St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
The Rev. Patricia Dickson
5th Sunday after Epiphany
February 20, 2019
“God’s Call to Us”
As I have shared with many of you, when I discerned my call to priesthood, I was more mortified than joyous. The mortification part came when I took a long, hard look at myself and realized there was no way I could do it. First of all, I knew who I was in the dark parts of my heart and soul and what I had done and could do—- I was not worthy to gather up the crumbs. Secondly, I was profoundly shy and could not speak in front of people—- I would just stand there and shake. Further, my low self-esteem convinced me that I had nothing worthwhile to say even if I could speak. And lastly, I was introverted. What was God thinking? I told God that if I was going to be a priest, God would have to get me there.
My transformation began with something I already had—- a passionate love of Eucharist and an irrational, unrelenting desire to preside at our Lord’s table. This is what pulled me forward on God’s impossible journey for me whenever I was too afraid to move. Then, slowly, caring for people one to one in my work as a registered nurse became more global—- the more need I saw, the more I emerged from my shell to help. Next, I found my voice advocating for the least among us—- the poor, disabled, suffering, marginalized and invisible in the world around me. And throughout, the more I learned about God, the more my love and faith grew, and the more I wanted to speak—- I had to speak.
The Bible is full of reluctant conscripts. In response to God’s call to bring God’s people out of Egypt, Moses said to God: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Even when God reassured him that God would be with him—- and then gave details about where he should go and what he should say, Moses still chomped at the bit. He said: “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now… I am slow of speech and slow of tongue… please send someone else.”
The prophet Jeremiah had a similar excuse when God told him he had appointed him a prophet to the nations: “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy!” This didn’t sit well with God who said he would be with Jeremiah to deliver him and then touched Jeremiah’s mouth to put his words into it.
Isaiah’s response to God was similar. After he had seen a vision of the Lord of hosts sitting on a throne in the temple, he said, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips…” Hearing that, the Lord sent a Seraph to touch Isaiah’s lips with a hot coal and say, “now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then having removed Isaiah’s obstacle to becoming God’s prophet, the Lord asked, “ Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And Isaiah said, “Here am I; send me!”
In today’s Gospel, Simon Peter’s response to nets exploding with fish from the deep water Jesus had directed him to was to fall down at Jesus’ knees and say,” Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In response, Jesus told him not to be afraid and that from then on, he would be catching people. Peter left everything to follow him.
There seems to be a pattern here in these initial responses to God’s call: a recognition of sinfulness, an awareness of unworthiness and/or a reluctance or inability to speak—- followed by God’s promise of help. Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Peter are speaking directly to us through the millennia and are showing us God’s penchant for choosing the broken and equipping them for whatever lies ahead.
While it is true that many of us—- like Mary the Mother of God—- hear God’s call and jump without hesitation into God’s ocean (as Peter did after his confession), many of us hear God’s call and aren’t sure that was his voice. Or we convince ourselves that whomever saw something in us is mistaken. Sometimes we want to do it but time doesn’t permit; we start, but don’t finish; we don’t have the time; or, it scares us so badly that we run away.
It is important for us to remember that God’s call to us is not limited to what we should do when we grow up. In fact, the majority of calls from God are daily nudges throughout the day to help us build the Kingdom, one interaction at a time. But even these calls can and do evoke the same responses in us as the big ones do. The best part is that God insists on calling us out of ourselves and comfort zones over and over again—- and then leads us into great adventures in love.
As we know, our over-arching call from God is to love God and all of God’s children with all of our hearts. This is God’s deepest desire for us, that we might love God and one another as he loves us, so that God’s Kingdom might be realized on earth as it is in heaven. If we love God, we are called to feed his sheep.
Let us also keep in mind, however, that because this great call to love is other-directed—- given to God and his children—- we can sometimes forget that this great call to love also transforms the one who loves. Even when we do the smallest loving things, we are changed. Something as simple as asking a tired shopper unloading groceries into their car if you can take their cart and spare them the walk back to the store can change us. Did you ever notice the connection, however momentary, that can form between you and a stranger, the joy within it for both of you, when you reach out?
The truth is, whenever we answer the call to open our hearts to strangers or family or friends—- no matter how insignificant it seems to us—- God more and more makes his dwelling place within us. And that—- little by little—- makes us a new creation, filled with God’s light. All we need to do is listen, get over ourselves, trust God to give us what we need to answer his call and be transformed.
It is fortuitous that today’s readings about the calls of Isaiah and Peter are coinciding with St. Andrew’s beginning a new pastoral care ministry (which we will hear about after the 10 o’clock service today) and our seeking to revitalize the ones we have (which we will also learn about after the 10 o’clock service). Please join us. God may have something very special for you. So—- if today you hear his voice—- harden not your hearts and prepare for a great adventure. Amen.