“Whom Shall I Send?”
Isaiah 6:1-8, May 30th, 2021
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these ancient words from the Old Testament, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, chapter six, verses one thru eight.”
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.
2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.
3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
5 And I said: “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!”
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.
7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
“Having heard this ancient account; the calling of the prophet Isaiah, let us consider how God is now calling out to each one of us in the here and the now.”
“Whom Shall I Send?”
When I was in the military, I learned the hard way about many things. Boot camp was grueling, yet from here I can clearly see how important it was. I was being taught how to be part of a team, a team designed to be effective in getting the job, the tasks that were given us to accomplish! Many such tasks, which military personnel do, can be critical to the safety of others! Much the same is true for many organized groups. It is certainly true for members of local Fire Departments. When I began my ministry in Middletown New York, at the North Congregational Church, I automatically became the Chaplain for the Ontario Hose Company #5. I came to understand what an honor it was to serve with them. I became part of their team. More importantly, I came to see how they came together as a crew and how much they depended on one another. While serving in Middletown, one of our church members was a semi-retired County Sheriff. Roger, he was very well respected throughout the area as he had led the County Department for many years. He once told me that every officer in the county had to attend his class. He also told me to use his name if I was ever in trouble. Which I did several times, like the day I was trying to follow Roger back into town, after playing a round of golf with him, when I was stopped for exceeding the posted speed limit. Dropping Roger’s name was very effective! When Lois I moved to Florida and Roger was living in Sarasota, he called me to remind me… no one knew his name in Florida! I visited Roger before he died. He was on a breathing machine. He had the nurse explain to me that when they shut the machine off – he would die. It was a long visit. That is what team players do for one another; they are there for each other.
Surely, this team concept I have been speaking of is what every Pastor wants for the congregation he or she serves. It surely is what Jesus was teaching as he trained his disciples. It was what the “Lord” was expecting from Isaiah as the Prophet spoke of his encounter in our lesson today. The cleansing ritual spoken of… speaks to the understanding that it was the Lord God of Hosts which wanted Isaiah to be purified and made ready for the ministry he was calling him to! Much like a ‘New Recruit’ in military boot camp. Much like the ‘New Chaplain’ called to serve the fire department. And even to be the Pastor for the Old County Sheriff, when he gave me the honorary “New York State, Orange County Sheriff’s Officer’s Badge”. You see there was an expectation that we would be on the same team! And we were – right up to the end! Being part of a group, a team, and a church, has responsibilities and expectations that go with it. Supporting one another in a common cause. Helping to serve the needs of the full Platoon, Company, or Force. Helping to keep the ‘Institution’ viable as we move into the future. Caring for one another, being there in times of need and honoring the fallen… as they collect their well-deserved rest and peace in the arms of the Holy One, in God’s Heavenly Realm!
Another thing I learned in the military is to be weary of being volunteered. Being ‘called’ by God is clearly like being volunteered for an assignment that does not have a plainly defined job description! One theologian, John C. Holbert tells us of how one might feel regarding God’s calling. “I imagine that if Isaiah had been more keenly aware of what “God” wanted from him, he might have skipped worship that day…” If the Private had known, he would be volunteered for KP he may have not raised his hand! She may not have volunteered for that position if she had known there were no term limits! He may not have answered God’s calling if he had known he was expected to always work on Saturdays, Sundays, Holidays and on Christmas Eve! The thing about accepting a call, being volunteered, or assigned to a position; whether formally or in an honorary position is that a responsibility still comes with it. When I volunteered to join the United States Air Force at age seventeen, I did not grasp the enormity of the commitment I was making. When I became the Chaplain for the Fire Department back in Middletown, I did not know of the required monthly meetings, the marching parades where I needed to march in step! Nor did I know I was waiving my rights to get an honorarium at funerals for members of the Fire Department. And I surely did not comprehend the enormity of the commitment I was making to go into formal ministry; but let us be clear about that – the Holy Spirit volunteered me!
Patrick Johnson tells us what it means to join God’s team. “We are sent to join God in mission because we have encountered God, because we have been brought face to face with God’s holiness and our brokenness, and because we have been made whole by God’s grace.” God knew of what he was doing when approaching me. God had been looking over my shoulder for years. What I did not know was that my training for ministry started when I was but a child. My grandfather, the Pastor, showed me kindness and compassion. I witnessed his devotion and dedication. I knew in my heart he was well loved by those he served. He had a great sense of humor; of which only a bit of that rubbed off on me. Yet, when the time came for me to show kindness, I knew how it was done. When the time came to give up something for the sake of another, I knew it was something meaningful and I did it! When the phone rang and the family wanted me at the bedside of their beloved mother, whom had been airlifted from Sebastian to Melbourne’s trauma center, I got up and spent the night with the family in the waiting room. It was a long night! By the time God decided to come to me in the Spirit and alter my focus and direction for my tomorrows, I had already experienced, firsthand, God’s saving grace. I had felt the wind of the Spirit propel me to places and to do things I knew I must do – if I was to move forward in life – in a life worthy of God’s grace. It truly was in my brokenness that I was able to indeed – encounter God. I did not understand it at the time, but it was my brokenness, my shattered pride, my defeats, my feelings of incompleteness that brought me face to face with God. It was then that I became willing to follow the lead of the Spirit’s ‘Calling.’
Over the years, as I have been an active pastor, I have watched and participated in helping search committees, as they decide who to ask to volunteer for various positions within the church. Before becoming a Pastor, I remember working with a young pastor just ordained. I have not been in touch with her for going on twenty plus years now. Yet her interactions with me, lead to my being ready to answer God’s calling. One thing she talked about was the Senior Pastor’s decision to suggest asking someone who was not actively involved in the church to take on a responsible position. It did not work out. Rather, they ended up picking a very busy church member to do one more thing, because they knew she would do it! God knows which ones of us are ready to accept the challenges of a meaningful ministry. Make no mistake, everyone who encounters God, will be brought into the community, and after we are strengthen and empowered, we shall be a part of the ‘mission’ of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ! Just like becoming a member of the U.S. Military, or a Chaplain for a Fire Department, and being in fellowship with a community of faithful followers of Christ, there shall be things we will be compelled to do! The joy of willingly joining something, is in the commitment itself! This is what gives a true jolt to our personal journey, our journey of faith that is beyond words! There are a few things which virtually every group of like-minded people find that is needed. Let us get some insights into what those are.
Alan Brehm speaks to us about humility and honesty. His words are well written and filled with substance. Therefore, I shall spoon feed his words. First, “When we encounter the God, who is majestic and merciful, what matters is humility and honesty.” He puts humility before honesty, which may seem strange, yet humility is the key that unlocks the door where we clutch to our unwillingness to speak the truth, both to ourselves and to others. Becoming humble is how we become acquainted with humility. Once we become humble, realizing we need a bit of help, perhaps some training and even some assistance now and then, it is then that we may get our first brush of humility. With this securely attained we can then face our own truths, which in turn will help us be more honest and truthful with others. It is utterly amazing what this can do for us! This does take practice, even if you have gray or white hair like my own you shall become more courageous in your willingness to give of yourself.
In our second thought which Alan Brehm offers us we hear what we also need. “When we can have the courage to respond in this way, we find ourselves connected to the source of all life, all love, and all joy.” Just say ‘Yes!” When the Spirit volunteers you and calls out to you: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” /Isaiah 6:8b/ Wow! All it takes is courage to receive all of that! That feeling of being loved which leads to that ultimate utopia of true joy! Getting the needed courage is in the ‘letting go of fear’ and ‘trusting the Spirit of Christ’ to lead you to the’ source of all life!
In his concluding remark, regarding today’s lesson surrounding the ‘Call’ by God of the Prophet Isaiah, Alan Brehm, speaks to us of the ‘gem’ we get to cherish as a ‘bonus’ for our ‘willingness’ to respond with ‘Yes!’ “Here I am Lord, send me!” /Isaiah 6:8c/ And we find ourselves somehow more connected to ourselves, and to everything and everyone around us.”
Is this not what we all desire and want for ourselves and for the ones we love and care for, including those we are called to serve. We want, we need to feel and be connected – and we are when we put one hand in the hand of God and allow the Spirit to lead us!