Sunday, February 10, 2019

Homily at 8.00 at Coventry Cathedral

One of the things that I love best about the Sutherland tapestry of Christ in Glory is that human figure, standing between the pierced feet.
It looks so impossibly tiny there, though I’m told it actually measures 4’6” - tiny and rather vulnerable, though there is surely nowhere safer to be than nestled close to the Saviour of the World.

Nonetheless, it’s a pretty accurate representation of something that shines through both Old Testament and Gospel this morning...that sense of our own surpassing smallness when we find ourselves called by God…
“Woe is me” says Isaiah, “for I am a man of unclean lips” - while Peter is equally unenthusiastic
“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man”.

Coming up against God can do that to you.

The account of Isaiah’s call is often heard at ordination services, where that obedient “here I am, send me” is being played out in the lives of those coming to receive that sacrament.
It’s a day of joy, of new commitment and fresh empowerment…

But it didn’t feel that way at the outset, probably not for the ordinands (if my experience is anything to go by) – and certainly not for Isaiah nor for Peter.
I’m sure we can all sympathise.

Imagine that you’re here one morning, coming to worship as you do week on week when WHAM, suddenly everything before you slides away to make room for a vision of the heavenly court, a vision that sweeps you off your feet and sets you down with a completely new agenda.
That’s Isaiah’s story.
On an ordinary day, there in the Temple, the world rocks on its axis, and he’s commissioned to a new kind of ministry and heads off in response...with the assurance that he can expect nothing glamorous, nothing overtly successful.

He is to be a prophet - unwelcome, unheard, misunderstood.

Oh joy!

And it’s not much better for Simon, soon to be Peter.
Instead of an experience at worship he’s ambushed by God at the day job – which isn’t going too well either.
For me, the equivalent setting would be in the midst of emails on a Wednesday morning. You’ll know your own context .
An unrewarding situation, in which the only option seems to be to plough on despite discouragement.
Probably on auto-pilot.

And then, at the end of a long night of disappointment, Simon is given fresh instructions, which will lead, little by little, to a complete, overwhelming transformation – and his response?

Isnt that fantastic? Isn’t it so exactly the way we feel when God starts making God’s presence known in our comfortably familiar lives.

We’re not that keen on change and we know that we don’t have much to offer...Yet God calls us, just as we are – seeing potential of which we are completely ignorant. Both Isaiah and Peter are given confidence by the very fact of their calling – but they know that actually they’re nothing special in themselves, understand that they are fully reliant on the grace of God and, with all their reservations, they are ready and willing to respond.

Jane Williams, writing on these passages, suggests that you and I might imagine it was easy for them– with their own special moments of revelation, to help them to grasp just how great is the power of God that is at work…
And certainly, Isaiah’s vision and the miracle that Peter witnesses as those empty empty nets are filled, give a glimpse of the tidal wave of creative power that will be unleashed at the Resurrection...but, she points out, Isaiah, Peter (and Paul) would look with envy on what we have seen of God’s power over two millennia, and wonder at our lack of faith.
Think about that.

Perhaps, like the human figure on the tapestry, we are sometimes too close to grasp what is going on.
Because God’s power is as much at work in the ordinary as in the high drama of Temple-shaking revelation.

Jeff Shrowder, a retired priest in Australia, wrote:

I went fishing - once:
dreary, even with a friend,
and we caught nothing.

Peter’s misgivings
I completely understand,
but he fished again.

Doing the ‘ordinary’
can sometimes grow to ‘beyond’
and overwhelming.

Be prepared, then…God is still active, still calling...If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart

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