The Bible contains many accounts of people being called into the service of God.  These passages, which biblical commentators often refer to as “call narratives” not only offer insights into the spiritual experiences of the characters described, but also bear a lasting relevance for each one of us, in the living of our faith.


We think of God’s call to Abram and Sarai to set out in faith from their beloved and comfortable homeland, trusting only in the promise that God would provide them with children and a new land; or the call narrative that we read last week, in which Jeremiah was invited to embrace a prophetic vocation that had been prepared for him even before he was born; or the story of Jonah, who was called to journey into a dangerous situation in Nineveh in order to deliver a seemingly dire and dreadful message from God; these are only a few of the many different stories in which the Bible recounts the experiences of individuals who sensed that God was summoning them to some form of special and unique service in this world.


Today’s readings from Isaiah and from the Gospel of Luke are two such “call” narratives – but clearly set in very different contexts.


On the one hand, we read about the prophet Isaiah’s call that took place in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Isaiah was suddenly caught up into an overwhelming mystical vision – a glimpse of the immensity, the power, the glory of God.  A majestic throne, surrounded by strange heavenly beings, with lights and music and fire and smoke.   The vision confirmed that even the greatest of human Temples could not contain God.  The God of Israel was far more powerful than imagined – which helps to explain the prophet’s reaction.


And that reaction was not one of enthusiasm, or celebration, or excitement.  Rather, Isaiah was terrified. “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!”


This was not some heroic declaration of the prophet Isaiah, standing in the presence of God filled with a sense of pride about the fact that God was choosing to call him, or to be revealed so gloriously to him.  The prophet did not feel worthy of being in the presence of God – to the contrary, he felt terrified.


But this fear and terror was soon undone – not by the prophet’s faith, but rather at God’s initiative.  A strange, angelic, heavenly being touched the prophet’s lips with a burning coal and assured him that his guilt and sin were no more.  The prophet could no longer make any claim, any excuse on the basis of his own unworthiness or inadequacy or uncleanness.  And then, as the text unfolds, we are told that the prophet heard the voice of God, asking who should be sent to speak on behalf of God.


“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”


And it was to that question that the prophet was now prepared to respond, “Here am I; send me!”


The prophet Isaiah had made a significant and decisive shift – from a sense of fear and inadequacy – woe is me! I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips! – to faith and a confidence to respond – here am I; send me!


It is interesting to notice that the same dynamic is present in today’s suggested Gospel reading.


At first glance, a more different setting is hard to imagine.  The scene in Luke 5 is not set in the Temple in Jerusalem, with lights and music and smoke and fire.  There is no majestic throne in this scene, no mystical visions of the immensity, power and majesty of God, no fire-bearing seraphs touching human lips.

Rather, there is a small crowd of people, a couple of fishing boats, some exhausted fishermen, and a young teacher named Jesus.


Jesus had begun to attract attention, and was being sought out by crowds of people.  He got into one of the boats that he saw along the shore, taught the crowds for a while, then told the fishermen to push out and to let down their nets.


Their initial reaction was somewhat skeptical – as any one of ours would be as well.  After all, if you are a fishermen, having had a rather unsuccessful night of fishing, and just finishing up cleaning your nets, the idea of taking direction from an itinerant wandering carpenter about how to fish might seem a bit much.


But they did as Jesus instructed – and their nets were so filled that they could hardly contain the catch.


As in Isaiah’s call narrative, the initial reaction was a repentant and somewhat fearful declaration of inadequacy and unworthiness.  Isaiah admitted that he was a man of unclean lips, surrounded by a people who were similarly unworthy.  In a similar way, Simon Peter’s initial reaction to the revelation of Christ’s power was a declaration of his own sense of unworthiness.  “Go away from me, Lord; for I am a sinful man!”


Both Isaiah and Peter, at first, felt unworthy, inadequate to the sudden revelation of awe-inspiring power at work in the world.  And yet, in both cases – and in many if not most of the other call narratives in the Bible, a sense of inadequacy in the presence of the divine was the starting point, the first step, the moment of preparation to God calling them to do amazing, remarkable, historic, life-changing and world-changing things.


In fact, there is not a single story in the entire biblical tradition in which God comes to an individual, and the individual responds by commending God for finally realizing just how prepared, just how ready, just how worthy, just how deserving they are to be used by God.  There is not a single significant person whose initial response to God is “well, God, it’s about time that you realized how much I can do for you.  I was beginning to think you’d never ask.”


Which is worthy of reflection in each one of our lives.


After all, though we sometimes use the term “called” in relation to the decision of a person to prepare for some form of vocational service in the church, it is important to remember that it is not only clergy who should seek to explore what they are called to do with their lives, nor is it only clergy who should be encouraged to discern what their calling in life is supposed to be.


Rather, each and every one of us is wise to ponder how and what God is calling us to do.  And that “calling” may not come in some glorious vision in the Temple, as it did with Isaiah, but perhaps more like the call that came to Peter, James and John – three fishermen, simply doing their regular daily work.


Moreover, it is wise to note that Christ’s call to those first disciples was framed and phrased in relation to the work that they were already doing.  He did not say to them, you are going to be powerful preachers, courageous missionaries, wonder-working religious leaders, culture and world-shaping thinkers, historic letter-writers, founders of a movement that will stretch across millennia and to every part of the world – all of which they eventually became.  Rather, he simply said, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”  Jesus used the vocabulary of their lives to call them beyond what they could ever have imagined that they would be.


And those individuals – like Isaiah and Peter – went on to change the world, which is not a religious or spiritual assertion, but a historical fact.  Even if one does not believe in God or have any time for the Bible, it is incontrovertibly true that the influence of Isaiah’s thinking had a powerful impact on the subsequent history of Jewish and Christian thought, which in turn had a powerful impact on the philosophical, cultural, political and religious systems of our world.  In fact, there are few thinkers or writers in the history of humanity whose influence has been more significant or more lasting than that of Isaiah – and that was from a man filled with woe at his own inadequacy and uncleanness in the presence of God.


Similarly, Simon Peter was among the first leaders in a movement that now reaches across every language, every culture, every generation, every socio-economic class, every political system; a movement that has had an incomparable influence on the subsequent progress of human history.  And it all began when a fisherman fell on his knees and told Jesus to go away because he felt too sinful, too unworthy to be in the presence of Christ, let alone to be called into Christ’s service.  “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”


It is impossible to know or to predict how or what God is or might yet invite you to do with your life.


But I can tell you this.   There is a plan for each one of our lives, and there are purposes that God would like to fulfill in this world, in and through each one of us.   If we feel ready, confident, adequate, powerful enough to accomplish the purposes of God, we are probably not yet at the place where God can use us most powerfully.  On the other hand, if we have a sense of how God might be summoning us to act, but feel inadequate for the task, if we feel that God would be better to find someone else, then we are probably wise to pay close attention.


That call may not be a new career or some entirely different life path – although it might involve some dramatic shift in our lives, but that is not always the nature of God’s call to us.  Rather, it may be something as simple as reordering our priorities in order to give of our time to some worthy endeavor, or to summon up the courage to speak a challenging, hopeful word into a situation of injustice or suffering, or to use our God-given talents in some more focused and more servant-like manner, or to reach out the hand of friendship to a person who is feeling lost and alone.  God’s call comes in many forms and in many different ways.


But however it comes, remember this.


That the power of God is never limited by our inadequacies, or our unworthiness, or our fear, or our brokenness.  The power of God, and the call of God takes and transforms those limitations into powerful tools for God’s purposes to be fulfilled.


The same power that was at work in Jesus Christ – the power over even death itself – can come to have a profound and powerful effect in our lives, moving us from a sense of fear and inadequacy — “woe is me!  For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips!” or “go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” — to a humble declaration of faith —  “here am I.  Send me.”


And when we make that shift, our lives, and the world, might never be the same.

Thanks be to God.