Called

Isaiah 6:1-8, [9-13] | Psalm 138 | 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 | Luke 5:1-11

Our scriptures are filled with stories of people who are called, and by “called” I mean that faithful people have discerned that God is offering direction and purpose in their life and making a proposition to them. A “call,” then, might also be described as a divine invitation. A “call” is certainly a mile-marker for where we sense the presence of God intersecting in our lives.

A prophetic call from God, or from the voice of the Lord however we discern it, is a multi-stage process. God chooses a person, usually at a moment of crisis when some intervention is needed and puts forth a message to proclaim or action to perform (typically an impossible task). The person denies it because of their inadequacy. God basically says, “I’m gonna be here with you,” usually offers an affirming sign, and keeps the promise as the calling is fulfilled.

Fortunately, our calls are not typically like Isaiah’s, who came directly in the presence of the LORD almighty. And what did he encounter? The presence of the LORD on a high throne, the LORD’s hem–the LORD’s glory–filling the whole temple. This is saying that God of heaven also fills all of creation with God’s glory, and Isaiah was seeing it. Seraphs are in attendance. Seraphs, not chubby little cherubs but seraphs, six-winged fiery beings. They sang their Sanctus that we sing a version of at every Eucharist. “Holy, holy, holy Lord,” we sing. As they sang, the very ground shook, and the air filled with smoke. Isaiah is struck by his unworthiness, his uncleanliness yet is still awe-struck that he has seen the LORD of hosts. A seraph flies to him with a coal from the altar and touches his lips, departing from Isaiah all guilt, blotting out all sin. And now when the voice of the LORD asks “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” what does Isaiah say?

“Here am I; send me!”

This person Isaiah, whom we know so little about, becomes one of the most renowned of the Prophets, a mouthpiece for the voice of God. And the optional text for today shares that what Isaiah is called to share is not good news, not what people want to hear. There’s a reason not many clamor to be a prophet or even to do the work of God. This passage, this call story of Isaiah is one of the Old Testament lessons suggested for ordinations to the priesthood in our Church. More than likely it points not to the magnitude of God’s commission (which is still great) but rather points to the reality that God calls and equips all of us to holy work, to ministry in our particular context, be it in the church or in the world at large. Isaiah can represent the universal believer.

Peter has a way of filling in for us as a type of “every man,” too. Simon Peter has a very different kind of encounter with God, one much more down-to-earth. Peter’s been working all night and is working with his fellow fishermen tending to the nets. Jesus has come near the Sea of Gennesaret, another name for the Sea of Galilee, and is preaching to the crowd that’s pressing in. Jesus gets in one of the boats and asks Simon Peter to push it out a bit so he can teach the crowd sitting down, perhaps to let the wind carry his voice to the people. Peter and crew hold the boat in place, maybe enjoying a bit of rest after a night of work, listening to the voice of Jesus while they man the boat on autopilot. They do what they do with ease.

Then Jesus tells Peter, calls on him, to go out deeper and to cast the nets, and Peter doesn’t hold back his resignation. “We’ve already fished all night and got nothing,” Peter says. They must have exchanged looks or something nonverbal because Peter goes on to say, “Alright . . .okay . . . if you say so,” as if his mom has just told him to do it because she said so. And they catch more than they can handle. In the chaos of the moment when the weight of their catch is about to sink them, Peter falls at Jesus’ feet, confessing his sinfulness–not unlike Isaiah in the presence of God. Jesus tells Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” Jesus hears Peter confess his inadequacy but still chooses him, calls him to a greater purpose, and in telling him not to be afraid is also affirming what he says repeatedly, “I’m gonna be with you.” Peter, James and John bring their boats to shore and leave everything to follow Jesus and become fishers of people.

The call of the apostles lives on in faithful disciples, including Paul, who knows he’s called to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Paul is quick to remind us of his past sins and the grace he’s received. He reminds us today how hard he works, as if he’s the hardest worker of all time. His confidence always strikes me as boastful, but maybe his self-assuredness is an affirming characteristic, one meant to give us strength and confidence, too. Paul never fails to acknowledge his past sins, how he was unworthy, too. Yet  he continues forward, advocating for the faith, shaping the church as one Body in Christ.

Where would we be if any one of these people has stopped at their claims of unworthiness: Isaiah emphasizing his uncleanliness as he must have been where he wasn’t allowed in the Holy of Holies; Peter, who could have stayed with his boat, focusing solely on the fish he may or may not catch; Paul, if he would have let his blindness lead him to despair? Sure, God could move on to the next person, and we don’t know how many were before these chosen ones. But these are the people who answered God’s call in their life and said in one way or another: “Here am I; send me.”

Send me to proclaim the Good News of God through Christ. Send me to learn the skills to heal and comfort the sick. Send me to build homes. Send me to teach the children. Send me to defend the accused. Send me to raise a family. Send me to change policies. Send me to care for our roads. Send me to protect the citizens. Send me to fill our community with music or art. Send me to fill hunger. Send me. Send me. Send us. Here we are.

Even if we’ve known since we are a child what we want to do with our lives, there will come a point when we want to say, “Whoah. Not that. Not me.” We may think we don’t have the skills, or we may think we’re not worthy. We’re sinful. We’re not the right person. And we may not be wrong. But when we enter into holy work, we’re not doing it because we can cover it all on our own. Actually, we cannot do it on our own. We depend upon God’s help, in any way it comes. It’s going to come from mentors and teachers, friends and allies, and even opponents who strengthen us along the way. There may be those auspicious times when things just seem to align in the perfect way, reminding us that we are where we’re supposed to be, doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing. There may be times when everything seems wrong and we think we’ve messed up, missed the call, but there’s a still, small voice that reminds us not to give up, that it’s just temptation prowling at our door trying to keep us from doing good work.

When the boats were laden with their catch, Peter turns to Jesus, falls at his feet, and tells him to “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Peter, who had been listening to Jesus, maybe halfheartedly, confessed that he had turned away from God. Peter was working night shifts and probably wasn’t keeping the law as well as he was supposed to be keeping it. But mostly, Peter, in his resignation to do what Jesus invited him to, was hinting at his greater distrust of God. Almost like he was saying, “Fine, I’ll throw the nets in; it’s not like it’s going to make a difference.” Peter didn’t trust, until he saw that it did make a difference, and then he, like the others, was amazed. And if Jesus can lead them to a great catch, what if everything else he was saying was true and could happen? Jesus tells them, “Do not be afraid.” He’s going to be with them every step of their way.

Just like with us when we are called. In all our questioning, all our discernment, all our doubts, and all our resignation or faithful trust, Jesus is with us. God is with us. Yes, it’s scary when we are called to proclaim what people don’t want to hear. Yes, following the Way of Jesus might take us in new directions. Yes, it’s okay to be self-assured and confident in faith, so long as we know that it’s grace that makes us whole and not any effort of our own. Yes, when we discern the call of God, it’s up to us to go through the process and choose whether or not we want to answer or not. We always have a choice, but only God leads us to life abundant, love eternal. This I trust. This I believe, as one who like you has been called.

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Called Out

1 Samuel 3:1-20 | Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 | 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 | John 1:43-51

Back in November (Proper 28) was when we had to opportunity to look at Judges as our Old Testament reading, when Deborah is named as a prophet of the time and when Jael made a surprising move involving a tent peg and Sisera’s skull (and that’s not even the worst thing accounted for in the time of the judges). Now, in the season after Epiphany we hear a bit of Samuel’s story. I say “a bit” because his life from before conception to after his death is accounted for in the Bible, which is quite a rarity. This also the transition from the period of judges (which wasn’t working out so well for the Israelites) to the rise of the monarchs.

Today we have this opening sentence setting the scene for us, a brief yet telling commentary of the time.

“Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”

Samuel, a young lad, ministers to the high priest Eli, who is all but blind and depends greatly upon Samuel. And the word of Lord–revelations of God–were rare; visions or prophecies were equally sparse. Since we’re reading the Word of God, a God of abundance and in our season when Christ Light is manifest, our sense of anticipation builds. What happens next? We know it’s the LORD calling out to Samuel in the night, but Samuel, naturally thinks it’s his master.  Even the High Priest isn’t aware of the LORD’s voice, as infrequent as it had become, until the voice has called out three times. The faithful master gives his “son” instruction on heeding the voice of the LORD, little does he know it will indicate his own ruin. For Eli’s sons had blasphemed God, disobeying laws regarding how fat and meat are separated and offered to God before they are consumed. It seems a little outrageous to us, to be judged for such a minor offense, but these were the commandments the faithful were to abide by, and Eli as a High Priest has standards against which to be held. He, like most parents these days, loved his kids, and probably chided them like I do mine for their transgressions, but things were different then. The LORD proclaimed what he was going to do, and Samuel was to be the one to deliver the news. Samuel, who has heard the voice of God is, as his first task as prophet, to deliver the news to Eli. Was this call a joy to Samuel? Was this something he looked forward to? Don’t you know the weight and dread he carried to the next day when Eli convinced him to share? And Eli, good and faithful as he was, accepted the LORD’s judgment, not arguing or protesting, showing us the way of obedience. Similarly, we see Samuel assuming his call, and we are told that he becomes a trustworthy prophet as he continues to heed the voice of the LORD, bearing the burden of responsibility faithfully, obediently.

Our gospel shows us a different call commencing. Jesus decides to go to Galilee and finds Philip, telling him to “Follow me.” I’m sure it was Jesus’ charisma and presence that compelled Philip to follow, but Philip finds Nathanael and tells him that they need to follow Jesus of Nazareth, the one of whom prophecies have been told. Nathanael protests: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Now, in the news lately there’s been lots said about countries from which the outcome would be questionable. I’ve seen memes already generated calling Nazareth one of these kind of countries.

Philip doesn’t react much, though. He just says, “Come and See.”

Isn’t that what we have to do? We can’t tell someone how they’re going to experience Jesus. We can love our experience at church and feel like it’s helping us live a godly life, but we can’t describe or even pretend to know how someone else will experience Christ here. They have to come and see for themselves. First, they have to be invited. (That’s our ongoing responsibility, to invite others to come and see the presence of Christ in our midst!) Thankfully, Nathanael does go with Philip, and what happens next? Nathanael calls Jesus “Rabbi,” “Son of God, “King of Israel.”

What happened in the point between saying “What good can come out of Nazareth?” to “Rabbi, Son of God, King of Isarel”? Nathanael encountered Jesus and something transformative happened, something we can’t understand except that it was some kind of epiphany, some kind of realization about God being manifest before him. That’s the kind of thing we expect in the presence of Christ, but where do we see that around us today? Maybe we are attuned to see it all the time, but maybe not.

A couple of weeks ago, comedian Sarah Silverman was called something profane on Twitter. It would have been completely normal for her, a witty comedian, to fire back an intelligent insult, invoking the supporting rage of her followers and erupting a flame war of epic proportions. No one would have thought much about it.

But she didn’t.

Sarah said something to the effect of: “Behind all your hate and rage, I see pain. I see you just trying to get kicked off Twitter.” She took a moment before quipping back to him to look at his profile and saw that this was a desperate, pain-riddled guy who was on the path to further isolate himself and seek further into despair. And she wasn’t having it. She identified with him and invited him to see a different way, to choose love, to have a little hope. And she offered tangible hope to him, helping him out tremendously, networking him with resources in his community. She didn’t have to. When he asked why she was offering him hope, why she was offering to help him, she basically admitted that she didn’t know but that maybe it was something in his eyes. I looked at the guy’s profile. I’m not sure that I would have reacted the same way she did. I might have just chosen not to react at all, turned a blind eye.

But that’s always a choice we have when we are called out. How do we react? Do we hear it at all? Do we understand what’s being asked of us? Do we reply with a smart-alec response? Do we choose love? It’s up to us, but however we reply, I’m not sure we always perceive that we are in the presence of God or that we have the eyes of many paying attention. We just don’t realize the importance of our lives in the scheme of things. It takes someone who knows us fully, intimately, someone who knows our rising up and going down, someone who knit us in our mother’s womb, someone like God. God knows us intimately, loves us deeply, and calls us always to live fully into the life for which we were created. It’s up for us to discern how we are to do this, and it’s not going to be easy. But it’s up for us to decide what it looks like to choose to heed the voice of God, to follow Christ, and to choose love.

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Clarity of Vision

"William Blake - Christ Giving Sight to Bartimaeus - Google Art Project" by William Blake - XQENbMVCvBS7kw at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William_Blake_-_Christ_Giving_Sight_to_Bartimaeus_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg#/media/File:William_Blake_-_Christ_Giving_Sight_to_Bartimaeus_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
William Blake – “Christ Giving Sight to Bartimaeus”

The Scripture Texts for Proper 25, Year B, Track 1  are

Job 42:1-6, 10-17 | Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22 | Hebrews 7:23-28 | Mark 10:46-52

It’s a dusty, busy, crowded scene, the street where we find Bartimaeus today. I’m sure Bartimaeus wasn’t the only one begging, and the twelve disciples aren’t the only ones in the crowd following Jesus to Jerusalem. Still others are likely watching the passers-by with curiosity, suspicion, or apathy. The hearts and minds of the men, women, and children sound in myriad voices, a cacophony contrasting with that of the clarity of purpose, the clarity of vision with which Jesus made his way, being one so fully aligned with the will of God.

The scene isn’t dissimilar from today. We are part of the crowd following Jesus. We, like Bartimaeus, ask for mercy. We, too, follow our Lord and Savior toward the promised land through our loud and busy lives.

Every three years in our lectionary, we come to this healing of Bartimaeus, to this scene at Jericho, where Jesus stands still and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Let me see again,” Bartimaeus says.

“Go,” Jesus tells him, “your faith has made you well.” With regained sight, with renewed vision, Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way.

Thank you, Jesus, for standing still.

While we may not be blinded by an all-consuming darkness or desperation, we may be wearing blinders, oblivious in other ways. We may be like the crowd telling Bartimaeus to stay down and keep quiet. So focused are we on our goal to where we think we are headed that we might trip upon one another, caught off-guard by the sudden stop in our journey. Jesus is standing still. Hopefully he has our attention.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks all of us in our moment of pause.

“Let me see again,” we might say. “Remind me where we’re going, what we’re doing. Restore my vision. Rekindle my passion for God’s will, the fire of Spirit within me.”

We’re crazy to ask such a thing, you know.

If we look around with unobstructed vision, we see things as they are, and we can’t unsee.

Starting with ourselves, we recognize the wholeness Christ brings to our broken lives, the healing we experience through redemption and the power that brings to us.

Then we notice the injustices around us. If you don’t already see, talk to parishioners about Project Hope, Jackson House, or Salvation Army. Ask about Safe Haven, Potter’s Clay, and Samaritan Ministries. Talk to principals, teachers, doctors, and nurses about our local schools and the uninsured. Talk to Kathy, CB, and me about the needs of folks we see here throughout the week and about other people and agencies that are struggling to meet those needs. Jesus opens our eyes to see, our minds to understand.

With clear vision, with wholeness and well-being, Jesus tells us to “Go.” Where else have we to go but after Jesus? He’s not telling us to go away from him. There is no place we can go that Jesus hasn’t already been or isn’t already present. In our moment of pause, we are re-set, but we can’t stay still, basking in the radiance of Christ. He doesn’t say, “Stay.” He says, “Go.” We are, after all, his disciples. We are to get moving. We follow him.

Next Sunday in our National Cathedral in D.C., Presiding-Bishop-elect Michael Curry will be installed as Presiding Bishop. In a recent interview, Bp. Curry says that one thing we most need in The Episcopal Church is “clarity of gospel vision.” According to Bp. Curry, who sees his position as CEO of The Episcopal Church also as “chief evangelical officer,” this clarity of vision means we Christians are clear about our role in what he calls the “Jesus Movement.” We are full-blown evangelists, proclaiming the good news of Christ, making more disciples, baptizing in the name of the triune God, all the while following Jesus on the way to the promised land. (He knows this is crazy, too, which is why he wrote a book called Crazy Christians. But it’s a good crazy.)

Evangelism doesn’t mean making others come to our church, which is probably the thought that makes most Episcopalians shudder. Evangelism “happens where we get into the deeper spiritual thing where (our faith stories) meet.”* It means my path crosses with someone else’s on the journey, and we pause together long enough to create a relationship. Somehow, when we open our eyes, we can open our hearts, too. Following Jesus takes us to places where we meet people face to face. We look into the eyes of a child we mentor and marvel at the hope still brightly shining, no matter what her life circumstances may be. We drop off the box of food at a place that doesn’t seem like much but is home to a family. We pray over the wounds of the sick and grasp the soiled hand because that is what love in action looks like. This is what Jesus has taught us to do. This, Curry says, “sets the stage for the Spirit to do what the Spirit’s going to do. And at that point, … it’s up to the person and the Spirit.”

We open up a space for love to intercede.

This is what evangelism looks like to us today.

For us Christians, evangelism includes talking about our faith in Jesus. It means talking about where we find God in our lives, especially in grace-filled moments. Sharing our stories with others about how we came to St. Luke’s and why we stay gives witness to others about how we follow Jesus through this place.

We understand we are following Jesus first and foremost. We love St. Luke’s with a passion. We’re going to raise a lot of money to assure our church’s stability and future, but we’re not a building first and then followers of Jesus. We’re following the way of Jesus, moving toward the kingdom with every thought and step inside and outside these blessed walls. We want to enable our church here in Hot Springs to continue to offer the many resources it provides to us and to our community. We want the ministries offered to grow because there is need and because we are called to serve. In this place we can be still, be healed, and go out again to share our ongoing story in Christ.

I often hear people say that if they’re still alive, they still have a purpose. Of course we do. We have the particular purpose of being disciples of Jesus, of following his way yet in our individual ways.

In Jericho, it looked like realizing we were wrong to hold Bartimaeus back and telling him to “take heart; get up,” helping him to move into the presence of Jesus and then walking alongside him toward Jerusalem.

Today as we move with Jesus, it can look like listening — listening to the friend who needs to share her sorrows and loneliness. Listening to our kids–young or old–who need our attention and affection especially when they are trying our patience. We hear the need and, as Jesus showed us, we stop to listen.

Today, moving with Jesus looks like stepping out of our comfortable routine to volunteer with those who expand our understanding of the human condition, giving our most valuable resource of time.

Being part of the Jesus movement looks like sharing this feast and other meals with all kinds of people, supporting ministries, organizations, and institutions that promote the teachings of Jesus and bring the promised land a little closer.

Our role as disciples requires vision made clear by faith in Christ. We need this clarity of vision to keep us on the path Jesus has already forged for us. Lord knows I need to stop more often than every three years to be still and regain my focus. Daily prayer helps keep us closer God and more aware of the grace of God in our lives, keeping us ever-ready to share the good news with others. Weekly worship helps unify the body of Christ, strengthening that clarity of gospel vision that leads us as a church forward, following Jesus through all that is and is yet to come. So we go today with restored vision to make room for Spirit to do some work, God’s will be done.

*“Michael B. Curry: Christian leaders need clarity of gospel vision,” Faith & Leadership, Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, October 19, 2015, accessed October 22, 2015, https://www.faithandleadership.com/michael-b-curry-christian-leaders-need-clarity-gospel-vision.

Image used is part of Google Art Project and is licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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