The early scholar of religion Rudolph Otto reported human encounters with the Holy produced two different but related responses. Such visions rightly provoke awe in both the sense of fascination as well as terror. In Isaiah’s account you see both at work.
["Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinan," Faith 24 at Street Art News]
Many of you also know this story. It is the basis for one of the more beloved hymns in our tradition. Written by Daniel Schutz in 1981 and now part of the Wonder, Love and Praise supplement to our Hymnal, the lyrics echo the words of scripture here: “Whom shall I send? Here I am, Lord, It is I, Lord. I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart”
[Video link to Here I am, Lord sung by one of my favorite fellow Franciscans, John Michael Talbot]
In our lesson from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he talks about his calling. Like Isaiah, he is reluctant to answer the call of G_d to be an apostle of the Way of Jesus. Apostle is a word meaning one who is sent. He reminds G_d that “I am unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church.”
Finally, in our Gospel reading today, we hear the calling of Simon Peter, the fisherman from Capernaum who will become the head of the Jesus Movement after the death of Jesus. A form of this story is found in the three synoptic gospels. In both Mark and Matthew’s versions, Jesus spots Andrew and Simon and says, “Become my followers and I’ll have you fishing for people.” And they simply abandon their nets and follow him. Easy schmeasy. And slightly unbelievable.
It was the calling of Jesus, a first century Jewish peasant sage, to reveal the G-d who lies at the core of every living being. My Franciscan Christology professor in seminary often said that Jesus became so open to the calling of G-d that he became transparent. The G-d that was within him - and within all created beings - shone through for all the world to see.” Thus, Jesus became the revealer of G-d.
But Jesus knew he would not be around forever. And so he called disciples to perpetuate his Way of Jesus after his death. If the love of G-d was going to be revealed in the world, it would take human agents willing to be revealers themselves to do so. Indeed, their lives might be the only gospel other people ever read.
It’s critical to remember that G-d has historically called highly imperfect human beings to be agents of the divine in the world. Moses was a murderer. David arranges for the death of his best friend in order to take his wife. St. Paul was essentially a serial killer in his persecutions of the very folks that Jesus - himself a capitol felon in Caesar’s Empire - had called to be his followers.
Imperfect human beings are the only materials that G_d has to work with in this world. And the need to reveal G-d’s love has probably never been greater than today. That means all of us have callings to answer if G-d’s love is to be revealed in our world.
How we do that will vary from person to person. Martin Luther was very clear that the farmer shoveling manure in the barn was just as faithfully living into his calling by G_d as the priest praying at the altar. Finding our calling is undoubtedly our life’s greatest task. It means listening to our hearts and taking seriously the whisperings in our ears of the Spirit sometimes uttered by the most unexpectable sources. Most of all, it means remembering that whatever we do, we are never alone. The G_d we would reveal in the world is always present with all of us. And we always need G-d’s help.
May G-d give us the wisdom to discern our callings this day, the courage to respond to them without fear and the strength to persist in them even amidst our failings. This day let us respond to our own calling by G_d with the words of our Baptismal Covenant: “I will with God’s help.” AMEN.
Harry Scott Coverston
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.
For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1993)
© Harry Coverston 2019