Sermon for the 4th Sunday before Lent: The Call – preached at Castleton Church, Sherborne, on Sunday, 6 February 2022 by Canon Charles Mitchell-Innes.  (Isaiah Ch 6: v1-8; Luke Ch 5: v1 – 11)

How do we know if God is calling us, and for what purpose? Certainly Isaiah was left in no doubt, as we heard in the First Lesson, because his was one of the most dramatic calls of all time. His vision was of the Lord, high upon His throne, attended by exotic heavenly beings well endowed with wings and shouting a paean of praise to Him. For extra special effect, the Temple is filled with smoke. You certainly could not miss that; but it is just the prelude to the really important event. Isaiah’s sin is purged by fire, and, at the climactic moment, God speaks. But He does not issue a demand; rather, He asks a question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And the prophet responds, “Here am I; send me.”

Even at this dramatic point, God does not force His will on Isaiah; that is not His way.  Overawed as the prophet must have been, he could still have declined. Instead, in offering himself, he became one of the most powerful and authoritative of Old Testament prophets. Presumably today he would have been called an Infuencer, with a huge online following.

Turning to the Miraculous Draught of Fishes, Luke’s account of the call of those Galilean fishermen in our Second Lesson, we see Jesus giving them an insight into his personality and powers. The setting is much more informal than the scene in the Temple 700 years earlier  –  Jesus passing along the sea shore and conversing with them in their boats. Having established a friendly relationship with them, he gives them advice about where to cast their nets for an abundant catch (the only one that day). If you have a look at Jacopo Bassano’s picture of this scene, you can see this massive catch being hauled up on the right hand side, presumably by James and John, with Zebedee their father steadying the little boat with an oar. But what is more telling is the reaction of Simon (later Peter) and his brother Andrew to Jesus in the other boat. In Luke’s account Andrew is not specifically named, though he is in Mark’s version. Here he is leaping onto the boat, cloak flying, in his eagerness to report on the miraculous draught of fish behind him. He is really fired up. Peter, by contrast, is kneeling before Jesus; the two are deep in intense conversation, and Peter is confessing his sins. In different ways they are both overwhelmed by the whole situation: it is indeed a revelatory moment for all four of them. So when Jesus asks them to follow him and become ‘fishers of men’ they do so, not because they have to, but because of his compelling authority and his quiet magnetism. In the end they are prepared not just to live for him but to die for him too: of the four, only John does not become a martyr.

Our own call  –  vocation, if you like  –  is, I dare say, less dramatic and, one hopes, not so terminal is theirs. Nor can we have that physical knowledge of the historical Jesus that they had. But we do have the graphic gospel accounts of his teaching, preaching and healing ministry by which he reveals himself  –  and through him God  –  to us, as he has to Christians down the ages. I quote the ex-atheist Christian academic, Alister McGrath: he speaks of “the deep personal trust [that] runs throughout the long history of Christian thought. People find in Jesus something  –  a reason for living, their heart’s desire, a firm stronghold in times of despair….Without fully understanding who he is, or what they find so compelling about him, they choose to follow him.” That is our calling.

Today we remember another call, a fully-blown, lifelong vocation that was articulated 75 years ago to all in this country and across the Commonwealth, in this way: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service…… God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.” The moment for the fulfilment of that call came only five years later, on this day, the Sixth of February, 1952. Our Queen’s life has, happily, been a long one, and she has for 70 years made good her vow, to us and to God.

So let us give great thanks to God both for her calling and for our own. As George Herbert reminds us, our Call looks to Christ for its image and its end:

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:

Such a Way, as gives us breath:

Such a Truth, as ends all strife:

And such a life, as killeth death.