Preacher: The Rev’d Jenny Wilson, Canon Precentor

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

“Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I come from a people of unclean lips …” said the prophet Isaiah when he first saw the glory of the presence of the Lord in the temple. (Isaiah 6:5).

‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ Said Simon Peter, kneeling at the feet of Jesus in a boat weighed down with fish. (Luke 5:8)

Each of these stories – the story of the call of the prophet Isaiah – and the story of Jesus’ calling of Peter from Luke follow a similar pattern – a template, if you like, for stories of vocation. God has God’s way of finding us and gathering us in.

Isaiah, unusually for a prophet, does not tell his “calling” story at the beginning of his book. It is after 5 chapters that he recounts these events. The story opens with a theophany – a revelation of God’s presence. For Moses it was a burning bush, but Isaiah is in the temple and he sees “the Lord sitting on a throne high and lofty … Seraphs were in attendance above him … and they called to one another …

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;

The whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:2-3)

We do not need to use our imaginations to see this scene for it is set out before us in our cathedral. The seraphs, like our choir (and how wonderful it is to have you singing again!), are singing to one another across the temple as the choristers sing to one another across the chancel. These seraphs are singing the words we know as the Sanctus – “Holy, holy, holy” – words our choir sings each week in the midst of what was traditionally thought of as the most holy part of the service– in the midst of the Eucharistic prayer when the bread and wine are consecrated. The word “holy”, to quote one scholar, “is that which pertains only to God, [that which emphasizes] the radical otherness of God.”[1] But it is important to note what these seraphs, these holy choristers are singing – it not just heaven but earth that concerns them – “the whole earth is full of [God’s] glory,” they chant. This radically other God meets us on the earth he has created. This radically other God comes down.

Remember that. This is not just about God being in temples or cathedrals that this holy moment reveals. The whole earth is full of God’s glory. Remember that. We’ll come back to that.

Isaiah was standing on the threshold of the most holy place in the temple and he saw this vision of God and then he made his response. And the human response to God’s closeness seems so often to be the same. A sense of unworthiness.

“Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips,” cries Isaiah.

The response of God is immediate. As Isaiah remembers, one of the seraphs leaves his singing and flies down holding a live coal that he has taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touches Isaiah’s mouth with the coal and announces that his guilt and his sin are gone. We made our confession this morning. We cried out to God of our guilt and sin, of our failure to let God fully infuse our lives. Imagine after we have spoken those words, one of our choristers taking a burning coal from the thurible which holds our incense and touching it on our lips. Imagine it! Instead, for us, the Dean has spoken the words of absolution, telling us that our guilt and sin are gone. Interesting that in God’s eyes, the same thing is happening – the forgiveness of sin, the restoration of human beings.

It is then that God’s cry is heard. Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord say, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah is bold now. “Here I am; send me!”

God is powerfully present in these stories of vocation. And our immediate response is of unworthiness. And that lack of worth is expressed. God forgives. And then God calls. And the one called responds. This is the pattern of the calling of God to many of God’s people.

The story of the call of Peter that we heard read this morning follows exactly the same pattern. As we know well with Peter, his unworthiness is more overt, than Isaiah’s. He opening doubts Jesus.

Jesus is in a boat teaching the crowds who have begun following him early in his ministry after he heals so many people.

When he has finished speaking, Jesus says to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answers, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they have done this, they catch so many fish that their nets are beginning to break. (Luke 5:4-6)

Seeing the fish, Peter is horrified at his doubt.

‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’He says, kneeling at the feet of Jesus, in the boat weighed down with fish.

Jesus is clearly not surprised or even bothered by Peter’s doubt. His confession is all that is needed. Our confession is all that God needs. A naming of our frailty in the face of the holiness of God.

Jesus says to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ (Luke 5:10)

Jesus calls Peter and when they had brought their boats to shore, they leave everything and follow him.

From now on they will be catching people. Which is funny really because Peter and the other disciples are the ones who have been caught. Caught in the great love of God who appears – and helps us see our frailty – and forgives that frailty – and speaks to us of our great vocation – to take God’s love to the world. What Jesus calls “catching people.”

God patterns the world.

God uses stories – these stories of faith – to help us see ourselves as ones called by God to take God’s love to the world. And the pattern of these stories might seem to us to be the pattern of our worship.

We enter the cathedral – and God reveals God’s glory – for each one of us in a different way, perhaps. In the building, in the words of the liturgy, in the music, in the smile of a friend, in the concerned looks of a few who know times are hard. God reveals God’s glory, though some days we can barely see it. And so we confess our sins and we are forgiven our sins. No burning coals thankfully, but the words of absolution give God’s reassurance. And we gather together, and we receive the bread and the wine, signs of Christ’s body, and our belonging in that body. And then we are sent out, “who will I send?” God asked in the temple with Isaiah smarting from the coal burning on his lips. Send me, send us, he, we, are freed to say.

Only it’s not just about temples, and boats full of fish with Jesus in them, and cathedrals. It’s not just about what we think of as “holy”.

“The whole earth is full of his glory,” the seraphs, and our holy choristers, sing.

It’s about every day. Every morning when we wake up and find we have been given a new day. Vocation is about every day as much as it is about the mighty life changes that we have all been through at some time or another. God wakes us up and gives us life and that waking might be to ease or struggle, might be to joy or pain, might be to hard work or Sabbath rest. And God wakes the whole of creation to these things as well. God wakes some in parts of the world where they do not know if awful violence will not end their day – and God wakes our planet to days when it shakes in fear at what we are doing to it.

Every day God calls us and some days we reel with a sense of unworthiness and if these stories tell us anything it is that we might express that. For God will immediately forgive. And then God will invite us to join Isaiah and our patron saint Peter and, indeed, one another, in bearing God’s love to the world.


[1] Gene M. Tucker New Interpreter’s Bible – The Book of Isaiah 1-39 p.102.