Sunday, February 10, 2019

Epiphany 5-C, 2019: Continually called by God

Lectionary: Isaiah 6:1-8, [9-13]; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

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En el nombre del Dios: Pardre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

We talk a lot in the church about being called, and most of the time we share an understanding of what we mean by that. Through our prayer, through one another, through contemplative insight, through dreams, through repeated patterns in our experience – we feel God tapping on our shoulder or nudging us from within to act on God’s behalf, as the ambassadors of Christ we are through our Baptism.

The choice is always ours whether or not to acknowledge that tap on the shoulder or inner nudging, and whether or not to act on it. God never forces us, but God does keep on tapping or nudging us - mostly gently, though sometimes we hear folks talk about being clobbered by a spiritual 2 x 4.

The key for us is to learn the language of God for us. How does God call to us? Then, we practice learning to notice it and soon, we consent to respond to it.

This is much of the work we do in spiritual direction. One of my favorite experiences as a spiritual director is when a directee talks about having finally learned the language of God for them, that is, how God calls to them, then takes the risk of responding. This story generally ends with their surprise and amazement at the outcome.

For example, one of my directees spoke of a difficult discussion he needed to have with his priest. He loved this priest, but also feared an anticipated angry response – something he had experienced before. Prior to the meeting, the directee and I prepared prayerfully, opening a path of grace and trusting God to guide the meeting.

At the meeting, the directee had a plan for what he was going to say, but in the moment, he noticed what had become a familiar “tap on the shoulder” from God (those are his words). Having practiced paying attention to those taps, the directee recognized this as a call from God and words came from his mouth he hadn’t planned or even thought about; words that surprised him even as he spoke them.

These words changed the entire tenor of the meeting and the outcome was one of deeper friendship, grace, and a new openness to the presenting problem by both the directee and the priest. The directee was so amazed by this, he called me after the meeting to tell me about how powerfully God had acted – and that God had acted through him - both of which amazed and excited him.

As Bother Andrew once said, “God does not choose people because of their ability, but because of their availability.”

All three of our stories from Scripture today offer us insight into how God calls us and how we humans respond to being called. In Isaiah and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we learn that the one called often feels unworthy of the call at first and even suggests to God that maybe they aren’t the right choice.

But it’s the gospel story that illumines us so much about being called, and it does so through the naked humanity of our forbear, Simon (who is Peter – a nickname Jesus will give him before long). The setting is the north part of the Sea of Galilee near the region of Genessaret. Jesus is teaching by the lake and the crowd starts pressing in, drawing closer to hear the word of God.

Jesus notices that there are two boats nearby. The fishermen had come in from an overnight fishing expedition that brought them nothing. Exhausted and frustrated, the fishermen were cleaning their nets, ready to let this work shift come to an end.

Then Jesus climbs into to Simon Peter’s boat and asks him to put out from shore. You can almost hear Peter sighing: Aw man! I am so ready to go home and just sleep. But, Peter does as Jesus asks, and once they are a little bit away from the shore, the rabbi sits to continue his teaching.

Now Peter is up close, watching Jesus preach and engage the crowds. He’s listening to Jesus as the word of God issues forth from this man who has already had such a strange effect on him. Something is happening in Peter, but what it is isn’t clear yet. So he watches, and listens, and waits.

When Jesus finishes his teaching, he asks Peter to head out to deep water and let down his nets again… the nets they’d just finished cleaning and stowing. Peter, the experienced fisherman in this conversation, reminds Jesus that they been out there all night; there were no fish out there.

Despite that, Peter obeys (which you’ll remember means to hear and respond). Peter hears the call from Jesus and chooses to respond, acknowledging it and obeying. The outcome was surprising and exciting: their nets captured so many fish that the other boat had to be called out to help them haul it all in.

Peter’s response to all of this was to fall to his knees aware of and confessing his sinfulness. Given our current use of this word, it’s important to point out that the meaning of the Greek word here translated as “sin” is: to miss the mark, to be wrong, to transgress from the divine will.

Peter recognized this about himself and it drove him to his knees in humble surrender. That’s what a call does. It leads us to humble surrender.

Jesus comforts Peter saying those words that always come from heaven right before a call is issued: “Do not be afraid.” Then Jesus overtly issues Peter his divine call: “from now on,” Jesus says, “you will be catching people.”

Notice that a call from God is a proclamation of a divine truth. Jesus didn’t say, “Hey, Peter, want to catch people with me?” He said, this is who you are now – a catcher of people. Then through the course of his relationship with Jesus, Peter was formed and empowered to answer this call, which he did following Jesus’ ascension. And it was amazing.

Scripture teaches us that there is a process that happens when a divine call is issued and it goes like this: God taps us on the shoulder or nudges us from within and we hear the call issued. We respectfully decline, believing we are not worthy or able to answer. God comforts us, empowers us, and sends us anyway. We obey and are amazed.

Discerning a call from God takes practice, like any other spiritual discipline. For a few of us, like Moses or Mary, God speaks plainly, powerfully, unmistakably. For most of us, however, it will be a still, small voice, a nudging, a tap on the shoulder.

The noise of the world tends to drown out that still small voice. We must also acknowledge the earthly judgment about people who hear God’s voice. For some it truly is a diagnosable event requiring psychiatric treatment. But for most of us, it’s a traditional means of conversation between the Creator and the created.

Thankfully, as Episcopalians, we approach discernment from two fronts: individually and in community. When a person discerns a call from God, for example, a call to ordained ministry, that call must be affirmed by the person’s parish and later, their diocesan community. We do this because the church is a body of which we are individual members; and we believe that if the Holy Spirit is calling, we will all hear it if we listen together.

That is our continual calling as church: to listen for God’s proclamation of divine truth for us - who we are and what our divine purpose is in this moment of our history. Like Peter, we are catchers of people. If we choose to acknowledge God’s call to us and obey it, God will form us, empower us, and send us out to answer our call. And it will be amazing.


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