02/06/22 – The Wonder of Being Called

THE WONDER OF BEING CALLED

February 6, 2022
5th Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 138; Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

“The year King Uzziah died,” was a troubled time on top of many years of troubling times for the people of Israel. During Uzziah’s reign, Judah, the southern kingdom, was a great and prosperous nation. According to Second Chronicles, Uzziah was crowned at the young age of 16, Uzziah reigned in an era of peace for 52 years. His success was attributed to his faithfulness and obedience to God. But as pride often goes before the fall, after decades ruling Judah, he lost his humility before God. One fateful day in his 41st year on the throne, he arrogantly walked into the most sacred space of the temple in Jerusalem, the Holy of Holies, to light incense – a job reserved for the Levite priests. He had the audacity to enter the innermost chamber of the temple that was believed to be where God resided. He approached God, not with awe, but with presumptuous posturing. Eighty priests confronted him. They were not going to follow the party line while their earthly king committed a most egregious sin.

God punished Uzziah’s breach with the sudden appearance of leprosy on his forehead. This terrible skin condition was believed to be highly contagious and made one ritually unclean. The state of ritual uncleanliness prohibited him from ever entering the temple again. He lived out the last eleven years of his life in a house by himself, under quarantine. Imagine 11 years of lockdown! His son, Jotham, took the throne. Whenever there is a transition of power, there is uncertainty, instability, and anxiety. Israel, already divided into two separate kingdoms, became a soft target for rival neighboring empires.

In the year King Uzziah died, the Assyrian Empire, which had already conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, began to approach Judah’s borders. There was a very real reason to be fearful. When Isaiah declares: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord,” he is doing more than stating the chronological date. He is describing the political and spiritual circumstances in Judah at the time of his call.

Isaiah encountered God in the inner sanctum of the temple, with far more humility than King Uzziah. Isaiah knew he was on holy ground, but he did not expect to have a full-on, five senses encounter with God. The scene Isaiah described was beyond anything he had ever imagined. He saw God sitting on a throne – well, he saw the hem of God’s robe, which was so gigantic it filled the temple. The room was filled with incense. He could see the smoke and smell the odor. He saw seraphs with 6 wings. Even these divine beings could not look at God or appear before God naked, so “with two wings they covered their eyes and with two wings they covered their bodies and with two they flew.” They declared God’s holiness three times, three being the number for holiness in Hebrew numerology. We will do this later in the service when we sing the Sanctus during Communion. When we sing “Holy, holy, holy” we are affirming that we are awestruck by God’s power and glory. The seraphs proclaimed that all the earth served as witness to God’s glory. In theological terms we say that God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (present everywhere).

This is the scenario that forms the backdrop of Isaiah’s call to be a prophet. Unlike King Uzziah, Isaiah entered the Holy of holies with awe and reverence. Isaiah experienced a vision too large in scope to be fully seen by the human eye. Isaiah saw just enough of God’s image to be thoroughly humbled. Isaiah exhibits the proper response to the One who is ultimately in control of the universe. Isaiah gave only one argument against his accepting his call: he was unworthy of the honor because he was a sinner and so were his people. As we do in worship, Isaiah made a confession, not just for himself, but also for the society in which he lived.

We read in our gospel passage for today that the fisherman, Peter, utters nearly the exact same words when Jesus issued the call to be his disciple. In the presence of divine power, both Isaiah and Peter rushed to confess their sins. The Apostle Paul confessed to the congregation in Corinth, “I was the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God.” Every person I have heard describe their feeling of being called to serve in ministry has spoken about an accompanying sense of unworthiness. But God does not call the sinless, God calls us as sinners to look within ourselves to find what keeps us from following God’s call, to wrestle with it, and emerge from our self-examination with new resolve to be the people God created us to be.

Whereas Isaiah receives his call in the temple, Peter receives his out in the world, in the grinding day-to-day toil of making a living as a fisherman to feed his family. So too are we called to be Christ’s disciples both in our worship in the sanctuary and out in the world during the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives. Without fanfare we are called to walk in Christ’s footsteps wherever we find ourselves, doing whatever task is needed for God’s kingdom on earth.

After his confession, Isaiah was given his “Assurance of Pardon.” A seraph touched his lips with a live coal from the altar. Like our sacraments, this was “a visible sign of invisible grace,” which St. Augustine famously observed. In the Old Testament, fire purifies and refines. From then on, Isaiah’s words would be God’s words to the people of Judah. God would equip him to serve. You will notice that Isaiah’s response to this divine encounter includes the basic elements of a worship service.

What is really amazing is that Isaiah said “yes” even before he learned what God was asking him to do. That is how God’s call works. We may be called to a particular ministry, but what we will encounter in the course of our ministry is unknown. After the passage we heard this morning, we find that Isaiah’s task was even harder than he could have imagined.  Isaiah learned he was being given the task of delivering a message the people would not be able to understand or accept. He then asked a more careful question: “How long, O Lord?”

God tells Isaiah that Judah will experience destruction and devastation not once but

twice. Not exactly encouraging words. Yet, there was the promise that the people who would be left to answer Isaiah’s message of repentance and transformation would be as a seed to a great tree. As Christ’s disciples, we are called to prophetic ministry. We are in perilous times – an old enemy, Russia, is threatening to start invasions to restore the former Soviet Union. Our democracy is endangered. A global pandemic grips us, with the death toll now at almost 900,000 and still, people are refusing the vaccine to protect themselves and their communities. A few obscenely wealthy individuals control more than half the total wealth of our country. For the past 50 years, the wages of the average worker have been diminished in their buying power. We refuse to heed the warnings that our exploitation of our environment is threatening the earth’s ability to sustain life. Is not this a time to heed prophetic voices rather than turn a deaf ear to those who speak truth to power and wisdom to the unwise?

God does not call only those with special skills, God empowers us with the skills we need to fulfill our call. Staying the course when headed in the wrong direction will lead us to a place where we cannot live the abundant life God intends for us. When Simon/Peter and the other three fishermen did what they always did, their nets were empty. When they followed Jesus’ instructions and did that which they believed would waste their time and resources, their catch was greater than they could ever imagine. Not only was there enough fish to feed their families, but there was also enough to feed the whole community and preserve what was left over to last beyond one day’s meal. This is the kind of abundance Westminster has created in its history of envisioning new missions that will continue beyond our own life spans. The Parish House has become more than we need. This is why we have been earnestly seeking to use our abundance upon which others in our community may feast.

Biblical scholar and prolific commentator, Walter Brueggemann gives this charge to the Church:

“The prophetic tasks of the church are to tell the truth in a society
that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and
express hope in a society that lives in despair.”
(Presbyterian Outlook onTwitter)

Like Isaiah, we are given a “charge” at the end of our worship service and receive a benediction, a blessing to go with our commission for service, equipped by God’s power and grace. We are called to be Christ’s disciples at our baptisms, and by the promises made then, we have accepted Christ’s call. Lord, here we are, Send us!

Amen. May it be so!

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2022, All Rights Reserved
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