February 9, 2019

Answering God’s Call

Feb. 10 “Answering God’s Call” Isaiah 6: 1-8 (9-13) * Psalm 138 (UMH 853) * 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11 * Luke 5: 1-11

Last winter, as I was heading out of town for a solo trip to the Washington coast for church services at my last appointment, Kristen mentioned to me that snow was in the forecast. I had been busy at work all day so I hadn’t even checked the news or forecast. It had been gray and cold in Portland, and the sky was ominous as I headed up I-5 and turned onto Highway 4 from Longview and onto the gloomy dark road beside the Columbia River. The snow had started falling as I left Longview, and stopped once I headed North on the 101, but it was treacherous in between. Fortunately, snowplows had been running shortly before I got there, although a patrol car was parked by the road going out of Skamokawa, most likely waiting to close the highway if necessary. If it had not been dark, I probably wouldn’t have gone further, but I couldn’t see just how much snow had fallen. I didn’t slip or slide or anything, but certainly would have been even more anxious if it were light out. Even with the road recently plowed, for much of the way I couldn’t tell just where my lane was. Seems pretty stupid in hindsight, but you do things you usually wouldn’t when you think it is important enough. So far, I have only had one Sunday cancelled due to the weather, and never did give that particular sermon. It was about fasting, and I assumed that the cancellation of church due to bad weather was a sign from God!

Sometimes following God’s call can be dangerous, but usually not. More often, we make it scarier than it really is, forgetting that God is there beside us, protecting us and providing what we need to do and say. We make excuses for not listening, find reasons why the timing is wrong, and talk ourselves out of acting, convincing ourselves that we are not ready for the task. When we think of answering God’s call, we probably think about the big stories, of prophets and heroes and apostles, forgetting that God sometimes calls to us in a still small voice, telling us to do small, easy things also. We all have various callings, as spouses, parents, friends and neighbors: not just into formal ministry. We receive callings every day, sometimes even answering God’s call without being entirely aware that we are doing so. Our first calling is to faithfulness in daily life. Some folks jump in courageously, maybe sometimes a little too quickly, while some of us are timid and don’t act quickly enough. If we put off answering for too long, something inside tells us that we are missing out, and we can feel empty, lost, and unfulfilled: a deep darkness beyond words.

Call stories generally follow the same pattern in the Bible, as with Isaiah in today’s reading and Jeremiah last week. God calls, and what does the person do first? Make excuses why they can’t do it! Jeremiah is too young, Isaiah says he has unclean lips, Moses says he is not a good speaker. What is your excuse? Mine was that I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know the Bible well enough, needed to go back to school, etc. But I came to a point where I couldn’t put it off any longer. Being my authentic self and finding true fulfillment required me to answer God’s call for my life. Ignoring God is generally a bad idea, and we can only do so for so long without suffering from guilt and feelings of inadequacy than are even greater than our feelings of inadequacy about our abilities. None of us is perfect, and yet God uses us anyway. And what happens when you answer God’s call? Often, that excuse doesn’t really make any difference. God finds a way to make you fulfill his call. For some, that perceived weakness, that excuse, becomes the impetus for a strong ministry. So what is stopping you? What will it take for you to answer with “yes”? We read in Isaiah:

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!"

Isaiah responds, but he needs a little help. God acts first. With most call stories, the recipient needs cleansing and gifting from God before they can get to work. This is how it works for us too, we need to be in a right relationship with God if we are to be truly faithful and answer God’s call. Certainly, God uses other people for his purposes, but if we want to be truly aligned with God’s will, we need to mindful of how God prepares us and strengthens us.

Of course, the one exception is Jesus, and his story displays how truly crucial he is to the call stories of all who would follow him. Recently we heard the story of Jesus reading from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor…Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

In Jesus’ case, we don’t really get a call story, rather we talk about anointing and fulfilling. He may have been baptized, but he didn’t need to be cleansed like us. He may have struggled on Gethsemane before his arrest, but he never hides from God, like us. He seems to have been “born ready” while we need to be “born again”! By fulfilling his role as the Messiah, the Anointed One, he enables his disciples to be called and gifted for service. In today’s Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus begins to call his disciples, as he meets Peter for the first time. Unlike with Jeremiah and Isaiah and others who have otherworldly experiences of God’s glory, Peter experiences that glory in this man, Jesus, face to face. It’s not like in the Transfiguration, a momentary experience that leaves everyone wondering if they can believe their eyes: Jesus comes to Peter in the flesh, and stays with him, calling his disciples to follow him. From there, he abides with his disciples, and gives his Spirit to all who follow him, including us. And yet, the result on the one called is similar. Luke tells us:

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 are 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.

Jesus appears to us also, in different ways, and we are called to follow him. He gives us a purpose for our lives, a calling, a vocation, maybe several over our lifetimes. We may or may not have an experience worth writing about, in the Bible or anywhere else, but Jesus comes to us where we are and calls us to follow him.

For some people, the road ahead is clear and well lit. For some of us, there are times when we struggle just to see where the road is when it is right in front of us, trusting that it will lead us where we are meant to go, even if we don’t know our destination. Whatever our calling is, however we are called, and whether or not we respond appropriately or in a timely manner or not, we have God’s assurance that he will be with us to provide what we need for success. We will make mistakes, we may burn out and need to be renewed: we need forgiveness and hope. We are given the strength and sustenance to persevere in worship, the sacraments, and fellowship. God will bring to completion the good work he has begun in us. The one who calls us will lead us to victory.

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