I am not sure why, but I have been hearing the word "worthy" a lot lately. Mostly I have heard it used in a phrase like: "I'm not worthy to ?" Because I have heard it so much from so many different people, I want to take a few minute to think about being "worthy" before God.
We are not the first ones to feel unworthy before God. Three examples readily jump to mind. In Isaiah 6, the prophet Isaiah is transported (in fact or in vision) into the presence of God. Isaiah sees the Lord seated on his throne, the train of his robe filling the temple, the seraphs with their six wings and thunder-like voices, and he immediately feels unworthy. He cries out, "Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." (Is. 6:5) Isaiah, a servant and prophet of God, has an overwhelming feeling of unworthiness in the presence of God.
Then there is Peter. In Luke 5, Jesus asks a man named Simon (later renamed Peter) to take him out a little from shore in his fishing boat, so that he can teach the large crowd from Peter's boat. After Jesus is finished speaking, he tells Peter to put the boat out into deep water and let down his nets for a catch. Peter objects, saying that the fish aren't biting, but Peter does it anyway just because Jesus directs him. When he lets down his nets and catches such a large number of fish that he can't haul them into the boat, Peter falls down at Jesus' knees and says, "Go, away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man." (Luke 5:8) When he realizes something about who Jesus is, Peter feels unworthy to be in his presence.
Finally, in Jesus' parable, there is the tax collector. The tax collector enters the temple to pray. He stands at a distance. He won't even look up to heaven, but beats his chest and says, "God have mercy on me a sinner." (Luke 18:13) Both his actions and his words declare how unworthy he feels.
In addition there are people like Moses and Gideon, who when called by God to leadership, respond by saying something like: "You surely don't mean me. I'm just a nobody. I'm not worthy to serve you. You better find someone more qualified than I am." This is a reaction common of many people when they are called to serve God.
Most people have a sense within them that they are not worthy either to be in God's presence or to serve God. And they are right. God is holy, mighty beyond our imagination, perfect in power and love. No one, absolutely no one, is worthy before God. Only a blind fool could believe him or herself worthy of God. I can't imagine how arrogant a person would have to be to think him or herself worthy to serve God.
Yet, God did not send Isaiah away, nor did Jesus send Peter away. Jesus told the crowd that it was the unworthy-feeling tax collector who left the temple justified before God that day, not the arrogant Pharisee, who thought he was "all that" in the religious world. And God continued to call Moses and Gideon until they finally served; as it turned out they became two of God's most faithful servants. Feelings of unworthiness do not disqualify us from serving God. Indeed, it almost seems that such feelings are a prerequisite for God's servants.
Finally, I would like to remind us of something we already know: While none of us is worthy to stand in the presence of God or to serve him, God through Jesus Christ makes us worthy. Christ took Peter's sins upon himself and made Peter worthy to be in his presence, to follow him and to serve him. Christ took all our sins upon himself making us worthy as well - justifying us before God so that God sees us just-as-if we never sinned. When we humble ourselves like the tax collector and ask for God's mercy and forgiveness, Christ makes us worthy.
Who is worthy to stand before God and to serve God? - no one in our own power, and every believer in Christ's healing, forgiving power. On the Cross, Christ made us worthy. Praise be to God for his great mercy upon us. May we all live fully into the worth we are given through Jesus Christ. Amen and Amen.
Pastor Diann O'Bryant is the minister of Gilman United Methodist Church, 312 Gilman St., Marietta. Thoughts of Faith is a weekly column written by various ministers and lay people. Those interested in scheduling a date for writing a Thoughts of Faith column should contact Christy Hudson at 376-5446 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, if a Thoughts of Faith column is written at the writer's convenience and sent to The Times, it will run the first available date.