February 10, 2019

5 Epiphany

Isaiah 6: 1-13; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11; Luke 5: 1-11

The Rev. James M.L. Grace


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In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

            I was fourteen years old when I decided I wanted to be a priest.  Fourteen.  I realize now that’s kind of strange, but it’s true.  Fast forward ten years in my life to age 24.  At 24, I had decided I did not want to be a priest, and instead took a desk job in downtown Houston.  One day at work downtown I was walking through one of the underground tunnels that connect the office buildings together. I was taking a package to another office.

While in route on this delivery, I had an experience which I still, now almost twenty years later (I’m 43 now) I still can’t explain.  Here’s what I think happened.  While in a tunnel downtown somewhere, I believe I had a profound spiritual experience, in what I considered to be a very unspiritual place – a tunnel with white painted walls, no windows, a few artificial plants, and fluorescent lighting. 

            There was no dramatic voice, there was no blinding light, but I promise you I felt and heard something I cannot rationally explain today.  What I felt was intense anxiety coupled with intense peace.  What I heard, I believe, was God, saying to me “this is not the path for you.  Your path is in the church, serving me.”  I don’t know if those words were spoken or not, but that’s how I think I remember them.  Whatever I heard, or didn’t hear – it drove me to tears, and I left work that day, and went back to my apartment, knelt beside my bed, and said to God basically “your will be done.”  And that is the very strange story of how I became a priest in the Episcopal Church.

            An important detail of that story is where the experience of God happened.  This spiritual experience didn’t happen in a monastery, or on top of a mountain, or even in a church.  It happened in a generic, bland, downtown hallway corridor with fluorescent lights and vinyl tiling.  Isn’t that weird?

            It’s actually less so, when you consider that in the Bible, God approaches people during their ordinary everyday lives while doing ordinary things.  Moses encountered God while herding sheep in the desert.  Mary encountered the angel Gabriel in her home.  Today we hear two more stories of God calling people to do things. 

            In the reading from Isaiah today, we hear the story of Isaiah’s call by God.  Isaiah was in the temple praying, and he had this extraordinary vision of God, seated upon a throne, with angels or seraphim surrounding God in majestic glory.

            And immediately, Isaiah felt unqualified to see this vision, and he said “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.” And an angel took a hot burning coal and touched it to Isaiah’s mouth (which sounds really painful) and God said “You are purified.  Your sin is erased.”  And God sends Isaiah to be his prophet.  Did the events in the story really happen that way?  I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter to me because the outcome of that holy moment what that Isaiah became God’s prophet. 

            Another story of God calling occurs in the Gospel to Peter.  Peter was a fisherman from Galilee, and again, notice here how Peter’s call happened while doing something ordinary – in midst of his day job.  Peter was in a boat, casting nets, trying to catch fish, and failing to do so.  Jesus appeared, and said to Peter, “why don’t you try throwing your nets on the other side of the boat?”  Peter does this, and immediately, his nets were full of fish.   

            Amazed by this miraculous catch, said the same thing Isaiah said when God called him: “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  And Jesus didn’t care about that, he loved sinful people - that’s why he loves us - and Jesus told Peter, “follow me, and we will catch people.”  Notice what didn’t happen in the story.  Jesus did not tell Peter to get a bigger boat, or to get fancier nets, or to hire more workers.  All Peter had to do was listen faithfully to what Jesus was saying to him.  Use what you have, but just try it on the other side of the boat.

            God’s call is enough no matter where you are or aren’t in your life.  There’s nothing you need to do to earn it.  If you are open and willing, you will meet your God in the middle of a regular day, and God will ask you to do something remarkable.  What will you say to God?  “Surely not me!  I am not worthy?”  You can try that excuse, but in the Bible, everyone who made that excuse ends up doing what God called them to do anyway.  Perhaps your answer to God could be like Mary’s, who told the angel Gabriel “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”     

            Two weeks ago, while on retreat with our new Vestry, I heard a curious comment from a new Vestry member, who said “before joining the Vestry, I thought St. Andrew’s was swimming in money!”  I quietly wondered what made this person think that – was it the stained ceiling tiles in the hallway or our scuffed up, well used parish hall floor that gave this illusion?  To clarify - St. Andrew’s is not swimming in money. 

            I share that story, why?  It’s funny, that’s one reason.  But the other reason I share it is to let you all know that there is a lot of opportunity at St. Andrew’s for God to call you.  Not to give money to the church (although we won’t turn it away) but much more importantly to discover here what God is calling you to do.  Because that is what matters most.  Every time, following God’s call will free us.  AMEN.