Equipped & Empowered to Follow God's Call
Today we heard two great stories of how God reached out to a prophet and a disciple. The first reading we heard this morning is the prophet Isaiah’s call story. His vision takes place in the Temple in Jerusalem, sometime in the 8th century BC. Because he was in the Temple, some suggest he was a priest. In this vision Isaiah sees God enthroned in heaven, attended to by angels. Confronted with this vision of the holiness of God, Isaiah is frightened and says “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips!” He's obviously worried that he is unworthy to be in God’s presence. He recognizes his own unworthiness, his own sinfulness, and because he recognizes that it terrifies him that he’s in God’s holy presence.
One of the angels, or seraphs, approaches him with fiery tongs and touches his lips with them. Now his guilt and sin are blotted out. Perhaps it touches his lips specifically to purify his mouth so he can speak God’s message to Israel. The fiery tongs both purify him and equip his lips to speak God’s truth. Now, being purified, when Isaiah hears that God is looking for someone to speak to God’s people, he gives the faithful response: “Here am I! Send me!”
Isaiah goes from fearful sinner to eager servant in a matter of seconds. He recognized his own unworthiness, but was forgiven and purified by the fiery tongs. God empowered him and equipped him for his mission to go be a prophet to Israel.
The second story we heard this morning is the calling of the first disciples in the Gospel of Luke. We’re still in that period after Epiphany where we’re working our way through the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. We’ve seen his first miracle, heard his first sermon, and now he calls his first disciples. In Luke’s Gospel it seems that Jesus has already made a name for himself by the time he calls his first disciples. And in this telling of the story Jesus doesn’t just invite them to be disciples, he causes a miraculous catch of fish, and the disciples leave behind that catch and the big payday they could’ve gotten from it, and follow Jesus.
A very interesting part of this call story to me is Peter’s response. Peter reacts to the holiness of Jesus in much the same way Isaiah reacted to encountering the holiness of God. Peter says: “Get away from me Lord for I am a sinful man!” Confronted with the holiness of Jesus, Peter recognized his own unworthiness and sinfulness. And his confession wasn’t met with condemnation, but with Jesus’ promise that He will make him fish for people. There’s a promise to Peter that he will be empowered and equipped for God’s mission in the world.
Perhaps we can call these stories Isaiah’s call story and Peter’s call story. Considering these stories makes me wonder about all the various ways we might connect with God. About the divine encounters we’ve had. We don’t have to have a vision of God enthroned in heaven or witness a miracle like the catch of all those fish. Maybe we experience the glory of God through an encounter with nature, in the middle of the woods or at the ocean or on top of a mountain. Maybe we have an experience of God’s glory at worship or listening to music. Maybe we encounter the divine in the silence of meditation or in the act of serving those in need. Maybe we experience God’s presence in a dream or an undeniable feeling of a loved one’s presence after their death. Maybe we do have a powerful vision, a near death experience, or some clear contact with the other side.
All of these are part of human experience. None is more important than the other. What’s important is that the experience connects you with God. And from that connection with God, we will hear a call to serve our role in God’s mission in the world. It may be a sudden realization like Isaiah had, or it may take years of ups and downs and difficult lessons like it did for Peter. But if we pay attention to how God might be calling us and we humbly acknowledge that we cannot do it alone, God will empower and equip us to live out our calling in much the same way He did Isaiah and Peter.
We all have a calling of some kind. Maybe we’re called to speak truth to power like Isaiah did. Or maybe we’re called to travel the world and preach about Jesus like Peter did. We all have something we’re called to do to further God’s kingdom. As St. Paul said, we are ambassadors for Christ, we are participants in the ministry of reconciliation. We are all called to love and serve the world in our own unique way. We are all called to live a life of discipleship. We are all called to let our light shine in the world. We are all called to manifest the kingdom in our lives.
What that looks like will be different for everyone. But, like Isaiah and Peter, it always starts with the humility they showed when they encountered the holy. And the trust they had that God would equip and empower them to carry out God’s mission for them. Humility and trust are the foundations of living out our call.
And in addition to humility and trust, we need listening and discernment. Listening for those divine encounters when God reaches out to us. And discernment of what they mean. We might not all be as lucky as Isaiah who knew exactly what to say, or as Peter who got to travel around with Jesus for years. We might have to spend lots of time in prayer and contemplation to seriously discern what God is calling us to. But, like them, God is calling us too.
When Isaiah and Peter had their divine encounters, it forced them to recognize their own unworthiness. Then a holy someone—the seraph for Isaiah, and Jesus for Peter—promised that God would empower them to fulfill their mission. It wasn’t that Isaiah or Peter were better than anyone else, God chose them and empowered them and that’s why they succeeded. As the saying goes: “God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips the called!” And likewise, God will equip and empower us to succeed in whatever it is we are called to do.
All of us are called. Individually and collectively. Our callings may be different at different points in our lives. As a congregation St. Matthew is called to make an impact in this time and place. And in this period of transition there’s a wonderful opportunity for discernment to where God is calling this congregation. In the coming weeks and months you’ll be invited to be a part of the discernment process, to listen for God’s calling, and to discern the congregation’s mission. And in Lent you’re invited to participate in a forty-day prayer journal and discussion on Thursday nights, where we can discern God’s call in our own individual lives and how we might contribute to the collective calling of St. Matthew and the church worldwide.
It’s an exciting thing to be called by God. To pray and listen for God’s mission to us. To consider how God is calling you, your community, the church worldwide, and humanity in general. I pray we may all take part in listening and discernment, and trust that God will guide us. And, like Isaiah and Peter, we will be equipped and empowered to follow the call. Amen.
Pastor Brian, 2/6/22