Epiphany 5 (C)

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A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer

First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany – February 8, 2004

Texts: Isaiah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

We read in God’s word this morning about three moments of calling; three of the countless occasions when a mortal is drafted into the service of the almighty. Throughout the Bible and the church’s history, men and women have been called into service by God, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to each one for their faithful answer to that call.

As a pastor, I’m often asked to share my own story of being called. Sunday school classes will ask, retreat leaders will ask, even friends within the church will ask. For the simple reason that I – like every other pastor – have a piece of paper with my call written on it, people understand that I have a story to tell about how God got to me, and they want to hear it. They recognize that I am a man who is under God’s call.

What’s often forgotten is that every man, woman and child who wears the name “Christian” is also under God’s call. Every congregation, every group of believers gathered around the altar is under God’s call, too. God, as it turns out, isn’t particularly selective in the matter of whom he calls: he calls everyone to serve him and to serve each other. You don’t need a piece of paper to tell you that you are a people under God’s call…you have the words of holy scripture and the urging of the Holy Spirit in your hearts as the sign of your calling.

We can – and should! – spend hours talking about and figuring out the individual callings God has laid on each of us. They are deeply, life-changingly important. But I want to turn right now to that other sort of calling, the one that I hinted at just a moment or two ago: God calls groups of believers. He calls congregations. He has tasks in mind for his churches, things he needs them to do and people he wants them to touch. God is calling Spring Creek and First Lutheran churches, and we must listen carefully, so that we can hear his voice and learn how he wishes us to serve.

In the rural parts of this country, one can hear a lot about dying communities, dying churches. To hear people talk, they’re all over the place…anywhere you see a small, struggling congregation, someone will use the word “dying.” I believe, however, that they are mistaken. In truth, no congregation is truly dead as long as it still listens for God’s still, small voice…for his call. Yes, many congregations are small. Ours certainly are. And yes, congregations often struggle. But God has plans for even the smallest congregations, even the ones that struggle. As long as God’s Spirit moves among us, though, our real, most important struggle will always be with this question: “What does God wish to accomplish through our church at this moment?”

I’ll ask it again: “What does God wish to accomplish through our church at this moment?” The more fiercely we engage that question and seek to understand God’s call for us, the more surely our congregations are alive and well.

The question of what God’s up to among us and what his hopes for us are is too big to be gotten at in a two-page sermon. As a matter of fact, it’s too big to be gotten at by any one person, even if that one person is president or pastor or trustee or deacon. Our congregations need to be listening, all of us together, to hear the voice of God’s call for us at this moment.

And so I do not suppose to preach to you about what God is leading First and Spring Creek to be doing; I only propose to you that God has plans for us. In his mind, these churches are far from dead!

I cannot tell you what it means for this particular congregation to be under God’s call – that is for us to figure out together. But I can tell you a few things about what it’s like to be under call. For those, let us turn to our scripture texts, which are rich in describing the experience of being called.

In Isaiah, we find that God always qualifies the called; he never calls the qualified. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we learn that God calls the right person for the job, no matter how likely that person is. If God has called you, you’re the right one…period. And in Luke’s gospel, Jesus teaches us not to be afraid to take a chance on God. When we risk little, our gains will be equally miniscule.

Now let’s unpack those lessons.

Again, turning to Isaiah, we find that God qualifies the called rather than calling the qualified. The young man Isaiah knows from the very moment his vision begins that he’s not worthy, that he’s not qualified to speak for God. In fact, every good prophet in the Bible, when God calls him, has some sort of objection or another!

Most of us know all to well the reasons that God can’t or shouldn’t use us to do his work. We’re too small. We’re isolated out here in the country. We don’t have much money. We don’t have so many young folks anymore. Or perhaps even that we are, as Isaiah himself said, a people of unclean lips.

You know what? God doesn’t care about all that. Our qualifications to change the world come from his call to us, not from our own gifts or nature.

If God wants to use you to speak and act for him, he will see to it that you have the tools you need to get the job done. In the end, God never calls the qualified because no one is qualified to be in his service on their own. Not the big churches, not the little ones. But God touches each of us, just as he touched Isaiah, cleaning us and giving us all we need for the work he’s assigned us.

Now, consider what Paul writes to the Corinthians. There seems to be a list, a miniature history of the church here. Paul’s writing about all the people who “got it” before he did – 513 or more of them, actually. There were hundreds of people who had been touched by the Spirit while Paul was still throwing stones at Christians, and yet God chose him to bring the good news of Jesus to the Corinthians and to dozens of other communities. God calls the right person for the job, no matter how likely that person is.

And so it is for us. I like to think of our little country churches as the “stealth ministries” of the church. No one sees us coming. We aren’t likely agents for change or ministry, so the conventional wisdom goes…but do you really think that the world knows better than God who the right group of people for the job is? Perhaps God is calling us to do something big, something that will change our corner of the world – or even the other three corners! – for him. I think it’s likely. And if God is calling us, we can learn from Paul that we must be the right people for the job, no matter how likely.

Finally, we learn from Jesus this morning not to be afraid to take a chance on God. When we risk little, our gains will be equally miniscule.

Think about those men, Peter and his partners, who took a chance on Jesus. It was more of a lark, actually…they’d fished those waters all their lives, and, more importantly, they’d fished them all last night without so much as a nibble. They knew there were no fish to be had that day, and that they would do much better to save their energy for tonight’s fishing, instead.

But they took a chance on Jesus…on God. They risked wasting time and energy, and even money and resources, simply because Jesus told them to. And he was right. They brought in boatloads of fish; it was as if the fish were leaping into their nets! Jesus knew best. He always does. We need to take a chance on him, even when it feels risky and irresponsible, because he uses the chances we take in great and wonderful ways. The greater the risk taken at his calling, the greater he rewards it with results.

There are, of course, many other things that could be said about these three passages, but these three should give us plenty of food for the coming year. Remember that our churches, First and Spring Creek, are under God’s call. He has given us the qualifications we need, as we learned in Isaiah. We are the right people for the job, as we learned from Paul. And we must act in faith, risking much if God asks it of us, as we learned from our Lord Jesus.

God bless these two living, acting, serving congregations this day, and always. Amen.

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