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Sunday 6 February 2022: Epiphany 5, Fifth in Ordinary time

Where do you meet God?
Isaiah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

By Michael Hopkins
Minister of a group of Methodist and United Reformed Churches based around Farnham, Surrey

Context: main morning service in a traditional free church in a prosperous area, with a congregation tending to an older age

Aim: to encourage openness to meeting God in a wider range of places or situations

Fashions come and go, and what was once highly fashionable can quickly become highly unfashionable, and vice versa. I only have to look at pictures from the 1970s and 80s to cringe at some of the fashions, but perhaps people with platform shoes and flares in the 2060s and 70s will be cringing at the fashions of the 2020s? I want to talk this morning about something that was once highly fashionable but is now highly unfashionable: meeting God. And our Bible readings today each cast this in a different perspective.

Isaiah encountered God while he was worshipping. It was a fantastical image of something very unusual in this reading, but it doesn’t have to be unusual for us. The question is can we encounter God in worship?

There’s a story told of a man, down on his luck, who went into a church one Sunday morning. Spotting the man’s shabby clothes, some people were a bit concerned, and went to the man and asked him if he needed help. The man said, ‘I was praying, and the Lord told me to come to this church.’

Some of the people were a bit surprised at this, and suggested that the man go away and pray some more and he possibly might get a different answer. The next Sunday the man returned. They asked, ‘did you get a different answer?’

The man replied, ‘yes I did. I told the Lord that they don’t want me in that church and the Lord said, “don’t worry about it, son; I’ve been trying to get into that church for years and haven’t made it yet”.’

Can we meet God in church, like Isaiah did?

In our Gospel reading, Peter encountered God when he was feeling strong, out fishing on the lake. It was a good time for Peter, he knew what he was doing, he was happy and confident, and it was while he was doing that that he encountered God. We know the things that we enjoy, the things that give strength, whether it’s gardening or golf, cooking or cocktails, those things which make us happy and confident; or perhaps it’s those quiet moments, a few minutes alone with the crossword, walking the dog in the woods, or the first cup of coffee in the morning before anyone else is awake? Whatever it is that gives you energy, that gives you strength, that gives you confidence, it was while doing that that Peter met God. Can we meet God doing what makes us happy and confident, like Peter did?

Paul retells the story of his own conversion experience in our reading from his first letter to the Corinthians. Here we find the story of how Paul was on his way to persecute Christians, when he encountered God on the road to Damascus. Paul was going to do something not just naughty, but wicked, and it was on that journey that Paul met God in a sudden and unexpected way. I know that we are good people, I’m not suggesting any of us would ever persecute anyone, but can we meet God in our darker moments, like Paul did?

If you’ve come to church this morning, that has already put you in the category of unfashionable, but don’t worry because you can’t get more unfashionable than me. Perhaps, then, I wonder if you might be interested in pursuing a bit further this unfashionable idea of exploring where we meet God?

If we’re honest, not all of us always expect to meet God in church. Sometimes the preacher is on a different wavelength, sometimes our minds are full of too much else, but Isaiah challenges us to meet God in church. We may enjoy particular activities, or events, or times, we may find happiness or strength then, but Peter challenges us to meet God in them. We may know darker moments of whatever kind, but Paul challenges us to meet God in them.

Where will you look for God this week? Have you already decided where you will and won’t expect to find God this week? Might you be the means through which someone else will meet God this week?

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