Isaiah 6 begins, "In the year that King Uzziah died" or in the year that Martin King died, or in the year that somebody you really loved died, you go into the temple or the church if that is your taste, or you hide the temple of your forehead in the palm of your hands and a voice says, "Whom shall I send into the pain of a world where people die?" and if you are not guarded or particularly careful, you will hear yourself answering, "Send me." And the voice may just say, as the voice said so long ago, "Go . . . Just go!"
When this happens to you, as it happened to Isaiah, you have experienced vocation. Now "vocation" may seem like a dull word - similar to duty, law and religion. When it stands all by itself at a college fair, it may not catch the eye of a young person. But, vocation is much more exciting than you think. The word vocation comes from the Latin "vocare." Vocare means "to call," and a person's vocation is their calling in life. For Isaiah, a prophet. For Peter, a fisher of men and women. For you - what is it? What was it? What will it be?
When we speak of vocation, we often get overwhelmed. We believe God will sweep down with six-winged seraphim and cherubim, a coals on fire, and blow us away or carry us away to our calling in "medicine," or "law" or "education," or "business," or "religious service," or "helping" others. Rather, God's calling is found when two things align: a) what do you most need to do, and b) what does the world most need to have done?
A few weeks ago, I received an email from Cara Texler. You may remember Cara. She spoke here a few months ago as we received an offering for the mission in Lethsoto, Africa which she helped found: Touching Tiny Lives. I confirmed Cara when she was a teenager at North Congregational Church. Upon graduation, from college she headed to Africa with the Peace Corps. While there, she and her fellow Corp. volunteers found their vocation when mothers with HIV/AIDS continued to drop-off little babies at their clinic in the mountains.
Last year, she told us her "call story." One night, she and her co-workers were anguishing about the children "dropped into their care." What would be the long term solution to this continuing crisis? How would they more effectively care for these babies and children facing a short life with AIDS? Cara looked around the circle and realized she was the only one not tied down to family or relationship who could return to the US and get a medical education. So, home she came for that purpose.
Last weeks' email read, "Rev. Ahrens, I want to share some great news with you. I have been received into the OSU Medical School. Now I can continue my mission to care for the tiny lives in Lethsoto." In God's call to Cara both what she needed most to do and what the world most needed to have done have become aligned. Vocation has found Cara.
We often talk about a person choosing their vocation. But isn't it more like a vocation choosing a person? With your temple buried in your hands, with your stomach churning from the upset of wondering how best to use your gifts and "spend your life" - no matter how young and capable you are or how old or feeble you may appear to others - God is working on you. God is working in you. God is working through you. God will work it out with you.
In many ways vocation is all about listening and hearing. Our lives are full of all sorts of voices and messages calling us in many different directions. Ours is an instant messaging world. We spend more time with our heads buried in blackberries and cell phones, listening and speaking messages which are babbled and bruised. Our culture feeds us more babble in bad news which focuses on death and killing, the evil acts coming out of the human heart, greed and the pain of the world resulting from these acts. It is as though we have forgotten and almost completely lost the ability to hear and speak Good News messages of healing, life, the goodness of the human heart and hope.
The more alive and alert we are, the more we are able to sort babble from breath of God. In Cara's case, God was speaking through the community of compassion of which she was apart. When I heard God's call, it came in the voice of a six-year-old in the housing projects of St. Louis, who unknowingly challenged me to return to the city and serve God among "the least of God's children."
Your life is full of all sorts of voices and messages. Which ones have you been listening to? Which ones have you heeded? God may be speaking to you in one or all of these voices. How does your need to something most of all and the world's need to have something done align? Be alive and alert to the message beyond the babble.
In today's Gospel, we have an alignment of messenger, message, and the message recipients. Jesus goes down to the seaside in search of disciples. Having fished all night long with no success, Simon Peter and the boys come in toward shore. Jesus tells them to throw their nets where the fish are. They do. Their nets tear under the load of their newfound catch and their boats sink from the weight of their success. Is it coincidence or is this a God-incident? When Peter falls on his face before Jesus and confesses his sins, when the others leave their nets full of fish and their boats full of water and follow Jesus, you know they on their way to discipleship. If only all call stories aligned so well, sermons like these would become obsolete.
On January 21st, Tim and Diane Fonderlin came to us from East Asia with a message of hope in the aftermath of Tsunami despair. Diane spoke of their call to serve as missionaries. She added this wonderful insight, "although God calls us to go, we must be invited to stay."
Today, God called you in from the cold and Jesus calls you to his table of grace. Today, Isaiah teaches you to listen to your life. He teaches you to hear God's voice in this Temple or in your own temple buried in the palm of your hands in prayer. The prophet and the messiah teach you to answer "here I am, send me," or "Yes, Lord I will follow."
But, today I would like to add Diane Fonderlin's word to the mix. Just as you have found faith in Jesus and a faith community to join and be connected with at First Church, I would like to add an invitation to stay. I invite you to stay with us through the desert times and times of flourishing. I invite you to stay with us through the questions, so the answers may emerge. I invite you to listen to your life and stay with us as God awakens you and opens you to simple and clear ways you may serve the Lord here and in the rest of your life. I invite you to stay. The table is set. Our Lord, our host awaits us. Stay. Amen.