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Imagine that you’re at work, at the end of a long day, a day when you’ve been really grinding the gears, not making much progress. Maybe you are making calls, and every time, you get voice mail, and no one is returning your messages. Maybe you are on the road, in your truck, and you keep having to turn around because some passages are still blocked by snow. Maybe you are in a shop, waiting to make a sale, and you’ve seen hardly a customer all day.
And then Jesus comes along, just as you’re finally getting packed up to go home. Maybe you’ve just packed up your bag at your desk, and you have your keys in your hand. Or you’re on your way back to the warehouse with your truck, or you just shut down the register and are about to turn off the lights in the shop and head out the door. And here is Jesus, and he’s saying, try again. Make one more phone call, make a U-turn and find another road that’ll be open, turn the lights back on, wait for one more customer. And then he stays there with you, and suddenly, you’re getting people on the phone, and they’re giving you what you need. And you’ve made the U-turn and there, the road is clean and passable, and you can make your delivery. And here comes a customer, running late on their own schedule for the day, but prepared to make a purchase worth hundreds of dollars in profits.
And you turn and stare at Jesus in disbelief. What in the world? How did you do that? You don’t even know anything about this business, Jesus! And yet you’ve showed me up! I mean, I’m grateful, but…wow…
And then the weight of what this means hits you. Jesus has come to prove something. And now Jesus is going to ask something of you. But you’re not qualified! You fall down on your knees in front of Jesus: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful person!”
“I couldn’t possibly do what you’re about to ask of me! I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t follow through on all the expectations you have for me!”
You would cry this as so many others have cried it in the past. As Jeremiah, who cried, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” And Isaiah, who cried, "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” And Paul, who confesses, “I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” And, of course, Simon Peter, who sees the catch of fish that Jesus has procured in his own nets and cries out, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
But through God’s grace, you are somehow transformed into just the person God needs in the moment to do God’s work in the world, and so you follow this strange man, this sort of wizard, this Jesus. Like Jeremiah, you hear the words from God: “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
And like Isaiah, whose mouth is burned with a glowing hot coal, from the claws of a seraph saying, “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” And then the voice of God calling, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And Isaiah rises and responds: “Here am I; send me!”
And like Paul, who professes, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and God’s grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
And like Simon Peter, to whom Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." And then the passage tells us that “when they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”
You are part of a long lineage of those in whom God saw something that God needs for God’s kingdom here on earth. You are part of a great cloud of witnesses who are called by God for wonderful, world-changing work. You may not be so sure at first, but Jesus will come to you and convince you. Jesus will prove to you that he’s not somewhere off in the clouds, twiddling his thumbs, discussing pie-in-the-sky theology with scholars of old, but that he is with you, always with you, and knows about your life and is with you in it.
Jesus comes to us wherever we are: at work, at play, and shows us that he’s been there with us all along. He loves us and wants to be included in all we do.
There are times when we say to God, by our words in prayer and worship, and by our very behavior, that we know more about our lives than God does, that we are more expert about our needs than God is, that we are doing fine on our own, and that we’ll just let God know what we need when we need something.
But this is a time when God, in the form of Jesus Christ, comes to Simon, as he comes to every single one of us, and says, “I KNOW about your life. I KNOW about your work. I KNOW about your troubles. I am going to show you that I know about fishing, and that I can even do it better than you. Just in case you think you’ve got all the answers, I’m going to show up on a day when it’s not going so well, and I’m going to SHOW you that I am God, and you are not. I have power that you do not have. So listen to me, trust me, and when I invite you to follow me, follow me.”
If Simon were a runner, Jesus would’ve shown up at the track. If he were a mason, Jesus would’ve come to the job site to lay brick alongside him. But Simon is a fisherman, so Jesus comes on the boat.
If you’ve ever thought that you could not be called by God to do God’s work in the world because you’re just a sinful, fallible human, this week’s lectionary Scriptures are for you. All of the characters in today’s passages, from Isaiah to Paul to the disciples in the Gospel of Luke, are ordinary human beings who resist God’s call to them at first, but then decide to give it a try, and God is able to use them for remarkable work, work that has been recorded in the Bible to inspire and guide us for the ages.
As scholar Karoline Lewis says, “God sees something wonderful in me.” God sees something wonderful in each of us! God created us to be who we are! So then the question that follows is: “How is that who you are then becomes what God needs you to be?”
Preaching professor David Lose suggests that some of this becoming happens in the time of the worship experience, explaining that the word “worship” literally can be taken apart to mean “worth-ship.” He says that we tend to think of worship as something we are doing for God—that sometimes we act as if worship is all about praising God, “as if we worship this really needy God who desperately needs our praise. What if our idea of worship is reversed, that worship is where God calls us worthy, and forgives us, and calls us precious and holy, and then calls us into meaningful life, and calls us into tasks of purpose and meaning and community? We need to work on imagining that worship is the place you come to bed reminded of who you are: broken and vulnerable and failing and sinful, yes, but also precious and beloved and honored, and then, having heard that, you are sent out like [Simon] Peter, and Isaiah, and Paul, to [share who you are with the world, in the way that God would have you.]”
So, when we’re coming to worship each week, instead of looking it at as a time where we are obligated to offer something back to God, what if we can see it as the time where God is claiming US, that God is reaching down to us, that we are being divinely driven and directed to go forth from this place and do God’s work in the world, in all of the ways that God needs us to do God’s work? How would this transform what we experience each week? How would this inspire us in a different way, knowing that this is the place where we come to be fed and to be inspired and to be rejuvenated, instead of viewing worship as an obligation, or a task, or a habit to be enforced?
God is calling YOU. Do you know that Jesus is sitting at your desk next to you in your cubicle? Do you know that Jesus is riding along in your truck, or on your tractor, with you? Do you know that Jesus is right there with you, cleaning up after a potty-training accident if you’re a stay-at-home mom, or a stranded-in-the-snow mom?
Jesus walks alongside us, every moment of our lives, knowing us inside and out, and calling us to contribute to the Kingdom of God using the gifts that we already HAVE. Using who we are NOW, not who we will be when we’re refined and perfected in a few years. “[Jeremiah and] Isaiah and [Simon] Peter were called as they were, and made to be what God wanted them to be. God didn't wait to show up until they were ready.”
It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t continue to refine and develop us. One of the blessings we receive from God is the movement of God’s spirit all around us, encouraging us, improving us, creating the person we are meant to be alongside us. There is a wonderful quote by Leighton Ford that says, “God loves us the way we are, but too much to leave us that way.” We don’t have to do anything to earn, or even to keep, God’s love, but yet we can still continue to develop as people, on our journeys through our lives.
And even in the midst of our growth and development as people and as Christians, God continues to use us, right now, right in this moment in our lives. We might feel like we are very unlikely bearers of the Word, but God calls even us, to do God’s work in the world.
As we prepare to sing “You Have Come to the Lakeshore,” we could substitute lots of words for “lakeshore.” Lord, you have come to the barnyard; Lord, you have come to the high school; Lord, you have come to the restaurant; Lord, you have come to the warehouse; Lord, you have come to the office. No matter where we are, Jesus meets us there, and calls us our into the world to use our gifts, in partnership with him, to make the world a better place, and to show God’s love with everyone we meet! Thanks be to God! Amen.