Thursday, February 4, 2016

UNFORGETABLE CRISES

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8; 1 Cor. 15:1-11;
Luke 5:1-11.
AIM:  By reference to the calls of Isaiah, Paul, and Peter, to show that times of crisis are times of unique opportunity.  
There are, in every life, moments we never forget: an unexpected job offer or a promotion; a proposal of marriage; the devastating loss of a job; the phone call that tells us a loved one has died. Things like that we never forget. Today=s readings tell us of such unforgettable moments in the lives of three of the great men of Scripture: Isaiah, Paul, and Peter.
For Isaiah, the moment he never forgot, which changed his life forever was, he tells us, AIn the year King Uzziah died.@ Uzziah had been king for some four decades. His death, and the accession of a new monarch, were a breakup of  landslide proportions. Golden opportunities await, at such times, young men with good connections. Isaiah was young. He had the right connections.
So in the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah had every reason to be excited about the dazzling prospect of a new career opening up before him. And precisely at that time of unique opportunity, he found the way blocked. A more exalted king than any who ever sat upon an earthly throne summoned this brilliant, well-connected young man to higher service. Isaiah never forgot it. The indelible impression left on the young man=s mind by his vision of the invisible God is evident in Isaiah=s lapidary description of his experience: AIn the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple.@ 
For Paul, the author of our second reading, the moment he could never forget, came outside the city gate of Damascus, where Paul was going to defend his fiercely loved Jewish faith by rooting out false teaching. Like Isaiah, though in quite different circumstances, Paul suddenly found his path blocked, his expectations demolished in a blaze of blinding light. Thrown to the ground by the suddenness and intensity of the encounter, Paul heard a voice addressing him by his Hebrew name: ASaul, Saul, why do you persecute me?@
That encounter changed Paul=s life. He never forgot it. Today=s second reading makes clear that Paul was convinced that there outside Damascus he had seen the risen Lord. For after listing the other witnesses to the resurrection, Paul adds: ALast of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.@ And then, remembering the man he had been before that encounter which changed his life, Paul declares: AI am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am.@
Peter=s unforgettable, life-changing experience came when Jesus asked him to do something that violated everything Peter knew about the activity which was his livelihood: catching fish. After a discouraging night of toil on the lake, the net coming back empty time after time, until Peter and his companions were bone weary, Jesus tells Peter to try again in broad daylight. Peter knew that would be an exercise in futility: “Master, we have worked all night, and taken nothing.” But then, perhaps just to humor the Lord, Peter adds: ABut at your command I will lower the nets.@ Peter=s willingness to do the unthinkable enables him to experience the impossible. No sooner have they started to pull in the net, than they feel it heavy with fish.
Peter=s reaction to his astonishing, indeed miraculous, catch is very like Isaiah=s reaction to his awesome vision of the Lord in the Temple: AWoe is me [Isaiah cried], I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.@
In the simpler language of the working man Peter says the same. Throwing himself at the feet of Jesus, with the fish flopping all around him in the boat, Peter can only blurt out: ADepart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.@ To which Jesus responds with words of reassurance: ADo not be afraid: from now on you will be catching men.@ In that moment, Peter=s life is changed. AThey brought their boats to shore,@ Luke tells us, Athey left everything and followed [Jesus].@ Peter never forgot it.
Dramatic experiences like those which came to Isaiah, to Paul, and to Peter, are rare. What is not rare, indeed what is very common, is the shattering of plans or expectations, the sudden blocking up of progress along our chosen path, which each of these three men experienced in their unforgettable moments of crisis.
Perhaps there is someone in this church today who is passing through such a crisis. Your life seems to be coming apart at the seams. You cannot see the way ahead. All the plans you made have been frustrated, your hopes demolished. You do not know which way to turn. If that, or any of that, is your story, then listen. The Lord has good news for you.
Times of crisis are always times of opportunity, times of growth. Sometimes the only way God can get at us is by breaking us B or allowing us to be broken. To set us on the right way, God must sometimes block up the way we are on B even it is in itself a good way.
We all want success. Yet failure can teach us far more than success. I have known great success in my life. I have also experienced humiliating failure. I have to tell you: I have learned far more from failure than I ever learned from success.  To be beaten down by failure until you are flat on the ground with weariness and a sense of life=s futility is to be brought, at last, truly close to God. It is failure that opens the door to God.

What looks to you like the end of all your hopes, the destruction of every plan and aspiration you ever entertained, may be the Lord=s summons to a closer, if more difficult, walk with him. God never closes a door in our lives without opening another. The Lord has shown me that in my life B again and again.

APut out into the deep water,@ the Lord says to Peter. He is saying the same to each one of us right now. Do not abandon the quest, though it seems fruitless.  Leave the shallow waters near shore. Forsake what is familiar and secure for the challenge of the unknown deep. Dare, like Peter, to do the unthinkable. Then, like him, you too will experience the impossible. 

As we travel life=s way, with all its twistings and turnings, its many small achievements and more numerous defeats, we who in baptism have become sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ should be sharpening our spiritual vision. For it is only with the eyes of faith that we can perceive the unseen, spiritual world all round us: beneath, behind, above this world of sense and time. Faith assures us that the Lord is watching over us always, in good times and in bad:

C       the same God who appeared to Isaiah in the year that King Uzziah died, on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple;

C       the same God whose Son, gloriously risen from the dead, appeared in blazing light to Paul outside the Damascus gate;

C       who challenged Peter, devastated by failure at the one thing he thought he knew something about, to APut out into deep water.@

Glimpsing this mighty God, our loving heavenly Father, with the eyes of faith, we too join B as in a moment we shall B in the angels= song first heard by Isaiah:

 AHoly, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!  All the earth is filled with his glory!@