Are we worthy of the task at hand? 2/7/10

Isaiah 6:1-8(9-13)
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Luke 5:1-11

Unique Calls to One Purpose

Isaiah and his encounter with the Lord, complete with six-winged Seraphs and the live coal, Paul’s amazing reversal of purpose (from persecutor to head PR guy of the early Christian church), and the three fishermen who left everything behind, even a recent professional success – all three of these passages share an amazingly similar theme.  Every one of them is a call story.  In each particular story, God uniquely calls the individuals into service for the Lord.  Just as we discussed with the kids, calls come in all different forms.  Some are quiet, others are noisy.  Some are sudden; others are persistent.  The constant in all forms of calls is that there are no prerequisites for being called.  You do not have to be virtuous or holy, smart or funny, or even particularly liked.  God calls who God calls for specific reasons – reasons we may never fully know or understand.  Another commonality in all these call stories is the individual’s belief (and probably a right belief) that they were unworthy to the task at hand.

The rest of the passage in Isaiah reveals to us that while Isaiah readily accepts God’s call, the message he is told to deliver to the people will harden their hearts and cause them to not hear God’s words.  It’s a counter-intuitive thing for a prophet to be called to: what feels and looks like failure to Isaiah is success in God’s realm because it is working for God’s purposes and timing.  God can work with failure … but God cannot work with inaction.  Paul, arguably the most important figure in the early church, writes “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain” (1 Cor 15:9-10).  Paul does not excuse or hide the sins of his life, but he claims them and he claims the grace of God that has allowed him to move past his mistakes and become a successful church father.  In sharing his experiences and not shielding us from the harsher truths of his story, Paul gives us an inspirational testimony about the power of experiencing God in your life.

Haiku on Call

 God calls and charges
Worth not a prerequisite
An urgent duty

 Worthless? No problem
God can work with our failures
But not inaction

 Failure is only
A redefined objective,
Success relative

What is the call of the Christian Life?

                Lastly, the three fishermen (though largely Peter in this story) are the first people called to discipleship with Christ.  It begins in the mundane setting of their workplace.  They have worked all night without any success.  They would probably be content to finish cleaning their nets and taking the rest of the day off.  But Jesus asks them to take him out on their boat so that he can teach the crowds from the water, and Simon decides to be nice and does just that.  Now just last week, Jesus was driven to a cliff by the folks in his own home town.  Since that time, he has been healing people, teaching people, and drawing larger and larger crowds.  So today’s text finds Jesus backed up to the water, and (since voices carries well over water) teaching from a boat seems the wisest course of action – both to teach the crowds and to call his first disciples.

                We don’t know what the words of his sermon were … nobody recorded his verbal teaching that day.  But none can forget his actions nor can we stop from trying to riddle out its message for our lives.  After teaching for some time, Jesus suggests that Peter put out his nets in deep water.  Perhaps with a look close to exasperation, Simon decides not to explain the recent lack of success and simply says, “If you say so …” Simon (and the rest of us) are amazed at what happens next: the nets are so full that other boats have to come help reel in the catch.  Simon is so amazed and moved that he is given a new name: Simon Peter.  And as he is called to a new life, he falls to his knees and tells God to go away from this “sinful man.”  Jesus, far from being surprised that Simon Peter is a sinner, simply responds to Peter telling him to “not be afraid. From now on you will be catching people.”  And as amazed as I might have been by this experience, my slightly jaded modern thinking person wonders if I would have been able to leave everything like Peter did.  Really, he didn’t just walk away from his life in Galilee … he walked away from his recent success.  Think about it!  He and the brothers could have lived off the money from that catch for months, I bet!  Instead, they left the father of James and John (Zebedee) to take care of the catch, and walked away with this guy that they just met that afternoon.  He taught a large crowd on their boat and told them to put out their nets.

                What exactly is the call that Peter, James, and John heard?  Their experience with the divine happened at the right time for it to change the whole course of their lives.  Their lives then became defined by their journey with Jesus.  They were disciples: they learned from Jesus’ teachings and example, and they shared what they learned with others.  Is this not what all of us are called to live and do in our own walks with Christ?

The Fisherfolk Club[1]

There was a group that called themselves The Fisherfolk Club. They started out as a gathering of people who earned their living fishing in the ocean. At first, only real fisherfolk could join. But not wanting to be selfish, and because they had nice facilities that needed to be paid for, they invited others to come in too.  In the club headquarters there were fish symbols galore, hooks, nets, and floats and rods. All the members of the club, even those who were not fishers, wore old hats with lures stuck in them and tall wading boots which got quite uncomfortable on warm days. But they were proud to be fishers and so never took them off.
They had a well-stocked library of books about fishing. And several times a year they ran seminars to which world-renounced fishers were invited to come and deliver learned lectures. All the talk and all the activities of the club centered around fishing, but as the years went by, fewer and fewer of the members actually went out fishing.  Then one day, the club had a new member. They had not had a new member for some time, so this was an interesting experience. And the new member asked an interesting question. “When do you go fishing?”
Well, it turned out that members of The Fisherfolk Club had never caught a fish. In fact, they had never actually seen a live fish. And the idea that they should go out there in a boat or wade into the water came as quite a shock to them.
They had long meetings on the subject and finally came to the conclusion that the new member would have to leave. The new member obviously knew very little about what it really meant to be a member of The Fisherfolk Club.

What is Evangelism?  A Call to Discipleship and Fishing

                Throughout the Gospels, particularly Matthew, Jesus has a rhythm of time spent away and time spend together.  Time spent away was usually prayer or fasting, sometimes it was teaching.  Then there was time together for healing and miracles, talking with the multitudes.  In this balance between retreat and engagement, we see a wonderful model for growth that focuses both on internal growth and health and external growth and relationships.  Jesus invited the fishermen to join him on his journey, not because he was lonely, but because he had things to teach them and tasks and challenges to set before them.  Are we willing to learn as those disciples learned from Jesus?  And are we willing to accept new challenges from God?

                One of the key insights that I read pointed to a very crucial reality of this call story: “Jesus did not show up after a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast.  He came to find these men at the end of a long working day, after backbreaking labor, and he told them to keep on working.”[2]  This is one part of this biblical tale that our workaholic society can very easily identify with: God does not wait for us to be ready for challenges.

Evangelism Haiku

We seek growth in God
Growth that can be seen and felt
Can we look inward?

“Catch people,” he said.
ordinary lives were changed,
forever altered.

Growth 2.0 – A Redefined Road to Success

                This church has said that it wishes to grow; I would like to suggest a slight revision in that desire.   We should probably specify: how would we like to grow? I would like to suggest that we commit to learning and growing together in Christ.  Let’s start now.  (Lenten Supper Programs)  This means talking about our faith and experiencing that faith together as a community intentionally.  I would also like to suggest that evangelism is not a dirty word.  Evangelism does not have to mean knocking on doors or getting someone to sign on the dotted line and agree with every belief that you personally have.  Evangelism does not mean trapping someone into agreeing with a certain belief or idea in order to get a meal or find respect.  Faith should never be imposed; I don’t believe faith/evangelism is supposed to be judgmental.  What evangelism does means is a faith experience that has become essential and central to a person’s identity be generously shared with those around that person so that others may also see the work of God in the world.  So to come back to our call in Christ: are we worthy of the task at hand?  Probably not, but I believe God will equip us with the necessary words and tools to spread the good news of Christ’s life, death and resurrection to the people in our community.

[1] From Ralph Milton’s RUMORS, a free Internet ‘e-zine’ for Christians with a sense of humor.

[2] Peter Eaton in Feasting on the Word.


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