Called and Equipped

Called and Equipped

January 17, 2021  Isaiah 6:1-13; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; John 20:19-31

Called and Equipped

              Brett Steenbarger is a professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in Syracuse, NY. In a recent article in the Forbes magazine he described three groups of people at a workplace:

               The first group views their work as their job. It’s something they do during business hours, get a paycheck for, and wrap up in time to do the things they truly enjoy.

              The second group views their work as their career. This is what they’ve trained for, this is their vocational direction. Sometimes their career moves forward, sometimes it stalls. Many times, they hope to grow within their career; sometimes they look for career change.

              The third group views their work as their calling. This is who they are. They don’t stop being clergy or artists or athletes when business hours shut down. Their work expresses something fundamental about who they are: their values, interests, and strengths.

He then concludes: Jobs and careers are things we have. Callings are what have us.

              In today’s reading we are witnessing a unique event as far as callings go. It happened in the year King Uzziah died, 742BCE. King Uzziah left behind a country that was politically stable and with a strong and vibrant economy. However, the gap between the wealthy and the poor was widening. The upper classes became greedy and the poor and the weak more defenseless.

              This was the time the young Isaiah, perhaps a teenager, saw a vision of the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty. The vision reveals a significant truth expressed in the words: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory”. Yes, God is holy and as the book unfolds, it becomes clear that the Holy One demands justice and righteousness from the people. Holiness for Isaiah had at least two meanings: First is a sense of physical separation and elevation. God is holy in the sense of being totally other than creation. God made the world, including humankind, and presides over it as Lord. A second way in which Isaiah understands the holiness of God is in the sense of moral integrity. We read in Isaiah 5:16: “The Lord of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.”

              And Isaiah’s understanding of God’s holiness leads the young man to cry out: “Woe is me!” He continues: “I am lost, for I am man of unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips – yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts”.

              It is in the presence of the holy God that Isaiah acknowledges his own sinfulness. He knows he is a broken and sinful human being (I am lost, I am a man of unclean lips). However, and for us living in a highly individualized society here is an important observation; the young prophet Isaiah is also aware of the collective nature of sin (I live among a people with unclean lips).

              You see, sin affects more than the individual – there is a collective nature to it. It is only when we acknowledge the collective nature of sin that we will be able to counter the effects sin has on our communities and our world.

              After the horrific killing of 69 innocent teenagers in 2011 on an island in Denmark, a book was published with the title: “One of us”. The author Asne Seierstad, painfully concluded that the perpetrator is “one of us.” In other words, the society in which an individual do such harm cannot simply say, we are not at fault. We cannot just say: “It is his or her fault!”

              What does it say about a society when individuals act violently, spread lies as truths, and normalize actions that can and never should be normal? What kind of society accepts behavior of individuals that dehumanize others?

              The book of Isaiah guides us to move from “Woe are you” to “woe is me” and “woe is us!” Perhaps it is time for all of us to confess our part in creating (or accepting) a society that has become intolerant of others, tolerant of slander and lies, allowing divisive and degrading actions and keeping silent when people are  bullied and lives are destroyed.

              But as always, the Bible does not end with sin and brokenness. God intervenes and cleanses the young prophet when the seraph touches his mouth with a live coal: “…your guilt is departed and your sin is blotted out.” And after God’s intervention, and preparation of the prophet, God asks him the timeless question: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” The young man responded: “Here am I, send me.”

              God used this young man to go and point out the sins, injustices, and unrighteousness in his society – not to simply blame them – but in order to restore his community. 

              He was in the presence of the Holy One, he realized that sin, individual and collective sin, injustice and unrighteousness destroy the kind of community that God has in mind for the people. And he said: “Here am I send me.”

              I don’t think God wants us to necessarily go to a foreign land, or even to a different state or even a different community. For most of us God wants us to work in our own communities. For our communities right here are in dire need of God’s redemptive and renewing word.

              As you hear these words of God calling young and old to share a message of forgiveness of sins, restoration, reconciliation and renewal you may have a few of questions of your own. Can I do this? Am I equipped? Am I too old or too young?

              As we have seen in Isaiah, God cleanses Isaiah and prepares him for his daunting task. Isaiah received what he needed.

              When approached from the angle of our sermon title “Called and Equipped”, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 is revealing.

              These 3 verses are packed with important words: put things in order, agree with one another, live in peace, the God of love and peace will be with you. Verse 13 is especially noteworthy. As you see these are the words I use for the benediction at the end of our worship service. “The grace (charis in Greek) of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love (agapy in Greek) of God and the communion (koinonia in Greek) of the Holy Spirit be with you”.

              Grace means the gift of salvation which justifies but also every blessing rooted in Christ. So, the Apostle Paul is saying that God’s unlimited blessings in Jesus Christ flows lavishly to us. It is like a spring of water gushing up to abundant life.

              God’s love is poured out on us, a love that belongs to salvation.

              The communion of the Holy Spirit is fellowship with the Spirit, that is participation in the Spirit.

              The sum of these words is that we are more than adequately equipped to do what God calls us to do. God is engaged in this world and uses us to change our individual and collective woes into joy!

              In the Gospel of John, the disciples met and the doors were shut for fear. Then Jesus came and stood among them. Jesus as the risen One is able to overcome such barriers as locked doors, just as he overcame the sealed tomb on Easter. “Peace be with you”, he said.

              Anxious disciples are now freed from fear and sorrow by Jesus’ appearance in their midst. The crucified and pierced One, allows fear to give way to joy for the Resurrected Jesus is the Lord. Now the risen Lord sends them out: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  He in fact grants them two gifts: the gift of peace together with the gift of the Spirit.

              “Peace” is more than a mere greeting or blessing as it had been before. Peace is now a thing of God’s Spirit, an inner gift. And this divine gift is to manifest itself outwardly. The divine peace which the risen Lord gifts the disciples is to go with them as they are send out.  They are to testify to the world what true peace is. They bring to the world God’s peace.

              Jesus, by sending out his disciples, gives them a share of his authority in his continuation of his work.  With his appearance to them after his resurrection, he commissions them for the work. Gifting them the Holy Spirit they are now empowered for their work. They are fully equipped for their ministry.

              And here is a very important truth: Their sending is not defined in the narrower sense of winning people for the Gospel.  The disciples are to make the risen Lord present in the world and to continue his ministry of salvation. The fact that Jesus breathed on them means the conferring of life.

              The outpouring of the Spirit in John’s Gospel is also connected to the idea of their cleansing from sins. The outpouring of the Spirit of God makes them holy. Holy does not mean purity or perfection, it means that the Lamb of God is slain on the cross and the stream of salvation is released for all! Forgiveness of sins is the bestowal of salvation provided by Jesus.

              To summarize, John’s version of the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the Disciples shows that Jesus is the One who conquered death. And as the risen Christ he replaces their fear with joy, He let them share in his divine peace and he gives them the Spirit. His death and resurrection liberated them from their sins.  In short, they have received everything they need for their calling – that is to bring God’s peace, reconciliation and new life to a decaying and dying world.

              How convinced are we that God is still engaged and at work in our decaying and dying world to make things new? If we are not really convinced that God is willing, able and already working to renew individuals, communities, and the world, why would we answer to God’s call? If we, people of faith, are not in awe and amazed about God’s holiness, if we are not humbled by and eternally grateful for God’s forgiveness, if we are not enthused by the God’s divine gift of peace, love, grace and communion with the Spirit, how can we authentically and enthusiastically share God’s gift to the world?

              I am particularly concerned that Christian faith has been used in ways that harm Christianity.  There is a study that shows that white American Evangelicals are less compassionate, emphatic, and hospitable to racial justice than other Americans. They are also more hostile toward immigrants. There is a report that before self-proclaimed members of the far-right group the Proud Boys marched toward the Capital on Wednesday January 6, they stopped to kneel in the street and prayed in the name of Jesus before committing acts of violence and using derogatory words.  If this report is true then we as Christians have a daunting task ahead of us.

              If we as Christians don’t provide an alternative to Christian faith that is more interested in narrow nationalist, cultural and political victories, Christianity will suffer the consequences.

              Our current situation is challenging, confusing, scary, uncertain, polarized and outright dangerous. There are many reasons to be fearful. However, God who called Isaiah and the Disciples back then are still calling people today. The God of Isaiah and the God of the Disciples is also our God. God called them and God gave them everything they needed to fulfil their calling: forgiveness of sins, God’s divine love, peace, grace and the communion of the Spirit of God.

              God is giving these to us as well. They were fully equipped and so are we. After Isaiah (and the disciples) declared themselves willing by saying: “Here I am, send me”, God used them to replace fear with joy, guilt and sin with salvation and peace, and old and destructive habits with new life. God is about to do the same. How will we answer God’s call? Amen.