February 7, 2010

Do you remember when ____?

Epiphany 5, Year C, RCL

February 7, 2010

When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Do you remember where you were when the world changed?
Do you remember what you were wearing? What you were eating? Who you were with?
Do you remember how you got the news? Was it from a friend? On the phone? Was it from the TV or radio? Did you see it on the internet?
Do you remember how you felt? Were you anxious? Were you heartbroken? Were you filled with excitement and anticipation?
Did you know right away that most everything in your life was going to be different? Or did it take a while to sink in?
Did you need a few hours or days or even weeks to realize that the way you’ve known everything to be up until this moment was going to be different?
And now that you’ve had a chance to reflect on how your world changed, was it as big as it could have been? Or was it bigger?

No matter what our age, we’ve all had at least one moment in our life where our world changed, where everything we knew to be true was tossed up in the air and we were often left with many more questions than answers. No doubt that one of those questions was, “OK. What now?”

We have two examples from our Scripture lessons today of people who have a momentary encounter with the holy and whose lives are forever altered. The prophet Isaiah receives his call to ministry in a most unforgettable way. His vision is set not at a specific moment, but rather in a particular year. Writing, “In the year that King Uzziah died,” would be similar to us saying, “It was the fall of the year the Red Sox came back from three games down to beat the Yankees in the American League Championship series.” (Or as a former rector of mine would say, "The time the Yankees blew it!") It wasn’t that Isaiah’s audience didn’t know King Uzziah. He was the king of Judah for nearly 52 years, having taken office when he was 16. So when Isaiah writes that he saw the Lord sitting on the throne of the Temple in the year that King Uzziah died, people would have an idea of what he was talking about. I have to believe that Isaiah knew at that moment that his life was changed. The vision of a heavenly creature flying to you and touching a hot coal to your mouth is not one Isaiah (or any of us) is likely to forget. The moment was so real for him that when the voice of the Lord said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?,” Isaiah said, “Here am I; send me.” Did you notice that his world was so changed by that moment that he didn’t bother to say, “So where are we going?”

Our Gospel lesson highlights another group of folks who had a world-changing experience. A few of the fellas who had been out fishing all night are coming back to the shore with empty nets. It’s one of those conversations with Jesus that was recorded in a slightly, um, more formal way than it really happened. There they are cleaning their nets after a rather unsuccessful night of fishing, and here comes Jesus. He climbs in, offers some teachings to the assembled crowd and then says to Simon, “Put out in the water a little bit further.” I wonder what kind of look Simon gave Jesus just before their world changed and they were first-hand witnesses of an amazing fishing miracle ever. They needed all the help they could to get the fish back to the shore. And after James and John and Simon get their fish to the shore, they walk away from… what does the Gospel say? They walk away from everything to follow Jesus.

For Isaiah and for Simon, James and John, the world changed, and they were changed, when they had their encounters with the one true God.

We all remember where we were, what we were doing, and maybe even who we were with when that world-changing moment happened. I remember very distinctly where I was and what I was doing when the Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the World Trade Centers were attacked, and when both of the Space Shuttle disasters happened. I also remember where I was when Navy beat Notre Dame at football for the first time in my lifetime. I was with my dad, and his dad had taught us well that Canady men don't pull for Notre Dame.

I have a firm memory of what was going on when my other grandfather died, and where I was sitting in when I found out my best friend’s mom has inoperable cancer. I remember exactly where I was and what I ordered for dinner when my parents told me that, at age 12, I wasn't going to be an only child for much longer, I even remember what was going through my head in the seconds before Emily told me the two of us were going to become the three of us. And most recently, I remember where I was when my future brother-in-law called to ask if he could officially join the family.

It’s not at all unusual for us to remember what we were doing and where we were when those world-changing moments, whether it is a mind-numbing tragedy or a something that gives us an immeasurable sense of pride.

The moments we least often remember or talk about are the ones, like Isaiah, Simon, James and John, where we are stopped in our tracks and given the opportunity to turn our feet and our hearts to follow God.

Make no mistake about it: It is a scary proposition.

The prophets of the Hebrew scripture were ridiculed, cast out of their towns and villages, and they were often killed. Genesis does not have any references to Noah’s neighbors coming to help him build the ark after he followed God’s call. Jeremiah ended up in a well, left for dead, after he called out the king for his idolatrous behavior.

The followers of Christ haven’t always fared much better. We don’t need to re-count the history of how the church was and continues to be persecuted over the past 2,000 years.

Saying to God, “Here am I; send me” is no small task. Walking away from our fishing nets and our families to walk with Jesus is a great leap of faith. Isaiah, Simon Peter, James and John were changed people. Their messages reached thousands in their lifetime, and billions in the generations since. I’m not under any allusion that any of us will affect that many people, but those guys probably didn’t think that either.

We, too, have the opportunity to be changed by saying, “Here I am. Send me.” We have the chance to share the message of Christ by taking the bold, bold step of prayerfully discerning what fishing nets we need to walk away from so that our world can be changed by God.