Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Challenges of God's Calling

Isaiah 6:1-8, Holy Trinity B, May 31, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Our Unworthiness
In our first lesson, we see the vision that the Lord showed to Isaiah. The glory of the Lord fills the Temple, and the seraphim are calling out their praises. The whole place is trembling. Yet amid all this holy beauty stands Isaiah. He is just a simple man. He does not feel worthy to be there in the Lord’s presence.

Isaiah - one of the most prominent prophets of all time - does not feel worthy to be receiving this vision. How often do we too not feel worthy! Some important Christians also have had moments like these. 

First, consider Shane Claiborne, the author of The Irresistible Revolution. Early on in his career, Shane decided that he wanted to meet and work with Mother Teresa. He wrote her a letter that essentially said, “Dear Mother Teresa, we don’t know if you give internships out there in Calcutta, but we would love to come check things out.” (p. 73) 

He wrote about his ideas of what the church can look like. All of Shane’s friends and colleagues hearing of this letter exclaimed, “You are writing who?!” People did not think Shane was worthy to write to Mother Teresa. Even he was unsure if he should be doing it. He wanted to see Calcutta, yet he wondered if he was worthy.

Next, consider the Baptist minister Jeffrey Brown. His first church was in Boston. He had great aspirations to become a megachurch pastor, yet that never happened. He was too busy leading funerals for black teenagers caught in the violence in the streets of Boston. As other churches moved out of the city to avoid the violence, Pastor Brown tried to offer social services for these teens. Yet, nothing helped.

Then a young black man was shot near the church. As this man was running to reach the safety of the church, he collapsed and died. There was nobody at the church to help him anyway. It was at that time that Pastor Brown realized that he needed to take drastic steps to reduce the violence in his city. As he feared what might happen to him, he prayed to God and asked, 
"Why me? Why do you want me to do this?" 

The Grace of God's Blessing
We all have times when we feel unworthy. How can we come before the Lord who created the world and not feel unworthy? Yet Isaiah’s story doesn’t end with his cry that his lips are unclean. One of the angels in Isaiah’s vision brings a live coal and touches his lips. This is a ritualized way of clearing Isaiah of the guilt of his sin. Now that his lips are clean, he is able to hear the Lord cry out, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” and Isaiah replies, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8-9)

So, the Lord who is greater, more mysterious, and more beautiful than we can imagine chooses us to serve. We can’t even look at the Lord’s face, yet the Lord sends us out to prophecy. Just as the Lord sent a live coal to clean Isaiah’s lips, so also the Lord sends affirmation to us.

Consider Shane Claiborne. He waited for Mother Teresa to reply to his letter. Eventually, he got her phone number and called her. Amazingly, Mother Teresa answered! After mumbling through who he was and why he wanted to visit, he said that he would like to stay for the summer, but a few weeks or even days would work, too. 

Then Mother Teresa replied, “Come for the summer. Come.” Shane then asked her were he would eat and sleep? She responded, “God takes care of the lilies and the sparrows, and God will take care of you. Just come.” (p. 74-5) Shane was so nervous he could barely speak, yet Mother Teresa exuded God’s grace and invited him to come.

Next, Jeffrey Brown. Pastor Brown began to walk the streets at night to see for himself what it was like for these gang members and drug dealers. Yet, he couldn't change anything on his own. God affirmed his needs by sending the other clergy in town to walk with him. He and these clergy walked the streets in the most dangerous neighborhoods from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. each weekend. The violent youth eventually agreed to talk with them. 

These youth showed Pastor Brown and his colleagues that they were not hard hearted but simply were trying to make it. The pastors came to value these youth and no longer saw them as a problem to be solved. Life-changing ministry was happening right there on the streets of Boston.

The Hard Work of Ministry
When we feel at our weakest, the good Lord is often there to bring us to our feet, brush off the dust, and send us on our way. The Lord sends us out to do the Lord’s work, yet it isn’t always easy. Certainly Isaiah’s message was hard to share.

Our lesson today ends before we hear the prophecy that the Lord gives to Isaiah. He is to share with the Israelites this message: “Close off all your senses lest you try to repent. The Lord will send you all away after letting your land be destroyed. Even if some of you try to stay in your land, the Lord will let every little bit be demolished.” (Isaiah 6:9-13, summarized)

No wonder why some prophets run away from the Lord. This is no easy task. Isaiah must proclaim to his people that they will watch their beloved holy land be brought to ruin. Sharing such disturbing news must have been exhausting.

So also, the ministries that we are called to are not easy. The Lord sends us to the people who make us the most uncomfortable, and then the Lord tells us to love them. That is exactly what Shane Claiborne did. While he was in Calcutta, he spent every morning in an orphanage. He cared for disabled children who were abandoned by their parents. 

Then every afternoon he worked in the Home for the Destitute and Dying. He helped the people there to die with dignity by providing comfort care. Shane followed Mother Teresa’s example as he followed Jesus’ teaching. Shane did not have an easy time caring for abandoned children and those dying on the streets, yet he did the Lord’s work with grace. A grace only the Lord can provide. 

So also, Jeffrey Brown worked with violent youth that others considered a lost cause. Pastor Brown and his colleagues sat down with these youth and with some of the local police force. Together, these three groups of people who normally never valued each other worked for a common goal. Instead of simply sending in more cops or providing more social services, the community listened to the needs of the youth.

We may be unworthy to see the Lord’s face, yet even Isaiah was able to see the hem of the Lord’s robe. Despite our sinfulness, and despite our failures, the Lord calls us to great tasks of mercy. The Lord calls us to form relationships with the least among us. We can follow the Lord’s calling - with God the Father to guide us, Christ to redeem us, and the Holy Spirit to strengthen us. Amen.

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