Last week I attended a seminar called “This Holy Mystery” the taking of Communion. One of the interesting facts that we discussed was the accepting of communion. In other words who can and who has the right to take communion. In the United Methodist Church we practice the open communion in that we believe we receive the grace of God freely and everyone should be allowed to gather at the table.
One of the subjects was why do people sometimes take the smallest possible amount in the sharing of the body, whether it is the bread, or the juice. The conclusion of the group leaders was that people do not feel worthy enough, to take what God is offering them freely and that is Grace. The words from Simon Peter, struck me when I thought of all the things we discussed at that seminar. Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.
Most of the time when people think of this passage from Luke, the focus is on the words of Jesus about making Simon Peter, Andrew, John and James evangelizers or fishers of men. However, these words which were spoken by Simon Peter seemed to resonate a lot more with me this time. How many times have we heard people make a statement similar to that of Simon Peter’s? Maybe not in the same way, but with the same intent to distance themselves from God because they feel they are so unworthy that He will never want anything to do with them.
Remember why Simon Peter said this to Jesus? He had doubted that Jesus could do what he said he would do and that was fill their nets. This came only few days after Jesus had cured his mother in law (Luke 4:38, and he had been witness to the demoniac at the synagogue who announced that Jesus was the Holy One, the Son of God (Luke 4:33-36). You see Simon Peter, who had witnessed all of these acts, still doubted the power that Jesus had through the Holy Spirit. In essence, Simon Peter knew he had sinned against God through his doubting of the Lord’s power.
The same was true of Isaiah who knew that he was impure and knew he had done things against God in the sight of God. However because he recognized this and in essence asked for mercy before God, he was cleansed by Him. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."(Isaiah 6:7 NIV)
In both Simon Peter’s and Isaiah’s situations, God redeemed them from their doubts and transgressions, through his grace and mercy. For Peter, there would be other incidents of doubt, even in the days following the crucifixion Peter would doubt the power of God, however each time God would redeem him.
Still today we hear people say, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man”. While it may not be in those exact words, the message is the same. I am not worthy and undeserving of your love. God stay away from me. We even hear the words of Isaiah echoed, “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips,…” In other words, “God could not possibly love me because of the way I behave and the company I keep.”
These are words of fear about a wrathful vengeful God, not of somebody who knows how merciful and redeeming God can be. Remember last week, I explained how Jesus came to bring sight to the blind and free the oppressed through the sharing of the Gospel? Well this belief in a wrathful and vengeful God is based on blind fear. Not blind faith in God, but fear based on little or no basis.
Peter and Isaiah both understood they were in the presence of something far more than they ever hoped to be, or could possibly understand. And they understood they needed to remain humble before God the Almighty Father. However, what both had been blinded from was the understanding that God wanted them to be in the presence and joy of Him.
This is the same message we are to share today. We are to bring a message of hope to all the people. We are to share the good news with everyone in order for hope to be spread.
Unfortunately for those who need to be in relationship with God, the greatest blindness comes in the ways they justify their not needing him. For some it is the belief that “why should I go to church, no one really wants me there and I feel ignored” Another one, which goes back to the not worthy belief is, ‘Only good people attend church, and I am definitely not a good person.”
But, we know this is not true. We have heard these excuses before and sometimes, people can believe them so much that they begin to feel they are justified. However, the bible tells us in Romans 5:6-8 that “Christ died for us at a time when we were helpless and sinful. No one is really willing to die for an honest person, though someone might die for a truly good person. But, God showed us how much He loved us by having Christ dies for us, even though we were sinful”(Romans 5:6-8 CEV)
You see Jesus loves us all and he died for all. God has forgiven us for our sins. So, while it may be true that we are not perfect, we can at least rejoice in the fact that, like Simon Peter and Isaiah, we are forgiven. Church is also not just for “good people” we all need God and we need a church family to share and fellowship with. Lastly, God truly cares for us, He is loving and just, and He doesn’t want to see us in pain.
Just like Simon Peter, he forgives us. That does not mean that we should go out and make it a point to sin. Once we turn away from our sinful ways, we should try our best each day to live in the way God wants for us.
In Isaiah 6:7, we read of Isaiah’s atonement, which God freely gives it to us as well. The passage says:
With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."
When we take communion today, I would like us all to think on the events that took place before Isaiah. Think of that piece of hot coal that was placed on Isaiah’s lips. Think of the piece of bread as a reminder of that coal, and the imagine it to be the grace of God as He works in your life to cleanse it.
Think of how Jesus looked passed Simon Peter’s lack of faith and lifted him up. We know that even though Simon Peter’s faith would falter again and again, Jesus would be there to lift Him, and give him the opportunity to start over again. Eventually Peter would find himself a leader among the disciples, the one the others would look to when Jesus was no longer physically among them.
The point is this, even when people think that that God will not love them, because of the things they have done in life. God is still there for them. He will welcome them back into His arms through his grace and mercy he has for us. He will cleanse them and heal them of their hurts.
Moreover He will lift them up and ask, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" (Isaiah 6:8 RSV). And with hope and joy they will take up the cross to become fishers of men and answer, "Here am I! Send me." Amen