Isaiah 6: 1 – 8 The Thread of Grace Sunday June 6, 2021


The Thread of Grace

Isaiah 6: 1 – 8

 (preached June 6, 2021)

             In our passage for today from the Hebrew Scriptures, Isaiah tells the story of his call to be God’s prophet.  With vivid imagery, he describes an encounter with God, the Lord of hosts, sitting on a throne. God is so magnificent that the hem of his robe fills the temple.  Heavenly creatures called seraphs sing his praises:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;

The whole earth is full of his glory.

Because sinful humanity needs to hear God’s call to righteousness. God asks, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”  Without hesitation, Isaiah responds, “Here I am; send me!”

When people like me become pastors, like Isaiah, we also tell a call story.  We want to answer questions like, where did our desire to be pastors come from?  How did we hear the voice of God breaking into our lives, calling us to preach God’s word and share the love of Christ?

My call story is not like Isaiah’s.  I didn’t see God lifted up high in a holy throne room.  I didn’t hear heavenly beings singing God’s praises.  For me, God’s call was more like the still, small voice heard by another prophet, Elijah.  In the book of First Kings, we hear how Elijah takes shelter in a cave.  He is weary from preaching God’s word to hostile rulers.  Elijah waits for a word from God.  First, a great wind comes by, then an earthquake, then a fire…but God is not in any of them. Finally, Elijah feels the presence of God in a still, small voice, a sound on the very edge of silence (I Kings 19: 11 – 12).

For me, God’s call was more like that still small voice: a still, small voice that whispered for years before I paid attention.  When I told my call story, that’s what I would talk about.  But recently I came across a different way to describe God’s call: it’s even closer to my own experience.  It comes from one of my colleagues in ministry, the Rev. Vicki Kemper.  Vicki describes her call not as a voice, but as “an ever-unspooling thread of grace…that [drew her] deeper into love” (Kemper, Stillspeaking Devotional, May 30, 2021).

As I felt a call to ordained ministry, I also perceived that thread of grace.  That thread of grace unspooled in my life, little by little, quietly but persistently tugging on my heart.  This morning I’d like to share with you a little of that story.

As a young girl, the daughter of a pastor, I was very active in church.  I went to church every Sunday with my mother, my brothers, and my sister.  I was the youngest in the family and the story is told that I first spoke in church at the age of three.  According to my mother, my first words in church were, “When is this thing going to be over?”

But I grew out of that impatience and came to enjoy the worship service.  I loved the beauty of the liturgy.  One of my most vivid memories is looking at the communion table, set for communion as ours is today.  As I looked, a beam of sunlight came through one of the upper windows in the sanctuary and shone directly on the chalice.  In that gleam of light from the chalice, I sensed the radiance of God.

I loved the beauty of our worship and especially the music, but when I was growing up in the 1960s women didn’t become ministers – at least as far as I knew.

The years went by: school, college, marriage, a job in a library, two years in Germany.  All that time that thread of grace was gently unspooling, leading me into loving relationships and jobs where I felt valued.  But in my young adult years, church wasn’t part of my life.  In fact, the only time I went to church was when I visited my parents.  Sunday mornings were for sleeping in, going to the bakery for fresh rolls, leisurely conversation over coffee.

My daughter Amy was born when I was twenty-six and my life changed forever.  No more sleeping in.  As a new mother, I had a lot of anxiety about how to raise a child.  Looking back at those years, I can see that thread of grace weaving in and out.  God was working in the support I received from family and friends, but in my anxiety I didn’t see God.  I didn’t see how God was patiently weaving that thread of grace, that thread that would pull me through that anxious time.

But when my second child was born, my son Rob, I caught a glimpse of that grace.  Before Rob was born, as much as I wanted another child, I was a bit apprehensive. That’s because I couldn’t for the life of me see how I was going to love a second child as much as I had loved my first.  I thought, I’m already giving all my motherly love to my daughter, how will I ever have enough for another child?

But then Rob was born and my heart was full of love, more than I could have imagined.  I realized something new about love.  In my love for my son, I came to understand that love is not limited.  And it dawned on me that the love I felt for my kids, a love that continued to grow and multiply, was like the love of God. It dawned on me that God was that love: that limitless, infinite love.

That new and deeper sense of God led me back to church.  I wanted Christian Education for my kids, and I needed the love and support of a church community for all of us.  After my third child, my son Reggie, was born, I felt more strongly the pull of that thread of grace, drawing me closer to God’s presence in my life.  Grace pulled me into Union Congregational Church in North Reading.

I’ve always loved singing, especially choral singing, and it wasn’t long before the choir director looked me in the eye and said, “Why aren’t you singing with us?”  I’ll never forget the way she welcomed me into the choir.  As I showed up that first day in my choir robe, it was obvious that I didn’t have a white stole as the other choir members did.  There was a shortage of stoles.  But the choir director was determined to make me feel welcome.  So she asked all the men in the choir to take off their stoles, and gave one to me.  So the women wore stoles, and the men didn’t wear them.  In her welcome I felt grace, drawing me into the love of God’s people.

Still, I didn’t know any women ministers.  During the 1980s and 1990s, women’s ordination was still unusual, at least in my world.  It wasn’t till 1994 that I felt again the pull of that thread of grace, a stronger pull this time.  It pulled me into a sad circumstance in the city of San Francisco, where my brother Mike lived.   Mike is gay and at the time the gay community was being ravaged by the disease of AIDS.  AIDS spared my brother, but it did not spare his partner, Bill.  Bill died of AIDS in February of that year.

Mike wanted me to help him plan a memorial service for Bill.  During the time I spent at Mike’s home in San Francisco, I got to know many of his friends.  I was amazed by the love they had for each other.  I was amazed by the way these gay men stood by each other and supported each other.  As I worked with Mike to choose readings and songs for the service, I could feel more and more the tug of that thread of grace.  Even at that sad time, I felt energized and inspired.  Looking back, I can see that God’s light was shining on my path and showing me the way.

About a year later, the thread of grace led me to seminary.  In my studies at Andover Newton Theological School, I felt all my interests coming together:  Bible study, worship, psychology, communication, administration.  The tread of grace pulled together parts of myself that had been separate, and it drew them into a coherent whole.  It drew me more deeply into love and work, until today, more than twenty one years after ordination, that thread of grace has led me here to be your pastor.  Thanks be to God.


Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Pentecost 2