Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 6:1-8 (9-13); Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
Narrative Lectionary: Healing Stories, John 4:46-54 (5:1-18), (Psalm 40:1-5)
The selection for the Hebrew scriptures is another call story: this time of the prophet Isaiah, as God spoke to him in Isaiah 6:1-8 (9-13). Isaiah beheld a vision of the heavenly throne room in the year of King Uzziah’s death—a time of turmoil in Israel. The vision of the eternal throne emphasizes stability in a time of instability; however, in witnessing God in all God’s glory, with smoke pouring forth, quaking and trembling, and the six-winged seraphs calling out, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” Isaiah didn’t feel very holy or worthy at all. One of the seraphs touched a coal to his lips, purifying him with fire, and declared that his sin was gone. When God asked, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah told God to send him. In verses 9-13, God instructed Isaiah on what a prophet’s job is: to speak to the people though they will not listen to him, though if they turn back to God they will be healed. This will happen until the people are taken away in exile, until everything is burned down to a stump, where the seed can grow again.
Psalm 138 is a song of praise, for God has answered the psalmist’s prayers. They live in a world of polytheism, but before all other gods, they sing the praise of their God, and call upon all kings to worship God. The psalmist is assured of God’s presence even during trouble, and praises God for God’s deliverance. The psalmist knows that God will fulfill God’s purpose for them, and that God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Following the section on spiritual gifts, Paul now turns back to the good news of the Gospel, bringing together his focus for the letter to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. The word that Paul testifies to is this: Christ died, was buried, and rose on the third day, all in accordance with the scriptures as Paul interpreted them. Resurrected, Christ appeared the disciples, including Peter, and many others, but lastly to him. Paul, who persecuted the church, who was the lowest of all, became an apostle—not so he could brag about it, but so that all might believe in the Gospel.
Jesus calls the first disciples in Luke 5:1-11. In Luke’s account, Jesus already has crowds following him and he went into Simon’s boat, asking him to pull out from shore so he could teach the crowds. After he spoke, he told Simon to put out his net. Simon told Jesus he’d been fishing all night and caught nothing, but he would do it again. This time, Simon and his workers caught so many fish the nets began to break. Simon fell at Jesus’ knees, confessing he was a sinner and calling Jesus “Lord.” James and John were also there, amazed at the catch. Jesus told them to not be afraid, for they would be catching people from then on. The three left everything and followed Jesus.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Jesus’ healing stories in John 4:46-54, with the option of continuing through 5:1-18. Jesus returned to Cana, where he turned the water into wine at a wedding. Jesus knows that the people won’t believe unless they see miraculous signs. When a royal official asks Jesus if he will come see his son before he dies, Jesus tells the official to go home, for his son still lived. Before the official returned home, his own servants came to tell him that his son was alive and that the fever left him, the moment he was talking with Jesus. He and his entire household believed.
In chapter 5, Jesus returns to Jerusalem for a festival (in John’s account he goes to Jerusalem on multiple occasions; in the synoptic gospels he only enters Jerusalem once before his death). Near the Sheep Gate on the city wall, there was a pool called Bethsaida where those who were sick and disabled gathered. Jesus spoke to a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years, asking him if he wanted to get well. He told Jesus that there was no one who could put him in the water when it was stirred up and that others went ahead of him (some later versions of John’s account have additional verses explaining why people believed in the healing property of the water when it was stirred). Jesus instead told him to stand up, pick up his mat and walk. Some of the religious leaders were upset that the man was walking with his mat, because on the Sabbath that was considered work (it is important to note that this is John’s telling of this story, perhaps some local interpretation, and there was no law in the Torah that would consider that work. Some of the religious leaders argued about Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath, but Jesus said that God, his Abba, was working, so he was working, too. This declaration of equality with God angered some even further.
Psalm 40:1-5 is a song of praise to God for healing and rescue from death. God has given the psalmist a new song to sing, and many people will hear and be amazed. God has done so many wonderful things that no one can compare to God. There are too many wonderful things to talk about that they cannot even be counted.
Sometimes in progressive Christianity we shy away from sin language, but the truth is that all of us have sinned. If we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). However, sin does not mean we are unworthy. Sin means we need to acknowledge our wrongdoing or shortcomings and turn back to God, who accepts us and loves us. Isaiah didn’t think he was worthy because his whole people had failed to follow God, and he knew he himself had failed to follow in all of God’s ways. But the seraph touched a coal to his lips, a symbol of purification, and declared he was now free from sin. Paul believed he was the least worthy to share the good news, but by the grace of God, he had been called from his former life of persecution into one of sharing the Gospel. Peter, in Luke’s account, told Jesus to go away because he was a sinner. He wasn’t good enough. In John’s account in the Narrative lectionary, the man couldn’t reach the pool to be healed, to be restored, but Jesus declared he was restored. We can’t justify ourselves or heal ourselves, but we can believe in Jesus, and know that we are loved as we are, accepted as we are, and turn to the work of justice. We are worthy because God calls us by name and continues to call us. God knows we have the capacity to change our hearts and lives. This is the work of repentance.
Call to Worship (Psalm 40)
I waited patiently for the Lord,
God inclined, and heard my cry.
God drew me up from the pit,
And set my feet upon a rock.
God makes my steps secure,
And puts a new song in my mouth.
Many will come to know,
And put their trust in our God.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Forgiving God, we confess that we have fallen short. We have deceived ourselves into the ways of this world that make us believe worldly success and wealth is a sign of blessing while we continue to live in sinful ways. We continue to oppress and marginalize others and take wealth for ourselves. We fail to take notice of those who hurt from our ways of life. We fail to make reparations for generations of excess wealth while others suffer. Call us into accountability, O God, so that we might be forgiven. Call us to return what we have gained by the ways of the world at the cost of others. Call us to repair what has been broken, the ways that have propped up privilege and power while others are trampled underfoot. Call us into the work of restoration, so that we may then know Your forgiveness, grace, and healing. No matter what, O God, may we know Your great love for all of us, because it is Your love that calls us into this work of resurrection life. Amen.
The deep, deep love of Jesus for us never ends. Jesus went to the cross for us and lives again, so that we might know new life now, not only life to come. This new life calls us into accountability and restoration. Live into the new life offered by Christ: forgive one another, restore one another, work for justice together and remember God’s grace is abundant. Love one another as God has loved you, and it will go well with you. Amen.
God of Stillness, still our hearts. Quiet our minds. Slow our breathing. Help us to find our pulse, the rhythm of life. In the midst of turmoil and chaos, we are reminded there is no work-life balance, but we can find Your rhythm when we listen to our heart. Help us to slow down. May the fears that edge our minds be eased. May the struggle in our gut still and calm. May the challenges we face fade back, while we find Your rhythm in our life. You are still here. You have always been here and always will be. You are with us, now, in this moment. Help us to be still. (pause) Help us to be still. (pause) Help us to be still, and know that You are God. Amen.