Sunday’s sermon: Send Who? Me?

God is calling

Texts used – Isaiah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

  • There’s a book that I used to read with my mom when I was a little kid. It’s called The Do-Something Day by Joe Lasker.[1]
    • Story about a little boy named Bernie
      • Bernie = excited because “It was a sparkly, sunny, do-something day,” and all he wants to do is help the people he loves
        • Tries to help his dad → Dad’s too busy
        • Tries to help his mom → Mom’s too busy
        • Tries to help his older brother → brother’s too busy
      • Not surprisingly, in the face of all of one “no” after another, Bernie gets discouraged. The sparkle and excitement that started his day disappear pretty quickly, and Bernie decides that, if no one needs him, he’s just going to run away from home. So he leaves his house and starts walking down the street.
    • Fortunately, the story doesn’t stop there … though we’re going to pause there for now. We’re going to pause there because we’ve all had our moments like Bernie, haven’t we? Moments when, despite our best efforts and our purest intentions, the sparkle wears quickly off our day … our week … our moment … our experience, and we are left simply feeling undervalued, underappreciated, and under qualified.
      • Moments like this leave us torn
        • Part of us still wants to do more – be helpful, be courageous, be useful (the “Bernie” part of us)
        • Other part worries that we actually can’t do it – aren’t capable, aren’t equipped, aren’t “the right person” for the job
  • Something about being called by God that makes us feel that uncertainty even more
    • REMINDER: God calls each and every one of us to something
      • Called to a particular career or vocation
      • Called to a role in life (parent, organized person, creative person, roles in local groups, kids’ sport coaches, etc.)
      • Called to a relationship
      • Called to a mission (local mission to international mission)
      • There are lots of different ways that God can call us in our lives. So there’s no pointing fingers this morning. There’s no hearing this message and saying, “She must be talking to the person next to me, because God hasn’t called me.” Wrong. God calls everyone. The question is: What has God called you to?
    • But what is it about that special call from God that makes us so hesitant? That makes us so uncertain and doubtful – doubtful of ourselves, doubtful of the call, even sometimes doubtful of our faith?
      • Maybe because we can’t outwardly and explicitly hear God calling us → With a few exceptions, we don’t actually hear God’s voice. We don’t pick up the phone one day and find God on the other end. Wouldn’t life be so much easier if we did?!
      • Maybe because it’s God calling → makes us feel like we have to be a certain way or act a certain way or think a certain way before we’re “worthy” to answer the call – we don’t think we’re good enough or smart enough or “holy” enough to answer that call
        • Story of when I first started experiencing my call → wasn’t particularly connected to my pastor at the time, and I felt like my call might just be me thinking I could do a better job (recognized that wasn’t a good reason to consider being a pastor)
      • Maybe because at least some of the time (most of the time?), God calls us to things that aren’t necessarily easy
      • Maybe a completely different reason altogether – something that has to do with a personal barrier in your own life
      • Whatever the reason, we often feel like little Bernie when it comes to God’s call in our lives. We want to help … but there are voices – either voices around us or voices inside us – telling us that we can’t do it.
  • And in that, friends, believe it or not, we are in good company. – Scripture readings this morning = just a small sample of those in the Bible who have been called by God and felt wholly unready and unworthy of that call
    • OT reading – prophet Isaiah
      • Called by God to speak words of hope and love as well as words of conviction and admonition to people who had been forcibly removed from their homeland and taken to Babylon → Now, I don’t know about you, but none of that sounds like a fun call to me! Some of Isaiah’s words throughout the book are words of reassurance and promise … but they are still words spoken in a time of great sorrow and pain and cultural isolation. And some of Isaiah’s words are downright harsh – laying bare the sins of the nation of Israel, again in a time of great sorrow and upheaval. So I think it’s safe to say we can understand Isaiah’s reluctance when we read his call story this morning. – text: In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, the edges of his robe filling the temple. Winged creatures were stationed around him. Each had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two their feet, and with two they flew about. They shouted to each other, saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of heavenly forces! All the earth is filled with God’s glory!” The doorframe shook at the sound of their shouting, and the house was filled with smoke. I said, “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. Yet I’ve seen the king, the LORD of heavenly forces!”[2]
        • GRANTED: Isaiah’s call story is a bit more dramatic than most I know, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that one!
        • in this passage is interesting, especially in Isaiah’s response – “I’m ruined” = odd, sort of nebulous word with lots of different meanings: lost, destroyed, cut off, be silent → all ways for Isaiah to declare his unworthiness, why he shouldn’t be useful to God
          • Goes on to explain that he’s “a man of unclean lips” living among “a people with unclean lips” – scholar: Isaiah’s insistence on his unworthiness is not elicited by God’s appointment of him as a prophet, but anticipates That is, Isaiah’s uncertainty comes not as a response to the invitation to be a prophet but as a reaction to a prefatory display of divine power. Isaiah’s doubt does not seem to be rooted in feelings of inadequacy so much as in guilt.[3]
    • Similar to Paul’s sentiment expressed in our NT passage – text: I’m the least important of the apostles. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God’s church.[4]
      • Reminder of Paul’s backstory: started life out as Saul, a Pharisee who made it his mission in life to persecute and even kill Jesus’ followers in the early days of the church → had a conversion experience that left him temporarily blind → was baptized and became probably the most prolific early church leader in terms of spreading the gospel, both by word of mouth in his extensive travels (10,000+ miles ON FOOT as far west as Syria and Damascus and as far east as Italy and possibly even Spain) and by the written word in his many letters (which make up a good portion of the NT)
      • And yet despite all the good work that he’s already done for the gospel by the time he writes this first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul is obviously still bothered by his actions before his conversion. “I’m the least important … I don’t deserve to be called an apostle.”
        • Acknowledging guilt
        • Acknowledging feelings that that guilt should negate him from serving God
  • And yet despite these feelings of brokenness … of unpreparedness … of imperfection … of unworthiness, both Paul and Isaiah shared God’s word with those who desperately needed to hear it.
    • Paul: Brothers and sisters, I want to call your attention to the good news that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand. You are being saved through it if you hold on to the message I preached to you, unless somehow you believed it for nothing. … I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others—that is, it wasn’t me but the grace of God that is with me. So then, whether you heard the message from me or them, this is what we preach and this is what you have believed.[5]
      • Line from “Here I Am, Lord”[6] (SING): I will give my light to them. Whom shall I send? Here I am, Lord.
    • Is text: Then one of the winged creatures flew to me, holding a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt has departed, and your sin is removed.” Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?” I said, “I’m here; send me.”[7]
      • Line from “Here I Am, Lord”[8] (SING): I will speak my word to them. Whom shall I send? Here I am, Lord.
    • Scholar: The divine longing is for someone to speak God’s word to the world. Has God been calling all along? … Set free from sin and guilt, Isaiah shows us what freedom is for: for listening, for hearing the divine voice of longing for the world, and for responding. In freedom, we go into the world to seek and to serve God’s glory, which is all around.[9]
  • So how do we do that? How do we open our hands and our hearts to release our clenched grip on our own feelings of guilt, unworthiness, inadequacy to seek and to serve God’s glory?
    • Return to Bernie’s story in The Do-Something Day: Bernie heads off down the street near his home and encounters a number of business owners who do, in fact, need his help → every time he helps them, they give him something in return
      • Carl at the auto garage gives him a map
      • Dimple at the delicatessen gives him a salami and a sour pickle
      • Bertha at the bakery gives him rye bread and cookies
      • Pfeffer with the produce cart gives him some grapes
      • Tom at the shoe repair shop gives him a pair of high-button shoes
      • Finally, Mrs. Byrd at the pet shop gives him a puppy
      • Finally, when he sits down to rest, Bernie realizes that he has been useful after all. People needed him. They needed his help, and they were grateful for it. Glowing with the satisfaction of this realization, Bernie decides to head home again. → returns home to discover that all of the things the shop owners had given him for his help out were exactly what his family needed as well
    • So it’s in and through community that Bernie is reminded of his giftedness, his worthiness. It’s through the people around him that Bernie is reminded that he is needed and helpful and valued. The truth of the world is that we all come across times when we are unsure of our call – unsure of where God is calling us, unsure of how God is calling us, unsure of whether God is even calling us at all! But when we surround ourselves with Christian community – other followers of Christ who are seeking to serve God’s glory in this world just like we are – often, that community can be our reminder, our sounding board, and our blessed reassurance.
      • Workshop with John Pavlovitz last weekend about avoiding compassion burnout → one of the key elements in remaining steadfast and energized and assured in your call – whatever that call may be! – is participation in a faith community of some kind (church, small group, etc.)
      • Scholar: As the gospel is shared, it becomes incarnate in the particular life of each new believer. The gospel today is the same word of salvation that Paul proclaimed, but it may be expressed in fresh ways as it becomes embodied in other lives. The gospel has a way of letting the light of Christ shine in unique ways through each believer.[10] → So if no one has said it to you lately, friends, let me say it to you: You are indeed gifted. You are indeed worthy. You are indeed valued. And you are indeed called by God to do great and powerful work in this world. Pastor and author Mark Batterson said, “God does not call the qualified, God qualifies the called.” You have something that only you can do … say … share … be in this world, and God is indeed calling you to it. Send who? Me? Yes. Here we are, Lord. Send us! Amen.

[1] Joe Lasker. The Do-Something Day. (New York, NY: The Viking Press), 1982.

[2] Is 6:1-5.

[3] James Calvin Davis. “Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany: Isaiah 6:1-8 (9-13) – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 316.

[4] 1 Cor 15:9.

[5] 1 Cor 15:1-2, 10-11

[6] Daniel L. Schutte. “I, the Lord of Sea and Sky (Here I Am, Lord)” in Glory to God. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), #69.

[7] Is 6:6-8.

[8] Schutte, #69.

[9] Stacey Simpson Duke. “Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany: Isaiah 6:1-8 (9-13) – Commentary 2: Connecting the Reading with the World” in Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship – Year C, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 227.

[10] Lewis F. Galloway. “Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 328.

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