The man Isaiah encounters God in a vision and is called to be a prophet.
The Apostle Paul reminds the church in Corinth that he encountered Jesus – on the road to Damascus – and received a call to travel the world, teaching about Christ and helping Gentiles and Jews figure out what God was calling the church to become.
Three tired fishermen, Peter, James and John, cleaning up after a long night of catching nothing, meet up with Jesus and receive their call to become fishers of people.
Where and when have you encountered God? To what has God called you?
God meets each of us, calls us by name and then calls us out of ourselves into the work of the kingdom. Salvation’s goal isn’t just about our eternal souls. Saying ‘yes’ to God means becoming a disciple and getting busy building God’s kingdom on earth.
What is your call? What is my call? What is our joint call? What is it that God wants us to do here, in DeWitt, with our gifts and talents, to build the kingdom?
Frederick Buechner has said that our vocation (which is another word for ‘call’), our vocation is the place where our great joy meets the world’s great need.
Paul, in his former life as Saul, was both a Jew and a Roman Citizen – he could move freely within both worlds. He was trained as a Pharisee – he knew God’s Law thoroughly. And he was trained in Rhetoric, the Greek discipline that involved logic and persuasive speech. Can you imagine a better person as a missionary of Christianity to the Gentile, Roman world? Can you imagine a better person to help the church figure out what pieces of Judaism were essential to Christianity? Could there have been a better person to help figure out how Christians, Jew & Gentile, ought to live together in witness to the world? Paul embodied the challenges the early church faced. Paul’s great joy in thinking about and explaining what God was up to in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, to both Jews and Gentiles, met the newly born church’s great need. Much of the New Testament was written by Paul as letters to churches he started or helped to oversee – Romans, First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, First Thessalonians, Philemon.
Peter, James and John were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Gennesaret in our gospel reading for today. Their fathers were fishermen, they were raised alongside the Sea, James and John still working with their father when Jesus comes along.
I can hear the hesitation in Peter’s voice when Jesus tells him to go back out and catch some fish – he’s worked all night and caught nothing, ‘Yet if you say so…” Remember – Jesus was a landlubber. What did he know of fishing? Go out into the deep water he tells them – sure, like that wasn’t what Peter had just spent the night doing! Yet if you say so…
Peter, James and John got a hint of what Jesus intended to do with them and through them, if they followed Jesus into becoming fishers of people… Peter reluctantly goes back out into the deep water and sends his nets over the side. And somehow, even though everyone knows that fishing is better at night, and even though Peter had just fished the same waters and had caught nothing, somehow the nets were full and overflowing and he had to call for help to pull the nets in. And then, there were so many fish it almost swamped the boat! They were now overflowing where just a few short hours ago, on their own, experienced as they were, they’d caught nothing.
That’s the thing about God’s call on our lives. Where we have skill, where we have education and practical experience, where we have talent, God can take what we have and use it to make so much more than we can imagine.
Our calls might come in any of the ways the calls came in our lessons for today – sometimes we get a vision of what God intends, like Isaiah. Sometimes God knocks us down, flat out, in order to get our attention and get the message across, as God did with Saul who became Paul.
Sometimes our call comes just at the point where what we’ve been doing isn’t quite working, as was true for Peter, James and John. If those men had had a successful night of fishing, there would have been no reason for them to go back out and fish again. But because it appeared that what they’d been doing wasn’t working, they were just a little bit open to what might happen if they followed Jesus’ advice…
Sometimes God speaks to us through coincidence – I know I’ve told you of the woman we interviewed for the Commission on Ministry in the Diocese of New York – the one who had had the feeling God was calling her into some new work. Driving in her car, praying over this strange tug on her heart, she glanced up at a billboard that said ‘Thinking about the Priesthood?’ She told us that she had to pull her car over and laughed and cried. It was an ad for the Catholic church but it changed HER life. She’s now an Episcopal priest.
We need to remember, when God calls us, that God sees beyond our current situations, beyond our current ability. Jesus saw the fish that the fishermen couldn’t find. And Jesus saw within the fishermen things they did not see within themselves. God had bigger dreams for them than they could have imagined there by the Sea of Gennesaret. God saw Saul on his way to harrass the new church, saw his ability and potential and through the grace of God Saul became a new man, Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles.
God sees the opportunity and the need of our world better than we can discern. And God sees within us more than we can in ourselves. God has bigger dreams for us than we can imagine right now.
Just as Jesus told Peter not to be afraid, Jesus says the same to us. We do not have to be afraid of stepping into our call. God will take what we offer and use it to change the world, to build the kingdom. We do have to leave our nets and follow. We have to let go of whatever it is that we hold onto, whatever it is that brings us security, if it is part of the old life. When we’re following our call, leaving our nets behind, our security is found in God alone. Just as God provided fish in the old life, God will provide what we need now, in this new life.
God needs us to become the people we’ve been created to be – because God works in and through us to build the kingdom. God cannot work without us. Imagine our faith without Peter, James, John, or the other disciples. Imagine the church without the letters of Paul. The hands and feet God uses to change the world are our hands and feet. The theologian Dorothee Soelle has written a poem entitled, “Dream me, God”
It’s not you who should
solve my problems, God,
But I yours, God of the asylum-seekers.
It’s not you who should feed the hungry,
But I who should protect your children
From the terror of the banks and armies.
It’s not you who should make room for the refugees,
But I who should receive you,
Hardly hidden God of the desolate.
You dreamed me, God,
Practicing walking upright
And learning to kneel down
More beautiful than I am now,
Happier than I dare to be
Freer than our country allows.
Don’t stop dreaming me, God.
I don’t want to stop remembering
That I am your tree,
Planted by the streams
of living water.
What are the dreams God has for us, the future God needs us to create? What is the work God needs us to do in this place at this time? In her book, ‘Theology for Skeptics,’ Soelle writes, “God dreams us, and we should not let God dream alone.” Amen.