God Gifts and Calls
Based on Isaiah 6:1-13, 1Corinthians 15:1-11, Luke 5:1-11
I was a month short of 50 years old when I sat down to write my call story. Up until that point in my life, I had told religiously-informed people who asked that my call was to be a pharmacist, helping people live better lives though chemistry. I had never contemplated a “religious” call on my life…I felt deeply that I was doing what I was supposed to do – what I had been trained and licensed to do some 25 years previous. It’s not that I hadn’t thought about my spiritual journey, I had done a spiritual biography a few years before where I listed the people and choices that had most influenced it. However, I had never before put into words what I felt God was calling me to do in ministry with and for others.
I had also never contemplated that a person could be called more than once in a given life – yet I was as certain as I could be that what I was feeling wasn’t just a whim. I really wasn’t looking to leave Pharmacy – yet I became more and more restless in that role. I had a persistent vision of something more that I needed to do. Maybe this is how Abram or Moses felt when God called each of them to leave his home and follow? It wasn’t until I was reading an article about ministering to those with mental illnesses that I came across a sentence that tied both my calls together. The author stated that the Church has always been God’s hospital, full of broken people on the mend. Thus, my call really wasn’t to leave behind all that I had done, it was to trade one “hospital” for another. That sentence gave me the courage to live into the unknown of this new call.
Over the last few weeks we have heard about how God intends for us all to be unified in the Body of Christ, how we need each other because we are all differently gifted, and how we are called to use our gifts to help create God’s kingdom here on earth. Our scriptures this week focus on what God’s call on our lives means as we seek to live into our God-given gifts and discover our call. Let us seek God’s voice and guidance in prayer…
This week’s Gospel lesson from Luke has Jesus calling the first Disciples. Simon Peter, and the brothers James and John, had been fishing all night and had returned with nothing to show for it. Jesus, needing to escape the ever growing crowds, commandeers Peter’s boat so that he can sit down and peacefully teach the people. When he finished speaking, he told Peter to head out for some more fishing. The reluctant Peter’s nets come up with so many fish that they are swamping not just one but two boats(!) – and the realization of the power of Jesus makes Peter afraid. Peter knows what kind of man he is, and he begs Jesus to steer clear of him. But Jesus sees the giftedness of Peter and the brothers and tells them all that they needed to but follow him and they would learn to gather people for God.
The passages from 1Corinthians and from Isaiah paint a bit of a different picture for what it might mean to become an apostle or prophet for God. In the former case, Paul is reiterating some of what he has gone through for the resurrected Christ. He says that he has “…worked harder than any of them (the Disciples)…” proclaiming the gospel, though not through his effort but through the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s great grace. Isaiah, on the other hand, is having kind of a “Peter moment” as he has a vision of himself inside the Holy of Holies – the innermost sanctum of the Temple at Jerusalem. There God is and seraphs attend and praise God. Isaiah states, “…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!…” He knows, like Peter did, that he is a sinner and mortal and to look upon God means certain death. Yet the seraph touches his mouth with a hot coal and Isaiah’s sin and guilt are removed. He then gets the unenviable task of telling the people of Jerusalem that their hearts and ears will be hardened towards God until the Assyrians come and destroy all that is. The prophet has his work cut out for him, to say the least, moving into a traumatic future!
God gifts and calls us – each and every one of us. Some of us discover our calls early in life – others, like me, come to the realization of our call much later in life. Fully half of my seminary classes were peopled by those who were working in another career or who had retired early. We have biblical accounts that are like that – last week it was Jeremiah being called as a boy, and we know that Abram and Moses were much older when they received their call. Jesus didn’t start his active ministry until he was about 30 – as we understand the stories about him. God can call at any time, so how do we discover what God is calling us to do?
One way is to uncover what our God-given gifts are. Our “Faith” portion of the youth group meeting this last Wednesday had them fill out an 80-question exploration of their spiritual gifting. They answered each statement from “0” to “3” (i.e., never feel that way to always feel that way). They then put their scores into a matrix that showed them where their spiritual strengths were, and where they were not. Not surprisingly, we found that all had different strengths. Many of the weaknesses were predictable, no one really scored high on Evangelism, Exhortation or Pastor (nor would I have at that same age). However, some strengths included Administration, Discernment, Giving, Teaching and Faith. I told them that this was just a snapshot into their lives at this point and might not always be true for them as they continue to develop as disciples. Yet, I think you would agree with me that Giving, Teaching, Discernment and Faith are important gifts for the life of any local church and for the Body of Christ as a whole! There are similar instruments for adults and last year I highlighted a website that you can take a “spiritual gifts inventory” for free – some of those small wisps of paper are still floating around here.
Once we figure out how we are gifted, we still need to spend time in prayer and discernment with God to figure out how we are being called to serve. I think that at times, we are all like the Israelites and have minds that are dull, ears and eyes that are shut to the workings of God in our life – thus we miss our calling. Some of us deny for many years what we hear and feel, hoping that God will leave us alone so we can continue to do what we choose, instead of what God calls us to do. I was in the latter category, but truly I was happy and blessed in my life as a pharmacist. I wasn’t looking for God to do something different…I thought I was doing exactly what I was supposed to. My first spiritual director helped me uncover the growing sense of dis-ease in my pharmacist practice. She patiently guided me as I discovered that the energy in my life was pointed to working on the intersection of the Church and improved communal health. That discovery and a whole lot of other choices along the way led me to you.
What I found was that the energy in my life – that which made me excited to get up and seek to live into this new dream, was not a clearly defined path. Rather, I learned to listen to where the energy seemed to be in each decision I had to make; and went towards that energy. Though I had some serious reservations (really…graduate school again at 50?!) it has really all worked out for the best. I would have been just fine living out my life as a pharmacist, but I would have been poorer for never having been your pastor.
God is calling each of you, and all of us together – right now, today. I wonder what it is that you are dreaming, praying, listening, discovering, discerning, and talking about? Because it is in those places where we dare to crack the door of possibility open that we find God waiting for us. You see, our spiritual journey is about possibilities; about us living fully into our giftedness and seeking out the energy in the unknown. We may be people of “unclean lips”, simple fishermen, religious warriors, or folks with checkered pasts and regrets. It doesn’t matter to God – God sees us as we truly are and how God needs us to be. Most of the characters in the Bible stories are flawed humans, some of them amazingly so, yet they all succeeded in God’s plan for them. That is because God doesn’t call the perfect; God perfects the called. Let us all find the courage to trust God enough to live fully into our gifts and our calls. If we do that, amazing things will happen through us for God. Amen and amen!