Here I am, Send Me…I mean, if you’ve got no one else…

Isaiah 6:1-8  November 13, 2016

Where were you when Japan invaded Pearl Harbor? Where were you when President Kennedy was shot? Or how about Martin Luther King Jr? Where were you when the first plane hit the World Trade Center? All of these are events that mark a specific time on the calendar and in our lives, yet they all transcend that specific time as well. They tell us that things changed then, that nothing was the same again. We can look back at those events and locate a particular day but also identify them as years and seasons when nothing seemed the same again.

Our scripture today begins with “In the year that King Uzziah died” which tells us it was a time when everything was shifting, things were changing. King Uzziah’s reign had lasted a remarkable 5 decades, so knowing that this writing begins when there is a change in a 50-year long kingship, you know there is chaos and anxiety.

The Judean people are facing potential war with the Assyrian army who was the most formidable army of all time with advanced weaponry, massive economic support, and a penchant for psychological warfare. Jerusalem was small and vulnerable with weak defenses and was filled with displaced refugees from the countryside and other captured cities.[1]

They were afraid for their very lives. And so, I imagine, Isaiah is afraid too.

Yet Isaiah doesn’t linger on the landscape of war. He does not describe the power of the Assyrian threat but instead shifts to the power of God. Instead of the battle field, Isaiah describes God in the temple.

Now, Isaiah was a priest. So that would mean his job was to be in the temple. Only priests were allowed to be in the center of the temple, the Holy of Holies where they believed God lived.

So here he sees the Lord. And not in a contained, sterile way but with seraphs – angels – flying around, singing their praise of the mighty Lord with frightening power. Instead of picturing precious moments angels playing harps, picture instead strong, powerful men and women, shrieking praise, using their wings to protect themselves in the Lord’s presence. Angels were fierce messengers for God. There is smoke as the temple shakes from their shrieking and from the glory of God.

What is Isaiah’s response to being in the presence of the Lord? 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!

In this moment of seeing the Lord Isaiah declares his unworthiness.  “I’m not good enough!” he shouts. “Who am I to speak for God? My lips are unclean. The people I serve are unclean. How is this possible? I am not good enough.”

So, what is your response when you are in God’s presence? Now, please do tell me if you’ve had an encounter like Isaiah’s – I want to hear all about it! But I imagine our encounters are different.  I don’t know what your encounters with God are like or if you could even say you’ve had an encounter with God, but I do know that when I sit down and quiet my mind to pray, I often begin with “you are in the presence of God.” I say it over and over. And it changes me – God changes me. So, just as a way to practice here and now so you might try it on your own later, I invite you to take a deep breath, sit back in your chair, close your eyes and sit in the reality that you are in the presence of God. God is with you and God loves you. No matter what you’ve done, no matter who you think you are or are not, God loves you. God chooses to love you. You are in the presence of God.

Ok. It’s hard to take in and believe it, isn’t it? That God would be with us. I imagine most of us react like Isaiah, “Woe is me…I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy.” “Whoa God, what are you doing here, with me!?” The truth is, we are not good enough.

Because if we were in charge of making ourselves worthy for God, we would have no time for anything else and we’d live in constant sin-management mode, fixing and fixing and fixing with no end in sight. It’s exhausting to even think about, isn’t it?

The truth is that we are not good enough and we can’t make ourselves good enough for God to love. That’s God’s job in our lives. That’s why we say week in and week out that our purpose for existing is that Jesus transforms our lives. Not by our being good enough but by God’s goodness. By God’s power and might. Through confession and forgiveness. Through bread and wine. Through the miracle that is God’s love.

Isaiah is on the cusp of his life being transformed, ushered in by a seraph wielding tongs holding a burning coal, proclaiming your sin is gone. How unbelievably painful and terrifying this must have been. Isaiah’s transformation is from priest to prophet. From care-taker of the temple, keeping everyone out and away from the presence of God, and being called to go and live amongst the people who he has kept away from God and to speak God’s word to them, to share his not-good-enoughness with their own. He is called to proclaim God to the people he was actively keeping away from God.

Now, lest we romanticize this “here I am, send me” call story, here is what is in store for Isaiah in just the next 5 verses of scripture: Here I am send me…

9And he said, ‘Go and say to this people:

“Keep listening, but do not comprehend;

keep looking, but do not understand.”

10 Make the mind of this people dull,

   and stop their ears,

   and shut their eyes,

so that they may not look with their eyes,

   and listen with their ears,

and comprehend with their minds,

   and turn and be healed.’

11 Then I said, ‘How long, O Lord?’ And he said:

‘Until cities lie waste

   without inhabitant,

and houses without people,

   and the land is utterly desolate;

12 until the Lord sends everyone far away,

   and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.

How long? Until there aren’t people. Until the land is dead. Isaiah is not called to easy work. This is not about feel-good ministry. He was called to condemn social injustice of his time, to his own people.

These words and this story of Isaiah amplifies and exposes and clarifies our call as Christians. This is not a new call. This is a call that is at the heart of Christianity.

To call out the injustice of “othering” people – of putting people into categories that make them less than. The Bible calls us to stand with and to help the refugee, the stranger, the widow, the orphan – the most vulnerable of our time.

And we are in a time that is trying to normalize the “othering” of people. It is not normal to campaign on fear of the other, so we’d better build a wall. It is not normal to campaign on banning an entire nation of people, who look different from and worship differently from you. It is not normal to campaign by making fun of people with disabilities.

Yet, this is normal behavior in our world. Bullying and name calling is normal in our world. Sexism and racism is normal in our world. Our world tells us that we’ve got to figure out who is best and who is not.

So, I tell you, as your pastor, as a female Christian leader, that we follow a different leader. Of course, we live in a nation that has a leader. And we are called, as citizens, to participate. Not to blindly obey, but to engage. This is not a call to shutting our eyes at the political landscape. This is a call to open them wider than ever and engage in our world as active, loving Christians.

We follow Jesus. Jesus tells us to stand with, to love those who are different from us. In parable after parable, in example after example, Jesus shows us by reaching out to the outcasts of his time, eating with the wrong people. Heck, when Jerusalem held a city parade displaying their military might, Jesus held one on the opposite end of town, with all the outcasts in attendance.

Isaiah is the prophet who says that Emmanuel, a name meaning, “God with us” is to come. But before he says that, Isaiah, in the looming shadow of military might, proclaims the might of the Lord.

In the reality of a change in earthly kings, Isaiah proclaims the eternal reign of the King of our hearts and lives.

God’s holiness and power changes everything.

God’s holiness and power tells us that when everything else seems to be shaking and falling apart, God’s steadfast love does not change.

And so God asks us today, just like any other day, “Whom shall I send, who shall go for us?”

And God is waiting for us to respond. To welcome the stranger, to feed the hungry, to tend to the sick. To leave our safe worship spaces and to do this stuff in our lives. We are called to give the refugee a safe home, not to build a wall to keep them out. We are called to defend those who are weak. We are called to lift up those who have been put down: women, those with disabilities, people who look different from us or who worship in different ways. People who identify as queer, gay, lesbian, trans or bi.

God asks, who shall I send to stand with all those who our society would call “other.”  Not normal. Weird. Not like us. Immigrant, stranger, refugee.

We are to stand with those who cannot stand alone. And we are to speak with those who need our voices. And we are to listen to and for those who have not been heard. Even when we are told to be quiet. Even when it is socially unacceptable. Even when they will not hear. We must respond to racist jokes. Me must respond to homophobia. We must respond to hateful comments, comments made in fear.

So who does God send? You! Me! Us! The unworthy. The not good enough. God sends us each and every day into our jobs in schools and hospitals, factories and cubicles, in and on fields and in warehouses, in office buildings and day cares and classrooms. We are each called by God and sent out of this safe place that cannot contain or restrain God’s power and might. What good is the justice of God if it is only alive on Sunday and not in our lives?

Whom shall I send? Who will go for us? God asks. And we must respond, “Here I am. Send Me!”

Thanks be to God.

[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2989

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