May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Despite all appearances and evidence to the contrary, I always need to have a plan. I don’t mean that I am super organised or anything like that, but rather I wake up in the morning, and before I do anything, I formulate a plan for the day in my head. This will include times of departure and arrival and the amount of time spend doing a given activity. This plan, known only to me of course, is to be followed without question, and I get seriously grumpy when the plan in my head has to be changed. I need and love a plan, I cannot understand how people function without knowing what time they need to be doing things. I like to synchronise watches and plan for mishaps, calculating when to leave for an appointment so that I have the greatest chance of getting there early. This planning, it is fair to say has caused a moderate amount of marital strife, as Claire’s attitude is to view appointment times rather more as an optimistic and voluntary suggestion. It drives me bananas. For me, being late to anything is to have my little world end. I must, I need to have the plan. So, in church, I love it when we hear people say ‘God has a plan for your life’. It’s comforting isn’t it? God has a plan, don’t you fret, its all sorted, sit back and relax, count your blessings, its gonna be awesome. But is that our experience of God’s plan in our lives?
Now don’t get me wrong I think God does have a plan for all of us. I believe, as I heard in a poem many years ago:
That God sends each person into this world
With a special message to deliver
With a special song to sing for others
With a special act of love to bestow
No one else can speak my message
Or sing my song
Or offer my act of love.
These are entrusted only to me
I believe that is fundamentally true, yet here is the problem – life very rarely goes to plan. Disaster, problems, sin, death and life happen don’t they? God may have a plan, but crucially He does not share His plans for our lives with us. I don’t think God gives us plans, I think God gives us promises and a purpose or calling. Today I want to spend some time considering the promises, the purpose and the callings God has for us.
Everyone has a calling, a vocation from God. Everyone without exception at all points of their life. There is a really easy test to see if you have a calling on your life. If you notice that you are breathing, yup, you have a calling. Everyone is called to something. So what kind of callings might that be?
Our calling may be to leadership in the church, it might be to service, to prayer, to being a Christian presence in the workplace or in your family, it might be to work with the homeless or feed the hungry or play the organ or volunteer at coffee break or sing in the choir or being a listening friend or any number of other loving services. Everyone, without exception has a calling and no calling is less valuable than another. We all have different callings but we all remain servants of Christ regardless in what fashion we are called to serve Him.
All our readings this morning focus in on people and their callings by God. We hear of the calling of the prophet Isaiah, the calling of the Apostle Paul and the calling of Peter the disciple. All profoundly different, all from God, all followed faithfully. None of them were given the plan, but they were given a purpose, a calling. Let us see what we can learn from these lives as we consider our own calling from the God of promise.
The first thing I want to say to you is that if you think you are not good enough for God you are absolutely right. No one is. We all get things wrong, we all make mistakes and we all have regrets. Look how Isaiah reacts as he has his vision, seeing God, being adored by the seraphs in heaven as they sing His praises and Isaiah, upon seeing God says ‘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!’ God’s holiness is too much for Isaiah as it is for Peter when in our Gospel, the professional fisherman who knows he is witnessing something impossible sees the miracles of a catch so big it is sinking the boat, at that moment Peter, like Isaiah knows he is in the presence of the Divine and says to Jesus ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’
Isaiah was not worthy, Peter was not worthy, nor was Paul the murderer worthy of his call from God. Yet, through three people, God changed the course of world history forever. If you feel utterly unworthy of your call from God, you are in the same place as these three great saints, so don’t be discouraged. You do not need to be good to have a call. Being a Christian is not about being good it is about being alive, and living lives restored. It is not about being good enough to be worthy of our callings, but rather the grace of God reaches down to everyone of us, because He loves us.
For Isaiah, the seraph touches his lips with a burning coal, and his sins are forgiven. For Peter, as he recognises his unworthiness before Jesus, at that moment, Jesus turns to Him and gives Peter his purpose ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’
Paul recognises best his unworthiness and the grace of God when we hear him say in our second reading speaking of his own calling from God ‘Last of all, as to someone untimely born, Jesus appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain.’
Our callings from God are not given through anything we have done but are simply gifted to us through God’s unbelievable love and grace for us, for everyone. Never feel you are not good enough for God or His calling on your life. All of us are called, through God’s unending love and overwhelming grace.
Secondly, I want to explain that following God’s call on your life does not mean that everything will go smoothly. Often when we see or hear of the great achievements of the saints we can be tempted to think ‘wow – look at that amazing woman of God, look at what they achieved – must be nice to be God’s favourite! Bet it was easy for them’. The reality is very different. Following God’s calling is hard often. Looking at our three saints today, as we look at their lives after their calling, we can see just how hard following one’s calling can be. In our reading from Isaiah chapter 6, we hear that famous reading, used at ordinations by the way, that ends with God saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And Isaiah said, ‘Here am I; send me!’. Lovely isn’t it? The problem arises when you read the rest of Isaiah chapter 6. Because after Isaiah says ‘send me’ God say to him in reply, to paraphrase ‘by the way no one you preach to will listen, and because they won’t listen, the country will be destroyed, and even the 10% that survives the destruction, that will be destroyed eventually as well.’ Isaiah must have been thinking ‘what have I signed up for here?, What is the point?’
For Paul and Peter, of course, to follow their calling was to encounter much suffering, and in the end execution. For Peter, he was crucified upside down while Paul, as a roman citizen was beheaded. Before you all run for the hills, I think it is fair to say that thankfully callings rarely involve such extremes in this country today but following your calling from God is definitely not easy! It is often hard. At those moments of suffering, no doubt all three of our saints were tempted to give up and despair. But the reality is that they had not failed at all. Through Isaiah’s prophesies written down, the way for Jesus the messiah was made clear, even today, some 3000 years later his writings form a central part of our understanding of God and the work of Jesus, around which we often worship. Through Paul’s preaching to the Gentiles and his letters to the churches, the Gospel he died for spread to every corner and people of the globe and continues to spread today. Through Peter’s leadership of the Church, preaching and evangelism, the foundations of the Church continue to be strong enough to support a living membership of over two billion souls. These ordinary people could not have known how their small part in God’s plan continues to change and bless our broken world. They never understood fully God’s plan they simply accepted His promises. They were not required to have the necessary skills or to achieve certain goals. God did everything, as Paul acknowledges in His reading today. In our callings, despite our misgivings or feelings of inadequacies or resources God provides. My friends this was the experience of 3 very human, very broken, very imperfect people, Isaiah, Peter and Paul. Just imagine what God could do with you and your life.
Lastly, every calling requires a leap of faith, to follow God’s call on our lives wholeheartedly. For Isaiah, as his sins were forgiven, and God asked who would go, Isaiah doesn’t hesitate, he simply says ‘Here I am Lord, send me’. Peter, once he has heard God’s call, does something extraordinary for a fisherman. Having just caught the biggest catch of his life, Peter leave that mighty catch on the shore, and follows Jesus. When we have a call on our lives, when we recognise it, don’t hesitate, risk it go for it. Yes, seek guidance and wisdom from Church leaders or people you trust, pray about your calling, test your calling, but don’t hesitate. Following a calling on your life will often be daunting and scary. You will almost certainly feel inadequate. It will often involve significant sacrifice and hard work. It may not even work out as you hoped. But do it anyway.
Everyone has a calling, a calling that for many of us starts at baptism and changes and develops throughout our lives. Follow your calling, whatever it is, because through it you will find exactly what you are made to do and be and that brings serious amounts of joy. It brings, even with all the hardness, and problems that comes with life, a pure joy, a joy born of love, a love received from Jesus, from Jesus who makes you whole.
So, I want to encourage you to pray that dangerous prayer that Isaiah prayed so long ago. – here I am Lord, send me.
God is a gentleman, He will not force you to follow His call on your life, but if you do you will never look back. Don’t leave today without talking to someone if you feel God’s call on your heart – I won’t tell you the full story but I did one day nearly 11 years ago and today I stand in front of you a vicar. I didn’t see that one coming!
Follow God’s call on your life and as you do, like Isaiah, Peter and Paul, you will not only change your own life, grow into who you are called to be but will take up your part of God’s story that is changing, blessing and remaking the world through Jesus Christ our Lord with His Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father. Amen