"Living The Call"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - February 8, 2004
Luke 5:1-11; Isaiah 6:1-8
Isaiah wanted his readers to
understand that he was standing in the presence of the most powerful
being in the universe. While being in the presence of God, Isaiah
felt compelled to share his fears. He said, "There is no hope for
me! I am doomed because every word that passes my lips is sinful,
and I live among a people whose every word is sinful. And yet, with
my own eyes I have seen God."
Through the vivid imagery,
Isaiah described how one of the winged creatures took a burning coal
from the altar, flew down and touched his lips with it. The
creature said, "This has touched your lips, and now your guilt is
gone and your sins are forgiven." God says, "Whom shall I send?"
With renewed hope and enthusiasm Isaiah exclaims, "I will go! Send
If we decipher or decode this
story by reading it without the cosmic imagery, we find a basic
theme that occurs in most of our lives -- our calling. Of course,
we might believe that the calling of this 8th century B.C. prophet
has nothing to do with us, but we would be mistaken. Ever since
we were children, Isaiah's ancient formula for discovering
our calling has been before us.
For example, when I was a
child one of my favorite books was "Little Toot." It was a
wonderful story that I would ask my baby-sitters to read over and
over again. I even had it on a 78 RPM record, a product that may be
unknown to many of today's young people. The saga of Little Toot is
Isaiah's calling placed within a framework of a children's story
about a small tug boat.
Little Toot so much wanted to be like his father who was a senior tug boat. Everything he did, however, got him into trouble. Once in an attempt to help his Father, he mistakenly pushed against the rudder of a ship that his father was towing. His lack of experience and skill caused the ocean liner to plunge into the city's dock and up into the streets of the shoreline community.
Little Toot felt his failure deeply as the police boats took the little tug boat way out beyond the 12 mile limit and abandoned it forever. To use descriptions from Isaiah, Little Toot felt there was no hope. The little tug was doomed.
Little Toot was on the bosom of
the deep, alone and sad, when a gigantic storm approached packing
hurricane winds. A large ship whose engines had failed had been blown
off course into dangerously shallow water where the vessel became wedged
between two rocks. The ship radioed for help, but the storm was so
severe that rescue vessels could not respond. Little Toot was in the
ship's vicinity and became its only hope. It was as if Little Toot
said, "Here am I, send me!"
The crew on the ship threw a tow line to the little tug boat, and after straining and straining, Little Toot pulled the ship free and in so doing became the ocean liner's savior. He came back into port with the ship in tow and sailed back into everyone's good graces. All was forgiven.
This theme is wonderful for
children who are experiencing little failures as they approach the
developmental tasks of walking or potty training. We see this same theme
in "The Little Engine That Could" and in many other children's books.
This story line, however, is not only for children. It is also for
adults who have forgotten that they are only children living in older
We are often devastated by our
lack of good judgment, our failures, our hasty perceptions, our failed
relationships and our dashed hopes and aspirations. We can easily
identify ourselves with Isaiah who said in the presence of God, "There
is no hope for me. I am doomed . . . " God was there, however, to say,
"No you're not. I made you and nothing I make is hopeless or doomed.
Shake off your illusions about yourself and get with the program I
designed for all of you!"
When we say, "Here am I, send
me," all our fears concerning our guilt and failures fall away. Like
the skins of a cocoon, they release us because we are doing something
for others with the talents we have. What emerges is the authentic
creature that we are. Unlike anything else we know, our failures can
point us to the direction we must grow.
When we burn our fingers, we
learn the usefulness of potholders. When we are dating and we cannot
get a second date with anyone, we are led to consider what we may be
doing wrong. When we hook our golf ball into the pond, woods or sand
trap, we learn instantly that we need to work on our swing.
In our lesson, God was not going to allow Isaiah to get away with dwelling on his litany of self-pity. God's message was, "Get up, perform to the best of your ability and don't stop! I am with you every step of the way. Your past is forgiven." Taking these steps is to honor our calling.
If only we understood how
resilient we are, how talented we are, we would never linger around our
sins, failures and moments of rejection. A failure means that we
have not yet learned how to master what is in front of us. If we
stop our growth momentum at each barrier and define ourselves by that
barrier, it is our perception that has frozen us, not the barrier.
If we listen and obey what we hear, our calling will pull us forward.
Let me illustrate this point from
another story designed for children. Once there was a stream that was
happy as it roared down the mountain side with all its magnificent water
falls. It was filled with energy from the melting snow. Suddenly it
saw a mountain range in its path and it began to worry, "I'll never get
over those mountains." But a voice came from inside of the stream that
said, "Trust yourself! Just trust yourself." But the fears grew
stronger and stronger; but the voice remained calm and soothing. "Trust
your ability to flow, for flowing is what you have learned to do."
The stream's greatest fear was
realized. It smashed into the mountain with great force and there was
chaos as water cascaded everywhere. The inner voice said, "Stay
centered and remember, that you have the ability to flow." The panicked
little stream tried to remember and in time, it began to flow again. It
followed the base of the mountain until it reached a pass and it
continued merrily on its journey.
In time, however, the ultimate
barrier lay directly ahead. It was a desert that stretched for miles.
Like Isaiah, the stream said to itself, "There is no hope for me. I am
doomed. There is no way I can cross that desert." Again, the inner
voice said, "You have abilities that you have not yet discovered. Do
not be afraid. Trust what you cannot see."
The stream trusted the voice as it plunged into the desert where it disappeared into the sand. As it began to evaporate, the stream felt itself rising, floating over the desert and falling again on the other side in the form of rain. In time the stream reached its goal and flowed into the ocean.
Such a story helps us to understand that this drama is more than a tale about a stream and the properties of water. It is our story. We are confronted by the deaths of loved ones and we get through it. We become laid off from a job and we survive. We have left a marriage that could not be fixed and we discovered lots of opportunities becoming visible now that a major distraction is behind us.
We move forever forward through barrier after barrier using our abilities. Hindsight teaches us we could not have created such a fruit-bearing adventure through our own careful planning. There is only one way and that is to remain confident in our unique calling, that invisible energy that pulls us forward when we allow it to do so.
Our "calling" may not be similar
to that of someone else. After all, what does a little tug boat have in
common with a stream? Yet each of them had to confront their respective
barriers with a realization that they would be fine once they had
conquered their fear of the unknown or mastered the skills that appeared
to be required from them for their victory to be assured.
These stories are no different
than those of Moses standing at the burning bush or Jesus wandering 40
days in the wilderness. Viewing life as God's calling provides us
with an entirely different orientation to our experiences. It is one
that says, "This is where I need to be to accomplish my purpose for
Perhaps we will be a hinge upon
which the pages of history swing and maybe not. How could Isaiah have
known that we would be reading his words 2,700 years later? This one
thing is sure -- we would not be reading his words had he grown
discouraged and refused to follow his calling.
Not all of us can be like the
heroic characters we find in the Scriptures. We need heroes in our
department stores. We need faithful truck drivers. We need
electricians who understand wiring as an art form. We need builders who
construct a house as though they would one day live in it. Our
skills are different by design but our calling remains the same --
"Grow your skills and you will evolve as you create with them."
Many years ago in the small
community of Berwick, Pennsylvania, there lived a man named Earl who was
my grandmother's first cousin. He had a desire to make potato chips. He
felt that this was his calling, so that is what he did. His family
wanted him to get a real job but he ignored them in order to
follow his dream. He made them fresh everyday with the best
ingredients, took them outside and sold them on the street corners.
Soon his reputation grew and his modest one person operation eventually
mushroomed into a national brand. His name was Earl Wise of the Wise
Potato Chip Company. And yes, it was his idea to use the owl as a
The story is the same for Debbie
Fields. She recalls having a burning desire to bake cookies while
rearing her children. When no one came into her first little store, she
took her creations outside and gave them away. One taste and people
understood her product. She had just engaged the best public relations
firm in the world. It is called "word of mouth." Soon the lines of
people became so overwhelming that she opened many more stores. Several
years ago Debbie sold her company for one hundred million dollars.
Like Little Toot, the stream, Isaiah or just about anyone who remains faithful to their calling, the barriers fall away when we seize the moment and move forward. Our quality of life quite often depends on how we look at it. We can either say, "There is no hope for me. I am doomed. . . or we can say to God, "I will go! Send me!" As with all things that govern the radiance of our spirit, it is our choice as to which statement becomes the one we use. Remember, it is our calling to bring our best as we follow our dream. All of us were equipped by God for becoming the unique kind that the world needs.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Thank you, God,
for helping us discover how to reveal your presence. Even though we
feel fragmented at times, we can still love. There are moments when
your mercy on us inspires us to overlook the lack of kindness in
others. During life's challenging moments, our patience and peace
provide us power to still troubled waters. When we grow anxious amid
life's uncertainties, it is there that our perseverance speaks volumes.
Help each of us to give voice and presence to your unfolding
creativity. May we develop a greater trust that your will is being done
everyday in ways we cannot see. Help us remember that someone's
perceived loneliness may be healed through the smiles of our
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Thank you, God, for these moments when we
focus on the elements of life that appear timeless. We seldom pause for
reflection about who we are, what we have to offer and where we are
going at such break-neck speed. Many of us would rather escape
to the golf course, take in a movie or sit in front of our computers and
television sets. Others of us thank you for stimulating books that make
us think, for friends who often draw out the best in us and for
opportunities that encourage us to "Come forward, stand up and be
counted, join in and help others to make a difference."
You have called us to represent you in every
vocation, community -- every place where there are others. Wherever we
find ourselves, we can create with wisdom and insight, with kindness and
perseverance, with character and integrity. We can coach and mentor
people, help fashion the apprentice into the master while serving the
world through the pursuit of our dreams.
May we come to understand that humanity needs ministers, rabbis and priests. We need bakers, mechanics and engineers. We need skilled parents, teachers and counselors. As each of us learns to extend who we are in service, O God, the whole world learns to sing. May we honor our calling as though we are living under sealed orders to accomplish your will. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .