As is true most Sundays, today’s readings have a lot in common with each other. They’re all about how — as much as we need and want God in our lives — sometimes we can be too fearful, too distracted, or have too much doubt in our own abilities to see God’s work in us. This is human! And all of our ancestors in the faith have done it too. When Isaiah sees God in the temple, he doesn’t respond like this is his best day ever. Instead he cries out in fear and sorrow: Woe is me! I am lost! He’s face to face with God, and all he can think of is that he’s not a worthy instrument for God’s saving work. He doesn’t have all that much confidence in his community either: I am a man of unclean lips, Isaiah laments, and I live among a people of unclean lips! Look for someone else, not me — Isaiah seems to say.
It’s the same with the Apostle Paul — who comes face to face with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul responds to the experience by spending the rest of his life spreading the good news. But he never stops calling himself the least of the apostles, because he persecuted Jesus’ followers before his conversion.
And in Luke’s gospel, Peter, James, and John encounter Jesus after a bad night of fishing. These three career fishing partners have given up and are cleaning their nets after not catching a single fish. When Jesus changes their luck — almost sinking two fishing boats with the overwhelming bounty of the catch — do they rejoice, posing with their record haul for all the folks gathered on the shore to see? They do not. Instead, Peter falls to his knees in front of Jesus begging Jesus to go away from him, because he doesn’t believe that he is worthy to do God’s work.
Isaiah, Paul, and Peter are all really conscious of their own ordinariness. And then they get over themselves and agree to help God out. Isaiah says Here I am; send me! Paul, in his own quirky, cranky, insistent way, spreads the liberating promise of Christianity all over the first century world. And Peter, James, and John — just as Jesus promises them in that pro tip fishing lesson — become fishers of people, going all in for God’s work.
Don’t you feel like Isaiah sometimes? Wait, don’t ask me! I never was any good at math! I never learned to read music. I don’t know how to speak in front of people / read a balance sheet / write a grant request / share my faith journey / understand poetry and literature / work in groups / be a leader!! We can all fill in our own self-doubts and fears in that blank space — that comfy blank space in our doubts where we hope that we can lie low, and that God’s great power will pass over us and not get us too involved.
God is Active at Emmanuel
At Emmanuel, though, God is way too active for a realistic hope that any of us will get a pass. Take this last weekend, for example, when we combined the Nor’easter of the decade with an array of other opportunities for each of us to say — like Isaiah did — here I am, Lord! Pick me! Thursday afternoon, as we were preparing to go online for Sunday worship in case the storm got bad, the church furnace lost power while electricians were installing a new, programmable thermostat — which, I have to say, seemed like a really good idea to all of us at the time. Valerie Martin — who is trained as a nurse, not an electrician — raised her hand when God called and stayed well into the evening to help troubleshoot the problem and then to open all the interior doors to help protect the church from freezing, using the heat sources that were working.
The weather and facilities drama continued to unfold on Friday as we wrestled with how best to manage the plowing of the parking lot around our contract parkers, threats by different parts of our aging organ to cease playing, and new leaks in the roof over the South Baptist Street apartment and the lectern. But God is with us at Emmanuel. And we don’t duck when God starts trying to change our lives, even when we’re tempted to sometimes. We’re all more like Peter than it’s comfortable to admit. It’s scary to think of catching so many fish that our boats almost sink. We might want to ask God to just pick someone else — somewhere else — and leave us in our own comfort zone. But we are not limited when we answer God’s call.
Here I am, Lord! Pick me!
Here I am, Lord! Pick me! Even when the furnace won’t start, the organ wheezes, the roof finds new ways to leak, and the storm of the decade rolls into Newport, we just figure out a different way. We worshiped online last week in the threatening weather. We prayerfully submitted a grant application for our major projects of roof caulking and sealing, furnace replacement, and restoration and protection of the stained glass in the chapel, even as — with more heroic efforts by Val — the old, sad furnace coughed back into operation on Monday.
We’re catching the water as it drips through the roof in the meantime, and we have great news on the organ. I like to think of our organ as an Easter organ. It has been resurrected now four times in major repairs, renovations, and replacements since Emmanuel Church first began worship in this space in 1902. As you know, about 30% of the organ’s sound — the part on the lectern side of the chancel — had to be turned off and disabled after its sound-producing components failed disastrously during a concert in November. We could lose some or all of the remaining function of the organ at any time without warning. This is a complicated and technical analysis, in a discipline that none of us but Randy really is trained in.
I thought of Isaiah and Paul, and Peter — really conscious of my own ordinariness. But then we all got over ourselves and agreed to help God out. In faith, in careful thought and questioning, and with hope and prayer, your vestry voted unanimously Friday to authorize the purchase of a new four-keyboard digital organ that will, under Randy’s capable hands, bring dependably beautiful music back to Emmanuel in time for Easter! This truly is a resurrection story.
God is with us at Emmanuel, and we just keep trying. We ask for help when we need it, share what we have, hold the hands of those who mourn, remember gratitude for what we’ve been given, and rejoice in our gift of community. Here I am, Lord! Pick me! Amen