The Rev. Dr. Paul Opsahl
5 Epiphany C February 10, 2019
Isaiah 6:1-8 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Luke 5:1-11
There’s an old saying: “In God’s kingdom, you don’t need remarkable ability – only remarkable availability.”
In today’s three Scripture lessons, we read about some Bible celebrities who faced up to their call from God, and wondered if they possessed the necessary qualifications for what was ahead. The apostle Peter, the prophet Isaiah, and the apostle Paul all had a couple of things in common. All three felt pretty insignificant in the presence of God, and all three of them came up with pretty good excuses for not saying Yes to God. But all three – Peter and Isaiah and Paul – were to experience the blessings that come from being open to God’s call.
So — given the cold climate we’ve experienced lately, I thought it would do us good to start working through our own excuses and the state of our availability with a warm weather story. This one’s about golf.
One Sunday morning, two golfers were about to tee off when one of them, with club poised to swing, said, “I hear the church bells ringing.” His partner asked him, “Does that make you feel guilty about missing worship?” Still poised for the drive, the first golfer answered, “No, I don’t feel guilty. I couldn’t have gone to church anyway today. My wife is home alone and sick in bed!”
Excuses! You’ve heard about some of those excuses written to the teacher by parents explaining their child’s absence or tardiness. Like the one that leaves out a pretty important word:
“Dear Teacher, please excuse Tommy for being. . .
It was his father’s fault!”
Charles Schultz, the creator of “Peanuts,” was something of a theologian in his own right. He entertained us for decades with his cartoon column. One “Peanuts” episode has lingered in my mind more than any other. In the first frame, there’s a big, black sky full of twinkling stars. Huddled in the foreground is Charlie Brown with his little round head. Next to him sits Linus, holding on to his security blanket. Just the two of them silhouetted against the night sky. Both gazing up at the stars in silence. Second frame, the same – the two are still looking up silently at the stars. Third frame, they’re still star struck and silent. In the fourth and final frame, Charlie Brown breaks the silence and says, “Let’s go inside. I’m beginning to feel insignificant.”
If we’ve ever offered excuses for not becoming involved in serving God and other people, maybe it’s because we feel insignificant in the scheme of it all. I can’t do everything, so I’ll take a pass and do nothing. Perhaps we feel we’re just not up to the task.
If that’s so, we find ourselves in pretty good company this morning. Take Peter. He had seen Jesus lead his fishing expedition to a record, boat-sinking catch of fish. Experienced as they were on the lake, these fishermen were really scared this time — the catch proved to be so huge it almost pulled both of their boats under the water. In his heart Peter might well have been thinking, Who am I compared to this miracle-working Jesus? “Lord,” Peter said,” “You don’t want me hanging around you any longer. I’m just a miserable sinner.” But Jesus says: “Don’t sweat it, Peter.” And then gives him this startling assignment: “From now on you will be catching people.” “Who, me? Lord?” “Yes, you, Peter.” Peter had discovered that God, who knew all about his abilities and inabilities, was still interested in his availability.
In today’s First Lesson, we came across one of the Bible’s most breathtaking scenes. Angels flying all over the place, the building shaking and filling up with smoke. (Do you suppose this is where the expression, “Holy Smoke!” originated?) Even more amazing was the overwhelming presence of the Lord God Almighty, seated high above on a lofty throne. Isaiah thinks about himself standing in the presence of a totally awesome God and says, “I’m doomed. I’m a foul-mouthed sinner. I come from a sinful race of people.” Then one of the angels flies over, touches Isaiah’s mouth with the live coal (I know that would get my attention), and declares that he is now clean before God. Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord asking, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” And an answer he never thought he’d be able to give came out of Isaiah: “Here I am. Send me.” “Who me, Lord?” “Yes, you, Isaiah.” So a foul-mouthed man becomes one of the most articulate of all the Lord’s prophets. All because of the availability factor
In a strange, unearthly way, the apostle Paul came face to face with Jesus. Paul does a self-evaluation and concludes: “I am the least worthy of all the apostles. Just think of the horrible way I persecuted the church of God. I am so not fit to follow Jesus. But,” he continues, “the grace of God entered the picture, and I now am what I am.” “Who me, Lord?” “Yes, you, Paul.” The number one persecutor turns out to be the number one missionary. He made himself available to God for keeping faith, and hope, and love alive in our world.
So – Good for you, Isaiah! Good for you, Paul! Good for you, Peter! In one way or another, the response of all three was “I have good reason to doubt myself, but here I am Lord, at your service.” Over and over again in the Bible God calls those who think they are unfit, who think they are too insignificant to put in a good word for the Lord Jesus. Over and over again in the Bible, we find a God who absolutely delights in doing extraordinary things with deeply flawed human beings.
All three – Isaiah, Paul, Peter – went on to discover that when you make yourself available to God, then having a vision of God means sharing that vision. Hearing the story of God’s love means telling the story so that others can hear it, too. Receiving God’s call means calling out to others. Knowing Christ as Savior means letting others in on what that means to you. Serving Christ means, in the words of that song, “If I can help somebody along life’s way, then my living will not be in vain.”
Robert Fulghum has written a number of very popular books, one of which was titled, “It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It.” In it, Fulghum tells of a remarkable man who experienced much of the horror of the Second World War, and emerged from this tragedy dedicating his life to compassion and peace. This man – his name was Alexander Papaderos – tells about when he was a small child during the war, living in a remote and very poor village. One day on the road, he found the broken pieces of a mirror from a German motorcycle that had been wrecked. He kept one of the mirror pieces, the largest one, and began to play with it as a toy. He became fascinated by the fact that he could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never otherwise shine — in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a challenge for him to get light into the most inaccessible places he could find. He kept the little mirror, and every now and then, he would take it out in idle moments to continue his reflecting game. As he became older, he drew insight from this fascination, and gained understanding on what he might do with his life. He came to see that he was not the light nor was he the source of the light. But light, truth, understanding, knowledge, were there, and they would shine in those many dark places only if he let it reflect into where it was needed. This is what he said: “I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Still, with what I have, I can reflect light into the dark places of the world. . .and change some things in some people.”
That was what Jesus was calling Peter to do that day when he said, “Do not be afraid. From now on, you will be catching people.” That’s what God was asking of Isaiah when he was freed up to do the prophet’s job of telling it like it is. That’s what God had in mind for Paul – to reflect light into the darkest and farthest corners of the world.
The old Gospel song, “There is a Balm in Gilead,” has this verse:
If you cannot preach like Peter,
If you cannot pray like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
How he died to save us all.
And that’s where all of us can come into God’s picture. It’s the call to everyone who believes: to “tell the love of Jesus, how he died to save us all.” Sometimes by the words we speak. Always by the life we live. Who, me Lord? Yes, you! Amen!