Monday, 11 February 2019

Don't be afraid

Isaiah 6: 1-8. Divine encounters are almost impossible to put into words and will reflect the symbols, language and context of their time. So we are not to take literally that God sits on a throne wearing a robe, or that heavenly beings speak Hebrew, or a seraph placed an actual hot coal on Isaiah’s lips. Isaiah is rather contrasting the dead earthly king with the eternal splendour of God and how worthless he felt in his awesome presence. But God acted to remove this sense of unworthiness to prepare him for his prophetic role.
1 Corinthians 15: 1-11. Paul asserts the truth of the resurrection as he has received them and what this means “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures”. Paul uses this fact to insist that all believers will also be raised to eternal life (a fact some in Corinth were disputing). It is worth noting that Paul’s mysterious encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus is deemed qualitatively exactly the same as the earlier appearances to the apostles.
Luke 5: 1-11. Peter’s response to the realisation that he was in the presence of Divinity was exactly the same as Isaiah in our earlier reading. He felt worthless and unworthy (verse 8). The coal placed on Peter’s lips is Jesus telling him “Do not be afraid from now on you will be catching people” bringing him alongside to share in His mission.

Describing a spiritual or religious experience is almost impossible using conventional language, it falls short.
It is like when St. Paul trying to describe Jesus calls Him “the image of the invisible God”. That doesn’t make sense actually because things that are invisible don’t have an image and yet…..we kind of grasp what he is trying to say.
But if you do try to describe a spiritual encounter with God, you end up using images and symbols and language that you are familiar with, just like Isaiah.
We do not understand that God literally is a man who sits on a giant throne who wears robes and whose hem fills the Temple or that seraphs speak Hebrew, or literally placed a hot coal on Isaiah’s lips.
What we do understand is that this encounter was so profound that nothing for Isaiah would ever be the same again.
Isaiah’s encounter with God shares something with Peter’s encounter with Jesus in the gospel passage. Both experienced a profound sense of unworthiness in God’s presence resulting in fear, certainly within Peter who blurts out..
“Go away from me Lord for I am a sinful man” echoing Isaiah who says,
“Woe is me for I am lost, and a man of unclean lips”
But something happened to convince Isaiah that actually He was made worthy in God’s eyes. He uses the image of a hot coal being placed on his lips, to make clear that he had been cleansed and that from now on He would be uttering the pure desires and designs of God.
In the gospel Jesus dispels Peter’s fear and sense of unworthiness by simply telling him, as a fellow human being,
“Do not be afraid”. From now on you will be catching people.
Jesus affirms Peter and then places his trust in him to work with him in spreading the good news that God thinks each and every one of us is worthy of his love and concern. And he trusts us to follow like Peter and go and spread the gospel in our time.
Every Christian is a minister. The gift you can pass on to others is the knowledge of God’s love for us. Our task is to pass on that realisation, that  light to others.
If you were the last person on earth, God would die for you. That is the significance of the cross of Christ.
The significance of Easter Sunday is that if you were the last person on earth, God would rise for you and take you with him to be with God forever.
In the Corinthian church there were some who had forgotten that or simply rejected it. Perhaps there are people here who don’t believe it, or don’t or can’t feel that within themselves.
But truth, if it is to have the power of truth in your life has to be true for you.
You need to know it to be true in your heart, beyond all the symbols and rituals, and meetings and concerns about the building and the cost of repairs.
Paul tries to convince them by stating who Jesus had appeared to in order to try and convince them. Peter, the disciples, James, 500 people at one time (in an incident we have no other knowledge about) and then his appearance to Paul himself or Saul as he was known then.
What is remarkable is that Paul’s experience of God, the voice from heaven, the blinding light, “being caught up into the third heaven” as he once described it is written about as being exactly on the same level as the appearances to Peter, James and the disciples.
Paul counts his religious experience on the road to Damascus was a resurrection appearance of the risen Jesus Christ.
It follows that any and every spiritual experience is an encounter with God.
However small or insignificant it might appear to be at first, there is only one God, Father Son and Holy Spirit so He is the source not only of life and love but all spiritual encounters as well.
Spiritual experiences can never be taken away from you, even while they are almost impossible to describe.
They can bolster you and convince you of the existence  of God even when there might be copious reasons and pressure to discount or discard God.
Spiritual experiences come in all shapes and sizes and can occur anywhere.
God can reveal Himself to you in a sunset or a word or a person, with clanging cymbals to a small still voice.
Don’t box God into a corner and try to say that He couldn’t appear to you like that. God is God and we aren’t and he works in mysterious ways.
After the service, instead of talking about the weather, or an ailment or Brexit I would encourage you to open up to someone when God became much more real to you. Encourage someone with a story that in fact the rumours of God being alive and active are true.

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