Equipped and Clipped

May 27, 2018

Series: May 2018

Category: Faith

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Isaiah 6:1-8

1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3And one called to another and said:

    “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;

    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD. THANKS BE TO GOD.

Equipped & Clipped

          Every time I hear that children’s song, “The Wheels on the Bus” I am instantly transported back to a vacation my family took to the beach.  I can still recall the exact rental car we drove, the feel of towels we’d pinned to the seats to protect them, the sand shuffling floor beneath our sandals, and the smell of sunblock and warm ocean air.  Some memories are vivid, multisensory.

          Today’s passage belongs to what’s known as the “memoir section” of Isaiah,[1] and in it he places us right in the scene with six-winged seraphs, smoke and song, and the hem of the robe of the Lord filling the temple.  This is no beach vacation.  This is a call story, when someone somehow hears the voice of God, the leading of the Spirit, though that may happen in all sorts of settings.  Perhaps it’s happened to you. 

          When we retell Isaiah’s story, we tend to focus on his faithful response, “Here I am; send me!”  We encourage people to likewise answer that call and yet in doing so we often leave out a critical and empowering part.  Isaiah doesn’t just sense a call, drop everything, and then go.  He hears the call, expresses what he needs, God equips him, and then he goes.  Today I am not as interested in the particularity of his need, his sense of unworthiness, his “unclean lips.”  That’s enough for a whole sermon series.  Today, I am more focused on the fact that God meets Isaiah where he needs it, touching a coal to his lips.  There’s no account that it hurts Isaiah—he’s neither punished nor judged for his need. 

We should be careful here. I don’t like the notion that God only gives us what we can handle.  That’s flawed theology.  I love, however, the notion that when God calls us to our vocation, to our work—I don’t mean what we do for money—when God calls us to our work, God equips us with the tools, partners, and creativity we need to offer what the world needs and our soul loves to give.  It is the polar opposite orientation from than the scarcity model which dominates our society, that drives our unsustainable economy and frankly our unsustainable daily lives, telling us constantly that we are not enough that we do not have enough.  If that system worked, we wouldn’t be so riddled with inequality, anxiety, and sheer exhaustion.  In God’s economy, by contrast, people have what they need and in response you freely give to bless the world.

          It can be hard to know what your vocation is, your work, your calling.  One way to discover it is first look at your gifts and passions and then work backwards.  I heard an interview with a man named Ben Lecomte this week, a good swimmer who decided to use his gift of swimming to benefit the world.  Good swimmer may be an understatement because he will soon embark on a swim…from Tokyo to San Francisco, across the Pacific.  He’s already did the Atlantic years ago.  It’s not only a feat of endurance, it is a chance to bring attention to a research project in which scientists alongside him will be taking measurements of microplastics and contaminants such as radioactive cesium in the ocean. [2]  Why not just used boats and skip the swim?  As the Rev. Jan Reynolds said recently in an organizing committee meeting, there is something powerful and prophetic about where you put your body in raising awareness, in making a statement, in standing up for God’s reign.

          That’s an extreme example, but there are opportunities all around us, if we trust our gifts and are a little creative about applying them.  Take Erin Elliot, for example, member of this congregation.  Part of Erin’s work is teaching yoga.  For much of the year, she has offered classes here at the church on a donation basis, helping us connect our breath to our bodies.  I see it as embodied prayer.  Erin has not only shared her gift of teaching with the congregation, she donated half the proceeds to the church, first to the Legacy Fund, our endowment, and now this spring to the capital campaign.  Taking our gifts, doing the work we love, and using it to bless the world, that’s calling.

          Thinking of the capital campaign, I promised last week I would talk about Westminster, a Westminster Presbyterian in Minneapolis which has just successfully completed a $80 million campaign.  It’s nice to put things into perspective.  They’re 6 or 7 times our size, yet their goal was over 28 times ours.  I’m not interested in talking about dollar amounts as much as how that church has creatively responded to their complex setting in these complex times to be faithful with what they have.  As with all urban churches, for Westminster access to their building is critical, and a couple years ago Westminster’s sweetheart parking deal with the city was about to expire.  Properties adjacent to the building became available and leaders in the congregation immediately stepped up to initiate a process to acquire them, but it came with a challenge, a human one, a gospel one, not only a financial one.  One of these properties was run by a slum lord, and as run down as it was the church recognized it was home to 60 families.  The law would have required the church to provide only 30 days eviction notice.  That’s law; it’s not gospel.  The gospel compelled the church to promise to work with each family individually to find a suitable relocation.  It took 6 months, but they were able to place families in more desirable situations, ones than the families previously couldn’t get into.  In addition, the church raised enough money to give the families considerable cash payouts to jump start their new lives.

          That’s not all.  Between this campaign and their previous campaign, held in the early 2000s, (most churches do these campaigns regularly) Westminster will have built over 160 affordable housing units in Minneapolis.  They are able to do this because they always do what they call a “double tithe,” dedicating 20% of any fund raising for mission, serving others.  They see their space not just as their space, but a gift that can be shared as well.  As you may know, Minneapolis is home to a large Somali population.  What you may not know—I didn’t—is that there are disproportionate levels of autism in this population. Services for them were all out in the suburbs, not easily accessible by public transportation.  Now, they reside in the heart of the city, at Westminster, where the church also leases at an affordable rate, space for senior services and a counseling center. 

          This is creative response to God’s calling, one that trusts God has and will equip the called for the calling.  As Paul puts it in Romans, you were not given “a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,” you are led by the Spirit of God, a liberating spirit, a generous spirit.  You are not on your own; you have been adopted as God’s own children (Rom. 8:14-15). 

          The equipment for the calling can take a while to materialize.  Trusting in the calling takes some perseverance. Lisa Ann McKenzie is a barber, and she faced a challenge in cutting one of her client’s hair.  His name was Jordie, and the challenge was no fault of his own.  Ten years old, Jordie has autism and so the sounds and the stimulation of the scissors on his hair were upsetting in a way many of us can probably only imagine.  They tried walking around.  They tried lying on the floor.  She even went to his house, but every time they got a few clips in Jordie would get so agitated McKenzie had to stop.

          She felt like a failure. That didn’t deter her.  She had this sense she was meant to cut this child’s hair.  Calling.  McKenzie started to invite Jordie and his family in after hours, to see if a calmer environment might help, for which her boss chastised her—not everyone is going to cooperate with calling.  Undeterred, McKenzie left the shop and opened one of her own, stepping out in faith.  Every two weeks for eight months she tried to cut Jordie’s hair with little luck.  She never charged them the full price because they could never accomplish a full cut.  Finally, almost without thinking, in yet another attempt to calm Jordie down, McKenzie started singing nursery rhymes and children’s songs.  She had no idea Jordie was into them, but he just looked at her mesmerized, totally calm, and allowed her to cut his hair, receiving his first full haircut ever.  She listened contentedly as McKenzie clipped and sang, “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round…”  Now, McKenzie is known for working well with children who live with autism, and she even devotes entire days in her shop just for them.

          Don’t miss the calling because you don’t trust you are equipped to answer it, because we don’t believe we are equipped.  Friends, the Spirit is moving, round and round, round and round…all through the town.  Amen.

[1] The New Interpreter’s Bible, 99.

[2] To read more about this swim and Lecomte, see https://www.newsdeeply.com/oceans/articles/2018/04/23/the-man-swimming-across-the-pacific-ocean-for-science