Rev. Dr. Scott Herr
PLEASE READ: Isaiah 6:1-8 and Luke 5:1-11
Both the Isaiah and the Gospel texts focus our attention on the relationship between God’s calling our response. Call and response. They are inseparable. In both passages God’s power and gracious authority to bring change into the lives of people is revealed, but there is also the call to share in proclaiming the good news of the Gospel. In both texts we are invited to hear and respond to God’s Word to us.
Isaiah describes his experience of seeing the Lord in such splendid and majestic language. The Lord was sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his royal robes filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim, winged serpents who were the ancient equivalents of secret service men hovering around the Lord to protect and serve. But the presence of the Lord was impossible to contain in a closed space. The seraphim were calling to one another about how God’s glory filled the whole earth, and the very foundations of the temple trembled and shook. Smoke filled the air...
I don’t think many of us would be too confused or ponderous about the Lord’s call upon our lives if we had an experience like Isaiah! The fact is, God’s calling in the here and now typically comes in the form of a much more subtle invitation (still small voice). There are some who have earth-shattering experiences with God and dramatically turn their lives over to his saving and redemptive power, but most of us, I would guess, have come to the Lord or are yet seeking to know God’s calling with much less drama. I will never forget one of my close friends, who happened to be a salesman for a mining equipment manufacturer, asking me, “I want to commit my life to Christ and his service, but what does selling digitized industrial clutch brakes have to do with glorifying God?”
More often than not, we are called to commit our lives to Christ amidst the more mundane and monotonous tasks of daily work and labor, of ongoing family relationships and friendships, with the struggles of difficult finances, health, or career prospects. It’s not that we don’t have a heart to glorify God; the real question we are asking is, “What do I have that the Lord could possibly want or use to further the Kingdom of God?”
It is encouraging to remember that God throughout history has called into being great leaders from among the most unlikely and ill-prepared candidates for ministry. Moses, for example, first an abandoned child-murderer-run-away, fugitive of the law and shepherd becomes the liberator of the oppressed people of Israel. Jacob, the swindler who cheats his brother out of an inheritance becomes the father of a great nation. David, the murderer-adulterer, held up as one of the most godly leaders of Israel, writer of most of our Psalms. And then there is Mary, the simple maidservant, who was chosen to bring into the world God's anointed one. And what about Peter, the betrayer-coward - one of the historic pillars and evangelists of the early church. The list goes on and on...
The fact is, God has determined to usher in the proclamation of his mercy and grace through such questionable and unqualified characters like you and me. Our Lord, you see, has never been so interested in peoples' natural ability as he is in their divine availability. As the Apostle Paul writes, "God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise, and he chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. He chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks is nothing... For what seems to be God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and what seems to be God's weakness is stronger than human strength."
In our gospel lesson, Luke tells us Jesus was feeling the press of the crowds, so he borrowed a couple of boats on which he could stand and deliver his message about the “good news of the kingdom of God.” The first thing that struck me is that while Isaiah’s vision happens in the temple, here Christ’s glory is revealed out among the highways and byways of life. This is significant. More often than not, God calls us not in a “religious” moment of worship, but out there when we would least expect it… Simon Peter was finishing up some work after a hard night’s labor, but he let Jesus use his boats. And after Jesus finished speaking to the crowds, he suggested to Peter that he throw his fishing nets out in deeper water, and true to form Peter started to argue.
But then a strange thing happens. Peter says, “But at your word I will let down the nets...” And then, before they knew it, the nets were breaking and the boats were sinking because there was such an enormous catch of fish!
You see, before anything else, Jesus' mission is to let us know that God comes into our world; into our too often broken and shattered world. Here is the place we meet God, after early mornings and late nights of labor and struggle with little victory or success. Here is the place in which we begin to understand God's love for us, when we are broken and tired and shaky and just wanting to find rest. Here is the place where our lives are touched by God. As Charles Colson wrote,
"New life in the Spirit is conceived in the secret place of the soul, hidden from human eyes. This is the wonder and mystery of God's regeneration of men and women. And never in this life will we quite know how God calls people to Himself. What we do know is that the wind of the Spirit blows where it wills..."
This is good news here in France, particularly as many consider this place a “secular society” and hostile to faith. In fact, I recently read a fascinating survey. A Gallup poll in 2011 reported that 92% of French agree that “love gives meaning to life.” 34% of those who call themselves Catholics didn’t believe in God! 62% of French would be interested to talk to someone about God, but only if they could find someone they trust. People here are open to God, but if we are going to catch people with God’s love, we first of all need to be clear about the gospel and earn people’s trust.
I enjoyed seeing my friend Rabbi Tom Cohen this past Monday as he was a guest on the ACP Today radio show. In our conversation before the program, he explained the meaning of the Hebrew word “teshuva,” which is typically translated “repentance.” Its root meaning is to turn, or return or turn around. But it can also be translated “to answer.” In other words, repentance is a response to God’s loving initiative, an answer to God’s gracious invitation. God calls us to be his people, to bring the message of his salvation to all people. And we are awed and amazed. Both Isaiah and Peter, when in the presence of God, fell down on their knees, painfully aware of God’s holiness and their own unworthiness. But it is precisely when we are broken before God that God lifts us up and empowers us for life-changing and life-giving service. Just at the moment of our own humble repentance, we are called and commissioned for ministry and mission!
How God may be calling you today I do not know… Perhaps God’s call to you is to renew your marriage vows and rekindle the spark of romance with your husband or wife; perhaps the lord is calling you to turn from a sin which has hindered your peace of mind and broken your heart for some time; it might be that God is calling you to try again the process of forgiveness and reconciliation with a friend or loved one. Perhaps you are called to let go of an unhealthy relationship. Maybe God is calling you to fulfill your potential in the job you have now. Maybe you need to stop struggling with life on your own, and learn to trust and follow in the context of a small group or Bible Study. It could be that God is calling you to share your gifts for ministry in this congregation - singing, reading, praying, visiting, counseling, teaching, or reaching out with hospitality to friends who don’t have a church home. I am excited about the potential that we have to bless this city, and be a blessing to the world. But it can only happen when each of us faithfully answers the Lord’s calling upon our lives…
You see, we all have the vocation of catching others with the grace and love of Jesus Christ. We are all called to enter into and to expand the Kingdom of God for all people. How we “catch” people with God’s love and grace will look different in every relationship and context. But of one thing I’m sure: When we hear the call, we must respond, “Here I am, send me!”
Here’s the thing: whether it’s the first time or the 1,000th time… repentance involves trust. You’ve heard of the proverbial “leap of faith”? It can be scary…
I love the story Ian Cron tells of the time he took his three kids swimming at a lake resort where there were different diving cliffs off some rocks. There was a 5 meter, a 10 meter, and a 15 meter cliff. He and his wife had been arguing about whether to let their kids jump. She asked him, “Ian, what’s really going on here?”
“Look, kids get hurt doing crap like this; that’s what’s going on here. 10 meters is a long way to fall,” he said. His wife’s face softened, and she placed her hand on his cheek, “Ian, they’re not falling; they’re jumping.”
Ian concluded, “Anne was right. There is a big difference in life between a jump and a fall. A jump is about courage and faith, something the world is in short supply of these days. A fall is, well, a fall…”
They ended up jumping from the 10 meter dive. Then just for fun, they climbed up to the 15 meter cliff to just peer over the edge. That’s like jumping off a four story building... Well, his oldest 14 year old daughter just went ahead and jumped. And then as he was yelling that she was grounded until college his 11 year old daughter jumped. They both burst through the green water, giggling and shouting, “Come on, dad, jump!” “Not a prayer!” he yelled back… But then the most amazing thing happened… His 8 year old son looked up at him and said, “Dad, I’ll jump if you jump…”
Notice that Peter and the disciples followed Jesus together! Sometimes, the leap of faith happens because you know you’re not alone. You are a part of a loving faith community. You may have to take the leap of faith alone, but when you land you’ll be greeted with a loving welcome and supportive family… The end of the story is of course that Ian jumped. He said it was so high “that the impact hurt the bottom of my feet. A belly flop from that height would liquefy your internal organs. But it was exhilarating as all get-out. I was twelve again…” And then his son jumped. And his sisters cheered. And his father knew that the boy who had jumped into the water was not the boy who had come out. The old things had passed away; behold, all things were new!
Friends, I pray that you will not fall, but jump as the Lord calls you. That as you hear God’s call, you will respond in faith and repentance, and be caught up and catch others in the exhilarating, transforming life of the Kingdom of God…
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.