The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Holy Communion      6th February 2022
Unworthiness and Calling
Jeremy Fletcher

Isaiah 6. 1 - 8
Luke 5. 1 - 11
I am pretty confident that there will have been times in your life when you have said to yourself: “I just don’t think I can do this.” Whether it was a test , a challenge, or a project, there will have been something where you doubted your abilities, or wondered whether you had enough training, or energy, or assurance to do it. “Impostor syndrome” is not a new experience, even if the phrase is straight out of twenty-first century management speak. 
I’m also confident that most of us do get through these moments of doubt most of the time. Sometimes it’s a necessary corrective to being blasé or proud, and sharpens us up for the task. But what if it’s deeper than a matter of ability, resourcing, training or teamwork? What if the crisis is to with our whole self? What if it’s not “I can’t do this”, but “I can’t do this. Who am I to have been put here”? That’s more than impostor syndrome. It’s a clear recognition of not belonging at all.
Please treasure today’s readings. Fr complex reasons it’s rare for us to have the brilliant reading from Luke 5. Isaiah 6 is guaranteed also on Trinity Sunday two years out of three, but the combination of the two is to be gripped tightly today. Listen to Isaiah, granted a vision of the holiness of God which triggers his complete self doubt. Who can measure up to the laser light of holiness? His lips are unclean, so they cannot convey the sacred. Look carefully at Simon, called Peter, who is given all the proof he needs that Jesus, right there in his boat, is the Son of God. He knows, as he grasps Jesus’s knees in subservience, that he must get as far away as possible, because he’s a sinful man. What has he to do with such divinity?
These readings take us to the heart of what it is for a sinful human to respond to the call of God,  to follow Jesus the Christ, to be a faithful servant of the Almighty. They make clear the reality of the human condition when compared to the divine. What on earth can such earthly fallibility offer before the searching gaze of God Father Son and Holy Spirit? Both readings take human frailty seriously, and pose the even greater challenge to us that God knows all about us, and still calls. In doing so, God equips, and, miraculously and amazingly, does not consume us in unapproachable light, but uses even us to be agents, vehicles, even the image of the Godhead. 
It is worth noting that in Luke 5 Jesus is still, in Luke’s telling, on his own. Many are curious, and much has happened, but he has not yet been joined by the twelve apostles. This story is about how that started. Out of the great crowds, at the end of this passage there come three committed followers: Simon, James and John. Levi follows later, and the rest of the Twelve appear in chapter 6. Perhaps Jesus knew his need of support, of a team. Look carefully at what Jesus asks, and how Simon Peter reacts, and think of it as a model of responding to the call of God.  
Jesus gets into Simon’s boat. He did already know Simon, having been in his house and prayed for his mother in law. The boat was a useful pulpit, given the crowds. It looks like Simon agreed to this. Jesus asks to go out just a little from the shore, and Simon lets this happen too. Then Jesus asks to go out into deep water, and again Simon agrees. Then there is a thing too far. Jesus tells Simon to cast his nets. Simon knows this is foolish. There have been no fish all night. But, eventually, he agrees, and the miracle happens. So many fish. That’s when Simon gets it, knows that Jesus is God, and knows that he, Simon, is a mess, because all human beings are. Best to avoid God then, because nothing can live up to that. 
Listen carefully to what Jesus says to him, to me, to you. “Do not be afraid”. Do you recognise those words? They were what Gabriel said to Mary. Jesus says them to many others, and scripture is full of them. One website has found 365 occurrences. One a day is not bad for people to hear “do not be afraid” when they know they can never measure up. My ordaining Bishop used to say, “we are not up to it but God is down to it”. We may be weak and useless and unworthy, but scripture shows us again and again that those are the kind of people God uses. Do not let the recognition that we are unworthy deflect us from God’s call, because that’s God’s problem, not ours. 
God offers forgiveness, cleansing, strength, and purpose. Jesus says to Simon: “We know you can catch fish. Now come and catch people”. Simon is taken from a realistic assessment of himself via healing and empowering to mission and action. In the same way Isaiah is not only made worthy by God, but also given a mission: to tell, even with lips that were unclean. “Here am I. Send me”.
Jesus invites himself into our boat. Takes us a little way. Invites us into the deep. Asks us to trust when the command looks foolish. Embraces our fallibility and forgives our sin, if we will ask. Gives us strength, and offers us purpose and challenge. In the very small action and in something which feels overwhelming, through Christ the world can be changed in us. Isaiah and Simon, called Peter, travel from “woe is me” to what Paul says later: ”woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel”. And, no, we are not up to it. But God is. “Do not be afraid”. Amen.

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