Call Waiting

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

 © Reverend Kenneth E. Kovacs
Catonsville Presbyterian Church
Catonsville,  Maryland

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time/ 4th February 2007

Susan is an Episcopal rector near Washington.  She’s a friend of mine and member of my pastor-theologian study group that meets here every other month.  We had our meeting this past Tuesday and Susan was late, not because of beltway traffic, but because she had to tend to a pastoral concern.  She was rushing about, trying to leave her home to make the trek here when the telephone rang.  Susan didn’t answer the phone.  Maybe she doesn’t have Caller ID or maybe she does, the point is she didn’t want the interruption because she needed to get to Catonsville.  So she didn’t take the call.  Then Susan heard someone knocking on the front door.  It was the same person trying to reach her by phone.  He was calling from outside.  He knew she was home.  Somewhat embarrassed, Susan then addressed his concerns.  He was on his way, and soon Susan was on her way.

Susan is like most of us on any given day.  We have places to go and people to see and children to raise and work to be done and meetings to attend and errands to run and bills to be paid.  This is how we live our lives.  Always on the go, cramming more into the day than the day – or our bodies or minds – can often handle.  Our Outlook calendars and our Blackberries tell us what we need to do and when and how much time we have to do it.  We have our plans for the day or week, maybe the month and year.  We have long-range goals, five-year, and ten-year hopes; maybe your life is planned right through retirement and beyond.  Living this way, we don’t like interruptions, or anything or anyone that frustrates our way, diverts us from our “To Do” lists, or hinders us from accomplishing everything on our agenda.   But what happens when the phone rings or there’s a knock on your door or when Jesus comes from nowhere and says, “I have other plans for your life”.  What then?

It seems to me, the persistent church member’s way of seeking out Susan is not all that different from the way God seeks us out and Susan represents the part in all of us proficient at not taking that call.  However, if one avenue is blocked, God usually finds another way to get our attention.  If we don’t answer the phone, then the knock will come at the door.  Eventually, if we’re blessed, we figure why God is calling us – it could take years, decades. 

Reflecting on this got me thinking that perhaps one of the saddest things to consider is the person who spent his or her entire life avoiding God’s call, never answering the door, who missed their call.  Maybe they didn’t know how to recognize God’s call, or didn’t think God could need them, didn’t think themselves good enough, worthy enough to be used by God.  Maybe their lives were so busy, so noisy – externally and internally – always distracted, that they could never hear the still small voice of the Spirit.  Then there are others who know God is calling them in a particular direction, tugging at them, pulling them, encouraging them to take up a new job or leave their job, begin a new career, register for that class you’ve always wanted to take, volunteer time at the shelter, go on a mission trip, go to the place often dreamt about going. But we resist this tug or make excuses, often in fear or, worse, because we deem it all impractical or impossible. 

It’s these interruptions that get in the way, don’t they?  How our lives are full of them.  I have to confess that I’m not a huge fan of the call waiting service telephone providers offer.  I’m sure it could be a helpful option in an extreme emergency.  But it’s frustrating when you’re trying to have a conversation with someone and you hear that clicking sound signaling that someone else is calling, and then sometimes we’re asked to “hold on,”  to put our call on hold.  Then it’s worse when we discover the interrupting call was not important and could have waited.  It’s the call interrupted that’s so frustrating.  I wonder if that’s how God feels when we interrupt His call to us.

For there is a call waiting for all us and doesn’t want to be put on hold – and not just one call in a lifetime, but many calls in a lifetime. And not just for some who are somehow worthy to receive it.  If you’re baptized, then you’re called – case closed.  I don’t mean called to be a minister or mission worker, but it does have to do with God.  It’s God calling, it’s your vocation, vocatus, literally calling out from within us a life set apart and given wholly for God’s glory.  The call is God giving voice to the deepest desires of your heart and then inviting, evoking – provoking – you to follow your heart, not for your sake alone, of course, but because the world needs it and God hopes for it.  We have all heard call stories before, but the one thing I want to lift up this morning and emphasis is this:  God’s call is not the same for everyone; but it is always personal and particular.[1]  It’s personally designed, tailor-fit for you because it’s connected to who you are and the person God sees you to be – whether you see it or not.  The caller didn’t go to anyone, but went to Susan because she could provide what he needed.

But how do we know God’s call?  That’s a perennial question.  First, we have to believe that God is calling us and then we have to figure out if we really want to know what it is.  However, I’m also beginning to think that we need to reconsider how we approach the question.  We often ask, “What is God calling me to do?”  But maybe the better question is first this:  “Who is God calling me to be in Christ?”[2]  That is, who am I becoming in Christ, what kind of person am I becoming through Christ?   Who is this person Christ is forming within me?  Who do I want to be in Christ?  The answer to these questions will always be personal and particular.  It is then, in this context, that we discover what we are called to do.  Who is God calling me to be in Christ in all that I am and all that I do?  We need to ask ourselves, “Who is this person, who am I, possessor of these particular gifts and talents, these hopes and dreams and interests, these life experiences, and, alive in the Spirit of Christ, who am I, this person, beloved of God, who am I becoming in Christ?”  It’s in the context of these questions that we figure out what we’re supposed to do and the direction we’re called to move in.  Who we are informs what we do.

But who are you?  Who am I?  If what we do is informed by who we are, if the call is personal and particular, then discerning the call inevitably involves a degree of self-knowledge, of knowing who we are.  Perhaps this is where the resistance is the greatest in discerning God’s call.  “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch,” Jesus said.  “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  Simon Peter wants to call it a day and go home; this request is just an interruption.  Jesus had other plans.   Go into the deep water, away from the shallow shoreline.  Let down your nets into the depths.  What a powerful psychological image.  This is probably more than Luke had in mind here, but I hear this text as a call to not be afraid of the depths, that is the depths of the self, let down your nets for a catch.  Don’t be afraid to go within, for in the depths we will discover an overabundance, more than we could ever handle, imagine or believe available for life.  Discerning the call always requires going inward, of being attentive to one’s interior life, or paying heed to what the Bible would call one’s “heart.”  Maybe we have difficulty discovering what we should do, because there’s more to learn about who we are.

But who are we?  After seeing the nets hauled in with an overabundance of fish, Peter fell down on his knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  Why does he say that?  Was it because earlier he seemed to doubt Jesus’ fishing tip to let down their nets in the deep water?  “Master, we have worked all night long, but have caught nothing.  Yet, if you say so…”  Did Peter begrudgingly follow?   Or did he have other plans that evening?  Did he feel unworthy of such amazing generosity?  Do you? Do you feel unworthy of such generosity?  Listen to what Jesus says, “Do not be afraid,” Simon Peter; “from now on you will be catching people.”  It’s as if Jesus ignores Peter’s poor self-perception and says, “That’s not who you are, Peter, only the sinner.  Rise up.”  This is who you are, don’t be afraid. And because this is who you are, this is what you will do

Who are we?  The answer will be different for each of us – particular and personal.  What is clear is that we are worthy to be called.  We are worthy.  Is it because we are worthy that we are called or does the call make us worthy?  It’s tough to tell.  No one on their own merits is really worthy.   But feeling worthy, that is, knowing who we are in Christ, we can be more open to what God is calling us to do.

[1] Gilbert Meilanender, The Freedom of a Christian:  Grace, Vocation, and the Meaning of Our Humanity (Grand Rapids, MI:  Brazos Press, 2006), 89-99.

[2] The emphasis upon the question who instead of what with regard to discernment was inspired by the recent report to the General Assembly Council, the Mission Work Plan team addressing “Discerning Christian Vocation:  Recapturing a Culture of Call in the PC (USA),” presented by Lee Hinson-Hasty.  The report asks us to consider two questions:  Who is God calling me to be in Christ in all that I am and all that I do? and How am I to use the gifts and talents that god has given me for building up the body of Christ and witness to Christ’s presence in all of life?