Sermon:  “Who Me?”

7 February 2010

The Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
February 7, 2010

“Who Me?”

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

Prayer:   “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our minds and hearts here together be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”

As some of you know, Pastor Jen has been hard at work over the past couple of weeks trying to recruit speakers for our Tuesday Lenten lunches, and for our 5 Sunday worship services during Lent this year.  She was inspired to ask some of you to tell your faith stories after she read Lillian Daniel’s book Tell It Like It Is: Reclaiming the Practice of Testimony.  It’s about her attempt to get folks in her congregation, the Church of the Redeemer in New Haven, to talk to each other about their experiences of God.  Well, testimony may sound great in New Haven, but it turns out several of you gave Jen almost the same answer – something along the lines of, “Who me?  You’ve got to be kidding!” 

Talk in public about our most intimate experiences of God?  Most of us find it easy to “Just say ‘No’” to that!  In some surveys, public speaking has been listed the number one or two greatest phobia – above insects and spiders and even nuclear war.[1]  I know my mom used to say, whenever somebody would ask her to say a few words at church, “No thank you.  I’d rather be shot at dawn.”  (I’m not sure why “dawn” made it better, but you catch her drift!)  Now, although we all are called to talk about our faith, the Good News for you introverts out there is the Lord doesn’t call everybody to preach.  So, for that, you shy folks can thank the Lord.  (Quietly now: “Praise the Lord!”)

In my experience, a call to ministry almost always comes as a surprise to the person who hears it – no matter who that person is.  I know my call came as a huge surprise to me, and it was no less a surprise to our neighbor’s dog, Rocky, who I was walking at the time – but that’s a story for another day.  My point is, our instinct is NOT to claim superhero (or “Super Steward”) status for ourselves – any more than our instinct is to run into a burning building.  What was it Isaiah said to that flaming angel?  “Woe is me! I am lost!”  The Hebrew word is damah, which is the same word they use for a city destroyed in a battle.  So it’s more like “I am devastated, for I am a man of unclean lips!”  Isaiah can’t believe God would ask an unholy man like him for help in saving the world.  Saint Peter has almost the exact same reaction: Luke says, “He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’”  And, again, the Greek word Peter uses is a lot stronger: “Exelthe,” which is related to words like “exit” and “exile.”  So it’s more like, “Get out of here, and don’t come back!”

So we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves if our first instinct when we’re invited to do something, give something, or say something at church is to want to run away.  I mean, both of our scriptures today show real Bible heroes, Isaiah and Peter, having that same “Who me?” reaction to God’s call.  And if one of Israel’s greatest prophets and the sainted founder of the Christian church could feel that way, we shouldn’t be surprised if we do too. Few of us have had these amazing and miraculous experiences of the divine – as Isaiah and Peter did – but truth is, more of us have had them than have dared to talk about them.  And most of us like it that way, right?  We like our distance from God and from holy things.  It’s more comfortable, especially when we suspect we’re not on the kind of life path that God would approve of.  They don’t call it “fear of the Lord” for nothing, right?  Remember how Adam and Eve hid in the bushes after they ate the forbidden fruit?  Most of us are hiding in the bushes from God most of the time. 

The flaming, wild, living voice of God’s Holy Spirit is calling out to us, as it was for Isaiah, but studies show 80 percent of North Americans don’t go looking for it – at least not at church.)[2]  As we like to say in the United Church of Christ, “God is still speaking,” – yes, but not everyone wants to hear.  You never know what the Lord might ask us to do.  I mean, with all that Isaiah and Peter and – let’s face it, what most Bible heroes go through in their lives – who could blame us for being tempted to try to fly under God’s radar?  Any sane person is careful not to get too close to 6-winged angels who fly around waving hot coals!  It’s no wonder the priests of ancient Israel drew lots for the privilege of going near the altar of God.  (That’s where we get our English word “clergy,” by the way – from the Greek cleros, the shard of pottery the priests used to draw lots to be the one to approach the Holy of Holies.)

But what might it mean for us to allow ourselves to move closer to God, into the presence of the Holy more often?  What might it mean to get out of our small boats and our small, limited lives of subsistence fishing and really take to the road with Jesus, speaking and living the Good News of God’s love out there in the world? How can we get over our fears and answer Christ’s call to us to be his church in the world today?

Well, first of all, let’s not minimize what we’ve done so far.  For one thing, you’re all here in church today.  Whatever else you might have done – turned off your alarm, checked out the sale at Kohl’s – you didn’t do it.  So, congratulations!  On some level, God called to your heart this morning and you answered by coming here to offer your thanks and praise.  And the leaders of our church have shown great courage too – especially in offering increased pledges to God’s work in our church this year – a year when the economy continues to be “iffy,” to say the least.  When God has called us, we have not just stood there – in shock and awe – saying “who me?” Most of you, I’m proud to say, have stood tall and said, “Here am I, Lord, send me.  Let’s go for it.” 

I think about last year this time, when the job market was tanking and we had a dozen or so church members out of work, and still our Refugee Resettlement Team asked if they could proceed as planned and sponsor a new family from Iraq.  Our Church Council really wrestled with that decision – we debated the pros and the cons, we prayed about it – and finally we said, “Here we are, Lord, send us.  Let’s go for it.”  Or a few years ago when our CE committee redid our entire Church School wing and launched a new curriculum, hiring a new CE coordinator to make that possible – we knew it would be expensive and challenging, but we believed the mission of our church and the teaching of our youth was worth it, so we said, “Here we are, Lord, send us.  Let’s go for it.” 

In the Congregational churches, as it says in our 10:30 worship bulletin each Communion Sunday, when we share the sacrament, we do so as a “priesthood of all believers.”  We don’t just “go to church” or “take communion.”  The Greek word for worship is λειτουργία (leitourgia), or liturgy, meaning "work of the people." Sure I come to work on Sunday, but in our church, so do you!  Worship is led by us preachers and lay readers and choirs, but our job is to lead and coach the rest of you – you don’t come here to watch us worship.  Together we do the work of praising God, listening to the Word of God, asking God for help, and offering our money and our lives to God to be used for God’s purposes.  Together, we take a deep breath, and move into God’s presence with singing.  We accept the call to discipleship. We answer the call of Jesus – to share, and love and serve one another, in his name. 

Thanks be to God for this Good News.  Amen.

[1] A Gallup Poll from February 18-21, 2001 has this “Top 10 Fears” list: 1. Snakes  2. Speaking in public  3. Heights  4. Being closed in a small space  5. Spiders and insects  6. Needles and getting shots  7. Mice  8. Flying on a plane  9. Dogs /.Thunder and lightning /Crowds and 10. Going to the doctor.

[2] One study showed that while 40% of people surveyed will report they attended church in the past 7 days, actual church census numbers and other surveys show it’s 20%. “How Many North Americans Attend Religious Services (And How Many Lie About Going)?”




Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

5And I said: “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!” 6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.



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