Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Encountering the Holy

During this Season of the Epiphany we have been looking at the various ways in which God manifested his presence. Today we have two extraordinary examples. Starting with our Old Testament reading:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“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!”   (Isaiah 6:1-4)

The other example is found in the Gospel reading;

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.   (Luke 5:1-7)

Peter immediately understood that the Holiness of God was present:

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.   (Luke 5:8-11)

What do these two manifestations of God have in common? They both have to do with a calling of God and they both display of the holiness of God. Both recipients of the calling react in fear. They see in God a quality that they greatly lack. God is holy and they are not.

Holiness is the English word for qōdeš, derived from the Hebrew root qdš. The concept of holiness is not established etymologically from the root, however; The rppt word actually means “separateness.” The meaning of this word comes, rather, from the sense in which its derivatives are used. God is separate from us. How is he separate? He is a God who is pure and all loving. He is holy.

God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

To whom then will you compare me,
    or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
    calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
    mighty in power,
    not one is missing.   (Isaiah 40:25-26)

And again:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.   (Isaiah 55:6-9)

How do we relate to such a holy God? How do we join him in holiness? God requires that we do. We each have a calling from God. We cannot answer that call without entering into his holiness. We read in Leviticus:

I am the Lord your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.   (Leviticus 11:44)

We must consecrate ourselves. We must separate ourselves apart from this world. Reading again from Leviticus:

Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy.   (Leviticus 20:7-8 NIV)

It is God who makes us holy. We cannot cleanse ourselves. The Prophet Isaiah needed a cleansing. Again, rom today’s Old Testament reading:

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!”   (Isaiah 6:6-8)

God must cleanse us. This begins with the blood of Jesus. God’s washing is not just a one time thing. We must remain under the lordship of Jesus. We may waver at times, as did Peter. In his mercy, God continually calls us into his presence. He says: “I am the Lord, who makes you holy.”

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Filed under Epiphany, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, Year C

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