February 6, 2022
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Our third scripture reading… they were all so good this morning I couldn’t stop at just the two… so our third scripture reading today comes from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. And yes… like our first two… this is another call story. Listen as God continues speaking to you.
Did you notice the common thread in all three readings today? Isaiah’s response to God’s call… “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…” Simon Peter falls down around Jesus’ knees, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” And finally… Paul says about himself, “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Saints, none of these are examples of false humility. All of them show how faith… an experience of the divine… is… at its core… humbling. There is no call story in scripture where the person says, “I’ve been waiting for you to show up because I know I’ve reached that level of perfection that you, O God, come to reward. It's about time you figured out what I’ve known all along… I’m your guy!” When God appears, the ego and all that it has constructed is revealed. The holiness of God burns through all our lies and self-deceptions we tell ourselves… and we are revealed as we truly are.
And that is what is so scary about being called. You are known fully. God is not deceived. You can’t hide your sin… your secret thoughts… your self-created image is transparent… when God comes. Look at Peter. In the story Peter has been shown something that should have him singing God’s praises. As a fisherman… the size of this catch… his economic fortunes are raised in an instant… all those nagging bills will be paid… he will have coin in his pockets to do with as he pleases. He is richly blessed. It’s what he’s dreamt of day after day throwing out those nets into the water and hauling in what he hopes will be enough fish to take to the market. It had been a bad night of fishing with little to show for it and here he is now with a boat load of fish. He… should we say the ”p” word? He prospers! And in that moment of riches… all those dreams of avarice mean absolutely nothing to him… he leaves that amazing catch behind and all that it would bring to him… he leaves it behind without looking back. Peter is known by God… and even with the initial shock… that being known in full and… and still being called by God… there is in that a deeply longed-for truth that Peter cannot deny… a deeply longed-for truth that is more valuable than the fish that fills his boat.
In this story, Jesus first gives as the world gives… they have all the trappings of their best life put before them… but Peter and friends follow instead the call God gives. Sinner that he is. He reaches the shore and takes those first steps down a different path. His thinking already beginning to change. Reset by his encounter with God. He takes that first step toward the Kingdom of God. And the journey of life-long discipleship begins… transformations and insights coming with the challenges that lie ahead… with those times he is able to connect with his faith and those times when the disconnect gets revealed. Imperfect Peter is a great example for us.
Paul says it well in our 1 Corinthians reading. And these are important words to hear because I want to hit you with something early on in this sermon… something that I hope… or that I know you’ve heard before… how each and every Christian is called to faith. These call stories are not just stories for a select few… the scripture superstars… the super saints… or only language reserved for ministers or ministers in training… every one of us has a call story… a moment or even a collection of moments where there is this shift… there is the realization of the divine… there is that something… maybe not in such a dramatic manner… but there has to be that time when this faith that has been given to you… when this faith becomes real to you. It becomes something more than a habit of showing up at a certain place on a certain day. It becomes more than just a ploy in order to get some manner of reward for yourself. God will not be mocked. Could even add there… God will not be used for our own ends. In a call… there a moment of conviction. Of repentance. A moment where perspective shifts and there’s no going back. A moment of seriousness… right… where faith stops being an idea or this external thing you’re supposed to believe and… like Peter when you’ve found your foot hitting that shoreline… there’s only one direction to go… even though you’re still not sure… even though you’re more aware of your sinful limitations than ever before… but that path is there and you know the path because God is there with you. God is there with you everywhere you go and will go… sure footed or misstep. God becomes a part of your decision making… your relationships… your work… your politics. The God who calls you by grace. God is there… so it would be good for us to know the God who is there. Peter’s discipleship journey… like the other disciples is fraught with misunderstandings and rediscovery of God. Assumptions and expectations get dropped all along the journey they take following Jesus… like that huge catch of fish left on the shore. They have to keep testing and asking… and asking and testing… trying to learn the true voice of God… to get to the actual meaning of the words Jesus dropped on them.
Again… Paul says it well… and let’s say those words this time… Paul says it well. “But by the grace of God I am what I am…” Grace is not the wave of the magic forgiveness wand that makes you perfect in an instant… that does not take away all your faults and foibles… that removes the struggle to live according to this faith to which you have been called. Grace is awareness of self… the self that is revealed by the light of God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” In each of these call stories… in your own call story… that call is a gift… a wonderful gift… a scary gift. And again… what makes it so scary is not that there are all these special strings attached to the gift… a complex new law of do’s and don’ts and concepts and a trademarked lifestyle that you must uphold to the highest degree in order to be found real… no… there is instead an awareness attached to that gift… that shapes and transforms. If God… if God is so loving… if God is so gracious… if God is a God of justice… if God is a God who will reach out and can call a sinner like me… then what does that make me… created in that image… called through a servant Christ? What is that path that sits before me? I can’t both answer the call and stay the same. I cannot answer that call in a manner that betrays all the values and principles of the character of the God who has called me.
I read an article this weekend in the New York times written by David Brooks… and his last paragraph really hit… “The age of the autonomous individual, the age of the narcissistic self, the age of consumerism and moral drift has left us with bitterness and division, a surging mental health crisis and people just being nasty to one another. Millions are looking for something else, some system of belief that is communal, that gives life transcendent meaning. Christianity is a potential answer for that search, and therein lies its hope, and the great possibility of renewing its call.” Hearing again… not what we want to hear… not what we think will bring us whatever form of success we are hoping for… but God’s unfiltered gracious call to faith. Wonder what a group that has pledged itself to be reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God… wonder what a group like might discern in this day and time to be God’s call? Wonder what kind of disciples might come from a group like that?
Paul says he worked harder… not as a way to earn that gift already given… or to show God how right God was to call him… not even as a means to lift himself up and glorify himself… Paul worked harder because of what the call revealed about the nature of God. Truthfully, earning grace shows how little you value grace… how little you are open to God’s call and what it may reveal about your own sinful self. Earning grace is that idea that keeps you in control by defining God and what God’s call means and exactly where God’s call will take you… determining the path yourself instead of joining God where God is and going with God… following wherever God may lead… even if you don’t want to go. In fact, Paul makes fun of that in his letters… how before the awareness of what it meant to be called by God through grace… Paul had achieved high status in his religious and cultural circles… he was already a high muck-a-muck. “Circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” But… he says… “whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” Isn’t it interesting how these words… this reaction to God’s call… naturally undermines the autonomous individual, the narcissistic self? The light of God really shows those idols for what they are… what they have been… what they have given us and led us into. None of these contain an ounce of humility. We’ve been pummeled too long with a message of Christian cultural control and dominance and that has brought us nothing but enmity and a consumeristic faith. So far from the God who calls us to faith. What does the answer to God’s call look like when humility and service become dominant characteristics? What does a faith that reflects the character of the call create? Surely something better than what has been created… bitterness and division, a surging mental health crisis and people just being nasty to one another.
Which brings us back to where we began with these call stories. Isaiah’s response… “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…” Simon Peter falls down around Jesus’ knees, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” And finally… Paul says about himself, “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” And so began their calls by a God who sought each of them out… claimed them… and said, “You are mine.” Now come and follow me. Amen.