Summary: An encounter with God does two things - it reveals our unworthiness and releases our God given calling
An Encounter with the Living God
Story: Last Friday (06-02-04) I went to the funeral service of my CME tutor John Aves, who died on the Lord’s Day in Bethlehem from a heart attack at the age of 52. John was over in Bethlehem as an “Ecumenical Accompanier” and has, for his work there been awarded posthumously the “Order of Bethlehem 2000” by President Arafat.
As the Bishop of Wakefield - a close friend of John’s - spoke at the funeral, it dawned on me that John’s life was lived in response to an encounter with God, who had called him to ministry.
Despite the risk – and John was well aware of it because he composed his own requiem mass before travelling out to Bethlehem – he went where he felt the Lord was leading him.
He went in response to his perceived call. You might say in response to his encounter with the Living God.
Both this morning’s lessons record encounters that people had with the Living God.
What did these encounters with God achieve?
1. God is prepared to reveal himself to sinful man
2. There was a realisation of man’s unworthiness to stand in the presence of God and
3. Paradoxically this accompanied a commission of ministry
1. God reveals himself to sinful man
The wonder of the Gospel is this. That God the creator of this world has revealed himself to sinful man.
Julian of Norwich had this to say, when confronted with the presence of God in her monastic cell
I was astounded with wonder and admiration that he who is so awe inspiring was willing to be so familiar with a sinful being living in wretched flesh (LT Chapter 4)
St. John put it like this, referring to Jesus:
11 He came into the world that was his own, but his own people did not receive him.
12 But there were people who did believe in his name. They did receive him. He gave all those who received him and believed him the right to become children of God.
13 They were born into God’s family by God. That is, they were not born into his family in the way a person is born into this world. It was not by any person’s will. (John 1:11-13 WE)
The glory of the Gospel is that God reveals himself to sinful man.
In both our readings this morning, God took the initiative and revealed himself – in the OT reading to Isaiah and in the Gospel reading to Simon Peter.
God cares about each one of us – he loves us and wants us to have a close relationship with him.
2. The realisation of man’s unworthiness to stand in the presence of God
What was the response to the presence of God?
Isaiah’s response- in the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem - was one of utter dismay:
5 "Woe to me!" I(saiah) cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."
And in our New Testament lesson, Simon Peter’s response was to fall on his knees and say:
“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!"
The presence of God shows up our sinfulness.
Nowadays people equate being good with being a Christian. And almost implicitedly the idea that his or her good deeds make him or her “good enough” for God.
But that overlooks the awesome holiness of God.
Certainly Isaiah and Simon Peter did not feel worthy to stand in the presence of God.
And it is not just Isaiah and Simon Peter who have felt like that. Almost invariably, anyone who has experienced the holiness of God has had similar feelings.
Being a Christian, I would venture to suggest, has nothing to do with doing good deeds – though I am not decrying good deeds.
Being a Christian has all to do with realising that we are unworthy of standing in the presence of God and throwing ourselves on God’s mercy.
The prophet Isaiah put it like this
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away (Isaiah 64:6)
When I encounter God, I realise how far short you fall of God’s requirements of holiness.
3. A commission for ministry
And yet paradoxically it was that feeling of inadequacy that was the key to opening up their ministry.
It was when Peter confessed his unworthiness that Jesus ordained him to be “a fisher of men”
The call however is just the beginning. God still has to be allowed to work on our character. Peter had to go through a lot before his calling could really be fulfilled.