By the Rev. Darren Miner
When I was going through the ordination process, I was asked again and again to explain my experience of God’s call to serve. The question was a bit embarrassing for me, because I didn’t have a dramatic story to tell. For me, God’s call came as a rather vague sense of spiritual hunger. Have you ever been hungry but didn’t know what you wanted to eat? You look through the cupboard, and you root around in the refrigerator trying to figure out what it is that you are craving. Well, that’s what it was like for me when I first experienced God’s call. But God’s call comes in many shapes and forms, and in today’s scripture readings, we have references to three rather dramatic calls to ministry.
First, we heard the story of Isaiah’s call to serve God as his prophet. It begins with a vision of God’s throne room in Heaven. Isaiah sees God himself sitting on a throne, being served by fearsome seraphs singing God’s praise. (And the song they sing should sound familiar, for it is the Sanctus, which we sing at every Eucharist.) Isaiah cowers in fear and shame, bemoaning his sinfulness and the sinfulness of his people. A seraph responds by touching Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal, thereby purifying him from his sin. Ouch! Then God speaks out, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” With unbelievable bravery, Isaiah pipes up, “Here am I; send me!”
Now, the lectionary allows us to stop there, on a high note. But if we do that, we miss Isaiah’s actual commission. As it turns out, Isaiah is given the difficult job of going to his people and pronouncing God’s judgment on them. God warns Isaiah that his message will fall on deaf ears. The Children of Israel are expected to do what American children do when they see or hear what they don’t like. They close their eyes. They put their hands over their ears. And they try to drown out the unwanted message by intoning, “La, la, la, la, la….”
On the one hand, it must have taken some of the pressure off Isaiah, knowing ahead of time that he wasn’t really expected to succeed. On the other hand, it must have been a bit depressing to know that he was likely to fail, no matter how hard he tried.
Next, we heard an excerpt from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Things are not going well in Corinth, and Paul feels compelled to remind the Corinthians of the fundamentals of the faith: that Christ died for their sins, was buried, was raised on the third day, and appeared to the disciples and to others. He then reminds them of his own call to serve the Lord, which, as you may recall, came in the form of a blinding light and a voice from Heaven while he was on the road to Damascus. Paul makes a rather strange comment about that experience, saying that it came “as to one untimely born.” In other words, his call to serve Jesus Christ was like a premature birth. For on the day that he was struck blind by the heavenly light, he was not prepared for the painful spiritual rebirth that he would have to undergo.
Lastly, we heard the account of Simon Peter’s call to serve the Lord. After an unfruitful night of fishing, St. Peter is told to go out onto the lake one more time and to cast his nets. He obeys, and the result is a boatload of fish. Realizing that Jesus is some kind of messenger from God, Peter falls to his knees and confesses his sinfulness. Jesus responds with these words: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” Now, there are several ways of looking at what just happened. Maybe Jesus performed this miracle to authenticate himself as one sent by God. Maybe Jesus performed the miracle out of compassion for the failed fishermen. But just maybe Jesus did it because he had an irrepressible sense of humor. Maybe he sent Peter and the others out to net a miraculous catch of fish just so that he could deliver his punchline: “From now on you will be catching people.”
Now, at this point, I think I have touched upon all three calls to God’s service found in the appointed readings. Even so, there is one more call that I need to address: your call! For each of you here today will be called again and again to serve the Lord. Of course, how those calls come about varies from person to person. Not all of us get a vision of God’s throne room. Not all of us are blinded by a light from Heaven. Not all of us are beneficiaries of a miraculous catch of fish. Some of us just feel a vague, gnawing hunger for something different!
In any case, today you are being reminded to listen for that call—to keep your ears and eyes open for opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and to help restore all people to unity with God and one another. You are not promised to succeed—the great prophet Isaiah was told to expect utter failure! But that doesn’t matter so much. What matters more is that you do your utmost for the Most High. And if you find yourself doubting that you have what it takes to serve the Lord, just repeat the words of St. Paul: “By the grace of God I am what I am., and his grace toward me has not been in vain.”
After this service, we will gather downstairs for the annual meeting. The vestry has come up with three modest goals for 2019: 1) to make the Sunday service more user-friendly and accessible; 2) to find ways to acquire more visitors; and 3) to become more visible in the community. You will be asked in the coming weeks to write down your suggestions on how we might achieve these mission goals.
More importantly, you are being asked right now by “yours truly” to consider whether these goals for the parish might be God’s call to you. How might you spread the word that the Church of the Incarnation is a place where people can find God and be transformed? How might you play an integral role in inviting visitors to our Sunday worship and welcoming them as valued guests? How might you help this parish to be more active in the community and to make a real difference to the neighborhood? Now, it may be that God is calling you to service in a completely different area of your life, totally unrelated to this parish. But I guarantee that God is calling you to do something. The only question is “How will you respond?”
© 2019 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.