Ordinary V: Call of the Holy

By the Rev’d Dr J. Hugh Kempster - Ordinary Sunday 5: Isaiah 6:1-8; 1 Cor 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

“What must I do to attain holiness?” said a traveller.

“Follow your heart” said the Master.

That seemed to please the traveller. Before he left, however, the Master said to him in a whisper, “To follow your heart you are going to need a strong constitution.”

Anthony de Mello, One Minute Wisdom, p. 142

The call of the Holy is an ancient and a powerful human experience. Isaiah’s vision draws him into a costly prophetic calling: “Here I am; send me!” Paul’s vision of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus calls him to become apostle to the Gentiles. Simon Peter’s call to the Holy comes through his day-job, as he hauls a miraculous catch of fish. I imagine that each of us are here today because we have experienced the call of the Holy at some stage in our lives. Perhaps subtle, or dramatic; over time, or in an instant; and now we are living into some form of active and ongoing response to that reality.

One of my strongest memories of the call of the Holy is as a young man in my early twenties. After a brief post-university sojourn in Israel and India, I arrived in New Zealand, commenced an engineering job, and had the privilege of sharing in the last year of my maternal grandmother’s life. She is the great-granddaughter of one of the pioneering Anglican bishops of New Zealand, and it was soon after her death that I had an intense religious experience; a call of the Holy. I was exploring the possibility of becoming an Anglican priest. My grandmother’s Vicar had popped the question, “Hugh, have you ever considered ordination?” I responded with a tentative “yes,” and soon afterwards decided to make my first career change, working as a youth leader in the church and taking up a study of theology.

The call of the Holy came in the wake of this decision. It was soon after my grandmother had died. I was in my room, praying, when an overwhelming awareness of God’s presence passed through me. The air was electric. It was dark outside, but I had a growing desire to climb a nearby hill that I had walked up many times. It felt as if God was speaking to me, telling me to climb the hill. This made no sense, and was actually somewhat unwise given that it was night, but I felt the urge so strongly that I jumped on my bike, cycled with heart pumping past the graveyard to the start of the track, and then torch in hand set off up the hill. When I reached the top, I wrapped my blanket around me and sat praying until dawn. It was beautiful; a mountain-top experience quite literally. As I sat there in contemplative prayer I had a moment of profound clarity: I was being called to be a priest.

Today’s gospel tells of our Patron Saint’s call to follow Christ. Simon Peter had been fishing all night with James and John, but they had caught nothing and were now washing their nets. The preacher and healer from Nazareth showed up. They had met at the synagogue earlier, and then he healed his wife’s mother who had a high fever. This Jesus always came with a crowd, and there were so many this time he needed a boat to preach from, so Peter let him use his. Then after the sermon he said the strangest thing: “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” It was the wrong time to go fishing, but they went, and the catch was incredible; a work-place miracle.

A call of the Holy is overwhelming; fearful even. Isaiah’s response to his vision of God was a profound sense of unworthiness: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” Similarly, Simon Peter says to our Lord: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” But he replies: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” And when they get back to shore, the three fishermen leave everything and follow Jesus.

What does this call of Peter, James and John invoke in us today, I wonder? Perhaps it reminds you of an earlier call to the Holy, or a stirs a desire for a renewal of your commitment to God. Speaking for myself, it is easy to loose that sense of call, that sense of the urgency of the Gospel in the cut and thrust of life.

At this time of the year at St Peter’s we traditionally commission the new Parish Council across our three Sunday morning services. It is also an opportunity to acknowledge and pray for the multitude of lay ministries that so many parishioners engage in: sidespeople, readers, welcomers, hospitality, children’s ministry, servers, our choir and musicians, the Bookroom, the Lazarus Center, the Charitable Foundation, the Klingner Trust, the RMIT Chaplaincy and all the other components of mission and ministry at St Peter’s.

So, rather than inviting individuals to come forward for commissioning today, I invite you all to stand to receive God’s blessing and commissioning for your various contributions to the mission and ministry of the church:

Let us pray. Gracious God, shepherd and guide of all your faithful people, look with favour on your servants, called this day into various ministries in this parish of St Peter. By word and example may they show leadership in this parish, and be faithful to the Gospel. Send your Holy Spirit upon your people, that they may have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, and serve you in love, joy and peace.
We pray this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Alae Taule'alo