Fourth Sunday Before Lent


O God, you know us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: grant to us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


Go before us, Lord, in all we do with your most gracious favour, and guide us with your continual help, that in all our works begun, continued and ended in you, we may glorify your holy name, and finally by your mercy receive everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion

Lord of the hosts of heaven, our salvation and our strength, without you we are lost: guard us from all that harms or hurts and raise us when we fall; through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Old Testament

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;

the whole earth is full of his glory.’

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’

[ And he said, ‘Go and say to this people:

“Keep listening, but do not comprehend;

keep looking, but do not understand.”

Make the mind of this people dull,

   and stop their ears,

   and shut their eyes,

so that they may not look with their eyes,

   and listen with their ears,

and comprehend with their minds,

   and turn and be healed.’

Then I said, ‘How long, O Lord?’ And he said:

‘Until cities lie waste

   without inhabitant,

and houses without people,

   and the land is utterly desolate;

until the Lord sends everyone far away,

   and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.

Even if a tenth part remains in it,

   it will be burned again,

like a terebinth or an oak

   whose stump remains standing

   when it is felled.’

The holy seed is its stump.]

Isaiah 6:1–8[9–13]


1    I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods will I sing praise to you.

2    I will bow down towards your holy temple and praise your name, because of your love and faithfulness;
for you have glorified your name and your word above all things.

3    In the day that I called to you, you answered me;
you put new strength in my soul.

4    All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord,
for they have heard the words of your mouth.

5    They shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
that great is the glory of the Lord.

6    Though the Lord be high, he watches over the lowly;
as for the proud, he regards them from afar.

7    Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you will preserve me;
you will stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right hand will save me.

8    The Lord shall make good his purpose for me;
your loving-kindness, O Lord, endures for ever; forsake not the work of your hands.

Psalm 138


Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them – though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

1 Corinthians 15.1–11


Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Luke 5.1–11

Sermon on Fourth Sunday before Lent

And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’

When I read these words, I thought of the fear and trepidation I felt when I read the words of Malachai last week, “Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” Again, I am in a dreadful state, for like Isaiah I am thrust into a mood of uncomprehending apprehension. I look around me and see so much that is wrong, in particular the lying and blasphemy emerging from the mouths of my contemporaries – and on occasion even myself, if I am honest – and now I see there is something that should direct life – “the King, the Lord of hosts!” With Isaiah I cry in agony, and, I suppose, just like Paul as well, when I consider what my life is like. Paul bewailed his behaviour because he was among the harshest critics of those who proclaimed Christ the way, he even says he was foremost in persecuting the nascent Church harshly in the reading for today.

No wonder he was at odds within himself, just as I am – I am dumbfounded by my faith and my actions – just like the time Paul writes, “My spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak.” There is a fundamental contradiction within me. Like Isaiah, I suppose we all can say the same, that although we know what is good, we do not accomplish it in our lives. We tread the route everyone else has taken, and we are loathe to take that road less travelled by – in our case, the way of Christ. We find ourselves within that uncomprehending crowd and we may even be content to hide ourselves away in its midst all too often.

There is hope, however! There are moments of enlightenment – moments when we can see what we should do. In those brief instances we might seize the opportunity to do what is right and good. And when we do so, we are totally out of our everyday character.

We stand upright, ready to act, because we have the courage to be, to be faithful, and, perhaps, moral upright people. We no longer have the unclean lips of the crowd which brays its hatred of what does not conform to itself. The cauterising coal of the Word of God has paused on our lips and we can speak of a better way of life, forsaking what is dubious and fastening on to what is true and steadfast. At that moment we latch on to something timeless, that something the philosophers are always going on about, what the theologians find in faith, that final and first cause of all.

No wonder we can stand on our own and speak without fear. But we do have to still ourselves and realise just what we are. We have to forsake our feet of clay and lips unclean. We have to still stand to allow our comprehension of that sight, when the King, the Lord of Hosts, comes into focus.

The coal which touched our lips has freed us. Instead of sealing our mouth tight shut as cauterising a wound normally would, that coal from the altar has transformed us so that we can speak out with purity. We can utter the truth amongst our contemporaries without any thought about being different – that fitting in is no longer our main concern. Rather, standing tall in the truth is our only focus, to speak to and for the vulnerable and weak – to strengthen them. Our obligation is to speak for the widow and orphan, the people who have no voice in the world we know.

Our collect for today takes up the same truth Isaiah voices. Isaiah is fortunate to be strong in a way so many of us cannot attain. The cleansing burning coal from the altar has been pressed on his lips and he can no longer be part of the silent majority. He must speak out as a prophet in his time, just as Martin Luther King did in mine. Who will speak to us today? Whose clean lips will speak to this generation? Whose fingers on the computer keyboard will penetrate the uncaring cyber world in which we live today?

Where are the new prophets who will speak to the future? – and about the future! Looking around us today in the church, there are no children, no one to take the message forward. It has to be up to us to do so. We are the people who must speak up. Each of us can do so in our very ordinary lives.

I have said it before, just smiling with our eyes at passers-by might be enough to change the world. Those “random acts of kindness” which have transformed our lives should not be denied others.

And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’

Have we been able to arrive at that point in our lives? Are we able to say that a vision of the King, the Lord of Hosts, will now direct our movement in life? Will I keep my nerve and continue on that way which the King has revealed?

Just as I stand in trepidation at my unworthiness in life, so I stand in boldness with this new commission to speak to the world about the good and righteousness which it is possible to accomplish in our lives – to convey the glory of promised life in all its fullness.

It is extraordinary that we can feel the same emotions when we want to hide away and when we want to stand tall and brave. This is the mode of the hero, isn’t it? The hero is always challenged to take up a quest, to accomplish a seemingly impossible task. You know the sort of thing – cleaning the Aegean Stables and Hercules’ six other labours – to destroy the One Ring by that humble and insignificant Hobbit – to speak your heart the first time to the person who becomes the love of your life. The task is as varied as each one of us is. Nevertheless we are given a task. It is our choice whether we acknowledge it as our destiny or not. That is where these emotions begin, isn’t it? Don’t we say at first, Why me? Then as time goes by, the calling to courage mounts and we decide we must take up the challenge. We must become heroes in the style of Paul and Isaiah, or a Samson and David. We all must be able to say, “Here I am!” I will go forward as the good bids.

We must begin the quest for salvation, and as we plough on, share the stories with any who would have the time to listen to our tales of derring-do. Like the heroes of old, we come back to where we began our journey – to our ownmost selves, those selves who see the King, the Lord of Hosts as the true ruler of hearts and minds, that King whose rule of love subsumes all to itself, if only we would see its primacy. We must return to what the philosopher calls the final cause of life, the alpha and omega of our own possibility. We must complete the quest of our self in the homecoming of the Kingdom, like prodigal children, accepting the joy of our father as true heirs at the final banquet.


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