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Right Now. You are Called. And It Matters (February 10, 2019)

Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Two call stories. Isaiah and Simon. Two different ways of being called:

Isaiah Simon
  Inconvenienced x2

·         After working all night, “put out a little way from shore.”

·         After no catch, “put out into deep water, let down nets.”

WOW! Presence of God!

·         Throne Room

·         Hem filled temple

·         Seraphs crying out, “Holy!”

·         Earthquake and smoke

WOW! Presence of God!

·         Big catch!

   Unworthy, “Woe is me! I am lost” Unworthy, “Go away, I’m sinful”
Forgiven–

Seraph brings live coal and touched his lips with it.

Now he’s worthy.

 
Called to speak Called to catch
Accept with understanding proclaim to Israel their ignorance and their destruction.

But needs clarification, “how long?”

Accept with no idea what this means or what it entails.

But left everything to follow (along with James and John).

There is no clear-cut pattern to being called by God. No template where people can fill in the blanks. No checklist where people can mark off the steps as they’re completed. Each call is unique. And each call is specific. And each call is necessary.

There are a couple of things about being called by God that we can say with a little bit of certainty. One is that through our baptism we are called! Through our discipleship we are called!

Another is that we are called to be part of something that God is doing. It fits somehow into God’s vision, God’s mission, God’s intention for the world. What that looks like and how we recognize it are up for grabs, however.

Accepting a call from God is not a smooth process. It’s not a “one and done” kind of deal. It’s ongoing, it involves making mistakes, and it usually feels more like stepping off a ledge than it does following a well-defined path.

If this is all true, then how do we go about figuring out this call stuff?

  1. Trust that you are called by God to be part of what God is doing. Remind yourself every day. Say it out loud, “I am called by God — to be part of what God is doing.”
  2. Know that none of us do this alone, but we are all parts of a whole. We need to remind each other that we are all called to be part of what God is doing. Tell someone, “You are called by God — to be part of what God is doing.” As a congregation, we need to be encouraging each other, supporting each other, lifting each other up. Because it’s not just each of us separately following, but all of us following together.
  3. Grow in your own understanding. Discover your gifts and your passions. Isaiah loved the temple and Jerusalem. He was concerned about the people’s straying from their temple identity as God’s people. Simon knew fishing. That was about it. Grow in your spiritual life, grow in your discipleship, and grow in your own self-awareness. God isn’t calling you to become something you’re not; God is calling you because of who you already are.
  4. Accept that we won’t do it right. Forgiveness means that you get to try again. How many times in scripture does God have to remind people, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus says it to Simon in this text today, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” We don’t have to afraid that we’re not doing it perfectly. God can easily work with failed attempts and mistakes. It’s a lot tougher for God to work with no attempt at all.
  5. Keep at it. The prophets that make up the book of Isaiah watched the destruction of Jerusalem and the people being forcefully taken away as captives into Babylon. Simon watched the as the one on whom he bet everything—his entire life—was killed on a cross as a criminal. When it looks like nothing is happening, when it seems God has abandoned this project, when it appears that God may not be able to use you after all, keep at it. When we see that God’s work isn’t going as expected or hoped for, we’re in really good company.
  6. Celebrate the victories! Watch for God’s justice happening. Pay attention to compassion being shown. Look for love and grace and mercy being lived out in unlikely places. See how God is surprising people not only with what God is doing, but through whom God is doing it! And then, having recognized God’s vision moving forward, share that good news!
  7. Rinse and repeat. We continue in this process of our spiritual awakening and discipleship growth. As we continue working these process steps, we’ll re-discover our call to a deeper purpose for our lives and a fulfillment that comes from being who God has created us to be. Plus, our trust, our faith, our awareness of the reality of God takes on new life and more meaning. And all the while, God’s intention for creation continues in its fulfillment.
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Posted by on February 10, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Forgiveness Has a Purpose (May 27, 2018)

Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Isaiah was a professional prophet. He was a temple employee in Jerusalem as one who speaks for God in service to the king. His ministry was during the 8th century BC at a time when Judah was actually doing well. King Uzziah had built new wells for the fields and watchtowers to be alert to invaders. The army was strong and things had finally turned around after a series of pretty bad kings. So Isaiah’s life wasn’t too bad.

Before this text, however, King Uzziah had made a mistake. His pride had gotten the better of him, apparently, and he decided he didn’t need the temple priests—even though their role was specifically designated by God. So, against God’s law, he went into the temple and was about to make an offering on his own. He was confronted by the priests and, as the story goes, was stricken with leprosy for this grievous infraction.

He had to live apart from everyone else and couldn’t rule that way. So he had to hand over the kingdom of Judah to his son Jotham.

Anyway, after suffering with leprosy for about 11 years, king Uzziah died. And Isaiah’s life was turned upside down. Not because Uzziah died—it actually had nothing to do with that—but because God, out of the blue, called Isaiah to a very specific prophetic ministry. A ministry he neither asked for nor wanted.

He had this bizarre vision of the greatness of God: the majesty, the awesomeness, the sovereignty of God were so vast that just the edge of God’s robe filled the entirety of the temple. Creatures were swirling around shouting about the holiness of God. And in the presence of the majesty of God’s glory, Isaiah suddenly realized how lowly and pathetic he, and all of Judah, really were.

But Isaiah’s sad condition didn’t stop God. One of the heavenly creatures took a hot coal from the altar and touched Isaiah’s mouth with it. Then this creature shouted, Now you’re forgiven. All’s good.

At that point Isaiah heard God ask, I’ve got a message for my people. Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?

Newly forgiven Isaiah rises up, Here am I; send me.

That’s where the text ends. Which is really unfortunate. Because we don’t get to hear what Isaiah was sent to do. Let me tell you, it wasn’t great. His call by God was very specific, very clear. He was called by God to tell the people that God says they’re never going to get it, they’ll never understand. No matter how hard they try, they will never see what God is about, never hear it, never know it. That was his God-appointed message. Can you imagine being the one sent to tell people that?

It’s at that point that Isaiah realizes this new prophet gig isn’t what he thought it would be, and says, Uhmm, so how long do I have to do this?

A couple of things to note that are relevant for us. 1) Forgiveness is about removing barriers. Isaiah was forgiven (with the live coal) not to get into heaven when he died, but forgiveness was actually removing barriers between Isaiah and God so that he could be with God to say these hard things in God’s name. And, 2) A call from God is always specific to the context. Isaiah was called by God to do this because it is what God needed at that time and in that place.

In the same tone as Isaiah, we are forgiven and called. Both individually and congregationally. We are forgiven and called.

Re: Forgiveness: It’s important that we grow beyond the preschool notion that Jesus died on the cross so I can be forgiven and go to heaven when I die. Forgiveness has a purpose in God’s work in the world. Forgiveness removes the barriers between us and God so that we are no longer separated from God but are with God in God’s mission in the world of love, compassion, mercy, and grace. Forgiveness is not an end in itself. Forgiveness allows us to join God in loving the world.

Re: Being Called: Our call to join God is probably more specific than we assume. It’s one thing to say, “Love the world in Jesus’s name.” But it’s another thing to say, “God calls me to show love in the world that looks like this particular thing.”

God is active in this time and in this place. And God’s love for the world meets the world as it is now. Our call is to show God’s love in this part of the world. What gifts, what passions do you have that allow you to show love? That’s probably God’s call to you!

Let me give you a personal example. I grew up in Ogden, UT as the only non-Mormon family in the neighborhood, so I was already on the outside looking in. I was the smart, nerdy, insecure kid who wasn’t good at sports and played the clarinet in the band. I got beat up more days than I didn’t. Got the picture? I was never the “popular” kid.

But as painful as parts of that were, I have a heart—a passion—for those people who get left out, pushed away, not included. Part of my “Isaiah-type” call from God is to welcome the unwelcomed, include the excluded. Which is why you hear me preach so often about racism, sexism, LGBTQ, poverty. In our context today, these are among the people who have historically been excluded from privilege and power. God has called me to speak of God’s call to love these.

And God keeps removing the barriers that are in the way of me doing this. More and more. Day after day. Sometimes the same barriers have to keep being removed. Sometimes I discover God is removing a new one. But that removal of barriers is forgiveness, so that I can follow God’s call.

Isaiah wasn’t called to change the world. Isaiah was called to follow God’s call in a specific time and in a specific place.

Pause in silence for a minute. . . . Think about the world in which you live. Your context. . . . Where is there a lack of compassion that bothers you? . . . Where are you aware of hatred or violence or exclusion being shown? . . . God sees it too.

This is why you are forgiven. This is why barriers between you and God have been removed. You are forgiven.  And God now asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Who can show my love and grace and compassion in that situation?

Newly forgiven and called people of God, now we rise up and say, “Here we are; send us.”

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Withdraw to Galilee and Discover Who You Are (January 22, 2017)

Matthew 4:12-23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

What would you say is God’s mission? What is God trying to accomplish? . . .

How should the church be helping with that? What is the role of the church?

At LCM, does anyone know our congregational purpose within the church as part of God’s mission? Strengthening Relationships, Serving the World: –with God, –through the worshiping community, –for the world.

We arrived at an understanding of that purpose with a good amount of time, prayer, discussion, and discernment. We didn’t invent it or create it, we discovered it! Before we could discern what our purpose is, we had to acknowledge that we are called by God into one.

We just had a team of people reassess this purpose and come to the conclusion that this is still what we are called to be about.

Do you have any doubts as to whether we as a congregation of Christ’s church have been called by God for a purpose?

A call by God gives meaning to everything. It has to come before anything being done in God’s name. The text today is one that bears that out.

John the Baptist has just been arrested by king Herod. Jesus, when he heard about it, needed to take a step back and assess what to do. He moved from Nazareth to Galilee, and only then began to speak publicly that the reign of God is nearby.

He saw two fishermen and invited them to follow him. He saw two more, and invited them too. Then he went traveling and teaching in the synagogues about God’s good news, and healing people.

What’s interesting about all this is that Jesus had to take some time to consider what to do after John was arrested. Apparently, you could get arrested for speaking God’s truth to power. John wouldn’t leave prison alive, and Jesus needed to be sure about how he was going to move forward.

In other words, Jesus needed to discern his call by God, his purpose. Just going out and talking about God may get you arrested, and you should probably know whether that’s worth it or not. If you’re going to run the risk of getting arrested, you ought to be pretty sure what you’re being arrested for is that important—that high a calling.

I love that Jesus had to take some time to figure all this out. Even Jesus had to be clear about his call, his purpose. And once he felt OK about it, then he could move forward deliberately. And it turns out that for Jesus, he was so certain that he was willing to die for it.

If Jesus had to take the time to become clear about this, doesn’t it make sense that we should too? Before we can live a life of purpose as people of God, we have to trust first that we actually are called to a purpose. We have to believe that we are created in love, deliberately, with a unique collection of gifts and abilities no one else in all of history has ever had. You are more than individuals who work, have friends, save money, retire, and die. You are ever so much more. You are called. You have been given a purpose. And once you begin to grasp it, you have a meaning for your life and a direction.

Jesus called four fishermen for a purpose. Notice he didn’t tell them that as fishermen they would have to first become preschool teachers or attorneys before God could use them. He called them to be who they are, use their experience, their lives, their talents and skills as they followed Jesus. Fish for people. Their purpose was found in their truest selves and deepest identity.

Then, knowing they were called specifically for a purpose, it made sense that following Jesus was a necessary part of that call. Without a sense of purpose, it would be foolish for them to leave their nets and their father and follow him. First you spend time knowing who you are and that you are called, only then do you put it into action.

I think we too often are so concerned with action that we skip the essential part of understanding what the action is for. But simply “getting stuff done” without first understanding what you’re called to be about means we could simply be wasting our time. Just because something sounds like a good idea doesn’t mean we ought to do it. Maybe someone should, but someone for whom that good idea fits as part of their purpose.

It starts with knowing who you are. First of all, you are loved. You are worthwhile. You are forgiven. You are valuable. You are holy. You are made in the very image of the creator of love. That’s first and foremost who you are. That comes first. Admit that to yourself before anything else. That may take some time. That’s OK.

Then consider what it is that keeps you up at night. What gets your heart pumping and your adrenalin flowing? What do you love doing? What gives you contentment and satisfaction?

Use some imagination to think about how your identity as a holy, cherished, child of God overlaps with what you are passionate about. Again, it might take some time. But if Jesus needed time to do it, I guess it’s OK for us, too. You are called for a purpose. Discover that, and your life-direction takes care of itself.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2017 in Sermon

 

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