Here am I, send me

Isaiah 6.1-8; 1 Corinthians 15.1-11; Luke 5.1-11.

Sermon preached by
The Reverend Professor Leslie Houlden
8 February 2004

Nowadays, everybody, from the age of four at most, knows where babies come from; but what about sermons? The Vicar gave one answer last week: sermons can be born in the middle of the night when you can't sleep. But this sermon came to birth in broad daylight. I was sitting thinking, What shall I say in Sunday's sermon?, and idly, I found that I turned on the radio. And out came an unknown piece of music of such ravishing beauty that I stopped in my tracks. Then, just afterwards (and I was sorry it was over), out popped a sermon, fully formed.

For the music, once it was, alas, over, and I was down to earth again, made me think. I guess all of us would agree that there is some likeness between our experience of beauty (whether in music or words or painting or people) and our experience of God: God, awesome but loving, beyond but with us. But there is a difference. Say we go to a concert and we enjoy it and are moved by what we hear. That is good, but that's all there is to our bond with the others who are there. We're not worried whether we have anything much in common beyond our coming to the concert. For all we know, they include all kinds of people, some of whom we would perhaps think twice before having much to do with. The music demands nothing beyond itself.

But with our sense of God it is quite different. Yes, we know him as holy and wonderful -- but then there is more: we believe things about God, and we believe about everything in certain ways because of him; and this we share with our fellow-believers.

So out popped the sermon; and the readings were already in my mind before I'd switched the music on. So what about the readings? How excellently they fit! The first, from Isaiah, gives us one of the classic descriptions of the core of our experience of God. It is pure poetry or music -- conveying the sense of God's utter holiness; he is beyond, he is different, he is WHAT HE IS: and all we can do is first to shrivel -- and then, if we're still on board, to obey: 'Here am I; send me'.

But then we heard Paul. We shall study him on the second Wednesday of our lent course, but here is a good start. People in the church at Corinth are saying that he is an upstart, not a proper Christian missionary at all, because he had not been with Jesus at the start and had his own odd ideas about him. Well, says Paul, everything I tell you, I owe to those who were in the faith before me and I make nothing up. And then he gives his creed -- it is oldest summary of Christian faith that we have ('that Christ died for our sins...., that he was buried, that he was raised'). And it adds a new dimension to that response to God, that experience, such as Isaiah tells us of. That is, we Christians share directions of belief -- we stand for this rather than that. We believe in God as loving, as giving himself in Jesus; and we believe that that God, that Jesus, win through, have the last word -- in the endless see-saw of good and evil, faith and despair, which mark life in this world.

And therefore we become 'followers'. The Gospel story, about Simon Peter, is a simple classic of faith, simpler and more human then Isaiah's. I daresay that we would not be enticed by a huge catch of fish; but we are enticed by better things than that -- by the love of God, known in himself and in those around us; and by the faith shared with the strange mixed bag that we are -- the Christian community, for example in this place.

God's utter holiness, mysterious and awesome -- and his love, near and faithful. And then our response, of trust and readiness to put our hand in his, now and always. Here am I, send me.

The Reverend Professor Leslie Houlden

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