"Have You Been Caught?"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - February 4, 2007
Isaiah 6:1-8; Luke 5:1-11
When I first came to St. Matthew’s a young man began attending our services for several Sundays. He appeared to blend in well, but I said something in a sermon with which he did not agree. He scheduled an appointment and we sat for over an hour discussing theology. I learned that he had been on an exhaustive search for the right church. He thought he had found one until he listened to my last sermon. I do not remember where his perceived flaw was in my message, but I believe it had something to do with an interpretation that I gave to a particular Scripture. I never saw him again.
I have thought about him through the years and wondered if he ever found a community of faith that perfectly mirrored the theology he apparently had so carefully mapped out in his mind. Apparently, he would continue his search until he found a comfort level within a church family that inspired him to become involved. That could be an endless search.
The second person was a woman in her late sixties who was active in the church and she confided that she had never read a single word in the Bible. In fact, she did not own one. She said, “I know that you must find that strange, but I was born with severe dyslexia, and I never learned how to read. In those days no one recognized the condition and my parents removed me from school. I don’t know whether I’m saved or not. I love God and I try my best to serve Him every day. God will do with me whatever He wants and what I think about it doesn’t really matter, does it?” I did not know how to respond. Her faith and total confidence in God’s loving nature was reflected in her attitudes, moods and spirit. She radiated peaceful joy.
My third person came in the form of a very strong-willed woman. Several times she asked me to stand in the hall outside of our Sunday school class because I had misbehaved. In fact, I became the dean of the hall in those days because I was always talking to my friends while she was trying to teach. I was 9 or 10 at the time. She was sharp-tongued, extremely opinionated and would tolerate no nonsense in her class on Sunday mornings. She said, “I have one hour to focus your attention on what you intend to do with the rest of your life. I have worked hard on my lesson plans and you will pay attention!”
However, never once did I feel an absence of her love. That is an amazing quality in some people. They cannot hide their loving spirit in spite of their theatrics, their high-spirited drama and their telling you that things are at critical mass and there will be something akin to a nuclear holocaust unless this or that happens now, today!
We could spend days considering the various people we have found in the church families in our background and we would not find a common denominator to the form in which we found them. When it comes to discipleship, there is no cookie cutter. Some of us can be as opinionated as Simon Peter. We might be as unafraid as John who stood by Jesus during his mock trial just before his death. We might become hurt, as James was when he asked Jesus to call down fire on a village that had refused to allow Jesus to teach there.
It is nothing short of miraculous that the Church survived from the disciples Jesus left behind. But it did. We can hardly imagine how the Scriptures survived the Dark Ages, but they did. How did such things happen?
We need to remember that God is the creator, and the growing consciousness of God’s presence among we mortals may appear slow. Such slowness may try our patience at times and cause us to give up hope. Again, we need to remember that we are not in charge here. We are more like bristles in the Artist’s paintbrush.
How do you know if you are caught? Think of those moments in our past when using our own energies exhausted us. We were so tired and worn out that we did not feel like trying anymore. When we asked God for help, something happened. We felt as though God had picked us up and said, “I’ve been waiting for you to ask. Now, let us accomplish this together.”
We have all had those “Aha” moments when we discovered that it has been our own judgments that have caused us to radiate a less than loving spirit. Sometimes we discovered that pain is a magnificent warning device that tells us that we have some inner homework to do. Sometimes we heard people tell us that our inviting them to our church was the best thing that has ever happened to them. Sometimes we discovered that we had a skill because we have started to use it.
No one was ever singled out by God to become a saint. People wearing such a label developed those qualities and skills by allowing God’s spirit to shine through them. We are blind to the countless forms in which they may come. Remember, Jesus was not killed by the Barabbas types of his day. Those who knew they had the spirit of truth within them were his accusers. The righteous did not recognize God’s love when it came to them through Jesus.
This week, just show up in some circumstance where you have no idea what you are to do. Say, “God, I don’t know what I am suppose to do here but I am going to trust you with the outcome.” Watch what happens. Simon said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing. But if you say so, once again I will let down the nets.”
Being caught means that we are finally willing to let God’s spirit work through us. You might feel you are a failure. That is fine. Peter fell to his knees and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In essence Jesus said, “Stop wallowing in your own self-pity and guilt. Get up! We have work to do.” In no time at all, Jesus said to this same sinful man, “Peter, you are the rock upon which I will build my church.”
Let God decide who you are. Get out of the business of beating up on yourself because of your lack of perfection. We do not know what perfection looks like because such a judgment is a matter of perception. Simply give yourself away in whatever fashion you can and God will take what you give and create with it.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Thank you, God, for creating us with the ability to reflect your likeness. You have given humanity a great gift in Jesus, who has become the light we have chosen to follow. We confess that there are times when our faith weakens. We know we should forgive others and sometimes we cannot. We want more patience with our frustrations with life, and it will not come. We want to be more faithful to our church family, but our schedules drive us toward other goals. Touch our minds and hearts today. In the silences of this hour, help us to forget our busyness, our distractions and our fear. Help us seize what is essential for our discipleship to show, so that we might trust you for the outcome of all things. Amen.