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2022-02-06 Epiphany 5 – Sermon – Standing in the presence of God

Isaiah said, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.

And Isaiah said: ‘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!’

Isaiah 6:1, 5

Simon Peter saw [the great catch of fish], he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’

Luke 5:8

We are still in the season of Epiphany and again we have stories of Epiphanies. Isaiah has gone up to the temple presumable for some great feast. I guess the equivalent for us would be to go to St John’s Cathedral for the Sung Eucharist on Easter Day. Just as at the Cathedral, there is plenty of incense as the procession comes into the Temple, lots of servers trailing behind the leader with the Thurible. The members of the Choir sing the glory of God as they process in. The very deep bass trumpets sound like the deep bass organ pipes at St John’s cathedral. The sound reverberates through the whole temple. Isaiah is emotionally and spiritually transported into the presence of God. It is a powerful experience of the holiness of God which shakes Isaiah to the core as he realises, he is a sinner and the people of Israel are full of sin as well.

At St John’s Cathedral: The archbishop following the the Gospel book into the Cathedral on Christmas Day. The incense smoke has already risen high into the ceiling.

Maybe it is the feast of Atonement because Isaiah hears words of deep forgiveness, “your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Our liturgy is basically the same even though we don’t have the pomp and ceremony and the architecture of a grand cathedral, but we endeavour to centre ourselves and then sing “here I am to worship, to bow down.” We are greeted, the Lord be with you. In other words, may you be conscious you are in the presence of God. We pray, Lord, you know the very core my desires, my hidden secrets. Then we hear the Commandments which we quickly realise we have failed to keep, at least if we are honest. That is why I invite people, like Peter in the Gospel, to get down on our knees and express the reality of our sin and that of our nation as well as Isaiah does.

Our confession is a corporate confession. Most of us think of it in an individual way, asking forgiveness for my sins. But part of our role as the priesthood of all believers, like the Hebrew priests praying for forgiveness for the people of Israel, we bring before God our nations sins. They are usually easier to see than our own. We need a very clear mirror to see our own sins. I heard a lovely story of a child who had been stealing pencils and other bits and pieces from the school storeroom. When mum and dad arrived, she said, dad you steal all the time, you are always bringing stuff home from work. Dad recognised it was true and he apologised to his daughter. Presumable they both made a commitment not to do it anymore.

Peter has a wonderful epiphany when they pull in the great catch of fish. What an abundance, the devastation of catching nothing all night has been blown out of the water. If you or I go fishing and catch nothing we just shrug and head down the fish and chip shop. But for the likes of Peter, James, and John it is their livelihood. The family go hungry and there is no money to buy flour or milk. Is that what made Peter be moved emotionally and spiritually? This is chapter 5 in Luke, in chapter 4 Peter must have been at the Synagogue when Jesus healed the man with an unclean Spirit. Peter must have invited Jesus home for Sabbath breakfast. Because it was then they found Peter’s mother-in-law was unwell. She was healed and later that day loads of people came and were healed. The next day Jesus says he is off to the other villages and towns, but he doesn’t get very far, people seem to have come to him. He uses Peter’s boat as his pulpit.

Peter is exhausted and hungry after fishing all night and catching nothing

Peter is tied from fishing all night and frustrated with little to show for it. Jesus wants him to go out to the deep water and put down the nets once again. Peter has seen that Jesus is special and has gifts of healing and teaching but fishing is what Peter knows well. Peter reluctantly does what he is asked and then it is while pulling in this great catch he knows he is in the presence of God. John tells this story right at the end of the Gospel and there, Peter knows he is in the presence of the Risen Christ.

What about us though? These great epiphanies of Isiah and Peter were clearly transformative. Both felt commissioned for important work as agents of God. I suspect most of us don’t experience worship as Isaiah did. Nor do extra ordinary things happen at work every week. There are probably some weeks when coming to worship feels like hard work. Perhaps often work is more challenging than satisfying. These days with the Omicron variant everywhere just going to the shops can be frightening. Are there things we can do to be conscious of God’s presence and grace in our lives?

At the beginning of worship, I invited you to be silent and to consciously place yourself in God’s presence. That is the sort of thing we can do to open ourselves to God’s presence. I am a great believer in the prayer of grace before meals. It is good to slow down enough to remember all the people involved in bringing the food to the table, the cook, the farmer growing the veggies, the grazier raising the cattle, the shop keeper selling the produce. The list goes on. Many cultures would remind us to give thanks for the life of the animal that died so we can eat.  As you walk out the door to go to work or to play golf or go shopping, simply pray, Lord I go in your name to serve you in all I do.

I know when I am fasting pangs of hunger remind me to pray. It may be as it has been lately praying for my brother and other vulnerable people who are not vaccinated. It really worries me, and it seems all I can do is pray for them. I trust that those Christians who are not vaccinated pray for all of us who in their minds have entered a huge experiment by being vaccinated. Arguing does help so we pray for each other.

We can also use moments when we are pottering in the garden or doing our hobby or sport to consciously thank our Lord for being present. I know when I am riding my bike, I am more likely to be watching the speedo to see if my average is improving rather than noticing the beauty of the birds or the reflection on the water at the wetlands. Recently I was chatting to a woman who has swum most of the length of Enoggera reservoir. She said she does breaststroke because then the swim is like a meditation. We can make those choices too.

Finally, when we come to worship, or join worship on YouTube, or read the Scriptures in our quiet times lets invite the Holy Spirit to work in us. The work of the Spirit may be in helping us to put aside our anger or set aside our fears or simply to be open to the voice of God. Hopefully we will discover transformative experiences more often renewing our sense of hope, our joy and our capacity for love.

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