"Living The Call"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - February 8, 2004

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

     The story of Isaiah's call to become a prophet is very dramatic in our lesson this morning. Isaiah wrote graphically about seeing God seated on a throne with robes that filled the Temple.  Surrounding God were six flaming creatures, each with six wings.  Four wings were used for modesty and two were designed for flying. 

     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 me!" 

     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 bodies. 

     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 being born." 

     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 branding logo. 

     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.   


    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 acceptance.  Amen.


    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 . . .