Hot Lips 
Sunday, February 4, 2007, 07:00 AM - Sermon
Isaiah 6:1-8

A few weeks ago I talked about this verse in ExtraChristy, my blog for a weekly devotion that is mailed to the homebound and emailed to several dozen others.

Church people talk funny. In a way we are like foreigners, our homeland is in heaven and we don't exactly fit into a secular society. When our church elects officers, we "stand" for election, never "run" for office. (The image of a Presbyterian elder running does seem odd.)

Rather than chase office, gathering handshakes from special interests and bestowing baby kisses of favors, church folk traditionally are called by others to stand before their spiritual brothers and sisters, for better or worse, as they are, a sinner forgiven by God; ready to serve if it seems right to others.

The call of Isaiah is similar to God's calling of other prophets to serve God and God's people, except he is more willing than most. (Jonah even ran away from the call!) No campaigns, no nominating speech, no talking points, no endorsements, only a willingness to stand and serve, "Just As I Am".

It is tough to do, we look around at the situation, our own “land of unclean lips” and say: this isn't going to be an easy call to answer. So we have perfectly good excuses and reasons, just like all prophets: Isaiah's was he wasn't good enough. He wanted the holy to leave him be, an man of unclean lips in a land of people with unclean lips.

There are woes around us. We do live among people of unclean lips. A couple of you were with me last week at the Linda Theater for the meeting of the business owners. When Bill Lawhorn asked how many had been robbed nearly fifty hands went up. In our parking lot we had a car broken into while a mother was picking up her children at Color Our Rainbow. The metal grates around the trees out front were stolen last fall and a set of shelves disappeared from Charlie's Place.

We can join the chorus of woes. I was visiting last week and one of the homebound told me she was worried about someone because she seemed to “let it grow on her” and had given up. We can do that, we would have every right to do that. We, like Isaiah, have seen the horrific gap between the holy should be and the unclean of what is. The gulf between what God is and what life is seems too large for someone like us to bridge. Woe is us! Leave us be! It is too much.

Paul talks about his call in our Corinthians reading. “The least of all apostles, the last of all, unfit to be called an apostle”. Paul had persecuted the church, looking to kill the unpatriotic blasphemers who were following this Christ. He was on his way to do just that, when God stopped him and called him. Paul or Saul as he was called then, had a hard time accepting his call and faced a understandably suspicious church. Could God have called someone else was probably a question both Paul and fearful Christians that met him asked themselves.

Well, lets go fishing. That is a good thing to do when times get tough, get away from it all in a low stress sport like fishing. Fishing is basically extreme waiting. I mean if the sport was serious about getting fish, I think it would be called catching. In our gospel, we have professional fishermen, after working all night and listening to a sermon, being told to put their nets out again. Lots has changed in the millenniums since this story, but telling a fisherman how to fish is as bad idea now as it was now. Peter says, as we expect, we have already tried and we are tired. What we don't expect, is that he puts down his nets one more time. He gets out of the boat, out of his comfort zone…and a tremendous catch that fills the boats is the result.

Now, like Isaiah before him, and Paul after him, Simon Peter turns away from Jesus' call: for he is a sinful man. He too has seen the difference between where God is and where he is and has given up being able to cross that gap. Jesus words to Peter does not deny he is a sinful man, any more than God denied that Isaiah was a man of unclean lips. “Be not afraid, I will make you…”
Isaiah, Peter, and Paul. Great leaders for God. None of them were worthy of the job. None of them sought the job. All of them knew it was ridiculous to even try. Yet when they were touched, but a hot coal, a healing hand, or a reassuring word from God, they realize as Paul says “By the Grace of God I am what I am”. We are not to look at the people of the land, the web sites marking burglary, the hands raised in shared pain, the empty nets of years of effort, but at God.

Guess what? God made Isaiah good enough. Unclean lips; God cleans them! Saul the persecutor becomes Paul the apostle, Simon the fisherman becomes Peter the rock on which the church is built. What is holding you back from answering God's call to service, in the church, in your community or in your family? Guess what? God can touch you and burn away what is holding you back, turn you around, put aside your fears that the emptiness of your life is all there is for you.

How to do this? First, listen for God's call. Where is God giving you an opportunity? A couple of people have answered the call for VBS? Do you hear that? Others have stepped forward for outreach and mission with the God Squad. Others have been called to face down pounds of potatoes for Dinner Committee…others have volunteered for Kairos and reached out to those in prison, others have agreed to be elected to session and deacons.

Second, listen to your fears. Tell God about them. It is okay to have doubts. I believe that anyone that wants a call that is sure they are doing God's will is disqualified. For all the holy ones I see struggle with God's call; recognize that they are not even close to living up to what is required and fight off fear of the holy. Tell God about that, talk to your friends and family, write in your journal, for God listens, God knows that if you were where you were he wanted you to be, he wouldn't have to call you.

Third, put the first two together, let God listen and answer your fears. Realize that it “is not you, but the grace of God this is with you”. Accept God's grace and help in the different forms in appears, whether it is through your own spiritual growth, a change in circumstances or the aid of others. Let the burning coal touch your lips, become fit for God, get out of the comfort of the boat; and former enemies become brothers and sisters, emptiness is filled. In faith, follow where God leads you, do not stay where your fear leaves you.

When one person in a General Assembly discussion group claimed that serving in the Presbyterian Church headquarters was like being on the Titanic, I rose to the challenge and asked people to pick their position on the PCUSA Titanic cruise.

1. Playing in the band
2. Rearranging deck chairs
3. Heading for the life boats
4. Filling officer vacancies
5. Pulling on the oars
6. Drilling holes in the bottom
7. Bailing out the water
8. Using the Bailing water to baptize
9. Looking for fun activities with Julie from the Love Boat

I had nine and only need one more for a top ten. Then, things changed, I got this reply: The good news, Christy, is that for many of us, the best analogy for Christians and the church (insofar as boats go, anyway) is that we should have been in the water all the while. That's where the rest of the people are.

Come on in where the people are, where God is calling you, the water's fine…or it will be by the grace of God.

Copyright (c) 2007 Advanced permission is given for non-profit, for-prophet use of the above at no charge as long as it is reproduced unedited with notices and copyright intact. Written copies are provided after they are preached as a courtesy for the personal, private, appreciative use of the congregation of Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church, their families and friends to support the ministry of Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church and its pastor the Rev. J. Christy Ramsey. Join us Sundays! 8:15 Traditional Worship and 10:15 Blended. Mingle in our Gathering Room between services and take advantage of Christian Education opportunities.

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