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Monday, July 5, 2010

Calling and Condition

The Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
5th Sunday in Trinity 2010

“Calling and Condition…”

Our wonderful Gospel from St. Luke brings forth some interesting questions. How does God call us? How do we know when God calls us? What is the nature of our call? Finally, how do we respond?

First of all, in perhaps one of the greatest understatements ever, we must state that God calls each of us in different ways and in different fashions. Each man and woman hears the call of God in a different, intensely personal sort of way. This is, of course, obvious. Our Lord speaks to us all individually, if we are inclined to listen. What may be not so obvious is how He does it.

In the glory and magnificence that is God, He uses both unity in diversity and diversity in unity when calling us. What do we mean by that? Simply that Our Lord uses the same general means to call us, yet it is perceived and perhaps received in a myriad of ways.
Let us be more specific. Let us first state that God does indeed call all men. This call includes both the general call and the specific, individualized one that all men hear at some time in their life or another.

The general call of grace is one that was issued from the Cross. Christ, through His ultimate, one-time Sacrifice, called all men unto Him. There was, and is a general pouring out of grace from this act. Some men hear this and are moved in their soul to respond. Their response may be a great commitment, a greater yearning, or even just a greater curiosity. At the same time, there are many who never listen to this general call of grace.

All people also receive an individual call from God as well. He calls all people, someway, sometime in their life. Many, many people are led to follow that call. These people are destined to grow in the faith to whatever degree God has willed for them and to enjoy the fellowship of the Spirit and of the Church. There are also many, many other people who are called but do not or cannot answer that call, Why? That is a profound mystery known only to God Himself. We cannot presume to answer it.

Yet, within the general call of mankind there is a special subset, if you will, for those whom God’s call goes further, deeper and with a more persistent nature. These people respond with a stirring of the heart and of the spirit to God. These are those souls for whom the Spirit does not return empty to Him. Rather, through the advocacy and facilitation of the Holy Spirit, there is a communication, a link, a response that says “yes” to Him who calls all things.

The question is, how do we know when God call us and what is the nature of that call? This is difficult, because the answer is not at all satisfactory to those of us who admire clear, crisp answers and prefer nice, neat solutions. Here’s why: the reason is that one can’t give a perfect answer, except that one will simply “know” when He calls us. Here is where the diversity in unity is apparent. While His Call is general, our perception of it is individual and specific. Thus, there is no pat answer except that we will recognize it when it happens to us. As a younger man, searching for God, it was frustrating at times trying to hear the voice of God and seeking to know if God was calling me, probably because I was seeking the wrong things. God is heard more often in the quiet, small voice than in the babbling of strange tongues, or in the display of extra-normal manifestations of the Spirit.

While the “crash-boom” spiritual experiences are more dramatic, they are less common and may be less meaningful over time as well. How many of us have known someone who has had a remarkable conversion experience, perhaps in a dramatic way, and has turned their life over to Christ, only to revert to their old, unsatisfactory selves a short time afterward? Unfortunately it happens, especially if one is looking for the quality of the experience, rather than the durable nature of a changed life.

Sometimes it is far better to have a rather home-grown type of conversion, one that is private, deep and meaningful, but without the spiritual fireworks. Thus, in the quiet, interior of our souls, we sense God’s call. Often this call begins as an attraction, a “drawing towards”, if you will.
Something in us simply wants something, although it is not always apparent at first what that “it” is. It is also an unfortunate fact that a person’s calling comes usually not from a sense of comfort, but discomfort. That is, only in answering this call will the unsettled soul find some degree of peace.

For others, the call may be definitely more compelling, as in those someday ordained to Holy Orders. Many of the clergy were unsettled in their lives before they submitted to ordination. Sometimes, a spiritual, yet directionless man is headed in that direction. Not knowing what one wants to do before coming to Christ is a common affliction among those in the priesthood or diaconate. Although there is always “strife within the sod”, a man may have peace deep down at last when he has answered the call.

Yet, despite what our call may have been, or how it was received, the last and most important question is: how do we respond to it? Let’s look to our Gospel selection for answers.

First, we recognize that Christ was simply following ancient Jewish tradition in gathering disciples to him. Jewish doctors of the law often recruited disciples to teach Torah. Yet Christ did this, not by going to the Temple to select the “best and the brightest.” Instead, He went to the lake of Genessaret and taught the common crowds, which became so dense that they “pressed” upon him as he taught by the lake. They were hungry to hear him, for the people perceived the truth in what He was saying, as well as they way He delivered it. You’ll recall that one of the Gospels (Mat. 7:29) says, “For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” In this case, as He was teaching by the Sea of Galilee, the people were actually “pressing” Him into the water!

The power of the Gospel and the truth of Jesus’ message caused them to press forward to hear. Here we must note, as always, that Christ wasn’t interested in teaching the “right” people or even as we see later in the passage, picking the “right” type of disciples. Instead, Jesus was interested in calling the “right” kind of men that would someday spread His Gospel of hope and salvation to the world.

In this case, and because of the great crowds, Jesus needed a place to teach, so He enters into one of the fishing boats nearby and asks the fisherman to push off a little into the lake so He can address the whole crowd; this he does and Jesus teaches the people. After speaking for a while, he turns to the fisherman, who happens to be Simon Peter, and tells him to do something. He says: “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” Simon’s answer is instructive: he says, “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. In other words, “we’ve worked all night, we’ve caught nothing and we’ve even cleaned our nets, but if you say so, we’ll let down the net.”

Peter at this point is not impressed, knowing that day was not the best time to catch fish, as well as being bone-tired from a fruitless night’s work. Yet, Jesus’ calm, commanding presence compels him to do so and his attitude, understandably, changes dramatically. Why? The miraculous draft of fish is so great that the net begins to break and they fill both boats full to the point of sinking! Note Peter’s reaction as well. Unlike the crowd, who wants Jesus to stay with them so they can use Him, in the form of healing or feeding or whatever, Simon recognizes the ultimate holiness standing there with him and is terrified by it. Recall that Simon was an ancient Hebrew who believed that if one were to come in contact with God’s holiness, the result would be instant destruction.

For once, Peter gets it exactly right. As you know, in the Bible Simon Peter is sort of a Biblical “Everyman” figure. On one hand, he’s brash, tempestuous and impulsive. On the other hand, he’s afraid, doesn’t tell the truth and he’s actually cowardly. But, he always cares. He’s passionate and definitely not lukewarm. He is, in fact, someone God can work with. God can turn great sinners into great saints, but He cannot turn lukewarm people into anything.

Jesus then calms Simon and then issues His call, saying “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men” He calls Peter just as he is, where he is. This is exactly what God does for us. He calls us as we are, where we are. He calls us “To launch out into the deep and to let down our nets for a draught.”

We, like Peter, are often afraid. Perhaps we too have “toiled all the night” in the deep, dark places of our souls “and have taken nothing.” That is, until Christ calls us, our lives’ nets are empty until they are filled with the miraculous “catch” of Christ’s love. Certainly, one can seem to have it all, job, money, family, success. But without God, there comes a moment in everyone’s life when they realize that they “have toiled all the night and have taken nothing.” There’s a time in everyone’s life when they ask, in the words of the old Peggy Lee song. “Is that all there is?” You see, our lives’ nets are truly empty without Christ.

Remember, however, that we don’t catch Christ as much as He calls us and catches us. And rather than be caught in a net, we are caught in a benevolent “web” of love and caring and trust. When Christ calls us to “launch out into the deep”, we are never alone. He is with us and He always fills our nets with Himself. It’s truly a miraculous catch.
It all begins when we hear His call, listen to it and respond with all of our heart.

Luke 5:8 “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.