Epiphany 5 C: The Sting of Ultimate Wokeness

The readings for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany are

Old Testament       Isaiah 6:1–8 (9–13)

Psalm                    Psalm 138

New Testament      1 Corinthians 15:1–11

Gospel                   Luke 5:1–11

Isaiah and Simon Peter are both stung by wokeness. Their eyes are suddenly opened to holiness, and they suddenly realize that all their lives they have been treading carelessly on holy ground. For Isaiah, holiness is the presence of God in the Temple. For Simon it is the presence of God in lake water, fishing nets, and sweaty fellow fishermen.

This ultimate wokeness stings harshly. “I’m unclean. I’m a sinful human being. I spend my life surrounded by holy things and holy people, and I have taken them for granted and even abused them.”

In the Bible there are holy places, holy people, and holy times. But each of these pinpoints of holiness are holy only by virtue of God’s self giving holiness. God fills them by emptying God’s Self. So, God’s aim is that the Ark of the Covenant makes the Temple holy, the Temple makes Zion holy, Zion makes the Land holy; all because every drop of blood and every seed in every mound of dirt is holy. So too the first born and the Levites are holy to make every Israelite holy, to make all humankind holy. And Sabbath sanctifies every moment of time to the Lord.

The Bible also shows us how dangerous holiness is. A man touches the Ark of the Covenant and is struck dead. But what makes holiness dangerous is careless defilement of the Everything that God has made holy.

So Isaiah and Simon Peter show us the proper first impulse of being woke. They are repulsed by the ways all people fail to honor the holiness of place, people, and time.

Martin Luther, in the Small Catechism, comments on what he calls the “first request” of the Lord’s Prayer, “To be sure, God’s name is holy in itself, but we ask in this prayer that it may also become holy in and among us.”

It is the purpose of living to develop the habit of treating place, people, and time as holy and precious.

Let us not miss the opportunity the Covid-19 pandemic affords us to come to terms with all that is holy. Surely it stings us to have to lock down and away from family and friends. We grieve harder when we can’t gather at funeral homes. We have the air sucked from us when we have to watch sports on television and must forgo the noise and the sweat of fellow fans around us. We are robbed of the healing comfort of  joining the parade to the altar of saintly sinners of every type up to be fed and filled by thankfully shared holy bread and wine.

But let us not miss this opportunity. Let us work through the sting rather than avoiding it. Let us become ultimately awake to the holiness of community, bodily presence, the beauty of the Eucharistic moment, and, indeed, life itself.

God’s name and God’s world are holy. Let us pray all the more fervently that they may become holy in and among us.

When I think of the holiness of everything I think of the inspired song of Carrie Newcomer, “Holy as a Day is Spent.” It’s a great pandemic song if ever there was one. You can find it on YouTube here.

And here are the lyrics:

Holy is the dish and drain
The soap and sink, and the cup and plate
And the warm wool socks, and the cold white tile
Shower heads and good dry towels
And frying eggs sound like psalms
With bits of salt measured in my palm
It’s all a part of a sacrament
As holy as a day is spent

Holy is the busy street
And cars that boom with passion’s beat
And the check out girl, counting change
And the hands that shook my hands today
And hymns of geese fly overhead
And spread their wings like their parents did
Blessed be the dog that runs in her sleep
To chase some wild and elusive thing

Holy is the familiar room
And quiet moments in the afternoon
And folding sheets like folding hands
To pray as only laundry can
I’m letting go of all my fear
Like autumn leaves made of earth and air
For the summer came and the summer went
As holy as a day is spent

Holy is the place I stand
To give whatever small good I can
And the empty page, and the open book
Redemption everywhere I look
Unknowingly we slow our pace
In the shade of unexpected grace
And with grateful smiles and sad lament
As holy as a day is spent

And morning light sings ‘providence’
As holy as a day is spent


About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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