Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
February 10, 2019
Isaiah 6:1-13, Psalm 138, I Corinthians 15:1-11, Luke 5:1-11
Your Purpose For Me
I’ve been thinking about the variety of ways God calls people to fulfill some aspect of God’s loving purpose for the world. In a delightful conversation with Bill Rosenquist this week, I thought about his mother, Ione, a charter member of Living Hope, the congregation in Clare County I was called by our synod to help create. As new families or individuals came to worship with us, she and Betty Whiteside, another charter member, found warm and yet non-intrusive ways to welcome them. Ione was the “hugger.” Just by nature it seemed.
I think about Ken, one of a group of seven volunteers who moved some beautiful and some quite heavy donated solid oak dining room furniture into our parish house on Friday. All pitched in, but Ken out of his experience working for a furniture company showed us how to move the heaviest piece safely and almost effortlessly. I think about Carolyn who just a few days ago happened to be in touch with a friend who knew Jane, who grew up not far from Grace, whose parents had lived for many years in a lovely home only a block and a half away from here. The house had been sold and the remaining furniture needed to be removed from their home by today. I think about a young woman at the U-Haul store on Waverly, who when I returned the truck we had rented to move the furniture, told me I had paid too much, that the miles actually driven were half of what I had estimated, so the final bill was only a little more than for a small open trailer.
I think about all the people who over the last two weekends cleaned and painted and made beautiful our 1701 Lapeer St. residence in preparation for the young refugees who will soon make it their next home as they transition in becoming full citizens, new Americans.
I think about Nora and Luanne doing kitchen duty for the luncheon yesterday for the family and friends of Dave Peterson, his brother, Eric, and sister, Carol, following the memorial service for their sister, Kay.
I think about our financial secretaries, Stacey and now Marcia, who discovered this week some errors that need to be corrected in the postings of offerings for four Sundays, mostly from very early last year, that will mean for them the task of sending out adjusted reports of offerings and a revised annual report.
In light of the scriptures for today, I witnessed this week person after person who just did what seemed natural and important for them. More deeply, I think all of them were living out in very practical, down-to-earth ways, their callings from God. I think all of them, whether they named it this way of not, were doing what hearts and minds, touched and inspired by grace and love, just do.
Sometimes the callings we receive from God are extremely painful and certainly not immediately rewarding. Isaiah was called to be a prophet to a people, to a country, destined for widespread destruction, So deeply enmeshed were their lives in greed, self-centeredness, and wastefulness that the prophetic word for them could only be one of inevitable doom. They would hear his prophetic voice but not comprehend it. Only in the very last verse of this Isaiah reading for today would there be a word of hope. Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said, “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the Lord sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land. Even in a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth [turpentine tree] or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.
Sometimes we are called to declare the dark truth of a coming utter devastation…both for those whom we love and for our country and for the world which we love but which is hell bent for destruction…. But then there is this stump. Then there is Jesus who experiences fully what it means to be utterly desolate, knows in his heart the vast emptiness in the midst of the land, like an oak tree burned to the ground…except for its stump. That is what his death on the cross means. Jesus, the Son of God, takes into himself all the deep corruption and emptiness and wastefulness of this world, from which we cannot extricate ourselves. Jesus is this stump, this holy seed who has died for us, for our country, and for all the states and nations of the world. His body was buried, laid in the deep darkness of a grave. All the hopes and dreams for his disciples were shattered. Utter devastation.
Except that then on the third day he was raised. On the third day Jesus was alive, never more to die! So with St. Paul (in our Corinthian text for today) we confess that Jesus lives! Jesus lived in Ione, Bill’s mom. Jesus lives in Ken and Carolyn and Nora and Luanne and Stacey and Marcia and, perhaps unknown to her, in the young lady at U-Haul. Jesus lives in Cindi, Michelle, and Stephanie. In each of us lives this holy seed, buried in the ground, in the dark and sometimes distraught and forlorn places of our hearts, but now sprouted, becoming in us and through us an always new and growing tree. And this new and growing tree was meant to provide shade for our neighbors, near and far, stricken by the intense, unrelenting, burning sun in lonely, forsaken the desert places in their lives. And perhaps one day, this new tree will be the legacy we leave transformed into sturdy and beautiful furniture for formerly lost and forsaken refugees of this world who hunger for food, for family, for fellowship, who yearn for an abundant life surrounded by caring, loving, supportive sisters and brothers..
All this promised out of love for us: You will make good your purpose for me; O Lord, your steadfast love endures forever; do not abandon the work of your hands. . Psalm 138:5
All this week, I witnessed people living out their callings, God’s purpose for their lives expressed, more often than not, in humble, ordinary acts of honest, loving service. The words of the psalmist are so to the point: The Lord is high, yet cares for the lowly…Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe….You will make good your purpose for me; O Lord, your steadfast loves endures forever. In the midst of a world, our world, so destined for destruction, so utterly desolate, so empty, there is this holy seed planted in each of our hearts.