Fifth Sunday of the Year Isaiah 6: 1-8; 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11; Luke 5: 1-11 Many of us would be a little embarrassed when asked to describe the significant spiritual experiences of our lives. This is particularly true when we begin to compare ourselves with the “giants” set before us in the Scriptures. Today we hear of the experiences so significant to the prophet Isaiah and the fisherman Peter at the beginning of their ministries. Isaiah was taken into the presence of God, an experience so
overwhelming that he could only describe it in terms of a court whose magnificence far outstripped that of earthly kings. As Isaiah drew close to God, he became aware of a palpable holiness, a holiness whose energy filled the whole earth, shaking its foundations.
The experience that drew the fisherman Peter into the presence of God was equally overwhelming. Luke describes a familiar lakeside scene. Fisherman had returned from a night’s work. As it turned out, they had caught nothing. Their boats stood empty by the shore. They were busy washing and repairing their nets. This everyday scene was transformed as Jesus, a stranger to them, asked for the use of a boat. From the boat He began to address the crowds. This alone must have touched the fishermen, making them aware, in some inarticulate way, of the effect that Jesus was having on those who listened. Here was a presence filled with understanding, a presence whose wonder shone through the faces of those who listened. What Peter had seen on the faces of the crowd, he would experience within himself as events continued to unfold. At the command of Jesus they put out into the deep water. They were overwhelmed by the catch that followed.
We cannot imagine experiences such as these touching our lives. This does not matter, for countless past experiences, however small or insignificant, lead us to reflect upon the reality of God. An unsolicited act of kindness can be a spiritual experience, bringing us closer to God. The darker episodes of life – bereavement, failure, rejection – can equally be described as spiritual experiences to the extent that they drive us to find meaning in our relationship with Him.
As this process unfolds, we are inevitably led to the chasm that stands between ourselves and the holiness of the God we seek. At times this is an almost insupportable burden, tempting us to abandon any hope that we might have a place in the presence of God, that we might some day come to share in his holiness.
Here at last our own experiences, our own journey, begin to coincide with those of Isaiah and Peter. The closer they came to the reality of God, the more they were crushed by a sense of their own inadequacy. Isaiah was brought almost to despair. The experience that had opened his eyes to the wonder of God opened those same eyes to his own imperfection. “What a wretched state I am in! I am lost, a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips.” Centuries later, Peter would experience something very similar at the feet of Christ. “Leave me Lord, I am a sinful man.” In both cases God raised his chosen servants above themselves. When God confronts us with what we find least attractive in ourselves, this can be a turning point. It was for Isaiah and Peter as they surrendered their imperfection to God. “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.” Humility might well crush us with a sense of our own inadequacy. It will also always lead us to God’s enabling presence.