This sermon was delivered by Wendell L. Griffen, pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark., on Feb. 7, 2010.
Do you recall the first time you were encountered by God? Where were you? What was going on in your life? What did you experience? How did you make sense of that encounter? How did the encounter affect your life, your view of yourself in the world, and your view of the world around you? What challenges have come your way because of your encounter with God?
The passages we read today are guides for meditating on what it means to be called to live for God. Living for God starts by being met by God. There must be an encounter with God, on God’s terms rather than our own. God confronts us and we are forced to make sense of who God is. How did you meet God?
In Isaiah’s case, being encountered by God—beholding God for the first time as he put it—was both historic and humbling. Isaiah, like the Psalmist at Psalm 138, relates to God from the perspective of worship. Isaiah recalls being met by God in a worship experience. In that experience, God was not some mystical and distant presence unrelated to Isaiah.
No, God was real and present in Isaiah’s time and place. Somehow, Isaiah sensed God’s bigness. Somehow, Isaiah sensed God’s holiness. Somehow, Isaiah sensed God’s big holiness and holy bigness as a direct encounter. The Person whose big holiness and holy bigness filled Isaiah’s worship experience did so as if to say—”I am God. Who are you and how do you measure beside me?” In the face of God’s big holiness and holy bigness, Isaiah recognized and confessed his little sinfulness and sinful littleness.
There is great irony in an encounter with God like what Isaiah experienced. Like Isaiah, our encounter with God often leaves us overwhelmed by the vast difference between who God is and who we are. God is all-present, all-knowing, and all-holy. We are limited, imperfect, and often wrong-headed and wrong-hearted. Isaiah’s awareness of God’s holy bigness and big holiness produced the confession about his own little sinfulness and sinful littleness.
Do you recall when you first realized your little sinfulness and sinful littleness before God’s holy bigness and big holiness? Do you recall realizing that you are not smart enough, religious enough, cute enough, rich enough, or popular enough to measure up to God? It is not comfortable to see our little sinfulness and sinful littleness in the light of God’s holy bigness and big holiness.
For some people, this discomfort is a reason to object to living for God. Why, they ask, should I live with so much guilt and shame? That is a good question. The answer is that we live with such guilt and shame only because we have not experienced God’s big holy grace and gracious holy bigness. Isaiah was guilt-ridden and forlorn until he experienced the grace of God. Somehow, God touched Isaiah. Something from God’s holy bigness and big holiness merged with and purged Isaiah’s little sinfulness and sinful littleness.
And when that happened, Isaiah sensed that God had done something to him and for him. Isaiah sensed that God is big, holy, and gracious. God is graciously big and graciously holy. God’s gracious and big holiness does not operate to shame us, but to claim us and call us to live for God. Do you recall the first time you realized the big gracious holiness of God was claiming and calling you to live for God? Do you recall when God became more than a religious ritual, more than a set of rules and regulations, and more than a bunch of Bible stories about other people? Do you recall when you first understood that God loves you and wants you to experience his big holy graciousness?
If so, then you understand how and why Isaiah sensed God calling. Imagine that! The fellow moved from being overwhelmed by God’s big holiness and holy bigness to being overcome by guilt and shame concerning his own little sinfulness and sinful littleness and then to being touched by God’s big holy graciousness. Then Isaiah sensed God calling, beckoning, and inviting someone to represent his big holy graciousness in the world.
Isaiah realized that God has not taken a “hands off” approach to the world or to us. No, God is actively encountering people to experience his big holy graciousness and represent him in our living. The issue for Isaiah, and for each of us, is whether we will accept God’s invitation to represent his big holy graciousness by our living. Do you recall when you decided to represent God?
Some people are like Isaiah, and are quick to say, “Here am I, Lord. Send me.” Yet, some of us are not so quick. Some of us are like Moses who, when first encountered by God’s big holiness and holy bigness struggled with his own sense of inadequacy and history. Some of us are like Simon in the passage we read from Luke’s gospel today. After Simon witnessed the miraculous catch of fish, he was overcome by his own sinfulness.
We do not all respond to God’s big holiness and holy bigness with the same exuberance that Isaiah remembered. For some of us, God has to work with us and on us as we struggle. Sometimes we struggle because we convince ourselves that God truly cannot be calling us, does not really need us, or could do much better with someone other than us. Even after we overcome those misgivings, we may think, like Paul expressed in the passage from 1 Corinthians 15, that we are inadequate, less capable than others, or unfit to represent the big holy graciousness of God.
Did you respond to God eagerly like Isaiah? Well and good. Did you struggle like Moses, Jeremiah, Simon, and Paul? Well, remember that they represented the big holy graciousness of God rather well. The important thing to remember is that God deals with us, individually and as a redeemed community, by his graciousness. God’s grace is patient with us, works with us and on us, and comforts us as we trust his call to represent his big holy graciousness by our living.
That, my friends, is what Jesus meant when he told Simon, James, and John, that he would make them fishers of men. Jesus was not talking about sending them into the world with tracts and Bible verses. Jesus was not talking about sending them to become religious ambassadors of a materialistic and profit-addicted culture bent on acquiring national power. Jesus, who personified the big holy graciousness of God, was talking about Simon, James, John, and anyone else living out the big holy graciousness of God.
Jesus meant that our living the big holy graciousness of God will draw people into God’s net—God’s kingdom! We are not drawn into God’s kingdom to be consumed, but to be transformed into becoming part of God’s big holy graciousness by our living. As we live out the big holy graciousness of God, we grow to become part of that big holy graciousness. As we become part of that big holy graciousness, we live it out in our relationships, in our work, our public policy perspectives, our joys and sorrows, and our triumphs and tragedies.
There is another challenging aspect of the call to live for God that should not be ignored or left unmentioned. Isaiah heard God call. Isaiah responded. God sent Isaiah. But Isaiah learned that some people would not accept the invitation to share the big holy grace of God. Some would hear it but not understand it or accept it even if they understood it. In every place and time, God calls people to live out His big holy grace. However, many people will not accept God’s call.
Those of us who accept that call must realize that some people will not believe God has called us to live out his big holy graciousness. Many people did not believe Moses, Jeremiah, Simon and the other apostles. Many did not believe Jesus Christ, even though Jesus was the big holy grace of God walking around. Do not measure the effectiveness of your life in God and with God based on the reactions and receptions you experience from others.
Live out the big holy grace of God, my friends because God has encountered us by his big holy grace. As followers of Jesus, the Big Holy Grace of God Personified, do not be overcome by your anxieties, personal history, or your concerns about whether you are fit to represent God. God has called you, through Jesus Christ. God has extended his big holy grace to you. You have accepted it. Live it. Live the bigness of God. Live the holiness of God. Live the graciousness of God. Live it whether people believe that God is big, holy, and gracious or not. Live because God’s big holy grace has called and claimed you. You are part of God’s big holy grace. God is real, big, holy, and gracious. Live in the power of that big holy grace.
Live in the power of God’s big holy grace, and like the Psalmist, be thankful to God. Live and praise God. Live and let God deal with the results. Live and let people behold the big holy grace of God as you live with whatever light you have. Allow the light of God’s big holy grace to shine. Be thankful that God has called you and claimed you. Be thankful whether you walk in trouble or comfort. Be thankful whether you are befriended or opposed. Be thankful, knowing that God will fulfill his big holy gracious purpose by your living. Amen.
THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE (Hymn of Commitment)
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
2. All in my home, I’m gonna let it shine.
3. Everywhere I go, I’m gonna let it shine.
4. Jesus gave it to me, I’m gonna let it shine.
5. Shine, shine, shine, I’m gonna let it shine.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.