in a vision while in the Jerusalem temple confesses his sinfulness and speaks with humility, saying: “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!”

The apostle Paul, speaking of his ministry in our second lesson, has this to say: “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he (i.e. Jesus) appeared to me. For I am the least of the apostles unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

And in today’s gospel, after Simon Peter has had a hard night of fishing and coming home with empty nets, he speaks sceptically when Jesus tells him to lower the nets in the deep water, and reluctantly does as he is told. Then, the miracle, nets so full of fish that all of the fishing partners struggle to bring in the over abundant catch. Simon Peter, upon seeing this, realises the holiness of Jesus, and his own sinfulness, and confesses it in humility on bended knee, saying: “God away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

I wonder, how is it with you? Have you ever been in the Presence of The Holy? Have you realized at that time your sinfulness and confessed it to the LORD, like Isaiah, Paul and Simon Peter? What is this state of humility anyways? In today’s world such a state is not considered to be a virtue, but a vice, not a plus, but a minus. Yet, over and over again we see the important place of humility in the Bible and in people of faith.

Long ago, Confucius said, “Humility is the solid foundation of all the virtues.” Mother Teresa, on one occasion, when speaking to reporters about her work with the poor of Calcutta, had this to say: “I am a little pencil in the hand of God. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do with it.”

Basically humility is the attitude of one who stands constantly under the judgement of God. It is the attitude of one who is like the soil. Humility comes from the Latin word humus, fertile ground. The fertile ground is there, unnoticed, taken for granted, always there to be trodden upon. It is silent, inconspicuous, dark and yet it is always ready to receive any seed, ready to give it substance and life. The more lowly, the more fruitful, because it becomes really fertile when it accepts all the refuse of the earth. It is so low that nothing can soil it, abase it, humiliate it, it has accepted the last place and cannot go any lower. In that position nothing can shatter the soul’s serenity, its peace and joy.2

How do we admit our sinfulness and live with humility? Many years ago now, there was a very interesting story in one of our newspapers about the importance of admitting our sinfulness and living and working in humility. The story goes like this:

Nine-year-old schoolboy David Liddlelow, told by his father that only Jesus was perfect, wanted to know if famous people like the Queen, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Archbishop of Canterbury ever did wrong.

So he wrote and asked them. And to his surprise, they all responded, according to press reports…

A lady-in-waiting replied on behalf of the Queen:

Christians certainly believe that Jesus did no wrong. We also realize that no human being is absolutely perfect, not even kings and queens, though, like our Queen they do their very best to show us how to live a good life.”

Mrs. Thatcher answered in a handwritten note:

“As prime minister I try very hard to do things right and because Jesus gave us a perfect example I try even harder. But your father was right in saying we can never be perfect as He was.”

And Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie wrote: “Your Daddy is quite right. Everyone has done wrong except Jesus. But we can all have His forgiveness if we ask Him.”

David, delighted with the answers, told the London Daily Express:

“I argued with my dad because I did not think the Queen could have done anything wrong. He said, ‘Why don’t you ask her?’ So I did.”3

Isaiah, Paul, and Simon Peter all make it clear that we are sinners. In the Presence of The Holy, we admit our sinfulness. However, the story doesn’t end there. The Good News is that for Isaiah, for Paul, and for Simon Peter their sins were forgiven them and, by the grace of God, they were called to be witnesses of God’s grace and the message of salvation to others. Isaiah was told: “your guilt has departed and your sin blotted out.” Paul said: “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.” To Simon Peter, Jesus said: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” As we celebrate God’s Word and Sacrament today, Jesus is Present, we confess our sin, and Jesus tells us: “Your sins are forgiven you. Go now and be fishers of people. Spread the Good News of God’s Word, God’s love and grace.” Amen.

 

1 Arthur H. Kolsti, “Caught by grace,” cited in Emphasis Vol. 24, No. 5, January-February 1995 (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc.), p. 40.

2 Anthony Bloom, Living Prayer, cited in: Rueben P. Job & Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer (Nashville: The Upper Room Books, 1983), p. 321.

3 Regina Leader Post, February 13, 1980.

 

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About dimlamp
I am, among other things, a sojourner, a sinner-saint, a baptized, life-long learner and follower of Jesus, and Lutheran pastor. Dim Lamp: dimlamp.wordpress.com gwh photos: gwhphotos.wordpress.com

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