Written by Pastor Ed
Called to be Sent
February 7, 2016
Isaiah 6: 1-8
Luke 5: 1-11
About this time of year, 40 years ago, I was waiting for a call. Well actually, I, or really we, were trying to come to some decisions on which call to follow, as there were several possible options as I looked to life after seminary. In the midst of that I often thought it would be nice if calls came in visions like Isaiah had in the temple. If only the heavens would open and a clear and direct direction was given, making decisions would be so much easier. But we didn’t get any such visions; in fact I can’t say that any of our decisions over the years since have been that clear, although each has had their “aha” moments or seeming coincidences that we could reflect on.
Our two lectionary readings for this morning are both, in some ways, stories of call and yet neither of them is without some interesting nuances. Before we consider our own callings, let’s consider these two stories and what they might teach us about God’s call on our lives.
As with the call of most of the prophets, Isaiah’s call comes with a vision of God’s glory, with seraphim and chanting, smoke and earthquake. One can compare it to Ezekiel’s vision of the wheels and wings, or even to Paul’s Damascus road experience. It is an awesome sight.
One of the interesting things is that Isaiah places it at an important point in history; the year King Uzziah died. It was a memorable event in Isaiah’s life and in the life of Israel. Kind of like some of us knowing where we were when John Kennedy was shot, or more recently Sept. 11, 2001. We can mark significant events by those markers.
The first response of Isaiah is to recognize his own unworthiness. “Who am I, a poor sinner, to have seen such a vision?” “Woe is me” But the seraph assures him that he has been forgiven and made clean by the touch of a live coal on his lips. Remember this is a vision.
And the call that Isaiah hears is not specifically directed at him. It is a more general call for volunteers, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” And as one commentator said, you can almost see Isaiah waving his hand like that one student in the class that always knows the answer, going “Oh, oh, oh, call on me!”
And if you read on Isaiah is given a charge to go and talk to the people, even though he is told right from the start that they won’t listen to him and that his message is basically one of destruction. It’s not the kind of message one usually volunteers to deliver.
Turning to Luke’s account of the calling of the first disciples, we find a more sedate scene beside the lake. Luke doesn’t give us any historical data by which to date these events, but rather strings them together as though he were simply telling them as they come to mind. “Once Jesus was down by the lake…” As was often the case, crowds were pressing in and he needed a way to get some space, so he commandeered a boat, this time belonging to Simon.
Now you might think that was a bit strange, and it may have been, but according to Luke, this was not Simon’s first encounter with Jesus for earlier Luke recounted the story of Jesus at Simon’s house where he healed Simon’s mother-in-law of a high fever. So there was at least a bit of history between the two already and perhaps that was why Simon was agreeable to Jesus’ request. It’s a little hard to imagine a stranger walking up and saying, “Hey can I use your boat for a bit?” and a career fisherman simply saying, “Sure, hop in.”
And then, after Jesus is done talking to the crowd, he has the further audacity to tell Simon where to fish! Now remember, the fishermen had already finished for the night and washed their nets, undoubtedly had them hanging out to dry. They were coming off a disappointing night of fishing, having caught nothing. And Jesus, not known as a fisherman, is telling them to take down their nets, go back out – it must now be midday, not the best time for fishing – and try again.
So when the nets are full, although it’s not a spectacular vision, it is enough to evoke the same response from Simon as from Isaiah, “Woe is me, I am a sinful man.” Not only Simon, but James and John who were part of the business were amazed. And then, Luke records, they simply left their boats and everything else and followed Jesus. Now certainly there was more conversation, particularly among the fisherman, but Luke doesn’t let us in on that. The only other comment we hear is from Jesus who tells Simon that from now on he will be catching people, rather than fish.
So what might these stories say to us about the calls that come to us in our lives? While these are certainly not the only stories of call in the Bible, nor are they by any means prescriptive of how calls come to us, I think there are some things to note that may be instructive for us today.
In some ways we could distinguish two kinds of call in these two passages. The call of the disciples was simply a call to follow Jesus. It is a call that comes to all of us at some point in our lives. It may come at a significant time in our lives, or it may come in the normal course of living out our daily routine as it did for these fishermen. At some point we are confronted with the person of Jesus and need to decide if we are ready to give him priority in our lives and follow in the way of Jesus.
But at times, we like Isaiah, are called to a more specific task. That doesn’t always come with a stirring vision, as I noted to begin with, but it will often come as a surprise. And in both cases, whether a general call or a more task oriented call, there is a certain amount of fear associated with it. Who me? But I really can’t do that? You must have the wrong person in mind.
In the tradition of the Swiss Mennonites and Amish, where pastors were chosen by lot out of the congregation, there are numerous stories of men who were afraid they would be called and just happened to be unavailable the day of the meeting. As I recall, one person even hid themselves and had to be forcefully brought to the meeting to be ordained when his name was chosen. On the other hand, to put oneself forward was seem as being prideful, so there were some who felt an inward call who never were chosen. It’s an interesting balancing act.
While answering the call to follow Jesus may not be quite as intimidating, we are told that we should in fact count the cost, because the way will not always be easy. The fishermen left everything to follow. Following Jesus is not to be taken lightly, for it can come at a cost. We here have it quite easy, but certainly in some parts of the world being a Christian needs to be a deliberate act since it can lead to ostracism or even persecution. Some of our brothers and sisters from around the world say that one of the reasons churches are declining in North America is because we don’t face opposition and thus don’t take the call as seriously.
There is one other similarity in these two accounts that I think it also important to note. And that is that while I have been labeling these as call stories, they are really also about sending. Isaiah is called to be sent out to speak to the people of his day to warn them of what was to come and call them to repentance, even if they refused to listen. And the disciples were called to become fishers of people.
And I think that is something we need to regain in the church. We are not simply called to follow Jesus because that’s a good way to live, although it is that too. And Isaiah was not called as a prophet just so he could hang out a shingle and put the title “prophet” in front of his name. Part of our task as followers of Jesus is to call others to join us, to extend the Kingdom to all those we meet and let them know that the Kingdom has come near.
Who me? I could never do that! But the Spirit of God comes and says yes you can. You’re sins have been forgiven and you need not be afraid. Just follow and it will be amazing what things you see happening.
God calls each of us, at the very least to follow Jesus and accept the way of Jesus as our pattern for living, trusting in his death and resurrection to reconcile us to God and save us. And God also calls us to vocations, whether that be a church vocation such as a pastor, or to other vocations where we have a particular message or place in the work of the Kingdom. Those calls come to us in many ways, sometimes through an inner sense of call, and sometimes because someone taps us on the shoulder and asks us to consider something we’ve never tried before.
However the call comes, the question remains, are we ready to answer?