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Sermon: Not Afraid

February 5, 2010

EDITOR’S NOTE: File this one under “bait and switch.”  I surely thought I’d be preaching a brilliant sermon about how Jesus calls us into the mysterious, unfathomable deep.  Then I remembered…Holy Communion…and a 10-minute presentation about the completed organ repairs.  That leaves me about 16 seconds to preach.  I shifted gears and prepared a simpler sermon about the God who calls us and who also makes us worthy for service.  Look for “Deep Water” in three years!  (No, I won’t remember, either.)

Luke 5:1-11

Here is a story you’ll never read in the Bible.

A man was herding the goats in the wilderness.  His name was Carl.  In the far distance, halfway to the horizon, Carl saw a tall pillar of thick smoke.  It was racing across the desert floor like a tornado, zigzagging this way and that, but it was coming right at the man.  It didn’t look dangerous, but Carl looked around for a hiding place just in case.

The pillar of smoke came closer and closer, and at about 50 feet, it made a complete circle around Carl, sending the goats scattering in all directions.  Then the pillar of smoke circled around again before it stopped in front of him.

“Carl, this is God.  You must cover your eyes.  I am hidden in the smoke, but I am coming out to speak with you.”

Carl scowled and looked around at the goats running around on the hills.  “Are you going to help me round up these goats again?”

“Never mind that.  Just cover your eyes.  I have something important to tell you.”

“It took me a really long time to herd them up this morning.”

“COVER YOUR FACE!”  The ground shook.

Carl covered his face with the long sleeve of his robe.  “Happy now?”

There was a sound like a gust of wind in the tops of the trees, and the voice said, “Carl, I am the Lord God.  I have heard the cries of my people, and I will have compassion on them.  I am sending you to them, to bring them to freedom.”

Carl said, “You’ve come to the right man.  There is no one better to carry out your great and holy plans than me.  I always knew there was a better way to use my talents than herding my brother-in-law’s goats.  Excellent choice, Lord.”

“Uh…I don’t think you understand what I’m asking you to do.  This is a perilous task.  There will be times when you doubt yourself.  You will even wonder if I still have your back.  Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Piece of cake, God.  Finally, I have a chance to show everybody back home what I can really do.  I may have failed seminary and flunked out of clown college, but I got skills.”

God considered this for a moment.  The voice said, “I think maybe…on second thought…maybe you’re not the one I was looking for.  I may have made a mistake.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re Carl the Carpenter, right?  613 Summerland Road?”

“No, I’m Carl the Goatherd.  I live on Pacific.”

“My mistake,” said the voice.  There was a whooshing sound, and a rumbling, and the cloud disappeared into the distance.  Carl took his sleeve away from his face, and he was alone.

“What about my goats?!”

*     *     *     *     *

When God comes to people in the Bible to tell them they have been chosen for an important job, they all have similar reactions.  Moses encountered the wonder of the burning bush and said he wasn’t fit for the job; he had a speech impediment.  When Isaiah had a vision of the throne of God, he immediately confessed his unworthiness.  He and his people were too sinful.  God had to put Jonah in the belly of a fish and make Paul blind in the middle of the highway in order to prevent them from running away from their divinely appointed tasks.  In our text this morning, as soon as Simon Peter faced the holiness of God on display in Jesus through the miraculous catch of fish, he fell to his knees, terrified.  “Get away from me!  I am a sinful man.”

The Bible tells us that when a person has an encounter with God, it is not inspiring, and it does not fill you with confidence.  To meet God is to be terrified and immediately humble.  There is an awful understanding that the gulf between the utter holiness of God and sinful human nature is unbearable.  If a meeting with God inspires anything, it is fear.

And so, when in that moment when God also says, “I have a job for you,” the response must be one of disbelief.

“Who me?  No way you can mean me.  I am sinful.  I am weak.  I am ill prepared.  I am completely and totally unqualified to bear your grace to the world.”

And God says, “I knew that.”

“I knew that.”  Don’t you think that God already knows that not one of us is qualified to lead the people to the Promised Land or to share the prophetic word of God to a desperate nation or to call a foreign city to repentance or to share the love of Christ in a new mission field…or to preach a sermon from holy scripture or to sing an anthem about God’s grace in the sanctuary or to teach the little ones who belong to Jesus or even to share a cup of cold water in the name of Christ?  Don’t you think God already knows that we are not holy enough and not equipped to serve?

But even so, the call comes.  “You will soon be catching people, gathering them in, rescuing them in my name.  Stay on your knees if you must, but don’t be afraid.  I already know you are a sinful man, Simon Peter, but if I call you, I will make you worthy.  I will equip you to serve me.  I will see to it that you accomplish the purpose for which I send you.”

I have had people tell me that they are not ready to set foot in a church.  “Pastor, there are too many things in my life I need to fix first.  I’m way too messed up.  Once I get my own house in order, then I’ll come into God’s house.”  Rubbish.  You may be sinful.  You may be broken and incomplete.  You may lack confidence and all the right stuff.  In God’s eyes all that is of no account.  The only thing that God sees is the imprint of the divine that is stamped right on your soul.  It marks you as God’s own.

So when that call comes to you, be afraid.  Be reluctant.  Try to weasel out, because anybody who wants the job isn’t fit for the job.  But remember that the issue isn’t whether or not you’re good enough and smart enough and, doggone it, people like you.  The only thing that matters is that God wants you and says “Go for me.  Love my people.  I’ll get you through this.  Just go.”

Some people say that there is a call to be found in Holy Communion.  They say that sometimes when you come to the table, as you are waiting in line, if you really listen, if you pay attention to the texture of the bread in your mouth, the tang of the grape juice on you tongue, that you can discern a call.  Some people say it is really there.  I don’t know…maybe…

One Comment leave one →
  1. Suzy permalink
    February 5, 2010 9:19 pm

    This is almost exactly the sermon I preached last week and (as usual), I like yours better.

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