Sunday, February 10, 2019
Year C 5 Epiphany 2019 Woe Is Me Woe Is Us
Year C 5 Epiphany, 10 February 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Woe Is Me, Woe Is Us”
..."Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"
Psalm 138:7a “Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly.”
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you--unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them--though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
Luke 5:1-11 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Depravity. What an ugly word. What a miserable state. To be depraved. “The innate corruption of human nature, due to original sin,” according to the dictionary, anyway. In all three of our readings today we see folks who are confronted with the holy, and see that they just do not measure up. The are inadequate, less than, found wanting. They are totally, and utterly depraved.
As of Friday, I have been a priest for 5 years, 30 years in the ministry, altogether. And the Isaiah reading has always had a special place in my heart. At my priestly ordination, my oldest did this reading. I was so proud of her that day. Because of missing teeth, she had a slight lisp, which quickly went away I might add. But on that day, it was etched in my mind this way, and I exaggerate for emphasis, but I will always hear it this way for the rest of my life. “WHOA is me, for I am a man of uncwean wips, for I wive among a people of uncwean wips.”
We are all uncwean when it comes to God. The word holy is exactly that. Set apart. Not of this world. Delineated so as to remain pure. This theme amongst today’s Scriptures keeps bringing this up. Isaiah is uncwean. St. Paul is, in his words in I Corinthians, “I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Unclean. Unfit. And then we get to St. Peter, who tells Christ in Luke, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Wow. What a trifecta. Unclean. Unfit. Sinful.
I cannot tell you how many people I know who reside right there. That is as much as the Gospel as they have heard. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…” as St. Paul put it in Romans [3:23]. One time, while I was in seminary, I had a coworker who was telling me some story. She had done something questionable, not naughty, not wrong, just questionable. We were in a jovial mood. In response I said, in jest, “Awwww, you’re going to hell!” I meant to get a laugh, but her face turned deadly serious, and flatly responded, “I know.” I was so dumbstruck I did not know what to say, and she walked away. I have never joked about hell again.
But many feel that people are just awful, and are okay with that. That is where they stop. God can save us, some day, out there. But I believe, and believe Scripture underscores this throughout, Old and New Testaments, that in our depravity, God loves us and wants our best. So many people, when they think of church, think that is what we are about, pointing out and condemning sin. Too often, if you follow the church’s response to things in the media, that is how the “Christian” response is portrayed. Woe is us. Unfit to follow God. Sinful people unworthy of the Lord.
But in each of our passages, thanks be to God, we get the message that God is not done with any of them yet. Not with Isaiah. Not with Paul. Not with Peter. Not with you. Not with me.
Even in today’s Psalm we see a God of Grace, who wants us all to come home. Psalm 138:7a “Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly.”
Isaiah got the burning coal, and God blotted out his sins. Excuses, BE GONE!
St. Paul learned, even after murdering Christians, that God was not done with him yet. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them--though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” Past, BE GONE!
St. Peter, even got enlisted for the team. “Jesus said to Simon [Peter], ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.” Sins, BE GONE.
God is about calling us home, home to where God is, and that is where we belong.
Maya Angelou has a book whose title stays with me, Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now. Our past has shaped us. The Good. The Bad. The Ugly. None of us is who we are for the A Pluses in our life, our successes. Experience is what you get when you do not get what you want. Some of us have more experiences than we ever wanted. I think on my accomplishments, while important, they shape me less than my failures. In those “missing-of-the-mark” events, in those moments of brokenness and pain, it is from those events we begin to see who we are. Show me a person who is seemingly down for the count and yet gets back up again, and that is the type of person I want on my team. My failures and foibles, my humiliations and tragedies are the very things that have driven me into the loving arms of almighty God. It was not when I was so proud of being good. It was not when I bragged about how I had never Fill-In-The-Blank. That was all me. And I was proud of the rules I had never broken. It did not drive me to love others, it drove me to vanity and pride.
The times I felt and knew the love of God was in the heartbreaks and heartaches. Like the woman caught in adultery and about to be stoned, she looked up and saw the face of Jesus who loved her, and asked where were her accusers.
Not a one of us can cast the first stone. Yet these days I see it so often. It is from my sins that I have found a love beyond words. We call that accepting and welcoming love Grace. Free. Undeserved. Unexpected. Grace.
As St. Paul said, “...unfit to be called an apostle… but by the grace of God I am what I am.” We are not static, and the status quo is not what God wants for us, nor is is what God wants from us. God does not want us comfortable or complacent. I have heard many a preacher say they were there to “Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” Paul recognized this, as he went on: “I worked harder than any of [the other apostles]--though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
That is the thing about growing up. Maturing. As Gandhi put it, “I find that we are all such sinners, that we better leave the judging to God.” And when we do that, we find Grace. No matter how good we are. No matter how bad we are. We do not judge a baby for a poopy diaper, we deal with the mess and slowly and deliberately teach them a better way.
I mentioned that I have been in the ministry 30 years, and a priest for 5. God was not done with me. I remember the day when I was ready to quit, when I was ready to walk away. I could no longer live by works and preach Grace. I could no longer allow it to be so contradictory, so hypocritical in my life. I believed that the love of God is showered on us all, the Grace of God is open to all. Red and yellow, black and white, straight and gay, Republican and Democrat. We are precious in God’s sight.
Whatever line we draw, God erases.
Whatever line we can draw to separate and divide, whatever wall we build, God is waiting to help overcome our failure to love. And when we succeed in making those lines, I hate to break it to you God is on the other side.
Like the man with the bucket on the stick and a broom at the end of a parade. Someone has to clean up the residuals of our excesses, someone has to be on the wrong end of the horses and the elephants. And us.
We are living days when life is messy. Our beloved Commonwealth has been a humiliation these last few days. There are sins in the past, with which we must deal. We need to do so in love. We need to do so with Grace. As we clean up these messes, yes plural, it will show the world what we really believe and who we really are. And we need to rely on God, and try to do it like Jesus would. I am not sure how that will be, but I will trust that God will give us the words when the time comes. [Luke 12:11-12]
No matter where God finds us as we “seek first the Kingdom,” we are put in amongst the pile of God’s Beloveds. That is what Isaiah learned, what Paul learned, what Peter learned, what I learned. And if I don’t know better, I think that is pretty Good News.
May we continue to be Agents of Grace. And if you find yourself in any pile in your eyes or in anyone’s eyes other than the Beloveds, know that is not where you belong.