Isaiah 6:1-8 • Luke 5:1-11
One of the jobs of a priest is to proclaim the good news of the gospel each week. I am well aware as one of the pastors of St. Augustine’s Chapel that my job is easier because I am preaching, not just to a sweet choir, but to a congregation of disciples who have already discerned much of their calling and believes in offering one another the freedom to act as our callings guide us. About nine years ago in the fellowship hall of St. Augustine’s, we started making candles and body balms. We began because of a desire to help the women residents of Magdalene have an income and job experience. We began with volunteers from this congregation, three women of Magdalene, and the name Thistle Farms, decided upon after discussion around a dinner table. The prayer was to make bath and body care products that would be healing to the earth, the body, and the women who were making products. The chances that such a venture would succeed were exceedingly slim. Our business plan was created by students, our work force of three had a combined record of over 500 arrests, and the director got mad every time someone asked for a budget. But, slowly and surely we grew and outgrew our space. When construction on the chapel started, we found a new refuge in a building offered to us by St. George’s Episcopal Church on Belle Meade Boulevard. And over the years as we embraced the reality of being thistle farmers and went out into the world, not just to help a group of women who needed help, but to talk about the myths in our culture of why women walk the streets and the truth about what it takes to invite them back into the wider community, we even outgrew our space at St. George’s. Two years ago we started praying and publicly asking for a space to manufacture these revolutionary bath and body care products that preach without words that Love Heals. It has been our dream.
In this Gospel, the Good News, Jesus calls Simon Peter to discipleship. Peter, who has already witnessed the miraculous healing of his mother- in-law and the great catch of fish, is being invited by the Lord to stand close as the Good News is proclaimed. In this account, he falls to his knees and seems unsure if he can take on this offer. He feels unworthy, and seems to be on the brink of walking away. He has to abandon everything else to follow this call.
In the story of Isaiah’s call, he receives a magnificent vision and is given the voice of a prophet. He is given a message and told to proclaim it to the wide world. It seems incredible, as if it would be a place of privilege and honor that many religious leaders would crave. God gives him the words and the ability to preach them and Isaiah says, “Woe is me.” He stands back, and finally, almost as a surrender, we hear the words, “Here I am, Lord, send me.”
It is not that Peter doesn’t hear the call as the Good News or that Isaiah doesn’t love his Lord and desire his words to be on his lips or in his steps. It is that the weight of not just good news, but great news is coming our way in our lessons today, that makes it a little overwhelming. We realize it means our lives will change and the calling will lead us to places we have never been before. That is what is unfolding in our lessons today: the great news that we are called. We, like Isaiah and Simon Peter, are called to intimacy with God on the path of discipleship, to hear his voice and follow his lead, and that is not just good news, it is great news, and it is completely overwhelming.
After two years of search and prayers, a donor came to Thistle Farms this fall and asked what we needed. I told him a manufacturing facility. He had given two smaller gifts to us in the last two years to help purchase the raw materials needed to grow our sales revenue. The way he described it to me was that he was ready to make a significant gift. Shortly thereafter we found a building, and he wrote a check for the entire amount. Now we are waiting to close on a building that has four store fronts, a manufacturing facility, and offices on the corner of 51st and Charlotte by the old First American Bank building. We have a million dollar building that needs paint, carpet, lights, and heating/cooling to expand and live out our dream of growing and becoming a force for change in the world. It is huge and the largest gift we have ever received. It allows us to grow fourfold, to meet the needs of women we haven’t met yet, and to dream of things we haven’t begun to imagine. The beatific irony of being thistle farmers and having the deed to a $1,000,000 building is a testimony to the dreams of a community. But when the news came, it was not jump-up-and-down joy. All of us were like Peter and Isaiah, feeling unworthy at this new calling. It is not going to be easy to allow the longing and the dream to come into our waking truth. It will pull us all in deeper and that is not good news; it is great news, and great news changes our lives. This building, on top of our Ecuador commitment, our pastoral concerns, our baptisms, our personal stuff, and our prison tour is a great new calling for all of us.
The great news for all of us today is that we are called like Isaiah and Peter to follow closely. This calling isn’t a sweet reflection that fits into our lives. Callings move us to walk more deeply into the wilderness of our faith. It is not good news—it is great news, and because of it, our lives will never be the same. Thank God.