Reflection Feb. 10, 2019
Isaiah 6:1-8/ Luke 5:1-11
Encounter with the Sacred
A teacher of the spiritual way was walking along a path near a river when he noticed a crowd of people a short distance ahead. When he reached the place where they were gathered, he realized that they were looking with awe at one of his students who was crossing the river by walking on water. Incensed, he called the student back to the shore, and put him on a ferry that was tied to a nearby dock. “This,” he said emphatically, “is how you cross a river!” This story, which is quoted in Tom Stella’s book CPR for the Soul addresses our common misconception that spirituality belongs to a realm above and beyond everyday life. The student’s immaturity made him think that a flashy act like walking on water was a sign of great spirituality. But the maturity of the teacher knew that a mundane thing like crossing a river in a boat, and all normal things, are sacred.
Likewise, we tend to think that the encounter with God happens through supernatural ways. Well, why not? The stories we read from the Bible have God’s people meeting the divine in a burning bush, through an angel’s visit telling you that your son will be the saviour, or in a blinding light on the road to Damascus, which is what the Bible says that happened to Paul. Today, we met two men who encountered the divine. We met Isaiah and Simon Peter being called. Isaiah’s story has all the elements of supernatural appearance of the divine, with the angels. If God met with everyone in this fashion, there would be no doubt, would there? But in a lot of cases, this is not how it happens. Think of Simon Peter who needed some time until he could recognize the divine. It took a while because he encountered the divine in an ordinary town near the lake, in his ordinary fishing boat, and in a poor man named Jesus.
These two men encountered the divine in different manners, but their reaction and response at realizing they were face-to-face with the divine was the same. Facing the divine, they were filled with awe and fear; fear that they were unworthy. Isaiah confessed his unclean lips; Peter asked Jesus to leave him because “I am a sinful man.” God asked, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah responded, “Here am I. Send me.” Jesus told Simon, “From now on, you will be catching people.” You see, this fishing metaphor makes perfect sense to Simon because he is a fisherman. His response to the call of Jesus was that he left everything at the height of his career and followed him.
As we can learn from these two men’s stories, there are certain things that happen to us when God comes to us and calls us. The first step is awe because we are only human. The second step is fear because we realize how small and unworthy we are in the face of the divine. The third step is God telling us, “I think you are worthy, so do not be afraid.” Jesus told Simon not to be afraid and called him. He was encouraging Simon that since he’s a good fisherman, he will do well “catching” people too. Isaiah’s unclean lips got cleansed, ready to go out and proclaim God’s words. God doesn’t call us and send us out, wherever we are sent, unprepared; hence, “do-not-be-afraid.”
From Simon’s story, we learn two things; first, it takes time and discernment to recognize the presence and call of God because God meets us through ordinary and unexpected things and people. Second, Jesus demands radical discipleship. His disciples, not only Peter, abandoned everything to follow Jesus. Think of Zebedee whose two sons James and John left everything to travel with Jesus; how is the father going to carry on with the fishing job now? They all had to give up their life security to follow Jesus. I also felt scared and insecure when I quit my comfortable teaching job and moved to New Jersey to study theology. God’s work requires unrelenting commitment and sometimes we have to make a radical change in our lives, from having to move to a new place to changing job situations. In turbulent and unjust societies, it could include going to jail or being persecuted in other scary ways while you work for justice.
It seems all serious and solemn following Jesus when we hear of the possible sacrifices we might have to make, but if there is one thing I want you to remember today, it is that God tells us not to be afraid. God who calls us knows that we will need all the help we can get in living as disciples. As we go through changes as the church, listen for God’s call for you to be a part of our church’s ministry. Listen to God’s words, “Do not be afraid.” For the next two weeks until the Annual General Meeting, I invite you to look and listen for God’s presence in the ordinary and mundane, and ask God, “Into which part of our church’s ministry do you call me?” I pray that you will listen for God’s call and have the courage to respond like Isaiah did; “Here am I. Send me,” in the knowledge and assurance that God who calls you will also help and equip you.
Rev. Sunny Kim