Monday, February 11, 2013

Sunday's sermon at Highlands "Called"

Highlands Presbyterian Church
February 10, 2013

Imagine the look on poor Isaiah’s face as you listen to God’s words. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah stands before the Lord in the temple. The smallest hem of the divine robe swallows the holy house in eternal fabric; the mighty seraphim, monstrous six-winged creatures now screech the praise of the Holy One, and God, amidst the fire and smoke announces what it is Isaiah is called to do.

“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.

The command is devastating to Isaiah. God commands the prophet to speak in such a way that no one will understand what it is he is saying. Their eyes and ears will be useless, so dull and sightless that their minds will be clouded with confusion. As a result, their healing will be delayed.

And God said, “Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes.”

The prophet is called…Isaiah is called to speak but his words will not make the people any wiser of their lives easier, or their road smoother, or their responsibilities plainer. Everything will be more confusing and less certain. It will be more difficult to perceive just what it is that God wants from the people.

Not surprisingly, that eager prophet who in verse eight said, “Here I am, send me,” the ready follower of the mighty Lord of the temple who is so anxious to do the divine work, now sounds very different in verse eleven, after hearing what God has in mind for him. Instead of "Here am I," the prophet bleats like a goat going to the sacrificial altar, "How long, O Lord?"

How long must I do what it is you have asked of me? And God said, a long, long time. “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.

You can hear in these words an undercurrent of the response Moses once gave the same God who asked him to go and command the great Pharaoh…"choose somebody else, anybody else, please.”

We speak a great deal about being called. Paul told us we have all been given one gift or another and God expects us to use those gifts to bring peace to the world, food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, comfort to the ill, freedom to the captives.

Cotton Mather was an early New England Puritan minister, remembered for his role in organizing the Salem witch trials. This was clearly a man who believed in answering the call…even though, in his case it might have been a wrong number.

Cotton Mather said, “Every Christian should have a calling. That is to say, there should be some special business, and some settled business, wherein a Christian should for the most part spend the most of his time that so he may glorify God. It is not lawful, he said, for a Christian ordinarily to live without some calling or another, until infirmities have unhappily disabled him.” Mather thought it “a wonderful inconvenience for a man to have a calling that won’t agree with him.”

Isaiah was given that “wonderful inconvenience” as were the fishermen Jesus encountered that day along the Sea of Galilee. Imagine you are just living your life, you have a family to care for. You’re a fisherman who has boats, nets, mouths to feed. Along comes this itinerant preacher who starts the conversation by telling you how to do your job.

You’ve been out in the boat all day in the hot sun and haven’t caught a thing. And this fellow standing on the shore watching you do all the work gets into your boat and starts issuing commands. He says, “You’re not doing it right. Get back in your boat, put out a little farther and drop your nets a little deeper.”

Probably the most surprising thing about the story is that they do what they are told. They load their nets, head out a little farther, drop the nets a little deeper and lo and behold…the nets fill up with fish. The preacher was right! Others have to come help. Boats overfill with the catch of the day. And scripture says that when the fisherman, soon to be former fisherman, Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” SIN?

What was Peter’s sin? After all, Peter did exactly what he was called to do…he took the boat out, lowered the nets just as he was told. Maybe he regretted his initial reluctance. He did initially question the call. He had all the resources to follow the call but questioned Jesus when Jesus asked him to use them.

So what does it mean to be called. Scripture always tells stories that make it sound as though there is a voice involved, a voice of God speaks or Jesus speaks…that the sound of the call is actually audible. It’s not. And yet it’s clear. Remember God’s words to Isaiah? “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.” You don’t get off the hook by saying you didn’t hear it, didn’t understand it. You’re not supposed to.

William Booth was the Methodist preacher who founded The Salvation Army and became its first General in1878. General Booth said, “Not called!' did you say? 'Not heard the call? Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help.”

A little dramatic, but you get the point. You see the call is heard through the gifts we have each received. It’s not all that hard to comprehend if you take an inventory of the skills and gifts you’ve been given. Actually…the first indication that you are being called is the fact that you awoke this morning on this side of the sod. If you are alive…God is calling.

God is very specific about what each of us is called to do by the talents, skills, experiences, and resources we are given as individuals and collectively. For some among us the call has been heard in their ability to plant a community garden, for others the call is heard in the ability to knit stocking caps and gloves, for some it’s the skill to work with those who have Alzheimer’s and for others it’s the gift of empathy and experience to comfort and guide recovering addicts.

If you’ve been blessed to come out of poverty, God is calling you not to judge those who are poor but to use the skills that helped you succeed to help others to achieve the same success in their lives. If you’ve been homeless and now have shelter, that’s the sound of God’s call in your life.

I look back on my own life…God gave me a gay brother, alcoholic parents, time in politics and law teaching me to speak and to write…time working among the poorest of the poor in Nicaragua, time to work in public welfare and mental health…all those experiences and gifts were more than spending my time waiting for the Grim Reaper…they formed my call…seems clear to me that I have been called to speak for the marginalized.

The same is true in your life…look back over the years…what talents and skills did God give you, what experiences formed your life, what gifts and resources do you have? That’s God’s call.

When Jesus asked the fishermen on the Sea of Galilee to use their talents and their resources to go deeper, to venture farther from the shore…it wasn’t about teaching them to fish. They knew how to fish. It was about saying to them, you have the skills you need to find others,  to lead others, to get them to listen, to teach, to lead…and when they realized they were being called, not to simply fish but to obey, they brought their boats to shore, left everything and followed him.

Jesus never once asked them to do that. Jesus simply gave them the confidence to see that they had already been given the gifts and the experiences God needed at that time and place.

Take a personal inventory. What skills do you have? What experiences molded your life? What resources have you been given. Then look carefully on the cross…see that place where it intersects? That is the place where your skills, gifts, experiences and resources intersect with the need God is calling you to meet.

Cotton Mather said it’s not lawful for a Christian to not have a calling. I don’t know about that…I tend to question anyone who thought his calling was to burn witches at the stake…but I do believe it is not possible for a human being not to have a calling. It’s why we are here, here at Highlands at this time in our lives…it’s the purpose of our lives. And it’s not all that difficult to figure out. AMEN

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