Sermon from February 6: Since You Asked…

Since You Asked…
Epiphany V; February 6, 2022
Luke 5:1-11 and Isaiah 6:1-8

Both Scripture readings today are stories of calling. Jesus called the first of his Apostles; the Lord called Isaiah to be a prophet. Simon Peter and Isaiah both realized their unworthiness and in both cases they were called anyway. As someone said to me the other day, God doesn’t call the qualified; God qualifies the called.

I can’t help but think of my own calling to be a pastor in that light, and I’m going to go there in a moment, but first I need to point out the most important aspect of these readings: the call of all of us to be disciples of Jesus and to fish for people. You heard it last month on the Sunday when we ordained and installed our leaders: the calling of God is in our baptism and is for us all, but within that calling some people are called to particular tasks as deacons, ruling elders, and ministers of the Word and Sacraments.

The weird clothes I wear are intended to remind you and me of my particular tasks within the Church. The point of wearing them is to deflect attention from me to the Word and Sacraments I serve. I know it’s become trendy for preachers to wear street clothes, but to my mind that makes it less about the Word and Sacraments and more about the person. Whatever. Some of you have asked me to explain what I wear and now that we’ve been together for so many years I’ve decided to take advantage of today’s readings to do so. Since you asked.

The basic uniform, so to speak, of a Reformed minister has traditionally been the academic gown, Geneva collar, and tabs. The academic gown reminds us that the pastor’s principal task is to teach the Gospel to Jesus’ disciples; no one is really sure what the Geneva collar and tabs are supposed to symbolize. All I know is a child once said that this collar protects from fleas and ticks for up to ninety days. I’ve had a few pairs of tabs over the years; this pair was a gift from Sara Tonje and was made by the Presbyterian nuns she stayed with in Cameroon.

The stole is something Presbyterians didn’t use to wear but started to in recent decades. It may symbolize the yoke of the Gospel; Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” I’ll come back to my stoles in a minute; there are some stories that I hope you’ll find interesting. The other outfit you see me wear is an alb, which is essentially an adaptation of Roman street clothes. This is similar to what men would wear for everyday in ancient times; in the Church it’s something anyone can wear to lead worship, whether a minister or not. You indicate your particular task by what you wear over it. Usually I wear a minister’s stole, but twice a year I like to wear a cope: Christmas Eve and Resurrection Sunday. I made this cope myself and there are two stories to tell you. One is why I made it. For many years Kathleen and I were involved in the Ohio Renaissance Festival; for part of the time we were the wedding program there. She was the wedding coordinator and I was the minister who did the weddings. I adapted the marriage service from the Book of Common Prayer that was in use in the Church of England in the late sixteenth century and I researched what Anglican ministers wore in those days. An alb and cope was one typical outfit, so I made myself a cope.

The other story is of a funeral. Allan Feldkamp was a wonderful, faithful follower of Jesus and member of His Church. He was strong and gentle and knew his likes. His wife Dorothy had a red dress that he loved to see her wear. Once I wore my cope for something and many people were critical; they said I was trying to look like a priest. Allan supported me and said he liked it. So when he died – by the way, he was one of the few people I got to be with as they died; it was the middle of the night and his family called me to come to the hospital and I held his hand as he died – we had his funeral a few days later. Dorothy wore that red dress and I wore my cope.

All of my stoles were gifts.[1] These three were all made in Guatemala and were given to me over the years by various people. I won’t go into all the symbols on them; if you want to know more, come see me. Anyway, this widest one I like to wear during the season of Easter; this narrower one during the season of Christmas; and this one with black and purple for funerals. This stole with the bunches of grapes Kathleen made for me and I like to wear it for Maundy Thursday, the day the Lord instituted his Holy Supper.

These two stoles were gifts from churches. The Korean Presbyterian Church of Omaha gave me this one after I preached for them at their Friday evening service; I like to wear it for World Communion. And this one was a farewell present from the Presbyterian Church of Wyoming, Ohio, after I served them for five years as Associate Pastor. On one side is clergy tartan, which you see me wear on the First Sunday of Advent, near St. Andrew’s Day. You see the Cross of St. Andrew on the panels. The other side is my own clan’s tartan, MacMillan Ancient, which is very green so I wear it any Sunday that green is appropriate and that I want to identify with family. It has a Celtic Cross on the panels.

Now, to finish by describing the set of stoles you see me wear most often. These were an ordination present from the Presbyterian Women of my home church, the Presbyterian Church of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. They were woven by Gail McViddy and embroidered by other women in the church. There are five of them: green for Ordinary Time, red for Pentecost and other occasions of the Holy Spirit, purple for Advent and Lent, and white for occasions celebrating great events in the life of Jesus and His Church. And black. When Gail showed me the stoles, I asked about the black one. She said she didn’t know, but she remembered her pastor wearing a black one sometimes. I have done some reading and learned that some ministers wore black stoles for Good Friday, so I wear this one on Good Friday.

The symbols on them? Every one at the nape has the Cross of St. Andrew. And then we have:

The Trinity and the Ship of the Church (green)
The Flame of the Holy Spirit and INRI (“Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”) (red)
Alpha and Omega, and the Lamb of God (purple)
The Dove of the Holy Spirit and the Cross at the center of the world[2] (white)
The Chi-Rho and the Crown of King Jesus (black)

Since every stole I wear was a gift from a person or a congregation, I remember that you and I can fish for people and serve the Lord only because of the gifts of God. And that takes us back to the beginning: Simon Peter said, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” He was no better or worse than the rest of us, but in the presence of Jesus we all know we are sinners. And Isaiah said, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” Isaiah was no better or worse than the rest of us and his people were no better or worse than our people, but if you have seen the Lord of hosts then you know that your lips are unclean. God does not call the qualified; God qualifies those whom God has called. Including you. Including me.

In that light, and to finish with one more personal note. When I was ordained my friend Gary, the Lutheran Pastor, gave me a framed poster of a prayer by Martin Luther. I say it every Sunday as I’m putting on my uniform for the day. It reads: O Lord God, Thou hast made me a pastor and teacher in the Church. Thou seest how unfit I am to administer rightly this great and responsible Office; and had I been without Thy aid and counsel I would surely have ruined it all long ago. Therefore do I invoke Thee. How gladly do I desire to yield and consecrate my heart and mouth to this ministry! I desire to teach the congregation. I, too desire ever to learn and to keep Thy Word my constant companion and to meditate thereupon earnestly. Use me as Thy instrument in Thy service. Only do not Thou forsake me, for if I am left to myself, I will certainly bring it all to destruction. Amen.

Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Omaha, Nebraska

[1] See inserted picture. Or you can see the service at

[2] This also is from the seal of the United Church of Christ, where I spent many of my formative years.