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Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Pastor Eric Deibler
- Isaiah 6:1-13
- Psalm 138
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
- Luke 5:1-11
I can’t remember the last time I was truly scared of something. Which is not to say that I’ve not been frightened. But there’s a difference between being generically frightened and being scared of something. Being scared of something implies specificity, it implies a certain degree of knowledge regarding the thing of which one is scared.
Last week we had the story of Jeremiah’s call and this week we have the story of Isaiah’s call. They respond in two very different ways. Jeremiah tries to talk his way out. “I can’t do this”, he says, “I don’t know how to talk to people! I’m just a kid!” To which God says, “Nonsense. Besides, it’s not really up to you. You will say what tell you to say.”
Isaiah’s first response, on the other hand, is one of fear. And why not? He’s experiencing sensory and spiritual overload! These six-winged, flaming, fiery creatures are flying around, shouting to one another with voices so loud that they literally shake the temple doors in their hinges. The temple itself is filled with smoke, it stings your eyes and irritates your throat, and there’s this giant robe filling the place up. And you… are… terrified! The words God spoke to Moses are foremost in your mind: “… no one shall see me and live.”
You know exactly what is up: “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!” You recognize and acknowledge the awe-filled, awful moment of being in the Lord’s presence. Coming into the unmediated presence of the Lord is not something you set out to do. It results in terror. It results in death. The Lord is God, not you.
There’s always danger in this kind of encounter. What’s there to do but to cleanse those unclean lips! One of those fiery creatures takes up a flaming coal with a set of tongs, flies over to you, and presses it into your lips, the lips of the reluctant prophet. A cleansing fire.
At last you can bear to actually hear the voice of the Lord. “Who will go?” “Me! Send me!” And, in all honesty, the job with which your presented does not sound all that great. Basically, you’re charged with telling people that, when it comes to their relationship with God, they don’t get it. And they never will! You ask how long this is to go on and God says, “Until there’s nothing left!”
Believe me, not all call stories are like this. When I had my call experience, for example, sitting in the church of my childhood, hearing the story of the prodigal son, and realizing that it was about me… I wasn’t filled with terror so much as a pervasive, generalized anxiety. But it was also incredibly exciting. I had never had such a clear sense of who I was. I felt like I had a place in the world.
That’s really what call stories are about: they’re about intersections. They’re the stories about where God’s desire to provide for and reconcile the cosmos intersects with our own sense of being and purpose in the world. Or as Frederick Buechner puts it “… the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
We know nothing about Isaiah, other than his name and the name of his father, which was Amoz. What that teaches us is that whatever his qualifications, or total lack thereof, Isaiah was given this incredible vision and holy calling. The stories of the prophets such as Isaiah, or Jeremiah, Jonah, Moses… None of them readily accepted the role of prophet. But it was what they were called to do, so protestations and attempts to run away and hide notwithstanding, this was the ministry they fulfilled.
Most of our calls invite us along a much less terrifying path. And that’s important to know. Because when I tell you that you’re called to ministry, it shouldn’t be something that fills you with fear. A little nervousness or anxiety might be in order. The things God asks us to do will often take us outside our own comfort zones. And that’s OK. That’s how we grow. But the process of being called to and engaging in ministry should not be something that fills us with terror.
When I tell you that you’re called to ministry, I’m issuing you an invitation on behalf of God. I’m inviting you to look for the intersection between your passions and talents and the world’s need. And when you find that, you’ll also realize that God has, indeed, equipped you for ministry.
Where you are called to ministry could be anyone’s guess. Remember the whole temple was filled with the glory of the Lord. The temple was seen as a physical representation of the whole of the cosmos, in miniature. So, the whole of the cosmos is filled with the glory, the presence of the Lord. We are never separated from God, because the whole earth is filled with the presence of God. How does that impact and affect the way we imagine the world and the way we encounter and interact with it? How does that impact our interaction with those among us: both those who are similar to us and those who are different? Not only do they bear the presence of God, they also bear God’s image.
Bearing God’s presence to the world around us, God calls us into mission; to do ministry. A ministry that rests upon the legacy begun by Jesus and the disciples.
Like Isaiah, the Apostles possess no particular religious training or credentials. Peter would have been a middle-class working man. Middle-class, because he’s not a hireling working on someone else’s boat. He’s got his own boat. He would have had a fairly stable and reliable income, subject only to the whims of the weather and where the fish might be hanging out on any particular day.
They show us what ministry looks like. It’s average people, doing what Jesus asks of them. As such, they’re actually the perfect model for what it means to be called to ministry. In the midst of what appears to be an unpromising situation, the future apostles do what Jesus asks of them and let down their nets one more time. And in doing so, Jesus is able to demonstrate to them the nature of the Kingdom in which and for which they will now be working. It’s a place of abundance! It’s a place of exceeded expectations! It’s a place of surprises!
But also, like Isaiah’s call, it is not without its dangers. Hm… Look where this happens. Jesus tells them to go out to the deep water, bathos, in Greek. That’s where we get the word bathysphere. “1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, …” (Genesis 1:1-2) The deep is a place of where pre-creation disorder and chaos reign.
Luke sees his world as being disorderly and chaotic. There’s the hostility and conflict between traditional Jewish believers and the followers of Jesus. There under the thumb of a repressive and brutal Roman empire. And within the church itself, there is conflict.
But that’s where God has called us to be the church. If we’re not taking our nets and dropping them into the deep and chaotic waters of life, then we’re not witnessing to the Kingdom of God. Nor are we inviting others into life in the Kingdom.
What we have to offer the world is an alternative. We offer a viable alternative to the disorder and chaos that we see in the world. The life of the Kingdom is so much bigger than just ourselves. It’s so much more than just our world.
You see, who we are and what we are is beside the point. God called Isaiah, as he was. “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!”
Jesus called Peter, as he was. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
And they were right! And they were called. Called to be what turned out to be some of the most influential people the world has ever seen.
We all are called by virtue of our baptism to participate in God’s mission to the world in Jesus Christ. We all are called daily to reorient our priorities to align with God’s priorities. We are called to use the gifts God has given us in service to others. We are called to share the good news of Christ in word and deed.
Jesus’ mission does not wait until we think we are ready. The need for the gospel in this disorderly, chaotic world is far too urgent. We are called right now — even in spite of our frailty, failures, and doubts, even in the midst of our ordinary, busy, complicated lives.
Jesus’ word to Simon Peter is also a word to us: “Do not be afraid.” This is Jesus’ mission. We trust that he will keep working with us and through us, “catching” others as he has caught us — in the deep, wide net of God’s mercy and love. We trust, finally, that the catch is in God’s hands. And we trust that God’s desire is for the nets to be bursting and the boats full. AMEN