The Triune God has called you, and given you what you need to be faithful; trust that, and don’t worry so much that you don’t have what Isaiah, Peter, and Paul seem to have. You’ll do just fine, God says.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Lect. 5 C
Texts: Isaiah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
These three can be hard to relate to.
Isaiah – the best known of Israel’s prophets. Paul – author of over half the New Testament, the greatest preacher the Church has known. Simon Peter – a key leader of the disciples, whom our Roman Catholic siblings believe was the first pope.
These amazing servants of God we heard of today had powerful, life-changing, unmistakably divine call stories. Isaiah literally sees God while at worship in the Temple. Paul – who refers back to his call in today’s reading – is knocked down and Christ speaks to him from heaven. Peter sees Jesus cause an impossible catch of fish.
In worship we want to hear what God’s Word has to say in our lives. You look for God’s Word to comfort you, or help you, or even challenge you, for God’s Word to connect with your reality.
What of these three giants of the faith is relatable to you or me?
Like these three, you and I have been called by God.
It’s just that most of us weren’t conscious of it at the time. If you were raised by Lutherans, or Catholics, or Episcopalians (or Methodists or Presbyterians for that matter), God’s call to you to serve probably happened when you were a few weeks old.
You might have been put into a white garment. You were carried into the church, where someone threw water on your head in the name of the Triune God. You might have been anointed with oil, marked with the cross as a sign that you belong to God.
Everything we claim about baptism puts it at the same level as all the calls of these three greats. You are set aside, made holy, for the sake of the Gospel. Someone promised on your behalf that you would be raised in the faith, raised to witness to Christ Jesus in your words and actions, care for others and the world God made, work for justice and peace.
There is no greater call for those who follow Christ than the anointing of baptism. The expectations of God for what you will do with your life in Christ in this world, are the same as for Isaiah, Paul, and Peter.
Why doesn’t it feel the same? Because most of us don’t have comparable experiences to theirs.
Being called to serve as Christ when you’re a month old doesn’t really register as much as a major miracle done before your eyes. So we can unfavorably and unwisely compare our own calls.
My mother had at least two major visions or revelations of God that radically shaped her life going forward. Since my childhood I’ve known these powerful stories. I haven’t had visions like that. I don’t remember a time of wishing I’d had such visions. I have long wondered if it meant anything that I didn’t.
But I was raised by a mother and a father who believed that when they carried me to the baptismal font – 59 years ago this coming Thursday – they were setting me aside as a child of God, a servant of Christ. I was raised to believe that God had a need for me. That I had gifts to discover that God meant to be used to make a difference in the world.
I was raised as if I’d had the same kind of call story as any of the three today. And that’s been enough for me.
Because here’s what Isaiah and Paul and Peter would say to you today.
It’s not the way you are called that makes a difference, it’s that the Triune God calls you. It’s not your gifts or success at the calling that makes a difference, it’s that God’s Spirit works in you.
Truth is, however they began, these three knew failures. Even at his call, Peter admitted his unworthiness. He bumbled through his discipleship, especially before Pentecost, and we love him for it. His mistakes give us hope we might be useful in our incompetence.
Isaiah – who also declared his sinfulness as he was called – struggled with people who didn’t want to hear what God told him to say. Paul was utterly transformed from an opponent of Christ to a brave and visionary preacher of God’s reign. But he struggled with sin, envy, rage, and sometimes even missed his own clear point.
But we still listen to Isaiah 3,000 years later because through Isaiah God still speaks to us. We listen to Paul 2,000 years later, Sunday after Sunday, because, flawed as he is, God uses him to proclaim God’s undying, transforming love in Christ for all God’s children. 2,000 years later, we’re still listening to the story of Peter’s call, and wondering what our own call might be.
It’s not that these three were great. But they let God use them to proclaim God’s goodness and love in the world. And God did, and still does.
God’s Word tells you these calls not so you envy them, but to remind you of yours.
To remind you that, maybe before you could even eat solid food or speak, you were called to be God’s representative in this world, bearing God’s love and grace and life. And also – to invite you to open your eyes to times and places God has spoken to you with clarity.
I haven’t had my mother’s experiences. But I can think of a number of times in my life where God made something clear to me, whether about God’s truth, or my call, or an answer to something in this world. These became watershed moments in my life. Everything changed after them.
But here’s the wonder: if I tried to describe one to you right now, it would be impossible for me to fully explain why that quote in a book, or that thought of a path, or whatever experience I had, changed everything. It did, but it’s not always obvious to others why. Not like my mother’s experiences were, or these three. So yours also might be hard to explain to others but very real to you. Watch for these moments.
And here’s the truth: even after those moments God spoke to me clearly, when God shifted my life and nothing was the same after, I still messed up. I still sometimes forgot what God had shown me. I still struggled to be Christ in my life. Just like Isaiah and Paul and Peter. And my mother.
But the call is always about the Triune God who is calling, who promises to make something happen through you.
God is faithful. You are called to be Christ in this world. And God will work through whatever you bring to the job and make it happen.
Maybe you won’t ever be as famous as Isaiah or Paul or Peter. But then, no one will read about your mistakes 2,000 years from now, either. So that’s a good thing.
Trust this most of all: when God brought you through baptismal waters, God knew you, just like these three. God saw this hope you have that you can share, gave you unique gifts you can use to bring God’s love in Christ into your world. God put you in a place where God knows you can do some good.
It’s not about whether you think you’re up to it, or as good as anyone else. It’s what God thinks and does that matters. And God is delighted to call you and make you exactly what God needs to bring death-defeating love and hope into your world through you.
In the name of Jesus. Amen