Sermon: Cordially Invited

11 February 2007

Rev. Jennifer Whipple
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)
February 11, 2007

Cordially Invited

Isaiah 6:1-8
Luke 5:1-11

Will you pray with me?  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

Imagine that you opened this morning’s News Times to the classifieds.  There in the black & white ink before you were two that caught your eye.  Help Wanted: seeking a prophet.  Must have good public speaking ability and be able to communicate well the unpopular message and vision of the CEO.  Pay not monetary but in prestige and historical faith significance.  Or how about this one?  Help wanted: seeking a disciple.  Must be willing to travel, listen, learn, and share stories.  Must be willing to drop all in order to follow the foreman…who is directly related to boss.  Experience in fishing preferred.  Willingness to work at catching people a must.

Now if you were to read these ads there is a good possibility that, even if you were interested in the potential jobs being described, you wouldn’t look twice.  I remember when I was looking through help wanted ads to find a position just a few years ago.  And as I looked at them all I could think was that I was unqualified.  I remember saying to myself, “I don’t know how to do half of the things they are looking for.  I could never respond to this.” 

There are some similarities in the invitations we hear in these scriptures, these call stories of Isaiah and the first disciples.  First, the people who are being called by God receive a sign that most would classify as miraculous.  It is not everyday that we see hosts of angels singing God’s glory or catches of fish so big that they sink boats.  Second, each of these calls is included in the context of a larger message or goal.  Isaiah’s call to prophecy becomes a piece of turning the behavior of people throughout Jerusalem from that of unethical and immoral to faithful, while the disciples are called amidst Jesus’ preaching about the kingdom of God.  Third, each of the main characters, namely Isaiah and Simon Peter, deny their abilities to perform the tasks they have been called to.  Isaiah says that he is not capable of speaking to the people around him about acting and speaking morally when he feels that he is a man of unclean lips himself, while Simon Peter pronounces himself sinful and therefore unworthy of even being in Jesus’ presence, let alone carrying out the work of God.  Finally, God gives each the tools and reassurance needed to carry out the call.  God grants Isaiah forgiveness in the form of an angel with a burning coal, and Jesus assures Simon Peter not to be afraid and foreshadows a successful career in evangelism… From now on you will be catching people.

God invites Isaiah into some dangerous business.  He is invited to be the verbal messenger for God in a time of war, in a time when immorality and unethical behavior were par for the course.  Jesus invites Simon Peter to do a few things.  First he invites him to push out from the shore, a shore which allowed for perfect viewing and hearing of Jesus’ message.  Then he invites Simon Peter to put out farther into the deep to put out his nets for a catch.  Finally, Jesus invites Simon Peter to discipleship.  All of these invitations are not only invitations to carry out tasks, but they are invitations to go deeper spiritually, for these men to grow in their relationship with God.  And we are cordially invited on this day to do the same – to go deeper with God.

And yet our responses today are very similar to the responses that both Isaiah and Simon Peter gave to God.  “I am a man of unclean lips,” said Isaiah.  “I could never do the job you are asking of me.”  Simon said, “Get away from me.  I am a sinful man.  Of all the people you could look for, I’m not the one you want.  All I know is catchin’ fish, and it seems like you are asking me somethin’ a little bit different than that there, preacher man.”  We feel like we could speak the same words that both these men offered to God.  “I’m not the one you are looking for.  I can’t do it.”  But the truth is that God does want us, and God tells us we can, even in our humanity.  As human beings we have faults and weaknesses—or as we call them in the church – growing edges, and we certainly make mistakes.  But as human beings of faith we are forgiven and also gifted for our work in the world and for God’s work in the world.  We are inclined to believe in something that is bigger than ourselves.  We are inclined to have faith even when faith makes about as much sense at times as the help wanted ads we imagined earlier.  We are inclined to see the giftedness beyond the doubt.  Not only does God give us gifts, God invites us to share those gifts with others in the world.  God invites us to recognize the gifts in others.  God invites us to both encourage others and to see the giftedness in ourselves.

A few weeks ago I participated in a youth ministry workshop that was about tools for identifying spiritual gifts in youth.  The leader of the workshop, in order to help us better process and understand the tools that he was sharing with us, had us participate in an activity.  We were split into small groups.  Each person had five minutes to speak to the answers of the following questions:

1. What is something I love doing?

2. What is something I feel I do well?

3. What is something that makes me feel proud?

The other people in the group were charged with actively listening.  Then the listeners were asked to write the gifts they were able to identify from their group’s testimonies individually on sticky labels that were then placed on the person, up and down arms, on legs & foreheads.  We had the opportunity to speak aloud to each other the gifts that we were able to identify.  We had the opportunity to speak the truth about our and each other’s giftedness in care and love.  We had the opportunity to literally wear our giftedness on our sleeves.  This experience was both humbling and encouraging.  For our gifts are the way we are empowered by the Holy Spirit for specific tasks.  Those gifts are bestowed as an act of Divine Grace, and we are invited by God to use them for service to the good of all.

Perhaps that is why in the end both Isaiah and Simon Peter were able to say “yes” to God.  They were able to speak that yes because they saw the tasks they were being called to as tasks they were invited to do by God, the one who created and called them by name.  An invitation is so much easier to answer than a generic Help Wanted Ad posted in the paper or on a wall somewhere.  It is not just something that anyone is able to see or read, but rather is personal and brings with it a feeling of being wanted, of belonging, of being equipped to be a part of something special.  Think of the last time you were invited somewhere or to do something special?  There is a sense that the reason an invitation is extended is because someone thinks fondly or kindly of you.  There is the sense that there is a reason you were chosen.  There is a sense that there was a reason that both Isaiah and Simon Peter were called as well.  They perhaps did not know it, but God, taking all the fear out of the call, invited each of them to be a part of something bigger than they could possibly imagine because God knew they both had what it takes.

As many of you know we do a good deal of inviting here at CCB as well.  We cordially invite you to come to potlucks, to support this place and its ministries, to come to adult education opportunities, to join in intergenerational fellowship programs.  We cordially invite you into the leadership of the church, to join committees and sit on task forces.  We cordially invite you to imagine the possibilities together, to vision a future that is bigger and better than even now in this place.  All of these invitations come to you because we see what it is that you all have, a spirit, a giftedness that can only be of God…that you too have what it takes – what it takes to carry out God’s ministry of truth and love.  Even in our humanity we are able to make things happen here with an energy and vitality about them.  Yet even more powerful than a blanket invitation from those who enter this pulpit is a personal invitation on behalf of any one of you to someone else, either within or outside of these walls to come join with you, and with all of us, on our journey.

And part of a true invitation with no strings attached is the ability to respond honestly.  The Nominating Committee may oust me for this one, but that means that the challenge is to be as open to saying “no” as to saying “yes.”  If I had a nickel for every time someone has told me that they have no idea how to say “no,” that they find themselves saying “yes” before they have time to prayerfully discern what the right answer is, I would be driving something much nicer than my green machine parked outside.  That is perhaps why we may see the same faces everywhere we go.  People who are active in the church tend to be active in other areas of the community as well – in scouts, in schools…you name it.  But if we reframe our thinking – if we are able to see each other not in a light of competition with others or as space-fillers on a committee or board but rather as gifted children of God, perhaps we can more honestly identify the gifts we see in others and help them own their gifts.  And if we know others see us as gifted we might be better able to humbly accept the gifts that others see in us, and we might be better able to speak a true “yes” to the invitations offered…Whether those invitations are to participate here in this place or in other arenas of our lives.

God invites us into this place today and every time we walk through the doors of this place to hear the word in community and to learn from each other.  Jesus invites us today into discipleship in his name.  As one well-known pastor, Martin Copenhaver writes, “The invitation to discipleship is not an invitation to live up to our human potential, for there may be less of that potential in us than we like to imagine.  Rather, the invitation to discipleship is an invitation to live up to our divine potential, to realize the potential God has to work through us and the potential we have to become channels for the power of God and the love of Christ.”  For we know we stand in awe of God’s power to be at work in this world through human beings.  We need but look to those who have gone before us, people like Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, our brothers and sisters here who have served and continue to serve this community in so many ways, those who have served each of us in our times of deepest need.  God gifts us with what it takes to go beyond ourselves, to share a prophetic voice with those who wrestle with the deepest issues in our confusing world – issues of war and peace, issues of homelessness and hunger, issues of justice.  And God invites us to use our gifts to speak of our faith, to build homes for Habitat for Humanity, to offer support to those organizations who are extensions of God’s hands in this world, to hold the hands and hear the stories of those in need, to raise faithful and responsible young people in our community.   

  So the invitations I extend to all of you today are the following:

1.      You are cordially invited to look at each other and the others you encounter outside the walls of this place through a lens of giftedness, and to speak those gifts to one another.

2.      You are cordially invited to invite one another into conversations about faith, to share your journeys with one another.

3.      You are cordially invited to speak a true “yes” to God when called to discipleship.  And in the tradition of our brother Isaiah say to God, “Here Am I, send me.”  Amen.



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