Often, people tell me that it’s so nice that I have a “calling.” That is, a vocation or career that they consider to be somehow special–more than an ordinary job. It’s usually applied to the helping professions–ministers, doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, etc. But the truth is, we all have callings. We are all called by God to use our particular gifts in whatever field or situation we find ourselves. We can be called in our relationships: parent, spouse, child, sibling. We can be called to the things we do outside of work: volunteering, driving children to and from activities, cooking, caring for others. And we can be called in our careers, no matter what they are. God calls us in every moment to be disciples. Take a look at the readings for this week (Isaiah, 1 Corinthians, Luke), then read the sermon and let me know what you think!
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Back when I got ordained I was given cards by most of my family. The thing is, though, that Hallmark actually doesn’t make all that many different choices for ordination cards. So I got like forty to fifty cards, but they were really the same five or six cards over and over again.
And as someone who tends to find greeting cards in general a little bit schmaltzy, some of the ordination cards were over the top sickeningly sweet. But there was a phrase on one of the cards—which I got four or five times—that stuck with me. “God doesn’t call the qualified. God qualifies the called.”
I thought that one was schmaltzy, too, but there was no denying it hit the nail on the head. Here I was, twenty-five-years-old, barely tall enough to see over the lectern, fresh out of school, making all kinds of promises and vows at my ordination. I meant them, sincerely, but I didn’t yet understand fully what they meant. And I know that my understanding of this call will continue to grow and deepen as the years go on.
God doesn’t call the qualified. God qualifies the called. In most call narratives that we have in the Bible, the first response to being called by God is to run the opposite direction, often because of some perceived deficiency on the part of the person being called. We see it in every single one of our readings this morning.
Isaiah receives a vision of the Lord of hosts, and his first response is to say that he is not worthy of such a thing. “Woe is me!” He says, “I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” In other words: I’m not good enough for this. I’ve spoken indecently in the past, I’m not the right person for this job.
Paul is sharing his own personal story with the Corinthians and he calls himself, “the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle.” Why? Because before he received his call, he was a persecutor of the church. He oversaw the stoning of Stephen, he did everything he could to kill the early church. He doesn’t deserve to be an apostle, to be one sent by God to bring good news.
And in the gospel reading, in the response to this miraculous catch of fish, a sign of the abundance and grace that Jesus brings, Simon Peter falls to his knees and says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” He has seen the kind of new life and healing that Jesus brings, and thinks that he is not good enough to be a part of it.
God doesn’t call the qualified. God qualifies the called. Isaiah’s lips are cleansed with the burning coal, Paul’s eyes are opened to God’s love in Jesus, and Peter becomes the cornerstone of the early church. Without question God uses these flawed and fragile human beings to proclaim God’s mercy and love.
“Who will go for us?” “Whom shall I send?” asks the Lord. There are a million reasons for us to shake our heads and say, “Not I, Lord. Surely, I am not the one you are looking for.” After all, who am I to have such an important mission and task? Maybe we think we don’t have the right words to speak for God, like Isaiah. Maybe we have regrets over past mistakes, like Paul. Maybe, like Peter, we think we’re just generally not good enough. There are a million reasons to say no to God’s call in our lives.
But the fact is, God calls us not because God is looking for some perfect version of ourselves. God calls us precisely because of who we are. God’s not fooled by us: our brokenness, our doubts, our suffering, our struggles—they are all on full display long before God calls us. And yet, God chooses to call us.
Call us to what, exactly, is probably a good question at this point. What is God calling you and me to do? Surely, it’s not to be like Isaiah, or Peter, or Paul. Well, yes and no. We are all called, like those three men, to be messengers from God. We are called by God to share with a hungry and needy world the good news we have found in Christ Jesus. But we all do that in different ways. We do it when we share with others what God means in our lives. We do it when we share the love that we have known in God with others.
And you’re going to do that differently than I’m going to do that, which is going to be different still from how the next person does it. And we don’t have to end up being famous like Isaiah or Peter or Paul. We live out this call in our lives in so many simple ways—sometimes we might not even realize what we’re doing.
At our most recent new members’ class, I started as I always do, by asking the group what first brought them to St. Paul’s. Several people said it was their neighbors. Their neighbors had shared with them that they were part of a church that was meaningful to them. They didn’t say it to pressure or convince anyone of anything. They said it simply because they wanted to share the love and community and grace that they had found. Answering God’s call might be as simple as hugging a friend in need of comfort or patiently answering a small child’s unending questions. It’s not necessarily dramatic, but it is meaningful.
As we begin our congregational meeting just after this service, we will seek the ways that we answer this call as a whole community. We’re able to do bigger things when we come together than any of us could do individually, but still we are answering that same call of God. To know Christ and to make Christ known through word and deed.
And no one else can do it but us. Because we are all so different, unique in beautiful and wondrous ways. By the grace of God, we are who we are. And so each and every one of us is needed. Each person’s struggles, pains, joys, accomplishments, and dreams are stories of the gospel that can light the way for others. In a way that no one else’s could.
“Who shall I send,” asks the Lord. “Who will go for us?” Here we are, God. Send us. Send us in all of our imperfect beauty, with all of our grace-filled cracks and holes. Send us, God, that we might use our voices to share your voice of love. Amen.