Sunday, February 10, 2019

Called to The Way, We Discover Our Calling (Part 2)

Isaiah 6: 1 – 8 (9 – 13)
Luke 5: 1 -11

We continue this morning to explore The Way of Jesus Christ – that is a path that Jesus followed, Jesus led other on, and Jesus continues to call us to and guide us on today.

We discover this path using scripture and the traditions of our faith, our reason and intellect and our real life experience of the divine and of the world around us…because the Way is not revealed to us in any one of those sources alone.

Today, I want us to hold on to this:
We are called to The Way.  And The Way will reveal our call.

Let’s begin with scripture.

Last week, we heard Jeremiah’s call story, and this week, you heard the dramatic beginning of Isaiah’s.  The call stories of the prophets typically follow a formula…

some sort of revelation of the Divine,
a reaction of unworthiness,
reassurance that indeed the called prophet is enough,
a commissioning (a task and sending forth with blessing)
and an obedient response from the called.

It’s good to know these things always happen in a predictable way, right?

Not so much when we depart from scripture and look at experience…but maybe that is for another time…

I want to read the part this selection left out – the next words of dialogue between the Holy and the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah 6:9-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
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 remain 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.

This is a conversation between God and Isaiah in which Isaiah is getting specific instruction about what he is to say and do.  My Harper Collins study bible summarizes this instruction this way:  “The message God gives Isaiah will not lead to repentance, but to the hardening of people’s hearts, thus making them ripe for God’s judgment.”

So…that is not quite as hopeful as, “here I am, send me!”  Can you imagine the range of emotions here – an amazing experience of the divine that includes a pretty clear call to pay attention and follow a direction….but then the direction includes wreck and ruin and judgment.

Preparing the way is not a triumphant path for Isaiah.

Isaiah is actually being commissioned to a failure of sorts – at least a failure by the standards we think of in our world.  Listen to the hardships and confessions of the people but do not hear it. Don’t receive their “turning back to God,” returning to the right way, (their t’shuvah!).  And eventually, only a few will survive the days to come.

Like last week’s call to Jeremiah, there is an unexpected expectation of something other than what society calls good and successful.

We often wrestle in the Tuesday bible study about the times God is harsh in the Hebrew Scripture…this is one of those threatening, smiting God moments. But I think the central message we can take today is that not all call is simple and rosy. God calls us to God’s purposes…which are not always or even often the world’s purposes.

Our Gospel text continues in Luke.  Remember that 6 months ago we were often reading Mark and talking about how few words and how much urgency there was to Mark’s gospel?  Luke’s gospel has WAY more detail…

Jesus has been traveling and teaching and healing after departing his home town of Nazareth, driven out by his angry childhood neighbors.  In the verses that come before today’s text, Jesus has healed the mother-in-law of a man Simon…this is the first we hear of Simon, and then we arrive at today’s call story.

Jesus is along the shores of the Sea of Galilee (which Luke’s gospel refers to as the late of Gennesaret), and the crowd that seeks him out is growing.  I have this image of realizing there are no good sight lines --- no way on a lake shore to find the place where Jesus can be seen and heard without risking folks ending up in the lake…and so Jesus summons a nearby fishing boat.

The owner of that boat is Simon. He’s at the shore, washing his nets, which would indicate that he’s done with a night of fishing and returning to shore for the day.

Jesus asks him to take the boat out a bit from the shore so that he can be seen and heard while teaching the growing crowd.  And Simon does as he’s asked. Remember this man Jesus had just cured Simon’s mother-in-law.

We don’t know what Jesus taught that day. That is not what this story is about.

I do imagine Simon sitting there, thinking about the prior night’s work and what he might be missing on shore – like more work, a meal, his family…

We haven’t heard yet that his night of fishing had gone poorly, but with the benefit of knowing that now, I imagine him counting the cost of a bad haul and a lost day of rest and preparation for the next fishing excursion.

…all with Jesus sitting in his boat, teaching in a big preacher voice to a crowd on the shore. (Can you imagine that?)

When Jesus is done teaching, he turns to Simon and his clean nets and says…go out further and drop your nets again.
And Simon protests a bit – I’ve tried that, it was a bad night.  But if you say so…
And he goes out further, drops his nets and is so overwhelmed by fish that he has to call for back up.
And then two boats are nearly too full to float.

Like the pattern of call we see among the prophets, the divine has been revealed to Simon and those with him including James and John in an unbelievable haul of fish.  Simon’s response is to announce how unworthy he is.  Jesus reassures him and tells him what he will be doing from now on – catching people.  And they – Simon, James and John – left everything to follow this teacher.

They left everything.  Their boats. Their equipment. Their families. Their homes.

Everything.

That’s a really big ask, isn’t it?

This theme of call, one that repeats itself time and again in the scriptures, should be nagging at us a bit.  I think sometimes we look at scripture and all those characters and see them as “other,” not us, examples but not archetypes for our own selves, “those people were special, they weren’t me, this isn’t actually about me – it is about them…it’s about other’s “like” them.”

Guess what? We are like them.

I love the way the Holy Spirit moves in my devotional life, because this showed up in my daily devotional email this week form the Society of St. John the Evangelist…words from Brother Nicholas Bartoli…

“Being made in God’s image means we are children of God as Jesus was, inheriting Jesus’ ministry of reflecting and recognizing the light of Christ in the world. And by this simple act of recognition it becomes perfectly natural that in God’s Kingdom, our kingdom, our dominion is one of relating to all of creation as intimately as mother, father, brother, sister.”

It is still the season of Epiphany in the church year.  That’s a fancy way of saying this is a season when we’re still really paying attention to the way Jesus was God’s Son, fully divine but fully human, sent to experience humanness with us, alongside of us.

And by that miracle, we are included as flesh in God’s family.  Brothers and sisters in and of Jesus.  And by that relationship, we are called to relate to all of creation….like Jesus did.

I guess what I am saying is that we don’t get a pass on this.

We are, all of us, called in some way.

First, we’re called to follow this Way – with a capital W – the way that Jesus taught and continues to show us today.

But also, when we are following on that WAY, we will discover the other way or ways we are called.

It is inevitable.  I’ve seen it time and again.  In my own life.  In the lives of so many others. We’re called to be in relationship to a living God and as a result of that relationship we are inevitably called to be and do differently in this world.

For a moment, let’s think about what we might learn about that “call” in light of what we’ve heard and understood in scripture.

Call is where the ordinary meets the extraordinary and is transformed. These ordinary fishermen had a specific lifestyle and skillset.  But in meeting Jesus, in following Jesus, in learning from Jesus, they were changed into something new and different.  Simon Peter emerges as the rock upon which the church is built.  A long way from casting nets in the Sea of Galilee.

It seems that call seldom has prerequisite skills.  You’ve probably heard it said that God doesn’t call the prepared but prepares the called.  I believe this in my deepest being – again, not so much because of what the bible says, but because I see it happen time and time again.  You hear me say it almost every Sunday – you are created by a loving God how has created and equipped you with all the gifts you need to go out and light the world. You may discover a need to gain some new skills, but it – the ability, the capacity - is there in you…

Call affirms that we are enough.  Each of us. Just as we are.  We are enough.  Back to the idea – God will prepare you as God calls you.

Call is full of surprises.  Very few of us are sitting in anxious anticipation of a booming heavenly voice to tell us what it is we are to do.  Here’s the thing….not all call happens that way.  We read about the dramatic calls of scripture, but what about the still, small voice that someone experiences?  What about that nagging sense that we are able to make a difference, or should make a difference?  What about the fact that three or four people have asked you to do something specific that you hadn’t really considered before?  God’s booming voice sometimes shows up in the requests and observations, nudging and encouragement of others.

Call is disruptive.  Oftentimes we are called away from something we love.  Or we’re called at a time that couldn’t be more inconvenient. In my own experience, we can resist the disruption that we think the call creates, but often a soul disruption happens until we find it in our faithfulness to respond to that call.

EVERYONE has a call on their lives.  No, really.  Everyone.  Maybe not a call to preach or a call to teach or a call to feed the homeless.  But God is calling you to something even now.  And calls can be for a lifetime, or a season.

But we have to be paying attention, listening, waiting, exploring.
We have to be willing, faithful, grateful.

We are called to The Way.  And The Way will reveal our Call.

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